Mick and I set out on our exploration of Australia in December 2019 and visited all states except for the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania. During this time when the pandemic caused havoc around the world, we hopped borders when we could. After seventeen months living in our caravan we were ready to head home.
The window of my new home office faces west. Above the street, treetops, and roofs, the clouds approach with grey, white, apricot, and raspberry hues. I am familiar with the weather patterns here at our home on the Mornington Peninsula.
Other skies enchanted us on our travels. We have seen sunrises and sunsets, star maps, and swirling clouds. Weather patterns unfamiliar to us; the strangeness reminding us that is not our home.
Meeting other travelers, they would proudly say they had been on the road for two years, or eight years, or were permanent travelers. This was not for us. We felt it in our hearts. We like a home, a base, being near to family and friends, being part of a community. Eighteen months was enough for us.
When our caravan broke down in the desert, we had already decided on the end date for this trip, just one more month. So, we thought a quick drive up to Uluru and back would be a nice way to end. It was not to be. We have been to Uluru many years ago when our children were young, and I am glad I hold the memory of that visit in my heart.
What if our breakdown and required repairs had happened at the start of our trip, or in the middle? What do full time travelers do then? We are lucky we were at the end.
So, we unpacked all of our stuff from the storage unit, and happily moved into our townhouse. We love the walks to the beach every day. In my kitchen I have been cooking things I have not been able to do in the caravan. I have been practicing playing my piano. Mick has been fitting shelves and running and cycling. Like everyone else in Melbourne we are in lockdown but that is okay, and we have had our first vaccination.
I plan to stop writing this blog now that our trip is over. Perhaps I will write just one future final instalment when our caravan is eventually repaired, and we can bring it home from South Australia.
Happy travels to all those exploring Australia in 2021 and beyond. My one bit of advice is to use the Wikicamps app as this has been the most help while on the road.
Our skin itched all night and we had both slept badly. Were there really bed bugs? I am sure a mouse crept around searching our bags for food; I could hear rustling sounds now and then. The room smelled bad, the old appliances were all on the blink, the refrigerator sounded like a truck, the electric kettle continued to run even though it was turned off, the TV sounded like it was underwater, and the shower was just a trickle.
Our previous accommodation at the Mud Hut Motel was fine but fully booked after we had already stayed for four nights. Now the insurance company had moved us to the Backpackers.
I made a chicken Thai green curry in the communal kitchen and we shared it with a French backpacker who was sorting through buckets of rocks searching for that elusive opal. We gave the rest of our food that was still okay, to the guy who ran the backpacker’s and he reacted like it was Christmas.
We could not stay another night. What do you do in Coober Pedy if you are not looking at rocks hoping to find opals? Drink! We had wine at the Desert Cave Hotel, wine at the Big Winch, Bourbon and cokes at another pub, and beer at the backpackers. I kept thinking about that Australian Classic book and movie “Wake in Fright”. Was there to be no escape? And of all the beautiful places we have visited in Australia, why did we have to break down here?
On May the Fourth, we took the force into our own hands and decided to leave this dry desert fly-blown town. We went out to the busy yard where our caravan was slumped sideways alongside the wrecks of cars, taking some essential personal belongings before it was to be moved to a repairer at Port Augusta.
It is five hundred and forty kilometres of empty desert between Coober Pedy and Port Augusta. As we drove south along the Stuart Highway and the next day east towards Victoria, there was a constant stream of caravans heading west and north, many brand-new caravans. I think it will be over-crowded for caravanners in Australia this year and they will find it hard to get a campsite in caravan parks and in free campsites. We were never planning to keep going. This was always going to be the last month for our big trip, but it felt awful leaving our caravan behind.
Arriving at Port Augusta in the dark we drove straight into a lovely motel, The Standpipe, where the aromatic smells of Indian curry at the restaurant tempted us. We checked in, enjoyed an Indian banquet, then settled into crisp clean white sheets on a lovely comfortable bed; bliss after our week of stress.
