Saturday, January 13, 2018

To the ACT (Australian Christmas Territory) - Part 1

We spent Christmas and New Years Eve in Canberra this year with Elf's mum, siblings and their kids. Imp, Ed, Karri and Miah arranged to stay in a neighbour's vacant house across the street so the large house comfortably held the other ten of us.

Elf wanted to take the car to Canberra on the Spirit of Tasmania. So when we booked that I also booked us an Airbnb to stay at on the way between Melbourne and Canberra. This swapped two 5-hour drives on country highways for one 8-hour drive up the Hume. That worked out quite well, so then I did the same for the return journey.

Teenage daughters of a work friend of Elf's minded the house and mammals while we were away. So our pre-departure clean up was fairly intense. We left early on Dec 22 for the 4-hour drive north to Devonport to board the Spirit. Boarding started at around 6.30pm so we actually had to kill quite a lot of time in Devonport, but … it was better than trying to fine-tune it and then having to scream up the Bass Highway running late.

We went to the Devonport Library and hung out on the Bluff and took pictures of the lighthouse, until it was time to drive our car up the gangplank and into the boat.

Looking east from Mersey Bluff
Classic 'Sunderland strip' lighthouse paint job.
On the boat as we ate dinner we were surprised to see our South Hobart pals Steve, Meredith and Finton. They had not been able to find a place for their dog Mochi while they went to Melbourne, so they decided that Mochi would have to come with them - she was down in the pet cages on the car deck.

Then later we were even more surprised to see Marcus's girlfriend of about 6 weeks, Erin, also on the boat with her family. We have not been given very much information about Erin. But the next day on our long drive we managed to glean from Marcus that she originally hails from Adelaide and this was a family trip back there for the school holidays. He knew she would be on the boat but didn't think it was relevant to tell us. And maybe it wasn't.

The next day we woke up and had a hot damp breakfast (I thought they kicked you off the boat before breakfast time but I was wrong). Then we found our way north out of Melbourne.

I didn't want to drive all day but I did want to have an interesting non-Hume Highway drive, so I took us up the Maroondah Highway to Mansfield, via Healesville and a coffee break at Buxton. Mansfield was actually stuffed to the gills and seems to now be just an endless strip of cafes. It's the main town in the Vic snowfields I think so we were seeing it actually out of season. We lunched there and tried to flop down and relax in their Botanic Garden but its really lame. It has dry grass and some very normal trees and is about as botanic as our front yard.

By the time we had a snooze the afternoon was advancing so we took the quickest way (yes, via the Hume) to Myrtleford and from there found our way to our destination, Dederang which is on the Mt Beauty road an hour south of Wodonga.

(I just want to say this trip confirmed my dim view of the Hume Highway. People drive like utter dickheads. Speeding and tailgating and cutting in after overtaking.)

At Dederang we drove into the farmyard - I saw the house and thought, wow - this is going to be great! Then I saw a second, smaller house. Ah, now that would be ours. It was lovely and cool, beds so soft, and Di Goonan and her son Marcus were very friendly and hospitable. Quite a few flies though, courtesy of the dairy farm next door.

The Dererang district c/o Airbnb
My family and I flopped about like jellyfish for a while but I had seen a football ground as we drove through the tiny town, so I announced I was walking back to look at it. I did, accompanied by many flies. It was in fact a whole sporting complex; racetrack, netball courts, tennis courts, bowling club and footy/cricket ground. The latter is the home ground of St Kilda/Hawthorn ruckman Ben McEvoy.

The bowls club has this magnificent sign, made of old bowls.

The footy ground scoreboard is named after Di and her late husband Tom, who were scorers for many years. We had dinner at the pub under a massive honour board listing all the office holders of the sports club, and it was thick with Goonans. Di and Marcus even trained the last winner of the Dederang Cup.

Back at the farmhouse during the night Michael started throwing up. Elf and I took turns sitting up with him. It seems like the pub's pizza was the culprit.

In the morning the water was off due to some dam/tank electronic switch. But Di urged us to use her bathroom. I had a very interesting chat with her old mum while Michael showered. She emigrated to Australia from Germany in 1946, and was interned with her future husband at Bonegilla. She still lives in the house they built in Albury when they were released.

On account of Michael still feeling poorly, our third day of driving was straightforward, up the Hume with a lunch break at Gundagai. I noted with interest that the roo-shootin' ute seems to have really dropped off in popularity since last time I was in these parts. Maybe there had been a Bachelors and Spinsters Ball on that weekend, but there were utes with two-to-four massive antennas and a rack of spotlights parked all over the town that time.

I had pigeonholed Gundagai (based on the very large roadhouse by the 'Dog On The Tuckerbox' statue) as a place of; uh, large roadhouses and statues of dogs. But it's an interesting place. The main street has a lot of lovely and unusual buildings.

We ate pies, flopped in a park next to the Visitors Centre. We really needed coffee, and I noticed that the VC had a little sign on the door saying "INFORMATION TOILETS COFFEE". Inside it was all brochures and desks and no sign of beverages. I asked "Do you make coffee?" and was told "yes, but it's no good". I thanked them for their honesty and took a wad of brochures.

Instead we went up the main street and found the famous Niagara Cafe. It's a 1930s time capsule. An old Greek lady took fifteen minutes to make us four hot drinks, while an older Greek lady chatted to her.

The Niagara Cafe is lined with photos of famous people who have
waited there for a quarter of an hour for a simple coffee.

Jockey in a raincoat?
From Gundagai we just drove straight up the Hume to Yass, then down the Barton Hwy into Canberra. We arrived just after Chonk, Irma, Bea and Eric, and just before Imp, Ed, Karri and Miah.

In the next instalment, 7 days in Canberra will be examined in forensic detail.

No comments: