Rome Was Not Built in a Day


Belly Dancer hard at work

Belly Dancer hard at work (not me!)

Many retirees will have heard the joke . . .

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

“But you did that yesterday.”

“I know, but I didn’t finish.”

 

 

 

I’ve been a bit like that the last fortnight.  The problem with time in retirement is that it is often elastic.  What doesn’t get done today, can be finished any other time, whereas I really need the stress of a deadline to accomplish things.  For the last couple of weeks, I have let external prompts set my priorities, but along the way, I have severed my ties with the last of my pre-retirement life, and tidied a few loose ends as well.

The best prompt was when hubbie said “That’s opened up the room.”  He is referring to the way we re-arranged the lounge room furniture last Christmas, when we needed to make room for ten at the dining table.  I never mentioned we should put it back into its original place, because in my mind, our Christmas layout was only ever a half-way measure until I could get him on side to move even more of the furniture.  He is a “here is sofa, here is television – job done!” kind of guy, whereas I have been feeling claustrophobic for a long time now.  I knew if I planted the seed and waited . . . and waited . . . It only took four months. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Now I am waiting for him to get used to the new arrangement before I ask him to re-hang the wall art to suit the new furniture layout. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Our television, which had been suspended from a wall bracket, switches itself on at midnight.  The first time it happened, the sound of murmuring voices woke me with a start, and I thought we had a break-in (even though we live five floors above ground). I got around the phantom switch by turning the electricity off at the wall, but with the new layout, I can’t reach the plug. So hubbie played with the television settings, until between us, we worked out the root cause. Problem solved. It only took four years. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

A former work colleague rang to pick what is left of my brain.  That reminded me that we had started to clean out the garage a while back, and hadn’t finished by the end of the day. I recalled that I was about to throw out a box of “stuff” that could be useful for him.  Now all that was left of my work-life is packed up in a big box which is sitting in the hallway, waiting for me to arrange to get it up to Sydney.  At least that has a deadline . . .

In fact, “Finish cleaning the garage” was on my supposedly motivational list of “things to do“. I keep a filing cabinet in the garage, and we have bought a you-beaut shredder.  I dragged everything up into the lounge room, because it was dark and lonely in the garage, and I made an almighty mess all day, sorting out old “stuff”.  The shredder overheated and had a dummy spit several times during the day, but with hubbie’s help, that is actually one job that was completed.  A two inch strike-through on the to-do list is hardly representative of the day’s effort.

I don’t know if it was on account of moving the furniture :-) but poor old hubbie came down with gout.  I think it was because we had a fun Arabian night here at the complex, complete with a belly dancing exhibition.  I suspect he was so frightened he might be called upon to dance, that his ankle swelled up.  Hanging around, laid up on the couch, he got so bored he started reading appliance manuals.  He worked out how to turn off the clock on the microwave overnight, so that it is not consuming electricity unnecessarily.  Not that it will save much, but every little bit helps.  We’ve had the microwave almost six years, and it only needed two buttons to be pressed simultaneously to stop the clock display . . . but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Hamming it Up for Arabian night

Hamming it Up for Arabian night

Note my belly dancing coin belt - note to self - must take it up again

Note my belly dancing coin belt – note to self – must take it up again

And so it went.  There were twenty-five items on the list, some needed a few minutes, some needed hours, some were trivial, some were important – none were urgent.  There are five still to be crossed off.  They will never get done, until something that is even less important pushes them to the top of a new priority list.

 

 

It was the same when I had a paying job.  The last three things in the in-tray never got attended to, even if I had worked hammer and tongs to clear the decks.  I always lost motivation once the pressure was off.

And in the last few days, I have a new priority that has pushed all the others into oblivion. I have received the report on my manuscript from my editor.  Now to settle to tinker with it some more. I cannot share how long I have been writing this story. It is just too embarrassing.

Well, we all know – Rome wasn’t built in a day.

But it WAS built – - – eventually.

 

 

Fade to Black – from bright sunshine to stormy skies


Lake Macquarie 2014-03-22 006

Saturday 22nd March 2014

This morning on the western side of Lake Macquarie, the day was bright blue and stunning. We ate brunch with our friends, at the Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery which has this stunning outlook.  Half a dozen young school children were having a painting class outside on the lawn.