The next day, Mick spoke with the repairers in Port Augusta where our caravan will be taken to, assessed, and fixed. It could be weeks before it will be ready to take home. Then we drove further south to Adelaide, then to Hahndorf for another overnight stay.
It was cold in Hahndorf and the Autumn leaves had turned to burgundy, orange, red, and yellow. At the pub we sat by the log fire and enjoyed big glasses of cold dark German beer that tasted to me of toffee. The stay at the Manna Haus Motel was luxurious with a king-sized bed and clean new amenities.
The caravans continued to arrive as we crossed back into our home state of Victoria. Back at the relative’s farm, we are relaxed, safe, and happy to be at the end of our travels. We move into our townhouse at the end of this month. Hopefully in June we will be able to drive back to Port Augusta to pick up the repaired caravan.
The tyre exploded. There was a loud bang, blue smoke billowed, a sound of grinding metal, and the caravan listed sideways. Mick steadily brought the rig to a stop on the highway.
There was little verge and a two-metre embankment down to the endless desert plain. We were blocking the northward lane of the Stuart Highway in the South Australian outback about 185 kilometres north of Coober Pedy and about 50 kilometres south of the Marla Roadhouse. It was 10:15am on a beautiful clear warm Autumn day.
With the hazard lights flashing we got out to inspect the damage. The passenger side tyre of the caravan was shredded. Mick got out the jacks and began to change the wheel over with the spare. Traffic passed; caravans, RVs, and road trains, many slowing to ask if we needed help. At that point Mick was hopeful it was just a tyre blowout. He hoped it wasn’t a bearing.
Then his only 19-millimetre socket tore and was ruined. While he hunted through his tools hoping to find another to loosen the wheel nuts, I waved down a passing caravan and asked if they had one we could borrow.
So, with the tyre off and the spare bolted on, it was obvious there was another problem because the wheel was contacting the caravan chassis. Any move and the new tyre would go too. We had to get a flatbed tow truck.
There was “no service” on our phones so I hitched a ride with another couple of travelers, Michael (Mick, a mechanic) and Karen. I would go to Marla and phone the RACV for Roadside Assist that we have for this trip. Mick had a CB radio in his vehicle and said the truckies had been talking about the caravan blocking the highway. So that was good that they were able to warn each other.
As soon as I got phone connection I phoned the RACV, answered by the RAA and I was on the phone for the whole journey explaining the urgency of the situation and giving our rig details. Their service was excellent, not leaving me, but keeping me on the line.
At Marla there were about twenty caravans and RVs getting fuel and food. Mick and Karen stayed around keeping me company and offering more help if needed. This helped with my stress levels.
With the tow truck eventually arranged, coming from Port Augusta about 700 kilometres away, I hitched a ride with another family, Helen and Michael (Mick another mechanic) and their two teenage sons.
Meanwhile my Mick had decided to try to move the rig off the highway onto the verge. But the car battery was flat. So, he turned off the hazard lights and switched the fridge over to gas (something we should have done at the beginning). After awhile he managed to start the car and roll onto the verge.
I was relieved to see he was off the road when I returned. At first Mick waved us on not realizing I was in the car. Mick the mechanic was curious to look at the problem and slid under the caravan to have a look.
It appears that the welds had torn, and the suspension failed and dropped, so the chassis hit the wheel blowing the tyre.
Mick has maintained our vehicles well during this trip getting services, new tyres, and changing bearings regularly and these were new tyres. We were lucky the caravan didn’t jack-knife or roll over when the tyre blew.
We settled down for a long wait sitting on our deck chairs in the shade of the caravan. We guessed 8pm or 9:30pm for when the truck might arrive.
And then, as I stepped out of the caravan I almost stood on the skinny brown tail of a snake disappearing into the dry grass. I told Mick and we stomped around hoping to scare it away, not sure where it was hiding.
We sat drenched in Aerogard and wearing face nets protecting our faces from the hordes of small black flies. Then we saw the two-metre brown snake casually sliding away across the red dirt. So lucky not to get bitten.
