Cruising the Newell Highway

The Newell Highway, No.39 on your road map, is a dandy way to get from Victoria to Queensland – with some help from its inland highway friends, it connects Melbourne to Rockhampton.

It’s a route of sheep and cattle country, cotton and grain farms, bushrangers, road trains. Just the ticket for a drive with my old farmer dad, from his home in southeast Queensland to our cold country in Ballarat. Guided by a brochure put out by the Newell Highway Promotions Committee, this is what we got up to:

Newell Highway, Boggabillia

First day

Danish Flower Art complex, Highfields

Danish Flower Art complex, Highfields

We doglegged around Brisbane and set a steady pace, with a lunch stop at the stupidly busy Danish Flower Art complex just north of Toowoomba where I was heard to say, ‘oh my gourd!’. Sadly, there was no hallelujah, just a puzzled Dad watching me take pictures of oodles of gourds – there was a whole paddock of the things growing out the back, and at the cafe, brightly coloured ones were mounted like Vlad Tepes enemies on stakes, piled up in crates, hanging from trees. A gourd massacre, but one feels, conducted with love.

We carved south through Toowoomba and pulled up for another coffee stop at a nursery at Inglewood, chosen mostly because it was the first place we got to and it had heaps of parking. It’s a charming town – in fact, the thing that constantly strikes me on drives through the interior is the pride these country towns show. It’s a rare one that isn’t tidy and welcoming.

Dingo fence, Yelarbon

Dingo fence, Yelarbon

Then we turned westerly and, a little further down the track, we stretched our legs at Yelarbon to check out the dingo fence monument, recording that this protective measure was once the longest fence in the world. I guess we can now call it post modern history.

And finally we connected with the Newell at Goondiwindi. This is roo and emu country; combined with straying stock, they make night-time driving a bit of a worry, so we were happy to pull in before dark. Dinner was Chinese at a nearby restaurant, recommended by the friendly staff at our motel, the comfortable and tidy Comfort Inn.

The pleasure of the Newell, other than that slowly changing rural landscape, is that the road is fairly empty, especially compared to Highway 1 that tracks the coast. Surprisingly, the petrol wasn’t priced sky high (up to about $1.56 a litre), either, and the most we paid for a night’s accommodation was about $135 in Moama (not on the Newell), and $130 in Dubbo.

Second day

We don’t do early. We figure there’s a reason for a 10am check-out and we might as well see what it is – I suspect just to allow the other travellers to clear out early. This morning, due to my general shopping laziness, we had a hot motel brekkie and it was damn yummy, better than the cereal I inflicted on us for the rest of the trip. (I always pack my own coffee and sugar, just in case of some truly godawful instant; a box of cereal and a bowl saves a bunch and gives us the option of a quick getaway.)

We pootled down to Dubbo, through familiar-sounding towns Narrabri and Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. Gunnedah, off the highway, was a detour too far.

Australian Telescope Compact Array

Australian Telescope Compact Array

At Narrabri, we pulled in to check out the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope Compact Array. Six dishes, on a railway track, that combine to be greater than the sum of their parts. We were lucky: there was an astronomer on deck to give information, and the centre made for an intriguing stop thanks to excellent info boards. It’s free, too.

It was in this stretch that we passed the enticing shape of the Warrumbungles National Park, rearing from the flat earthen sea of farmland, browned stubble and dusty gum trees. But Dad’s not into bushwalking so much these days, and those peaks had to be left for another day.

We did, however, hit Dubbo’s Hog’s Breath restaurant, which Dad is most definitely into. It did not disappoint – and yay for the ramp that made it easier to steer ourselves out.

Third day

We left the highway go west to Narromine, timing our arrival for what we thought would be a polite half hour after opening time for the aviation museum there. Wrong. No one was home, and the answering service merely confirmed that they should’ve been open. We and another car of travellers were left to whistle dixie.

Alpacas at Andonbel alpaca farm and cafe, Narromine

Alpacas at Narromine

No matter: we followed some intriguing signs to the edge of town to Andonbel Alpaca Farm and Coffee Shop, where they served coffee and light meals from a barely renovated train carriage sporting alpaca products and a couple of tables. Brilliant! We sat outside, and I eyed off the nachos being served to another table on the lawn under the shady trees, but it was too soon for a mid-morning snack. I was a little surprised the owners have had to shunt the stock – they have 250 of the cuties, and are about to start slaughtering for meat as well as selling stock and wool – away from the cafe because customers complained about the smell. But they’re so cute!

