Warburton

Queen’s Birthday Monday was a good day to leave the city limits. The diluted winter sun tried its best to warm a still, cold morning.

Pictures first for those short of time/attention span. Story below.

 

 

I completed the public transport trifecta getting to Warburton, first leg, a tram to Box hill – and a lap around the awesome and exotically dated food court and market (the ‘vegetable puff’ highly recommended for time constrained consumers), then a train to Lilydale. The Warbutron buses are only once an hour, so had a bit of time to kill. Crows circled and prowled the bus bays, foraging through bins and emitting their curdling calls from the roofs of bus shelters.
I strolled up the highway, past the string of fish n chips shops and the stately Olinda Creek Hotel. I turned into the parklands and showgrounds. Corrugated pavilions standing long empty, waiting for their one time to shine in November at the annual show.
The swimming pool was closed, the water greying and neglected, a family of ducks had moved in. There was not much to see at the museum, the footy oval sits beside the station, and has a lovely line of towering trees along one flank, low slung grandstands are dotted around one end. There was a man in active wear sitting on one of the interchange benches and a huge black mass of circling crows above. The crows noisily passed and were replaced by the shrill screech of cockatoos.
I walked back to the bus stop where a scruffy haired lady of indeterminable vintage was intently pacing back and forward. She asked me the time, and hearing my response muttered about the bus being late. She strode past again lamenting the cold, and inquired as to whether a half-finished can of Cola Cola ™ on the other end of the seat from me was mine. I replied that it wasn’t and somehow on the next lap past she knocked it over.
She made a big fuss of picking it up and taking it to the bin, and skulled it in one big gulp before disposing of it. You can’t blame her, have you seen how expensive Coke is these days? I saw a 600ml bottle being sold for $5.75 the other day, and it wasn’t even at the footy, but at the super market!
Anyway, the bus arrived after about 26 more passes by my freshly caffeinated fellow commuter, and the driver was instantly enlightened by a particularly long story with the end result being my new friend needed to be told where the stop was for the caravan park. Something the driver was only too happy to do. In fact there wasn’t a single thing that the driver wasn’t too happy to do, and he knew pretty much everybody by name that got on and had a nice yarn or message for everyone too. It was really nice. He even gallantly lifted one commuters trolley full of fresh produce both on and off the bus and even had a cheeky salutation for one local who was getting the bus home without her fella “When the cat’s away, the mice will play, aye!”
The scenery too, was pretty damn decent. A few clicks out of Lilydale as if on cue as we rolled into ‘the country’ there was a kangaroo and its little joey standing there in a paddock, just standing around looking at some horses, who themselves were just standing around looking at some grass. It was very rural.
We passed the historic Sam Knott Hotel which dates back to 1860, and if you were wondering, like I just was, who Sam Knott is, then you’ll be amazed to discover that he is that beardy bloke in the old Carlton Ale posters with the catch phrase ‘I allus have wan at eleven’. Read more of this great story here
There was some more rustic scenery around the next bend, a timber farmhouse was slowly fading back into nature behind a front yard filled with clapped out vintage cars with chickens pecking around the wheels.

