One trip EVERY month – Wangaratta

This month I visited Wangaratta in Victoria.  The town’s name comes from two aboriginal words meaning ‘resting place of the cormorants’.  I’ve been here many times before but this time I saw a forest and an unfinished cathedral I never knew about.

As I entered the forest I was faced with a fork.  I took the left prong.

Fork in the forest, Wangaratta

North Beaches Reserve, Wangaratta

It led to two beaches, or rather sandy strips on the edge of the Ovens River.  In the late afternoon, the view was a series of horizontal panels.

Ovens River Wangaratta

Platypus Beach, Ovens River, Wangaratta

Many trees fallen on the forest floor have been sawn into pieces, making perfect hideaways for small creatures hiding from numerous unleashed dogs being taken for their daily walk.  This tiny mouselike marsupial sneaked in and out of the layers of timber as I crept closer with my camera. Can you see him?  I think he’s called antechinus, one of our native fauna.  But I’m no expert.

Small forest inhabitant, Wangaratta

Small forest inhabitant, Wangaratta

These photos make the forest look a dull green-grey place, but there was the odd orange fungus to break the monotones.

Fungus, North Beaches, Wangaratta

Fungus, North Beaches, Wangaratta

On the way back from the forest I passed a stunning cathedral made from large granite blocks quarried from the nearby Warby Ranges.  Unfortunately, even a truly beautiful object has at least one flaw, and a closer look at the church revealed its imperfection.  The bell tower was never added when the rest of the building was being constructed, though there was every good intention to finish the structure.  The original granite quarry has now been turned into a park, but the granite could be obtained from elsewhere if a million dollars were provided. That’s the estimated cost.  Anyone out there with a lazy million, looking for a project?  In the meantime the bells hang and ring in this timber and steel tower that looks like it’s just landed.

There are nine bells in all.  At the top is an Angelus bell, and half-way down hang eight magnificent bells which were cast in Gloucester, England, in 1806 to celebrate Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar.  For 171 years they hung in St George’s church in Bolton, Lancashire, until the church became redundant.  They were purchased with Wangaratta cathedral funds and brought to Australia, after which the present curious tower was built in 1983.  These bells are the oldest full peal in Australia, rung by a team of bell ringers on Sunday mornings and for special occasions.

Taking one trip EVERY month is the idea of Marianne from East of Málaga in Spain.  Not that I need to be told to go places – getting out of the house and even out of town once a month is not something I need an excuse for.  But, thanks Marianne for prompting me to write about some of the things I see along the way.  And thanks for your last trip post here.

Weekly photo challenge: Street life

I’m not old enough to have taken these photos.  Lol.  They’re from my father’s war album of photos taken in 1941-42.  He was sent to the Middle East for several months and brought back photos of the places he passed through.  He wasn’t always the one behind the camera;  some of them came from friends in swaps, so I can’t know who captured these images.

The first one is a snatch of street life during the early years of the war in Alexandria, Egypt.  Not much traffic!

In the mid-19th century, under the French, this was the Place des Consuls, where several Consulates were situated in what was then a cosmopolitan Alexandria.  It was then renamed Mohammed Ali Square in 1873 after the statue of the Ottoman governor, Mohammed Ali, was placed in the square (on the right of the photo).  British naval forces bombarded the area in 1882 and destroyed most of the original buildings.  It’s now Midan al-Tahrir, Tahrir Square (same as the famous square in Cairo).  In English, it’s Liberation Square.

Mohamed Ali Square, Alexandria, Egypt, c1941

Mohammed Ali Square, Alexandria, Egypt, c1941

The photo below is from the same album, but is unidentified.  It’s in the same era, and probably in Egypt, definitely in the Middle East, definitely during the war.  I like the perspective, the way the street curves into the distance behind buildings, and the way the buildings are flush with the street.  It’s not so much about street life since everyone seems to be inside except for a woman and two children quietly making their way  home.  The scalloped detail on the rooflines is particularly clear in monochrome, as is the mass of (what looks to be) a dovecote on the right.

