Posted by: glenswatman | April 11, 2007

200512 Australia-Vic

THURSDAY 1 DECEMBER – Dave goes out to the gym at 6am and we join him for breakfast on his return at 7am.  We walk round to the Plaza with him when he is ready to start work.  To us it looks rather strange seeing the manager of a shopping centre walking to work in shorts and a casual shirt with briefcase in hand!  We do a bit of shopping before returning to the house.  I make the most of access to the Internet, and even get my Christmas letters out.  I am researching accommodation and parking for in Melbourne, our trip to Malaysia next March and our proposed visit to Southern Africa next year.  With a slow connection I am on the computer most of the day.  Jude & Tom have gone away for the weekend to a wedding in Tasmania so with Garth in Chile it leaves us in charge.  The kids have been left instructions with Harry taking and collecting Alex from school, Alex feeding the dogs and Ellie dealing with the ducks and chickens.  All we need to do is sort out meals, do the washing and keep a general eye on things.  In the evening a dust storm closes in and it gets really windy.



FRIDAY 2 DECEMBER – It’s a much cooler morning and I end up wearing my jeans.  Late morning we return to town to try and get Billy changed onto Victorian registration plates (to make it easier for us to sell next year) but have to make an appointment for Monday.  We also search the op shops (second hand charity shops) for outfits to wear to the “Saints & Sinners” New Years Eve ball.    Spend a few hours having a leisurely stroll around the centre of town.  This May we bought new foam for half the seats in Billy to match some previously bought in Cairns but it has all collapsed.  Mildura branch of Clark Rubber have contacted the branches we bought it from and offer us free replacement under the 5-year guarantee.  They quickly cut new foam to size and once again we have a nice springy bed.  Back at the house Dave has lent me his dehydrating machine so I set about doing mushrooms and peppers before tackling a 10kg box of oranges that we bought for $3.50 (£1.50).  Jude has shown me how to thinly slice then half the orange slices.  Once they are dehydrated she dips them in chocolate and serves them up at Christmas – absolutely delicious.



SATURDAY 3 DECEMBER – I have a bad nights sleep, the rooster must be missing Jude as it crows almost all night.  With lots still to do on the Internet I get up at 3.30am and put in 5-hours research before breakfast.  I find out that have a section called Thorn Tree that you can join and ask other viewers questions – this proves absolutely brilliant with me gaining up to date info on a whole range of topics. 



SUNDAY 4 DECEMBER – Finish off dehydrating my oranges slices and Internet research before Jude & Tom get back around 8pm.



MONDAY 5 DECEMBER- It’s my 49th birthday and I wake up early to sunshine. Jude gives me a card and a fancy incense burner.  Call in at the Road Transport offices and get Billy’s registration changed.  Our new number is TXP 654 so we soon come up with “the explorers” to help remember it.  The annual registration fee in Victoria is $366.80 (£165) year as opposed to $588 (£260) in Queensland and the only other charge is $27.20 for the number plates.  We meet up with Dave for lunch at the plaza then go to the cinema to see Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, which I enjoy very much and Steve doesn’t.  It’s really hot when we leave the cinema, 37C.  Jude cooks us a lovely roast pork dinner that we eat sat out by the pool.



TUESDAY 6 DECEMBER – We are woken early in the morning by a storm with thunder, lightening, rain and strong wind.   Once the storm has passed it’s really quite pleasant as the temperature has dropped and the air is much clearer. 



WEDNESDAY 7 DECEMBER – Steve is up early as usual to watch the football.  We head into town in the afternoon, drop Tom at the gym, do a few jobs, pick up Alex from school then Tom from the gym.  Take a last swim in the pool.



THURSDAY 8 DECEMBER – Once again I have a restless night and get up at 3am to use the Internet, the connection is much faster in the night and I can get heaps more done.  Steve also gets up early to watch footie on TV.  We leave around 10am and drive to the Murray River and turn right at the NP sign to explore.  We reach another sand bank “Isaaks Bend” but it is not as nice as where we were before so back track to our “usual spot” that we now know is “Horseshoe Bend”.  We are both have a snooze before tucking in to a roast beef dinner.  It’s surprising how much nicer food tastes when you are out bush.  It’s very quiet day with just a few motorbikes roaring past in the evening – bliss.