Millgrove is particularly well named, it’s got a saw mill, and great damp piles of lengths of timber that had at some point in the distant past, been through the mill more tree shaped, and less rectangular. There was an eccentric looking shop called Mt. Little Joe’s Music and Nursery with its hand drawn and painted signs promoting wares including guitar strings, drums, blues harps and musical accessories that I definitely would have stopped into had I been in a car instead of the 683 bus.
One potential attraction of the area was the Blue Lotus Water Garden – which quite unluckily was closed, as lotus season only runs from December to April! It sounds pretty great though, with a GIANT Amazon Lily, and 14 acres of loti to look at. All just made by a feller who got sick of fishing, and cabbages.
Other places I would have also stopped if I was driving included Glady’s Bakehouse, The Upper Yarra Museum, the great looking old Cunninghams Hotel, an Irish pub with a faded ancient Guinness sign out front, and some colourful characters within apparently and the German Clocks Cafe.
The Yarra loomed on the left and the township of Warburton soon followed. It was bustling – people, cars and colour everywhere. And history, I lobbed off the bus and landed in the Lace And Things shop, which was a passion project by local lady Valda Street. She had the old Boot Shop at Walhalla – a former gold mine town, now turned ghost town/tourist attraction – relocated to Warburton’s main street and it was now a museum of not only boots, but thimbles, and needle things, and buttons, lots and lots of buttons. As well as the shelves and shelves of 1800s ephemera, there was a recreated kitchen and a special display of Valda’s own working life as private secretary to decorated surgeon and second world war hero ‘Weary’ Dunlop. It was so good I gave $2 in the gold coin donation box.
There was an Old Tea Shop, lots of ‘rusticly quaint’ cafes, an old timey lolly and confectionary shop, rural gift and homewares, one of those mumsy clothes shops, new age stuff, an antiques and collectible store, which had a strangely strong amount of KISS merchandise in among the old tea towels, bakelite, dusty books and trinkets.
The Arts Centre looks like it’s a vital social and creative hub of the area, with posters for all manner of excellent things filling the front window and notice board. But nothing on today. I went over to the ‘high’ side of the highway, which had a visitors centre – from which I grabbed a few maps and pamphlets – which are probably still scrunched up in the bottom of my bag now. They also had a ‘habitat centre’ which had lots of taxidermed Australian critters and laminated signs with snippets of information all about the walls. They also had a gold coin donation box to use the bathrooms, I didn’t go. There were also some excellent ‘community art’ pieces decorating the steps of the bright colours, shapes and random phrases variety.
The old siding of the no longer present Warburton railway station was now sections of murals, there was also a bunch of carved wooden totem poles and a pretty terrific view from where the platform used to be over the town and across to the mountains.
Lots of lycra-clad people were undertaking the 38km Warburton to Lilydale rail trail ride on their bicycles. Not me, I was headed to the river. Back on December 31st, I as ever, over-optimistically gave myself a New Years challenge. As well as some actually achievable things, I vowed to attempt to walk the length of the Yarra River in 2016. Which is 241km – most of which is inaccessible or restricted areas due to being water catchment areas. Anyway, I made it as far as Heidelberg, and now am just visiting towns along the way where I can actually get beside the banks.
Even better I had to go past the bakery on the way, where there were pies and bikies in abundance. The Yarra is actually clear here! You can see the bottom! Amazing. The first section of the Yarra Walk takes you to a near right-angled bend and some rocky rapids. There are large strangely geometrically straight-shaped rocks poking above the rushing water, and dead trees and branches fading back into the banks. You go behind a superbly scenic footy oval, and through a strange fenced-off vacant lot that has an old rusting and graffiti tagged ‘thing’ of some unknown (to me anyway) formerly industrial type use.
Then there’s another of many ace bridges, a timber-made swing bridge that gives a nice gentle sway as you make your way across. There was a seemingly often overlooked ‘Nature Walk’ to the right on the other side, I had ventured not more than 50 of its 500 metres when I came across a particularly striking King Parrot sitting about minding its own business. Good stuff.
Back to the Yarra and the sun was streaming down over rambling gardens and towering trees. Age old sediment has created numerous islands in the stream and the water swirls and rushes through the narrows, or reflectively shimmers like frosted glass in the deeper, stiller water. It almost feels like a rain forest at some points, ferns and fungi in among the vast grey gums.

There were some parents taking their hesitant kid along the walk and getting her to pose for photos standing daftly on all manner of rocks. A family had a sprawling array of foods filling the BBQ area table, the adults sat and sank beers on camping chairs whilst the kids ran amok all around them.

The best of all the bridges is revealed after a long sweeping bend of the river. You first see a splash of orange leaves, then the white framework pokes out and reveals itself as a simple, but grand river crossing, connecting the picnic area and the tennis courts, but at a height safe enough from flooding. I continued on to the next, and last bridge, and crossed over and connected up to the rail trail. It was some nice flat walking, all paved path and cuttings. There were some alpacas, and generally excellent scenery. I walked a long while, and eventually came close to the road again, and saw a bus was soon arriving, and a minute later was headed back to Lilydale. This driver didn’t know anyone’s name though, and even told some kids to ‘get the next one’ as there wasn’t enough room in the lockers underneath for their razor scooters.
It was kind of disappointing to be driving back towards civilization after seeing such nice, natural things. But the hydroponic strawberry farm was the last gasp of rural Melbourne, before hitting the outer suburbs, then the huge crater of earth that is a lime mine and later a solitary brick chimney standing stoically in a huge vacant lot, the last remnants of a brick pit kind of curtailed the idyllic scenes of the day. And by the time the tram was clanging through the Victoria Street traffic on the city fringe I was back in my own little world checking my phone and ignoring everyone else’s presence like all the other urbanites. Had to see if the Dees beat the Pies after all. Was good while it lasted though. Happy birthday Liz.

Escape From Chadstone

Subtitle: If you don’t Scoresby here, you’ll never score

My mum and sister were visiting, and they love Melbourne for its shopping. So I found myself joining them on the ‘Fashion Shuttle’ with numerous middle aged ladies, some phone screen teens, one poor husband – and an even glummer looking brother, and one super cool looking Japanese tourist with long dyed hair and a leather jacket.

The destination was the mega mall known simple as Chadstone, Shopping Centre. Or, Chadstone Fashion Capital, and ‘the biggest shopping centre in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere’ according to its website. There were 513 shops listed on the map that the driver handed out before we embarked on our fashion journey. I looked at four of them, and three of those were in the food court, the other was the AFL shop. Mum and sis seemed like they were in for the long haul and actually had a plan, so I arranged to meet up with them later.


