So, last weekend...I left work early on Friday and Luke and I hit the road for Deniliquin, in southern New South Wales, for my 40th birthday family get-together.
The sun was setting as we hit the outskirts of Melbourne.
Taken from the car
On the last leg of the trip, between Echuca and Deni, the moon was rising - a huge orange orb, just above the horizon. It was quite mesmerising. I didn't get any photos of it though.
We arrived before 9.00pm, checked into our motel and then went around to my aunt and uncle's, where my mum was staying. I haven't seen mum since Christmas so it was great to see her. It's been a year since I saw my aunt and uncle, and they were their usual, slightly odd, selves.
We had a cuppa and a natter, and I got my first lot of birthday loot, including a couple of cheques, which I have put straight into my savings account to go towards my next overseas trip (I haven't decided where I'm going yet).
Luke and I then headed back to our motel room and the first thing I did was crank the electric blanket up to its maximum setting. I don't have an electric blanket at home because it doesn't usually get cold enough in my flat to need one, but it was freezing in Deni - actually, below freezing. Both nights the mercury dipped to around -3 degrees Celsius, which is unusually frigid for this part of the world. I do hope the inventor of the electric blanket was bestowed with some kind of Nobel prize. It was so, so cosy.
The mornings were frosty, but the days were clear, sunny and not too cold. Perfect winter days. I did get to wear my doona-esque parka with the fur-trimmed hood for the first time this winter, which was pleasing. Sometimes I wish it was colder in Melbourne so I could wear it more often!
My birthday do was at lunchtime on the Saturday. There were more uncles and aunts there, and cousins I haven't seen for a few years, including my first cousin Peter, who had his one-year-old son Archie with him. That's the first time I've met the wee one. I think he was a bit scared of my hair (and he's not the first baby who has reacted that way!).
I was spoilt with more birthday loot and then we had a nice lunch, finished off with yummy gluten-free chocolate cake made by mum, and of course a round of Happy Birthday.
It was great to see everyone. We've not been a particularly close family over the years (geographically and otherwise), and it's never really bothered me. They're kind of a weird mob! But in the last couple of years, I've been feeling the need to be more connected with my extended family, which probably has something to do with losing my Dad. In fact, life has been pretty hard going for all of us the past year or two, We've mostly seen each other at funerals, so I wanted us to get together for a happier occasion.
After lunch was over, Luke and I went to the Waring Gardens, the park in the centre of town, to take some photos, but the shadows were a little long by then. I did take some of my previously posted bird photos here though, and the obligatory photo of the Simpson Band Rotunda, which is named after my grandfather, who was a fixture in the town's brass band.
The next day Luke and I had breakfast at a sunny table at The Crossing Cafe near the banks of the Edward River. I had pancakes with mixed berry compote and yogurt. The pancakes had a dense, almost cake-like texture, but I liked it.
Then we visited the Peppin Heritage Centre next door - a tourist information centre, gallery and museum in the old Deniliquin Public School building. One of the rooms is still set up as a classroom. I have a very vague memory of being in this classroom as a little tacker, long after it was used as a primary school. These desks weren't there then though - just some old blue and red folding metal chairs.
This is the logo on one of the old school bags. The motto amuses me, partly because it's more of a schoolmarmish admonishment than the usual encouragement to excel favoured by many schools. None of them high-falutin' Latin phrases 'round these parts. I guess Do It Now could be a plain-talking interpretation of Carpe Diem...
It also amuses me because when I was a kid, the town's rather cheeky catchphrase was "Do it in Deni", underneath a cartoonish outline of a family of rabbits. Do it in Deni. Do it now. Haha. (At some point, the Powers That Be must have decided Do it in Deni was too vulgar, because they got rid of it, but I'm pleased to see that it lives on as the unofficial town motto.)
The photo above is the gallery, with an old Cobb & Co sign on the back wall. The sign was found in a shed on the former site of the Cobb & Co booking office (which I think was somewhere around where my grandparents' house was). It was restored by the town's Historical Society.
A closer view
A lot of the museum is devoted to sheep, since wool growing has long been among the Riverina district's major industries. There were photographic displays for the area's biggest and oldest sheep stations, including Calimo, where my family lived until I was five (when we moved south to Victoria).
There was even a photo of the tiny timber cottage we lived in. It had pressed tin ceilings and a clawfoot bath.
This would have been taken long after we left, since there's very little garden to be seen. We were the last family to live there, so it's been empty for about 35 years. I visited Calimo on trip to Deni about four years ago and the cottage's only inhabitants then were possums. It was well on the way to ruin, which made me sad.
Baaaa. Everywhere I go...taxidermy!
No blog post about Deni is complete without a photo of the Ute on the Pole and mention of the town's status as the Ute Capital of the World. (For non-Aussies, ute is short for 'utility vehicle'.) Here you go then:
The town earned the title by hosting the largest gathering of utes in the world during the annual Deni Ute Muster, which is part of the Play on the Plains Festival. Other events include the World Record Blue Singlet Count (3500 people in a Bonds blue singlet is the current world record), and the Australian National Circle Work Championships (a bunch of hoons chuckin' doughies in their muscle cars). No, I'm not making this up (but I am affecting a bogan mode of speech). Basically, it's Mecca for bogans.
I've never been to the muster and I'm thinking about going this year. As a Deni born and (partly) bred shiela, I reckon I should go at least once, even if it's insufferable. Better buy a Bonds blue singlet then...
Anyway, back to last weekend. After lunch at my aunt and uncle's, we said our goodbyes and set off for home, with a short stop at the cemetery just out of town. All of my grandparents are buried there, along with many of my ancestors.
This is the grave of some of my ancestors, set among peppercorn trees in the old part of the cemetery. Next to it is the grave of another ancestor, Emma Riverina Lloyd. It's said she was so named because she was the first white woman born in the Riverina, but I don't think that's true. Either way, I kinda like it as a woman's name.
We stopped again for a little while in Echuca on the Murray River. Luke had never been before and then I realised I'd never actually been there either. I'd been through it dozens of times, but never to it. We wandered along the main street, and down to the river port, where the old (and not-so-old) paddlesteamers are moored.
More old machinery
Then we hit the road again.
I haven't even got to my actual birthday yet! That will have to wait for tomorrow, as will this weekend's glee, because it's past my bedtime.