Ann’s big 5-0

Jonathan says I’m the only person he knows who was looking forward to being 50 as it was a step closer to retirement and access to over 50s concessions.  It did feel like a milestone though. We spent the weekend with our friends Peter and Kim at their home near Shepparton, Victoria.  They had kindly been receiving cards and parcels for me at their address during the week.  I think everyone had been scratching their heads over what to give someone who’s travelling in a campervan for several more weeks.  Jonathan came up with an excellent gift.  I’ve constantly used our old binoculars for watching wildlife during the trip so he bought me some Bushnell Legend waterproof binoculars for some serious observing.  Thank you for all my other gifts (and gifts to come) and all the lovely birthday messages which made me feel very loved.

After a sunny start, it was a stormy day so we were glad to be in a house and have extra space.  I didn’t have to lift a finger all day and indulged in reading, whilst drinking white chocolate liqueur and stuffing my face with Belgian chocolates.  The day was rounded off with an Indian takeaway and birthday cake.  We all felt suitably sick afterwards and went for a late evening walk, followed by watching the movie ‘A Street Cat named Bob’ sent by my sister Joan.  A very enjoyable true story and excellent acting by Bob the cat who played himself.

A big thank you to Peter and Kim for their hospitality and allowing all of us the luxury of soft furnishings for the weekend.


Victorian Goldfield Towns


As described in the previous post, Ballarat was the site of the Eureka Stockade and is now home to a museum dedicated to the history of Australian democracy.  I think I should mention that its showpiece tourist attraction is Sovereign Hill, an open air museum and recreation of a gold rush town in the 1850s.  Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in Sovereign Hill and it’s so big you could easily spend the best part of a day there, so we decided to leave this for another time when we could visit together.

After two very hot days in the Grampians, it was now freezing cold and wet anyway.

Looking round for something else to do, I noticed that the inaugural Ballarat Writers’ Festival was on at the weekend.  The theme of the festival was democracy.  I took the opportunity to go to one of the workshops on crime fiction at the Old Law Courts in town.  It was run by local author Dorothy Johnston and was an enjoyable couple of hours discussing crime fiction with some like minded ladies.

The Amazing Mill Markets are well worth a stop where you can find antiques, books, jewellery, art and clothing amongst other things.  Jonathan particularly enjoyed the stop as it has a large display of memorabilia from the movie Wolf Creek.


This historic town was the site of Victoria’s first gold strike in 1851 and many of the original buildings line its wide main street.  I was keen to visit, as nowadays it’s famous for its many secondhand bookshops and an annual book festival in May.  Most of the bookshops are only open at the weekend.  I couldn’t find anything worth buying at their overinflated prices though.  Ironically, the library had been abandoned.


Another interesting and historic town with impressive 19th century buildings indicating its wealthy gold rush past.  It also has a privately owned observatory which is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on clear nights.  Jonathan commented that it was a shame his neighbour at the back has let a large tree grow, blocking the eastern night sky.


The sun was out again and we instantly felt relaxed at Maryborough Caravan Park which is next to Lake Victoria and within walking distance to the town.  We could see why several people had written on Wikicamps that they came for a day and stayed for a week.  The only downside is all the ducks which I think remind Winston of our chickens he used to round up.

The railway station is huge as Maryborough was seen to have an important central position geographically.  Novelist Mark Twain visited the town in the 1890s and famously described it as ‘a railway station with a town attached’.

After the disappointment of Clunes, we discovered a little gem of a secondhand bookshop in Maryborough run by the Lions Club.  All the books are in good condition and most are $1 or $2 with all proceeds going back into the local community.   I came away happily with a bag of books.


Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting for what to have for lunch, (Benjamin Franklin)
Liberty is a well armed lamb contesting the vote (anon).

The Eureka Stockade in Ballarat is a pivotal moment in Australian history. This gold rush town was in full swing back in 1854 and full of colonial immigrants chancing their luck in the world’s richest goldfields. Greed and corruption were rife and the ruling UK government imposed a £1-3 monthly mining tax on the locals as a blatant cash grab. This did not sit well with the miners, most of whom were Irish and already somewhat less than pleased with the UK.

On the 3rd of December 1854 the ‘Southern Cross’ flag, designed by a Canadian miner, was hoisted over a fenced in stockade and battle commenced against the army. By the morning, 27 lives (mostly miners) were lost but despite the lawlessness of those gold diggers, public support for their actions was through the roof.