I escaped Chadstone managing to spend only five dollars (two sushi rolls) and having my inner wrist exfoliated and moisturised by a friendly man with impeccable skin called Ben. I managed to extricate myself from his manuka honey product demonstration at the point where he made me scrutinise my own pores. I left none the more fashionable, but had the chance to finally make the outer-suburban curio that is the Carribean Gardens.
The busride was great, if you are into highways, hills and grass. We picked up some students at the massive uni campus, but not too many people were left on by the time it terminated at Stud Park, just the studs! Ha.

The journey to Carribean Gardens wasn’t designed for pedestrians, I was stomping through overgrown buffalo grass most of the way, and sidling through narrow roadsides where the ‘path’ vanished into creeks. I even saw a fox! (on the run).
Public transport users were pre warned about having to walk up the 800 metre driveway to get to the Carribean Gardens, they didn’t warn about the train crossing, or the chairlift! Just as well they weren’t running, in fact nothing much looked like it was running, the whole place had a bit of an abandoned 80’s amusement park vibe. But the impressively large gates and numerous entry booths suggested that prosperous times were had here once upon a time.


There were mushroom rooved picnic tables everywhere, a glorious ornamental lake lined with yellowing weeping willows, ducks, water fowl a couple of goats, and most excitingly, a pelican! There was a bright orange suspension bridge (a replica of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate) that took you across to mini golf island (closed) and the Japanese ornamental garden, a wharf for ‘Jungle Cruises ‘ (closed) however the lions, cheetahs and elephants waited stoically on the banks for the next boatload of cruisers to pass by, mostly because they were made of fibreglass.


There was Grand Central Station for the not operating train, a mock paddle steamer playground, two tanks (one which was the first Centurion deployed to Vietnam apparently (with thanks to a military history pedant on reddit), a ground cannon, some trampolines and an adventure playground. There was a big papier mache looking chef head sitting above the hamburger shop/take away, his big blue eyes staring vacantly out above three cartons of chips and HUNGRY writ large in big yellow letters.
The market itself looked promising enough from the front, a flower and plant stall had a few browsers (Safari and Firefox! Heh), there was some cutesy crafty wallpaper with hip texta drawing depictions of the various produce and goods one could possibly find within.
There was a green grocer bellowing out fruit & vegetable specials, a bakery, a cake shop, a fancy organic butcher and then there was the market proper. An expansive shed/hall expanding out from the entrance way in two vast wings.


The one to the right where I first ventured was sectioned off maybe a quarter of the way along. Behind that rows and rows of trestle tables, silence and space. One of the stall holders was lamenting to another it was their quietest day in ages. Some of the stalls products looked like they haven’t even been glanced at since about 1993.
There was a few big screens of stickers, car logos, clothing brands, hair metal bands, motorcycle emblems, swears and sporting teams. Next was a raft of DVDs just in their slip covers, a second hand music stall that was albums of the 80s and compilation heavy. The next shop was a curio goldmine, those pictures that go from pleasant to sinister when you tilt them different ways, eagle statues and prints, crystals, mood rings, ear and toe and finger rings, of which I bought a blue stone iron looking one out of sympathy, and some chromey looking rock that was good for positive thoughts and energy. There was incense, holey dollars, dragon figurines, swell prints, dream catchers and printed clocks. I probably could have spent at least $11 there had I felt so inclined and bought one of everything.
The other section was a bit more spread out, but had three solid rows of stalls. There was the dubiously cheap gift packed perfume shop, the cheap sock lady, racks of tracky dacks and tie dyed Santa Cruz hoodies.
The next row was a bit more homely, there was a nice old dear with hand knitted beanies, scarves and headbands, I got one of the latter in Swans colours, but couldn’t find a big enough beanie unfortunately. But at least got a laugh when I pretended to try one on that was meant for a newborn.
There was a forlorn looking kebab caravan at the end of one of the sheds, they had a really great view out over the lake, but not so much out over the heads of many customers.
The last row had a few basketball singlets, some street brand tees and some NBA snap caps, there was a guy selling all his accumulated cross stitch kits and turn of the century sheet music scores for $1 a pop. Out they go. In fact there were a few stalls of the defeated by this point, an everything $5 sign had been struck through and discounted to $3, there were a few rows of stray economy size boxes of laundry powder going for a buck, and the poor hot nuts man couldn’t even give away any of his samples (not a euphemism).
It may not sound it, but I really liked being there, and I honestly wish I could think of a use or manufacture some sort of need for some of the things the people were selling. As the market folk looked both hardy and happy, and all bonded and a tight (pearl) knit community. They all had a cheeky nod or laugh for each other, some sort of story for any potential sale maker that walked past, and they seemed resilient enough to come back every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, even though most of the world seemingly don’t have it in their diaries.
I liked the scope and ambition of the place. Someone one day had a whopping great plot of land, a few bob to rub together and just plonked down things they thought people might like. How about a lake? Sure! Dig a hole over there, turn on the hose, and off we go! What if we could play mini-golf right near the lake? Let’s whack an island in! Bridges are great, let’s get a few of them. I reckon the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty neat, can we make one of those? Sure! I went to African Lion Safari once, that was great fun! Have we got any exotic animals? Ah, nah, but I’ve got a mate who has a mate that can get some. Okay, i’ll take two lions, a hippo, some giraffes and a cheetah! How good are mushrooms! Etc etc.