FRIDAY 9 DECEMBER – Another nice day.  Late morning another motorhome, Colin, Wendy and their terrier dog, from Mildura, join us.  They camp at the other end of the sandbank but come over to chat.  We mention that we usually skinny dip and they say no problem and anyway they are both vision impaired – wonder who does the driving!  Just a few cars and boats come through during the day but one car with a boat sets up camp at the far end and they take their boat our for night fishing at 10.30pm.



SATURDAY 10 DECEMBER – Seems about the only thing that can get Steve up early is football on TV!  It’s a very hot day and we do lots of swimming in the river, facing up stream you can swim against the current and go nowhere.  The water level is dropping by the day and we have yet to see any fish caught.  Colin says that when the water level is dropping the only thing you may catch is carp and they are good for nothing.  Early evening we see a boat head up stream.  He soon comes back, exits at the boat ramp and drives round to our area.  He tells a family nearby that he has seen a fire upstream on the opposite, NSW, bank of the river.  A phone call is made to the fire service but access is going to be difficult as the only tracks are on our Victorian side of the border opposite the fire.  We walk round to take a look and although not a huge fire it could easily spread if a wind got up. We pack up the van just in case we need to make an exit.   A number of boats come down the river to tackle the fire and after dark a fire truck arrives on our bank followed by one picking its way along the other bank.  Settle down to sleep once the fire seems to be under control.   



SUNDAY 11 DECEMBER – We wake to a very windy morning.  I take a walk to check out the remains of the fire and although quite a wide area of trees caught fire it didn’t reach the greenery at the tops.  Surprisingly it is still smouldering.  A number of boats come through together early in the morning, Colin and Wendy leave and we revel in having the place to ourselves.  Sit out on the banks of the river until it’s too dark to read.  It’s a magical spot with an almost full moon, the river gurgling and birds calling.  Even with the wind it’s still really hot in the evening and we hop out for a moonlight swim before going to bed.



MONDAY 12 DECEMBER – A big change in the weather as we wake to solid clouds and humidity.  Head back to the main road and immediately see a house with a Santa stuck on the roof top air-conditioner.  I immediately begin singing “When Santa got stuck on the air-conditioner, he began to shout …”, much to Steve’s disgust.  Pass through Nangiloc and Colignan, curiously each town being a reverse spelling of the other.  We are travelling beside the Murray River and see lots of pumping stations, which explains why the level is dropping so fast.  Turn onto the dirt track into Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.  There is a kangaroo fence surrounding the centre of the park because during a drought the kangaroos congregate around the lakes and ruin all the vegetation in the area.  At the moment they have been pumping water to some of the lakes after an 8-year drought and this is what we have come to see.  It’s all rather disappointing and even the ranger at the visitor centre admits there is little to see in the park.  However we do learn from him that there may be some “total fire ban” days coming up.  He educates us that this means that people in tents or pop top vehicles are not permitted to run gas appliances of any kind including fixed stoves and fridges.  It starts to rain as we walk back to the van so we head out of the park and onto the main Sunraysia Highway.  In Ouyen we find free hot showers in large tiled clean cubicles – the best yet.  At the bakery I buy one of their famous vanilla slices $2 (90p) and it’s delicious.  At the rest area on the edge of town we stop for dinner before pressing on.  Stop to walk around the small town of Hopetoun, which seems to be caught in a bit of a time warp.  Nearby you can free camp at Lake Lascelles.  It’s a super spot with lots of grassy around the “lake” with tables and BBQ’s.  Unfortunately the lake is dried up and judging by the trees and greenery growing in the centre it has been so for many years.  The Mallee Bush Retreat is on lakeside and this offers all sorts of basic bush accommodation including rooms built into silos.  It also has a toilet block with free hot showers.  We park at the far side of the lake and end up moving nearer a toilet block to get shelter from the strong winds.



TUESDAY 13 DECEMBER – Another overnight change in the weather revealing a calm sunny morning.  Take a free hot shower before leaving town.  There’s another good free camping area in Brim but again no water in the lake.  However the town does have some lovely old wooden churches.  Warracknabeal is the main service centre town for the region and we stop to wander round but find little of interest.  The next town is Dimboola and just NW of town we find free camping at Lochel Bridge.  We drive into the bush and under the railway bridge to a quiet spot by the reedy river.  The flies are rather too friendly and there is some traffic noise but we are ready to stop for the day.



