Clocking the QVB, braving the waves of Bondi, oriental smiles – and a Very Happy Hour!
Monday 16th March 2020. Next on the list: The weather’s windy and more rain is forecast – so let’s go to the beach… Really? Remember, this section of the epic adventure was under Elaine’s governance, and Bondi Beach sat at Number 3 of the iconic spots she had down as a ‘must-see’. The research had been done yesterday while passing through Circular Wharf. “Is there a bus, and where do we catch it?” The answer was “No worries… Number 333 goes from the end of the block here.”
So, our second day started much like our first. We walked across the Pyrmont Bridge, braving the winds that were at least pushing the clouds away. (Brollies were unlikely to cut it, even if we did catch some of the wet stuff.)
A diversion beckoned on the way to the bus. Our route yesterday had taken us past a magnificent looking building next to the stop where we boarded a tram to Circular Wharf. While we had no intention of doing the same today, the Queen Victoria Building (or QVB, as it is known locally) looked to be worth a peek inside.
Occupying an entire city block, the QVB houses over 180 of Sydney’s finest fashion boutiques, jewellery shops, cafés and restaurants. It’s been there since 1898, and is as splendid inside as its exterior.
You can see its appeal from the above. There are two sections like this, separated by the area under the central dome, and above each half hangs an elaborate timepiece. The detail and the mechanical animations are best observed from each of the upper balconies, but this will give you an idea of the scale and elaborate nature of one of them, known as the Great Australian Clock.
We arrived at Circular Wharf just in time to wave goodbye to a Bondi Bus, but only had a ten-minute wait before another showed up. The skyscrapers were soon left behind as we drove east through the suburbs for thirty minutes, thankful that the rain had not yet put in an appearance.
I’d like to say Bondi lived up to expectations, but let’s face it, the expectations (mine) were not set very high. The weather was not on its best behaviour, it was the start of autumn, and neither of us had brought a surf board. But it was a nice stretch of beach.
Not as pale and fine-grained as Glenelg, the sand was still appealing, while it appeared the water could still draw a few keen surfers.
But the beach interlude was necessarily brief, as neither of us had remembered to bring the factor 50 or even a towel, so we browsed the few shops opposite the promenade instead. Which was when the rain appeared with a vengeance.
Shivering in the shelter of a café serving coffee with cheese and ham panini’s, we decided we’d seen all we needed to of Bondi, and made a dash for the next bus back to the CBD. The rain did its damage just before we boarded the 333, and drifted on elsewhere to find more victims – leaving us half an hour or so to dry out and then ponder our route into Chinatown.
We alighted at Hyde Park (no, not that one) and headed south and west until my mental compass and the proliferation of oriental symbols told us we’d reached our destination.
Exploration of an indoor market kept us occupied for at least an hour, especially the assortment of Asian ‘street food’ on offer, but we eventually settled on an authentic Chinese family-run restaurant. The friendly smiles won us over – as well as the temptation of dishes of duck and beef, with noodles and proper China tea. Filling? Tick. Tasty? Tick. Doggy bag? Sadly, no.
We wandered north again, in the direction of Darling Harbour. There’s a Chinese Friendship Garden here – all very feng shui and lovely, but there’s a charge to go in and only half an hour until they close – maybe another time. Instead we continued through Tumbalong Park, which combines grassy lawns with fountains and unusual water features. Suitable for adults and children alike, it is a popular area for public relaxation, and with the wind and rain now a distant memory, we did as others were doing. Watch the water flow this way. Open the gate. Now the water flows that way. Close this one. R-e-l-a-x.
A female voice carried across the air in song. Somewhere nearby a girl strummed a guitar, soothing the whole of Darling Harbour with her melodies. We walked on, taking in the ambience by daylight – so different from the firework spectacle two nights ago. Almost every bar was indulging in Happy Hour, and we found a seat with a view at one with a longer hour than others. White wine at $5 a (large) glass… Dusk was not deterred by the occasional flurry of rain, and neither was our female songstress. Maybe just one more?
Sydney’s iconic landscape, splashing out on the Rocks – and a sweet serenade…
Sunday 15th March 2020. A new city. A new place to wake up in the morning. We were getting used to this transient life – and loving it. Living out of a suitcase was the new norm, even if there was still more packed into it than we actually needed… Our stay at the Woolbrokers included breakfast, but nothing on the scale of the Glenelg Motel. It was a help-yourself scenario: cereal, fruit and toast, washed down with juice or a hot drink. A dining room with many more tables than guests (two other couples about to finish when we came down), but a surprising volume of really useful tourist leaflets and magazines available in the adjoining hall. I pounced on a handful so that we could plan our day properly.
We were staying just to the left of Darling Harbour on the plan above, which covers most of the iconic locations for which Sydney is known. Elaine had a list of preferences to work on, and right at the top were the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge – conveniently close together. How to get there? With our Opal cards already devalued by the journey from the airport, we were conscious of the need to use public transport (including ferries) sparingly – at least until we could see how our budget was stretching. On with the comfortable shoes then.
Our route took us across the Pyrmont Bridge to George Street, in the centre of the CBD, where we caught the tram to Circular Wharf. It was only three stops up the line, so an ideal opportunity to see what impact that made via Opal, and hasten our journey to the hot spots at the same time. A scan of our cards on the platform as we got out indicated we’d used a little over two dollar’s worth… Better.
We were now in the thick of it. The hustle and bustle that surrounds any city tourist spot was all around us. Five sets of wharves for the operation of the ferries met an overhead train station, a bus terminus and our own Light Rail stop. The sweep of the harbour held a huge cruise ship (Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth) at berth, and in the far distance beyond stood the famous bridge. Concrete and glass office blocks towered above us, behind and to the right, hiding our view of Elaine’s first objective.
Our first glimpse of what Linc calls “that building with the funny roof” immediately made me reach for the camera. Everyone else was doing the same, or showing off with an iPhone.
What to do first? Perhaps go on a tour inside (ideal if the promised rain showed up), or make the most of the sunshine that warmed our shoulders. We decided to check out what an Opera House tour involved, but three hours of our day plus the $49 ticket price each seemed a tad over-exuberant. Instead we had a quick peek in the foyer and moved on.
That roof is what draws everyone’s attention – rightly so. Clive James once likened the Opera House to ‘a portable typewriter full of oyster shells’, but what would he know? Its architect, Jørn Utzon, designed the shells as sections of a sphere, and constructing them in the late 1950’s proved difficult and expensive. That held up completion of the building until 1966, during which Utzon fell out with the politicians holding the purse strings. His designs for the interior were not used, and he left the country in disgust – never to return. But his legacy was as spectacular close-up as I expected.
Okay – no more documentary stuff. Having circled the whole thing once, we made our way to the Royal Botanic Gardens – or, at least, we walked along the side of them by the harbour’s edge. I was fascinated by what appeared to be a giant chandelier, sitting atop a floating dock across the water.
I wonder what it’s for? Maybe it’s an Aussie version of a posh lighthouse… STOP PRESS: Wait – I have a guide book that tells me this is the site of an outdoor opera, where “a giant chandelier shimmers over the harbour stage with 10,000 Swarovski crystals”. I knew I should have packed my tuxedo.
We were distracted by a first flurry of rain. Out came the brolly from the backpack for the first time, and we sheltered briefly near a coffee bar at the far end of the gardens. Deciding that standing with a hot drink during a rain shower in Sydney was not a good look, Elaine elected to walk on into the Gardens and try for a cold beer somewhere by the harbour. It doesn’t take much to persuade me of how good some of my wife’s ideas might be, but we took the scenic route.
The Gardens cover about 30 hectares (the guide books tell me), with 9,000 plant species. I didn’t feel inclined to count them myself, but there were a heck of a lot, including some very impressive bamboo.
Try getting lost in that lot. Personally, I was more impressed with the trees. I am unaware of the particular variety, but this one (below) was truly awesome. (Yes, that’s Elaine in the centre!)