When the sun set we sat inside the car. It wasn’t cold at all. As vehicles approached from either direction Mick started the car and switched on the park lights for visibility. The passing traffic dwindled. All the caravans and RVs off the road for the night, now just the long road trains and single vehicles passing occasionally.
Outside standing on the empty highway it was silent and above the Milky Way appeared in high definition giving me vertigo as I looked up and sideways across our galaxy.
The flatbed truck arrived at 10:15pm, so twelve hours after we came to a sudden stop. It took another hour to maneuver the caravan up onto the truck. Then we headed back south to Coober Pedy.
We were low on fuel because we had intended to fill up at Marla, so Mick drafted behind a couple of road trains loaded with cattle trying to conserve our fuel. Running on empty we drove into the service station at Coober Pedy at 1:45am. The RACV Roadside Assist had arranged accommodation so we had a room for the night.
The next morning we went to the mechanics yard where the caravan was delivered to, and emptied the refrigerator, picked up some clothes and other essentials, while Mick talked to the mechanic there.
The caravan needs some significant repairs, and the parts need to be delivered from Adelaide, so we are stranded here for a while.
As well as the elements of luck that we counted in this experience, the other thing we noted was how we reacted to the events. Despite feeling stressed and annoyed, neither one of us swore out loud, or vented to the other. I felt like crying but didn’t. I’m sure Mick felt like swearing but he didn’t. We were both practically minded and just did what needed to be done with calm.
Big thanks to the people who helped us; the first guy (didn’t get his name), Mick and Karen, Mick and Helen and their two sons, the people at the RAA and RACV, the tow truck guy, and the people at the Mud Hut Motel who made us feel welcome.
The branches of the shrubs shook. Growls and grunts disturbed the usually quiet Australian bush. Scuffling of feet on the rocky surface ran towards where we stood on the trail. More commotion. We did not know what it was. We guessed feral goats. Wild pigs? Koalas? Emu? Dingoes? Something more sinister? There are feral goats in the Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park, but this was no bleating. And although koalas can make very scary noises, I wasn’t sure if they inhabited this area. Emu make more of a drum sound. We didn’t stay around to see what wild animal appeared from the bushes.
Another day while we were descending from Mount Ohlssen – Bagge in the same National Park we were surprised by another totally different and unidentifiable sound. Mick thought it sounded like a door slamming, but up on the side of this mountain there were no buildings, structures, or roads. I thought perhaps goats jumping hard onto a rock or butting a tree with its horns. Maybe it was rocks falling or being thrown from above. It was the sound of a hard blow onto rocks one at a time and spaced with imperfect regularity. We paused on the trail. What was that strange out-of-place sound? We did not linger or go any closer to the sound to investigate.
The Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park is in an ancient landscape and a geologist’s dream. Striped mountains reveal various rock formations and illustrate the story of how this land was formed. Atop one mountain ridge is a natural wall of rock battlements. Wilpena Pound is a great campground with walks and hikes of varying standards and challenge. The walk to the rim of the Wilpena Pound crater is a lovely stroll beside the dry creek-bed beneath the huge old white-trunked gums. At the rim is the old homestead where early settlers came and tried to farm sheep and wheat within the sheltered crater. Droughts drove them away eventually and the natural flora and fauna has recovered thankfully. The lookout shows the saw-tooth ridges of the crater walls and a lush valley.
We drive further north to Blinmin where we have coffee and pies at the pub. We take a dirt side road to a dry gorge where the remains of dislodged trees are stacked high after recent heavy rains. Back at the camp it is busy due to ANZAC Day and a long weekend. People are up before sunrise to pay their respects to soldiers, one lone bugler hitting the notes perfectly.
South Australia has a lot to offer tourists, as there is so much variety. We drove across the border with rain falling steadily to the relief of the farmers and locals. We avoid driving to Adelaide and head north along the Murray River finding a free camp on the banks at Walker Flat. It’s cold but this does not dissuade the water skiers who are happy behind ski boats as the sun sets weaving around the houseboats that putter up and down the river.
