Tag Archives: Victoria

September 15, Part 2

It was not a long drive this time—we were still in the Dandenongs. Our destination was the splendid Tesselaar Tulip Festival. This event, I was told, was started in the 1950s by a family of immigrants from the Netherlands who grew, not too surprisingly, tulips. The show was, in fact, really stunning. There were fun add-ons for those who want more than just flowers, but Judy and Geoff were there for the flowers—more than 120 varieties of tulip, plus daffodils, and hyacinths (one of my favorite fragrances in the world) spread in dazzling swaths of color across a 55-acre farm. It was glorious.

Here’s a video I found about the festival. It focuses more on those “add-ons,” but still gives one a feeling for the show.

Leaving the show, after a good, long exploration, we drove up the Silvan Reservoir catchment area (more interesting than that description sounds—a splendid area of gum trees and acacias) to the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, a place known for excellent walking trails amid delightful scenery. Geoff drove us to an observation point that offered a view over the broad, green valley toward the gap in the mountains through which we passed yesterday on our way to Beechworth.

Then, as evening approached, it was time to head home, to get a rug on Rahmyl, dinner for Bullitt, and a glass of port for ourselves. The evening again held an excellent dinner (Judy is an excellent cook) and much delightful conversation.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 15, Part 1

It’s really quiet up here in the mountains, at least until the kookaburras wake up and start “laughing.” As a result, I slept soundly and awoke merrily. Hard not to chuckle along with the sound of the kookaburras. Enjoyed a rainwater shower (all the water here is collected rainwater), which was as soft on the skin as it is sweet to the taste.

It was a beautiful morning, with sunlight flooding in through the windows that face the back paddock. The chatty, bell-like song of the rosellas drew me to the window. Rahmyl (Judy’s horse) was tolling in the thick grass. A gentle breeze stirred the tops of the towering mountain ash. Sunlight and blue sky dominated the few white clouds overhead. I love this place.

More birds gathered outside, offering a great show: the brilliant red and blue crimson rosellas that I have always loved so much, the yellow and red Eastern rosellas, a little wattle bird, swallows, and a couple of maned geese with eight babies trailing along behind them. The resident black duck came up and settled into lunching on the seed that Judy and Geoff leave out for it.

After breakfast, Judy and I went shopping, leaving Geoff behind to putter in his work shed and the garden. (We figured he deserved a day off, away from both us and the car, after driving us all over Victoria for the last couple of days. Among the shops at the mall, there was an excellent book store that stocks all the Australian classics. Judy bought me a copy of Sara Henderson’s bestselling autobiography, From Strength to Strength—because during my tour up north, I had passed Henderson’s remote and rugged property (near Victoria River).

We were back home before 2:00, and spent a little time enjoying coffee and conversation on the deck, enjoying the cool but sunny day, watching the birds flit about and Rahmyl graze nearby. But then it was time to head off again, though now Geoff joined us for the afternoon’s glorious adventure.

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September 14, Part 2

Leaving the park, we headed for the center of town. Beechworth, the one-time center of a booming gold rush, is really beautiful, and its historic places and feeling have been wonderfully preserved. Even here, birds were abundant, and I was delighted to see king parrots and rosellas in the trees.

Judy and Geoff recommended the tour of the old town, and so we set off with a very knowledgeable guide. The previously mentioned Ned Kelly was a big part of this town’s history, as the abundant gold made it a desirable target for a bank robber. Among the Kelly-related destinations here, we saw the jail cell in which he was eventually confined, located beneath the Shire Hall, and we also visited the Court House where Kelly was tried.

The guide shared that, while Kelly was charismatic and was often able to charm people in the towns he robbed, he was most definitely not the Robin Hood figure some held him to be. In fact, he robbed from both the rich and the poor, and then kept it. He was also a cold-blooded murderer. So, while he had some fans, he was no hero.

We walked through the historic district, viewing buildings that were important during the heyday of the local gold rush, which took off in 1852. We learned that the streams around Beechworth yielded four million ounces of gold in the first ten years. Impressive.

Then we parted company with our guide and did a bit of shopping—primarily for rocks. The rugged hills around Beechworth hold more than gold and the quartz that held it. Also found here are jasper, citrine, amethyst, rock crystal, agate, turquoise, chalcedony, tourmaline, cairngorms, garnets, and various conglomerates. The garnets take the form of marble-sized crystals that are held in the granite of the nearby hills. Just wonderful. I love rocks and minerals and was delighted by everything, but my only purchase was a handful of rough garnets. But I was very pleased with those.