WEDNESDAY 14 DECEMBER – We make our way to Horsham and park by the library where the Internet is free.  We’ve got heaps to do as are offering free flights and we are now considering a side trip from Borneo to the Philippines.  Steve pops back to the car finds we have a parking ticket.  I’ve been just over 2 hours on the Internet and it seems that we were parked in a 2-hour spot.  Unusually the car park has two different areas and where we parked we only saw signs saying 4 hours parking but we were actually in the row for 2 hours.  The man in the library says the town traffic warden is terrible and takes great delight in booking everyone whenever possible, everyone hates him.  The fine is $35 (£15) and we’re a bit miffed so I walk over to the council offices to explain our situation.  The Policeman is very sympathetic and hints that if we are leaving Australia soon then why not just forget it.  I explain that is not in my nature but I would like to appeal and he shows me the address to write to.  We feel like leaving town but determined not to let is spoil our day we drive over to the Art Gallery and double check that we are parked in a free parking spot (once again the car park behind the gallery has different timed zones).  The first thing we find in the gallery is a section with a display of pictures painted by people in a mental institution.  Accompanying notes explain the various stages of depression and recovery as expressed in the artwork – very interesting.  A lady comes over to tell us more about the gallery and directs us to an area with free tea and coffee.  She is very chatty and we double check about where we are parked as we can see we could be quite some time.  She has also been booked many times by the same traffic warden and is very sympathetic.  Our conversation progresses and Merle suggests lots of things for us to see and do in town and offers us parking in her garden.  We peruse the rest of the gallery then accept Merle’s kind offer.  On the same street Café Baghdad is a quirky café with it’s own art gallery.  The Catholic Church is a very unusual design and there are a number of other elegant buildings around town.  Having seen all this we head down to the Wimmera River where water has been held back to create a lake.  We park by the weir and cook lunch on the BBQ’s.   Drive round to Merle’s where we have a brief chat before she goes out for the night.  We take a very pleasant evening stroll along the riverbank and get chatting to fellow English campervanners Andy & Debbie who are over here doing lots of rock climbing. 



THURSDAY 15 DECEMBER – Merle comes out to us to chat over breakfast, she has had a restless night partly through thinking about what we are doing as this is something she also wants to do.  Head into “The Grampians” and park by Hollow Mountain.  A rather strenuous climb takes us up the mountain past many interesting rock formations.  About 40 minutes later we reach the summit to be rewarded by superb views.  Climbing down is considerably easier and quicker so we then continue on to the Aborigine shelter with rock art, very poor.  We’re starving when we get back to the van so cook up dinner before moving off.  In the same area of the park there is a campsite at Mount Stapylton.  The sign says you are supposed to pay by going to the visitor at Halls Gap, which is miles away, or by telephone and credit card but there is no phone.  Guess that everyone does the same as us and has a freebie.  There is another rock art shelter area in the area and this is probably even poorer than the other one with just a few red handprints.  The campsite is really busy with tents belonging to walking groups and kangaroos hopping around.  It looks like being a rowdy noisy night until the heavens open up and everyone disappears.