Then inland further we head towards the winemaking region of the Clare Valley. The towns are small but delightful with stone houses and stone buildings in the main streets. It is very picturesque. We camp at the caravan park in Clare. It is still cold and raining. We taste some local wine at the Kilikanoon Winery.
We drive out to Martindale Hall at nearby Mintaro. It is an old stone mansion, a sheep station of yesteryear, now in the hands of the National Trust. It was used as one of the buildings for the film Picnic at Hanging Rock. Inside the opulence is on show with decorative touches on every surface. It welcomes visitors into a lovely internal space with a grand staircase. Each room is decorated with unique pieces on display. The smoking room has a unique and interesting collection of souvenirs from around the world. At the old pub in Mintaro we stop for a local wine under the verandah.
To take care of some personal documentation we visit the local library in Clare where I can do printing and scanning. The staff are typically helpful as all library staff tend to be, and the library is tidy and well organised, a lovely local place located just behind the main street.
We drive further north towards the Flinders Ranges. This landscape is like something from Mars. We close a loop of our travels from the previous year when we scurried “home” for the first lockdown.
After enjoying the remoteness of the Flinders Ranges, we have to drive south back to Port Augusta before we go north once again towards Coober Pedy and the Northern Territory. This is the Australian Outback and there is nothing out here. Just flat plains, sparse mulga, red dirt, and blue sky forever. We see a couple of emus, lots of kangaroo roadkill, and huge eagles feasting on the fresh meat. We camp overnight at the Mulga Well Rest Area. There is no one else at this camp and it is a bit unnerving, but worth it for the colourful sunset and sunrise. During the night, a big bright moon lights the landscape, but we see no movement.
The next day we reach Coober Pedy. We have been here before about twenty-five years ago, and the town has grown. After a quick drive up and down the main street we decide to stay at the caravan park on the outskirts of town. It has an underground campground for those with tents and swags. We are above ground but under the shade of a garage.
We take the guided tour of the mine and the underground house at the caravan park. It is interesting to learn about opal-mining and the different techniques and costs involved. We drive out to the place outside the town perimeter where daily mining is underway, seeing the machinery and the piles of dirt extracted from underground. Then we watch an old timer cut and polish an opal while he describes what he is doing and what he is looking for. Then we try our luck noodling on the piles of stones placed there for the tourists. Mick goes back for a third try the next day.
From here we will go north into the Northern Territory and out to Uluru and Kings Canyon.
The ducks quack happily and waddle around in troupes looking for people who will feed them. The town lake is beside the caravan park and is home to ducks, swans, and turtles. The lake level rose as the rain continued to fall. Fortunately, not as much as was currently falling in Queensland and New South Wales where flood emergencies forced people out of their houses.
Maryborough is a pretty town with beautiful heritage buildings and located in the Victorian Goldfield’s region. The railway station is a huge, beautiful heritage building with a daily train service operating. I have written about Maryborough before as we stayed here at the beginning of our travels in January 2020.
Mick set off fossicking again taking his detector out into the state forest areas. While I stay in the caravan happy to be out of the rain. I read Possession by A.S. Byatt! I download the new Libby app then borrow emagazines on my iPad from the Melbourne Library Service. I listen to music on Spotify and the Rich Roll podcast on Apple Pods.
We are happy to watch some AFL football on TV as the 2021 season begins. We plan to be back on the Mornington Peninsula in time to watch our youngest son’s first game of the season.
It seems that all of the caravan parks in Victoria are full of Victorians at the moment, finally allowed to go travelling, but not wanting to go interstate just in case there is another lockdown. Big groups of noisy caravanners fill the parks. It is not pleasant after our year of free-spirited travel around Australia.
We leave planning to go to a free off-grid campsite somewhere and we find a lovely green grassy space at Glenpatrick just at the foothills of the Pyrenes Ranges. There are large firepits and firewood here, so this must be a popular place on weekends. There are no showers, TV, power, water, and the Internet is spasmodic. But it is quiet and we are the only campers here. We share the campground with a large mob of kangaroos. It is nice to enjoy a campfire under the stars and moon for a change. We haven’t had many fires on this trip. The local policeman visits and chats about how the nearby town of Elmhurst is dying.
