|Subject: Full Circle|
We are back in Castlemaine preparing to say goodbye to Blot who has carried us safely over almost 20,000km. Coming back into town was like returning home, it will be hard to say goodbye on Wednesday but nice to be heading for our real home, family and friends.
When we left you last we were on our way to Sydney and I must say I was excited at the prospect of seeing the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, they are such Aussie icons. Like the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty and the Golden Gate Bridge they are so much more than a pleasing arrangement of bricks and mortar and are instantly recognizable. When we got our directions to Balmain we read "after crossing the Harbour Bridge". Could she possibly mean we were to drive across it as if it was just any old route into the city? Surely it’s just for admiring from afar, photographing and climbing over if you have both the budget and the nerve!
We only had a few days in the city but were lucky enough to be have been invited to stay in the lovely eclectic neighbourhood of Balmain. From our bedroom window we looked out over the harbour towards the Anzac Bridge and from the balcony we could see the arch of THE BRIDGE. A short ferry ride away were the wonders of Sydney and it really does seem to have an embarrassment of wonders.
The ballet Giselle had opened the evening we arrived so our first order of business next day was to catch an early morning ferry to Circular Quay and the Opera House box office. I could hardly believe they had two good seats for that evening’s performance. While Tony was still asking the price I handed over my credit card and spent the rest of the day with a silly grin on my face.
I don’t know what I expected the exterior of the O.H. to be made of but was quite surprised to see it is covered in off white tiles in a sort of chevron pattern. Needless to say we took lots of photos in spite of the not so perfect lighting conditions. From there we walked through the Botanical Gardens to a vantage point where we could see both the Opera House and the bridge. Even from this distance we could see the brave souls who had opted to do the bridge climb in spite of the wind. I know climbers are fastened on but I just could not bring myself to do it.
Taking advantage of the $15 all day pass we took a ferry east to Manley and a very much more laid back, relaxing and ever so slightly tacky Sydney. After lunch on the Corso and a stroll along the beach we were back on the ferry to Circular Quay and a walk across the Harbour Bridge at dusk. It gets dark early at this time of year and we wanted to be there as the lights of the city come on. Even at that height I felt a little uncomfortable and was glad to reach the safety of the other side and be boarding the ferry back to Circular Quay and the area know as The Rocks.
Once full of convicts, prostitutes and other undesirables, the Rocks is now a lovely area to explore, with galleries, shops and restaurants along its narrow old streets. We sat at a sidewalk table to eat our spaghetti dinner, listening to the accents of the Italian waiters and the live music it was all very "Lady and The Tramp" and to cap it all, we were off to the ballet.
Yes we’d been out since breakfast time and were hardly dressed for an Opera House but we hoped that the Aussie penchant for informality would mean we didn’t look too much like the poor relations. All was well; there was every style from red carpet to the tired old backpacker look so we fitted right into the latter category. It was lovely to see the little girls all decked out in their party finery for an evening at the ballet with Grandma. I could hardly believe that little old me was really hear and even more amazing, so was little old Tony.
He had never been to a ballet before, so I suggested he study the programme and swot up on the story line. He read it twice and was still confused but once the lights went down and the orchestra struck up, he was sold. It really was lovely and so beautifully and sensitively performed that even an engineer could follow the tortured plot, I predict more ballet in his future. We will never forget it.
We got back to our beds in Balmain at almost 11.00pm and were up and off again before breakfast the next day. Two days for Sydney, what were we thinking? This time our ferry took us west, up river for 24 km to Paramatta. We enjoyed the ferry trip and the Aboriginal art along the riverside walk but other than that there was not much to recommend the city to us. On a tight schedule it was probably not the best use of our time. We came back to Circular Quay on the ferry and got straight on to another headed for Darling Harbour.
Now Sydney already has a wonderful harbour and another at Manley so it hardly seems fair that it should also have the attractive and vibrant Darling Harbour too. Resembling a theme park it has the most amazing variety of funky water features. It was too late to start a visit to the Maritime Museum so we began to fantasize about extending our visit by one more day so we could come back and do it justice.
