Month: November 2015

Sydney to Melbourne

Friday, November 13 to Wednesday, November 18, 2015

(Geoff) It is actually harder to write about this part of our trip because the terrain is familiar – more so to me because I was here on my motorcycle trip earlier this year – and so the adventure quotient has gone down.

Our friend Celia May has very kindly lent us her VW camper van for this third leg of our trip. To get some experience behind the wheel we set out, on our first day in Sydney, to the beach. Specifically, to Palm Beach – the most northerly of the many surf beaches on Sydney’s coast. When we lived in Sydney it was our favourite beach, a pretty drive up the Barrenjoey Peninsula and a good distance from the crowds at Manly, Bondi, and the other popular spots. This day the surf was rolling in with enough energy to make swimming fun, and I enjoyed some time in the Pacific Ocean. On the way back down to the city the heavens opened, first with heavy hail and then torrential rain, ushering in a cold front for the weekend.

Saturday we shopped for groceries and packed the van. That evening Catherine and Celia went to the ballet at the Sydney Opera House (see her note below) while I walked around The Rocks, the historic site of the first convict settlement and now a tourist hot spot. Sunday, after church, we hit the road south.

When we lived in Sydney in the early 1970’s the highway from Sydney to Melbourne was a 2 lane road through every small town along the way. A protest by truckers angry about road conditions had to be called off when the road flooded on the scheduled weekend. Now the Hume Highway is like the 401, and we could have been in Melbourne in an easy 2 days. Instead we started on the slower coast road, then jogged to Goulburn for a Monday on the Hume, but got off when we hit the Victoria state border and took the slow road through the wine regions along the Murray River, ending up in Bendigo on Tuesday. I spent a weekend in this gold rush town back in February and it was one of my favourite stops on my motorcycle trip. Spending another afternoon in town and enjoying a morning swim in their outdoor 50-metre pool the next morning were welcome treats. Wednesday morning we trundled down the highway 90 minutes to northern Melbourne, and dropped in to see Catherine’s cousin Grace.

(Catherine) There is perhaps, no more iconic symbol of Sydney than the white sails of the Opera House. When we lived in Sydney in the 1970’s it was a thrill to see it. This time I saw a ballet with Celia and her friend, and as much as I enjoyed the dance, I was mesmerized by the view over the harbour at intermissions. That there were two intermissions was an added bonus as I took in the harbour sights at night; the harbour bridge outlined in lights, the bright circle of the ferris wheel at Luna Park, the quick harbour ferry darting over to the north shore and the more sedate Manly ferry making its more modest way out of the beach suburb. The evening was entirely magical. When the ballet had finished three dancers laid red, white and blue bouquets on the stage to honour those killed in the Parish bombings.

As we left I turned for one last view of the opera house. Only now instead of white sails, they were illuminated so that you would have sworn their natural colours were the red, white and blue of the French flag. A breath-taking moment.


Monday, November 9, 2015 – Thursday, November 12, 2015

Before turning in the campervan we drove to Cottesloe Beach for one last swim in the Indian Ocean. For those of us who are more comfortable in the relative calm of Ontario freshwater lakes, the salt of the sea and the waves breaking onto almost all beaches, save that exquisite turquoise beach at Kooljaman, can be just a tad intimidating. Geoff takes to it more comfortably than I do but nevertheless I plunged in and found myself swept off my feet several times getting dunked completely – and surprisingly comfortably.

Three weeks in a campervan, no matter how comfortable the bed or well provisioned the kitchen still leaves something to be desired in the pampering department. Though I might wish I were more ascetic – think John the Baptist or the early desert fathers and mothers in their caves in the deserts of Israel, Jordan and Egypt – I do like certain creature comforts. Durack House Bed and Breakfast had cotton sheets of a very fine thread count, a king bed in which to sprawl, friendly hosts and a garden where most of the blooms had fragrance. Glorious!

The local neighbourhood had a Monday evening night market with food vendors on the street for several long blocks. We grazed on a Moroccan lamb tomato bisque, Turkish flat bread with spinach, feta and tomato and Thai pork skewers with a hot chili sauce, and chocolate patisserie as if the rest hadn’t been sufficient.

