Friday, August 28, 2009

When the big ships come to town

There is really something special about standing at Fort Scratchley & watching the big ships glide into our magnificent harbour.

Today was one of those days.

The weather was an absolutely perfect example of late winters morning in Newcastle, the day heralded a brilliant cloudless sky, the breeze was from the north-west, cool, but not cold & it was able to bring life to the signal flags that gaily signalled the arrival of the HMAS Newcastle, our ship of the Royal Australian Navy.

To celebrate this special occasion the Fort (& the City of Newcastle) welcomed the ship, the Commanding Officer (Commander Justin Jones), the 184 other Officers & crew with a 4 volley salute from our No.2 Mk.VII 6" gun. This is the same gun (along with No.1 gun) that fired on & repelled the Japanese submarine, I - 21, during WWII.

The HMAS Newcastle (Pennant No. FFG06), is a 42,000 tonne 'Adelaide' class frigate, was commissioned in 1993 & has been deployed in support of peacekeeping operations in East Timor
and the Solomon Islands and Operation Catalyst in the Persian Gulf. Today, however, they were here to launch a campaign to raise $50,000 towards the Hunter Orthapaedic School, by aiming to run, swim, row and walk the distance between Newcastle Australia and Newcastle England.

The HMAS Newcastle is the first Royal Australian Naval vessel to be named after our wonderful city & we certainly hope that this is the start of a tradition that will continue for many years to come.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Long Road Home

One of the worst things about holidays is sooner or later they have to end & so on the day that we turned the car for home it absolutely poured rain in Victoria, something that the drought effected region really needed. It was if the weather was sensing our mood as we we packed the car & headed north into NSW via Shepparton, Tocumwal, then onto the Newell Highway.

We pushed hard with only a lunch break in the Riverina town of Finley, to break the drive. Now poor
old Finley, isn't blessed with any great tourist ventures, no gold was discovered in the area & even the Kelly Gang gave the town a wide berth when they were on their way to Jerilderie to cause havoc. However, Finley is the home to the 3 piece thrash pop band, Spiderbait, but more importantly, it is home to the best Chinese feed this side of Proserpine. The Hong Lock Chinese Restaurant, situated on the main drag, has one the best value for money lunch deals in rural NSW. So if you are passing through Finley, besides cranking up your Spiderbait on the car stereo, make sure you stop for lunch & grab yourself a beaut Chinese feed for under $10.00, beats Macca's!

But our destination was not Finley, but Forbes. Located on the Newell Highway & sitting beside the beautiful Lachlan River, Forbes is now one NSW's major pastoral districts, but it's financial roots were not founded on sheep & canola, but once again, it was gold.

In 1861, Forbes (or Black Ridge as it was known), grew to over 28,000 people in six months & that was the initial stake that built this wonderful city. Over 9,000kgs of the the precious ore was extracted during the first 2 years of alluvial mining & when the easy pickings finished in Forbes, many miners stayed & built substantial houses on the the now cleared rich farming land. So Forbes was able to escape the fate of many early Australian mining towns of becoming a 'ghost' town & grew on its rich pastoral holdings, despite the depletion of the precious metal.

One interesting fact is how tightly the Post Office is intertwined with the history of Forbes, this is
kindly reprinted courtesy of the Forbes Shire Council website

"The area at the time of the gold rush was known as Black ridge and it was under the application was first made for postal facilities for the mining settlement. The postmasters ant Bundaburra and Lambing Flat (Young) first presented the need for postal facilities at Black ridge diggings.

Their request went the authorities in October 1861. They were supported by the mayor and councillors of Orange Municipal council who petitioned the postmaster General requesting that mail be dispatched to Black Ridge three times a week. Postmaster Buchart of Lambing Flat, actually provide a mail service and had opened Black Ridge Post Office had been officially recognised. Before the official postmarking stamp for Black Ridge could have be provided,
the name “Forbes appeared in a memorandum dated November 27, 1861 in which was asked whether the fact the post office would be known as Black Ridge or Forbes."