The next day we drive further west to St Arnaud. The little caravan park is full of a group of people from a caravan club, but we are lucky to get the last site. We walk around the town, discovering yet another dying regional town. It is sad to see. I think these towns were dying before the virus and now they are just about dead.
At Melville Caves we walk to the lookout and gaze out westwards towards the Grampians and the hills and plains. The caves are really just large boulders that are stacked to form some human-size gaps beneath. It is a nice place and there is a free camp on top of the hill that we take note of for another time.
The drive back to St Arnaud takes us through Tarnagulla. Our family spent one extremely hot Christmas Day in a shop here and so we have fond memories of this place. This town has been a ghost town for many years and the shops are either empty or used as residences. It is a pretty main street, and the shop buildings are quaint. Here too gold was the reason the town grew, and then died.
The main arterial roads in Victoria fan out from Melbourne, so when you travel across the state the roads are minor backroads. We drive from St Arnaud further westwards to Horsham, back to our relative’s farm. It is a year since we had to retreat to this place for the first lockdown., but we were here just eight weeks ago during the Christmas break. We will park our caravan and drive back ‘home’ for Easter.
This landscape heals my soul. The towering gums, bird calls, fast clear rivers, grazing cattle, ducks, blue mountains, and round yellow hills.
The walk to Ned’s Peak takes about an hour but is steep. The view is worth it, the valleys stretching out below, rugged Cathedral Peak, with more dark ranges beyond. I see a lyrebird. Mick sees a Red- Breasted Finch of some variety. We hear Currawongs, Kookaburras, Lorikeets, and Cockatoos. The white trunks of river gums stand tall and healthy along the Acheron River.
At Eildon Weir we drive across the wall, then stop to look down at both sides. While Mick scopes the pondage for fishing spots, I reminisce about my youth spent water-skiing on the flat green expanse of the weir. No luck with catching fish at the pondage or at various spots along the Goulburn River. Mick eventually catches a nice size Rainbow Trout. He sees two platypus swimming in the river, and we both see a large water rat swimming under the bridge. It is the same size as the brown ducks that it chases away.
It is Autumn so the days are sunny and warm and the nights are cold. We are snug in our caravan staying at the Breakaway Twin Rivers Caravan Park just metres from the clear and fast flowing Goulburn River. The brown ducks love it here. We walk to where the Goulburn River meets the Acheron River taking in the quiet and looking for platypus and fish.
We drive around the area visiting Alexandra, Thornton, Eildon, Rubicon, and Taggerty. We dream of owning a farm in this area.
The weekend is busy at the caravan park with big groups of loud Melburnians crowding the space. Unfortunately, they stay an extra day despite it not being a public holiday; do children and teenagers ever go to school nowadays? Our last day is quiet with only six caravans left.
This is a beautifully situated caravan park, and very well managed, but the majority of the park is taken over with the ‘permanent’ and scrappy huts that seem to fill most of the caravan parks in Victoria. I realise the economics of the business, but caravanners are not being served adequately in my view. The permanents detract from the ambience and turn away other business. I have seen so many negative comments on Wikicamps about this. It is no wonder that caravanners are seeking the off-grid free camps as a better alternative.
We drive the backroads west to Welshman’s Reef which is situated on the banks of the Cairn Curran Reservoir. This caravan park is in total contrast to Breakaway. It is dry. The water level is low and dead trees stand exposed in the lake. Water skiers come here regularly, and the caravan park is managed (very poorly) on a not-for-profit basis by a water-skiing organisation. Again, the permanent shacks fill the park. It is midweek and off-season, so no one is here except for two or three other caravanners. We prop in between two of the permanent shacks. Mick fishes but finds too many snags. Mobs of kangaroos sneak down to the water’s edge in the afternoons but are quick to bound away if they see a person.
We drive around the region visiting Maldon, Castlemaine, Newstead, Sutton Grange, and Emu Creek. Lunch at Castlemaine is disappointing. The town feels dirty and in great need of cleaning and maintenance.
