All good things must end

It’s the end of an era. I’m gazing through the front window to the space where Sweetie the Wondervan has lived for the past five months, and I have an uninterrupted view of the white picket fence across the road. An hour ago, I watched Sweetie drive away with her new owner.

Bittersweet doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. I never thought I would give her up for anything. She has been an absolute gem of a travel companion these last four years and four months, and I still had so many plans for the two of us. But remaining parked up on the roadside in a city suburb 95% of the time is not the right life for Sweetie. She loves the open road as much as I do; this city-dwelling phase of my life might be giving me all the things I need for my future career, but it’s doing nothing for her.

I couldn’t be happier with where she is heading next though. She is now in the safe hands of a mechanic with an eye for detail and a genuine belief in her value. He is going over her with a fine toothcomb; future-proofing her in readiness to pass on to his mum and dad. So the next phase of adventure on the open road will begin soon for Sweetie,  and I sincerely wish both her and the new owners well.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken a few day trips with Sweetie to make the most of the joy, simplicity, relaxation and holiday lifestyle she’s embodied while she has been part of my life. I’m going to miss her. We’ve been to some wonderful places together.

And yet, I’m also looking forward to a car-less life in the city – the first time in more than 9 years I haven’t owned a vehicle – while I continue my studies and career development, get better acquainted with my bicycle, and enjoy the offerings of an urban lifestyle.

So this will be my last post on this blog. I hope you will follow me on my new writing site at instead, where I will be sharing stories on a broad range of topics and building on my freelance portfolio. A new journey begins.

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On the road again

Sweetie the Wondervan is back on the road! 711km into my relocation journey to Melbourne, from Geraldton, and so far so good. Despite being absolutely filled the gunwales and encountering some of the heaviest downpours to date, Sweetie is purring like a tiger cub, and just so happy to be back on the road – as am I.



I wouldn’t be here now without the help of so many good people who have encouraged, supported and helped me prepare for this new life direction. Most important though, my good friend Beck who took it upon herself yesterday to dedicate the day to helping me, despite me not even being aware I needed help let alone asking for it! But I most certainly did. If it wasn’t for Beck, I think I’d still be in Geraldton surrounded by boxes and bags and junk wondering what to do next. But she kept me on the straight and narrow, prompting me for jobs then completing them with minimal fuss whilst keeping me on track with my jobs too. An absolute godsend.

img_2270I’ve decided that maybe each time I do the journey from west to east, I have to make sure I travel though at least one place I haven’t been to before. Today I ticked off quite a few. Kalannie (must have blinked though, was long past it before I realised I’d missed the momentous occasion!), Koorda (the hotel made me sad – it must been quite a happening place in the past, but is now rundown and in need of investment), Mukinbudin (rainy toilet stop) and the outskirts of Bencubbin (prevented from reaching the town centre by a train straddling the road crossing).

I’d been keeping an eye on the weather the past few days, and was a bit apprehensive about the storm forecast for the region. By Kalannie, I was beginning  to think I had dodged it.


On the way to Bencubbin the first few drops fell. By Mukinbudin, it was bucketing. Approaching Westonia, which was my planned first night stop, it was so heavy I thought I really ought to stop, but suspected that trying to pull onto a slopey gravel shoulder might actually be more dangerous.

With the Westonia caravan park closed for improvements, my option was camping at their rec ground, or carry on to Southern Cross. I fancied a little more comfort than I expected to find at a temporary camping / caravan spot so pushed on. Hopefully this will be the longest day of my journey, short one tomorrow so I can get to Fraser Range Sheep Station early – my favourite stopping place on the Eyre Highway.

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Reconnecting with the simple things

IMG_0935The holiday town of Kalbarri from my childhood days has changed so much; and then again, not at all.

I remember so many summer holidays here – sometimes camping with friends and their family, which seemed such an adventure; other times in more sedate holiday units with my own non-camping family. Either way, I remember them as the best of days – especially those in my early teens when I started to gain some independence.

Meeting other kids who were also here with their families – making new short-term best buddies & developing holiday crushes; showing off on the trampolines at the entertainment centre and lamenting my lack of mini golf skills; swimming in the river or at the resort pool; day trips to Red Bluff and Rainbow Jungle (it was a day trip back then!) or the cliffs or gorges; working out that the best time to ask mum and dad for money was when they’d had a drink or three…

I remember once the ecstatic happiness of my sister’s best friend, holidaying with us from her home in Perth, after talking to her boyfriend from the payphone booth at the end of the street. I remember wanting that same happiness – pre-teen though I was and without a boyfriend of my own. So I phoned my then best (girl)friend for a chat. Oddly enough, it didn’t quite have the same effect! But oh well, I was in Kalbarri enjoying my holidays so I got over it.