As you wander around the town, you just have to admire the outstanding architecture that abounds in such a quiet rural area, from the Post Office, the Courthouse, the memorial to the Boer War, the Town Hall & many, many more buildings of note. There are just so many photographic opportunities available to the keen photographer, make sure you keep your camera handy & fully charged

As you head off past the historic city of Parkes (named after the NSW Premier & statesman in 1873), you pass through verdant fields of crops & sheep herds, then rising up in the distance you'll notice the CSIRO's 64 metre radio telescope rising through the fields of canola. It was from this telescope that Neil Armstrong's steps were sent to from the moon (although the Honeysuckle telescope took the first vision) remained 'on line' during the 2 1/2 hour broadcast, quite a feat considering this was in 1969!

After that, it was straight back home to Newcastle via Dubbo, our travels completed for another year. A holiday that took us from an island paradise, to an Australian bushranging icon, into Australia's cities built from gold, past our the first bloody steps towards an Australian democracy & then finally to sharing in Australia's scientific future (built in a sheep paddock).

All up in just over 3 weeks I managed to take just on 1,000 photo's of this great land & write just over 4,000 words on our adventures, but you know the best way to find out about Australia is to just get out there yourself.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bendigo - "La Ville-Lumière"

Who would have thought that when Margaret Kennedy and Julia Farrell found gold in Bendigo Creek in late spring 1851, that it would help found one of Victoria's & quite possibly the country's, finest rural cities.

After the burst of the initial gold rush & the exploitation of the alluvial deposits fell away, Bendigo's
city forebears quickly embarked on the creation of a city that would not look out of place in any
European country. When the first town plan was drawn up, the name of the city was originally known as Sandhurst, but then in 1891 the citizens, after a plebecite, decided to rename the city Bendigo, after the creek where the city's fortune was originally found. The creek was named Bendigo Creek after a English prize fighter William Abednego Thompson, or 'Bendigo' Thompson,as he was better known.

In k
eeping with the English/European feel, places of significance were given names such as Pall Mall, Charing Cross, Sandhurst, Ascot & also the most of the city's prominent ornate buildings were built in a late Victorian colonial style, contributing to a picturesque "French" cityscape. Many buildings are on the Victorian Heritage Register & registered by the National Trust of Australia.Prominent buildings include the Bendigo Town Hall (1859), 1883-85), Post Office, Law Courts (1892-96), Shamrock Hotel (1897), Institute of Technology & the Memorial Military Museum (1921).

Not only do the buildings add that European feel, but also because Bendigo still has it's trams that
continue to trundle along the city streets, that creates this wonderful feeling that you have stepped into one the the great cities of Europe. However, these trams are not part of the cities public transport system, but they now only run as a unique tourist venture that takes the sightseer on a 20 minute 'talking tour' between the Central Deborah Gold Mine & the Chinese Joss House (the oldest one in Australia built in the 1860's), with plenty of opportunities to disembark & explore the other unique sites at your leisure.

One of the great things about Bendigo is how they cater for the tourist, you can buy a a 'Bendigo Experience Pass' for $45.00 & that one ticket allows you to take The 'Talking' Tram Tour, go on the Central Deborah Gold Mine Tour, entry into the Golden Dragon Museum & entry to the Bendigo Pottery Interpretive Museum. Plus you don't have to cram it all into one day, the ticket is valid for up to 3months!

The highlight of my trip to Bendigo, besides visiting all the wonderful museums & cultural centres, was just walking around the city at night, every building of significance is lit up, giving the city a golden glow, since given that the city was founded on gold, perhaps it is deliberate!

So if you are visiting Bendigo make sure you have more than a couple of days to explore this wonderful region, but more importantly, make sure you take your camera & embrace those photographic opportunities that abound in Bendigo - The City of Light

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why we love the Rat

After gold was discovered in NSW & the news of the find published in February 1851, it sparked the start of Australia's gold rush. Thousands of workers left their employment in the cities & struck out to the country to seek the riches that the land was offering up.

Now, poor old Victoria was granted independence from NSW in January 1851, but with the news of the NSW goldfields quickly reaching Victoria, the fledgling colony was left floundering when most of
its men headed north to the diggings. So much so, Victoria's Governor La Trobe reported
widespread desertions following the gold rushes, saying in his report back to the British authorities, "cottages are now deserted, houses are all to let,business is at a standstill and even schools are closed. In some of the Melbourne suburbs not a man is left and the women are grouping together for protection to keep house."

The ships in the harbour were deserted and did not have crews to sail, let alone load or unload goods. This was a disastrous start for the new administration.So to try & stem the tide of workers
leaving the colony, the Victorian Government offered a £200 ($1,000) reward for gold found within 200 miles of Melbourne.