Then we made our way around to the eastern side of the lake, to meet and chat with fellow blogger http://azpictured.wordpress.com.  It was my first time to have the chance to meet any other blogger face to face, and it was a great experience (thanks AZ!).

After a couple of hours, she pointed out the black clouds looming in the distance.  It was time for us to be leaving anyway, as we still had another three hours to drive before reaching home.  No more sightseeing, just express way wherever possible, but I was glad that I take the first shift for driving, because by the time we were coming through Picton Road and over Mount Ousley, both notorious motoring black spots, it was Bill who was handling the driving rain that was lashing us.

This is what we woke to the next morning:

And this is what we had left two weeks before – as you can see, there is actually a golf course underneath all the water . . .

The 'goodbye' view from our balcony on 11th March

Bill and I seem to have a knack for invoking weather changes after our road trips.  When we went to a dry Dubbo in 2010, the next week the tourist information was submerged in flood water.  They had snow in Millthorpe within days of our 2011 visit.  A trip up the Central Coast last year was completed just before bush fires tore through.

And now, after writing at length about drought conditions in the north-west, and farmers walking their livestock on the Long Paddock, they finally received some rain.  Not enough to break a drought, but good news for some, particularly the publican who is quoted as saying the pub was full of cockies on Wednesday unable to do any work on their farms because of the wet weather.” Source and further reading here. (note: a ‘cocky’ is slang for farmer, as well as being a type of bird).

But all too late for some, who have already lost most of their stock, and who have just sold the last of their hand fed lambs, even as the rain fell. As one sad farmer said, “They were so poor they couldn’t stand the wet weather; they were starting to go down; they were comatose.” Source and further reading here.

Further west in Bourke, which we have not yet visited, farmers from Western Australia and the NSW Riverina are sending in convoys with hay donations.  “We can do our bit this time because it might be us looking for a favour next year or the year after,” said one of the organisers.

Droughts and flooding rains are the only certainties in the life of Australian farmer.

 

Back to the Big Smoke via a step back in time at Wallabadah


Friday 21st March 2014:

First Fleet Park Wallabadah

We have been on the road for eleven days now, poking our noses into the North West and New England regions of New South Wales, and now we are faced south with the smell of home in our nostrils.  First though, we are looking forward to an overnight stop with friends at Lake Macquarie.  It is a 280 klm drive (175 miles), which should take around three and half hours non-stop, but we are not expected until the late afternoon, so we dawdle.

We’d picked them up a small souvenir of Tamworth, and I had looked at some dining table place mats which featured a map of NSW and its major towns.  My heart sank when I looked at them.  Even though this is our fourth road trip, and we have covered thousands of kilometres, we have barely scratched the surface, much less get even close to outback areas such as Bourke, Lightning Ridge, and Broken Hill.  So much to see . . .

First Fleet Park Wallabadah 2014-03-21 003Well, we concentrate on what we can do, which means we take time to stop at Wallabadah, a village of around 700 people about an hour south of Tamworth.  It turns out to be a little town with a big vision.  A stone mason named Ray Collins had the inspiration to build a memorial to the First Fleet, and over twenty years, as he wandered from Bourke to the Hunter Valley, he approached local councils to support his idea.  They all turned him down, until here, with the result that he carved 1520 names of of all those who came out to Australia on the eleven ships in 1788 on tablets along the garden pathways, and that is how this little village now boasts the First Fleet Garden.  Rain was falling lightly as we wandered around, so that the photos are not as vibrant as usual, but I guess that is a fitting representation of how life would have been during the 250 days at sea. (The First Fleet is the 11 ships which left Great Britain on 13 May 1787 to found a penal colony that would become the first European settlement in Australia). First Fleet Park Wallabadah 2014-03-21 008

Spending more than “six months in a leaky boat” such as this, is not my idea of cruising.

I used to say I would never do Bill’s family history – Wilsons marrying Thompsons, and before that Thompsons marrying Thompsons – what a nightmare!  But it turned out to be much easier than expected, as it quickly led to a trail of five convicts and one French prisoner of war, and given that they were ‘government property’, there were plenty of records, and plenty of descendants who had done prior research and posted it to the Internet.

First Fleet Park Wallabadah 2014-03-21 013The jury is still out on whether he is related to a lieutenant in the marines of the First Fleet, but Bill is definitely related to a woman on the Second Fleet, and there is an additional memorial to them as well.