Lunch was slated for the cafe at the Parkes Radio Telescope. It’s a mighty dish, free to wander through the visitors centre, and the tucker at the cafe was pretty darn good – the birds certainly gave it the beak up.

Elvis Presley car at Henry Parkes Centre museum

The King’s wheels, Parkes

We popped in to the tourist info centre, the Henry Parkes Centre, at Parkes (named after him) – I’d left my aforementioned brochure, containing our map and my pen marks on cool stuff – at the motel, and lo, there was Elvis, or at least, a load of his gear. And a bunch of old cars. And even more old stuff – sheds and yards of machinery! The info centre is home to four museums, including the former Yellow Wiggle Greg Page’s Elvis memorabilia collection superbly set up as a day in the life of the King, including a car, clothing, a bit of concert. I’m not a big Elvis fan, not since primary school when I bought my first and last Elvis tape, but even I could appreciate this was darn cool, thank you very much.

After we’d stumbled around the old engines and tractors in the yard for a bit, we got in our own buggy and headed further south.

McFeeters Motor Museum

McFeeters Motor Museum

We got to Forbes – I know the name from ‘The Streets of Forbes’, a folk tune about bushranger Ben Hall’s body being paraded through its streets, and indeed Hall is buried here. But not for us an encounter with that long dead scallywag, but rather McFeeters Motor Museum – yes, more old cars! And what an impressive set up this private collection turned out to be – again, we were lucky, with the owner himself on hand to show a handful of we visitors around. The history of Australian motoring was on display here, from the Model T Ford onwards. A Japanese funeral car was a highlight – apparently, funerals were often held at noon, because it was bad luck to be touched by the shadow of a funeral car. What a splendid hearse, with a little temple on the back of the vehicle, with a decorative ceiling – too bad the deceased had no chance of seeing it, what with the coffin (presumably) being closed and all.

Kudos to the McFeeters: the power lift chair that let my dad get up and down the stairs to the mezzanine was much appreciated.

Sadly, the neighbouring honey shop was shut when our tour had ended. Happily, the cellar was open, and we departed with a tasty bottle of port from Banderra Estate and Sandhills Vineyard.

That left us just enough time to make West Wyalong, to find a bed for the night. How fortunate that the Colonial Motor Inn had a superb steakhouse attached!

Fourth day

Sabre and Spitfire, Temora Aviation Museum

Sabre and Spitfire, Temora Aviation Museum

It was time to leave the Newell for a bit, striking east to Temora and the superb aviation museum there, tracing the history of Australian military aviation. Sadly, it wasn’t a flying weekend – that’s the first and third Saturday of the month, mostly, and they can attract hundreds to the former military training ground. This private collection has put back into service a Spitfire (two!), Tiger Moth, Wirraway, Sabre, Vampire and more, and has them laid out in hangars with lots of information. You can also see the workshop where restoration and maintenance is undertaken.

From Temora, we kept going bush, passing through Coolamon before rejoining the Newell at Grong Grong to continue our southern journey.

It was as Jerilderie that we finally parted ways with the erstwhile highway, striking west to overnight at Moama, just the other side of the Murray from Echucha, and indulged in a respectable takeaway box of fish and chips for dinner.

Fifth day

Hubcap, National Holden Museum, Echucha

National Holden Museum, Echucha

In Echucha, we had coffee at the bakery – always dependable – and I got another gargoyle garden ornament from my supplier, er, the garden ornament shop The Hard Yardz, and we indulged Dad’s love of Holdens with a visit to the National Holden Motor Museum, where all things Holden are on display. Goodness, I learnt to drive in one of those column-shift EHs … way to feel one’s age, although in fairness, the cars do extend to the modern era. I guess with Holden ceasing manufacturing, the range will be easier to keep up with in future.