Another feature of the Gardens I found unusual was the number of these white birds I so nearly tripped over. Almost as common as British pigeons, and similar in habit, they are often described by Aussies as bin chickens, tip turkeys or dumpster divers – which says a lot about their occupation. Their proper name is the Australian White Ibis.
We walked back through the Elizabeth II Gate, bypassed the building with the funny roof, and were just a hundred metres away from the high-end shops and bars of Circular Wharf when the rain made a come-back. This was no light shower, and Elaine curiously found an excuse for investigating a large Ugg store to check out the new line in fur-lined boots, plus their over-priced T-shirts. But the rain did ease eventually, and left us with the opportunity to sit awhile over two (over-priced) cold beers. Mind you, it was a good view.
Our exercise continued past the busy wharves to where a group of people were enjoying music (of a sort) and the antics of three colourful characters – one of whom was persuading a sound out of something I am reliably informed was a didgeridoo. Elaine offered to show him what else he could do with it, but he declined.
Alas, such exertion was not for us, as Elaine does suffer from vertigo, and we could see what was involved from afar… (see those ants below).
No, all we wanted to do was walk across it – which is easier said than done. We had to ask directions how to reach road level, then do a bit of climbing up a million steps (who’s counting?) until we found ourselves in the middle of a wedding celebration.
A photographer was capturing some portraits of a bride and her retinue with that icon in the background – so I did my bit too! After all, how often do you really get the chance to see five girls that can stop traffic?
But not to be distracted, we pressed on and finally found ourselves at The Bridge. Aside from its impressive size, we didn’t really need to be at the top of it to have some spectacular views.
Our bridge expedition was limited to just after the second set of ‘pylons’ that form the bridge supports, where we turned back. Rain was still threatening, and tummies were rumbling…
Target for tonight was a Bavarian themed restaurant in The Rocks, the Munich Brauhaus. We found a table in a corner under cover – which was just as well, the rain doing another encore within ten minutes of us ordering a plateful of barbecued rack of ribs and some German lager. Was it delicious? Does an aborigine come from Australia?
Dessert followed further up The Rocks at an Italian restaurant – strawberry cheesecake – where we were serenaded in style by a harpist and a guitarist.
Well and truly chilled, but pleasantly full, we ambled back to the Woolbrokers via Pyrmont Bridge and Darling Harbour.
Sydney was looking very good indeed, and we’d covered over 23,000 steps (ten miles) to prove it. Pass the footbath…
Of trees, museums and excess baggage – plus a unique welcome from Sydney…
Saturday 14th March 2020. “Did the chainsaw wake you?” said Sue Mac as I entered the kitchen a little after 7 am. It hadn’t – one of the fringe benefits of wearing ear plugs. If Elaine’s snoring couldn’t disturb my sleep, what chance for a chainsaw?
It turned out the strong winds over the last twenty-four hours had done some damage to one of Sue’s trees, bringing part of it down over the main road. The hazard to ferry traffic had brought out a couple of the local “firies” (volunteer firemen) in the early hours, and they had used a chainsaw to clear the debris. After breakfast we inspected the tree, finding that part had fallen inside Sue’s fence. There was no damage to her property, thankfully, as that might have restricted Lizzie’s freedom. But as they say in these parts – “no worries”.
We were unable to contribute anything useful in the way of lumberjack skills, and said our farewells mid-morning as we set off for the ninety-minute journey along the coast back to Glenelg. The wind eased aside for the return of warm sunshine, while the forecast for our stay in Sydney was mainly for rain. Would it dampen our spirits? Not a chance! Especially now that we had become better at roo-spotting. Linc had told us to look to our left as we went through a place called Myponga, and sure enough – hundreds of kangaroos squatted near the roadside by the reservoir there. Somehow it felt like we were becoming ‘honorary locals’ – familiar with our surroundings, the driving, and engaging in open friendliness with strangers. There was much more to come, but it would not be without a few stumbles along the path…
We parked up on the Anzac Highway, a few metres from a familiar bakery in Glenelg, at around 11.30. We needed to return the rental car by 2 pm, so that left us plenty of time for lunch, and for one last box to be ticked on my mental ‘to do’ list. Big Sister Susan had preceded my trip twenty years earlier, travelling with her daughter Joanne and our father’s younger sister Pat. Their own visit had not included Keith, but they had toured the Fleurieu Peninsula and stayed a few days in Glenelg. According to Pat in particular, the museum here was a ‘must-see’, and this was our objective today.
Housed in what was the original town hall, the exterior was currently being renovated under scaffolding, but the building remained open for visitors. It sits at the seaward end of Moseley Square, and the museum occupies the whole of the upper floor. Here we learned of the aboriginal history for the area we had visited over the last ten days, and of the background story to why the Old Gum Tree is such an historical landmark. There were audio-visual displays and original artefacts, nuggets of information that revealed how South Australia was colonised and developed – and some often bizarre information relating to twentieth century Glenelg with its social and historic influence at the centre of the area known as Holdfast Bay.
Did I say we had plenty of time? Not enough, in fact. We had our lunch afterwards in the café below, then squeezed in a quick visit to Jetty Road for a lipstick (!) before realising we had about twenty minutes left to get the car back to Richmond Road, and fill it up with petrol…
I’m not shy of taking on a challenge, and this was one of our own making, but it didn’t help morale once we noticed (too late) a place selling cheap petrol. Then insult was added to injury when our last opportunity was over-priced – but (no worries) we did roll up outside East Coast Rentals bang on time. A smiling Lauren was there to greet us again, sending us off on the airport shuttle bus with a wave while we congratulated ourselves at still being able to stick to our long-planned schedule.
Let me take a moment to explain a little about this part of our adventure. For me, the main purpose of travelling across the world as far as it was possible to go, was to follow the path taken by my parents. I wanted to see the places they had been, with the exception of the two-day stopover they had experienced at Fremantle and Perth in Western Australia. When planning the trip six months earlier, I was very happy to go along with Elaine’s desire to include some time in Sydney. She wanted to see for herself those iconic images of Australia that are so familiar through the TV screens and glossy magazines – and why not? So, we agreed that our three-week stay should include four days and nights in the State Capital of New South Wales – a mere diversion of around 900 miles from Adelaide.
Alas, pride comes before a flight on Tigerair. Our two small carry-on bags didn’t cut it for weight. One of us (I won’t say who) had packed enough for a small (female) army, and we bravely accepted a financial penalty for our sins. What were the chances of escaping a similar penalty on our return? I’ll leave you to guess…
But at least this no-frills airline got us in the air on time, and we enjoyed a flight lasting less than two hours before catching a glimpse of the magnificent harbour as we came in to land.
The next challenge was to find our way to Darling Harbour, the area we planned to make our home until Wednesday. The airport is linked to the city centre (CBD) by a slick and expensive rail system. I say that because Sydney’s public transport is best experienced with their equivalent of London’s Oyster card – purchasing a pre-paid card up front, then scanning in and out at each stop en route. Unsure of how much travelling we might have ahead of us, we bought the minimum level card ($35 each), only to have half of it debited immediately – taking us barely two thirds of the way to our hotel! (Future travellers beware.)
Having reached Sydney’s Central Station, we next had a short hop on the Light Rail (Tram) service to a stop called Convention. Research had shown this to be a few hundred yards away from our accommodation, but it failed to tell me how difficult it would be finding where to board the tram after arriving at the Station. We went round in circles for a while, following contradictory signage, before realising the tracks set into the cobbles outside the main entrance were practically the only clue we were going to get. (Future travellers beware).
We disembarked only a couple of dollars lighter, but immediately faced another concern: While the forecasted rain failed to show up, it was now dark, and standing between us and where I estimated we’d find our hotel was a huge multi-storey car park. Which way should we go?