So it was on August 8, 1851, blacksmith Thomas Hiscock, found the first payable gold of the Ballarat goldfields, 60 miles from Melbourne & sparked the start of the Victorian gold rushes.

Victoria & Govenor La Trobe were saved.

I have visited most of the NSW gold rush towns, Bathurst, Sofala,
Gulgong, Hill End & even Kiandra, but not one of these areas comes within cooee of Ballarat. I had never been to this part of Victoria before, so as I came over the last hill on the Midland Highway just before the Ballarat exit & seen just how big this iconic Australian town is, well to tell the truth, I was astonished! Not only by the physical size of the place (population - 100,000), but as you drive into the city, just how clean & presentable Ballarat is. Also, amazing is how many historic & refurbished buildings are left in town, especially around Lydiard & Sturt Streets, where you think you had just stepped back in time to the 1880's.

The area around Ballarat is also a tourism Mecca with so many museums & places of interest to visit it is hard to know where to start. We only had basically 2 days to explore the area, so we concentrated on the big 3, Sovereign Hill, The Gold Museum & The Eureka Centre.

If you are going to stay in Ballarat, the Big 4 Goldfields Holiday Park is close to all attractions, especially Sovereign Hill, you can check it out at -

Sovereign Hill & The Gold Museum

Sovereign Hill is an open air living museum that is representative of what Ballarat was like during
the first decade of the township. Sovereign Hill is set on 25 hectares of what was one of Ballarats original goldfields. There are over 60 buildings that have been re-created from original pictures of the Ballarat goldfields, including, schools, churches, hotels & above ground mine workings, including an original & still operational ore stamper battery. You can you can take a 45 minute tour of the underground mine & see how cramped & dangerous these working were for the miners (it is safe for tourists though!). There are numerous demonstrations of all facets of life on the goldfields, including wheelwrighting, candle making, Cobb & Co stages & even kids in period costume getting schooled!

My favourite however was watching the pouring of a an $80,000 gold ingot at the Gold Smelting Works & then getting to hold it, the feel of real gold, so intoxicating. However, if you do want to find your own gold, you can pan for it. You won't find a $80k nugget, but it is still pretty exciting to find flecks of gold which you can keep & take home as a memento of your visit. There is just so much to see & do that even in the 6 hours we stayed, we still didn't get to see it all & another visit is a must.

Across the road from Sovereign Hill, is the Gold Museum which comprehensively covers the
history of the Ballarat goldfields & which also houses the largest gold coin collection in Australia. It also has a wonderful photography exhibition of the Ballarat street scape, so anyone interested in photography must visit this outstanding collection of rare photo's. Again, we only had an hour to peruse the museum, which really isn't enough time to take in all the information presented & another visit has been penciled in.

The Eureka Centre

The Eureka Centre is a brand new building that sits on the site of the Eureka Stockade & gives a comprehensive account of the actions that became known as Australia's fight for democracy & universal suffrage.

It is the place where
at 3am on the 3rd December Commissioner Rede ordered his 276 well armed police & military personnel to attack the stockade which was manned by only 150 miners.This attack left 22 stockaders either killed immediately or died soon after, and a further 12 wounded.The government side also had 4 killed and 12 wounded, so it was an extremely brief & bloody affair.

When I visited this site I got a deep humbling feeling, to be where a lot of what makes us Australian; such as mateship, standing up for our rights & our healthy distrust of authority took place here on our own soil. While the exploits of Australia military forces at Gallipoli &
Kokoda should not be forgotten, it is the Eureka site that should be a place where all Australians should visit in their lifetime. It is a place remember & honour the struggles that were fought for our democracy.

The 3rd day in December each year should be celebrated as our national day, a day when we stand as one nation & swear allegiance to our great country.

"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight defend our rights & liberties!"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Ned ruled the roost

For few very short years in the late 1870’s a red headed Irish bushranger, Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (or O'Ceallaigh as his family would've been known in the ‘old’ country) & his gang of Dan Kelly, Steve Hart & Joe Byrne virtually controlled an area of Victoria from Euroa to the Murray River, from the west of the Victorian Alps & straddling the Hume Highway to Glenrowan was the area where Ned was known to ruled the roost.

It is also known as an area that is steeped in great natural beauty & fascinating local history. By basing yourself in the centrally located Wangaratta, it is a great way to access most of Kelly Country with just a short drive from your accommodation. The first stop is always Glenrowan.