Freemantle is across the river from Perth and has had a reputation as the port and industrial city so we were more than surprised to discover architectural gems in the old town. When many cities demolished their original stone buildings and replaced them with the new fads of glittering steel and glass in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Freemantle let this architectural nonsense pass it by. Today buildings of grace, strength, and beauty line the streets along the Freemantle waterfront, many of them housing Notre Dame University. Our jaws kept dropping at wrought ironwork and golden sandstone, Corinthian columns and classical proportions.

The Freemantle Gaol was built by convicts between 1851 -59 and was still the penitentiary for inmates until 1991, three years after riots exposed conditions in the jail where the temperature in summer would reach 50 (!) degrees centigrade. The riot led to the resignation of the premier and others who had covered up the horrific conditions. We toured the jail including the hanging chamber. When the guide began to extol the executioner’s skills, I left. To be sure it was beautifully built but to make it a source of entertainment was abhorrent.

Art galleries reveal much about the culture of a place. In the Art Gallery of Western Australia the early paintings by European trained artists were pastoral, bucolic scenes of the Australian bush. Not until the early 20th century did paintings begin to reflect the austere beauty of the red, dry outback. We saw the original painting of the print we’ve had hanging for 40 years, Down on His Luck by Frederick McCubbin.

At King’s Park with its impressive avenue of gum trees we were impressed by the stunning view of the harbour with two hillside memorials, the WWI and WWII war memorial and also a memorial to the 88 Australians killed in the 2002 bombing in the tourist district of Bali.

Spring is full on here. Wildflowers bring colour not only to the bush but it seems everywhere; the dense vegetation on the sand dunes is dotted with red, orange, yellow, blue, pink and untold number of purple flowers. Most striking of all are the purple jacaranda trees that make Perth look as if purple fireworks have become a fixture along city streets. Not only is the colour vibrant but the trees have a feel of delicate lace. Every time I see a new tree I smile and my heart gives a quiver of delight.

Margaret River

Saturday and Sunday, November 7 and 8

On our way to the Saturday morning market we wandered through Margaret River’s organic flower garden. Operated by community volunteers paths meander through “rooms” with benches and painted chairs, quotes, bees on the fragrant colourful blossoms and Tibetan prayer flags at the furthermost section. A potting shed and small building for toddler play groups were hidden in amongst the trees. What a nourishing space!

We found Gordo, the winemaker whose wine we had so enjoyed and after a long conversation – one of the joys of farmers markets is chatting with the producer – he lived in New Jersey and recognized our Canadian accents – we came away with wine for dinner.

The Cowaramup Brewery sits on a hill overlooking the man-made (sorry, I know this should be human-made or other non-gender specific term but the right word escapes me) pond. We are enjoying an IPA for Geoff and a fine ginger beer for me. Beyond the pond hay bales dot the fields with tall, elegant gum trees ringing the field. Children are playing next to the restaurant area. A breeze cools us even as the sun warms us. We are so very blessed to be here.

Church on Sunday was the same place where I’d attended a mid-week service 10 days ago and I felt as if I were a long lost relative welcomed home again. The pews were filled with the 20+ parishioners, one singing alto harmony. I felt as if Mary, the presider and I were kindred spirits unfortunately separated by too many miles.

Albany to Margaret River

Friday, November 6

DSC_0278Back to Margaret River where we are eager to replenish our supplies of wine, cheese and chocolate but first to Surfer’s Point where some of the best surfing waves in Western Australia are found. What a gloriously magnificent day it was – sun, about 21 degrees, and best of all the wind was fierce, in fact too strong for good board surfing. It was however ideal for kite surfers, those elite few who not only surf but also manoeuvre a sail that pulls them out to sea and when they are no more than a speck on the horizon they turn to find the crest of 3 metre (15 foot) waves. The sail lifts then so that they surf up and down waves at incredible speeds. It was utterly exhilarating watching 5 kite surfers weave among each other as if in a dance. Here is an example of what we saw.


