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Posts Tagged ‘victoria’

It was time to get away from the city – and time to get a little off the beaten track: no more Mornington, Great Ocean Road, Yarra Valley or the Dandenongs.

90 Mile Beach, on Victoria’s south coast beyond Sale and towards Lake Entrance, seemed to fit the bill: hardly anyone had been there and there was little written about it online (what comments there were tended to be of the “It’s our secret, we don’t want lots of people coming” variety).

Bruce and Fran had a new tent to try out before the music festival season kicked off (yes, this is being written several months after the fact; see below) and Parks Victoria operated 20 free campsites on a stretch of the beach, itself a long (90 miles long apparently), straight strip (a spit perhaps?) lined with sand dunes, that encases an inland waterway.

Ninety Mile Beach

The township of Seaspray sits at one end with Paradise Beach marking the eastern end of the free camping area (although the beach continues some distance beyond there). Neither appear to have much going on, although being five days before Christmas, it probably wasn’t peak season. Still, peaceful serenity was the aim of the trip.

Unfortunately peaceful serenity was the last thing on Fran’s mind once the Hoonmobile began swinging through the free campsites. Perhaps it was the terrifying experience of stopping off in Traralgon for supplies – more fast food joints than brain cells and enough potential Biggest Loser winners to keep Channel Ten execs decked out in gold chains well into their retirement – that had her feeling all Wolf Creek. Or perhaps it was the fact that every campsite appeared to be populated entirely by Ute-driving men with mean-looking facial hair wearing lumberjack shirts, heavy boots and meaner glares.

“Can’t we just go and try the one at Paradise Beach?” she asked after the sixth of 20 had been searched, revealing the only pitch far enough from anyone else to be full of mosquitos and post-wipe tissue paper.

It was a fruitless request: Paradise was full to bursting with men of similar appearance, but this time they’d brought their trucks and what appeared to be armour-plated buses. Given the Australian surf fishing championships take place here every January they were all probably there to get in a little practice (either that or it was the Australian Bear Association’s pre-Chrimbo hugging convention). Still, the Hoonmobile was turned around and pointed back to Seaspray.

Fran’s courage pricked by the fact that none of the sites they’d visited earlier contained trucks, they returned to the earlier campsites with a fresh determination. This determination drove Bruce to believe the Hoonmobile had enough floor clearance to drive over a sawn off tree in the middle of the soft, sandy ground. He was wrong. Neither forward nor reverse would shift the car. It took Fran hopping into the driver’s seat and Bruce recalling his days as a prop forward to get it moving – even then with an unhealthy farting noise from the exhaust.

Eventually they settled, finding a quiet spot 100 yards from the sea’s edge and a short walk from the toilet. Tent erection in comparison to what went before was a breeze – aided by the opening of a Cooper’s Pale or two – and soon they were on the beach.

Talk about getting away from it: in the two days they were there, no more than a dozen people could be spotted within 10km in either direction on the beach – and no one ventured down there after dark (either the men were eating the day’s catch or hugging manfully), making every crash of the waves on the shore their own. Saturday’s weather was good enough for a spot of sunbathing, the water almost warm enough for a swim (well, a jump given the ferocity of the waves) and a smorgasbord of dazzling shells lined the water’s edge (and now a bathroom in Collingwood).

A well-stocked esky, a box of red as good as boxes of red can be, portable Ipod speakers and a pair of folding chairs made for comfortable star-gazing (and the glowing cocktail glasses from Wicked! made up for the torch dying). They even got deep, concluding something along the lines of:

“Even though the sun gives the Earth its energy, perhaps it’s actually there to keep us stupid, to keep us from being too ambitious. After all, it’s only when the light has disappeared from the sky that you get to see the sky as it really is and realise what is out there. The blue sky of the day is like a blanket hiding us from reality, like in The Truman Show.”

And so on…

They even saw a UFO on the second night. Both spotted a particularly bright flashing light that hadn’t been there the day before or indeed a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t moving like a satellite. Then, after a few seconds, it started moving rapidly away, heading diagonally eastwards and upwards until it disappeared.