FRIDAY 16 DECEMBER – We are awake early so are surprised to find most of the campers already packed up and gone – maybe they are also playing beat the ranger!  Wildlife abounds at this time of day and we have to be careful not to hit the many emus and wallabies wandering by the road.  Passing through Lah-arum we spot a sports oval with toilets and a free warm shower.   At Zumstein day car park there are 2 cars parked up with people still asleep inside.  We stop for breakfast before doing the short and moderately interesting Pioneer walk around the old holiday campsite.  Our next stop is at Wonderland where we tackle the big hike to The Pinnacles.  We walked into the Grand Canyon on our previous visit but had to leave quickly when heavy rain broke out and the river level rose rapidly.  Today there is not much water and we walk through the interesting canyon scrambling over rocks and climbing up ladders to emerge at the top of the gorge.  The walk continues through woodland past a waterfall then back over a rocky plateau.  Now we climb down a ladder to walk thorough “The Silent Street”, a narrow passage in the bottom of a gorge.  It’s a really interesting though quite tough walk.  We finally climb out of Silent Street and over another rocky plateau to reach the lookout.  Built out on a jutting rock you get sublime 360-degree views, some of the best we have ever seen and well worth the walk.   Although we are tired when we get back we still have the energy to walk to Split Waterfalls then further down stream in search of Venus Baths.  We think we’ve found it when we come to a large bathing pool where I paddle my feet.  A couple walk past and tell us the baths are further downstream but no nicer than the spot we are at.  We return to the van and after the long climb back up the hill we are once again starving.  Drive down into the valley and park up at the local oval.  A rangers car comes racing in with lights flashing, he’s late for a friendly cricket match against fellow workers!  Halls Gap visitor centre has good displays plus a new Aboriginal cultural centre.  From here we can look up and see the viewing platform at the Pinnacle and it looks incredibly high.  Heading towards Dunkeld on the C216 I pick out a free camping possibility up Serra Rd.  At its junction with the Henham Track we find a small clearing that suits us fine. 



SATURDAY 17 DECEMBER – We’ve had a really quiet night in spite of the rain.  Linger in bed reading and drinking coffee until 10am when we make the decision to move on.  In Dunkeld we enjoy a free hot shower in the toilet block by the visitor centre, Australia really excels itself in providing this type of service.  Heading east we pass lots of houses with silly Santa figures, one ripping his shirt open like Superman and another diving through a haystack.  Lake Bolac is full of water and has camping areas on the lakeside, $10 (£4.50) night or $50 (£22) week.  We stop for lunch and shelter behind a wall, the wind and rain are awful and it’s really cold.  It’s still wet and wild after we have had our afternoon siesta so we are reluctant to pay the $10 and stay overnight.  However on the main road 2.5km E of town there is a rest area and a track behind the cemetery leads us to secluded free camping spots on the lakeshore.



SUNDAY 18 DECEMBER – Another spot where overnight rain and a poor morning put us off staying.  We cut down to Lake Toolirook with camping at $4 (£1.80) pppn.  It’s not as nice as Lake Bolac, very busy with fishermen and with a very low water level.   Passing through Inverleigh we see a sign to a Sunday market so make a detour.  They are just finishing off and reducing the fresh produce so we buy lots of fruit and veg.  Steve gets chatting to one of the stallholders who expresses and interest in buying Billy.  Fred and Kate come over to look at the van and seem quite keen so who knows we may have another fluke sale like we did with Charlie.  After lunch the weather has shown no sign of improving so we head to Bev & Norm’s.  We get our usual friendly welcome and soon feel at home.  We admire their bushy Christmas tree and learn that they dug it up from the nature strip having picked it out some weeks ago.   In the evening Bev & Norm go to their neighbours for drinks whilst we settle in.   



MONDAY 19 DECEMBER – Steve purchases a 1 month fishing licence $11 (£5) to enable him to join Norm out fishing.  I begin emptying out Billy for a good tidy up.   Bev’s friend Margaret and her new partner Murray call for morning coffee.  We feast on freshly caught whiting for tea. 



TUESDAY 20 DECEMBER – Steve and Norm head out for another fishing session in the bay.  Bev & I head to Ocean Grove and call in at Bob & Edna’s for a coffee.  Manage to book free Air Asia flights from Borneo to Manila then back to Kuala Lumpur so our side trip to Borneo now has an added side trip to the Philippines.  I spend a busy afternoon washing the curtains out of Billy and then dipping the dried orange halves in dark chocolate.  The fishermen return happy having caught their bag limit of 20 whiting a piece and a few leather jackets.  Steve has also caught a huge flat head of which he is very proud.  It’s a really hot evening so we sit out for a BBQ.



WEDNESDAY 21 DECEMBER – Bev & Norm are going out to a Christmas lunch so Steve and I head off to Geelong for the day.  We are very wary of parking restrictions now but still manage to find a free spot near the city centre.  It’s quite busy in the centre but we press on and manage to do most of the things we wanted.