Railway station, Maryborough, Vic

Railway station, Maryborough, Vic

Our family farm was outside Maryborough, Qld, so it was only fitting that we should journey through Maryborough, Vic, on the way home. It was my dad’s second visit to the namesake town, and he was once again struck by how similar the town’s main street is to its northern counterpart: I think it’s the shop fronts and signs hanging from the awnings. There’s a lot more bustle in the Vic ’borough, and it’s train station is truly magnificent. Why yes, this is gold country, how can you tell? Victorian towns wear their heritage in stone and the width of their streets, and we passed signs bearing ‘leads’ and ‘reefs’ and ‘rests’ as we made our way to Ballaratia, our highway journey done.

But I still have the brochure: there’s a bunch of towns we whistled through, and a lot of natural attractions we bypassed. I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with the Newell.

See more pictures


Weekend escape: Cranford Cottage at Heathcote

cranford cottage, heathcote

The view from the front porch of Cranford Cottage

There’s a paddock of calf-high brown grass bent with breeze stretching past gum trees to the horizon. Houses there are lost in haze, too distant to be a concern; Mt Ida pokes a leafy head over the top. Sheep work their way across the paddock, and Eddy the emu may be seen prowling the fence, waiting for Stephen to open the gate and let him back into the facing paddock where black angus graze, so he can scribe his circular route around the property once more.

Among the other birds spied here are lorikeets and galahs, magpies, willy wagtails, sparrows; hawks, Stephen says, and occasionally even wedge-tailed eagles. But we don’t see the raptors. The farm has chooks, too: can’t miss that cock crowing, far enough away at the house to be rustic charm rather than a trigger for a throttling.

At day, glowing in the sun; at night, gilded by moonlight: the grass is mesmerising. That space, that quiet … what an ideal getaway this place is.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Back deck

Farmers Stephen and his wife Cally run Cranford Cottage at Heathcote, barely 90 minutes’ drive from Melbourne, a B&B where they’ve done everything right. Set at the back of the homestead’s house paddock, the cabin has two bedrooms with en suites flanking the central kitchen, dining and lounge area, with a porch looking towards the sheep and a full-length deck facing the creek and cattle.

Corrugated iron and undressed timber feature outside; the living area has timber floor, wood heater and air conditioning, while the bedroom has a ceiling fan and carpet so new you can smell it. TV, DVD, an iPad of music, Scrabble, wifi, battery-operated tea-light candles are provided; there’s a dishwasher, microwave and gas stove.

The cottage has one of the best provisioned kitchens I’ve encountered at a B&B — even flour and raw sugar, cling wrap, cooking oil, a generous jar of instant Moccona coffee to supplement the espresso. The only absence come brekkie time is egg rings … meh. The provided breakfast is (scrambled) eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, bread from the local bakery, avocado, juice. There are bananas, microwave popcorn, muesli, numerous teas, hot chocolate … excellent stuff.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Welcome gift of wine, with sage advice

As the custom wine label on our complimentary bottle of red tells us, there’s plenty of wine in Heathcote, a shiraz heartland, and the cottage is mere minutes from town, which has four cellar doors in the main street and around 40 wineries in the region. As it turns out, we don’t get past the main street’s offerings. Heathcote Winery is very good, but it’s Heathcote Estate (they also run Mornington Peninsula’s Yabby Lake) that takes my fancy with their Barossa-style, attention-grabbing shiraz, and Peregrine Ridge at the farmers’ market is a pleasant find. Owner-operator Graeme steers us to a purveyor of pork that is sensational.

More pictures of the cottage, with sheep — and Eddy!

Stephen and Cally booked us in for Friday night dinner at the Willow Room in town, a superb, intimate restaurant and B&B run by a couple Stephen tells us have not long ago moved from Melbourne. A fortunate tree change, if my taste buds are any judge: the food is sensational. You know you’re in a wine region when you ask the origin of the house red — a most excellent drop — and you’re told the names of the people who made it, not their winery.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Chook kettle

Gentle Saturday morning rain makes the grass glisten, washes the bushfire smoke haze from the air.

‘It’ll keep us going,’ Stephen says of the drizzle as we return from the market just after lunch time (dim sum, pork sausage on a slice of bread, coffee), but the rain was barely enough to wet our hair. We take short showers (there is no bath tub): the water is solely drawn from rainwater tanks. And my god, it tastes so good out of the tap.

We while away the remainder of the weekend, playing cards, picking at nibbles from the local IGA washed down by local red. The mountain bikes go unused, the four-hole just-for-fun golf course in the back yard remains untested.