“Did you see that too?” they asked each other, later recounting the moment excitedly to their neighbour, himself not averse to spaced-out nights on the beach, who rather mundanely pointed out that it wasn’t so much a UFO as an O: apparently satellites do move like that sometimes.

Appeal letter two in the mail

Appeal letter two in the mail

By that point they were home and about to discover that the damage to the exhaust was going to cost $350 to repair. They’ve just had a bill through from Vic Police to say they used a stretch of the Eastlink getting there, haven’t paid the toll and now owe a further $113. Some free camping trip.

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Fran has just had to cancel a long-planned trip to Hong Kong at the end of this month to visit her sister and baby nephew because Victoria is to swine flu what the Pope is to AIDS. Bruce has already had one moan about the Australian Government’s handling of the bug and the pissweak media scrutiny they’ve faced over it – here.

However, neither aspect seems to have improved. Given that Australia was among the later countries infiltrated by the pig sniffles, it boggles the mind to think it – not one of the developing nations – could be the reason the threat level is raised to pandemic.

This morning, on ABC, the issue was raised again with Victoria’s head of public health. Bruce expected the ABC’s questioning to be of a more thorough bent than that of the commercial television news but, alas, no. It went along the lines of:

Journo: “How seriously ill are the Victorians now in intensive care for swine flu?”

Head of Public Health: “I don’t know. All I know is that they are in intensive care.”

I DON’T KNOW! Shouldn’t you perhaps have asked, since you’re Head of Public Health. And shouldn’t you perhaps have been pressed on this?

Journo: “Why has the spread been so bad in Victoria?”

Head: “Well, because the symptoms can be so mild we think the first case may have come in from the States undetected and spread before we knew about it…..”

But weren’t you supposed to have tough regulations in place to spot any cases aided by the headstart of watching it spread to several other countries first? And shouldn’t you have been pressed on this? No, once again an official was allowed to get away with declaring ignorance of facts that they must surely have known.

A doctor friend in New Zealand who has an even younger child than Fran’s nephew sees no reason for Bruce to cancel his visit planned to coincide with Fran’s trip to Hong Kong.

“Swine flu is a lot of smoke, little fire,” he reasons.

So, these latest events highlight a few problems:

  1. The continuing incompetence of the Australian Government
  2. The continuing ineptitude of the Australian media
  3. The overreaction of the Hong Kong medical fraternity

Worst of all, however, it means Fran’s now coming to NZ with Bruce. A week’s freedom ruined…

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It’s not that often that Epicure, in Tuesday’s Age, dips its toes into the ever-giving world of Australian craft beers. Despite there being around 30 independent brewers in Victoria alone (comprising those with their own breweries, those that contract out and a handful of brewpubs), lovers of the grape can look forward to being indulged every week while those who prefer their booze formed from malt, hops and barley get little more than something with which to get the kindling burning in the open fires in the caves in which the editors must believe they still dwell.

After much banging of Bruce’s head against walls, a spot of attempting to wring blood from a stone and the loss of several pigs in doomed aeronautical experiments, a chink…

Pumping Randy at the Mountain Goat Brewery

Pumping Randy at the Mountain Goat Brewery

It’s not possible to link to the story as Fairfax, in their continued misunderstanding of the way the internet has changed journalism – despite their plummeting share price acting as something of a constant reminder that they’re clearly doing something wrong – continues to want to charge $2.20 each time you want to view a story on their website.

The story is, however, that Mountain Goat have installed Victoria’s first “Hopinator” – a cylindrical machine fastened to the bar that can be filled with anything from fresh hop flowers (as above where their organic IPA is being poured through a load of fragrant Galaxy hop flowers) to cinnamon sticks, coffee beans and fruit. Any of their beers can then be directed through Randy (short for Randall the Handle, apparently, after they stopped calling it the Hopinator out of deference to Holgate Brewery’s not-for-the-faint-hearted 7% Double IPA of the same name) for a last minute burst of extra flavour.