THURSDAY 22 DECEMBER – Steve drives Billy down to Gardiner’s at Ocean Grove for a service and catches a lift back with Bev & Norm when they return from their morning walk.  Once again the fishermen head out in the boat and Bev & I shop at Ocean Grove but break up the morning at a café where I indulge in a big hot chocolate and lemon meringue pie.  Around 4pm guest begin arriving for Bev’s Christmas drop in.  People come and go until well into the evening and include Lyn, Colin & Annie, Hector & Meg, David & Pam, Richard & Lynne and Bobby & Rhinda – many of whom we have previously met.



FRIDAY 23 DECEMBER – I join Bev & Norm for their morning walk trip and pick up Billy along the way.  The service is $161.70 (£70) and a big part of that is for a new air filter, not surprising when we have covered over 1000km of dirt track since it was last replaced.  We asked them to check it over in readiness for selling and he says it is in great shape but will need the chip in the windscreen repairing and a small oil leak on the brakes seeing to so no drama.  The walk along the beach is lovely with many families already down there and kids in the water.  Bev & Norm go off to Geelong shopping whilst we potter round the house.  It’s a really hot day, with temperatures over 40C in the state, so when they return we decide to go down to the beach.  Steve & I have a go on the boogie boards and Norm takes his surfboard.  We’ve just finished our swim and started having a drink and snacks when a storm rolls in.  We quickly pack up and return home before it rains.  Once the storm has passed the temperature drops to a more comfortable level



SATURDAY 24 DECEMBER – Mid morning Bev & I go out to the farm to “pick your own” strawberries – as you do in Australia.  In the evening Joan & Brad join us for supper.  After they have left we enjoy time in the sauna before settling down to watch “Carols by candlelight” on the TV.



SUNDAY 25 DECEMBER – We are all up early for our visit to the beach for a Christmas swim.  After a short walk along the beach Steve is the only one brave enough to take a dip, as it is quite a cool morning.  We enjoy a bacon butty breakfast and take a skewer of shrimps to throw on the barbie for Steve.   Back at Bev & Norms the guests begin to arrive with Joan & Brad the first.  The party is complete with Geoff & Ruby, Sandra & Blair, Sharon & Ajit, Ray & Hannah and Edna.  The 15 of us gather round the long table for a Christmas lunch starting with lobster and prawn seafood salad then a traditional turkey lunch.  My allergy to turkey and chicken seems to be subsiding and I manage to eat the roast turkey without ill effect.  During the afternoon we scatter round the house in different group and we watch National Lampoons Christmas vacation.  In the evening salads and cold meats complete the day.



MONDAY 26 DECEMBER- The boxing day sale are on but surprisingly Steve & Norm prefer to go out fishing!  Bev & I complete the clearing before having a relaxing afternoon.



TUESDAY 27 DECEMBER – It’s a warmer start to the day with high temperatures forecast so we head off to the beach at Point Impossible.  It’s just perfect with a soft cooling breeze and the water warm enough for lots of dips and fun on the surfboards.  Just after our picnic lunch we see a helicopter circle nearby then land on the beach.  Closer inspection reveals a light aircraft nose down in the ocean.  It seems that the pilot was having engine trouble and trying to make it back to the airstrip.  He has been lucky to be able to get out of the aircraft and swim to safety.  Much later on, at low tide, we return to watch a tractor attempting to tow the plane ashore.  The first attempt with a rope attached to the tail is a complete failure.  They then attach a rope to the propeller and the plane begins moving but the wings drag in the sand and it’s not long before the propeller and engine get ripped out.  The final attempt is to right the plane and then drag it off on it’s wheels and needless to say this is successful.  In the evening Bev & Norm go door knocking to collect money for the local surf life saving club.



WEDNESDAY 28 DECEMBER – Norm would go fishing everyday if he got the chance so it doesn’t take much for Steve to talk him into a last expedition.  I begin to pack up Billy before preparing food for tonight.  I’ve invited our friends Jude & Garth and Bev & Norm’s friends Bobby & Rhinda over for a meal.  I cook a couple of different curries and we have a good time with much of the talk about South Africa where Bobby & Rhinda used to live.