That’s how I imagine it anyway.

In reality, it’s actually fifty years since the park was opened to the public. The Spooner family initially acquired the land in a 300 acre parcel and used it for farming. In the 50s a boat factory was built, and a bit of thinking outside the box meant that they built a lake to test the boats in.

Caribbean No 1

The first fibre glass boat built at Carribean Gardens
In 1966 the parklands began to be opened to the public on Sundays, and was a popular picnic place. The crowds were soon entertained by waterski spectacular shows, and the draw of the place saw it finally transformed into the Carribean Garden and Market in 1976.


In what is actually quite a common historical Australian footnote, the garden was filled with all sorts of excellent attractions, that only ceased to be when someone got a bit hurt. There was a weekly waterski spectacular, until someone got seriously injured. There was a chair-o-ride as part of the amusement rides, until it collapsed in high wind and damn near killed two people in 1997.
More recently, the markets have been the subject of scandal for selling counterfeit goods. The powerful US film industry lobby group The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) actually named the Carribean Markets was on its global list providing “detailed listing of the world’s most notorious marketplaces for the distribution of illegal film and television shows”.
Local rag the Knox Leader picked up this report and sent some undercover shoppers/journalists along in 2013 who “found illegal tobacco offered under the counter at stalls selling smoking paraphernalia including hookah pipes and “gram bags” used for marijuana packaging.
There was also a stall selling an array of vicious-looking knives behind large perspex screens – all legal according to the stallholder.

Illegal movies, including unreleased titles, were freely available and many stalls stocked fake designer-branded watches, perfumes, sunglasses and handbags labelled Dior, Chanel and Ray-Ban.”

The lake/gardens were home to the first fibre glass boat built in Australia, and Carribean has gone on to become one of our most iconic boating brands. The plant market was the go-to source for nurseries, Melbourne wide, there used to be a Futuro house here as an office, there’s a roller rink, and the Spooner family who run the gardens came in 19th in the BRW 2015 rich list of Australian families with around $626m to their name. A stark contrast to the stallholders, who I think half of whom would have barely made $40 that day.
There certainly seems, despite all appearances on the day I went, lots of life in the old Carribean Gardens, they’ve had food truck days, revisited the waterskiing spectacular, and have numerous muscle car and classic vehicle events going on. And most of the rides actually do run Sundays, weather permitting.
I passed through the last of the stalls and grabbed a pizza slice on the way out – they had been discounted to a dollar. The bakery lady was trying to upsell me to buy the whole lot (about 27 of them and a few french sticks) for $5. I took two out of pity and wandered back through the deserted lakeside to embark upon the epic bus, train, bus, tram adventure back to meet up with the family. They’d barely seen half of Chadstone Mall and were well chuffed with their afternoon’s shopping bargains. If only they’d liked pizza…

Echuca

Any port in a storm
Not only have the wheels been falling off V Line trains, but they’ve also not been triggering the boom gates at level crossings, so they’ve given the brave and foolhardy travelers of Victoria free services for a week. Travel at your own risk. I’m not really sure why I chose Echuca, I figured it’s on the river, has a bit of history and it would be near three hours of countryside rolling past the window to get there. And Australia Day jingoistic celebrations are not really my go. I only just made the train with two minutes to spare, it was pretty much full. Everybody loves a bargain!
I had a world champion throat expectorator behind me and a bunch of old dearies in front discussing their health foibles “She’s alright when the sun’s out, otherwise she’s as blind as me”.

The 16 metre gold statue of Heavenly Queen on the banks of the Maribyrnong and its accordant temple never fail to astound. You go past the bold graffitied fence that proclaims “West Side is the Best Side” and think they may have something as you see a flock of white cockatoos pecking about a vacant lot in front of an impressively imposing mosque.

The suburbs give out to dry, rock strewn fields dotted with power lines. Some goats are moseying about a barren field with a long-empty dam wedged between the train line and the highway. A cactus farm is strange neighbourly next to a field of alpacas.
The first buildings in twenty minutes are on the industrial outskirts of Sunbury, where new outpost suburbs are springing up clinging tightly to the base of a hill. Riddell’s Creek has lines of pines and two-toned bulls.

Gisbourne is a place I have heard advertised on low brow sports radio station SEN. The next boom suburb with the advantages of rural life, but still a close enough commute to the city. Raw land is being filled with off the rack houses. There’s two footy fields already, one has a wonky post leaning in as if it’s eavesdropping on a conversation. Bring on the sprawl, sports fans.
The trees get denser as we passed through Macedon, all towering grey gums, pines and even a billabong. Woodend was well named, the foliage gives way to streets lined with old timber houses, most with clapped out cars slowly rusting away out front. Then there’s the open fields of sheep stations (the ones you don’t play for) dotted with rolled up hay bales.