We followed some fellow passengers to the roadside, but was it left or right? For answer, we asked a taxi driver busy cleaning his windscreen. “Which way to Pyrmont Street, please?” He looked up and considered the question for a moment. “Pyrmont Street? Oh, jump in. I’ll take you.” Ah. We politely explained that we didn’t need a taxi. We just wanted directions. “No, no,” he said. “No worries. I’ll take you. Jump in.”
Still unsure we were doing the right thing, we stowed our bags and jumped in. He moved off, drove round two corners, and we were on Pyrmont Street – but in the wrong direction. I had a mental map of the area in my head, and told him we needed to be pointing south, not north. No worries. We did a U-turn and headed south, stopping again practically outside the front door of the Woolbrokers Hotel in less than a minute. Our Samaritan taxi driver had been as good as his word, just helping out a couple of Brit tourists – and earning our undying gratitude and respect. Would that ever happen in Manchester? I hope so.
Accessing the hotel after hours was our next challenge. Standing in the closed doorway with luggage of their own was another young couple. The guy was already on his phone (as a sign instructed us to do) to obtain a secure code for a small cabinet containing their key (and ours). He was the first to inform us of the growing impact of the corona virus: his airline had just cancelled their flight to Amsterdam, and he needed to try and find an alternative.
Hmmm… a sign of things to come? For the moment, we were just happy to carry on with our itinerary – even if this particular bolthole was a little on the Spartan side. The Woolbrokers is an old (even historic) building, and in dire need of an upgrade. But our room was clean enough, and had a bathroom with another huge shower on the other side of a small hallway. The lighting in this cramped aperture was set to economy (in other words “off” 99% of the time), but we managed by propping the bathroom door open.
Excited by the prospect of being so close to some of Sydney’s best highlights, we left our bags and went out again to explore. Following a woman up a flight of steps in what seemed like the right direction, we found ourselves walking on a raised walkway next to a busy road on one side, with towering concrete structures on the other – but then there came a gap, and suddenly the whole of Darling Harbour opened up before us. It was a glittering hubbub of activity – neon lights casting reflections across the water, bars and restaurants heaving with tourists and locals alike, and small boats bobbing up and down at expensive moorings. Reaching the top of a stairway leading down into this glamorous spectacle, we were startled by a small explosion in the middle of the harbour. It marked the beginning of a ten-minute spectacle of fireworks lighting up the sky. We were told afterwards this event happened every Saturday night at 9 pm – but for us, it was simply a brilliant welcome to our break in Sydney.
A turning point, and the World’s Best View from a Loo!
Friday 13th March 2020. Unlucky for some, they say… But today I felt extremely lucky. Being welcomed into the community here had a lot to do with that. Last night we were introduced to so many smiling faces, several belonging to people who had once been migrants themselves, and they could relate to my mother’s story. It was Mollie and Eric Veale who had been the unlucky ones, and the residents here today had every sympathy that, for them, the dream had not materialised.
Our plans for today were also discussed, and as Saturday would see us heading back to the airport for the next leg of our adventure, it made sense to enjoy a gentler pace. That was the sensible conclusion (for one of us) after an evening enjoying alcohol at the equivalent of £1.50 a glass. (I’ll say nothing more, as one of us was conscious of driving 7 kilometres on an unlit, unfamiliar road…)
Chilling out at Sue Mac’s that morning brought an incident that was totally unexpected – but hugely welcome: Cats are intelligent creatures, and Kato is no exception. His experience of the new visitors had so far been limited to a cautious bit of physical contact from the male half. The female was curiously distant, and Kato wasn’t happy about that. ‘Treat humans carefully but equally’ his mum had taught him, so there was no way she was going to miss out on his charms. Seeing her sitting on a kitchen chair with an empty lap was the perfect opportunity, so – Gotcha!
Friday afternoon would see the Barringtons at the Cape looking after the grandies (grandchildren to non-Aussies). But Linc had an idea to temporarily escape from these duties. Last night the conversation had somehow turned to lavatories. Or was it to spectacular scenery? (For some reason I forget) Anyway, an idea for an unusual excursion had come to mind, so Linc had suggested we call round at his house and let Lyn take sole charge of the little ones while he took us ‘off piste’ in his 4 x 4.
We headed back up the road, past the Coles’ house on the hill, and turned off to the right – into ‘Veale country’ near what had once been the Talisker silver and lead mine. Now we were into serious dirt tracks, threading our way to the southern coast past a steep gorge on one side, and rolling hillsides on the other.
A couple of gates barred our way, but with typical ex-police sagacity, Linc shrugged aside any caution – he knew the chances of arrest were as likely as finding a kangaroo in his sideboard. So, we went on almost as far as the cliff edge without spotting anyone else on two legs.
The wind was gusting strongly, straight off the sea. Kangaroo Island was almost hidden in low cloud. We could not have picked a worse weather day for what Linc had in mind, but he had promised us something unique.
Here on the cliffs sat a couple of tin shacks that served as toilets for local workers. Their particular appeal lay in that they had no door, and looked out over the sea. Truly, each was “a loo with a view”!
We inspected one of them very carefully. It was fortunate the wind was coming off the sea, otherwise edging down the path on such a steep slope would have been too dangerous. As it was, it needed a strong nerve to take these photos!
Yes, that bucket needed emptying… and my written inspection will reflect that, but I can testify that the view is indeed spectacular (or it would be on a better day). See for yourself, and that’s Kangaroo Island in the distance, while the water in between is called ‘Backstairs Passage’…
It was a relief to return to the relative safety of the Barrington household, where Lyn was bravely holding the fort. On the way we took a sneaky peak at preparations for tomorrow’s big charity event at Cape Jervis: Lawnmower racing.
Linc’s son Mark and his wife were part of the organising committee for this new venture, hence they’d had to deposit the rest of their brood (four-year-old Reuben and three-year-old Madeleine) with Lyn. We rescued her just as Madeleine flooded the bathroom, prompting a call for mum Lauren to return to base with a change of clothing.
Back at Sue Mac’s we had one last task to consider: how to re-jig our luggage so that we could put all we needed into two small bags. Tomorrow we would be travelling a good bit lighter – to Sydney!
The Cole historians, a glimpse of the past, club hospitality – and elusive kangaroos!
Thursday 12th March 2020. Probably the most rewarding day of my visit, when I would see for myself where my parents lived seventy years ago. And yet there would be little to see that could be recognised, if it were not for the priceless input of one particular couple – Lillian and Alan Cole.
We met with Linc at the Coles’ house, perched on the slope of the hill that looks out over the Cape and Kangaroo Island. Both cars were required as there would be five of us on the tour, with our guides split between the two. Both are now in their eighties, while Alan is the senior and has difficulty walking. His long years farming and working outdoors have resulted in skin cancer, but there’s not much that will stop this tough guy from doing what he wants to do!
Alan and Lillian have a passion for local history, and they were both teenagers in 1950. Their knowledge of the area during the four brief months my parents spent here is personal and invaluable. Alan had copies of aerial photographs taken in that year, and he copied them for me. While they are not coloured, they do clearly show the huge extent of the dense scrub that covered most of the terrain south of Delamere, much of it personally cleared by Alan for arable pasture.
But before the History, let’s start with the Geography lesson: we are in (or on) an area known as the Fleurieu Peninsula – that portion of land about forty miles south of Adelaide that juts out to sea like a sore thumb. To take that same analogy, Cape Jervis is at the very tip of the thumb nail, while Delamere is just above the knuckle. If you were to spread out your right hand, for example, looking at the back of it, Adelaide would be at the start of your first finger, and Victor Harbor at the base of your thumb, but at the farthest point from your fingers. Got it? Good!
Two roads converge at Delamere. The northerly one (from Adelaide) passes through it on the way to Cape Jervis for the ferry, while the southerly one (Range Road) starts out from Victor Harbor. The area we were about to venture into lies to the south of Range Road, and below are two maps to illustrate the subject of my interest. On the right is Alan Cole’s 1950 aerial photo, which I have supplemented to highlight the same roads as on the present-day map so far as they existed then. Three sites of personal interest are also indicated.