 

 

 

Technically the Lady Julian(a) (despatched 1789) was not part of the second fleet, but she took so long getting here, (almost a year) that when she berthed on 6 June 1790, the later ships were only days away.  She is often referred to as the “Floating Brothel“, as her cargo was 222 female convicts, and if one reads the account of John Nicol, a steward serving on board, it is apparent why the ship stayed so long in various ports, and how the women were able to supplement their conditions.  Many of them were London street girls when they were sentenced to transportation.

First Fleet Park Wallabadah 2014-03-21 012

Bill’s ancestor came from the west country, and at the ripe old age of 15 Ann Davis was arrested in the parish of St George’s in Gloucester for pawning goods that did not belong to her – a gown, skirt, five caps and other items of clothing.  She risked being sentenced to death for burglary but the jury convicted her only of theft and sentenced her to seven years transportation. From Lent in 1788 until mid March of the next year Ann languished in Gloucester Castle Gaol before being transported.  She eventually “made good” in the colony and died in 1854, aged 80 years.  By that time, she was the widow of Simon Moulds.  He died before her, so gets most of the glory on this headstone, but she is mentioned right at the very bottom, just above the grass.

St  Johns PMatta C of E Sydney 13th March 2009 Simon Moulds and Ann Davis 003

And since this post has drifted quite off the topic of sight-seeing, I may as well reminisce about a talk on headstones I once attended.  Amongst slides of angels, and heart-felt inscriptions, was this one from a grieving husband sending his wife into eternity:

Gone To Do God’s Housework

 

 

Tamworth – The Country Music Capital of Australia


Thursday 10th March 2014:

The Big Golden Guitar Tamworth

Most Australians know Tamworth as the country music capital of Australia.  For ten days every January it hosts a music festival that is reputed to be the second biggest in the world. It climaxes with the Golden Guitar awards.  The Big Golden Guitar is so famous, that Bill and I imagined we must have visited Tamworth previously, until we realised that it was only because we had seen so many promotional shots of the guitar.

(Australians love ‘big’.  Tourists could devise a holiday based on chasing oversized folk symbolism, for example, the Big Pineapple (Qld), Big Banana (Coffs Harbour), Big Prawn (Ballina), Big Merino (Goulburn), Big Trout (Tumut), Big Ned Kelly (Glenrowan in Victoria) and the Big Gold Panner at Bathurst . . .  the list goes on  . . . and on.)

There is much more to Tamworth than country music – for example, some of my younger international readers might like to try their hand at the Leconfield Jillaroo and Jackaroo School, and learn the skills required to be a ‘cowboy/girl’ in the Australian outback.  Or you can try paragliding, or aircraft gliding.

For our one day around town, Bill and I followed tamer pursuits, starting off with an early-ish walk beside the Peel River.  The riverbank levee was built up extremely high, and the water level was extremely low.  It was a stretch to imagine that the river would ever burst its banks and flood the town, but obviously the levee wouldn’t be so strong if that wasn’t a possibility, and there is a paved footpath built on top, with the river on one side and a Botanic Garden on the other.

Waler Light Horse Statue TamworthWithin the garden we found the Waler Light Horse Statue.  Beautiful, isn’t it? You can just about hear the chink of the bridle as the horse reaches out to the soldier’s hand.  It is a tribute to the ANZACS and their horses, who served in WWI and previous wars. Hundreds of thousands of Australian stock-horses, known as Walers (because most came from NSW), were sent to serve as pack-horses and cavalry chargers, only one came home.  The memorial is here because the 12th Light Horse regiment comprised boys from the bush of this and surrounding areas.  They were involved in many actions in WW1, but on the 31st October 1917, the regiment was engaged in a charge at a town called Beersheba (near Jerusalem), which has become the stuff of legends. . .

The Waler Light Hors Statue Tamworth

The Waler Light Horse Statue Tamworth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gardens also featured the most modern war memorial I have seen in our country travels.

War memorial Tamworth War memorial Tamworth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our walk offered up a closer look at the local colour – there were the birds  . . .

And then there was this welcome from a local driver.  It is a bit rude, hope that doesn’t offend . . . here goes . . .

