Revisiting NE Victoria

I grew to love NE Victoria when I lived there during the 1970s and 1980s, first in Wodonga and later in the Kiewa Valley on a dairy farm at Kergunyah and then in Yackandandah, a picturesque old gold mining town. Two of my children were born here.

Over 30 years since moving to Melbourne, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days re-exploring the area and introducing Gary to its charms. We stayed in a cosy little Airbnb cottage in Allans Flat and it turned out our hosts had known (and even worked for!) really good friends of my family.

Here’s a photographic record of some of the highlights of our trip, starting with our accommodation:

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos in Yackandandah or Beechworth but managed a few in the Kiewa Valley starting around Kergunyah where we used to live and swam daily in summer at the waterhole. It’s now a designated free camp and there’s been a caravan park opposite since the early 1990s:

Further along the Kiewa Valley the autumn trees became evermore colourful – a sharp contrast from the Chinese spring blossoms we’d seen only a month earlier:

On the spur of the moment we decided to head on up the mountain to Falls Creek. I was surprised by the extent of the dead trees and it was also quite chilly compared with the valley, but the views were amazing:

Lunch in Mt Beauty was followed by a drive through Tawonga Gap to the Ovens Valley, which I remembered well as a favourite for our visitors in earlier days with its great views across the Kiewa Valley to Mt Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain:

Our last stop was Bright where the autumn trees were not yet showing their full colours, then a drive past my very favourite mountain, Mt Buffalo on the way home:

My trip down memory lane continued the following day with a drive to Tallangatta where the views across the Hume Weir contrasted sharply with my watery memories – just a trickle of water flowing:

…And on to Albury to see the Hume Dam, a far cry from the full body of water we’d swum in so often and seen in full flood in the 1970s, but still an impressive engineering structure:

 

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China 2018 – Shanghai

Our last couple of days in China were spent in Shanghai, a magnificent modern city of some 24 million people:

The Bund along the Huangpu lined with European colonial architecture. Just across the river sits modern China, best seen from our fabulous river cruise at night, when the neon light displays on all the buildings are truly spectacular. The Oriental Pearl Tower is the TV tower.

The Jin Mao Observation Deck fortuitously located on the 88th floor provided magnificent almost smog-free views across Shanghai.

The bustling Nanjing Road shopping district, where Gary was lured via five security doors to a very secret room at the back of a shop to view an Omega watch (good fake…!) which he didn’t buy.

The Shanghai maglev train or Shanghai Transrapid is a magnetic levitation train with a top speed of 431 kph. The fastest commercial train in the world, it completes the 30 km journey between two stations in 7 minutes – what a buzz! Extraordinarily expensive, the raised line was completed in 2004 but plans for further extension were shelved as it runs at a huge loss.

The City God Temple of Shanghai, a great place for a market with loads to explore…and eat…,

China 2018 – Hangzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou

Hangzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou are renowned in China as three of the most beautiful cities in the country. Although we only spent one night in each on our whirlwind tour, I certainly loved what I saw.

From Beijing we flew to Shanghai and then had a three hour bus ride to Hangzhou. It took all day when the high speed train could have got us there in five to six hours!

Our first stop was West Lake – the most popular feature of Hangzhou, a city described by Marco Polo as ‘the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world’ – I too was struck by the beautiful wide tree-lined streets, fresh blossoms and flowers everywhere, clean and attractive architecture. Here we enjoyed a late afternoon boat ride seeing the various pagodas on the hilltops and people enjoying the tree-lined lakeside.

The hotel bar served a nice rainbow cocktail! but wouldn’t ask the smokers to leave the clearly sign-posted no smoking area, instead suggesting that we move to the coffee shop. I like the ‘no tea’ sign.

I love green tea and drink it every day. Our visit to The Dragon Well Tea Plantation at Hangzhou was perfectly timed to see the pickers in the fields during spring and to sample and purchase very newly-picked exquisite green tea. Apparently the steam is also good as an eye bath! Yes, I bought some tea!

In Wuxi we spent time wandering around the Qinming Bridge section of The Grand Canal , a picturesque view of old China with plenty of small shops and street stalls.

Lake Tai at Wuxi, is the  third-largest freshwater lake in China. The area has a 3000 year history and a well deserved reputation for natural beauty and as ‘the land of fish and rice’. As well as the fresh water pearl farm we were lucky enough to visit a beautiful lakeside cherry-blossom park at just the right time of year.

Only in Wuxi were we located in the heart of a lively shopping district where we could step out at night and join the countless local families exploring the streets on a Monday night. Apparently, dancing in the street after dinner, as we saw a mob of hairdressers do outside their salon, is a popular activity. Among other things, we were offered an Apple iPhone 8 clone for $100.

The Grand Canal winds on through Suzhou, known as the ‘Venice of the East’, another picturesque city with its waterways, stone bridges and gardens. We enjoyed a lovely boat ride along this World Heritage Site, the world’s longest and oldest artificial waterway, constructed to connect north and south China, from Beijing to Hangzhou. Some 1,776 kms in length, parts of the canal were built in the 5th century BC but it wasn’t completed until the 6th century AD and has been extensively reworked since then.

