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Coming in to land at Tullamarine airport Melbourne was like landing on a desert airstrip with not a blade of green grass to be seen. Most of the State of Victoria had not seen decent rain for a long time and in some parts of the state for as long as four years. You could see bush fires which had been burning out of control for the previous month and you could smell the smoke in the city.
Our friends Andy and Gilly met us and drove us to their home in Cheltenham through a city we hardly recognised. When we left Melbourne in 1974 they had just built BHP house, their first high rise building. Now that building was dwarfed by 50 others.
We were soon settled in with a cleansing ale and Gilly with her glass of Queen Adelaide Riesling (she has absolutely no taste). A trip to the Mornington Peninsula found us at a micro brewery for a cleansing ale and then a boutique winery where I foolishly bought a case of wine purely on taste without asking the price which turned out to be AUS$50 a bottle. Nice wine though!
A tootle round the new Melbourne eventually found us on the waterfront for lunch. Melbourne was just unrecognisable, they had even knocked down the old MCG and built a bigger new one, new stadia had sprouted up everywhere but dear old Lygon Street was still there and Jimmy Watsons Wine Bar still in business except it was closed for the whole time we were there.
New Years Eve was the occasion of an old flat mates reunion and we bought in the new year reminiscing about those golden years in the early 70's. We decided that we did not like the new Melbourne anywhere near as much. The Botanic Gardens are still the same and Flinders Street Station, Young and Jacksons pub opposite with the famous nude painting of Chloe, but the new bits like Federation Square are like a carbuncle - well you know the rest!
We hired a very pleasant little house in Daylesford, an old gold mining town, and visited Victorias highest waterfall except there was a complete absence of water.
Years ago there was a film called "Picnic at Hanging Rock" where Jenny Agutter swam naked in the creek. Well the real Hanging Rock is nothing like the film, no creek but some nice rocks and gnarled gum trees. One of the problems I have with the Oz countryside is the number of Gum trees and the sameness about the countryside. I was determined on this trip to try and find something a bit different.
A visit to the new Melbourne museum was rewarding and Dame Edna had a little exhibition on in the new arts centre in St Kilda Road which was classic. It was noticeable the number of Asians now in Melbourne and we observed on a Melbourne tram that we were the only Europeans on board and that included the driver! They are taking over in Auckland as well with 25% of the population at the last census.
Victorian Railways were generally to be commended. We booked tickets at the local station to Albury, back down to Stratford in Gippsland, returning to Melbourne and our seats were reserved on the ticket. The price was just over AUS$100 for the two of us for about 16 hours travel. Andy was quite stricken when we left Melbourne as we had bonded together over many cleansing ales!
Sues sister Frankie met us at Albury, just over the New South Wales border with her friend Greg. Together they showed us all the area had to offer but we were now in the worst affected draught area so were conscious that we were not seeing it at its best.
We drove up into the hills where Greg used to live and visited his sister at Bright, unusually brown in the drought. We were in the Ovens valley, settled by Italians who grew tobacco, an industry now in decline.
At our first meeting with Mariah, Frankies daughter, we quickly endeared ourselves to her with the purchase of some plastic science fiction creature and a Ned Kelly mask. Mariah enjoyed taking photographs with my camera and is responsible for the group shot above left of us all sitting in Beechworth, Ned Kelly country. Sue took another with Mariah sitting in but managed to cut her image in half as usual! Sue needs new eyes and can't judge distance is her excuse.
The weather was boiling and we spent one 43 degree C day immersed in the river Murray. It flows quite swiftly so you float downstream for a few hundred yards then get out on the bank and walk back to repeat the process. We also met Mariahs Dad, Luke, for the first time.
Back down to Melbourne by train, wait around for six hours, then continue down to Stratford. Actually the Stratford train turned out to be the train from Albury so we could have caught a later one without changing. The one black mark for Victorian Railways but we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a bit of shopping in Melbourne. Our friends Jim and Barbara met us off the train at Stratford. The town is on the River Avon and they have a Shakespeare festival every year, however, any similarity with the English original ends there.
Jim does a bit of home brewing so we were able to quickly bond with a few cleansing ales while Barb and Sue hit the white wine. We spent a pleasant few days wandering round the countryside with Barb while Jim was working but the draught and the bush fires restricted us to the coast as the roads up through the mountains were closed.
Early one morning we were back on the train to Melbourne and a flight up to Brisbane where we rendezvoused with Kate Muir at her city office. She works for the Queensland tourist board so we were provided with a multitude of brochures to plan our visit.
Kates home unit was located close to the Gabba where could be heard the anguished moans of the barmy army supporting the England cricket team. It was also a short walk to the river where we could catch a fast catamaran up river to the city.
When Kate was not working we collected the makings and set off into the hills above the city for a BBQ. Most recreational areas in Oz provide gas or electric BBQ's and they are often free of charge. On our return to Brisbane we stopped at one of the most attractive villages we had seen in Australia. Montville is situated high up on a ridge overlooking the Pacific coast. The countryside in Queensland was green and lush and this place was full of little shops and restaurants on either side of the winding road following gently down the wooded ridge.
Another first meeting with long lost relatives took place in Brisbane. Sue had corresponded for some time with her Dads sister, Aunty Audrey so we travelled across the city to meet with her and husband Tony. They entertained us to lunch and we spent an enjoyable day catching up on the family history. Audrey's daughter Alison lives in Sydney and we resolved to look her up before we left Oz.
Finally we left Brisbane on our last flight within Australia up to Cairns. We had hired a camper van in Cairns and planned to drive down from there to Sydney taking 5 weeks to complete the journey. On our arrival in Cairns on Australia Day our camper van was not ready so we were lent a car and travelled north to Port Douglas and checked into a nice motel for three days. We located an old friend and another of Sues ex flat mates, Barbs ex partner, Kevin Varnes. We ate an excellent meal at his restaurant and wrote off the next day with him starting with beers at the local pub, lunch at his favourite restaurant washed down with some Oz plonk, more beers at the yacht club then pizzas and more plonk back in town to finish. We poured ourselves into bed and slept in.
We did manage to travel to the end of the paved road at Cape Tribulation, about as far north as the civilised driver can go in Queensland. Our camper van was still not ready so we spent another night in a Cairns motel before finally collecting it and setting off for the Atherton Tablelands.
This area is famous for its waterfalls and rain forest. A large curtain fig tree was certainly impressive but the highlight of our visit was coming face to face with a cassowary in the wild. This is quite a fearsome bird, considerably larger and taller than a human and they will attack if threatened so we quietly backed off and let him/her wander off into the bush.
We based ourselves on a camp site in Atherton. It was nearly empty and it rained almost continuously. We felt lonely and dispirited and were unable to sleep with torrential rain on the roof. It was a bind to have to get dressed and into waterproofs in the night to go to the toilet and we had forgotten how long ago we gave up the dubious joy of camping. We resolved only to stay in camp sites if the weather was fine.
We saw loads of waterfalls and took loads of photographs but this was the one we liked best. The rain continued with no respite as we set off down to the coast and south on the Bruce Highway towards Townsville. There is only one north south road down through Queensland apart from a part paved development road inland and we were eventually halted by a barrier across the road and many parked trucks. We were informed that the road was closed by floods and advised to find a hotel for the night at Mission Bay nearby. After two nights in an expensive hotel and bored to death we checked at reception who checked the web and informed us the road had re-opened as far as Townsville.
We set off south again. It was raining stairods and as we crossed swollen rivers we saw that they were about to flood again, in fact, the road was closing behind us.
We did about 500km and that night it stopped raining, sort of. We stopped at a camp site well south of Townsville in company with a little possum when we cooked our evening meal in the camp kitchen. The next night we drove even further to south of Rockhampton, we just wanted to get out of this monsoon rain. Finally the sun came out as we arrived in Bundeberg.
This had been a mammoth unenjoyable journey down the only paved road linking north and south Queensland. The road surface was in places abysmal and the flooding was according to the locals a regular event. This was a national disgrace in a developed country like Australia and the politicians should invest the money to make this one route an all weather one.
Bundeberg is famous for its Rum and we asked at the local Internet Cafe where was a good place to eat. We were told that there wasn't one! We ate a miserable meal at a Chinese then noticed a scrawled sign which read "This business is for sale" - doh!
A web page about Australia would be incomplete without a picture of a Kangaroo so here he is; well, a Wallaby. We headed inland in nice warm sunny weather and climbed up into the Bunya Mountains. This scenery was a bit different to the usual Oz bush we had driven through. The Bunya Pine trees only grow here and they rise to immense heights. They are revered by the aborigines who used to meet here every year to harvest the pine nuts. We walked around one of the many trails through the cool forest and marvelled at these giants.
We continued inland to the city of Toowoomba. This is built on the edge of an escarpment about 100km inland from Brisbane. Because of its altitude it does not have such high humidity as Brisbane so we spent a pleasant couple of days wandering round that included dinner one night in the old railway station, now transformed into an up market restaurant.
Heading south again following a rough secondary road over the state border into New South Wales we soon had the distinctive outline of Mount Warning in our sights. We were coming down into the rain forest again and stopped at a roadside shop selling all manner of locally grown fruit, much of it organic. We found a nice motel in the attractive town of Murwillumbah and resolved to climb Mount Warning the following day.
Mount Warning rises from not far above sea level to 1156 metres altitude. We drove up to the start of the trail at about 300 metres and slogged up through the rain forest to the summit. Well I managed it but Sue stopped short by about 100 metres due to the almost vertical nature of the last section, a sort of Oz Via Ferrata. I must say it seemed a lot tougher climb than Table Mountain which we climbed under similar conditions but the view at the top was slightly disappointing.