Tamworth 2014-03-20 042

“Get the balls to pass, or get off my ass”

Tamworth 2014-03-20 043

“I’ll keep my country cowpoo. You keep your city bull shit”

Okay – well, people in the country are usually more welcoming than that, and we did get a lovely greeting when we finally stepped into the museum of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame. The volunteer on duty did assume we were followers of the genre, and reeled off a confusing list of musicians whose memorabilia we would find in their collection.  Some we knew, some not – but by the time we came out an hour or more later, we knew a heck of a lot more.  Whenever I am writing these blogs of our NSW travels, I often have the lyrics of “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” ringing in my head.  (In fact, there is a blogger who made it his mission to go to all ninety-four of the places mentioned in the song.)  Well, here is the composer’s preferred mode of travel:

That photograph was actually taken at the “Walk a Country Mile” exhibition at the tourist office.  If you only had energy/interest to see one presentation on country music history, then that is the one I would recommend as it is modern, spacious, well ordered, and includes mixed media and short films.  Otherwise, if you wanted to immerse yourself in the genre, then you could visit the wax museum at the Golden Guitar, or view the Hands of Fame, Legends Busts or Golden Guitar Winners Plaques street installations.  Bill and I did like most other tourists, and posed for our photographs with Slim Dusty & Joy McKean, and sat for a while with Smoky Dawson.  These sculptures are in the main street, which also offers fabulous shopping.  I particularly liked the details of horse tackle on Smoky’s bench.

 

 

Something else that Tamworth claims as its point of difference, is that they were the first place in Australia to light their streets with electricity, commencing from 1888.  One hundred years later, Tamworth opened a museum dedicated to the power station, and the history and development of electricity.

Well, we passed on that one, in favour of going to the Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre (AELEC). This is a huge, state of the art complex of stadium, stables, stock holding, and camp accommodation and bathing facilities for horse and livestock shows.  Our visit co-incided with the Minature Horse competition.  We were fascinated to watch the show-jumping, segregated according to height of the horse.  Whichever, way you measure it, these horses are tiny, and the ‘rider’ runs allows beside the horse, communicating via a leash to encourage it over the jumps.  Unfortunately – ‘one’ of us left the camera back in the car, so no photographs, but thanks to Wikimedia commons, I can show you one of the stadiums:

Stadium AELEC Tamworth Source: wikimedia Author: C Goodwin

Stadium AELEC Tamworth. Source: wikimedia Author: C Goodwin

We figured that was enough for one day.  Time to get back to the luxury motel and discover whether the water was still in the spa bath.  It had been let out, and as one friend has since pointed out, my effort to save water was probably interpreted as being too lazy to pull the plug out.  It’s those type of misunderstandings that start wars . . .

 

Meandering Fossickers Way: Inverell, Bingara and Beyond


Wednesday 19th March 2014:

In an aside to travelling country NSW roads – the man and I had a discussion last night, and we came to the conclusion that for him, food is fuel, whereas for me, it is an experience.  If I see one more rump steak or chicken parmigiana on the menu, I will scream (or become a vegetarian).  They come with chips and salad, or mash and veg – go figure.  It was all right in the days when pubs and clubs were dirt cheap  . . . but now they want to charge a decent price, then surely we should cast our net further .  . . 

Okay, now that I have that little vent off my chest, back to the travel adventures:

Inverell is a pretty town, with a lovely street scape, below are two examples of their fine civic buildings . . .

(When we were in Glen Innes, I met a ‘healer’ who told me that Inverell did not have the correct ‘energy’ and on arrival, I tried to detect her meaning, but in the short time that we were there, I did not lock on to it.  Apart from an unsatisfactory meal at the local club, which in the case of an emotional eater such as I am, is probably the same thing . . .)

Installed in the footpath, outside the art gallery, is a mosaic that stretches to the next cross street, a distance of 94 metres (more than 300 feet).  it is called the ‘Meandering Macintyre‘, in honour of the local river.  Designed and installed by volunteers!  Here is a small selection of the many photographs I took.  For the “enjoyment” of my international readers, I have included the red back spider, made famous in the country song Redback on the Toilet Seat.  (pay attention, ‘cos this turns up again in a coupla’ days).

There are many more things to do and explore in Inverell, but we have a deadline looming, so we leave town, and after a while, turn on to a minor road that winds through picturesque territory until we reach Copeton Dam.  Now, I have already talked at length about the drought gripping this area, and if you wanted any further proof, take a look at this photo:

Copeton Dam Inverell

On checking Wikipedia, apparently the spillway end is meant to look like that, but definitely not the reservoir end.  There were even wild mountain goats grazing on the sparse vegetation.

