Subject: Downunder (long)
Castlemaine December 6th 2005

Hello Everyone

We arrived on schedule, thanks to the wonderful people at Singapore Airlines who treated Tony like the venerable old fogy he is, cheerfully pushing him in a wheelchair through 3 airports to finally deposit him in the meeting place at Melbourne airport where Kurt took over.

Kurt is the rather interesting character from whom we have rented our ancient Ford Falcon Wagon. He arranged to meet us at the airport, take us to his place to pick up the car and provide a free night in a B&B. We thought this inordinately generous but then we didn’t know that his place is 90 minutes north of the city. We saw our first ‘mob’ of roos within half an hour of setting off.

When we saw Castlemaine where Kurt has his B&B we just fell in love and rented the first house we saw in the first town we came to on our first afternoon in Australia. Mr. Lockhart’s cottage was built in 1861 and was saved from dereliction and lovingly restored by Susie, our somewhat eccentric landlady. She lived here for some time before returning to Melbourne and turning the cottage into a self service B&B. It is a delightful little place, Tony say's it is frightfully "homes and gardens", which it is but we love it.

Castlemaine is a former gold mining town which became instantly prosperous in the mid 19th century with the discovery of the richest shallow alluvial goldfield the world had ever seen. It has since declined graciously in to a tourist destination and a place for Melbourners to escape the city. With its most prosperous times behind it, it has remained largely unchanged through the 20th and now 21st centuries. There is so much to see and do in the immediate area, we are 90 minutes from Melbourne and the Bay, and according to the Lonely Planet, within an hour from there can reach the Dandenong Ranges, Kingslake National Park, the Macedon Ranges and Hanging Rock. There are also the wineries of the Yarra Valley and the rugged ocean beaches of Mornington the Bellarine Peninsula and Philip Island, with its penguin parade and surf beaches. The Great Ocean Road is to the East and across the Bass Strait is Tasmania. Lots to keep us busy for the next three months.

We have been here a week now and so far the only thing which we do not like are the incredibly persistent flies. They're continually trying to access your eyes, nose, ears and mouth and will not be dissuaded by constantly swatting them away, they just return to exactly the same spot you just wafted them away from. Apparently the constant waving and flapping of hands around ones face is called a ‘bush salute’. And we are still in the town, what can the bush be like? I am definitely going to get myself a hat and veil.

I now know there are going to be many other things I do not like. Having studiously avoided the first two chapters of any Lonely Planet publication, the bit where they tell you about all the dangers lurking at your destination, I was very upset to find Bill Bryson doing just that in the first chapter of "Down under". Without seeking the information, I now know that Australia has more things which can kill you than anywhere else on earth. Of the worlds ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures: the funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick and stonefish are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is the country where the fluffiest caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip and seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. If you are not stung or pronged to death, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place. ---- thank you very much Mr. Bryson!

To add insult to injury our local rag came out today with photos of two deadly types of snakes which abound in and around the town, what you should do to avoid them and if bitten what to do while the ambulance arrives! I am already avoiding the cellar under the house and checking our washhouse in the garden for spiders before entering.

How bad can it be? There are millions of Australians around to prove it can’t be THAT bad? Fortunately I have three months to come to terms with this before I have to face the prospect of the campsite.

The past weekend we spent in Melbourne visiting Internet friends Morrie and Margaret, sampling their great Aussie hospitality and getting a first look at the city which I am sure we will return to many times over the next few months. As well as inducting us into the Melbourne transit system he and Margaret were a great help with our tentative plans for our circular trip starting from Melbourne at the beginning of March to Adelaide, Coober Pedy, Ularu, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef, along the coast to Sydney and back to Melbourne by mid May. Anyone who knows Australia will see we have left out Darwin and Kakadu, it is a long way to get in the available time and we think it is still too early in the year weather wise make the most of a visit.

One last thing, we are in the grip of an eight year drought here, Susie gave us a myriad of confusing instructions, about saving water and using the water from the washing machine to water the hedge, along with all the local authority restrictions on when to use a hose and when we can only use a bucket to water garden plants. Today the rain is smoking down and the thunder and lightning are putting on quite a sound and light show. I am amazed the locals aren’t out dancing naked in the streets. I am grateful for the lovely slate roof over my head.

Regards Sue Waterloo ON (currently in Castlemaine Victoria Australia)