When we reluctantly leave on the Sunday, the boot filled with bottles of vinegar and oil, preserves and — ahem — wine, Stephen waves from a small set of vines planted down at the lagoon, where a platform juts out over the parched rim. He’s got guests so we don’t pull up, just wave: we left a note to say we’d be back.

cranford cottage, heathcote

Mt Ida cloaked in rain, Cranford Cottage

Holiday highlights: around the UK in 30 days, or, the secret to a great Devonshire tea

October. Months ago now. My wife and I spent most of it driving around England, from London, to Bodmin in Cornwall, to Aberfoyle in Scotland, to York, to Brighton, and back to London to fly home. We based ourselves in each locale — sharing with fellow Aussie travellers in Cornwall and Scotland in self-catering cottages — and did day trips to the surrounding sights, except for Brighton, where we were ensconced for the World Fantasy Convention. Much has been said elsewhere about the convention (start here, if you like): I enjoyed it, but programming let the side down, and the numbers were huge, so it didn’t really feel like a World Fantasy, more like a Worldcon. Anyway, it will be the last one for me for awhile. Got this holiday to pay off, yeah?

Speaking of which:


egyptian goddess sekhmet

Sekhmet at British Museum

The British Museum: Perfect for a rainy day — and you do need all day — and how wonderful to reconnect with the wonderful Sekhmet statues in the Egyptian section. It’s free, though a donation is requested. I gave at the gift shop.
The Thames: we made the most of the sunshine and hopped a boat to Greenwich, where we roamed the market, checked out GMT and enjoyed the skyline from the river.
Borough Market: my friend Tina tipped us off to this one, where all manner of tempting goodies were to be had. We bought cheese, not as rank as the Stinking Bishop we’d had previously with my friend Maria down the pub.
Highgate Cemetery: I love this cemetery. Douglas Adams is buried there, amongst many other luminaries, and much undergrowth.
Galleries: London’s got oodles. We hit the National Portrait Gallery — Brontes! Shelleys! Helena Bonham Carter! — and the Tate Modern — Picasso and stuff, a bit more challenging, but a wonderful space and plenty to consider; there must be something for everyone in here.
A show! What, with the West End right there, you’d be mad not to take in a show, right? The Leicester Square TKTS booth is first port of call to see what’s going hot and cheap. We snaffled two in the slightly downbeat, quite intimate and absolutely wonderful Fortune Theatre for The Woman in Black — some very creepy staging, a few too many cheap loud noises, and an uncompromising ghost story. Just as enjoyable as when I first saw it, all those years ago, but I don’t recall those sound effects. A room full of schoolkids matching the cast scream for scream certainly helped the atmosphere!

Bodmin Moor, from the Cheesewring

Bodmin Moor, from the Cheesewring


Twas Cornwall where we had our first Devonshire, or cream, tea, and somewhere between there and Devon we worked out the best possible combination: CLOTTED cream, lashings of strawberry jam, warm scone. And yes, for those pagans among us, coffee ‘if we must’.
Tintagel: a most scenic ruin spread across mainland and island, fantastic, and that’s without bringing King Arthur’s conception into it. A nearby Norman church is worth the walk.
Bodmin Moor: Winding roads cross this undulating landscape, windswept and all camouflage-coloured in heath and blackberry vines, dotted with standing stones and the remnants of tin-mining glory. What a contrast, the stones and the ventilation shafts that dot the countryside, and now with added wind farms.
Dartmoor: not Corwnwall, but Devon, but an easy enough drive and thoroughly rewarding — oak forests, Iron Age settlements, standing stones, wild ponies, scrumpy. And everywhere — everywhere — sheep, and some cattle, including some big-horned shaggy ones.
Pretty villages, but horrid streets: Street? Ha. Lane. Alley. Oversized footpath! Clinging to sea cliffs, places such as St Ives, Port Isaac and Fowey are delights for the pedestrian, and boast some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had (highly recommended: the King’s Arms in Marazion, near St Michael’s Mount, and what a cool place that is, with the tide coming in over the causeway so you get a boat trip back to the mainland).
A note on Land’s End: it might be the southernmost tip of the country, and the coffee might be half decent, but it’s really not worth paying the price of admission to this capitalising theme park. More pleasing was an ice cream from the van near Godrevy Island lighthouse and watching the sun set.