Street scene, 1940s, Egypt?

Street scene, 1940s, Egypt?

I’m very thankful these days that my family kept these photos.  They’re possibly more meaningful now that several decades of history have passed, and we can compare the scenes then and now (thanks to all the images online).  Try looking for current photos of Tahrir Square in Alexandria.  The statue of Mohammed Ali is still there, but the square looks very different otherwise.  But perhaps black and white hides some of the grit of street life.

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One trip EVERY month: March

This month we went to the southern highlands of New South Wales, stopping at Bowral and Sutton Forest. It’s a region of retirees and tourists and businesses that accommodate one or the other.  (I’m neither; I was visiting an aunty, who is retired.)  Historically, Bowral was a rural retreat for the well-heeled of Sydney who built a number of manor houses on large estates, many of them now accommodation for expensive weekends away.  These days there are also a large number of homes owned by ex-Sydney residents who’ve worked hard all their lives and can afford a comfortable retirement in this cool, green, historical region.  Bowral is also famous for its association with cricketer Sir Donald Bradman, which is interesting if you like cricket.

In Bowral there are big big houses where the rich have indulged their whims.  Let’s say you made your money sailing the seas.  Then you could build a lighthouse-type structure in your garden and pretend you’re still out there on the ocean watching for land.  But not everyone in Bowral’s history has had buckets of money.Garden lighthouse Bowral

There are still a few poor cottages scattered surprisingly here and there.

Old house Bowral

It’s a place where nature has been tamed to suit the formal tastes of European settlers, with pines in lines and hedges with edges.  The garden seat in my header, off to the side under shady trees, was much more inviting than these stiff square plantings.  Not to worry, untamed Australian bush is never far away – once you’re out of town and back on the highway, this is all you see either side of the road.

Roadside Federal Highway

The southern highlands attracts people with money and where there’s money there’s shops, particularly shops that sell non-essentials:  craft shops, antique shops, home decorating shops, country clothing shops and book shops (actually, book shops are essential).  In Sutton Forest there’s even a shop for everything, called The Everything Store, with an American flag flying beside two Australian flags.  There are markets selling fruit and vegies and cakes and nuts.  This one had all sorts of things hanging from the ceiling, even a colourful umbrella sheltering garlic bulbs.  I was amused by the nut warning, which we find on everything now, even on nuts!

On the way back we passed Lake George which is presently empty and used by farmers to graze sheep and cattle.  It’s an endorheic lake, meaning it doesn’t flow into rivers or the sea, and fills and dries out for short or long periods.  I’ve lived in this region for 17 years and rarely seen it full or even half full.  It all seems very mysterious, and urban myth makers make the most of the disappearance of the water and its destinations.  In the past decade the ridge on the lake’s south-eastern side has been embellished with 67 wind turbines, making the Capital Wind Farm the largest in New South Wales.  Here’s a photo I took as we drove past:  lots of clouds, ridges, wind turbines and sheep.  Zoom in to see.

Lake George

You know you’re close to Canberra when you see Black Mountain Tower come into view.  It’s a comforting sight, knowing the long trip is nearly at an end.  The layers of ridges of the Brindabella Ranges are so beautiful from this point on the road that it’s like driving into a landscape painting.

Approach to CanberraThanks for reading about our trip to the southern highlands.  And thanks to Marianne for her challenge to take one trip EVERY month.

One trip EVERY month: February

This month I took a trip without leaving town:  my husband and I hopped on our bikes and rode to the National Botanic Gardens.

I posted about the Gardens not long ago, here.  But what I didn’t tell you is that it’s a great place to de-stress.  Just take a look at the Eastern Water Dragon up in the header.  Is he stressed?  Nup.  He strolled up onto the café deck from the forest floor to sun himself, not at all afraid of the visitors.  The dragons are a thrill for café customers taking morning tea.  But of course you can’t go there for coffee and cake and leave without exploring the unique gardens and forests and the comprehensive collection of native Australian plants.