The train doesn’t stop at Elphinstone anymore. The station and its yards have seemingly been reclaimed by a master ‘tinkerer’. There’s a busted up old pick up truck, a corroding caravan and a trailer among the works in progress parked beside the rail line, and a glimpse of a strange sculpture in a shed – some kind of fantasy humanoid crafted from concrete and car parts. A great old pub lay mostly dormant across the road, a sun-bleached VB logo barely visible on the side. The thirsts would be very hard earned around here.
Coming in to Castlemaine the train passes through amazing seams of multi-coloured rock exposed from the rail cutting. A correctional facility loomed ominously on the hill on the outskirts of town, but the first impressions of the town itself are much more inviting. An emerald green footy oval, the striking timber Victorian era station building and old stone buildings cresting the hill.
Kangaroo Flat provides an opportunity to ponder Australia’s national identify. I’m sure the place was once a beautiful haven for our marsupial emblem, and the local Jaara Jaara people. But now the ‘flat’ has been leveled and a massive shopping centre stands there instead, surrounded by a suburb of people in 4 Wheel Drives that want to be close to the shops. What we’ve done and where we are heading is nothing to be proud of.
‘The Spires of Bendigo’ would probably be a pretty good title/subject for a folk song. The numerous pointed spires and steeples that dot the city reflecting a more god-fearing times.
A gang of youths waved and otherwise gestured to the train from the railside BMX track at Epsom. Piles of disassembled sheds and farm buildings lined the paddocks of Elmore with lonely wind mills and occasional clusters of sheep and cattle crowding under the shade of gnarled old trees.

Rochester looked intriguing, grand old hotels and a stately awning lined high street focused towards a noble town hall. The grass here was a bit greener, on account of the river, though it soon gave way to gravel roads and dry grass. As the voice over announced that we would soon be arriving in Echuca a large corrugated fence seemed to mark the border, the paddocks stopped and suburbia started.

The town itself starts off a bit slow around the railway station. You’ve got to go past a big open gravel patch and the Cheap As Chips warehouse (sadly closed) before you get to anything worth looking at. There’s a Woollies and a Coles in close competition and a big ole corner pub that looks like it’s been imported down from North Queensland, XXXX sign and all. High street has a strange mix of shops open for a public holiday, want some durable and inexpensive women’s fashion – you’re in luck! Katie’s is open for business, need a new pair of Asics gels and a sweatband, Riverside Sports has got your back! There was even a sanity open, which I went into for nostalgic reasons, but if there’s any reflection on the current currency of CDs, David Bowie’s chart topping last album Black Star already had a 2 for $20 SALE sticker on it less than two week’s after its release. There were only two small walls of music, the main categories ‘Dance Music Compilations ‘ and ‘Country Music Compilations’ which took up half a wall each, the rest of the store DVD box sets. The vinyl revival has yet to hit the Murray.
I popped in to the visitors centre where the lady was almost disappointed that I only had the afternoon there. She suggested a quick paddlesteamer trip and then the Holden museum right across the road from the wharf would see me through; and gave me a rather thoroughly highlighted, but short trail to follow on my map.
The Murray River is super impressive when you get your first glimpse of it. It’s impressive brown girth framed with drooping ghost gums. I wandered over the bridge towards Moama sticking a foot in New South Wales – it still looked pretty much the same, so headed back into Victoria. There was a most alluring parkland, a time-old billabong formed by the changing water courses, shrill galahs squawked about overhead, swans and ducks got about a bit more gracefully on the water’s surface.
The old port is striking indeed, all timber frame and bobbing boats, looking in it’s original gold rush era condition. You can imagine it being a flurry of activity and churned water back then, but it’s all rather still today. The whole town’s a bit sleepy really. I do the High Street block, there’s some great musty bookshops filled with overflowing shelves of old knowledge getting more obsolete by the day, whole great swathes of Mills & Boon and the biography of seemingly any semi-literate footballer/cricketer that ever played.
You’d better believe there were some great bakeries though. Medal-winning pie boasting ones. By the end of the day I’d managed a Bronze medal winner, a Silver worthy salad roll and also a Beesting from the always excellent Beechworth Bakery (three down, three to go to get the VIP Membership by visiting all six!).

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I baulked at going in to the Holden Museum, old cars are better seen on the road or in the suburbs, not in an old community centre, but I did a lap of the gift shop and perused the souvenirs that has every hard-drinkin, hard-driving, hard-rockin man’s needs covered.
I did some of the river walk, past the footy oval and holiday park, which gave me some fond bygone summer memories of times spent with Nana & Pa sleeping in the annex of their old caravan after staying up watching day night cricket back when 240 was a competitive score. Dean Jones would always get stumped charging the wicket and it was always seemingly left for a hero of villain last over featuring Michael Bevan. The big wire fence surrounding the perimeter seemed at odds with the usual free wandering packs of kids and the thong-worn routes between the nearest swimming spots and ablution blocks.