By then it was Friday evening and our GTG with local (and not so local) members of TheTravelzine. Our hostess Dianne had arranged for us to have dinner at the Balmain Bowling Club and very good it was too. Here in Oz it is possible to sign in to any number of clubs, service men’s, bowling, golf, sailing, Irish, etc. etc. and take advantage of their restaurant facilities. I think they hope that once there you will also take advantage of their gaming machines but in our case they were out of luck. The Balmain Bowling Club is a cut above most we have seen, with a newly renovated dining room, a new young chef and a more up-market menu. We were 10 in number and had a very pleasant evening talking about travel and all manner of other subjects. Between courses we did the ‘Linda Shuffle’ so everyone got to meet and chat to everyone at the table. A Zine GTG really adds a special dimension to your travels.
We did stay the extra day and spent the whole of it exploring the Maritime Museum, including visits aboard a replica of Cook’s Endeavour, the three masted sailing barque James Craig, HMAS destroyer Vampire and HMAS submarine Onslow. It was a wonderful day out, capped with dinner at the local pub in Balmain.
We made our farewells and set off for Narooma on the scenic Eurobodala Coast and a rendezvous’ with our friends Brian and Shirley whom we had left in Alice Springs before our ill-fated trip to Far Northern Queensland. We were to stay in the town house next door to them on the wharf. Another fabulous spot.
We walked around the shore and the local golf course, which must be in one of the most dramatic locations anywhere. If you are in the market for a final resting place, look no further; the cemetery location is almost as spectacular as the golf course. At the beach we watched thousands of bright blue and rust coloured ‘soldier crabs’ marching up and down in unison for no obvious reason and visited the local Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol where Brian is a volunteer to listened in on it’s radio operations. The entrance to Wagonga Inlet is particularly hazardous and I think Brian was a bit disappointed that it was so calm and peaceful when we were there, but he had plenty of photographs to attest to its wilder side. We visited the studio of an artist friend of theirs and took a trip to a national park south of town where four Kookaburras followed us around in the hope that we were the sort of visitors who had food in their packs, we weren’t. The coastline is wonderful, wild and rugged and at this time of the year almost empty. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring both with Brian and Shirley and on our own.
If you find yourself on the coast between Sydney and Melbourne then we suggest that you take a diversion to Narooma and go aboard the Wagonga Princess for a tour of the Wagonga Inlet with the irrepressible Charlie Bettini. Charlie is the third generation of his family to grow up here with the tales and photos to prove it. In between giving details of his unique electrically powered antique ferry boat, pointing out the landmarks, birds, seals etc he is also a stand up comedian and a laugh a minute, so you don’t want to miss a word. He includes a sail amongst the oyster farms, with a taste of the local oysters, a guided rainforest walk and a Devonshire cream tea in the afternoon’s festivities and all for the princely sum of $30. Without a doubt this was the best tour we took on the mainland. There were insufficient numbers at this time of year to make the tour to Montague Island to see the lighthouse and seals a viable proposition.
We also had a very enjoyable evening at the local camera club of which Brian and Shirley are members. It was competition night and even we visitors got to vote for the winning images. We dined at the golf and bowling clubs with the usual good food at reasonable prices and the obligatory awful gaudy carpet. If you ever wondered where all those awful Axminster carpets of the 1970’s went, we can tell you they are alive and well and living in Australian clubs. Too late we realized that we should have done a photo essay on ‘ghastly club carpets of Oz’. Perhaps next time!
Our last port of call was Melbourne and the home of the friends where it all started 6 months ago. Morrie took Tony to an Aussie rules footie game, he barracks (sp) for Essendon so locals will know it was not a great afternoon for him but Tony had a blast. Margaret, her friend Edith and I spent the afternoon playing Scrabble and Upword, eating chocolate (it was Mothers Day after all) and gossiping. The perfect end to a wonderful trip.
Regards and goodbye for the last time from Oz. Sue Waterloo ON http://www.wright-photo.com