Next stop was the Burke Museum, named for the famed but ill-fated explorer. This is an excellent regional museum that covers history from Aboriginal pre-history up through the gold rush, also covering, of course, Ned Kelly and his gang. The brochure said they had 30,000 items, which gives some idea of the level of detail on offer. Next, to the historic brewery, which now creates only soft drinks, including sarsaparilla and ginger beer. Then past the Power Magazine, en route to the award-winning Beechworth Bakery (said to have the best pies and bread in the state of Victoria), where we stopped for cake and coffee.

The surrounding countryside was inviting, but there was already too much to do, just seeing historic sites and shops. Geoff did a good job of selecting a scenic route that showed some of it, but by 6:00pm, the sun was low on the horizon, soon to set, so it was time to get on the road for the long drive back home. Being in the country, the stars were brilliantly visible for most of the drive, but then we were near Melbourne. And as we climbed back into the Dandenongs, clouds again obscured our view. But what a splendid day. Really feeling blessed to have such friends.

Just in case you decide to visit, here is the town’s tourism page, with info on hotels and restaurants, as well as, of course, the historic sites.https://www.explorebeechworth.com.au/

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Trip 3: Thursday, September 14, Part 1

We were up early to get down from the mountains and through the city before traffic started to build. We were headed for Beechworth, a historic town roughly 177 miles northeast of Melbourne. It was cloudy as we left, with a threat of light rain, but the forecast for our destination was more promising. As always, the birds were up early, as well, and walking to the car, we saw corellas, magpies, black ducks, and wattlebirds.

The light rain that began made the greenery of the Dandenong Mountains even more beautiful than they were already. Even Melbourne looked lush and green as we passed through and out through hills and valleys and into the surrounding countryside. The entire drive was splendid, with green fields, wild flowers (especially heaths and acacias), and paddocks with grazing horses, sheep with lambs, cows with calves. Surprising number of Sulphur-crested cockatoos—and I never get tired of seeing them. We passed through Yea and headed into more mountains. The eucalypts began to change (with so many hundreds of varieties, each area tends to have its own).

Short stop in Seymour. Needed a break to stretch our legs and refresh our driver (Geoff). Then onward, now on the Hume Freeway. After Euroa, the land flattened out and the sky began to clear. We entered “Ned Kelly Country.” Kelly was a notorious but charismatic bushranger/outlaw in the late 1800s, and this was the center of his area of operation. We passed Glenrowan, where Kelly and his gang made their last stand. Kelly survived the shootout because of his homemade suit of armor. He lumbered out of the house where the gang was staying, with only a remarkable helmet visible, as a long coat covered the body armor. The police were surprised by bullets bouncing off the coat, but they quickly figured out that the armor didn’t cover his legs, so they just wounded him enough that he couldn’t run. He was arrested and thrown in jail in Beechworth before being taken to Melbourne to stand trial.

Mountains rose up off to our right, misty and blue, at the far side of the green plains. Weather was lovely by this point. Passed Wangaratta. I was delighted by the large number of corellas and magpies. Exited on the Ovens Highway and continued east, finally pulling in at a park just outside the city of Beechworth. After four hours of driving, we were delighted to walk around and stretch our legs. Judy had packed a lovely lunch, and we enjoyed a picnic at the park before continuing on into town. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

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Trip 3:Wednesday, September 13

Awoke to the sound of kookaburras’ laughter. Always a happy way to be awakened. Had a more relaxed morning, with a bit of a sleep in and then a tour of Judy and Geoff’s lovely, mountainside property. This is a pretty piece of land, surrounded by tall mountain ash (another type of eucalypt) and decorated with indigenous and imported flowers. We hiked among the trees and around the shrubs, down the steep paddock, and through the gardens. Geoff showed me the wombat holes and possum nests, and pointed out the grevilleas and banksias (local flowering shrubs, particularly healthy ones here). When a family of maned geese appeared, Geoff related that these birds, also known as wood ducks, mate for life.

We stopped to have a “chat” with Rocky the Cocky (pet Sulphur-crested cockatoo), and then gathered for lunch on the deck. It was a perfect day, warm and blue-skyed. Bird song offered a lovely “soundtrack.”