Our trek into the Delamere wilderness began at the western extension of Range Road, with Alan explaining how much of the open land we saw had been covered in dense vegetation like the smaller sections we were about to pass through.
Much of the roads we drove on were dirt tracks, little changed since 1950, but where we still met scrub, Lillian explained how they used to clear the acacia undergrowth regularly, as tinder dry conditions could so easily aggravate bush fires.
(Lillian leading the way)
It was a journey like no other for me. On the one hand, part of my brain was comfortable enough driving the car with Lillian at my side and Elaine in the back, following behind Linc and Alan. But another part felt detached, sensing a kind of spirituality from my surroundings. We stopped on occasions, while I got out of my car and sat with Alan, listening while he or Lillian pointed out features, or described how many of the trees we were looking at had been planted personally by them both. The numbers, and the acres, were vast. It was hard for my non-Aussie brain to take in how this land had been transformed over a relatively short period of time. And yet I felt an undeniable connection. As we reached the site where my parents and sister once lived, there was one unmistakeable feature that grounded me, and that seemed to have been left in isolation as a tribute to the little family that made it their home in 1950.
Two photos taken by father and son from almost the same place. The one in black & white is marked on the back as “just outside our front gate”.
The aerial shot (above) is a screenshot from Google, but have a look at this wider shot (below) from Alan Cole’s 1950 version, and note the amount of scrub surrounding the Veale house.
Another homestead now sits on the spot where the Veale family lived…
But apart from the stone-edged beds, there is little to resemble what it used to look like seventy years ago, even if this rear view (below) is from a different angle.
Seventy years ago, my mother and sister went for a walk down the lane at the side of their house and discovered they had a pair of Swedish farmers for neighbours – the Jacobsons. Lillian also got to know them, and it was there that she once met my mother. She didn’t remember her surname, but when asked by Linc if she ever came across any Poms in the area in 1950, she recalled a lady from Manchester who walked with a limp. Peter Jacobson died not long after the Veale family left, but Helga stayed on for several years before moving to the Adelaide area to be nearer her daughter. We have to assume she took the famous sideboard with her, as nothing remains of the original farmhouse. We drove down to the site, and while there were several buildings and signs of habitation, the only occupant we found there was a goat tethered to a small fruit tree who had nothing to say for himself…
Our excursion concluded with a drive along Three Bridges Road – Lillian pointing out the structures built over small creeks, as we wouldn’t otherwise have noticed what we were passing over. There is nothing to see now of the saw mill where my father worked for Joe Hooper, but then this would have only been a temporary structure, dismantled and moved from site to site as required. But the distances between features brought home how isolated mum and dad must have felt. On the night of the rainstorm in particular, it is easy to understand how my dad would have had to remain under cover as best he could, rather than try to walk home.
We split up from Linc, Alan and Lillian outside the Delamere General Store, turning onto the main road in the direction of Yankalilla and Adelaide. Elaine had been patient during my morning of nostalgia, and it was high time we had a look at something other than scrub, fields and acacia.
Linc had recommended we check out Second Valley, being a place on the northern coastline with the ubiquitous fishing jetty, a bit of beach and a café.
We’d gone about ten minutes up the road now from Sue Mac’s place, and it felt good to have a closer look at the other attractions in our neighbourhood. At this point there is no coastal road, and we had to take a small quiet road off the main through route, but at the end of it was a tiny parking area with very few other vehicles, some public toilets and a café/shop. Walking along the jetty, we found a couple of ladies sitting on canvas chairs, enjoying a picnic while their menfolk were line-fishing. One couple was from Essex, enjoying their last few days before flying home. The conversation quickly turned to our observation about the absence of kangaroos, and one of the guys assured us if we continued up the road to Normanville we would find a golf resort – where the number of roos outnumbered the bunkers.
A quick spot of lunch at the café, and we were off again on our quest. In one sense the guy was right: we did find the golf resort – but of kangaroos there was not even a paw-print. Ho-hum.
So we carried on to the beach at Normanville. Another jetty, some kids bathing in the sea, and ice cream for our dessert.
There was no chance of us taking a dip – at least not today – but at least we knew a little more about where we might want to visit again upon our return from Sydney. For now, we had a twenty-minute drive back to Sue Mac’s, time to freshen up and get changed before our next outing: to the Cape again and an evening at the Community Social Club.
The club was built a little over twenty years ago, and contains a large function hall, bar and kitchen as well as gym facilities and a small library – which also boasts two books authored by yours truly. It was a pleasant surprise to walk in and meet not only Lillian and Alan, Linc and Lyn, but also several others who had read my books and enjoyed them. I felt like a minor celebrity!
We were just taking in the rules regarding food and drink (anything alcoholic $3, while tonight’s speciality of a steak sandwich would cost us $8), when the conversation turned to our present disappointment over the absence of kangaroos. “What?” said Linc. “We’ve got some of the buggers just round the corner right now! Come on. I’ll show you!”
And he was right. We rushed outside and piled into Linc’s car. I barely had time to fasten my seatbelt before he turned a corner and… there was one sat on its own at the end of a cul-de-sac. We slowed down and approached carefully while it lifted its head and viewed us warily. Beyond the land was undeveloped, and a few yards distant were another half dozen kangaroos, all staring back at me as I cautiously climbed out of the car with my camera. Would they stay still? Not for long…
Returning from our successful safari (thanks to Linc), we relaxed around the table with Sue Mac, the Barringtons and the Coles. The steak sandwiches were HUGE, filled with what might pass in the UK as an all-day breakfast – minus the sausage and egg – inside a toasted bun the size of a saucer. The interest in history continued, Lillian showing us just one volume of her collations on local history, while I shared some more of the original souvenirs of 1950 Australia that I’d brought to show them.
On the day that, seventy years ago, marked Mum and Dad’s first full day in Delamere, I felt well-satisfied with my own first impressions. I hoped they were still there, sitting on my shoulder and smiling at how history had turned out.
A special anniversary, and meeting old friends for the first time…
Wednesday 11th March 2020. Another anniversary: Seventy years to the day that the Veale family arrived in Delamere, South Australia – our own destination today. If all went to plan, we would finally get to meet at least two of the people I had been corresponding with over the last five years. It could get emotional…
But first we had more personal needs. Despite the excellent meal served at our hotel last night, no breakfast was on offer. Were we even hungry? Well, yes – surprisingly. But maybe it was simply the call of the coffee pot I felt drawn to. At any length we put our research last night to the test and found a café open a short way down the street. They did a mean toasted cheese and ham croissant (with coffee) that satisfied our needs admirably, and then we had time to explore a little more of the seafront.
It was clear that Victor Harbor had a wide range of facilities for both tourists and residents. We found children’s play areas, picnic benches, volleyball pitches, bowling greens, tennis courts and even croquet lawns. The latter were particularly popular with the wrinklies…
Walking back to the causeway, we were just in time to see our four-legged friends start their working day.
Returning to the hotel to collect our bags and to check-out, we managed to find manager Andrew and have a chat. We mentioned the one thing that had started to bug us both about our Australian experience so far: the absence of live kangaroos. He assured us they did exist, and that there were several places where they congregated in large numbers. There was also a wildlife park just outside Victor Harbor, featuring purely Australian animals and birds etc, so if all else failed…?