After following this remote road for another good while, we rejoined Fossickers Way and turned into the small vibrant town of Bingara (population circa 1200).  They were in the process of reviving their Roxy Theatre.  There was a time in country history when every town had a Roxy Theatre and an art deco milk bar attached.  They were usually established and run by Greek immigrants, and a great many of them came from the islands of Kastellorizo or Kythera. According to Wikipedia, the 2001 population of Kythera is 3,354, which is less than the number who came to Australia.  In Bingara, the milk bar next to the theatre has been revamped and re-opened.  I ordered the drink of the time – a milkshake – and requested (nay, demanded) that it be properly served in a metal container.  Baby boomer nostalgia.  I can’t remember the last time I drank this much milk in one go, successive diets have just about obliterated it from my menu – (and of course, osteoporosis is now a looming threat).

A surprise discovery in this small town was their wall murals:

Less than an hour’s drive down the road, we reached Barraba.  We didn’t stay long enough for me to explore the interesting dress and nick-nack shops, but we did spare half an hour for a museum you won’t see every other day.  The Barraba Shearing Display has just about every style of shearing clipper and machinery known to man, plus a selection of stencils that identified from which sheep property each bale originated. (remember: you saw these photos here first :-) )

Within a couple of hours of this stop we pulled into Tamworth (city population circa 36,000), the major regional centre of the New England region, and famous as the “Country Music Capital of Australia”.  More of that in the next post, but this is the night I face an ethical dilemma. And for all of those who are curious to know – yes, the housemaid/man let the water out; and no, the motel did not have a grey water recycle system :-)

Seeing “stuff” at Glen Innes and Inverell


Tuesday 18th March 2014:

Pioneer Village Inverell (29)

Australia is a spacious country, and if you live on the land, you have a lot of room.  Chances are, you have a lot of sheds.  Chances are, you have learnt to be resourceful from a very young age, ‘cos it is not as if you can nick around to the corner shop every time you are missing this or that.  So you keep a LOT of STUFF in your sheds, ‘cos the day may come that you need that thing.  Eventually, though, some descendant has to clean out that shed, and they look inside and say to each to other – “what are we going to do with all this stuff?”  This is the day that Bill and I visited two museums, and we saw where all that STUFF ends up.

Glen Innes Standing Stones in morning 2014-03-18 001First of all though, our day kicked off with another communion with the past at the Standing Stones of Glen Innes.  Our visit of the previous afternoon had focused on St Patrick’s Day and talking with locals, so I wanted to return in the morning to Glen Innes Standing Stones in morning 2014-03-18 understand the mystique and meaning of this installation.  There are 24 stones representing the hours of the day, four cardinal stones represent east, west, north, south, and seven stones that mark the summer and winter solstice.  They also represent our most famous constellation, The Southern Cross, and also the Celtic nations of Scotland, Ireland, Isle of man, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany – and the Australis Stone – for all Australians.  That’s placing a lot of responsibility on inanimate objects, but it does represent the links that the local population feel to their ancient Celtic roots.

History House Museum Glenn Innes (3)

 

 

Next up was a visit to the ‘Land of the Beardies’ History House Museum.  In a sense, it is a museum within a museum, as the collection is housed within the district hospital that operated between 1877 and 1966.  Former wards and treatment rooms fan out around a central courtyard, and every room is jam packed full of STUFF dating back to the 1830s pioneer era, and all of it collected from the town and district.  There are more than forty exhibition areas reflecting their life and times.  It is also a haven for researchers, with thousands of records in their archives, and we met several volunteers working on projects. Amongst it all, there is a recreated operating room, and one of the most poignant exhibit is two respirators, more commonly known as iron lungs, used to treat polio victims, one for an adult, and one tiny one for an infant (no photo).

Display of wagons and carriages at the History House Museum Glenn Innes (1)

Wagons and Carriages on display at History House Museum

This area of NSW is well-known for sapphires, and amateur fossickers come out for a dig around.  After a couple of hours at the museum, we set off along Fossickers Way towards Inverell.