At the Silk Spinning Mill and museum in Suzhou we could have bought a doona, (yes, so very light!), doona cover, underlay, pillow cases and covers all made out of silk for only $600, with a suitcase thrown in to transport the lot back to Australia. Instead, I bought a scarf!

The Lingering Garden at Suzhou, very beautiful with blossom-laden trees and loads of bonsai, one of the most famous gardens in China.

China 2018 – Beijing

Our all-too-short Chinese tour started with a 3:00 am hotel arrival in Beijing. Exhausted and excited, we squeezed quite a few tourist sights into the next three days but only saw the city from the windows of the bus:

Tiananmen Square – originally the main entrance to the imperial palace, the second largest public square in the world, of great cultural and historic significance, containing the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mao’s Mausoleum, among others:

The Forbidden City – at 720,000 square metres this is the largest palatial complex in the world, the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming to the Qing dynasties, 1420 until 1912. Listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and a World Heritage site. The number of little animals lined up on the roof is an indication of the level of importance of the person using the building: 

The Temple of Heaven – built in 1420, this is where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed to the god of heaven for rain and a good harvest:

The Summer Palace – the largest preserved ancient garden in China and a summer residence for emperors; the last imperial resort built in feudal China.

Everywhere in Beijing I loved the bare winter trees and the first signs of buds on the trees.

The Great Wall of China at Juyongguang Pass – one of the seven wonders of the world. With frequent stops and a welcome companion I proudly climbed a small but very steep section of Wall. Somehow more impressive than I’d imagined, this stretch of the 8,800-plus kilometre long wall protected the northern access to Beijing in ancient times:

At The Chinese Herbal Institute in Beijing we were first given a foot spa and massage before receiving a free consultation and prescription for appropriate Chinese herbs. My diagnosis was identical to what my acupuncturist told me in Melbourne – poor circulation and so on – but the medicine was way out of my price range. Still, it was a totally fascinating and very Chinese experience, all the doctors and their assistants wearing white clinical coats…

We saw Giant Panda at Beijing Zoo – less than 2,000 remain in the wild, though this number is apparently increasing. I would have preferred to see them in their own environment:

China 2018

30530474_10156207090624242_4700771833114583333_n-e1523847671626.jpgWhat a fabulously interesting country China is to visit! We’ve seen Chinese influences in many countries throughout Asia, particularly in Vietnam, much of which was under Chinese rule for a thousand years. Even Australia had a significant Chinese population during the Gold Rush era.

On a 10-day package tour to China in March this year we only glimpsed the surface, enough to give a quick impression rather than an in-depth look. In this short time we visited Beijing, Shanghai and three smaller cities, Hangzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou. Our tour group was fabulous.

By all accounts China 40 years ago was a land of bicycles and peasant farmers. Since the late 1970’s it’s opened up its doors to economic development and the results are spectacular.

We saw a rapidly developing country with several modern cities of over 20 million people; middle-sized cities we visited had perhaps 7 million. We saw countless ‘families’ of tall apartment blocks containing tiny, but costly, apartments along with remnants of older, more modest housing. The cities were well planned and often the streets were lined with flowers or trees. Judging by the cranes and building activity, a massive amount of modernization is still taking place despite the reported economic ‘slowdown’.

Our bus followed modern well-maintained motorways with enormous multi-level intersections snaking through the country-side. From the bus we frequently spotted the high-speed intercity trains travelling along raised railway tracks. It was sometimes smoggy but luckily not excessively so, evidence that in recent years China has really started to clean up its act in terms of energy production, dramatically decreasing its reliance on coal and increasing alternative energy sources.

In Beijing, as in most other places we visited, our hotel was much more luxurious than we’re used to but miles out of town in the middle of nowhere. The bonus in this first hotel was an extensive facility of some 16 hot pools including one with nibbling fishes, a herbal health treatment and various water jets and spas. Fabulous! This hotel was surrounded by still-empty mansions.

We love exploring local cuisines in the countries we visit, but China proved more difficult than others because everything is made with soy sauce and/or other sauces, none of which are gluten free. So my diet was very limited when catered for by the tour company but better when we were left to our own devices. Disappointing, but such is life and yes, I’d go back to see more of this fascinating country.

Here are some more random photos which I don’t think appear on any of the other pages. I’ve run out of time to do a more thorough job!

Separate posts follow on Beijing, Shanghai and the smaller cities we visited.

Australian Adventure 2017 – QLD – Beyond the Black Stump

May 2017

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Labor Federation Memorial Blackall

Blackall and Barcaldine, with their strong Labor and union connections are two places I’ve always wanted to visit. And here we are! I’m so excited in Blackall to see the Labor Federation Memorial, representing the first meeting that led to the first Shearers’ Union in 1886, the group that eventually became the Australian Labor Party.

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Jack Howe – Legendary Shearer

There’s also a statue of Jack Howe, who famously set two shearing records in 1892 – one with blade shears and the other with mechanical shears. His record of shearing 321 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes with blade shears has never been broken, while his record of 237 sheep with mechanical shears stood for 58 years. My family’s crest features a pair of shears so I feel a certain affinity with shearers!