But the clock was ticking, and we had around a forty-minute drive to reach Delamere, so the Three Bears were coaxed back into their transport, and we prepared for the next leg of our journey. Seventy years ago, Hurtle drove his truck from Keith to Delamere in a single day, with all the Veale’s and their belongings on board. The terrain from Victor Harbor towards Delamere is of rolling hills and open countryside. There are dense patches of gum trees, stringy bark and even pines dotted all around. The countryside was almost lush with greenery, a distinct contrast to the Keith area, and I could imagine my mother’s excitement building at the prospect of living somewhere like this. She would have seen the coast for the first time in months, and maybe licked her lips at the possibility of including fish in her diet. But of course, seventy years have had an impact, and I already knew that in 1950, the trees were a lot denser than we were seeing today, and bitumen road surfaces almost certainly ended at Victor Harbor.
Our new home at Delamere
We were to stay with Sue McFarlane, who lives just half a mile from the General Store at Delamere. Sue Mac (as she is known) was widowed a few short years ago, and now lives with a dog and a cat (Lizzie and Kato respectively). For the next three nights she’d also got us, until we flew to Sydney for a few days, and then (bless her) we’d be back for another week (or so we planned). Her home lies off the main road between Yankalilla and the Cape, a single storey dwelling, surrounded by about thirty acres of planted shrubs, trees and grassland.
It felt like we already knew each other – Sue is a warm and chatty lady (she can talk even more than Elaine), almost exactly the same age as my sister, and she came over here from London in 1959 as a teenager. She has three daughters and other family members scattered over Australia, and has worked on farms and as a nurse. She is a talented seamstress, and takes a keen interest in the local community, including its history. This explained why she took note of my original enquiries (via Linc), and as she had a double bedroom going spare, why she volunteered to take us in. There was just one potential problem: the cat.
Kato is a beautiful male Russian Blue. Elaine is a lovely female Lancastrian – who developed a fear of cats after being scratched quite badly as a child. I have witnessed that fear first hand on several occasions, so we mentally braced ourselves for a potential showdown. Should we have brought a tent instead? The good news was that Kato is a house cat, and not allowed outside. He had also been banned from our bedroom (although he kept forgetting). For the moment, a truce had been declared, and instead Lizzie got started immediately with training me how to play tug and throw her amazing assortment of toys around the garden for the next hour.
Gracious as our hostess was, she declared she would not be cooking dinner tonight. Instead, we were all invited to a fish and chip supper at Linc’s, seven kilometres down the road at Cape Jervis. We all piled into our rental car (now devoid of bears) and followed Sue’s directions. The road was quiet, as is generally the case until traffic for the Kangaroo Island ferry briefly forms. Stunning vistas of rolling hillsides appeared on either side, until the tip of the peninsula suddenly opened up before us and we descended steeply to more level ground.
Mr and Mrs Lincoln Barrington live in a small community overlooking Kangaroo Island. Their low-level house sits on a corner plot two minutes from the ferry terminal, with a pleasant lawned garden and large open driveway. As we pulled up outside a huge double detached garage, Linc and Lyn were ready for us. Hands were shaken, hugs exchanged, and shoulders slapped warmly. We’d been friends for a long time (it feels that way), but this was the first time we’d met.
Much of the house is given over to another (integral) garage that doubles as the grandchildren’s playroom, and as a barbecue area with a large dining table. The latter was its present function, as Linc produced some litres of white wine to accompany a long-promised supper of home-cooked fish (caught by Linc) with chips and tinned mushy peas. Verdict: Oh, so much better than Glenelg!
The Veale’s were back in Delamere, and it was a lovely, lengthy evening with special friends.
Another church, a welcome diversion – and more walking on water…
Tuesday 10th March 2020. Time to pack again. Living out of suitcases had not yet turned us into ‘backpackers’, but somehow we were adapting to this new lifestyle. One source of delight for me: Elaine now admitted she had brought far too many clothes with her!
Our target for breakfast this morning was a place we spotted on Sunday evening: ‘Henry & Rose’, a little café just off the Dukes Highway that boasted ‘the best coffee between Melbourne and Adelaide’. It was quite a claim. Since arriving in Oz it had not gone un-noticed that the coffee was almost always excellent. I had got used to ordering a couple of ‘Long Blacks’ with hot milk on the side, and I was keen to see how H & R measured up to the standard we met in Hahndorf.
We waited impatiently outside for the clock to tick over to 8.30. With us was another guy, who had stopped for breakfast on his way to Melbourne, having left Adelaide at 5 am. He told us a truck had overturned on the Dukes Highway some miles back, forcing a diversion that added another ten minutes to his journey. Would it affect us?
Breakfast (and coffee) did not disappoint, and afterwards we walked back towards Makin Street to see how Keith was looking during the rush hour. On the way we passed the old church my parents once attended, and where Mollie had even sung in the choir. Its doors had been firmly shut since our arrival, but now they were wide open.
A notice outside stated that the church could only be viewed by appointment, and with the public holiday closing everything else, I had resigned myself to this being just another lost opportunity. Once inside the porch we could see inside through a metal grille, but could go no further. The building is owned and maintained now by the National Trust, having ceased to operate as a place of worship for many years. It is now a museum piece, and for me it is a wonderful artefact of family nostalgia. Are those pews original? Alas, I’ll never know – but I signed the visitor’s book with gratitude.
That left me with one more task relating to my personal history. I had brought a copy of A Kangaroo In My Sideboard with me, and as it was unlikely I would ever return to Keith, I wanted to leave that book here as a mark of respect for what had happened seventy years before. The Community Library seemed the ideal choice, and so we made a brief stop there while I explained my quest to a smiling young librarian, and left satisfied I had done all that was necessary.
Back on the road again, I was beginning to actually enjoy driving in Australia, and even remembered where to find the indicators. I was not to need them for many miles, as our planned diversion to Meningie was another 65 kilometres distant. I had only two worries: 1) after speaking on the phone to Linc’s sister last night, I knew we needed to reach her house by around 11 am, and 2) what about this possible diversion? We were soon to find out.
We’d been driving for less than half an hour along the highway in the direction of Adelaide when we had to take a left earlier than planned. The road was closed in both directions, and we were diverted at a place called Tintinara. Remembering our breakfast companion’s remark about “an additional ten minutes” on his journey, I started to wonder how this might affect our ETA at Meningie. Indeed, we almost immediately lost connection with Google Maps, and after following mile after mile of quiet country roads with very few vehicles coming towards us – and nothing at all behind – it occurred to us both that we just might be lost…
I pulled over, well onto the verge this time (see Day Seven), and re-booted my phone to try and get in touch again with Google. Hallelujah! With satellite navigation re-established, we found we were exactly 35 minutes away from our destination, and it was now 10.25. The accuracy of that information can only be commended when I tell you we rolled up outside Bev and Mervyn Hill’s house at exactly 11 o’clock.
The aspect from their spacious bungalow was superb. A wide expanse of gently sloping lawn to the quiet roadway, with the reed-lined expanse of Lake Albert on the opposite side. Egrets and pelicans are a common sight over the calm waters, and the peaceful ambience of the spot is unrivalled. Our hosts came outside to greet us warmly, and we were soon sampling tea and biscuits and enjoying a chat in their kitchen.
Our destination later that day was to be the Grosvenor Hotel in Victor Harbor, which is managed by their son Andrew. Our choice of residence had been pure coincidence, mentioned to Linc month’s ago by email, when he had told us that Andrew was his nephew. Linc’s brother-in-law Mervyn had farmed all his life, and Andrew had done the same for a while, until ill health had forced Mervyn to sell up. Even now he had severe problems with his limbs, and needed ongoing medical treatment. Andrew still kept some livestock on his own small homestead near Victor, where he is married to a lawyer.
Bev and Mervyn showed us their motorhome, kept inside a huge garage and workshop, and the fruit trees behind, at the foot of which hid a ‘pet’ lizard, basking sleepily in the sunshine.
Bev was shortly to host a bridge session, so we didn’t linger too long, being anxious to reach the hotel and to explore the neighbourhood. Mervyn gave us some tips on the best onward route, using the vehicle ferry across the Murray River at Wellington, then skirting Lake Alexandrina via another sleepy spot called Milang. The final stretch took us through some truly fascinating scenery which a road sign helpfully explained as ‘Aboriginal Canoe Trees’.