There was such a sense of innocence, freedom, an appreciation of simple things (though of course back then, I probably didn’t appreciate the value of simple things like I do now). It seemed a forever happy, friendly, holiday town.

When occasionally I discovered that some classmate had been on holiday overseas, to some exotic location like Bali, or New Zealand, or the US, I was impressed and mildly envious but couldn’t really appreciate why that was necessary and thought it just seemed like showing off…


Nearly twenty years on from those days, and having lived out of the area for most of that time, I came to know Kalbarri in a different way, through my work in regional development. As the grants coordinator, tourism and shire liaison officer for the agency I worked with, I was fortunate enough to enjoy regular trips to the town. My boss was quite astounded with my commitment to this community. 😉

During my time away, Kalbarri had grown astoundingly. A second access road along the coast from Port Gregory had been sealed. A new suburb and cluster of homes had emerged near Red Bluff. New businesses and new resorts had opened, while many older ones had closed or relocated.

Sometimes I met with prospective grant applicants to advise them on their project and grant application development; sometimes for tourism workshops or community meetings or events; and also for openings and launches of projects we funded. Without exception, all the people I met with – from organisations in the fields of tourism, emergency services, youth services, arts, landcare, and more – were committed to making their town and community better, and I admired their determination and passion so much.

But I also became aware of an undercurrent the casual visitor is unlikely to see. Of the in-fighting, the bitchiness, the obstructiveness, the accusations of corruption, the clash between residents who considered the place to be a fishing town and resented the tourism industry, and those who understood that practically everyone in the town relied on tourism, whether they had a direct business relationship with the thousands who descend on the town each year or not. Even within the tourism industry, there was the struggle between business owners who wanted to be progressive, to achieve their full potential and to work together to build the destination appeal and reliability of experience the town could offer; and those who chose Kalbarri for the lifestyle and weren’t going to go out of the way so long as their business kept ticking over enough to sustain their own needs and desires.

I can well believe that in all likelihood, most small towns – and perhaps holiday towns in particular – experience these same issues, to which the casual outside observer would be oblivious. At the time though, it was such an eye opener for me and I was genuinely worried for a time that the efforts of a particular group of locals to air dirty laundry on the internet about some of the more vitriolic underground goings-on in the town would marr the destination’s appeal.

One of my recurring memories from that time was the first sight of the river as I approached the town from over the hill at Red Bluff. It was always so stunning, so beautiful – no matter the weather. And I’d wonder, how can people who live here be so distracted and caught up in negativity and vitriol and conflict? It just didn’t make sense.

Now more than three years on since I was in that job, and having been away for two of those, I have returned for a weekend to get away, to write and to spend some time on my own.

And I’m enchanted all over again, happy to sense that Kalbarri is as it always was, even back in my childhood.

Some things simply never change. The beautiful landscapes, the outdoor lifestyle, the simplicity of walking barefoot along the river, the stark red of the cliffs, white of the sand and blue of the sky. Friendly people. Being able to walk or cycle wherever you might want. Buying fresh fish direct from the wharf. Bustling cafes, surprising shops with all you might want for a great holiday, and more. Oh and a power outage for half the town! At least this one was for power pole replacement – hopefully it helps to minimise future problems.

So now as I head back to Geraldton, refreshed and relaxed and reminded about how good simple things are, I thank the stars for places like Kalbarri. And I’m already planning my next escape to somewhere else that can make me feel like this all over again. Next stop: inland Mid West.

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Wide open road

IMG_4804I had forgotten how much Sweetie the Wondervan loves the open road. In four days we’ve driven more than 1500kms, and she is purring like the most contented cat you could ever imagine. I just love her to pieces.

Despite the fact that I’m still nearly 1700kms from my destination – my home-town of Geraldton in the mid west of Western Australia – I do actually feel a greater sense of peace now I’ve crossed the border.

Not that I didn’t like South Australia, or indeed Victoria, where I’ve been living for more than a year and half.

They’re just not home.

