In this series of posts, I draw on diary records to recount some of the road trips we have taken in recent years.
The entire coastal strip that we had been travelling is popular with holiday makers and retirees who like water sports and fishing. The main income earning occupations are light farming, light industry, shopkeeping or services. On this morning, we left Narooma and continued south a little further, towards Bega – which is famous for cheese-making – passing through rolling green countryside and dairy country.
Then we turned west, leaving the coast and heading for alpine country. Yes! There are places in Australia where snow falls and skiing is possible, although we were now in late spring. The countryside is very different from coastal areas, craggy, with a different type of rock and alpine flowers. Swarms of brightly coloured butterflies greeted our arrival as we travelled this microclimate. The elevation climbs rapidly, up to around 1500 metres, but nothing like being in the Swiss Alps of course. These are Australian mountains after all, and the home of such movies as “The Man from Snowy River”.
We followed the Snowy Mountains Highway, through towns with names like Numbugga, Bemboka, and Nimmitabel, until we arrived at the major town of Cooma, where we stopped for lunch and a wander around the Sunday market. This area was flooded by European migrants after WWII; young men from many different countries who came to build the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Power Scheme. Many of these are old men now, taken to filling their time with woodwork and other crafts from the “old country” and selling at stalls at the market.
There are many places along the route where tourists can view elements of the hydro electric power stations, but that was not our interest on this trip. We had heard that our ongoing drought had exposed the old town of Adaminaby, which had been evacuated and flooded when Lake Eucumbene was dammed as part of the hydro scheme decades before. We drove down to the shore of the Lake. The waters are an intense light blue and the surrounding mountains a light orange ochre. It was very beautiful, but there wasn’t much to see of the old town, just some brick foundations here or there. Several people with speedboats were water skiing on the lake, the motor roar echoing across the water. It reminded us of the Australian film “The Castle”. There is a scene where the father looks out from his holiday house on a similar lake, at a similar scene of speedboats roaring back and forth, and turns to his wife saying – “What I like about this place Darl’ is the serenity.” Twisted Aussie humour. It’s not witty like the English, or slapstick like the Americans, it’s just twisted.
We drove on to a town called Kiandra. All of this area, and much of where we were going, was part of the great gold rush of the 1860’s. Kiandra had been a major town in its day, and also the birthplace of skiing in Australia. Now it is literally a ghost town. One building is still standing, and the rest of the township is marked out with signs of what building stood there, but now it just looks like a sheep paddock. When the gold ran out, the people went with it, and what was still standing by a hundred years later, was torn down by a government agency. I made the mistake here of sitting on a tree stump – whether it had only been cut recently, or whether the warm weather makes the stump active I don’t know, but I got stuck to it with resin that seeped out of the trunk, and I don’t think I am ever going to get it out of my trousers. I guess that is what they make gum from!
We arrived at our destination, Tumut, and decided to take two nights in a cabin by the river. This is where I meant to start writing my diary, but it was so nice to sit on the little balcony and watch the birds and the river and read a book and share a bottle of wine ….or two ……. The river was rushing by the cabin balcony, many areas had been experiencing good rainfall and more was forecast. Most of the tourists were fishing in the river, taking fresh trout for dinner, and everyone was talking about the good conditions after seven years of drought. Even though we did not have any friends in Tumut, we still managed a pet; the caravan park had a resident cat, who wandered in to keep us company over dinner and wine.
The next day we made a day trip using Tumut as our base. A small 200klm loop, driving first to Batlow, which is famous for apple growing, and then going on to a man- made forest of pine trees, planted in the 1920’s. It reminded me of pine forests I had seen in Scandinavia. There was a wonderful walk through the forest, called Sugar Pine Walk. A row of trees had been cleared, which created a direct path overshadowed by the other pine trees and carpeted with the fallen needles. It was cool in there and full of unseen bird life, calling from tree to tree. This is quite different from what is normal Australian bush, which is very dense underfoot and needs a track cut through if you are to walk.
We went on to Paddys River Falls, for a look at the local waterfall area, and again the water was flowing hard and fast from recent rains, so that the falls were at their most spectacular. Which is not much, if one was comparing to Niagara, for example, but a lot of water for Australia, nevertheless. Then to Tumbarumba, where we realised we were only 20klm from Victoria as the crow flies, and then on to Adelong – where there are extensive ruins from the gold rush days, and would you believe it? Some of the ruins had been washed away in the rush of water down the river just a week or so before. It must have been some rush of water – those ruins had been there for more than a hundred years.
When one does family history research, you will often find births occurring in Adelong. In the mid-1800s, population was around 30,000 persons. Hopefuls chasing their fortune in the craggy, rocky hills and waterways. Women trying to bring up their children while living in a tent, surviving the cold winters. Today, the population is around 850, and the main occupation is farming – merino sheep, for example.
Next Destination: Forbes, in the central west of NSW