After a light lunch, we jumped in the blue Land Rover and headed off to the Karwarra Australian Plant Garden and Nursery. This intensely planted floral reserve, set amid forests of eucalpyps, is dedicated to indigenous Australian flowers and plants. Some of the flowers were ones I’d seen before, but here I was able to learn names. Plus there were some that were unfamiliar varieties of ones I knew. Pink and white star-like flowers growing in masses turned out to be waxflowers (eriostemon). I admired deep purple baeckea ramossima, wispy, pink hakea sericea, yellow phepalium squamulosum, white thyptome, plus by now familiar waratah, acacias, heaths, and everlasting. And the gum trees were in bloom: wonderful, shaggy, fragrant flowers. One interesting display showed the progression of banksia from flower to spire to starting fruit to mature fruit (I’d only ever seen the flowers before).

There were a lot of birds, as well. Many were familiar and often mentioned through this narrative, but I encountered a new one: a wonderful little creature with a curving beak, which I learned was an Eastern spinebill.

Here’s a link to Karwarra, should you wish to visit or learn more—or just see a few photos. https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/activity/karwarra-australian-plant-garden-and-nursery

In addition to exploring and pointing things out to me, Judy and Geoff were shopping for their own garden. So they were taking home some lovely blooms, while I was simply taking home photos.

We stopped at a bakery in the little town of Olinda, where we enjoyed cream cake and coffee and picked up bread and rolls for the week ahead. Then back home. First priority was taking care of Rahmyl (horse), Bullitt (dog), and Rocky (cockatoo). Then into the kitchen to fix dinner.

Those of you who have read my book will know that I met Judy on a riding trip (she is “Judy of the white crash helmet” in the book). Because of this connection with riding, Geoff put on the soundtrack from the movie “The Man from Snowy River.” And for those of you who don’t know the significance of that choice of music, below is a link to a post I did on “The Man from Snowy River.” Because if you want to know Australia, you need to know this poem, which is iconic, and was the inspiration for the movie that gave us the soundtrack. (It was also, to a certain degree, the inspiration for my taking the riding trip on which I met Judy.) Horses play a big part in Australian history, and a surprising number of the great riders also wrote poetry, so the two are intertwined.) Anyway, here’s the link to the poem, its background, and even an excerpt from the movie.
https://waltzingaustralia.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/the-man-from-snow-river/

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Trip 3:Monday, September 11

I slept incredibly well in the wonderful brass bed in the comfortable guest room. The fragrance of a bouquet of freesia and grape hyacinth that Judy had placed in the room was a delightful welcome to consciousness. Judy and Geoff are great gardeners, and there are flowers everywhere outside, but also cut flowers throughout the house.

The sky was overcast, but it was not raining, so we still had high hopes for the day. We had breakfast by the kitchen window, so we could watch the birds that gather here: crimson rosellas, magpies, gray currawongs, and a wattle bird. I love this place.

The sky began to clear, so we headed off to the Royal Melbourne Zoo. I had visited the Melbourne Zoo during my first trip to Australia, so I knew it was splendid, but it’s a fair drive from the ranch—almost all the way back to the airport. However, Judy and Geoff assured me that they were pleased to have a reason to visit, as they loved the zoo, too. So we were off.

The day remained a bit gray and quite cool, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time. The zoo was even better than I had remembered, plus there were things I hadn’t seen previously. I was again dazzled by the astonishing walk-through aviary. Since the weather suits the birds there, it isn’t even really enclosed, just netted at tree-top level. As a result, there is almost no feeling of separation between the vegetation outside and that inside the aviary—and the large number of wild birds that gather nearby help bolster that feeling. Just astonishing, the variety and beauty of birds from all over Australia, swooping and perching and dining and preening their feathers and wading and showing off.

In the aviary


Big day for things with wings, as the butterfly house was next. I was ecstatic. There is something so ephemeral and ethereal about butterflies, it is a bit like touching a rainbow or a piece of sky. The numbers of butterflies made their beauty even more overwhelming. They were fluttering everywhere, some landing on me, many perching on the flowers that crowed around us, others dancing together. I was almost giddy with delight.

Judy and Geoff are keen on Aussie animals, so they were as happy as I was in the exhibits of local fauna. I have seen all these animals in the wild, but I never get tired of them. One behavior I hadn’t seen before (other than in videos) was kangaroos boxing. It’s likely the ones we saw were just practicing for the mating season, but these creatures can really fight when it comes time to divide up the ladies. Emus (birds, but not in the aviary as they are flightless) and a southern hairy-nosed wombat posed nicely for my photos.