Plus I am now past the quarantine checkpoint of course, and without any drama! Not that there should have been any because I know the drill well and made sure I had nothing of concern, but it does play on the mind a bit as you drive, and drive, and drive…

Last night’s stop was at Mundrabilla. It’s unexpectedly scenic. I do like the section of Eyre Highway between Eucla and Madura – the surprising drop down the passes at each end to a broad flat plain bordered on one side by a distinct ridge up to the higher plain, and on the other by the sea. It has its own sense of drama and history and possibility. I can almost image that with a reasonably large sea level rise, the inland ridge could become a new Great Australian Bight. But perhaps that’s just my mind getting carried away!

So far on this journey I have wimped out and spent my first night in a motel in Stawell (it was extremely cold, windy and late when I finally left Beaufort!); spent a night in a beautiful caravan park overlooking community managed wetlands and Australia’s most famous (notorious?) river at Murray Bridge; had a gorgeous interlude in Adelaide catching up with a friend and experiencing an Adelaide Cabaret Fringe Festival performance by a talented string quartet + accordion player in a tiny charming cocktail bar called La Boheme; and tried to make Sweetie’s interior (my mess!) look more presentable for a job interview by Skype in Ceduna! Should know more about that later in the week…

But the driving itself has been relatively uneventful, thank goodness.

Today another 500km or so will take me to Fraser Range Sheep Station, which I enjoyed so much on the way over that I’ll stop there again on the way back. I wonder what characters I’ll meet in the camp kitchen this time? And from there, hopefully it will only be another two full days’ travel and I’ll be hanging up the keys for a short while back in Geraldton.

But not for long apparently! My housemate-to-be Dave has already announced he has plans for Sweetie, as I’ll be arriving back just as his holidays begin. He did say that maybe I could go along for the ride too. How very thoughtful of him! 😉

Sweetie never got the chance to explore much of my home region, and I just know she’s looking forward to that already.

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Sometimes a girl just needs to dig

Or – the joy of a single-minded task…

Last weekend I joined a working weekend at the not-for-profit Wollangarra Outdoor Education Centre in Gippsland. I learned of its existence after seeing a Team Leader vacancy advertised – one that appealed, and which I seriously considered applying for, although it was effectively a volunteer position with only a small monthly stipend paid over and above board and lodging for the live-in role.

Why would I do that you ask?

IMG_4612Wollangarra is situated in a remote valley on the edge of the alpine area around 70kms NNE of Traralgon. It has no mains electricity or water, no mobile phone signal, no internet. The only way to access the site is by flying fox across the wide Macalister River.

It is the antithesis of everything that most of us have come to take for granted in the 21st century. And I loved the idea of escaping to that for a year.

When I learned that one of their regular volunteer working parties was coming up, I didn’t hesitate to get in touch and commit to joining in. I thought it would be a great opportunity to check out the place and see whether it could be the right move for me.

The drive to the site was arresting, especially once I’d got past the nearest town Heywood, and turned off at Lake Glenmaggie. Poor Sweetie had a bit of a hard time of it! Up, down, round the bend, up again, then down again – beautiful countryside with stunning views at every turn and some dramatic drops off the side of the road to add to the excitement.

After parking alongside a dozen other cars at the gate, turning off my mobile phone, and walking for 20minutes with my pack to find the flying fox launch point, I waited for what seemed an eternity for someone to answer my repeated cooee’s for the help I needed to cross the river.

All the while, I began to doubt: what on earth was a doing? Was this really a good idea? What if it’s some bizarre cult thing I’m getting myself into? Should I just turn around and trudge back to Sweetie and go seek some other adventure for the rest of the weekend?

Before I had time to act, a person appeared across the river and the flying fox was sent across. I was relieved to see that I didn’t need to hang on with my rucksack on my back, as I had pictured in my mind. Instead it was a solid carriage that could carry four people sitting, complete with re-purposed car seat-belts and comprehensive instructions to maintain safety for the 50m journey to solid ground on the other side. A good thing – at the highest point, it must have been a drop of 10 metres to the rocky river bed below, which was covered by only shallow water.

Disembarking on the other side, I met a near-neighbour (from Ballarat) who spent a year working at Wollangarra in the late 90’s and returns regularly for working weekends. As it happened I’d arrived just in time for a cuppa and home made cake. Not a bad start.