Driving into the sprawling suburbs of Victor Harbor around 2.30 came as something of a culture shock. We had been out ‘in the sticks’ too long. Here were T-junctions, roundabouts, and even temporary traffic lights! There were more single-storey dwellings, but then the centre of town was largely two-storey with lots of shady verandas, many in ‘colonial’ style.
The Grosvenor (above) is particularly attractive, which is why we chose it back in October. It had a small car park at the back, already full, so we parked for a while in a 2P zone on the street and went inside. There was a charity auction going on in the dining area and reception, raising funds to support those affected by the bushfires that had devastated Kangaroo Island in the summer. Unable to check-in for the moment, we walked round to the other side and found ourselves in the main bar. It’s a shame, having to just sit around and drink a couple or four cold beers, but what can you do?
The accommodation at the Grosvenor was basic, but all that we needed. The rooms were all on the upper floor and opened out onto the shared balcony. This would be the only place we stayed where we didn’t have our own bathroom– a communal ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gents’ being available down the corridor. Next to our room was another set aside to make hot drinks, though we had no need for it. We left most of our luggage in the car, just fetching enough up the stairs (no lift!) for the one night we would be staying. Then it was time to see what else the town had to offer.
While Keith this morning had appeared a lot less like a ghost town than in the previous 36 hours, by contrast Victor Harbor seemed positively heaving. This is a seaside resort as well as a large residential area, and one of its particular highlights is Granite Island, reached by a 630 metre timber-built causeway.
Yes, that’s a tram track down the middle. It’s there because a particular attraction of this location is the horse-drawn variety. We’d arrived too late in the day to see them in action, but there were two beautiful Clydesdales berthed in a small stable near the start of the causeway, and we went to say hello.
Another couple joined us with the same intention. We heard the accent and Elaine asked if they were from England. “Yes, we are,” they said. “We’re from Nottingham originally, but we came out here fifty years ago!” Unlike so many other British settlers in Australia, these two still retained their English accents, but were just as chatty and friendly as all the Aussies we had met. Perhaps it’s something in the water?
After watching the Clydesdales get loaded up into their horsebox for a short journey to where they spent the night, we ambled across the causeway on our own two feet. We had no intentions of exploring the island tonight, as there would be a further opportunity during our stay. Granite Island is known for being inhabited by a colony of small penguins, but we didn’t spot any (apart from those below) on our brief visit.
Another couple ahead of us were being escorted by a local lady, and Elaine got chatting to her. She told us a little more about the place, and asked about our own trip. When we mentioned that our plans included a visit to Kangaroo Island, she told us she lived there. “Oh, I didn’t know people lived on it,” said Elaine, who had imagined a similar small island inhabited by kangaroos. “Well, they do!” confirmed our local lady. (More about the size of Kangaroo Island later.)
We returned to the Grosvenor, where dinner beckoned. Bev had personally recommended Elaine try the seafood platter for one, so that was what she ordered, while I settled for the pork. A well-stocked vegetable and salad bar provided Elaine with a generous-sized appetiser, while I played it a little more cautiously. That was a wise choice, as when hers arrived, Elaine’s plate was brimming with fish, prawns and fried squid… Over-faced? You could say that! (Delicious though, she tells me.)
It was all we could do to walk off our dinner afterwards by a little window-browsing around the block, checking out what Victor Harbor might be offering in the morning.
In search of Hurtle, sheep – and people!
Monday 9th March 2020. Today would be a box ticked on a mental ‘to do’ list. Some may wonder why I would make such an effort to reach a remote spot on the other side of the world – not to mention stopping there for two nights. The thing to remember is this: To my parents, Keith was once the object of their dreams. It was to be the place where they would live in a new house, raise their children, and start a business. New beginnings in a New Land. With hindsight, it was also the place that all but broke my mother’s heart, and where my father’s aspirations came to nought. In short, Keith had an important place in my family history, so I had to go there.
Our base for this visit was the Keith Motor Inn. Like much of the buildings we saw during our walk last night, it is a fairly recent affair, and the room was spacious and modern. It had an en-suite with a huge, walk-in shower, but oddly no wash basin. Instead, after using the toilet we had to return to the main room and use the sink that formed part of a mini-kitchen, complete with microwave, toaster and kettle. There was also a fridge, partly stocked with a variety of snacks and drinks like a hotel pay-as-you-go bar. The prices were quite reasonable ($9 for a bottle of wine), but our needs that morning were for something more than instant coffee and a bar of chocolate. As stated in Day Six, we needed to find somewhere in town that was open – and our best bet was the pub.
Following the directions given us by the barman, we found the restaurant was in a neighbouring building, and the entire staff (one lady) was happy to see us just after 7 am. This was probably because we looked to be the only other punters for a hundred miles, and how many times can you do the crossword? Our choice for a cooked breakfast was adequate but not inspiring, and we at least left with a better idea as to how we could fill our day.
Keith may be a one-horse town (with no evidence of horse), but when asked where the other 1,088 residents had disappeared to, our friendly breakfast lady said “The beach”. And why not? It’s only an hour away… It would take no more than an hour to complete my pilgrimage that morning, so for the rest of the day we would do likewise.
We’d already found the present butcher’s shop, on a site where Mollie once manned the counter (see Day Six), and we’d passed the church building (closed) where she’d worshipped, so all that was left to visit was the house. This was where Hurtle lived with his wife Grace, and children Geoffrey and Lorraine. Once the Veale family arrived in early November 1949 (the start of summer), Mollie helped there with household chores and looking after the children, then joined Eric and daughter Susan to sleep at a house further down the road belonging to Hurtle’s sister Gladys. But where exactly was Hurtle’s?
The above two maps hold the answer. The one on the right is modern, but the other was drawn by Eric Veale in January 1950 – and it is pretty much to the same scale. The arrow marks the spot where I took the photo below.
We spent a bit of time walking round the neighbourhood, examining other houses of a similar era, and found one that may have belonged to Gladys. We also spoke to only the second person we’d seen that morning – a neighbour of the old Hurtle property who reckoned to remember the family. He’d only been a boy, but he did remember Hurtle coming back to live in another house nearby in the late Fifties. As he was buried in Keith cemetery in the Sixties, it seemed to fit.
That was almost the end of my nostalgia trip for the day – until I spotted something from the car on the way back to the other side of the tracks: a station platform. These all started out as wooden structures, and the one at Keith should have been long gone. But what was this right by the disused track, next to a silage bin?
Mid-morning, and (almost) all my objectives for visiting Keith had been achieved. I hadn’t bargained for our visit falling on a public holiday, so we were not really getting a true reflection of the present-day town, but it could not be helped. Having spent the bulk of yesterday driving for over two hours on long straight roads, I did not relish doing something similar today – but what else was there to do? We knew how to get to the coast, and we’d been given a recommendation as to the best place to find both civilisation and scenery: a place called Robe.
Bearing in mind Hurtle was a sheep farmer, and my father had to adapt his book-keeping skills to slaughtering livestock, this particular animal had its place in my parents’ story. I hadn’t the least idea where Hurtle’s farm was (they used to drive out to it), but five minutes along the road towards Kingston we passed a field full of the critters. It might not have been the same farm – but I sure wasn’t going to miss a photo opportunity like this! So, I stopped the car at the side of the (empty) road.
In my defence, just remember how Keith itself was devoid of both people and traffic. The countryside is flat, has long straight roads with wide verges, and as I got out of the car with camera in hand for a two-minute break, there was just the one car approaching us from the opposite direction. The moment I had my camera raised to take the shot, a loud blaring of a car horn fifty feet from my shoulder almost made me drop the darn thing… Another car had come up behind us from nowhere, and with the other vehicle approaching at speed while our car partially obstructed the highway on his side – he’d had to slow down. Elaine was NOT a happy bunny. The sheep felt the same way and fled. I was in the doghouse. So, here’s the zoomed-in shot of the woolly stampede – and now you know what it cost me to get it!