Glenrowan is famously known as the spot where the Ned Kelly Gang made its last stand on the

24thJune 1880. After an attempt to ambush the contingent of Victorian police & trackers sent by the government to hunt the gang down failed dismally, Ned was captured & the rest of the gang of Dan Kelly, Steve Hart & Joe Byrne were killed inside the Glenrowan Inn. Also killed in the deadly crossfire were innocent civilians being held in the Glenrowan Inn, they were Martin Cherry (a 40 year old railway platelayer) & John 'Jack' Jones (the publicans 13 year old son). Two other innocents never recovered & died of their wounds, Jane Jones (the publicans 17year old daughter) & 34 year old George Metcalf.

There are numerous museums & sites to visit, including the must visit Glenrowan Tourist Centre, with its entertaining $6.5 million interactive theme park (go to for details) & an excellent self guided walking track, which covers the entire siege area.

If only Ned was as smart as me & done his shooting with a Canon 400D, instead of using 1850's American Colt flintlock pistols, he would’ve have had some great memories to share with his family, instead of being caught, tried, beheaded & buried in an unmarked grave in Old Melbourne Gaol.

The next ‘must see’ area is Beechworth. The town was founded on gold in1854 & quickly became the district ‘capital’ city, with its beautiful civic buildings, courthouse & its imposing gaol. The courthouse is steeped in Kelly history, with Ned first appearing in 1871 charged with Horse Receiving & then again in 1880 for his committal hearing for the murder of Constables Scanlon & Lonigan, after his capture at Glenrowan. Various other members of the family & his friends also stood in that famous dock, including Dan Kelly, Steve Hart, Joe Byrne, Ellen Kelly (Mum), Jim Kelly & various cousins.

My biggest disappointment was not having enough time available to really explore this unique area, an area that really can’t be covered in a couple of hours or even couple of days , but a week may get you to all the wonderful history, wineries, cafes & natural beauty of this amazing area.

Oh, if you are looking to buy a Post Office (LPO), Glenrowan LPO & newsagency is currently on the market, a steal at $425,000, a deal even Ned couldn't refuse!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A funny thing happened on the road to Gundagai

Hands up all those who remember that quaint 1937 song 'Where The Dog Sits On The Tuckerbox (Five Miles From Gundagai)' by Jack O'Hagan, oh, not all that many!

Well let me refresh your memory.

The story has a rich history, dating back to the 1860's when Bowyang Yorke penned a poem called 'Bullocky Bill'.

'Bill lashed and swore and cried;
'If Nobby don't get me out of this,
I'll tattoo his bloody hide.
'But Nobby strained and broke the yoke,
And poked out the leader's eye;
Then the dog sat on the Tucker Box
Nine miles from Gundagai'

This is a quaint little poem that tells about the trials & tribulations of a bullock team crossing the Murrumbidgee River. But there is more to this poem, which I'll elaborate on later.

In the 1920's poet Jack Moses used that poem as the inspiration for his poem 'Nine Miles From Gundagai'

'I've done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I've seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.'

Fast forward to 1932, when to raise money for the local hospital, Gundagai residents had a statue of the famous dog commissioned, moved the monument 4 miles closer to town & then enticed the Prime Minister, Joe Lyons to unveil the statue at 5 Mile Creek to honour Australia's early pioneers. In 1937, Jack O'Hagan then picked up on this & penned 'Where The Dog Sits On The Tuckerbox (Five Miles From Gundagai)'. This song was a hit & spread the fame of this faithful dog to world wide audience.

One problem, the original Jack O'Hagan song line & the Bowyang Yorke poem didn't have a dog sitting on a tucker box at all, but ...

'Some blokes I know has all the luck no matter how they fall
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no flamin' luck at all
I couldn't make a pot of tea nor keep me trousers dry
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai'

Oops, we can't have a dog shitting on a tuckerbox, so they tweaked the words & came up with sit, instead of shat.

Now I never knew this till I stopped 5 miles from Gundagai for a 'comfort break' & unlike the dog I used the toilets at the Subway restaurant, although I was tempted to carry on the tradition!

A Southern Highlands Adventure

Located an hour or so south of Sydney is the beautiful NSW Southern Highlands, an area encompassing Mittagong, Moss Vale & Bowral. This area has moved on from its rural roots to be a more cosmopolitan, village orientated, big smoke escape area. I have never seen so many Volvo X C 90’s, Porsche Cayenne’s & BMW X5’s in one Woolworth’s car park in my life.