In the afternoon we set off north again up over a pass back into Queensland to look at a limestone formation reminiscent of Smoo cave in Sutherland, Scotland. The stream has sunk further upstream of a waterfall and formed a cave.
Here were a group of people intent on injuring themselves by jumping from above the waterfall down the pot into the pool below, a vertical distance of around 10 metres. This area along the Queensland NSW border was probably the most attractive country we had yet encountered. The lovely sandy beaches along the coast combined with the interesting hinterland made for a great holiday destination within easy reach of the fleshpots of Surfers Paradise, virgin rain forest or challenging climbing and trekking.
A little further south we travelled inland again up into the ranges from Coffs Harbour to Dorigo and another bit of unspoilt rain forest. Miles of trails had been made through the bush as well as a skywalk through the forest canopy built out over the edge of the escarpment.
We also encountered a rather large monitor, sunning himself on one of the boardwalks. Dorigo itself was a smashing little town high up on the plateau and a centre for the rich dairy farming area of gently rolling green and well watered hills. Continuing inland towards Armidale the road follows a natural ridge with airy views to each side. Eventually the scenery changes back to the ubiquitous gum trees and we arrive at the Mackenzie Falls, quite the most spectacular of the many Oz falls we experienced on this trip. The river first makes a wide double drop of about 30 metres then drops dramatically into a gorge another 60 metres.
Back down at the coast we found ourselves at Port Macquarie in a motel right on the cliffs above some great beaches where we spent a couple of days chilling out, then on down to Forster for some more of the same. Here we checked up on some old friends of ours who we knew in our other life when I was working for Hawker Siddely in Australia. Don and Maureen Laverick owned Carrington Slipway near Newcastle in those days but we could find no recent reports of Carrington on the internet and assumed they had ceased trading. We checked the white pages and found only one Laverick in Raymond Terrace where they used to live which a phone call confirmed from a slightly surprised Maureen.
Once over the shock of someone re-entering her life she never expected to see ever again, Maureen told us to get down there and stay for as long as we liked. We spent a brilliant few days touring round a much changed Newcastle, another reunion with Dons brother and sister-in law, John and Margaret and tootling round the Hunter Valley, lunching and sampling some great wines.
All good things must come to an end but we hope to see both the Laverick families on board Harmonie before too long, in fact, John might just be in the market for a Dutch Barge himself!
Our next destination was Woy Woy. I had read a book about Australia which had a foreword by Spike Milligan whose mother lived there. Spike said nothing ever happened in Woy Woy, in fact, even the local whore was a virgin! He was right and we could not even find a half decent motel there so we headed north to Lakes Entrance and settled down for a few days.
A phone call to Sues cousin Alison resulted in yet another invitation to stay. Alison turned out to be a chip off the old block, the old block being her Mum, Aunty Audrey who we had visited in Brisbane. The family history is Alisons passion, in fact she admitted her idea of heaven is to spend her time in a churchyard amongst the graves of her relations!
Along with husband Derek and daughter Claire, her other passions are sport. She teaches swimming, Claire rows and plays hockey as do both her parents. We witnessed Claire winning a four woman sculling race at the Olympic course on the Sydney outskirts for her school. When the family were not studying or working then they were playing or coaching hockey such that we rarely saw them in other than an advanced state of exhaustion!
Another creature that any web page about Oz should have is a Kookaburra. This one is one of a pair fed on best butchers mince by Alison in her back garden. We managed to get Alison to stand still long enough for a photograph just as we left and Sue now has all the information she needs to progress with her research on her UK forebears.
While staying with Alison and Derek we travelled into Sydney by train and did all the tourist things like round the Rocks, Darling Harbour, Manly Ferry, the Opera House etc., but we won't bore you with the photos 'cos we didn't take any.
We had one more person to look up before we left.
Sarah Muir, Kate and Chris's sister, we had last seen on a narrow boat holiday the year Princess Di was married. We rang her up and arranged to meet her and her cousin Anna over from NZ, at Doyles Seafood Restaurant, Watsons Bay for lunch, caught the fast Cat from Circular Quay and wrote off the afternoon. In fact we were just getting into our stride on the fourth bottle when we realised the last ferry was about to leave at 4pm so had a hurried farewell.
Our last night in Sydney was spent in a crappy Hotel called the Sydney Airport International. It seems to have closed since which is not surprising. How they ever rated 3 stars I will never know. The meal was so bad we couldn't eat it and they refused to refund the cost. We caught a cab into Surrey Hills where a decent meal cost us £60 and the cab fare £40. Goodbye Oz. New Zealand won the tourist stakes hands down! Brazil here we come.