Kangaroos boxing

Emu

Wombat


We also fit in some African and South American fauna. It’s too big a zoo to see everything, but we did our best, staying until closing time.

Then back to the mountains. We missed most of the traffic, so we got back to the ranch in just over an hour. Geoff built up a fire in the fireplace, Judy made tea, and we relaxed for a while before Judy started dinner. We then spent an amiable evening, talking about Australia and books, Judy’s horses and endurance riding and her and Geoff’s road rallies. It was a lovely evening. But then it was time for bed, as we have an early start tomorrow.

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Monday, September 16

This morning, Judy and I headed for Australflora and Gum Nut Village, a nursery that specialized in Australian plants, plus craft gallery and tearoom, all run by a charming, lucid man named Bill, who obviously knows Judy well. (Not too surprising, given how focused on indigenous plants Judy’s garden is.) We browsed for a few hours through the fabulous flowers, and I bought a few packets of seeds, to see if I can raise a few Aussie blooms in a pot back home. We chatted with Bill for a while, about local events, local folks, and how to care for a few plants Judy recently obtained. Then we headed for the giant “gum nut.” A gum nut is the hard, woody fruit of a eucalyptus tree—though in this case, it is a replica of said fruit the size of a small cabin. This gum nut houses the craft gallery as well as a lot of May Gibbs books and paintings.

May Gibbs was the artist/writer who, about 100 years ago, created a world of fairy folk that she dubbed gumnut babies. These delightful little creatures, who lived among and dressed in the flowers of gum trees (eucalypts), populated a series of children’s books, the most famous being Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which appeared in 1918. Gibbs’s creations became part of Australians’ childhood heritage. In fact, so iconic was Gibbs’s work that she was honored with a Google doodle on her 136th birthday.

And in case you haven’t seen a gum flower before, here is one of the many varieties—and one can see how easy it was to imagine it as the attire of tiny fairies.
GumFlower-B
Judy and I had lunch in the tearoom then we headed back to the house. Geoff was waiting for us. We chatted for a little while over tea, then I finished packing. At 3:00 pm, it was time to head for the airport. Judy and Geoff have been so gracious and generous, as well as a lot of fun, that I really hated saying good-bye. However, I’m sure part of that is also realizing that the trip is nearing its end—too soon, I’ll be saying good-bye again to Australia.

It was dark by the time I landed in Sydney at 6:15. I caught the bus to the city then hiked the rest of the way. Fortunately, I have a suitcase that can convert to a backpack, and when the walk turned out to be longer than I’d anticipated, I made that switch. Still, even with the suitcase worn as a backpack, I was fairly weary as I climbed the stairs to reception at Sydney’s Traveller’s Rest Hotel. However, I was pleased to find that, though a bargain accommodation, Traveller’s Rest was clean and cheerful and quite comfortable.

After settling in, I walked toward nearby Chinatown, stopping at a place that offered an all-you-can-eat Cambodian buffet. Glass noodles with tree ears, curried eggplant and pumpkin, meat with chilies, tofu with veggies, and several other dishes made for an interesting and tasty meal. Then it was back to the hotel and early to bed. Tomorrow, I get to find out how Sydney has changed.

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Sunday, September 15

Beautiful day. Weather was cool but brilliant. We walked to the Pony Club for a horse show and barbecue lunch. Here, I met all the people Judy has talked about all week: Joe, Anthony, Brendon, Agnes, and many others. Anthony is a horse trainer who has been working with Judy’s Rahmyl, so I’ve heard the most about him. All were delightful people, warm and welcoming. Easy to see why Judy likes them all so well.

Ferns at the ranch's edge.

Ferns at the ranch’s edge.


We got back to the house by about 3:00 o’clock. The weather had warmed up, so we made tea and sat on the deck, watching the horses and the hundreds of birds that live and/or feed here. Geoff did a few chores while Judy and I relaxed, then Judy fed the horses. I took photos and watched birds.
Judy feeding Rahmyl

Judy feeding Rahmyl


Judy made a splendid roast lamb dinner for our last evening together. Then we spent the evening watching a video of the Shazada, the world’s longest endurance race, which is held in New South Wales. As an endurance rider herself, Judy was very knowledgeable about the event, horses, and riders, so I learned even more than the video offered.