The ‘Houseboat District’ boasted tenants such as ‘Cheers’, ‘Overdraft’ and ‘Froth and Bubbles’ on the party side of the river (VIC), and the more esteemed ‘Indulgence’ and ‘Decadence’ on the apparently more luxurious NSW’s banks of the Murray. A fair few were tenanted, the barbies were still smouldering with the odd blackened snag, groups lazing about on the decking under Oz flag bunting a fair few drinks in. A family on jet skis bust open the serenity. A mostly empty paddlesteamer chugged past a handful of people mostly ignoring the Captain’s narration. Echuca was almost Australia’s capital at one point. The weather would be much nicer than Canberra’s anyway.

The ‘Port of Echuca’ as it’s officially known is a tourist district designed to extract money from travelers by plying old-timey wares and attractions in mostly-unscathed era-authentic buildings. There’s a stoic old wood turner, a sawmill, steam display, an old fudge shop and penny arcade, a ‘Discovery Centre’, a kid-scaring magician, the Steampacket Inn historic pub and lots of garish giftware and art.
I stopped in at the Shamrock for a well deserved beer. They boasted wading pools, the hottest 100 countdown, a beer garden BBQ and backyard cricket. Most people just sat in the shade or under the mist fans, one err, ‘big boned’ chap plopped down unceremoniously in one of the wading pools, his mate, who was obviously quite the salad dodger himself yelled out “Somebody call Greenpeace!”. Cheap laughs are good laughs.

I didn’t like any of the songs I heard on the part of the countdown I heard. The over-excited announced proclaimed the average BPM of songs for this year was 20% up on previous years, maybe that’s why?

I had time to squeeze in the aforementioned Beesting at the river-side Beechworth bakery before strolling through town and awaiting the coach in the shadows of the station.
The bus ride home was a great golden-hour illuminated sojourn back through the dry, dusty fields and nowhere towns to the bright lights and big city of Melbourne. It can be best summed up with a Gillian Welch quote: “I’ve never been bored in a car. In every street sign there is poetry and history and all these beautiful images.”

Carrum

 

My day started at the Sticky Institute, fulfilling another of my new years resolutions to buy a few new zines per pay.

I had planned to peruse them on the train, but I just sat and stared as the city gave way to the suburbs, and the suburbs spread into factories, bushland and coastal scrub. The glimpses of turquoise water all rather exciting as the train made its way down the Mornington Peninsula.

Frankston had certainly been busy in the two decades since I’d last been there. It had a big shiny mall for one, where were the spittin and swearin youths? The cool second hand record store, the king of Savers stores? Nowhere to be seen – just paving and chain stores everywhere. It was a bit disorientating, as the whole focus of the place now seems to be the Bayside Shopping Centre, as opposed to the water.

But I soon found the water front, and quite soon after that found the Water Front Festival. There were carnies, rides, and the ubiquitous twisted potato on a stick tent – which seemingly has left Gozleme for dead as far as food choice people want to shove in their face whilst walking around fairgrounds goes.

There was a small stage to the side with ‘youth’ bands (that’s where they went!) another even smaller stage with even smaller performers – those ChildStar types – that dress and gesture and sing lyrics about adult life, but still get dropped off and picked up from primary school.

Then there was the particularly baffling ‘Swim With the Mermaids’ attraction, which had these two women of indeterminable age and unrealistic tails just sort of lying around and lolling about in about 15cm of water beside the pier, encouraging small children to get their photos with them.

Another lap of the festival and a lap of Frangers (as the locals call it) and I was about done, but found a bus going out to the Mornington Regional Gallery, so jumped aboard. The exhibition was On the Beach, and really terrific actually. Some really iconic photos (Max Dupain and Rennie Ellis) as well as some commentary and more challenging works regarding the place of the beach in Australian culture, particularly in light of the Cronulla Riots.

It inspired me to want to go to a beach at the very least. Got back to Frankston and was pondering a dip at Chelsea, but new years, new suburbs! gave Carrum a go instead. There’s not much doing as far as the strip of shops on the highway, just Thai and a fancyish cafe, but the beach itself is a little bottler. Big multi-coloured umbrellas give the entrance a jolly tropical resort vibe, the water is clear as if it came from a tap, the view sweeps out round the sand in each direction; the sun was on the last of its downwards descent over the bay, giving that crushed diamond sparkle to the water, and there was a wedding going on.

The water didn’t get past my knees deep until about 50 metres from shore and the waves just sort of gently swelled a bit and pushed forward, rather than breaking, so it was great swimming. Though the translucence of the water actually made me a bit more paranoid about what may be lurking within it, as you could see every little thing in there. Sometimes it’s just better not to know.