Two years later, the Colony of Victoria enshrined a secret ballot for men (Ladies came some time later) which was only the second government to establish a common democratic vote after France.

And so; the site at Eureka is thought to be the birthplace of Australian democracy and the flag, now known as the Eureka flag, is its symbol. In reality the flag is a symbol of liberty not democracy – I think I’ll be flying it myself more often!

Oh, and one more thing, the site was totally destroyed other than some remnants of the flag itself. Today it’s a pleasant park, a large but ultimately disappointing visitor centre and a jolly nice caravan site where we are now 🙂

J-Ward Asylum, Ararat, Victoria

Described as Ararat’s premier tourist attraction; J-Ward asylum housed the who’s who of Victoria’s criminally insane for over 100 years until its closure in 1991.

Our volunteer tour guide was Nola, a former psychiatric nurse.  She took us to every part of the complex and was talking non-stop, so there was plenty of information to take in.  The asylum started out as Ararat Gaol and there were three executions within its walls which are commemorated by small plaques at the burial site.  Nola told the stories of notorious inmates such as Garry Webb who became violent at the most trivial of provocations and killed himself by eating razor blades.  Bill Wallace who was admitted in 1926 age 43 and who died there age 107.  The inmate who believed he was a member of the British royal family.

There’s plenty of memorabilia such as an autopsy table, a collection of restraints, a re-creation of an electric shock therapy room and carvings made by inmates on the walls.

I thought the tour was an hour but it lasted nearly 2 hours and Jonathan thought they weren’t letting me out.  It’s not surprising that you can also go on ghost tours of the asylum  and join paranormal investigators on an overnight visit.  Interestingly, that night on TV, the ‘Haunting Australia’ team were investigating nearby Aradale Asylum which claims to be the most haunted building in Australia.

View across to Mt Ararat and Aradale Asylum


The Grampians

These rugged mountain ranges are an hour North of the Great Ocean Road.  The little town of Dunkeld sits at the southern end and is overlooked by Mt Sturgeon.  There was a dog friendly walk through the arboretum which was next to a peaceful little caravan park.

Halls Gap is a small tourist town in the heart of the Grampians and the start of several walking trails.  Although dogs are allowed in the caravan park, the trails are all within the National Park.  Jonathan hiked up to the Pinnacle and I did some shorter walks.   We had a couple of hot days and thought at last the weather had turned but were told it was very unusual for this time of year and the temperature would be dropping again.

The Great Ocean Road

An iconic Australian road trip and a must do on any international tourist’s itinerary.

The origins of the Great Ocean Road are interesting.  Towards the end of the First World War, the Chairman of the Country Roads Board put forward a proposal to the State War Council that repatriated soldiers could be employed to build roads and connect towns in remote areas.  Thousands of returned soldiers provided the hard yakka to build the Great Ocean Road with picks and shovels and no heavy machinery.  I can’t help thinking that in a way it would have been a good thing for their mental health after the horrors of war.

The route was officially opened on 26 Nov 1932 and for the first few years, drivers paid a toll of two shillings and sixpence.   I would happily pay a toll today if it meant the road was maintained to a decent standard.

The 12 Apostles (although I think there are only 8 now)

The drive is really all about the section between Princetown and Peterborough where the road hugs the coastline and tourist buses constantly come and go at the 12 Apostles, limestone stacks which have become separated from the cliffs.

A large section from Apollo Bay to Princetown is steep, winding and uneven road through the forests of the Otway Ranges.  It was very scenic (although uncomfortable at times) and there was nowhere to stop through the forest section.  Tourists had stopped their cars in dangerous spots where there were glimpses of the ocean or they had spotted a koala in the trees.

The Arch

The Arch

London Bridge

Originally a bridge, but the first walkway collapsed suddenly in 1990, stranding two tourists.  This would have been a great story and I managed to find an interview with one of the people stranded which is quite amusing.

The Grotto


Apollo Bay

Dog friendly beaches and Jonathan also managed to capture the Southern Lights in a video taken over the course of an hour.  We’ll hopefully see them again in Tasmania.


Touristy bits and bobs between Adelaide and Melbourne

Coonalypin Silo Art

The council hoped the project would revitalise the town and now they say that 1 in 3 motorists stop to photograph the artwork.  Five local children were chosen by Brisbane street artist Guido van Helten to feature on the grain silos.

The little town of Penola

A walk down pretty Petticoat Lane where there are several National Trust cottages.

