Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Wagons West Birthday Extravaganza - Part 1

Last weekend I headed off with my friend Anthony on my long-awaited Wagons West Birthday Extravaganza Road Trip Down Memory Lane. It was a splendiferous weekend. Here's what happened on day one.

Melbourne to Ballarat

We set off in the wind and light rain down the Western Freeway towards Ballarat. Anthony, a self-confessed "map nerd", experienced his first moment of glee when we travelled on the new...some new bypass. I forget what it was called. I experienced my first gleeful moment when we saw a full rainbow around the coincidentally named Anthony's Cutting near Bacchus Marsh. I pronounced it a good omen.

We arrived in Ballarat around 10am. The city, Victoria's third largest, is renowned for being cold and it lived up to its reputation. There was a gale blowing directly from the Antarctic and light rain. I was grateful for my furry-hooded, doona-like parka.

We made our first pitstop at the Bridge Mall, which was almost deserted. I had a very yummy hot chocolate while Anthony relieved his growing caffeine headache with a latte.

After refuelling ourselves, we chucked a lap of the big brown blight on the landscape that used to be Lake Wendouree before years of drought took their toll (below). It's a sad sight. We braved the gale to take some photos. (I hear a project is afoot to refill it with reclaimed water though. Yay.)

Boat shed and jetty

Ballarat to Lake Bolac

We hit the road again heading towards the little township of Lake Bolac, where I completed my first three years of high school. The school - which is now a P12 college (primary and secondary school combined) - has changed a little since I was there in er...1988 (ack!), and of course it all looks smaller than I remember.

The brown bit in the foreground used to be lake

As you might suspect, the town gets its name from the large freshwater lake it's perched against. This lake has also been desiccated by drought, although there was some water visible in the distance. It was another sad sight. I have memories of all the students and teachers going swimming there during the last two units on hot Friday afternoons.

As we made our way to look at the dried up lake, we passed the local football ground and there was a game on - Wickliffe/Lake Bolac v Hawkesdale/Macarthur. We pulled up to watch. My brother used to play football for Wickliffe/Lake Bolac and I used to play netball for them and, coincidentally, I finished my high school education at Hawkesdale College. I recognised one of the guys with the team.

Home team in black and white

At quarter time in the game, which was around lunch time, we decided to grab a bite to eat at the canteen. Anthony got a pie and a sausage roll and I got a pastie (which was superb) and we sat in the clubrooms to eat. No one paid any attention to the blow ins.

We saw on the telly later that night that Lake Bolac was soundly beaten.

Lake Bolac to Chatsworth

From Lake Bolac we drove towards the teeny, tiny hamlet of Chatsworth flanked by lots of green paddocks dotted with snowy lambs and sheep trying to find shelter from the appalling weather. We passed the farm where I lived from age five to 15. The house we lived in hadn't changed much, although the Cape Wattle trees my parents planted and the garden my mother established and lovingly tended over 10 appeared to have gone. I'm not sure anyone lives in it anymore. I couldn't see any signs of habitation. It made me feel a little bit sad too. Sigh.

The area looks mostly unchanged, although predictably, everything is smaller than it was in my mind's eye, especially the series of hills that seemed massive to me as a kid riding my bike. We drove past the roadside table drains where my brother and I and the neighbours' kids used to catch tadpoles which we'd keep in a big jar and watch as they turned into frogs. The drains were full of water. I was tempted to ask Anthony to pull up so I could try to spot some tadpoles, but I resisted. It was nice and warm in the car.

We crossed the Hopkins River, close to the water hole where I used to swim (and sometimes skinny dip) into Chatsworth. I spotted the church and fell in love with it. I can't recall paying the least bit of attention to it when I was a kid.

Chatsworth to Caramut

We pressed on, past more green paddocks full of sheep and lambs (it's a major wool growing district, known for its fine merino wool). I love the contrast of sheep against green grass and green grass against grey sky. I tried to take photos of the sheep, but they ran away from me.


We passed the houses of kids I went to school with - I could even remember their names - on the way to Caramut, where I attended primary school. Fortunately, I knew that the school had closed a few years ago due to lack of pupils, so I wasn't too dismayed when I saw the drift of leaves piled against the front gate, the sandpit overgrown with grass and a sheet of tin peeling from the roof of the entrance. Sigh again.

Caramut also has a cute little bluestone church (above), this one with sheep grazing in the churchyard.

Caramut to Penshurst

From Caramut, we headed to the small town of Penshurst, which is where I lived from aged 15 to when I left for Melbourne to attend university. I don't feel a huge attachment to the town because I lived there for a comparatively short time, and it wasn't an overly happy period of my life because I had to change high schools when we moved there and leave all my friends.

But I did want to visit the town's Botanic Gardens, which were established after I left. On the way we passed cows grazing on the verge of the road and the house of a boy I had a crush on in Year 11.

Even in the middle of winter, the gardens were quite pretty. There was a little rotunda, skeletal trees covered in lichen and lagoons linked by a stream that flowed around mossy rocks and over a tiny waterfall. The lagoons are fed by a natural, never-failing spring, which also provides the town's water supply.

Licheny tree

We then went down the main street (past the lubritorium!) and then looped back past the house my family lived in. It was also mostly devoid of the garden my mum planted and the nice little tree in the front yard. (What's wrong with people these days? Don't they like flowers and trees?)

The lubritorium

I took some photos of Penshurst's lovely little bluestone church (sensing a theme?) and then we set out for Mount Rouse, the large hill on the fringe of the town which is a dormant volcano. Easten Australia is home to many dormant volcanoes - I'm sure I read somewhere it's the most volcanic part of the world, though it's been more than 7000 years since any of them erupted.