Continuing the museum theme, our first visit was to the Inverell Pioneer Village.  This is a collection of homes and buildings, relocated from their original sites throughout the area. Inside, there are more displays, up to around WWII era, including yet another iron lung. (The last polio epidemic was in the 1950s, but there were random cases reported as late as the 1960s.  I recall being given two types of vaccine in school).

Visitors wander at leisure, and on this day, we were the only people there apart from the live-in caretaker.  I loved this on the blackboard inside the schoolhouse, there’s something in it for all of us, don’t you think?

Pioneer Village Inverell

 

And Agnes, the display of wedding dresses and porcelain dolls may have appealed:

Those pesky rabbits got a mention again.  Very bad news for the Australian environment. Regular readers will recall seeing the poison spreader at the Armidale Railway museum, or you may even have seen the film Rabbit Proof Fence, the true story of three Aboriginal girls who followed the fence, stretching from north to south of Western Australia, in a bid to return to their families. It was no walk in the park, we are talking about a trek of some 2,400 km (1,500 miles) in the outback.

Pioneer Village Inverell

Pioneer Village Inverell There was other British influence on display. That anyone would hang this print in their front parlour demonstrates how much the early pioneers were tied to the “old country”.

The oldest shack, with the fancy name of Grove Homestead, is a rough dwelling of wood slabs and a bark roof that dates to 1841. The interior is depicted below.

Bill and I like museums, and we are not the type to skim through, however by the end of this day, we were wondering whether country people ever throw anything out, and the most disturbing thought for me personally, was seeing my own life already in a museum. Haven’t we all used – or known someone who used – comptometers, plug and board switchboards, manual typewriters, telex machines, valve radios and such like?  OMG, I am getting old!

Time to get some fresh air running through the old brain.  We stopped by the Lake Inverell reserve, a pleasant walking and picnic spot, which doubled as water supply and bird reserve.

Inverell History Monument (6)By the way, if you are a museum enthusiast, there are plenty more on offer in Inverell, including a 1906 Dayton motorcar on display at the National Transport Museum, and a private collection of more than 150 Victa lawnmowers, displayed in the owner’s backyard sheds.

Also worth visiting is the Bicentennial Memorial which is a series of panels depicting the history of the Inverell area. They are organised into three courtyards, the first depicting the era before European arrival in Australia, the second covering 1788-1888 and the third 1888-1988.

 

 

City Tour of Armidale, then Glen Innes via the Newell Highway (most of the time)


Monday 17th March 2014:

One of the best value tours that you can take in Armidale is the FREE guided heritage bus tour (donations welcome).  It is meant to be a 2.5 hour taster, although in our case, since we were only a small group on Monday morning, we benefited from a further hour.

Interior St Peter Anglican Church Armidale

Interior St Peter Anglican Church Armidale

There are several stops as you drive around the city.  Our first was to St Peters Anglican Cathedral.  There is much of interest in its construction, including being made of ‘Armidale Blue‘, bricks, made from clay dug from the White property at Saumarez.  Inside, the wooden ‘scissor’ ceiling is noteworthy. Lighting that simulates the gas lamps of previous days has recently been installed, to replace ugly fluorescent lighting.  We also got a sample ring from the the bells in the tower.

Next was a brief stop at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and Keeping Place which displays and sells a diverse range of Australian Indigenous arts and culture.

Entrance to Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Armidale

Entrance to Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Armidale

Just as well this crocodile is wooden

Just as well this crocodile is wooden

Most days, the next stop is New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM).  This is the art gallery that we missed visiting on Saturday, and I was keen to have a look around, but no such luck – it is closed on Mondays.

Armidale Railway Station

Armidale Railway Station

Armidale Railway Museum We loved our next stop, the Bicentennial Railway Museum, which depicts the days when the railway was the nation’s common carrier, transporting “everything from a needle to an anchor”. There is a comprehensive collection of fettlers’ track vehicles showing how employees got to work on the isolated stretches of country track. One of the volunteers gave us a fabulous talk on why the original railway from Sydney to Brisbane ran inland instead of directly up the coast. We just about had an engineering surveyors degree by the time we heard all he had to say.  From the 1880s until the 1930s, travellers could look forward to a trip of twenty nine hours, with a change of train at the border as the rail gauges were different. Now the Main North Railway Line terminates at Armidale. I have spared my regular readers heaps of photos of fettlers’ vehicles and railway tools (unless you demand them), and just given a couple of safer options.