Up in the dry gardens, there are tall eucalyptus trees that are a living support system for other life forms like staghorns and climbing hardenbergia and fungus.  How beautiful are the burnt black and rust tones of the flaky bark on that tree I spotted near the bike racks!  It’s simply nature imitating art.  Down in the rainforest, accessible by timber steps and boardwalks, it’s darker and the atmosphere is noticeably cooler and more humid.  I read the sign telling me to ‘breathe’, and instinctively did.  The air was fresh and cool and clean.  Here, tree ferns and Stream lilies, ‘Helmholtzia glaberrima’, one of the few flowers in these Botanic Gardens, grow in lush gardens beside the stream that flows below the wooden path you’re walking on.  Writing about it makes me want to go there right now.

I wonder where March will take me!

Marianne at East of Málaga came up with this idea of taking a trip every month.  Check out her February trip post to the Rock of Gibraltar.

Weekly photo challenge: Three-picture story

On the lower slopes of Black Mountain in Canberra is a unique form of Botanic Gardens.  The entrance seems to promise a dry native forest, but the gardens offer examples of all kinds of Australian native plants, and nothing but.  We rode our bikes here this morning, and as I walked my bike up the incline of the entrance, I snapped Black Mountain Tower and admired the symmetry of trees either side.  This is Canberra.  The city of symmetry.

Australian National Botanic Gardens, entrance

With many native plants hailing from the warmer tropical parts of the country, it’s tricky to keep them alive here in the cool capital where we have several months of frost and very low temperatures.  Yet, in an old dry eucalypt gully, a rainforest has been developed with the addition of 2,000 misting sprinklers that keep the humidity high and allow specimens from the tropical north to survive.  The rainforest canopy is dense and keeps out any light breeze; the only agitation today is the flitting and scurrying of birds and lizards on the forest floor.

Rainforest boardwalk, Australian National Botanic Gardens

Signs along the rainforest boardwalks say that Australia once looked like this all over, cool and damp, dark green and fungal.  These timber boards are gradually returning to that wilderness state, but as they wear down into a more natural form they make a good canvas for shifting shapes.

Rainforest boardwalk, Botanic Gardens, detail

One trip EVERY month: January

Marianne at East of Málaga says we take trips at least once a month.  Some of us go to countries at the other end of the world and towns on the other side of the continent.  But we all leave our dwelling places now and then and, intentionally or not, end up in a park or an orchard or a beach we’ve never been to.  Marianne wants to know where we go, where our trips, long and short, take us.

For Christmas I was given The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 9 and over the past days I’ve read six or seven of the stories.  I’ve noticed that, like a good tale, each one builds in tension until there’s a turning point, a part where something bad happens and a solution has to be found.

My piece of travel writing won’t end up in The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 10; it was just a happy trip to the south coast of NSW, trouble-free from start to finish.  Just one day, a short holiday.  The only turning point was at our destination, at the end of the afternoon, turning the car homewards.

We like to take our time, to stop and smell the coffee.  So after an hour in the car we typically stop in an old country town, Braidwood, for morning tea.  This day, we found many of the cafés were closed, the owners away for their summer holidays.  But behind the shops of the main street a small bakery-café was still open, operating in an old rusty-roofed cottage, with some empty tables and chairs outside under the grey dry sky.  Under the roof, above the door, out of sight here, some dried bread dough letters form a curious introduction to the bakery: “Fee fi fo fum”.

Dojo Bakery, Braidwood, NSW

Dojo Bakery, Braidwood, NSW

From Braidwood we drove up over the misty mountains and down to the sea.  Our second stop for the day was at Circuit Beach.  Last week you might have seen some photos of my family skipping stones here.  It was a tricky little bay of a beach, with a multitude of flat stones, trunky gum trees and a small cave.

Tall boy, short cave

Circuit Beach NSW

If Circuit Beach is good for paddling and stone-throwing, it’s no good for bodysurfing.  So we moved on to Malua Bay and found a beach divided: a flagged area for swimming, and a no-go zone for swimmers.  My lot said the waves were piddly, and the surfers might have agreed.

