Subject: Grey Nomads Around Victoria, Australia
Hi Ziners,

Since our visit to Melbourne we have been exercising our grey power and joining the rest of the nomads visiting local attractions and contributing to the Victorian economy.

We very much enjoyed a visit to Sovereign Hill a recreated goldrush town in Ballarat, Victoria's second largest city. It is similar in concept to Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto but because of its mining history is probably more comparable with Beamish in the North Eastern coalmining area of England. It is very well done and quite extensive. We panned for gold with all the children on their Xmas/summer holidays, and went down a re-created mine. We were supposed to be a group of nine-year-old boys being introduced to their new working conditions below ground. Along with the dark, cramped and wet conditions went a very convincing sound track. There was a back projection image of two miners, which allowed us to be present at the discovery of the ‘Welcome’ nugget, the world’s largest single gold nugget at the time.

Tony especially enjoyed chatting to the volunteer who maintains the huge boilers (made here in Castlemaine)that drive the mine equipment. There were the usual characters in costume, many types of horse drawn vehicles, goats, sheep and pigs and best of all a circus parade though the streets with jugglers, tumblers a bearded lady etc. All in all it was a great day and makes what we see all around us in the goldfields more meaningful.

Australia Day (Jan 26th) we returned to the docklands to see the boats, which had just completed the second leg of the Volvo round the world Ocean Race. The temperature must have been hovering around 38 degrees and we spent an inordinate amount of time in the ABN AMRO hospitality pavilion. The pavilion itself was completely over the top in the décor department, being full of large chandeliers, huge ornate mirrors overlaid with small mirrors and massive imaginative floral arrangements. All this trouble to cater to thousands of perspiring visitors with only enough energy to sink into a chair with complimentary cold drinks and nibbles and wait for the air-conditioning to take effect.

We went onboard an Australian Coast Guard vessel, watched the dragon boat races, had a very good lunch on the waterfront then took the hop on hop off ferry for a 90 minute trip from the docks to downtown and back. One last time we sat in the pavilion, sipped ice-cold iced tea and watched the documentary of the race playing on the jumbo screen for the 5th or 6th time.

A visit to a local fine art dealer resulted in the purchase of a lovely delicate bowl decorated inside and out with painted gum leaves and berries. If I can get it home in one piece it will always remind me of Castlemaine and its surrounding bush.

>From this dealer we learned why the roads in these old towns are so wide, including our very own residential Bull St. They are 1.5 chains wide (99’ for those too young to remember rod, pole, perch, chain etc.) this is the width needed to turn an ox train. Of course, we should have guessed.

In January the temperature and humidity was more of a challenge than it was a few weeks earlier. The sound of magpies yodeling to themselves on the telegraph wires woke us up every morning. In my addled sleepy brain I often thought Tony had crept out of bed and beat me to the computer, they sound exactly like the Internet dial up, anyone remember dial up? The sun streaming through the curtains ushered in days when it would be just too hot to move very far or very quickly.

We had a week or more of thunderstorms, lightning and heavy Downpours. They never lasted long here but were a godsend to other areas around Melbourne where bush fires had been raging for weeks. At first the lightening seemed to start more fires than the ensuing rain could put out but eventually the rain began to win and the huge fire in the Grampians was extinguished and other fires became more manageable. The Grampian Fire consumed 50% of the National Park, a vast area.

At the end of January the children were piped back to their classrooms to the tune of ‘Scotland the Brave’ and a rather lackluster vocal rendition of ‘Mull of Kintyre’. Not sure why they didn’t play ‘Waltzing Matilda’, much more cheery and appropriate I would have thought. So at the end of January the children were in school with Xmas and their summer holiday behind them. I think I have changed my mind about having Xmas in the summer.

We have done quite a lot of walking along The Great Dividing Range Trail, lots of bush with crumbling and rusting mining paraphernalia scattered about, all the while keeping an eye out for ‘Joe Blakes’ (thanks Michael). Late one afternoon we came upon a dingo farm. Not open to the public but we heard, then saw hundreds of dingoes through skimpy but electrified wire fence. The sound of the massed dingo cries gave me goose bumps, a real Aussie moment. They are handsome animals and well fed, it is obviously well run and keeping all those animals fed and healthy must be an expensive proposition, so the question is how do they make any money, where is the profit made? Please don’t tell me they eat them.

One evening we had dinner and a movie, "Mrs. Henderson Presents" at our local theatre. It was a bit like being at a Vegas dinner show as the Mrs. Henderson of the title brought nude revues to pre war London. Our Theater Royal has been operating since the goldrush with the likes of Lola Montez topping the bill. Bet she could give the Windmill girls a run for their money, it must have been bedlam when the miners came into town for a bit of R&R. These days the ‘stalls’ have been cleared of seats and kitted out with tables and chairs so it is indeed possible to have dinner and a glass of wine with your movie.

Earlier this month we spent a glorious Saturday watching the in port race of the Volvo boats. We watched the whole race from the start gun to the finish from the shore at Williamstown. Who said yacht racing wasn't a spectator sport? I think it might have been me.

We had a great visit down the Central Deborah Goldmine. I was a bit nervous at the prospect of spending 2.5 hours 280’ below ground on their "Underground Adventure" with just the light from our headlamps for illumination. As we were the only people on the noon trip and our guide got quite carried away, it turned out to be 3.5 hours and it flew by. Central Deborah closed many years ago but a new elevator shaft has been sunk to take down large numbers of visitors at a time. I must admit I was relieved not to be using the old miners cage. The one hour tour only goes to level 2 but we got to go to level 3 (of 17) which is almost just as it was left when the last miners walked out in 1954. It is dark and wet and strewn with rock, rubble and old mining equipment, not at all tidied up for our benefit. We got to operate some of the old drills, met an old timer who demonstrated the various ways he could smuggle small quantities of gold out of the mine and had a lunch of Cornish pastie and salad, in the underground crib (canteen). I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area, are not claustrophobic and can climb up and down narrow ladders in cramped shafts. Mining recommenced under Central Deborah in 1998 and hopefully they will bring up the first gold in the next month or two, they had better, it has taken 7 years and cost a fortune to reach it.

Having seen and been grateful for the strong red-gum pit props it was interesting to go up to the Murray River and see where all that wood came from. We visited the historic Port of Echuca (thanks Paul) and took a ride on a paddle steamer. Not a large gaudy Mississippi style steamer but a simple workhorse formerly used for transporting wool from sheep stations as far away as the Queensland border for forwarding to Melbourne by steam train. There are plans afoot to have a steam train link all the way to Melbourne. Now that will be quite a trip. There is quite a lot of old steam equipment of which Tony is inordinately fond and bits and pieces of old formerly sunken steamers waiting to be used as spare parts, or as part of extensive restorations of old vessels as they become available. It was here I realized that at this time of the year practically all the visitors we meet are in our age group. A bit like waking up in the middle of the movie Cocoon.

Regards Sue Waterloo ON, currently in Castlemaine Victoria Australia