(Driving Distance Approximately 420klm or 260 miles)
Saturday 7th March 2020
An alternative title for this post could have been Today was Talk and Travel Day.
For our first night on the road, we chose a modestly-priced motel in Albury, not far from the Hume Highway. I’d booked directly over the phone with the owner, and met him again on check-in . . . an extremely pleasant man called Rocky. The rate included a continental breakfast.
We got into conversation with Rocky over breakfast. He sat with us for a time, and what a story he had to tell! Six months ago he moved his family from Beijing, and bought the motel, choosing Albury simply from research on the internet. He left behind a respected position as a mathematics high school teacher, and many of his friends questioned his decision. Like so many migrants before him, he did it for his children; a teenage boy and two-year-old girl, born after the one-child policy was lifted. He had basic English from primary school, and is well on the way to bringing it up to the level needed to run the business successfully. I didn’t even detect he was a native Mandarin speaker, and usually I have a great ear for accents. His son, a shy and reserved boy, is more musical than mathematical, and Rocky asked him to play us some pieces on his guitar. “Do you know the Beatles?’ the boy asked, and then launched into George Harrison’s Blackbird, singing along as well. ‘I can’t remember all the words, yet,’ he apologised – well he sure did a good job, and then drifted off to the adjoining room to absorb himself with classical piano. Rocky is working hard to integrate himself and family into the new life he has chosen, and is one of the most welcoming and polite motel managers we have ever encountered. We wish him every success.
We couldn’t linger though, as we had a coffee date in Wangaratta, an hour down the road, and across the border in Victoria. One of the great joys of blogging is when you get to meet virtual friends in person; and Yvonne, from Hello World had offered to drive over from her home in the nearby Ovens Valley, and meet us en-route.
It was such a pleasure to meet and know the person behind the stories. One of Yvonne’s fascinations is with shopping lists, who writes them and why – what are they planning? But she is also a lover of Italy, Venice in particular. In her most recent post, she has managed to combine both references Yvonne is part of a group documenting the stories of the Italians who came to the Ovens Valley, and at first, we spoke about my father migrating from Italy and his experience coming through the Bonegilla reception camp. (Yvonne, here is a link to the post about my visit to Bonegilla)
All too soon it was time to get back on the road. After a quick lunch stop at a highway service centre, we pulled into Ballarat at about 4pm. We were tempted to find a cross-country route, but in the end stuck to the main highway, which as you can see from the below map, means you actually enter the outskirts of Melbourne, before turning west for Ballarat.
We had two reasons for coming to Ballarat. To see the Begonia Festival Display, which we’d last seen on our honeymoon thirty-four years earlier, and to meet another fellow blogger, John, aka Paol Soren
We were last in Ballarat in December 2016 and I wrote several posts then, which you can find by typing Ballarat in the search bar. I recommend these particularly if you are interested in history; but for the orientation of my overseas followers, I’ve extracted this background I wrote then:
“Ballarat, population approx 100,000, is a stunning city, particularly in its two main central boulevards: Lydiard and Sturt Streets. In 1837 Balla Arat was a sheep run. Within months of the 1851 gold discovery, there were 20,000 migrants. A decade later, there were 60,000, mostly itinerant and living in canvas tents close to their mine lease, but in the town itself, many of those more settled were establishing businesses and wooden houses. It is amazing testament to them, and the wealth created by the gold, that within twenty short years, substantial grand stone buildings were erected, and these beautiful buildings along Lydiard Street still take centre stage of the ambience of this city.”
Of course, all tourism is enhanced when a local takes you under their wing to show you their city. John called for us around 5pm, armed with an itinerary he’d prepared, and for the next couple of hours we went all over, taking in the beautiful architecture, including a quick whizz around the historic Craig Hotel, the many statues and monuments lining the centre of Sturt Street, the railway station, and the old gaol (now university buildings). Further afield, we went to Lake Wendouree (site of the rowing/sculling for the 1956 Olympics) with the Botanic Gardens beside it (location for the Begonia festival). Nearby are memorials to those who have fought in conflicts dating back to the Boer War; the Avenue of Honour arch, the Prisoner of War wall of names, and a touching new statue of the grieving mother whose son did not return.
Our last call before dinner was to the Old Cemetery. Last time I was here was for family history purposes. This time, John pointed out the headstones listing those who fell in the Eureka rebellion, both those on the government side, and those who were “rebels”. Then, he showed us something only a local would know. Sometime in the 1950s, many of the gravestones that once marked the graves of Chinese, were re-used as edging and paving stones on the cemetery paths. You can just make out some of the inscriptions, worn down by foot traffic and the elements. Quite a shock when you realise what they are.
The day finished as it started – a talk-fest over a meal – this time with a nice bottle of red to go with it. John will claim I did all the talking. I’m calling it a draw.
Tomorrow, we’re off to see the begonias.