Loch Ness, at Fort Augustus

Loch Ness, at Fort Augustus


We took a night in Bowness-on-Windermere on the way north from Bodmin to Aberfoyle, and wow, the Lakes District sure is pretty. Mountains, rivers … lakes, naturally. Well worth a return for some serious tramping.
The Three Sisters (Glencoe): We drove from Aberfoyle up the western side of Loch Lomond to Loch Ness. What a brilliant drive. Lochs, mountains, moors … lochs, did I mention lochs? Gorgeous with their borders of autumn forests.
Trossachs: Aberfoyle, on Loch Ard, is a gateway to the Trossachs park, and we spent a day tramping two routes to get a good look at the mossy forests and reflective lochs. More lochs. Oh yes! Awesome lunchtime destination, loch-side: Venachar Lochside cafe near Callander.

More holiday pictures at my Flickr site

Glasgow Necropolis: Sprawling, hilly, treed, this epic graveyard is a time sink with its many memento moris and statues.
Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh: Last time I visited, I bumped into the grumpy Scots in Edinburgh and came away unimpressed. This time, I’m prepared to give the old place a second chance, even if driving in felt a little like being caught in a computer game with vanishing lanes, narrow lanes, parked cars, one-way streets, invincible pedestrians and trams. The small Old Calton Cemetery, across from high-point Calton Hill with its faux-Parthenon National Monument, is well worth a browse, with many tombs set against the walls and fine carvings. But it’s the haggis — brilliantly spiced and lightly deep fried, at the so very friendly Royal McGregor on the Royal Mile, that really wins me over to the place.
Stirling: I love this town, especially the old area around the cemetery and castle. Such a picturesque resting place with some lovely decorative stones, under the eye of the castle.

walls at York

Walking York’s walls


York is one of my favourite English cities, mainly because of the Shambles and the layers of history to be found there. We could easily have stayed longer in our charming Gillygate B&B (Kirstyn loved her morning kippers!), just outside Bootham Bar and within chiming distance of the Minster. York Castle Museum was worth the price of admission just for its recreation of a Victorian street that cycles through a full day with light and sound, and the haunted house on Stonegate Street was interesting just for its architecture. Great food (try the Hole in the Wall pub for Yorkshire pudding, the Evil Eye Lounge for spicier Malaysian fare), bar one pub who will remain nameless; a walking tour guided by cat statues; a clever, well-acted play (Can’t Stand Up for Falling Down) at the York Theatre Royal; and Roman ruins and walls EVERYWHERE (even in the theatre!)!

St Hilda's Abbey, Whitby

Whitby Abbey


veiled vestal virgin, or bride, copy

‘Veiled Bride’

We took a day trip across the moors to Whitby, such a charming fishing village that I first encountered in the pages of Dracula. Given its Whitby Gothic Weekend tradition, I’d expected more goth stuff, but no, not really, and we missed the kitschy Dracula Experience (so bad we had to see it, we were told by friends, but we got distracted by the abbey). On the West Cliff, Captain Cook — there’s more to him than we get taught in school — and our prize acquisition from this holiday, a gorgeous ‘Veiled Bride’ sculpture reproduction bust of a veiled vestal virgin. On the eastern side of the river, a little shambles, the 199 Steps to the top where St Mary’s church and the ruins of St Hild’s, or simply Whitby, Abbey await. The abbey is stunning, and we watched the sun set there. Awesome fish and chips for lunch? Try Royal Fisheries.
The great thing about the English weather forecasts — while their news, and TV in general, is fairly crap, the weather forecast you can rely on, so when they say clearing in the arvo, you can safely leave York with the wipers on and watch the sun go down at Whitby.
brighton beach and burnt pier

Brighton, and the remains of a burnt pier


Didn’t get much of a look at Brighton, other than its pebble beach — what a funky racket when the waves are crashing in! — and its famed pier and a bunch of lunches and dinners. Probably the best night out was at Little Bay, set up as a kind of theatre with one booth sporting a cameo of Edgar Allan Poe, jazzy operatic singer Sam Chara, and a 10-quid three-course meal that was worth a whole lot more.

And back to London …

A bus trip from Brighton to London for 5 quid! Score! And then, a last dinner at an Italian place called Bizzaro, near Paddington Station, with tiramisu to die for.