Booloominbah Armidale

Booloominbah Armidale

Booloominbah Armidale Horse Mounting Block

Booloominbah: Horse Mounting Block For the ladies who rode side-saddle

Last stop of this tour was Booloominbah. This grand country gentleman’s house, built 1888, was owned by Frederick White (who was related to the Whites of Saumarez Homestead).  He and his wife Sarah moved to Armidale as they had lost five children in infancy, and were advised that the cooler, fresher, drier air of the Tablelands was good for health. However, while they lived here, their 22 year old daughter drowned while on a picnic nearby.  How sad.   During WWI, the house was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.  After the 1930s depression, the house became something of a ‘white elephant’ and just before the outbreak of WWII, it came into the hands of the newly established Armidale University.  Students and teachers both lived and studied in the house.  Imagine climbing the staircase on the way to bed each night, and going past this magnificent leadlight window.  Or seeing the entrance arch for the first time, with the inscription that reads: “Welcome to coming (God) speed to parting guests”.

Booloominbah Armidale Staircase Window

Booloominbah Armidale Staircase Window

Booloominbah Armidale Entrance Arch

Booloominbah Armidale Entrance Arch

Thunderbolts Cave near Guyra 17th March 2014 (1)Well, time to leave the great metropolis of Armidale (pop. 25,000), and head on up the highway.  We didn’t know how far we would get by the end of day, but the talk at the railway museum had inspired us to call in at some of the abandoned railway stations further up the line, particularly because in their time, they were the highest in NSW, and required some (steam) engine power to get all the waggons up the incline.

Just before we reached the first one, we saw a turnoff to “Thunderbolts Cave“. This is one of many bush hideouts that this bushranger had around the countryside around the 1860s. The trek from the carpark to the cave is about twenty minutes each way, and it is all uphill on the way back, but it is a good way to do it, as it gives you a better idea of what it would have been like to be on the run, or to be the chaser, tramping through with horses, guns and loot.  The bush would have been thicker in the time, there is now a cleared track suitable for four wheel drive vehicles.  In this photo, I’m smiling because I made it down – I was yet to climb back up again!

Okay, back to the railway stations.  The first we visited was Black Mountain.  While it was obvious that nothing had been down that track in a long, long time – it was a lovely surprise to see that a local volunteer organisation was keeping the the station in tip-top condition.

Ben Lomond Station was a little higher, but not so well-loved:

Cattle on the Long Paddock 17th March (1)Back on the road, we came across yet another example of The Long Paddock.  We have seen so many drovers with their cattle on this trip.  The country is under severe drought pressure, even though we experienced both rain and hail the day before.

Further along the highway, we reached the town of Guyra.  The survival of this town was under threat when the abattoir closed in 1995, but had a resurgence when a twenty hectare tomato greenhouse was opened. Top of the Range tomatoes markets under the name of Blush.  They grow hundreds of kilos of vine ripened tomatoes.  I had already given up hope of being able to do a tour of the facility, but was a little disappointed when I couldn’t spot any sight of it from the highway.  Perhaps, though, better for the purity of the product to be grown away from highway pollution – not that there are thousands of cars on this road every day.

okely dokely, getting towards time to wrap up this post, and our day was coming to an end also.

We pulled into Glen Innes Tourist Information not long before their 5pm close, but we were in the heart of Celtic Country, and this was, after all, Saint Patrick’s Day.  Even though one of their attendants was all set to leave, he happily stayed and chatted with us about the area, eventually advising us that there was an (Irish) flag ceremony, together with a glass of Jameson’s irish whiskey and a piece of fruit cake on offer up at the Australian Standing Stones.  We hadn’t even found a place to sleep yet, but the lure of a free drink is to much for an Aussie to bear, so up we rushed to see what was happening.

The Australian Standing Stones is inspired by the Ring of Brodgar in Scotland’s Orkneys. The collection of stones, standing some three metres above ground level, pays tribute to the Celtic heritage of the early European settlers to the district –  the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish, Manx and Bretons, and has great spiritual significance if you are inclined to the beliefs of the Druids and such ancient cultures.  Certainly, the positioning of the stones signifies the planting and harvesting seasons, expressed by the summer and winter equinox.  A little more on that tomorrow.