There’s not a lot to Robe, but what there is does make for a pleasant few hours investigation. Like other small districts we’d encountered, there is just one main street to walk up and down, plus a beach and a small harbour. Thankfully, from our point of view, there was also more evidence of human habitation. We’d found where at least half the population of Keith had elected to spend the holiday.
The day had started off with plenty of sunshine, but on reaching the coast we found a strong breeze had sprung up, bringing a layer of cloud with it. By the time we’d done with shop window-browsing and worked up a thirst, we were ready to explore the bar at the Caledonian Hotel. This is what I would describe as ‘a real-ale pub’, with beer pumps displaying names that were entirely unfamiliar. On holiday, Elaine and I tend to drink a light beer like German lager, but nothing of that sort was on offer. The girl behind the bar kindly offered us some samples to try, and after finding the courtyard pretty sheltered, we took our choices outside. At first there was just one other couple (with dog) out there, but it seemed we were just the advance party, and the area soon filled up with families (and assorted dogs).
We learned two things here: The first was that the Aussies had come up with a light dark ale called ‘Happy Pig’ that Elaine found suited her taste… The second was a story about the Chinese. Years ago, a group of travellers from China wanted to migrate to Melbourne by boat. At that time there were mandatory port fees to pay throughout the State of Victoria, and none of the travellers could afford them. Now this place is only about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the State border, so they sailed up the coastline to Robe, landed on the beach a hundred metres from the pub – and then walked over 500 kilometres to Melbourne! That’s a true story, and there’s even a ‘memorial’ on the beach to mark the occasion.
Back on the road, fuelled by a HUGE pizza and a side order of beer-fried chips (yum), we returned to base without incident (roos, sheep or otherwise). Relaxing in the motel after the long drive, I was surprised (pleasantly) by a phone call from Linc (see Day Three). While our planned rendezvous with him and his wife Lyn was still a couple of days off, he recognised that our journey to Victor Harbor tomorrow would take us past Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River. His sister lived on the shores of the smaller Lake Albert at a place called Meningie, and she was extending an invitation to us for a refreshment stop on the way. Would we be up for a slight diversion? Of course we would!
In the event, we had no idea how much of a diversion it would turn out to be…
New heights, a German village, a house on water – and ghosts at the end of the road…
Sunday 8th March 2020. Our Wedding Anniversary! And it’s Number… er… (hang on a sec…) Number 6. Who’d have thought we’d spend our special day driving 240 kilometres (150 miles) along a road halfway round the world – and still be talking to each other by the end of it?
But the day started with a hearty breakfast and a fond farewell to the Glenelg Motel, then driving off into the unknown with The Three Bears dozing quietly in the back. Negotiating the traffic around Adelaide was relatively easy now, and would be a lot easier if I could just stop trying to indicate a right turn with my wipers. The Adelaide Hills were our first destination, the forested uplands beyond the City recommended by our fellow passengers from Dubai, what – four days ago now? How could time be going so fast?
To get there we needed to use the M1 motorway. In the UK that’s a three-lane, often congested, thrill ride between London and Leeds usually serving as an endurance test for drivers with a death wish. In South Australia it’s a picturesque dual carriageway, and a pleasure to use. Snaking gently upwards into the foothills, it takes around twenty minutes from leaving the motel before we reach a turn-off marked “Mount Lofty”.
We’re not talking Everest here. This particular Adelaide Hill is a mere 727 metres (c 2,400 feet) above sea level, but is the loftiest of its neighbours, and has a car park near the summit. Revelling in the contrasting scenery to that on the coast, we left the car somewhere around the 700 metre level and made a steady pace to the top.
And that’s the view of Adelaide from Mount Lofty. Note the band of green parkland, the thrusting ‘skyscrapers’ and the sea beyond. A panorama shot on a clear day might have picked out Kangaroo Island in the distance to the left, but not today. There’s a café and a visitor centre to explore too, but again, not today. We’d still got a long way to go.
We re-joined the humming silence of the motorway, but in ten minutes we left it again for another place we kept hearing good things about – Hahndorf. The guidebooks will tell you this is Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, built by Prussians in 1839. They came by ship under the command of Captain Dirk Hahn, who gave so much practical help to the settlers in finding land to lease, they named the village after him. And it is a very pretty place.
The German heritage is self-evident with a host of small businesses (cheesemaker, leathersmith, candlemakers, galleries etc) lined up on either side of the single, tree-lined main street.
The next stretch would be longer, with our two-lane motorway merging into a single lane highway all the way to Keith. Broken regularly by short stretches of two-lane to allow passing opportunities for anyone unhappy with the 110 kph speed limit, the countryside flattened out, and the road ahead became almost painfully straight. Either side of us the scene matched the one I had described in AKIMS, as witnessed by Mollie and Eric Veale during their own train journey to Keith: The literature Eric picked up at the hostel suggests the enormous expanse of flat earth we have been crossing for the last two hours is termed “mallee-heath”. It isn’t what I would describe as desert, but a vast stretch of low-lying shrubs clinging to a pale earth that looks parched of water. While the leaves are probably green underneath, they look to be permanently grey with dust.
Half an hour passed, during which time we had our first sight of kangaroos… dead ones. Roadkill here is often a little on the large side, and emails from Linc had described the damage done to cars from such encounters. Both of us needed to keep our eyes open, although we had been advised the risk was greater at dawn and dusk. But we reached our next stop (Murray Bridge) unscathed, and by now we were ready for a bite to eat as well as a stretch of the legs.
Here's a little geography lesson for UK readers: Murray Bridge is a place where there’s a river called the Murray, and once upon a time (1836) someone built a bridge over it. That’s typically direct of the Aussies. In England, we’d probably have called it ‘Bridgetown Upon Murray’. Anyway, the river is big and wide (South Australia’s largest), and it was here it began to dawn on us that we were in the middle of a public holiday (the Adelaide Cup). So most places were closed.
In one respect that was fine with us, especially as we were able to park close to the river and not suffer any restrictions no matter how long we P’d. We also found we were right next to a shopping mall that was open, and which served excellent Asian street food at $9 a punnet. But if we’d wanted to post a letter or borrow a library book… tough.
Instead, we wandered alongside the river for a while. There was a wide, grassy area by the bank, occasionally speckled with the shade of gum trees, and a number of families enjoying the holiday sunshine. We spotted a paddle boat heading downstream, and then a similar large craft coming the opposite way. As it moored up near to us, we could see it was a houseboat – but unlike any I had seen before.
One of Elaine’s charms is her ability to talk to anyone (try and stop her). In a flash she was calling out to people on the boat, and before I could remind her what her mother had said about talking to strangers, we were walking across the gangplank and exploring a 6-double bedroom (each with en-suite) floating bungalow. The welcoming crew were all from New Zealand, three couples enjoying a holiday together cruising the Murray River, and we were even invited to a barbecue… These Aussies… (sorry – Kiwis) I tell you!
We had to decline any further hospitality and get back on our road trip, but our experience today had just added to the enormous bonhomie of the whole adventure: every day a different surprise had put huge smiles on our faces.
It was now mid-afternoon, and our eventual destination was just over ninety minutes away along the long straight and hot bitumen surface of the Dukes Highway. We were following the railway line that, if we continued, would eventually take us all the way to Melbourne, but trains were entirely absent that day. We were soon to realise something else was missing – anything on two legs.
On the approach into town, there was a sign welcoming us to Keith, where the population was declared to be 1,089. That figure has dropped by about a hundred since I first researched about the place in the late nineteen eighties. When my Mum and Dad arrived there in 1949, it was probably nearer to 500. Today, after checking in to the Keith Motor Inn, we went for a walk around town and found it virtually empty of people.