IMG_4589I was treated to the grand guided tour of the site – the surprisingly warm and comfy homestead building, the various outbuildings including the ablutions block and outdoor kitchen, which was the major construction project for the weekend with an extension in the making, plus the garden, chook run, kit store, salvage yard, and dug out (fire refuge).

Despite all I’d read about Wollangarra before arriving, nothing really prepared me for two things about the place: one, how rustic and basic it is; and two, how beautiful.

The centre sits in one of the most picturesque, fertile, intimate valleys I think I’ve ever experienced. The group cooees that punctuate the day to announce meal and break times echo magnificently off the surrounding hills. That echo seems to both highlight the remoteness of the location, and reassure you of the friendly community at its heart.

It should have dawned on me sooner, but it was only when I saw the toilets and showers that I realised the logistics of a venue with no water on tap. Composting toilets of course – not too much of a problem, I guess I could get used to that.

But the shower “complex” – although stunning with its open windows offering serene views across the site – gave me the shivers! Nice in summer I’m sure. But the thought of only having one hot shower a week (as I learned was usual for staff), in an open draughty building that required at least an hour’s forward planning to light and heat up the massive wood burning heater unit, was a bit hard to reconcile.

I like to think I’m a bit considerate when it comes treading lightly on the earth. I’m usually quite careful with electricity, walk or cycle or take public transport in preference to my car where practical, consider food miles when I shop, and try to minimise waste.

However, a hot shower has long been my downfall. I somehow lose track of time under one. I know it’s the last bastion I need to conquer. I just don’t think now is the time – not when I’m already struggling with life in a much colder climate than I was born and raised in. That might just be too much of a shock to the system.

So, already doubting my ability to live this lifestyle long term, and after also hearing that my guide was the oldest staff member ever at Wollongara when he started at the tender age of 35, I really did have serious doubts this was the job for me.

I was given a choice to dive in with helping at any of the many tasks I’d seen taking place during the grand tour. I chose the garden.


On my way in, I considered asking for some gloves to protect my precious hands – I rarely garden without them at home. But then I thought “what the hell” and got stuck in. I was invited to join in weeding a couple of raised garden beds riddled with oxalis.

I’d vaguely heard of the weed before, but had no idea how insidious a weed it is. A frail looking leafy plant on top, it spreads bulbs an astonishing depth into any garden bed it takes hold of – and unless you get as many of these bulbs out as possible, it will just come back time and time again.

So there we were – pulling off the top layer of green stuff, then digging and sifting through a foot of earth or more to seek out the bulbs. Depending on the stage of the plant’s life-cycle, these range in size from 1mm to 1cm, sometimes orange sometimes white, sometimes with astonishing translucent growths developing bizarre shapes. And we had a good old chat at the same time, with both of my fellow weeders offering compelling insights into life at the centre.

Once I got my eye in, I was astonished at how many oxalis bulbs I found – amongst the earthworms, skinks and spiders. And I watched with a strange kind of wonder and glee as my fingers became darker, and my nail beds full of the richest darkest soil I’ve seen in a long time.

Before I knew it, the collective cooee went up for lunch. After a hearty warm soup and bread, and a bit more of a chat with lots of new faces as we did the dishes afterwards, it was back to work. Alone this time I returned to the weeding, the others having found something more challenging to take on.

It wasn’t long before new faces joined me, so we chatted and dug and weeded some more. There was a stream of new faces across the afternoon – they all came for a while, settled briefly and got the hang of the job, then went again looking for something more interesting to help with! I didn’t mind; I wanted to finish what I’d started.

To be honest, I just wanted to dig.

It’s not often that I am able to completely immerse myself in a task. At work, as for most people, there are constant interruptions. Even at home I’m my own worst enemy – prepping and cooking dinner while I watch a DVD or listen to the radio and track the news, weather, sports, or my friends’ happenings on my domineering smartphone.

To be given an opportunity to slow down, turn off all those distractions and focus on one job was heavenly – meditative, therapeutic and exactly what I needed.

Cowardly though it was, I shunned the opportunity to experience the showers as evening set in, opting instead for a freshen up and then adding on layers to keep me warm for the evening ahead and eventual collapse into my sleeping bag in the bunkhouse.

Dinner was under the stars around the fire pit, shared with around 30-40 people. And it was tasty! Dessert was even better. As the night wore on, the talk around the fire offered an opportunity to reflect. There were certainly some interesting characters among the Wollangarra support network, pretty varied too, and it was on the whole an entertaining listen. I felt this was a crew I’d be happy to get to know a little better.