After a jolly great paddle, I ventured into Carrum proper. It was just a short strip of shops, but it felt communal, and all useful. I settled for the art deco-looking fish n chips and wandered along down to the park overlooking Pattersons Lakes for some alfresco dining. It felt nice walking around. There’s something about beachside areas, their houses seem to be outward looking, big windows, verandas, and outdoor furniture suggesting that having to actually be inside is an inconvenience rather than a choice.

A bit further along the park was the sports district, tennis courts and a beaut footy/cricket oval, which a movie has given me some apt vocabulary to describe – ‘A Field of Dreams’. There’s a pavilion bustling with mingling cricketers, former opponents now all together in the temporary brotherhood of post-game beers. Almost half the perimeter of the ground s filled with ads for local businesses ‘proudly’ sponsoring their local team, a lovely pine-tree backdrop down one end and gracefully aged old stands and scoreboards at the other.

Doing a bit of research and it was quite the dream. The area had a local footy team in some form since 1902, eight decades of playing in the local leagues netted them seven flags, but it all came to an end in 1996.A couple of likely local lads put some feelers out and 20 blokes showed up for kick-to-kick that Sunday, and it grew from there, 45 showed up for pre-season training and the Lions were reborn.

I had just enough time to squeeze in a pot at The Wishing Well, a homely local pub. It had two taps (VB and Carlton) a motley crowd of regulars, darts, a pool table, faded sporting memorabilia, one of those ‘Pick A Number’ machines and no doubt the echoes of decades of yarns and laughs told over the well propped up bar.

On the road: Olinda

A sunny spring Sunday was a perfect time to get the Corolla rolling. One of the features of Melbourne’s roadways is long, straight roads, so much so, only four turns were needed the entire way to our first stop at Belgrave – and two of those were just getting out of our street! The best thing about these long, and not winding, roads is that suburbs just loom and pass as a strip of shops. Pubs and hip cafes signal South Yarra, jewellery, galleries, home furnishing, and various human body perfecting services at Toorak, fancry clothes draperies and financial institutions for the Camberwell off before finally a bit of suburban dining exotica in Burwood – dumplings! oh my! A Red Rooster the first sign of the outskirts, then the tram line ended, and a monolithic Westfield meant we were really in the sticks. One bit even looked like we’d inadvertently driven to Canberra, a crane on the horizon doing a decent job of impersonating parliament house at the end of a procession like hill and gunbarrel straight stretch of road. Leafiness encroached beside the lanes, and we were soon driving through a really nice part of the world.

Belgrave announced itself with a shiny silvered lettered cinema and the sound of tribal drumming. We’d have no trouble at all it seems finding the markets. Landed the perfect park on the main road then wandered the seemingly many delights in this quaint two-curve roadside strip of a town. A classic old pub, a ripping op-shop, from which I will probably regret not buying an awesome pictorial history of airline stewardesses book, and some quite well-stocked vintage type places in amidst the usual mumsy homewares stores and cheap shops. A few Puffing Billy themed tourist lairs, a nicely dusty and craggy bookstore, a quirky music venue/lounge sort of place, and the obligatory medal winning pie stocking country bakery all getting our thumbs up. The market itself was a good n wholesome mix of local growers, crafts, creative types and cute kids – one who was selling fur trees to be able to afford “a party for me and four friends, and it’s note even my birthday”. The Melways suburb badges earnt our custom, and rhubarbs and ridiculously multi-seeded bagels made for our morning snack. Then it was one last promenade down town and off on the Monbulk road., being passed the other way by a parade of shining-chromed and souped up cars, which six kilometres and a couple of helpful banners later we learnt were part of the classic car show on Monbulk’s main drag that day!

We had a quick but passive window-viewed sticky beak then made it through a most gloriously winding and tall-timber-treed forest to the National Rododendron Garden. I probably wont be using or writing that word ever gain, but they are a nice flower, which can tend to droop and look wilted, even if well watered, but instead of ill-health, is an inbuilt trick originially designed to release snow from its leaves/petals in its more colder natural climates.

The gardens are pretty amazing, tracks, paths and diversions shoot forth all directions, roads low and high flanked by all manner of trees, and the imposing blue-tinged Dandenong Ranges loom stoically in the background of most vistas. The Cherry Blossoms were being shy, and its annual celebration of all things Japanese had thusly been cancelled, but they were still a terrific sight with brightly sprouted daffodils at their feet. After a long and colour-drenched wander we drove down to Olinda town itself for some gold medal winning pies, some candy store treats and fancy local craft beer and lots of girly stationery/cards/cutesy things, well Amy mostly for the latter, as I pondered that the town really needed a pub for all the blokes to go while their better halves looked thru hokey homewares. Drove home into a sparkling sunset and a Rod  Stewart super special. Terrific. ****1/2

11th Day Leaps & Bounds

Our first eleventh day in Melbourne was initially going to involve a visit to the Heide Gallery, though once we saw how easily it could be reached by PT we chose to set our sights further and hit the road instead. Back in our original Sydney to Melbourne transition we thought we’d take the longer, and more scenic coast way and stop in at the Mornington gallery on the way for the Portraits of Paul Kelly exhibition, thinking it would be a pretty ace into to our new town. But our haste to move was so great so we went ‘right down the corridor’ and hit the Hume instead.