It’s only available at the brewery, in North Street, Richmond, where they also serve tasty pizzas and one-off brews, often matched with appropriate nibbles. It’s open to the public on Wednesday and Friday evenings, with one of the head brewers offering free tours of the brewing process on Wednesdays.

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The world's largest paddlesteamer flotilla cruises on by

The world's largest paddlesteamer flotilla cruises on by

The British nature has a lot to answer for. As part of Mr and Mrs Bruce snr’s three-week whistlestop tour of Oz, they’d been booked onto a dinner cruise aboard the P.S. Emmylou, one of Echuca’s vintage paddlesteamers. Despite a price tag of $95 a head for three courses, Bruce and Fran headed there with expectations low.

Perhaps it’s the result of childhoods spent at lacklustre seaside resorts such as Margate (in Bruce’s case) and its former Bembom Brothers amusement park or Southend (in Fran’s) where, prior to the smoking ban, non-smokers could experience the effects of a 20-year, two packs-a-day habit merely by sitting down to play bingo for half an hour surrounded by monolithic grandmother-mother-and-baby teams in which the baby’s dummy must surely have been covered in nicorette patches. Or perhaps, as many Aussie friends will observe, it’s just the innate doubt of an English test batsman coming to the crease.

Either way, if the choice had been soup or pate followed by fish and chips, burger or vegie pasta for main and ice cream for dessert neither would have been surprised. Perhaps they’d all have to wear sailors’ hats (Fran was quite excited about this) and sing awful seas shanties too.

In the end there was pate – but that’s where the similarities ended. The deck of the Emmylou was set out as well as an old wooden paddlesteamer can be to represent a fine dining establishment – the only criticism being a slight squash to accommodate the Easter Sunday crowd – with a good selection of food and decent wine list. A bottle of bubbly was quaffed as the menu was perused – Japanese okanomi yoki pancakes, brochette of scallops with proscuitto, fennel and rocket, muscovy duck, ocean trout and a platter of ridiculously rich desserts to name just a few.

“Aaarrrrggghhhh! I think I might be having the best time of my life,” screeched an overexcited Fran on more than one occasion as the Emmylou floated past riverside bbqs and cabins lining the north shore of the Murray.

The Bruce family's Easter Sunday dinner drew quite a crowd

The Bruce family's Easter Sunday dinner drew quite a crowd

Then it was time for the main event. At the time of booking, Bruce had been unaware that Easter Sunday was one of two occasions in the year when Echuca’s entire fleet of commercial and privately-owned paddlesteamers gathered for a sail past of the town’s heritage port. So, dessert polished off and red wine still flowing the boat turned around and led a procession past thousands gathered on the quay. Many of the boats lit flares, others sounded their horns (rather confusingly they sound just like those on trains and the footy siren at the MCG), thousands of camera flashes flickered.

Once past the quay, a firework display lit up the sky and Bruce wondered if the folks of Echuca could do anything more to make his parents’ visit memorable.

The following day was accompanied by a chorus of kookaburras on a scale reminiscent of Hollywood’s greatest musical excesses of the 1920s and 30s and a trip even further back in time along Echuca’s historic walk: ducking into the escape tunnel underneath the Star Inn for an impromptu knees-up; posing for an utterly ridiculous Victorian family photo; marvelling at the various nutcases making a living with magic tricks and performing cockatoos – and the woman charging $9 for 100 grams of fudge.

“We should come back here every other weekend,” exclaimed Fran, still giddy from the previous night.

She’ll get her wish, although not quite that often, as at just 2 1/2 hours drive from Melbourne, it would be rude not to return. Proclaiming ownership of “The world’s largest flotilla of paddlesteamers” may be akin to having the world’s largest collection of foil tops from orange Calippo ice lollies made between 1994 and 1997 but Echuca remains a charming corner of Victoria. And it’s not Swan Hill.

