Sunday 22nd March 2020
Driving distance approximately 255klm / 160mi
Lakes Entrance is yet another pretty coastal town. This one is distinguished by its long, straight stretch called “Ninety Mile Beach“, and behind that is a long channel called “Cunninghame Arm“, and then more internal waterways lead to the Gippsland Lakes system.
We began our morning with a walk along The Esplanade, the main street running parallel to Cunninghame Arm Inlet. Marinas and foreshore on one side, shops, restaurants and accommodation on the other. All down its length the RSL (Returned and Services League) has installed wooden sculptures “honouring the memory of First World War dead and injured”.
It took a bit of digging, but I found the artist, John Brady, is a Gippsland local who is handy with a chainsaw. As a result of winning the English Open Chainsaw Carving competition in 2005, his sculpture of Don Bradman now stands at an English cricket ground – but I couldn’t find out which one.
The six Lakes Entrance sculptures are carved from the trunks of the original Cypress trees that were planted as an Avenue of Honour to the fallen WW1 servicemen. By 1998, the trees were becoming a safety hazard. Now they continue the commemoration, albeit in an altered form.
The sculptures represent a WW1 soldier, Edith Cavell, Simpson & his donkey, Simpson (?) helping a wounded soldier, a merchant seaman, and a family waiting for their father.
We turned our attention to the marina. Lakes Entrance lays claim to having the largest fishing fleet in Victoria. A small portion of the catch finds its way to direct sales. Lots of recreational fishers, charters, and other boats also call this marina home. The floating seafood restaurant in our photo had already decided to close.
Opportunistic cormorants wait in hope . . .
Retracing our path along The Esplanade, we came to a footbridge which crosses Cunninghame Arm, and links the town centre with the beach. Various walks on this narrow land peninsula lead along scenic coastline and bush, and up to Flagstaff Lookout for a view over the man-made entrance into the Gippsland Lakes. (The green bit in the above map is the peninsular, and the gap is the entrance).
On the beach side of the footbridge is the Surf Club and a kiosk and several directional signs for the walks. At first we didn’t venture any further than for a look at the beach, which is still being patrolled, I guess until after the Easter holidays (remembering it’s autumn here). As the Surf Lifesaving site advises “The most important flags on the beach are the red and yellow flags. These show the supervised area of the beach and that a lifesaving service is operating. If there are no red and yellow flags, you should not go swimming.” For many years Bill was a volunteer lifesaver. In the days when they wore a little red and yellow skull cap, a pair of “budgie smugglers” and nothing else. He is paying now for all that sun exposure.
The black and white flags are a signal for the surfers. They must stay outside where they are placed. The interim zone between red/yellow and black/white is the “safety” zone.
As well as the watchtower, lifesavers set up on the beach, ready to swing into action . . .
I was not the first to wander past the choppy waters of Bass Strait today.
The concept of social distancing had only been announced about thirty hours before. I got into conversation with three Melbourne ladies who’d come for a weekend visit. We had no trouble standing in a square at the recommended distance. Bill, on the other hand, was talking to a local man in his mid-eighties. Every day he sits in a sunny spot at the beach as a short break from caring for his wife. He’s seen a lot of life. At the end of the chat, he wanted to shake our hands. He was a bit taken aback that I declined. It was all pretty new back then.
We didn’t intend to do one of the longer walks, but we did take a little bush track that led from the surf club to the shore of Cunninghame Arm. It must have been low-tide, as we were able to pick our way along to the base of the footbridge. It was a different world on this side of the peninsula. I think the wading birds are some type of Oystercatcher.
Being in a fishing hot-spot, we’d asked the local his recommendation for fish and chips and he sent us to a take-away called Fish-a-Fare. I can’t remember the last time I had fried fish this good! I couldn’t decide between whiting and gummy (shark), so we bought a piece of each and they were both delicious. The fish was extremely fresh, and the batter was spot on. I don’t usually write about what we eat – so you know this was exceptional.
We ate outside at a park bench, under the watchful eye of a few seagulls, but they didn’t bother us. Back in the car, settling into the passenger seat, dodging handbag, maps and other clutter on the floor, I couldn’t find my mobile phone. Bill was about to drive off – ‘cos you just know what the inside of a lady’s handbag looks like, when I had a “premonition”, which turned out correct. I’d thrown it into the garbage bin along with all the lunch wrappings. I needed Bill’s longer arms to get it back out again.
It was time to head on to Eden, our destination for the night. Back at the fish and chip shop, we’d accepted a packet of breakfast muesli as a freebie. It was part of a stack that were unused donations from the recent bushfires and nearing use-by date. In the previous post I wrote about the evacuation of Mallacoota, (which you can find on the above map), but it’s a lot to take in that this entire coastline from Lakes Entrance, to Eden, and then for town after town north was on fire.
Now, driving north, there were reminders everywhere we looked of how fierce these fires were. Long stretches of bushland completely burnt out, exposing the blackened trunks of the tall eucalyptus trees. It was so weird to be able to see the topography of the land, its rise and fall, and space between the trees. Until being exposed like this, I wouldn’t even have thought the trees grew straight. Usually everything is a tangle. Regularly along the route, road gangs were cuttings the trees closest to the road. Probably because their weakened structure was liable to collapse without warning.
Despite the devastation, regrowth was everywhere.
Seeing the multi-branched trees looming up ahead, tree after tree, each branch covered in new green shoots, was another weird sight. They almost looked like they were dressed for Christmas. Hope this gives you some idea.
Crossing the border into New South Wales, we began to see many logging trucks. The woodchip mill at Eden is a vital employer in this small town of 3000. It, too, was a victim of the bushfires, and is slowly re-building. “Axeman’s Track” must have caught my eye for me to take a photo of the SatNav map.
We chose a motel in the centre of town, owner operated. Her ‘house had been totally destroyed in the fires’, she told me. She, her mother and grandmother were living in the on-site flat, another family member in one of the motel rooms. This is only one of many such personal stories.
After our big lunch, we settled on some “nibblies” from the local supermarket for dinner, so we were in front of the TV when our Prime Minister came on. It’s like a “State of the Nation” talk. The same limits on gatherings (500 outside / 100 inside), and schools will stay open, but as of tomorrow, many businesses are to close, such as cinemas, gyms, and sporting venues. Pubs and clubs are included. Our son, who works in hospitality, had been expecting this. His partner had already been stood down the day before, next it will be him.
The PM can make these announcements, but, just as in the USA, it is up to the individual state exactly what they will implement. Yet, earlier in the broadcast was the news that South Australia, after recording its 100th case of corona virus – an increase of 33 from the previous day – will close its borders from 4:00pm on Tuesday. Western Australia will do likewise.
“It’s all getting a bit grim,” as my dear old auntie would have said. We had intended to stay two nights at my cousin’s retreat, Lyrebird Lodge, and another two nights loitering in various bush-fire affected towns, doing our bit for their economic recovery. But the situation is becoming too uncertain. We’ve gone past the point of feeling safer travelling than back at home, even though we live in a community of 250 frequent travellers, with an attached aged-care section.
I feel bad about calling our visit off, as my cousin and his partner have spent the day preparing for our arrival, but I’d feel worse if we brought anything into their idyllic hideaway in the foothills of Gulaga (Mount Dromedary). We are all disappointed, but we have made our decision. We’ll allow ourselves a visit to the Maritime Museum in Eden, and then, although it will be another long drive, it is time to go home.