We were through the city and into the suburbs in a flash, and cruised along the Citylink with ‘Songs From the South‘ playing. Nothing was familiar, every turn of the Melways page revealing postcodes and places we’d never known. The traffic, roads and roadside distractions thinned as we reached the outskirts, even passing a sign saying we were “Now Leaving Metropolitan Melbourne”. On our last turn into the gallery, a clock on a silo building materials shop said 11 degrees you couldn’t ask for a better omen.

The exhibition has all manner of photos, videos and stories about Paul Kelly, and all the photographers noting his shyness, but intense gaze, and acute awareness of the need for the photo shoot itself. We very easily passed an hour and a half in there before walking the grounds through the barren rose garden, and around the lake guarded by fiesty water hens and cantankerous swans.

 

A trip to the local shops ensued, the Mornington Village two stories of everything a local needs, and not much they don’t. We bought bread from the bakery, and fruit from the grocer, and had I wanted, i could have still got my film processed there too. Then on a whim we cruised the main street and decided to follow to the end of the road, coming across an unassuming and unmarked lookout across from a deserted children’s playground.  The view that greeted us was stellar. A panorama of the whole of Port Phillip Bay lay before us, Melbourne’s skyline hovering as if painted on in the distance as the horizon seemed to circularly stretch all 360 degrees.

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We jumped back in the car and braved the icy winds and drove down further where a windblown marina and an edge of the world car park were being buffeted by seaspray. The waves crashing against the breakwall with such force a foamy mass had gathered on the red clay cliffs and was occasionally flying off in small soapy chunks and sailing across the carpark. Welcome to Schnapper Point.

 

Beers, dinner and footy at the Townie after, perfect Melbourne day.

13 hours on a bus…

… or two and a bit days in a car. Unlike the protagonist in the wonderful Paul Kelly song, we were heading the other way. We still can’t pinpoint the moment we decided to do it, but it had been talked about, daydreamed, longed for and hoped for a long while. Sunday June 29th we hit the road. It all started with a tearful driveway farewell, two families waving into our rear view mirror, eyes were damp all the way to Macarthur Square.

We had a splendid and barely believing breakfast at the Common Ground cult cafe at Picton, before hitting the Hume, destination Canberra. In what was splendid acclimatizing, it was zero degrees, and our hosts had the footy on. The Crows won the showdown, and we knocked off some fantastic pizza.

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A frigid morning and snow-capped mountain ranges escorted us out of the capital, a stop off under grey skies at Gundagai for supplies, obligatory bakery item and a look at the historic bridges, paint-peeling stores, hardware-hiding historic display and tired op-shop. On the road again, the rain set in, the temperature dropped. Crossed the border, a new state and a new life. We stopped at Wangaratta, a proper promenading regional centre, it had a Target Country.

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Deciding we’d most like to arrive at our new city in daylight, we stayed the night in a pub at Seymour. Seymour? nah, just the pub. The Melbourne city skyline looming up on the horizon was thrilling, the daft epic freeway loop that Google Maps sent us on to reach our place was less so. Hook turn panic gripped, but the disbelief at how close our street actually was to the main thronging main street of North Melbourne, and how it could be reached by only left turns, was extraordinary, we had to go around and do another lap of the block just to make sure it was the right place. It was, we got a park on Errol Street, which was about eight metres from our house! Exciting.

Found the hidden key and threw open the door to our new address. It was big, spacious, neat and nice, “the best place either of us will probably ever live in!” Amy exclaimed. There were towels folded as swans awaiting us on the bed, with champagne and chocolates.

 

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After unpacking the car we did a preliminary reconnaissance wander of the streets of 3051. Everything we need, not much we don’t, instantly comfortable and a splendid locale to call our own. We went for a beer at our new local, the Town Hall, a cracking pub with all manner of great nick naks, and adornments on its walls and ceilings, not so much designer cool vintage, just stuff that was probably put up new when it first opened and has aged gracefully since. A first dinner of phenomenal local Pho and we were palpably excited at our new situation. Home to meet our new housemate who took us on an informative tour and opened up the rooftop deck. Melbourne laid out twinkling before us, Amy got scared and headed down, while I took in the city, the industrial sprawl and the naff ferris wheel The Star, glowing in coloured lights, the imposing spire of the North Melbourne town hall seemingly within touching distance, and ensuring we’d never need a watch again.

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We went to bed, in about seven layers of clothes, giddy with excitement, our future wide open with opportunity and untrod streets.