"Oooh!" "Wow!"

"Oooh!" "Wow!"

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There’s always someone in every family who professes to being able to belch the alphabet (although do they ever really manage “W”?).

Fran’s best mate who, on first impressions, is a very well brought up young lady – practising lawyer, house in a little town on the Thames outside London, holiday home in the French Alps, mother of one young girl, and so on – is a frightful belcher when the mood takes her (usually – although not exclusively – any time between rising at 6am and falling asleep later that night). No doubt there are people who can do it with other parts of their anatomy.

Who’d have thought there’d be someone doing it with their home state. Ladies and gentlemen, Melbourne creative director Rhett Dashwood…

“Over the course of several months beginning October 2008 to April 2009 I’ve spent some of my spare time between commercial projects searching Google Maps hoping to discover land formations or buildings resembling letter forms. These are the results of my findings limited within the state of Victoria, Australia.”

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Early on Monday afternoon, several fires burn near Toolangi. Seen from across Yarra Valley above Yarra Glen

Early on Monday afternoon, several fires burn near Toolangi. Seen from across Yarra Valley above Yarra Glen

A typical scene on the ravaged hills. Remarkably, the house behind was saved with only superficial damage

A typical scene on the ravaged hills. Remarkably, the house behind was saved with only superficial damage

Although no flames penetrated this tin shed, the bike inside melted from the intense heat

Although no flames penetrated this tin shed, the bike inside melted from the intense heat

Rob Fries surveys the damage, thankful the house he only finished building 12 months ago is still standing. He lives at the end of a valley to the south of Kinglake National Park that a fire front tore through, ripping up to his house with a deafening roar

Rob Fries surveys the damage, thankful the house he only finished building 12 months ago is still standing. He lives at the end of a valley to the south of Kinglake National Park that a fire front tore through, ripping up to his house with a deafening roar

Angie MacMillan surveys the wreckage outside her home. With husband Greg, she took shelter in the room to the left but was forced to flee into a basement when flames from the collapsed shed adjacent to it began flicking through the door frame

Angie MacMillan surveys the wreckage outside her home. With husband Greg, she took shelter in the room to the left but was forced to flee into a basement when flames from the collapsed shed adjacent to it began flicking through the door frame

The two-tone sky just before sundown. The horizon - over Melbourne - is clear, the sky above the fire-ravaged areas thick with smoke for hundreds of kilometres

The two-tone sky just before sundown. The horizon - over Melbourne - is clear, the sky above the fire-ravaged areas thick with smoke for hundreds of kilometres

What Bruce had to say about it here.

What he wrote about it here.

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While Victoria burns...

While Victoria burns...

... Marty Rhone croons

... Marty Rhone croons

So, the death toll is rising rapidly and will likely go past 100, if not significantly higher. The winds have picked up again and are threatening to push the main fire that destroyed Kinglake – which currently has an 80km wide front and remains out of control – further north into the state.

Channel 7 is in the midst of a two-and-a-half hour news special focusing on the disaster (albeit with ads ever five minutes), Ten has an hour long news special (featuring some of the worst graphics seen since Bruce tried some simple programming on his rubber-keyed Spectrum 48K back in the early 80s) and 9 also have an hour’s special on and have gained access to Marysville, or what used to be Marysville, and are offering the best coverage of the three.

On ABC, however, the nation’s Government-funded broadcaster is offering a Cliff Richard show. Not actually Cliff Richard, however. No, some tone deaf Donny Osmond lookalike called Marty Rhone pulling moves that would make Tom fron Keane cringe in their awfulness and backed by a somnabulant bunch of fogies and a middle-aged blonde booter in a glittery dress. Jesus Christ. Talk about finger on the pulse.

EDIT (11/02/09): Credit where it’s due. ABC local radio’s coverage on 774 – a 24-hour rolling information service – has been impeccable and undoubtedly will have saved lives. But please don’t get Marty Rhone to do the fundraiser…

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