THURSDAY 29 DECEMBER – Time to take our leave after our most enjoyable Dickinsian Christmas.  An elephant seal has taken up residence at Swan Bay and this has caused the closure of the boat ramp and loss of business to the caravan park.  From a tourist point of view it’s an attraction to go down and view “Clifford”.  There’s a 24 hour seal watch caravan parked up with barriers preventing you getting too close but even at a distance he is huge.  Previously they had one at Point Henry (and called him Henry) and without the 24-hour watch he ambled up into the town and was seen waiting outside the bottle shop!  We call in at Garth’s brother Bob’s to have a coffee and say farewell to the “Swinburns”.  Jude has bought her new born duckling along and it’s really funny to see it wading in the foil roasting tin full of water – wonder if they are giving it a hint of it’s later use?  Navigate our way across the top of busy Melbourne to Bernie’s where we meet his new partner Robert who is visually impaired.  In the afternoon I join them shopping for a new BBQ.  What seems a simple task most certainly is not with a huge range from a basic 2 burner on an open trolley up to a 6 burner with 2 side (wok) burners, rotisserie, storage cabinets underneath and a price tag well over $1000 (£450).  It’s so confusing that Bernie ends up buying nothing.  Robert goes out to his sisters in the evening and I cook a meal for us using the whiting that Norm & Steve caught yesterday.



FRIDAY 30 DECEMBER – We all have to be up early because the termite inspector is due at 9am.  Bernie had a huge problem when termites caused a corner of his bungalow to collapse.  The problem now seems to be solved but the situation has to be monitored regularly.   The 12v lighting in Billy has suddenly stopped working and with all the wiring hidden the easiest solution seems to completely rewire it.  Steve & Bernie get stuck into that and I take Robert shopping for groceries for their camping trip.



SATURDAY 31 DECEMBER – Bernie & Robert head off to Wilson’s prom for their family holiday and we get properly settled in.  It’s a very hot day with over 40C forecast and a total fire ban in place.  Unfortunately this means that the scheduled midnight fireworks over the Yarra River may have to be cancelled.  We leave the house around 5.30pm to walk up to the tram stop and it’s scorching.  Public transport is free until 8.30am and it seems well used.  Unfortunately the tram that arrives is an older model without air conditioning so by the time we get into the city we are dripping.  We change trams to meet our friends Cath & Lew at the Radisson Hotel.  After drinks and nibbles we photograph ourselves in our outfits.  We are all sinners and I have black stockings and high heels and a very short part lacy under-slip with matching G-string.  Steve has a silk black and red G-string, a red bow tie, black velvet waistcoat and lots of leather straps with studs.  Cath has bought a naughty maids outfit complete with feather duster and Lew has some partly mesh boxer shorts and a fur collared waistcoat – what a laugh.  We get changed back into our street clothes to catch a tram down to Inflations nightclub on King Street arriving at around 9pm.  You go to a changing area and get a black bin back for your street clothes and valuables.  When you hand the bag in they put a numbered sticker onto it and write the corresponding number on your arm – very efficient.  The nightclub has four floors and at street level there is a small bar area where we get our first drink after which we begin to explore.  In the basement is a large bar and dance floor, above street level is another similar area but with a stage for the shows and above that a roof terrace.  It’s hot inside the building and just as hot up on the roof but at least there is a bit of a breeze and it’s nice looking out over the city.  Lots of snacks are provided including plates full of Cadbury chocolate snack size bars so you can guess where I hover although it’s a bit of a problem getting them eaten before they melt.  Everyone has got into the fancy dress spirit with mostly sinners and just a few saints and people with angels wings.  We meander between the different floors and do quite a lot of dancing.  Just before midnight we are all given streamers and make our way up to the roof to see in the New Year.  No sign of the firework display which we thought we would see if it came off.  Police patrol within the nightclub but there is no trouble at all and because of the heat few people are drinking alcohol.  By then end of the night most of the coppers are on the dance floor partying with everyone else.  We leave around 3pm and don’t have to wait long for a tram back to Kew.  It’s packed with people but fortunately it’s an air-conditioned one.  It seems a long walk back down the street to Bernie’s and our legs are aching from lots of dancing and going up and down 4 flights of stairs but it was a great night and well worth it.  Roll into bed just before 4am.



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