Creeping into the bunkhouse at I have no idea what time (but on reflection I suspect was actually probably quite early!) I fumbled about in the dark, covering my torch as much as possible to avoid disturbing others; then heaved myself up into the top bunk I’d chosen and settled down to sleep. It came quickly, despite realising that the thin mattress wasn’t providing much support for someone who’s getting a bit creaky with age and is used to a decadent physio-approved bed!

I woke during the night – again no idea what time – and now that the extreme need for sleep was gone, it was harder to get back into any kind of comfortable position to try for a second round. I tossed and turned and eventually dozed off not too long before it started getting light, when I needed to get up to catch breakfast and try to feel human again.

Fortified by herbed baked beans and drop scones, I made a beeline for the garden once more. More black fingers, more bulbs, a few fellow helpers now and then, but longer stretches on my own that morning. Which was fine by me. Tiny waggy-tail birds joined me at times, chirping away – wrens I think. I’ve never been great at flora and fauna ID!

Once each hour at least, I took a welcome break from the garden to stretch my legs, arms and back and help unload a trailer load of wood that had been pulled by tractor across the river from the site of chainsaw training earlier in the year. One of the weekend’s main tasks was compiling a massive pile of wood in readiness for the big wood chop next month (which usually attracts around 100 volunteers, and will hopefully be my next visit).

By the time we broke for morning tea, former staff member Lou, who had been working alongside me for the last hour, decided that with home-time approaching we should call it quits on oxalis and plant up the beds so that there was a chance something might grow. I couldn’t argue with that thinking!

IMG_4604An hour later we’d sowed carrot, radish, daikon, onion and parsnip seeds across the two beds. Unfortunately most of the packets (donated) were a little out of date, so it’s probably a bit hit and miss whether they’ll survive, but I look forward to finding out down the track. I’ll be happy enough if a reduced number of oxalis weeds growing back tells the story of the many hours spent hunched over those garden beds.

I continued my exploration of the site. Outside one of the huts, rucksacks were being repaired using a beautiful old treadle Singer sewing machine. It had been gifted during the 1990’s to the wife of the centre’s founder Ian Stapleton, and still had with it the original instructions booklet and guide – dated 1912. In the laundry were great old boilers, with manual wringers lined up ready next to them. It’s a whole other way of life.

After lunch, I made my way back across the river with new friends, clutching a few branches of a trimmed bay tree, and re-joined Sweetie for the long drive home. I was physically exhausted but felt calm and reflective, and so happy I’d made the trek across the state to be there.

As for the job vacancy, well by the time day two dawned the whole purpose of the place hit home with a jolt. The core purpose of the centre is to take groups of teenagers out into the wilderness on hikes, or to undertake practical conservation work with them, and to introduce them to a simpler way of life than our hectic modern-life pace allows.

As rewarding as I’m sure the job would be, and though I find the people who do it inspiring, there are a number of problems with being part of that central purpose for me: a huge physical component of work for an understrength and ageing body; lots of people descending on the place regularly; the time-consuming ways of living and job demands that I could see would leave me little room to write; and lots of teenagers.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t dislike teenagers especially! But I simply am not used to them. I’ve spent so much of the past few years on my own, that adjusting to any kind of regular company is often a struggle. The extra exuberance, ego and attitude you often find with a group of teens – even (or especially?) ones who are out of their comfort zone – would no doubt be a huge test.

I got the distinct impression that I might just end up feeling, well … old!

So it’s back to the drawing board on the job front.

At least I know now there’s a magical place I can go from time to time to disconnect from the 21st century and re-connect with the simple and important basics – good company, extraordinary people, wholesome food, inspiring surroundings, and a considered and thoughtful lifestyle. I feel certain it won’t be my last visit to Wollangarra.


PS. I also now realise I can just turn my phone computer and TV off when I need a break from the modern world. I’d forgotten that! 🙂

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Life is a beach

IMG_4194I miss the beach desperately. It’s taken a good while to realise it, if I’m honest. But these last few weeks, during my second inland summer in Australia, it has hit me with a vengeance.

So, despite having made a commitment two weeks ago to get serious about writing, and despite having a stack of stories in my head just waiting to be transcribed, instead I’ve been driving two hours each way these last two weekends so I can breathe in the sea air, get sand between my toes and dive beneath the water.