So all up, a very splendid month, 2500 miles notched up in the hire car, and good times. The convenient thing about spacing out the trip to just key points was being able to unpack at each and settle in a bit, roll with the weather, take things a bit leisurely. Especially in a place like York, where just walking around is so pleasurable. All those alleys, closes, vennels, ghauts …
Now, about this next holiday…

cream or devonshire tea

Cream Tea

More holiday pictures at my Flickr site

Cradle Mountain: it reigns

Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania

Cradle Mountain Lodge, Tasmania

It rained. A lot. And it was perfect. The weekend was designed as a laid-back getaway, and that’s what we got at Cradle Mountain Lodge.

The Lodge sits just outside Tasmania’s Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, an area of such awesome natural beauty and value it’s World Heritage listed.

Sun shone on the English fields of sheep and cattle on the two-and-a-bit-hours drive from Launceston, but as the altitude climbed, the clouds came over, until we were winding through misty-rainy moor and edging sheer gullies choked with eucalyptus forest.

The clouds never left for the duration of the weekend, even threatening to snow at one point. But the rain showed mercy, breaking long enough for us to not only appreciate the bounty around us, but work up an appetite: there was the half-hour Enchanted Walk, with its duckboards running beside a fast-flowing stream and taking us from open grass paddocks to moss-covered forest; and there was a wee taste of the Dove Lake track, with a side trip to “the boatshed”, down to Lake Lilla. There was even a brief rainbow on the return trek!

More pictures of rainy Cradle Mountain

Our accommodation, a sprawling estate run by Peppers, was ideal for the stay: next door to our friends, spacious with an airlock to keep the dripping wet out and the warmth in, no television, a gas fire. The staff were uniformly friendly, too.

A short stroll to the lodge — it’s made out of a lot of timber — yielded close encounters with wombats and pademelons. In the no-fuss bistro, there was wood-fired pizza and other pub grub; in the restaurant, more elegant fare, including a walk-in wine cellar.

A buffet breakfast was included, and it offered a pleasing range of hot and cold tucker, and all fresh.
A lower bar, for guests only, had one of the best wood fires to dry out beside.

Our excursions included a joint win at the bistro’s short and sweet trivia night, and a little more romantic, and included in the accommodation price, a tour of the nearby Tassie Devil sanctuary, where the besieged critters are, along with two kinds of very cute quoll, available for viewing.

We dodged rain to see the cute little dudes fed pieces of wallaby, and didn’t they get stuck in. Devil screeches are something to be heard, especially in the dark and rain.

It’s great that there’s hope for the species, at least once the population suffering from lethal tumours has died out.

Boat Shed, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain

Boat Shed, Dove Lake, Cradle Mountain

There was sun on the way home, of course. On the way in, we stopped at Sheffield for honey and fudge — the fudge did not make it home — but on the way out, it was a straight run back to Launceston for lunch at Blue Cafe — noms the sweet corn fritters — before flying out.

What really impressed, other than the landscape and sheer comfort of the resort, was the ease of access. A short flight from Melbourne, a short and very pleasant drive, a wilderness-embedded resort with its own walks, and the whole national park at the doorstep.

A fly, a drive, a walk, a feed, wombats (!), even an afternoon nap. Just lovely, rain or shine.

Headstones and lake reflections in Ballaratia

Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Friday was sunshine and fluffy clouds, little breeze, the typical Ballaratian winter’s day, we are told, but the first we’ve been able to enjoy. So Kirstyn and I took the day off and went to the Ballaarat Old Cemetery.

The city fathers were indeed wise to commission a second, with the city being a boom gold town and all, and the cemetery quite compact — population, about 25,000 (according to a sign board at the graveyard).

Here a lawn of unmarked pioneer era graves, here the Jews, here the Irish, the Germans … here the Chinese with the only oven I’ve seen outside of Mt Morgan.

Diggers' Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery, Ballarat

Diggers’ Eureka memorial, Ballaarat Old Cemetery

Probably the boneyard’s greatest claim to fame is the Eureka rebellion, with separate monuments for soldiers and rebels who died in the uprising, the insurgents so popular a jury would not convict them for treason. Interesting wording on the monuments, too. Fascinating insight.

We were struck by the number of children and infants mentioned on the stones, a sign of the harsh conditions in the late 19th century, no doubt. Those simple engravings conveyed so much sorrow.