The cowboy comes charging out of the gate holding on to the unhappy bull, and my first sight of this sends my adrenalin pumping. What power and brute energy! The cowboys are worse off for this ride. They line up and try their luck to stay on, but no one scores a point at this event in Chiltern.
Next the cowboys try to ride an untamed horse. They buck and jump, twisting this way and that, trying to shake off the cowboy. It’s no wonder a local medical clinic is one of the sponsors. Some are slow to stand up or they crawl out of the arena.
The women show off some very good skills on quarter horses, lassoing calves, and running a short obstacle course. They look awesome at speed, as their hats fly off.
I have never seen so many cowboy hats in one place at one time. This is a whole lifestyle that people choose to live every day. The rodeo event had been on the previous day in another town nearby. We’ve seen enough and leave early not wanting to get caught up in the crush of cars trying to leave the rough paddock at the racecourse.
Despite the fact that I went along to learn how to use my DSLR camera prior to taking this trip, I found that my skills and knowledge fall short when trying to capture great images at an event like this rodeo. Complicating factors are the fast action, heads and bodies of spectators getting in the way, the fading light at dusk, other obstacles such as large amplifier speaker boxes, and the necessary fence. My automatic focus kept catching the things closer than my subject. Everything happened so fast and I was just one of a few thousand spectators keen to see the action. My iPhone managed to capture a few good videos that I posted online. So, I was juggling cameras in search of that elusive shot, that I didn’t get this time.
Back at the caravan park we are camped next to a lovely town lake where ducks live. It looks calm, but we can hear the constant drone of traffic from the Hume Freeway nearby, and the train line is in between and trains thunder past regularly. It is the long weekend, and we have an unpowered site as the caravan park is full. Many Melburnians are escaping the city after a year of lockdown.
The Tuan Track is nearby and winds through the forest. This bushland is quite boring and dry. The walk is exercise for us and we enjoy the solitude. Like wobble-headed dashboard dogs we look up and down, watching for koalas in the trees and snakes on the ground, but see none of either.
Chiltern town is pretty with heritage buildings lining a quaint main street. We enjoy an excellent chicken parmigiana at the Telegraph Hotel. The local market is in the park on Sunday, but it is small and uninteresting.
On Monday, the caravan park empties. We move on to our next spot the following day.
Was it wishful thinking by William Baker when he named this area Eldorado back in 1840? Gold was found here ten or so years later. We visit the disappearing town that nestles nicely against a rough ridge line, seeing the mounds of discarded rocks where mining took place. There is nothing to keep us here, and the caravan park is closed indefinitely, so we drive across to Milawa to sample some wine at the Brown Brothers estate. We enjoy lunch and buy some liquid gold to take with us.
Myrtleford is a perfect central location for exploring this area and there is a lot to see and do. The pretty Ovens River flows through the town and valley, with plenty of fishing and picnic spots along the old rail trail, now a popular bike trail.
Mount Buffalo can be seen in the distance, grey rocks beckoning. We drive to Porepunkah, then another thirty kilometres winding up the mountain. It is a popular route for keen cyclists, and you need to be wary on every bend.
At the top we drive on to The Hump and The Cathedral. We have walked this trail in recent years. It is one kilometre up along a nice rocky path to the granite eyrie where you can prop to look at the 360-degree view, Mt Bogong in the alps nearby. The Cathedral is a solitary monolith that is popular with abseilers. Once on the top they stand unsupported with nothing to hold on to.
Mount Buffalo Chalet has passed its Hey Day, what was once a beautiful luxurious accommodation place, now houses ghosts. Peeking through the windows reveals beautiful original furnishings, as if you could just go on in and sign in to stay awhile. It is heritage listed and now a museum relic unfortunately.
The carpark is full of daytrippers, teens learning how to abseil, lots of leather-clad motorcyclists, a few lycra-clad cyclists, and emergency service crews practicing rescue drills off the edge of a cliff.