It’s helped me plan my future out a little more too. My next job has to be in a seaside location. No more inland living for me, it’s just not in my blood and I’m not remotely cut out for it. I guess being born and raised by the beautiful unspoilt beaches of Geraldton was bound to have some kind of effect like this. So I’ve been looking around for places that inspire me as possible future homes.

Last weekend I was drawn to the western end of the Great Ocean Road – starting at Port Campbell, then checked out Peterborough and some of the isolated bays west of there, such as the Bay of Martyrs, before ending up at Warrnambool.

I like Warrnambool – it feels a bit like my hometown of Geraldton, only bigger. The other morning I was amused to hear on the radio they were running the annual Undi 500 race down the main street of the town – in which the competitors have to race in their undies, and with the Mayor amongst them. The place obviously has a good sense of humour. Victorian friends have told me I ought to go there on a windy miserable stormy day, and then decide if I still want to live there! Maybe that’s why you need a sense of humour to live there.

This weekend its been Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula. I reckon this is the place for me in Victoria. In fact, as I write this I’m sitting at Barwon Heads, 7pm on a Sunday night, unable to drag myself away to start the two hour drive home. Checking the weather back in Beaufort, I see it’s still 38 degrees there, while here it’s a very comfortable 30. Not much incentive to hit the road just yet…


Last night I stayed in Geelong – having had trouble finding a caravan park by a beach where I could stay just for one night, I settled for one by the Barwon River in Geelong. It was a fabulous location, and after my dinner I enjoyed a beautiful walk along the wide attractive river, which has walking / cycling tracks along both banks and a rowing course at its heart through Barwon Valley Park. I could certainly imagine living near there and spending many enjoyable mornings and evenings running or cycling, as evidently many locals do. It was a busy place last night.

This morning I arranged to meet a friend at Ocean Grove beach. When I arrived there was a thick sea fog, which eventually cleared to present a gorgeous hot sunny day. There was a Disabled Surfers Association event in progress at the beach, which was incredibly special to see.

I hear time and time again that volunteerism is dead – that you can’t find people willing to get involved and give their time for a good cause these days, especially gen X and gen Y. This initiative proves that theory comprehensively wrong.

With all the volunteers decked out in bright blue rashies, you can clearly see the impressive number of them on the beach. They all play a role in giving every person with a disability – whatever that disability may be – an opportunity to experience the joy of surfing. It’s just so inspiring to see.

I liked Ocean Grove beach too – a long enough stretch of uninterrupted sandy beach front to feel something like the freedom of my more familiar Western Australian beaches, though the number of people crowded in here is pretty alien. I also thought it had just the right amount of development to make it accessible and with the kind of facilities you’d want (nice to get a good takeaway coffee to take down on to the beach with us) without being too over the top and compromising the natural beauty of the place.

IMG_4201Probably my favourite beach discovery of the day is Point Lonsdale. Finally I found something to rival my favourite Perth beach of Cottesloe – with beachfront parking just perfect for Sweetie and I to spend a couple of hours, shade, parkland and a friendly accessible beach, plus some shops and cafes for interest. A bit genteel for some, and sometimes I love a place with more of a wild feel about it, but today it was just right for my lunch stop.

Later I discovered the less busy beaches either side of the lighthouse and wished I hadn’t spent quite so much time at the overpopulated front beach! But they’ll keep – I’ll be back that’s for sure.

So anyway, Bellarine Peninsula visit number one a success, and there will no doubt be more occasions this lovely little part of Victoria will be seeing me. Now, I guess I better think about hitting the road sometime…

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The horror of bushfire

There are a few clouds in the sky, but most of the dullness in this view facing west from Beaufort is due to smoke.


The northern Grampians area is under siege by a huge out of control bushfire. After 5 days of temperatures above 40 degrees, the cool change that’s on the way will be accompanied by extreme winds – they say up to 120kms per hour. Multiple towns have been evacuated, including the tourist town of Halls Gap, which was expected to be hit around 7pm tonight, and even Pomonal 12km further east from the fire’s current location. One person is confirmed dead already – a body found in a burnt out house in Roses Gap, which was hit yesterday.

You can see how dead my "lawn" is (weeds really). The countryside even worse.

You can see how dead my “lawn” is (weeds really). The countryside is even worse.