Others blustered with Christian piety or simple resignation and hope; some struck more affecting messages: my beloved has gone down into the garden to gather lilies in the garden.

More cemetery pictures

The cemetery is well tended, sparkling with wafting strands of cobweb glistening like fishing line. An information building offers some insights. There are few grand monuments, defying expectation of a wealthy town’s significant departures; maybe the toffs have got their pillars out at the ‘new’ cemetery … We will investigate!

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Eclectic Tastes Cafe, Ballarat

Next to the cemetery is the Eclectic Tastes Cafe. This converted home is one of those cafes that is welcoming as soon as you walk through the door — eclectic in decoration through its various rooms, a proudly parma-free zone, and a darn tasty menu with good coffee. I knocked back a sensational skillet of kidney beans and cheese and stuff, gently spiced, served with sourdough for sopping up the sauce. Kirstyn had a vegetarian pizza that even tempted me, thanks to nuts and blue cheese sauce. It’s the favourite eatery we’ve come across here so far.

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree, Ballarat

Boathouse Restaurant, Lake Wendouree

Later in the afternoon, we headed for Ballarat’s defining geographical feature: Lake Wendouree. It’s been a site for rowers since 1864; now it’s dotted with boatsheds and cafes and parkland. We’ve yet to do a proper tour of the lake, and on Friday were content to just hover around one part where the Lake View Hotel enticed with its second-storey balcony … but we opted for cake and coffee on the deck at the tad pricey Boathouse Restaurant, right on the water, with a wonderful willow tree for extra scenery. There we could take in the water birds and joggers, rowers and paddlers and anglers as the sun sank and chill came down. One couple in a canoe pulled up at the cafe for coffee.

We snapped off a bunch of photos and retreated to home in the gloaming, appetites whetted for further exploration of Ballaratia.

More sunset pictures

Lake Wendouree sunset, Ballarat

Sunset, Lake Wendouree

Canberra to Clunes: books,books,books

booktown in clunes 2013Clunes, a mere 20 minutes outside of Ballarat, has turned on its Booktown charm this weekend. Book shops and stalls are replete with all manner of reading material, from $2 paperbacks to rather more expensive collectibles. Newspapers of yore, magazines, a couple of volumes listing Irish coppers by name and year … all manner of quirk and taste was on offer.

It was elbow room only in some book shops when we visited yesterday. There were comments such as, ‘this one’s cheaper here’, or, ‘it’s rare, but it doesn’t have the slipcase’.

We didn’t catch any of the talks, but were content to browse and sup coffee and score tucker from the food vans.

What a cute town; what a lot of books!

Indeed, it has been a week of books, for only last weekend we were in Canberra for Conflux (various reports on the con are here), the national spec fic convention.

It was a hoot, with much catching up and some doozy panels too.

Angry Robot honcho Marc Gascoigne was a guest, and it was a little sad to hear him, and others, say that stories could be *too* Australian for the international market. Look forward to further US hegemony or more universal voices? Let’s hope not. Marc also painted a picture of Angry Robot that had many of us lining up with our CVs — their building has CAVES!

And how good was it to see the marvellous Nalo Hopkinson back in Australia? Very bloody good!

Great to see Russell B Farr land the A Bertram Chandler award for his career in publishing to date, awarded at one of the best Ditmar award presentations ever, overseen by Deborah Biancotti and ably supported by Lego and a cock-block clock (of which I am now the proud recipient due to lottery, and hope becomes an institution for future awards). Kirstyn won an award for her Writer and the Critic podcast with Ian Mond, which was a lovely nod, and as expected, Margo Lanagan’s wonderful Sea Hearts took out the best novel award. The full list of winners can be found here.

the bride price by cat sparksAnd there were book launches … so many book launches! One standout — and an alliterative one, too! — was that for Cat Sparks, rolling out her collection The Bride Price with Ticonderoga — it sold out! Before I got a copy! But there are many more, and you should check them out, too.

In between Canberra and Clunes, there was mileage: about 2500km worth, which included selling off a portion of my comic collection in Maitland, my first visit to Echuca and picking up some Campbells wines (home of Empire Port) in Rutherglen. Ah, road trips … gotta love’em. Especially when you get home with wine and books!