No swimming.  Unless you don't mind dodging surfboards.

No swimming. Unless you can dodge surfboards.

Real men need real waves, so we drove on till we found a place with a rugged name, Guerilla Bay, where cliffs were steep and corroded, and grey mounds of rock rose above the sea.  But you can’t surf water that’s millpond flat.  It was only good for stone-throwing, which I’ve discovered looks great in black and white.

Guerilla Bay NSW

Guerilla Bay NSW

We hadn’t given up, because there was always the old favourite to fall back on, a beach which deserves its name, Surf Beach.  The sun came out for the first time that day, the others went swimming and I sat on the beach photographing them.  They’re in the water, far out, where real men surf.  And I’m safe on the sand.

Surf Beach, NSW

Surf Beach, NSW

Pretty good day, huh?  It’s worth the two hours in the car to get there, and another hour driving from beach to beach to beach, and the two hours back again.  Back home inland, I laid a few shells on the windowsill to remind me to return to this place of rare pleasure.

But there was another reminder, at my local shop.  They’ve started selling Dojo bread that comes up from Braidwood three times a week.  It’s good bread, but I need my strong arm to get the knife through the tough crust.  Fee fi fo fum.

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Weekly photo challenge: Family

A few days ago a few of us from my family went to the south coast for the day.  We tried four beaches, but this one was the best for skipping stones:  Circuit Beach.  I took these action shots as my husband and two of our sons sent those stones back into the ocean.

Skipping stones 2

Skipping stones, Circuit Beach, NSW

Skipping stones, Circuit Beach, NSW

Skipping stones, Circuit Beach, NSW

Weekly photo challenge: Window

A window to this artist is not just a transparent barrier between him and the weather.  It’s a place for colours and picture tiles and wooden shutters and an iron grill.  The plaque says:  “In this house the painter Willy Mucha lived and worked from 1940 to 1995.  Friends of Willy Mucha.”  See how he has inlaid some tiles in the wall around the window frame?

I found a small image of one of his paintings and pasted it below.  It’s Collioure in its sunniest colours.

Willy Mucha's window, Collioure, France

Willy Mucha’s window, Collioure, France

Ciel jaune sur Collioure (Yellow sky over Collioure), Willy Mucha

Ciel jaune sur Collioure (Yellow sky over Collioure), Willy Mucha

Cee’s black and white photo challenge: cars

I’ve just stumbled across Cee’s challenge to find black and white photos of cars.  I have just the thing, though I didn’t take the photos.  My father did, way back when these cars were his.  They were taken long before I was born, in a spot near the beach, probably Noosa Heads (long before they solved the sandfly problem and turned it into an internationally appealing resort town).  The first photo is of the family car;  I have other photos of it with my sister and brother as toddlers sitting on the running board (that’s how wide it is!).

My father's car, c1943

My father’s car, c1943

The next photo is of Dad’s ute (short for utility truck).  My mother told me he made the tray on the back to put his tins of paint and work gear in.

My father's ute, c1945

My father’s ute, c1943

Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 21 (bonus Christmas lines)

There would be no Christmas stories without Christmas, and there would be no Christmas without Christ.  So for this last and bonus post about middle lines, I’ve enjoyed searching for the turning point in the story of Christ’s birth.

We know how the story begins:  an angel announces a virgin birth to come.  But what happens in the middle?

For my journey to the centre of the story in search of great lines that draw me on into the second half, or that throw up a problem that seems unresolvable, I’d have to choose Matthew, chapter 2, verse 8, the King James version for the poetry of it.  Here, Herod is speaking to the wise men, the Magi, telling them to go to Bethlehem.  We know his intentions can’t be good because of all his earlier expressed fear of being dethroned.

Go and search diligently for the young child;  and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Such a liar!  Fortunately, the wise men were ‘warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod’.  And fortunately, an angel warned Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee into Egypt.  And so the Christmas story ends well for Jesus (and badly for other boys, but that’s another story).

Merry Christmas to all of you out there who’ve read my writing this year.  I wish you many literary surprises in 2014!

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