We spotted several black wallabies as the road wound towards the top of the hill. I don't remember seeing any when I lived there.

It was windy up on the peak and the view wasn't as good as it would have been on a clear day, but it was still pretty good. Lots of big, lichen-covered volcanic rock up there...and mossy rocks too. Bit of trivia - my dad built the fire lookout on top of Mr Rouse.

I think I see my old house from here

Penshurt to Dunkeld

And then we were heading towards Dunkeld, at the southern end of the Grampians where we were to spend the night.

We arrived about 3.30 and checked into our little log cabin (above, with the fabulous tree in front of it) and then headed up to the Royal Mail Hotel, which is now an award-winning gastro-pub popular with city slickers. We sat in the bar where there was an open fire and a view of Mr Abrupt with its shroud of cloud (below). We read the paper over a hot beverage until dinner time arrived.

I nearly clapped my hands with glee when I saw corned beef and mashed potato on the bar menu. Hurrah! I'm sorry to say that despite winning awards for its food, the Royal Mail's corned beef was not as good as Bridie O'Reilly's, although that's actually a good thing since Bridie's is walking distance from my house.

And then at about 7.30 we hit the road to Hamilton for the Wagons gig. I was excited but also a little apprehensive, because I didn't want it to be like their last gig in the town when only a handful of people showed up. More people = better atmosphere.

There weren't many people at the bar when we arrived. We played a game of pool, chatted to the owner of the bar and had a few beverages. I'm not ashamed to tell you that I drank a passionfruit flavoured UDL can. I thought, "Well, while I'm reliving my youth....". It looked like Berocca and tasted like Passiona. I um...didn't hate it.

Time wore on, the support act played, the members of Wagons appeared in the bar (only four of the usual six though) and Frontman Henry Wagons (on whom, you might remember, I have an Embarrassing Adolescent Crush) was right near me. I am embarassed to admit that I felt a little jittery with nervousness. I tried not to look at him though. I didn't attempt to speak to him. I acted cool, calm and collected. I'm 37, not 15.

The bar had started to fill with people and I was relieved. And you know what? I wasn't the only Melbourne fan who made the trip to see Wagons play in Hamilton. For serious! There were a few other people with ties to the area who had also come along. I was relieved.

The show...

I needn't have worried - it was a great show. The band was set up in a corner of the bar (a converted pizza shop) and there was no stage so I got pretty close and had a mostly uninterupted view. They played some old stuff and some new stuff (including an awesome rendition of Good Town) and Henry was his usual dry witted, chatty self. The crowd was really into it, which was great to see.

They were selling their latest CD after the show so I took advantage of the opportunity to speak to Henry and another band member. Don't worry, I didn't fawn or gush or titter nervously. I was cool, calm and collected....although I forgot I had already bought the actual CD the day it came out instead of just downloading it, so now I have two copies. This one is special though because it has Henry's "man sweat" on it (that's what he told me). I said I didn't mind.

We didn't linger long after the gig, although Henry invited everyone to party on. I was mindful of the fact Anthony was tired (I was too - I'm too old and worn out to be a proper groupie) and we had an earlyish start in the morning.


Back at our cabin, we let our electric blankets do their thing before climbing into our beds (Anthony kindly let me have the double while he took the single). My bed was super comfy and I was warm and cosy and tuckered out and happy. And then rain started to patter on the tin roof. Just perfect.

PS I apologise if this is poorly edited. My bottom is numb, it's late and I must sleeeeeep.


a work in progress said...

sounds like you had a fabulous time...thanks for sharing your journey. i can't believe Lake Wendouree has just vanished! i was shocked! i used to go there often when i first arrived in Oz, as my ex-husband's grandparents lived in Ballarat. Here's hoping the drought situation improves soon.

glad you had a great trip :)

dam buster said...

nice work Jayne. Interesting you remember all the people and where they used to live. Even the footy game. No doubt there were cars parked around the boundary line and horns tooted when a goal was kicked.

Days like Saturday were the reason I gave up playing.. Just way too cold.

Tatterededges said...

Country Victoria really is beautiful in winter. I also come from a small town in the middle of nowhere and your pictures could easily have been taken around my home town. That football game really brought back memories. My mum still lives there so I wind up going back several times a year.

I'm glad you had such a wonderful time.

Julian said...

Wow; so many good things in there. It's hard to know where to start. I'll start with "picturesque": those were some really good photos, and the descriptions of a lot of the places make me want to go out into the country again, and soon! It also reminded me of when I went to see my hometown (Saskatoon) again for the first time in 20 years, about 5 years ago. Some of it was very familiar, although definitely a lot smaller! The house was pretty much the same, which was great, but my old school wasn't a school any more, and they'd split half of its grounds away into a local park. I was definitely sighing a bit about that, even though it was nice to see that the building itself largely hadn't changed.

That's the second time you've mentioned that really good corned beef at Bridie O'Reilly's, and now I want to go there for lunch! :P It's been ages since I've had corned beef, come to think of it. I can't really remember the last time I did.

It's good to hear that the band was great, and that you managed to maintain your composure (although it does come to mind that you forgot you already had the CD ;) ).

If I hadn't already had a decent night's sleep (for a change), I'd be wanting to crawl back into bed after reading the last bit. "Aaah" is right!

ozziepossum said...

When I went on the Great Vic Bike Ride we started in Ballarat and I was shocked when I saw the lake. I could never imagine it so dry. Having also grown up in the area (Ararat) we used to visit/drive through many of these towns as kids. It's like a free trip for me reading this!