Waterfalls near Hamilton

More volcanoes near Camperdown

Mt Sugarloaf
Mt Leura lookout

Mt Leura was a big hit as you could drive all the way to the top!

We wanted to go to the Volcanoes Discovery Centre at Penshurst but it’s only open at the weekend and in school holidays.

Lake Colac

A real surprise.  The Botanic Gardens are on the Victorian Heritage Register for their botanical significance.

Lakes, caves, sinkholes and volcanoes

Mount Gambier is 450km SE of Adelaide and only 17 km from the SA/Victorian border.  It’s well known for its volcanic and limestone features.  We were looking forward to seeing the famous Blue Lake, which is an amazing brilliant blue colour and then found out it’s only blue during the summer months.  The rest of the year it’s a steely grey colour.  However, on a sunny October day, it still looked fairly impressive.

The Cave Gardens are in the town itself and the centrepiece is a 90ft cave.  You can’t go down to the cave floor but there is a walkway and lookouts.  Every night there is a free sound and light show in the cave.  As a state heritage site, I think the council should really get the shopping trolley removed.

The Umpherston Sinkhole on the edge of town has been turned into a spectacular garden which you can walk down into.

The highlight of the area is Mt Schank, a 330ft (100m) high volcanic cone.  It was a reasonably tiring 900m walk to the top along the steep limestone step walking trail but there are seats along the way with sweeping views.   There is also a walking trail around the rim of the crater.  Jonathan went down into the crater itself with his 360 camera.

We also had an afternoon drive down to Port Macdonnell to stand at the southernmost point of South Australia and to see a Little Penguin colony.  I might have mentioned before that Little Penguins used to be called Fairy Penguins but had their name officially changed due to political correctness.  Anyway, the name was academic as they had all packed their little penguin suitcases and left, probably due to an increase in local predators.

Back to Port Augusta – the Western loop completed

Five months ago to the day, we left Port Augusta on our journey North, through the Red Centre and up to Darwin.  Now we were back to the start of the loop and we stopped for lunch at the Arid Lands Botanic Garden.  We had last seen the gardens in Autumn so it was interesting to see the plants on flower in Spring.

The van was booked in for a service in Adelaide on the Thursday.  We decided to take a new road and drove down the very scenic but very bumpy Horrocks Highway.  There were lots of camping options at the little towns along the way.  We stopped at Wirrabara and were the only ones there on their sports oval.  These places are always good for letting Winston have some freedom without the rules of the caravan parks.  We also enjoyed a stopover in the very pretty town of Kapunda, just to the North of the Barossa.

As we sat outside on a warm sunny evening, we were sure we could hear blackbirds singing and sure enough there were quite a few in the trees.  We hadn’t realised there were blackbirds in Australia.

We drove up to Menglers Hill Lookout which has amazing views across the Barossa Valley.  There is also a sculpture park at the lookout.  Winston was in a particularly happy mood.  I’m not sure whether it was the fact he’d been chasing rabbits at Kapunda or the freshly cut grass in the park.

Carry on up the Peninsula

On the drive up the Eastern side of the Eyre Peninsula, we stayed at the little town of Cowell, on Franklin Harbour, which was the last stop on our oyster odyssey.  The pubs were the only places open on the Saturday afternoon when we arrived and we weren’t sure whether we would be able to buy local oysters over the Labour Day long weekend.  The wide streets and impressive buildings are an indication of the town’s importance as a port in its early days.   We did think that perhaps ‘Home Hardware’ could have made an attempt to blend in to the historic main street by not painting their building bright blue.

It was also Grand Finals weekend and South Australians had footy fever as the Adelaide Crows were in the AFL Grand Final.  You would have thought there was no other news happening in the world on the local news channels.   However, after a lacklustre display by the Crows resulting in them being soundly beaten by the Richmond Tigers, not much more was heard about the game.

Luckily for us, a little seafood shack on the jetty was open on Sunday morning and we were able to buy a dozen Cowell oysters.  They were were quite salty and zingy so we decided they would taste better cooked and we ate them fried in Tempura batter.

We were cheering on The North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL Grand Final on Sunday night.  They had somehow made it to the final without their two star players.  Things didn’t get off to a good start for them when a player went down in agony after only 3 minutes, having broken his leg.  Ultimately, the Melbourne Storm were too strong and won convincingly.

South Australia has daylight saving and the clocks went forward an hour during the night.  We’ve changed our clocks so many times over the past month that it’s starting to get confusing.  I think we’re now 9 ½ hours ahead of the UK and ½ hour ahead of Brisbane.