At Bright we stop for coffee. It is a popular and busy place at the base of the ski mountains. Autumn is its busiest season as the leaves on the trees turn to red and yellow and people flock from Melbourne to see this. We drive over the mountain to Mt Beauty and walk out to the Gorge. It is an easy and pretty walk with a clear stream running over rocks that are easy to traverse. At the gorge there is a swimming hole, and someone has cleverly stacked river stones into a tower.
Mount Beauty is a sleepy town that snuggles at the feet of the alps, but unlike Bright it was not busy or bustling with tourists. We try to have a counter lunch at a pub, but the pub isn’t serving meals. This region has too many European Wasps and an infestation of blackberry bushes. Where are the environmentalists?
We drive back via Yackandandah. There is family history for Mick here too but we are tired of the fruitless search, and instead enjoy afternoon tea in a charming shop full of olde worlde charm.
Back in Myrtleford we walk around the town. The Big Tree was a very big tree once. We walk along the trails of Reform Hill where gold mining ran its course back in the 1850’s. Mick tries his luck fishing in the Ovens River, seeing some big fish but not catching any.
Do we ever know the real story? Our story, history, current stories in the news, are always subject to interpretation.
While we try to find answers to the mysteries of our own family history in Tallangatta, in the news the Australian Attorney General is accused of a story of rape from 33 years ago, when he was just 17. The girl/woman now deceased. What hope do we have to know the truth?
While the Crepe Myrtles distract us with their gaudy magenta blossoms in new Tallangatta, we discover that in Old Tallangatta the secrets washed away with the manmade Hume Weir during the 1950’s.
There is history here, but who knows what lies beneath? The foundations of Old Tallangatta lie exposed with only 55% capacity of the lake, while in the new town, the caravan park perches beside the new lake, with old lean-to “permanent” huts destroying what ambience might exist otherwise.
I am uneasy here despite the calm lake, quiet surrounds, active birdlife, and pretty town. I wanted answers but find nothing.
Pearl Matilda (nee Newman) Bentley told us when she was alive of her childhood years in Tallangatta helping out in a large family. Did I remember that right? We only knew her as the blue-haired, much-loved, truth-speaking, Grandmother who could cook to satisfy many children and grandchildren. The story has gaps in it. Born in 1910 she would have been a girl in Old Tallangatta. But where?
Many years ago, I found online a family history titled “From Cornwall to Eldorado” written in 2010 by Peter Prevos and Sue Brewer-Prevos. In chapter 6 they mention in passing only, Lilian Christina Higgins who married William Joseph Bentley. William is Mick’s paternal Great Grandfather. Lilian was born in Tallangatta in 1887. But these are not Pearl’s family. Pearl married William’s son Edward Laurence Bentley. How did they meet? Where? Edward was born in nearby Stanley in 1909.
Many were in search of gold back then. What did they find? How did they live? We can’t hope to overlay the 21st century living conditions onto these early settlers. Beside each old timber shack there is a newly constructed dwelling.
We traipse around the cemetery at Tallangatta but don’t see any names from the family tree.
A lady in a store tells us of a walk in the state forest nearby and we drive into the untouched Aussie forest, walking uphill along a leaf-laden trail, to Conic Rocks. These granite monoliths form a convenient veranda where we eat our lunch and gaze out across the panorama towards Lake Hume and the mountains beyond. Mick startles a family of three lyrebirds in the bush. They cry out with a strange sound then fly up onto low branches before scurrying off into the scrub. The old trestle bridge near the highway once carried trains. At Koetong Pub we quench our thirst with a beer while sitting alone under the leafy trees.
We drive around the lake to Bethang and Bellbridge, inadvertently crossing into New South Wales. Here the weir was formed with a large wall that channeled the flow into a turbine to generate electricity before belching it out to flow as the Murray River once again.
The next morning, I wake to the cry of a Black Cockatoo as it flies out across the lake in the morning light. I get up to see the moon set in a sky striped with blue and pink. It feels good to finally leave the Murray River behind, but I feel disappointed that I didn’t find whatever it is that I was looking for here.
Our next stop is Myrtleford and we will visit nearby Eldorado.