Friday, 20 September 2013

The Last Leg of the trip

Leaving Goulburn early on Saturday (Australian Election Day) we drove to Windellama about 40 kms south on our quest to find and photograph another lone soldier's grave. This 18yo soldier had been buried in the grounds of a remote Roman Catholic church in 1942. The church and surrounds were abandoned and are now derelict and overgrown. As it is situated on a local farmer's property and it was only with the help of a local historian who arranged our visit to the farm and drove us in a 4WD following the farmer a considerable distance over very rough ground that we were able to achieve our aim. This photo shows the three men surrounding the grave. The photo of the grave plus the GPS reading we took will eventually be attached to the soldier's details on the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It wasn't till early afternoon that we were able to continue our journey and so came to Moruya - a beautiful little town on the coast and while we would have loved to stay longer than overnight, we continued on next morning travelling down the coast road (the Princes Highway) and stopped at the Bega Cheese Centre. We had visited here 2011 and morning coffee seemed to be a good excuse for another visit. We took the opportunity to stock up on their wonderful cheeses.

Eden, well known as a whaling station in the 1800s, is now quite a large fishing port. This coastal area in the southern part of New South Wales was also the site of Boyd Town - which is one of the most interesting and mysterious early settlements in this remote part of the country.
Benjamin Boyd, a Scot, was an entrepreneur (in fact his occupations in Australia from 1841 until 1849 included banker, general merchant, grazier, MP, shipowner, whaler and blackbirder. It was his whaling interests that brought him to Two-Fold Bay on the south coast of New South Wales. He had grandiose plans for a large settlement and had built a magnificent tower (inscribed on top with his name) which originally was to have been a lighthouse, but became a convenient lookout for whales along the coast. The port was also to be a convenient place to ship out his stock from the many cattle stations he owned in southern New South Wales. Boyd's financing of his various trading, shipping and pastoral pursuits was dubious and when many of his businesses failed, he left on his yacht 'Wanderer' supposedly to raise more finance. He had no success on the Californian goldfields and in 1851 he sailed among the Pacific Islands with a grandiose plan to establish a Papuan Republic or Confederation. He went ashore at Guadalcanal to shoot game, but was never seen again. He was 48.
The beautifully situated Seahorse Inn was built to serve the the town but was left derelict. (It has now been restored and renovated to become a luxury boutique hotel). 

We continued on along the coast road (the Princes Highway), had a lunch stop at beautiful little Cann River and eventually came to Paynesville on the Gippsland Lakes. Here we stopped for a while to remember old times when Peter's father lived on nearby Raymond Island in the early 1970s.
The old punt has been upgraded to a very modern and efficient ferry (there is no bridge by popular vote) and only operates during the day until late evening. The locals are happy to be isolated overnight. Raymond Island is now a very nice little settlement with many new houses and the old shacks either removed or renovated. The island has much local flora and fauna (koalas for instance) and Pittosporum is now in full bloom and perfuming the air with its gorgeous scent. We decided our farewell dinner at the end of this long trip (about 11,000 kilometres) would be at Alma's Restaurant on the Paynesville Esplanade as we would be home the next day. It was a good choice - the dinner was excellent.

This trip was wonderful - the many outback towns and people we met were lovely. We especially enjoyed the warm and often hot weather up north. The places we had often heard about surprised and delighted us. The stories of the pioneering people of this outback part of Australia still astounds me and fills me with awe, as does present day people who work tirelessly to promote their hometowns and districts in spite of droughts, floods and searing summer heat.

Sitting typing this here at home on a cool, grey, drizzly spring day, I rather think I'd sooner be warm up north where we 'see the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended and at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars' (thanks, Banjo). There is no way I could express it any better!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The start of the long trip south

We began our travels south and on the first day came to Townsville. The park we stayed in was beautifully set up and just across the road from the beach with a fine view of Magnetic Island. Sunday morning's main street market was well attended and we enjoyed not only the great variety of stalls selling everything from fresh local produce to homemade crafts and the usual gimmicky of crystals and incense etc, but also the varied and beautiful early architecture of this major coastal town of Queensland.