Monday to Wednesday, November 2 – 5 ~ Albany

DSC_0243Albany, population 25,000 on the southwestern coast of Western Australia was gifted by nature with one of the country’s best harbours, King George Sound, named DSC_0255after King George III by Captain George Vancouver. As the best natural harbour between Shark Bay and Melbourne, Albany thrived as a port for exporting timber (jarrah from DSC_0252Western Australia was used to pave the streets of London), wool, wheat and mutton. Hillsides around Albany are still grazing grounds for large flocks of sheep and even more cattle.

Our caravan park is at Middleton Beach separated from the Southern Ocean by sand dunes dense with vegetation, a sign of a well protected shoreline.  We are getting used to the design of these places – I hesitate to call them “parks” – where we are in a row of other caravans and campers on a cement slab which keeps the vehicle level for sleeping. Privacy is a foreign concept and there are times when I long for a treed campsite out of sight of neighbours, the kind that we’ve grown up with in Ontario Provincial Parks. The upside is the amenities block with wonderfully hot showers and clean toilets, a pool and the ubiquitous book exchange.

National ANZAC Memorial (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps)

The new museum commands a spectacular view of Albany’s harbour. From the entrance visitors look through a plate window almost the size of the grand wall itself out to the harbour, the scene of the departure of convoys of ships carrying 40,000 soldiers and 17,000 horses (in all 160,000 horses were shipped overseas) off to support the British Empire in WWI.  By all accounts it was a spectacular sight with 30 ships in three orderly rows awaiting the signal to turn in formation towards the harbour mouth on the long sea journey to the battlefields of Egypt, Palestine, Turkey (Gallipoli where the ANZAC forces distinguished themselves even as they sustained catastrophic casualties) and Europe.

We each received a card with the name of a soldier; Geoff had the distinguished officer Lt. General Sir John Monash after whom many streets and a university are named, and I received Lt. Ormand Burton from New Zealand. At various points in the displays we placed the card on a reader that brought up information on our soldier, his occupation, family background, enlistment document, war record, personal letters, writings and post war activities.

Burton left teaching in a one room school to enlist with great enthusiasm and served in the medical corps rising in rank to Lieutenant. Following his return home he became disillusioned with the Treaty of Versailles and what little had been achieved at such a tremendous cost. He embraced pacifism, became a Methodist minister, and spent 19 months in jail for his activism against NZ’s involvement in WWII.  I wonder if it takes as much courage to oppose war as it does to go to war. A soldier is lauded by the nation while a pacifist endures condemnation and charges of cowardice.

Museum of Western Australia ~ Albany

Albany is also home to an excellent local museum which was hosting a display, Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt, photos of soldiers in WWI. Most were Australian but a few were not and I kept hoping to find one of my grandfather Victor Smith, great-uncle Playford Hales or Geoff’s grandfather and uncles Alf, Harold and Percy Bradshaw. I am surprised at how personally these displays have affected me. It was a war with no major objective and it seems to me, no outcome that could possible justify the sacrifice of life.

The quality of museums in even a town of 25,000 is outstanding. So here are few facts that fascinated me.

Australia is drifting towards Indonesia at the rate of 6-7 cm a year, rather speedy in geological time.

Long before Europeans arrived in Australia, Chinese and Arab traders and Macassans from Indonesia built up a trading relationship with Aboriginal people in northern Australia, certainly in the 17th century and perhaps as early as the 1400’s.

During WWII Aboriginal wives of white Australian soldiers were unable to go into a bank to cash their husbands’ war pay. Signs posted outside the post office, bakery, library, butchers and tea room warned, “No person of Aboriginal origin may enter.”

Between 1905 and 1936 the Commissioner of Native Affairs was “the legal guardian of all native children whether or not they have a parent living.” The Commissioner determined where a child would live and attend school. Many families retreated into the bush with their children when government officials came into sight. In Australia children who were removed from their families are referred to as the “stolen generation.”

Many Aboriginals were valued for their ability to find lost people, cattle and sheep. It was said that a skilled aboriginal tracker could track a dog over ironstone.