We chatted about world events, life, horses, and Australia, in no hurry to end the lovely day and evening. But we did finally trundle off to bed at eleven.

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September 14, part 2

Judy was free to join us for the afternoon, so after lunch, the three of us headed off again, along the winding roads and amid the towering trees and abundant ferns of the Dandenong Ranges. This time, our drive took us to Emerald Lake, where Judy and I would be able to catch the famous Puffing Billy, a beautiful, century-old, narrow-gauge steam railway. The train and its original 15 miles of track are considered to be among the finest preserved steam railways in the world. Famed for the beauty of its setting as much as for its handsome antiquity, the Puffing Billy is now run for tourists and train enthusiasts.

Puffing Billy Station

Puffing Billy Station

Puffing Billy arrives.

Puffing Billy arrives.


The train ride, through forest and mountain, past handsome farms and green valleys, was a delight. The whistle would toot as we neared a town, farm, or station, and everyone would turn and wave at the passengers. At the old trestle bridge—considered the best place from which to photograph the train—we saw dozens of cars and a fair crowd of people waiting to watch the train pass, all waving to us as we went by. Finally, after about an hour ride, the train dropped us in Belgrave, where Geoff was waiting to pick us up.

Another scenic drive returned us to the ranch, where we had afternoon tea. Then Geoff drove me to the top of Mount Dandenong, so I could see the sunset from the mountaintop. Wonderful.
At 7:30, Robert, a friend of the family, arrived. Robert was quite a character: big, burly, blond, open, effusive, clearly delighted with life. He has worked oil rigs all over the world, but has now returned to Melbourne to run the family business. Great fun listening to his tales.

Judy, Geoff, Robert, and I were all dressed for an evening out, and we headed to restaurant in Sherbrooke that Judy and Geoff save for special occasions. Had a beautiful evening of champagne, great food, and delightful conversation. For dinner, I had tortellini al pesto to start, pork and seafood Wellington for my main, and a ginger-crisp basked filled with sliced strawberries for dessert. Very nice.

We finally returned home by midnight, over full, slightly giddy from the excellent company, and definitely happy.

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Saturday, September 14

Up bright and early. Headed off with Geoff on a walk around the perimeter of the property. We circled the paddocks, checked the dam, admired the large plot where Judy grows proteas (amazing looking flowers), examined the gooseberry bushes, and stopped frequently to admire the birdlife. Amazing number of birds here. I could only hear the whip birds and bellbirds, but I saw eastern rosellas, crimson rosells, swallows, kookaburras, mud larks, wattle birds, wrens, wood ducks (mostly around the dam), sulphur-crested cockatoos, butcher birds, and magpies. Wow.

The ranch may be only ten acres, but sitting as it does on the side of the mountain definitely makes walking around this little ranch serious exercise. No wonder Judy and Geoff are so fit! (Though Judy says she hardly notices the fairly steep grade after so many years of climbing it.)

Judy had riding lessons today (learning dressage; she normally does endurance riding), so Geoff was my guide today. We drove first up to the William Ricketts Sanctuary. Ricketts was a potter and sculptor, born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1898, but who settled here in the Dandenong in the 1930s. He bought a four-acre area of trees and ferns here in the mountains, and began to fill it with his remarkable work. He lived at the Sanctuary until his death in1993. The 92 sculptures feature Aboriginal people, stories, and myths, all snuggled amid stunning greenery. The thing that made it just a bit more remarkable for me is that I had just heard of Ricketts for the first time when I visited the Pitchi Ritchi Sanctuary at the edge of Alice Springs less than two weeks ago! (See the post for Tuesday, September 3.)

At the William Ricketts Sanctuary

At the William Ricketts Sanctuary


The sculpture here was just as handsome and evocative as that in the Centre. Geoff and I spent a fair bit of time admiring the work and reading the stories that went with each piece. Then we headed off again.

I was taken around the area, to meet the locals–all of whom had heard I was coming. I met David the grocer, Chris, the “local Yank,” an antique dealer, a bookseller, and a local author. We popped around to the petrol station that Geoff and Judy own (Geoff is a wonder at repairing and rebuilding cars), and while there, I met Rocky the Cocky, their pet sulphur-crested cockatoo (a very friendly chap, it seemed). We then stopped to pick up pastries at Mangle’s, the deadly, cream-filled bake shop, before heading home for lunch.

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