However, while it would be easy to dismiss this wonderful part of NSW as just a rural version of Double Bay, a sort of chic ‘yuppieville’ with its $4.00 lattes & Country Road shops.This would be giving a great disservice to the areas wonderful history & its outstanding natural beauty.

Of course Bowral is also the birthplace of Australia’s greatest sportsman, Don Bradman.

So of course the first point of call is Mt Gibraltar (you thought it was going to be the Bradman Museum!) to get my bearings & see the lay of the land. Mt Gibraltar is best known for its trachytes, an igneous volcanic rock that was used in a lot of turn of the century buildings in Sydney (as well as railway ballast) & continued until the mining of trachytes ceased in 1986.

The Bradman Museum in Bowral is wonderful place to visit to track the exploits of a batsman, who even today maintains a batting average that is unequalled, 99.94. The oval, part of this outstanding facility, is like a step back in time, white picket fences, beautiful players pavilion & traditional scoreboard.

Located to the west of Bowral is the historic town of Berrima, once touted as the ‘capital’ of the Southern Highlands district, so much so the government built the jail, built a beautiful sandstone courthouse & the community also had numerous beautiful pubs, schools & churches. Unfortunately when the railway went through to Melbourne in 1867, the line went through Mittagong, Bowral & Moss Vale.

Berrima missed out ... oops!

However, the town still survived as a convenient place to stop & refresh on the old Hume Highway that cut a swath through the middle of the sleepy country backwater. But things were about to change once more for the town; when the ‘new’ highway bypassed the town & Berrima reinvented itself as a day tripper’s paradise. Now the place has country kitchens, handicrafts & restored historic buildings to visit & more importantly, spend money. A truly remarkable turnaround for this tenacious little village!

Fitzroy Falls, located towards the eastern edge of the Southern Highlands & towards the Illawarra Escarpment, is a natural sandstone rock formation that drops the Yarrunga Creek down a sheer 90 metre drop to the valley floor below, which then flows on to the Kangaroo River. The Falls are a wonderful place to have a picnic, bushwalk & see some of NSW’s outstanding natural beauty, a truly awe inspiring location.

So while some of areas within the NSW Southern Highlands can be described as Noosa with cowpats, the area still has so much to offer, great place to visit & more importantly, it presents varied outstanding photographic opportunities, so make sure you pack the camera!

The Last Paradise

Imagine you could live in place where you can walk down a road lined with palm trees, where everyone is greeted with a friendly wave, where the wind sighs through majestic Norfolk Pines, where pristine crystal clear waters lap the golden sands along the edge of a aqua blue lagoon, where mist shrouded mountains are the only structures to dominate the landscape & at night you are lulled off to sleep by the surf breaking on the outer reef, this would be most people’s idea of paradise.

What I’ve just described can be found today, it is Lord Howe Island, Australia’s World Heritage listed paradise.

Lord Howe Island situated about 700 kilometres north east of Sydney & was discovered in1788 by Lt Henry Lidgbird Ball, who sailed past in the HMAS Supply, intending to found a second colony on Norfolk Island. However, it was not until his return journey to Sydney that Lt. Ball stepped ashore & claimed the island for England.

Lord Howe Island is a truly remarkable natural environment, where fish will feed from your hand, wood hens have no fear of human contact & thousands of mutton birds come to the island to roost each year.

This wasn't always the case & it has been achieved with the eradication on wild pigs, cats (no domestic cats are allowed on the island) & the on-going rat eradication programme, which has reduced the threat to the islands original fauna & flora, including the indigenous Kentia Palm. With only 350 local residents & a maximum of only 400 tourists allowed on the island at any one time, this has also curtailed any over development & has let the island retain its natural charm.

If you do intend to visit, make sure the first tour you do is the 'chase n thyme' island tour with Peter Phillips, Peter gives an excellent introduction to the island & is the best value for money tour you'll find during your stay. You even get a muffin & coffee included in the price!

So if you are looking for a holiday to just get away from the hustle & bustle of city living & unwind, Lord Howe island is the perfect destination. Also, since Lord Howe is still part of Australia, no passports or visas are required, just jump on the plane & 2 hours later you are in the Last Paradise in the Pacific.