The ghost town that was Keith that Sunday night did at least look to have progressed since my parents left seventy years ago. We passed what I can only describe as two championship-level bowling greens made out of Astroturf, then a huge sport facility next to a modern high school (with community library). Like Glenelg, the housing appeared to be universally single storey, each with plenty of ground. We turned onto Makin Street and found our first human. He was staring mournfully through the window of a bakery (closed of course), and when asked, he told us it would be just the same tomorrow. “Where can we get breakfast, then?” “Not here, mate! The other one might be open up the road. Or you could try the pub?”
So, we crossed over and found the pub, complete with six punters – all male. (Note that, including the barman, the population of Keith now stands at eight.) The beer was chilled, but the welcome was other-worldly. Have you ever fallen asleep and had a nightmare where you enter a bar and everyone in it is a Martian? This was a little like that. The guys had a (shall we say weird?) sense of humour, delighting in our failure to guess that one of their number hailed from Finland of all places (I didn’t like to guess Mars). But they were chatty enough, sympathising with my personal connection to their home town, and one of them theorising he might just know a descendant of Hurtle’s, but he didn’t live here. Aside from the company, our attention was drawn to the multiple display of TV screens around the bar, each streaming sport events. It seemed the pub was happy to encourage its guests to bet on the results.
Fancy your chances on the 3.30? Not today!
Four wheels, two beaches, one gum tree – and farewell to Glenelg…
Saturday 7th March 2020. Today marked a major shift in our visit to Australia: we were to get a set of wheels… Normally, our holidays abroad wouldn’t warrant renting a car. I prefer to take a break from driving and let others do the necessary, but as already mentioned on Day Four, there was no longer a train service to Keith, so if I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps, I had to get behind the wheel myself.
But the long drive to Keith would be tomorrow. Today we needed to find our way to the other side of the airport to collect the SUV I booked online months ago, and explore the local sights a little more. Unlike our experience so far, not everything was to go to plan…
“Did you know you’ve got TWO vehicles booked with us?” said the girl behind the counter. We’d just arrived by bus at East Coast Car Rentals on Richmond Road. We’d congratulated ourselves on finding our way there so easily, even getting away with a free ride because the driver couldn’t change the twenty dollar note we’d offered for our fare. So news of a double booking did not go down well. Especially when the lovely Lauren followed up her announcement with “And they’re both pre-paid!”
In short, the online agent I’d used (Opodo) had b*ggered things up. Fortunately, only one payment had been taken, but it took several phone calls and signatures on documents before we were able to drive away in our gleaming white Hyundai Accent. Very soon the cock-up over booking (and insurance) was shelved at the back of my mind as I struggled with the need to remember my indicators were now on my right. And which way was it back to the motel?
Once order had been restored, we were determined to make use of our new toy and travel a little further afield. Our first destination was a neighbouring resort a few miles south, which had been recommended to us by more than one person. Google Maps helped us navigate past Glenelg’s Jetty Road until we hit the picturesque neighbourhood of Brighton, where another street of the same name gently sloped down to the sea.
It was at this point we realised the importance of understanding the local regulations over parking a car. Over the last couple of days we had noticed street signs with 2P, 3P or similar in bold letters. One of these was prominently displayed near an eminently suitable space right next to the main street cafés and boutiques. What did 2P mean? We asked the nearest shopkeeper, who told us we could “P” freely for up to two hours. What a relief…
The atmosphere was warm and friendly, hustle and bustle of the most relaxed kind, and after a brief browse up and down, we decided we’d spent enough energy to earn ourselves a good ol’ Aussie meat pie each. There was clearly a popular bakery close to the seafront, and we found a friendly guy behind the counter. Recognising our accents, he told us he once visited Britain to look up friends in Bristol. Did he enjoy it? “You bet!” As I handed over the cash, he scooped up an additional piece of sausage roll and brought all three plates over to our table in the sunshine. “Our speciality for you to try, on the house. Enjoy!” And we did.
Afterwards, we returned our empty plates, crumbs all licked-up, and thanked him for the extra portion. “I hope the English were as nice to you as you Aussies have been to us,” said Elaine sincerely. “You bet!” was the reply. Then as we were about to leave, he handed us another bag of goodies. “Something for you to have with a coffee later.” We couldn’t believe it. Inside were two ‘hot-cross-bun-flavoured’ doughnuts. Don’t you just love Aussies?
We never went back to Brighton, but this guy gave us a very good reason to want to come back to Australia. What an ambassador for both his business and his country.
We headed a little further south, but the coast road came to an abrupt end and we decided instead to turn north and seek out another recommendation: Henley Beach. Our cyclist companion Luke had particularly sung its praises, so why not?
Through neighbouring Glenelg, past the airport, we found ourselves back by the seafront in a quiet residential neighbourhood. No signs 2P or not 2P, but plenty of space, so this time we walked down onto a broad, and largely empty, swathe of sandy beach in temperatures that would have filled the equivalent anywhere back home. One of the benefits of visiting Australia at this time of year is the place is so vast that it is easy to have a football pitch-sized beach to yourself. Between us and the roadway was a very small patch of dune-like grass and scrub, and the lack of commercial units added to the general appeal, all the way to the distant jetty by the lifesavers’ clubhouse. We took off our shoes and indulged in paddling and picking up seashells.
We were ready to walk on water, so we did (on the jetty). Broad smiles on our faces at being here, we were just two out of many others enjoying the good life. Around us were people line-fishing, others just strolling in the sunshine – and three young lads cooling off by jumping into the sea. Someone had posted signs prohibiting this very act, but hadn’t turned up to police it. “No worries, mate.” Neither had we.
Another hour or so (who’s counting?) was spent taking in the scenery with the aid of a cold beer and a coffee, watching the world go by. Here’s a picture of Elaine and I showing off our new Yoga technique to the locals… (as if)
But we couldn’t let time pass by altogether. It was our last day in Glenelg, with at least one particular sight still left to visit. Returning to our motel, we made a brief detour into the nearest thing we’d seen to a housing estate. We’d come to look at a tree.
As the day drew to a close, we determined to make our last evening in this lovely part of the world as special as possible. After making a start on re-packing our cases, showering and changing, we walked back to Moseley Square via the beach. The sun was dipping lower and lower towards the distant horizon, and the light was pure gold. Crowds of people still thronged the sand and the promenade, so we joined them near the jetty and marvelled at the setting sun over the water. Could life get much better than this?
Elaine had her heart firmly set on some Vietnamese food in a restaurant she spotted previously, and it turned out to be a good choice. A busy atmosphere and tasty cuisine at good value, with more friendly Aussies at the table next to us. They were in town for the Adelaide Cup weekend (think Royal Ascot), and she was a milliner, so you can imagine where her focus lay. I’m guessing the guy had his attention on the fillies. The only thing lacking was the alcohol – so with that in mind we finished our meal and went looking for somewhere that a) didn’t have loud music playing, b) too many youngsters, or c) too few staff to provide a service. That was three venues round the Square that failed the test, so instead we walked back to the marina – and floated our boat!
The Oyster Bar met all three criteria, with a table for two and a friendly buzz. We’d settled for a glass of wine each, but Elaine soon had her eyes drawn to where two girls and an older man were sipping something resembling Guinness in a shallow cocktail glass. “Excuse me,” she said. “What is that you’re drinking?” “Here, have a sip!” said one of the girls (Aussie, of course). We learned this was an Espresso Martini, and it tasted as good as it looked. Now I should say at this point that I am aware this is NOT an Australian speciality. But our introduction to this drink DID come with an invitation to sample yet more Aussie hospitality. Somehow the drink flowed a little more freely, the chat did something similar, and I still marvel at how many of these little glasses passed our way when they cost $18 a pop… All I can say (or remember through a pleasant haze) is that Kristen, Annie and Don absolutely made our night, and once we took our leave for that short stagger back to the motel, it was the wrong side of midnight!
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