Also in Blackall is the Black Stump memorial representing the observation site surveyors used to establish a principal meridian passing through the town to gain a more accurate basis for maps of Queensland. Country to the west was known as ‘Beyond the Black Stump’, another phrase every Australian will recognise. A fossilised tree stump is also on display in the main street and could apparently be anywhere from 1 to 225 million years old.

The (almost) free campsite along the (dry!) Tambo River was hugely popular and very well managed. We found Blackall a lovely, friendly town but all too soon moved on to Barcaldine to continue our exploration of the history and traditions of Australian workers.

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The Tree of Knowledge

Barcaldine, on the Barcoo River, was founded in the 1886 when the rail line extended west from Rockhampton, eventually going all the way to Longreach. It is home to the inspirational Tree of Knowledge, used as a meeting place during the 1891 Shearers’ Strike and the reputed birth place of the labour movement in Australia. The 180 year old ghost gum was mysteriously poisoned in 2006 but has since been preserved and is now protected by an award-winning timber structure.  http://www.treeofknowledge.com.au/history.htm

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IMG_6351I’m keen to see the Australian Workers Heritage Centre in Barcaldine, our only national and ongoing tribute to the rich heritage and traditions of all working Australians. It’s full of fascinating displays and exhibitions including a train station, police watch house, one-teacher school and the AWU Shearers’ Hall. I was disappointed that some of the displays looked somewhat tired and worn, but fascinated nevertheless, by all the detail and personal stories.

It was near Balcaldine that Australia’s Great Artesian Basin was first successfully tapped in the 1880s, greatly enhancing the viability of the town. We’re amazed by the extent to which outback Australia depends on Artesian water.

Barcaldine proves to be one of our most friendly camping experiences. A country and western singer entertained us each night (not my favourite style but fun anyway!). And the camp ground manager offered delicious-smelling authentic Chinese takeaway on Friday and Saturday nights (sadly not GF).

Not far up the road we come across an unexpected gem at Ilfracombe. Lining the road is a beautifully presented long display of historical machinery and antique farm equipment. Known as The Great Machinery Mile, it’s too good to miss!IMG_6360

Next stop is Longreach, where the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame has long been on must-visit list. We check in to another (almost) free campsite run by a local council, this time on the Thomson River, and set off to explore. We decide to leave the Hall of Fame until morning and squeeze in the Qantas Founders Museum first.  This museum explains the outback story of the founding of Qantas, which soon became an international airline, and we particularly enjoy the very informative introductory film. Gary is disappointed there isn’t a four-engine Constellation on display as he’d expected, and I’m disappointed because, no matter how hard I try, I’m unable to control the flight simulator and actually fly once I’ve taken off!

IMG_6400Opened by the Queen in 1988, the Stockman’s Hall of Fame is a tribute to the pioneering stockmen and women of Australia. Housed in a majestic building designed by Feiko Bouman are fabulous displays with loads of information about many aspects of outback life and details of all the major stock routes criss-crossing the country. Families like the Duracks are well represented.

IMG_6403What is missing for me is more information about the role of Aboriginal stockmen and their families who played such a vital role, and some recognition that they were the original owners and inhabitants of the land.

Needless to say, these last few days have been a highlight of the trip for me, but there’s more to come with Winton and Dinosaur Land!

 

 

Australian Adventure 2017 – NSW to QLD

May 2017

From Broken Hill we head east along the Barrier Highway via Wilcannia to Cobar.

IMG_6271We stop for lunch and stroll along the Darling River at the historic port town of Wilcannia.  The area has been home to the Baarkindji people for over 40,000 years and it is still has a large Aboriginal population. In the past the Government dumped many people from  other tribes here as well, causing inevitable friction, but there’s no justification for travellers’ fears that it’s not a safe, and indeed a lovely, place to stop.

IMG_6300 (2)Kangaroos, emus and wild goats abound along the road and there’s more road kill than we’ve ever seen. Scavenger birds are our only companions at the Meadow Glen bushland rest area where we freeze at night before pushing on.

A quick squizz at Cobar, where the Heritage Centre gives a cursory nod to the traditional Aboriginal owners before describing the discovery of copper in 1870 which brought great wealth to the region. The Great Cobar Copper Mine closed in 1919 but gold has been mined in the area from the 1930s up to the present day.

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Fred Hollows grave

Hurray! It’s time to turn left (and north!) onto the Kidman Way and by lunchtime we’re in Bourke, the once-thriving port on the Darling River, 1,450kms from the Junction. Every Australian knows the saying at the ‘Back of Bourke’ and here we are!

My first priority is to visit the grave of Fred Hollows, the renowned ophthalmologist who worked tirelessly to end avoidable blindness around the world, and one of my all-time heroes.  https://www.hollows.org/au/home

Once again we see an old wharf where paddle steamers replaced local Aboriginal canoes by the 1850s. We enjoy the magnificent river gums one last time before leaving the Darling River behind to get to Cunnamulla for the night.

We’re in Queensland!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the most of life in retirement!