From under the sea to the top of Australia: Melbourne, Yarra Valley, Yackandandah and The Snowy Mountains

7 Feb

Guilty as charged. All my life I’ve shown more interest in visiting countries other than my birthplace, Australia. Since that first Bali trip aged 18 I’ve been captivated by other cultures, vistas, languages, and experiences. Living in five countries during the twenty years abroad drip fed my hunger for novelty and once back in Brisbane I found a job that kept me satisfied through regular business trips and holidays all over the world.

Now we’re in Australia for five months with opportunities to make up for lost time and I’ve loved my trips to Cairns, Coolum, Byron, and beyond. The bonus of late January’s Melbourne Australian Open Tennis tournament was it proved to be the perfect springboard to travel within southern Australia. Melbourne is a world class city and doesn’t need me to brag about it, but what I did find fascinating and different was seeing it through the eyes of small children.

We took our nieces, aged four and seven years, out for the day while Maria tackled the annual clean and cull of their Bulleen home. Our destination was the Melbourne Aquarium, a large blue box next to the Yarra River in the CBD. Ivy and I held hands as we skipped through an underwater world of sharks, stingrays, corals and multitudes of brightly coloured fish. I watched both girls transfixed by pop art patterned moray eels, fingers and faces pressed against the glass. Lila and Ivy fed fish from the top of the vast tank with what looked and smelt like cat food and squealed with pleasure when a particularly large one surfaced to gobble up a pellet. I felt five again.

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Another favourite excursion was the Heide Museum of Modern Art and grounds. After a drink in the Heide cafe we roamed the extensive grounds dotted with modernist sculptures. The girls know all the best hiding places, which trees to climb, and where the secret garden entrances are.

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From Melbourne it was a little over an hour’s pleasant drive to Healesville in the heart of the Yarra Valley wine country. We settled in with friends from Brisbane for a few days wine tasting. Our large rented house nestled into the hills above Healesville and when we took our daily walk we’d see kangaroos by the road and flocks of ducks on the RACV golf course.

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As has become the norm the chores of provisioning and cooking were shared with one celebratory birthday lunch for Brian at gorgeous Yering Station restaurant. It felt strange to be in tinder dry country with bush fires just north of us while flood waters raged again in Queensland and later northern New South Wales. Our sunburnt country has turned on so many droughts and flooding rains recently people are stressed and heartily sick of them!

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I was designated driver for some of the tastings so I can’t personally recommend all the wines offered but the chaps were very happy with their visits to Coldstream Hills, Yering Station, De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon. The evidence will be in the many cases to be delivered to Brisbane this week!

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Tarrawarra Estate was the last stop and became my favourite. It has the added attraction of a modern art gallery beside the tasting room and restaurant that’s showing a large temporary exhibition of Jeffrey Smart paintings. The whole complex is enclosed by a high sculptural rammed earth wall and overlooks sloping vineyards and a pond.

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The friends all went their separate ways midweek. We struck north east, destination Snowy Mountains via parts of the Great Alpine Way running through Bushranger Ned Kelly country. We gratefully followed the detailed directions of our hosts and mates from our Malaysia stint, Debbie and Rick, who live by the lake in Jindabyne.

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Our overnight stop was the 1852 gold rush town of Yackandandah, aka ‘Yack’, east of Wangaratta. It’s not as pretty as its neighbour, Beechworth, but what it does have is the historic Star Hotel. We struck gold that night at the weekly gathering of local musicians in the hotel bar. Twenty musicians crammed into a small front room while we stood on the footpath and looked in.

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Local singer-songwriter Pete Denahy was there showing off his Golden Guitar award from the recent Tamworth Country Music Festival for his song ‘Yackandandah 1852’. An independent artist, Pete made the recording on a shoestring. He played all five stringed instruments himself and laid them down track by track using Garage Band software on his laptop. He said he chose the title because he was proud of his town and never heard it mentioned on the radio. Pete reprised his acceptance speech embellished with asides and much good natured ribbing then sat down and kicked off a rousing rendition of ‘Whiskey in the jar’. You’ll find his award-winning song on his recent album ‘Wishbone Road’. http://www.petedenahy.com.au

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Next morning we continued along the scenic Murray Valley Highway to Corryong for a lunch stop at the final resting place of the real Man from Snowy River, Irish immigrant Jack Riley (as claimed by locals). A B ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s 1890 poem ‘The Man from Snowy River’ has entered deeply into the Australian psyche. Announce ‘There was movement at the station’, at any Australian gathering and I bet you ten bob someone will be able to finish the stanza. The Corryong community generated funds for a large bronze of stockman and horse riding full tilt down the mountainside next to what will be the Corryong information centre when it’s finished.

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Corryong to Jindabyne traverses the Alpine Way past Snowy Mountain hydropower installations and winds through vast stands of ghost gums. A short turn off the road takes you to Scammel’s Lookout with a 250 degree view of forested mountains. Not a manmade construction in sight, just a small patch of grass, the flats where the cattle once grazed. In the distance we saw what appeared swathes of silver white trees on a ridge.

Closer to Jindabyne we could see that the white trees were just that. Every leaf and twig of thousands of gums burnt off in the latest bush fire. Burnt with a heat so intense it stripped and killed the trees but left them standing as ghostly reminders.

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Our last stop was the Wild Brumby Distillery to sample their range of flavoured schnapps. I did a tasting inside by the huge copper still while the tea total driver, Stuart, sipped his Earl Grey on the deck overlooking the raspberry patch. Try the Sour Apple. Dangerously delicious. Hard to stop once you start!

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We made Snow Bunny Lodge at Jindabyne in time for a lakeside walk before sunset. Rick and Debbie have a small patch of paradise within a stone’s throw of the lake and an easy drive to the ski slopes they both love so much. For two days we had the place to ourselves as they were at a family celebration in Sydney. What better way to pass the time than to walk the 21k loop from Charlotte’s Pass to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia (2228 metres above sea level), for a picnic and then return via the Main Range route. Most of the well-marked track is above the tree line and crosses the Snowy River in several places. We started in sunshine but by the time we reached the home stretch we were in dense fog with only a few metres visibility. The fickle weather has claimed many lives. I’m glad Seaman’s Memorial Hut has survived the assault of those who believe there shouldn’t be any huts on the mountain.

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We saw more of the mountain range with Rick and Debbie as they took us up the Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo. We hiked up to the Mt Kozzy viewpoint and then up Merritt’s Nature Track to see waterfalls and good sized brown trout lazily swimming in small pools. It’s a mountain bikers’ mecca with plenty of single track options from the top of the chair lift where the highest restauant in Australia is located. On the way back to ‘Jindy’ we stopped by Lake Crackenback with its picture perfect lake and Australian style chalets.

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Our final evening found us on the beach at Jindabyne sharing Domaine Chandon bubbles and stories as the sun moved slowly across the blue sky to set over the range. As ever the talk turned to skiing and Rick and Debbie repeated their invitation to try the slopes at Thredbo and Crackenback. With a bit of luck and good management we’ll see the lakeside under snow and schuss down the Snowy Mountains with them in winter 2014!

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The Man From Snowy River by AB 'Banjo' Paterson

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stockhorse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up –
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won't say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, "That horse will never do
For a long a tiring gallop – lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you."
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
"I think we ought to let him come," he said;
"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.

"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."

So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain's brow,
And the old man gave his orders, "Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills."

So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side."

When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

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