Our next leg took us inland and we eventually came to Lake Maraboon near Emerald. This park was exceptionally lovely situated right by a lake and nearby dam and so was quite popular for fishermen. It also provided a service we hadn't experienced before - meals on wheels delivered conveniently to your caravan or tent!
First thing each morning a chattering flock of very friendly Rainbow Lorikeets arrived seeking breakfast from the enchanted campers. Despite the many hundreds of kilometres south we have travelled, we are still enjoying hot, summery weather, and are not looking forward to the cool Spring weather at home.

From our base here at Lake Maraboon we drove each day to the gemfields - Rubyvale and Sapphire. We took an underground tour through a mine and learnt about the dangers and sometime the rewards that oldtime miners experienced as they tried to find their fortune. Most of the sapphires found in Australia come from this area and are usually quite a dark blue although other colours are found also. My own engagement ring contains a dark blue sapphire and  so I think it is highly likely it was found here. We were able to buy a few 'buckets of wash' and learnt how to sift and wash the sandy soil to hopefully find some gemstones. This could become quite addictive! We actually found some sapphires and also a couple of zircons - but they were all quite small and not good quality. Oh well - we'll have to find another way to pay for our next trip!

After Lake Maraboon we continued the trip south and once again came to Roma where we had stopped only briefly on our way north. This time we spent a few days here to see what we had missed the first time. A browse of the main street shops was interesting especially one. This was a drapery and I must say I have never seen anything like it in all my born days. It was stuffed from floor to ceiling with items for sale - all higgledy-piggledy. You took your life in your hands when walking down the narrow aisles as the packed shelving  went almost to the ceiling. This incredible shop must have been started around the 1950s and I doubt there has been any attempt to bring any sort of order to the stock in all those years. I think it should be up there on the list of essential tourist attractions of Roma!

We had another surprising experience in Roma. This area was established in the early days mainly because of the oil and gas fields near to the town and a 'sound and light' show each evening tells the story. We joined the queue while waiting for the doors to open and Peter mentioned to me that a nearby couple looked familiar to him, but it wasn't until we moved into the lighted area that we were able to see them clearly - and they us! "South America" we all said together. They were
South Australians John and Bernadette who were also on the trip we took in 2008 to South America. What a lovely surprise to see them again and after the show we really enjoyed a rather long chat. They too were at the same park as we were in Roma and leaving the next day as we were.

We had several overnight stops next - Goondiwindi our final stop in Queensland and then into New South Wales with another overnight stop at Coonabarabran.

At Cowra we stopped for several days and enjoyed sightseeing this rather lovely town. Top of the list had to be the remains of the WW2 Interment camp which was the site of the Cowra breakout of  378 Japanese prisoners in August 1944.  At the same time 231 were killed and another 107 were wounded. All those that escaped were later re-captured. (Four AMF personnel were killed and four were wounded). I hadn't realised that the camp also held some Italian, Korean and Formosan P.O.Ws as well. We also visited the POW Theatre which has a very clever interactive media presentation with a hologram relating the story of Cowra and the details of the escape attempt.

Cowra has since become the centre of Japanese Cultural Heritage in Australia and maintains beautifully the Japanese War Cemetery and has developed (in conjunction with Ken Nakajima, a Japanese Garden Architect), the stunning Cowra Japanese Garden - a strolling garden. We were several weeks early for the cherry blossom trees, but the garden was still quite wonderful.

Goulburn was our next stop and here we stopped for a few days to have a good look around this vibrant town. Peter enjoyed a visit to the Rail Heritage Centre.  In 1869 the first steam railway in Australia was constructed between Sydney and Goulburn (224 kms) and the Loco Roundhouse, built just after WW1. is now the home of the Preservation Society.

We have by now travelled quite a distance south and as a result the weather is getting a good deal cooler and although the days are still fine, the nights are much chillier and blankets are being piled on the bed once again.