Halls Gap is around 90km away by road. And yet the smoke here in Beaufort is so thick that outside it’s uncomfortable to breathe and I, for one, will be staying indoors for quite some time. And although it’s finally cooling down enough to consider opening doors and windows and turning off the air-con, I certainly won’t be doing that.

It’s incredibly sobering.

Although I am at no direct risk from this fire, I am starting to gain some small understanding of the horror of the Black Saturday fire events that hit this state in February 2009, which I watched from the detachment and safety of coastal Western Australia.

Having recently undertaken training through work in preparation for staffing an emergency relief centre here should the need arise, I am now on standby in case additional centres and staff are needed in Ararat or Stawell to assist with the relief effort for the Grampians fire.

The most disturbing thing of all is that this will by no means be the end of it. Although we just had a short shower here 5 minutes ago – quite bizarre really – the long term forecast shows no hope of any decent rain for at least the next six weeks. So the bushfire risk is only going to increase. To be honest I don’t even know how safe or otherwise I am here in the centre of Beaufort township. This is such an alien landscape for me to understand.


This is life in rural Australia.

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Wine region worries

It’s taken me the best part of two months to get over the experiences enough to write about them. But it’s time I shared.

From mid September through to mid October it so happened that I visited four different wine regions. Boy am I committed to research for my job! 😉

First was the Coonawarra, which all went swimmingly. Then a few weeks later while my wine-appreciating friend Dave was visiting in early October we explored Heathcote, Yarra Valley and my own current home region of the Pyrenees.

Whilst fun, the three regions in one week turned out to be a bad idea for me. I don’t know 100% that there was a link between the wine and my clumsiness / misfortune … I’ll let you be the judge.

Let me just say this first – wine festivals are dangerous! And the Heathcote Shiraz Heaven wine and food festival was no exception.

Especially when you decide to pay for premium entry – which gets you a huge tasting glass – and there’s around 40 wineries pouring tastings of their wares, and it’s a gorgeous warm sunny spring day, and you realise around 11:30 that you’re already feeling a bit tipsy!

IMG_3661And perhaps most dangerously of all – when your entry includes a seat at a shiraz masterclass led by Nick Stock – comparing Heathcote shiraz with others from around Australia and the world.  There you are, a captive audience, with 12 tastings in 1.5 hours. Doesn’t sound like much, but it sure took its toll!

I know, I know – you can still taste without downing it, and that’s what I should have done! But I just can’t get my head around the indignity in spitting, or the waste of the precious stuff.

IMG_3658The masterclass was excellent by the way – I was a bit concerned I’d be out of my depth, not being either a huge shiraz fan (usually a white or sparkling kind of girl) or particularly knowledgeable or discerning when it comes to wine.

But Nick made it really accessible and fun – definitely not too wanky!

Despite eating all sorts of different things throughout the day, being in a red region and only trying whites/sparklings outside the masterclass, and trying to drink as much water as possible, by 4pm I was totally done for. We eventually retired to the caravan park by about 5pm (how I didn’t fall off my bike on the way is a complete mystery to me) and I barely moved for the rest of the night – incapacitated would probably be the best description. Not sick, but not in good form.

I did manage to win a $50 gift voucher though by shamelessly tweeting about the Coliban Water tank!

I did manage to win a $50 gift voucher though by shamelessly tweeting about the Coliban Water tank!

Dave still managed to toddle off to the Heathcote Wine Hub for some cider tasting then make dinner for us both. Handy accomplice to have. 🙂 I felt a little better after eating and offered to do the dishes, only to take a tumble in the dark after failing to negotiate a small ditch between our van and the amenities block. Dishes flying but fortunately I was still nicely “relaxed”, landed on grass and no one saw me – so no harm done.

The following day – and with me feeling more than a bit grey – we toddled off to the Yarra Valley and checked into our lovely caravan park there before dusting off the bikes again to cycle into Healesville and explore.

Before we could even get out of the park, I had a spectacular fall – and not even a single drink in me! I tried to follow Dave up a fairly steep hill, but misjudged negotiating the small rise from a roadway onto a path around the rec room, and went splat sideways.

I’ve had many falls from my bike, but this was probably the slowest, most embarrasing and most painful fall I’ve ever had. And as I later learned, it was also to ruin my attempt to take on the main event at Run From the Hills by somehow upsetting some normally innocuous tendons or ligaments (I can never remember the difference) deep inside my foot. I still have a lump on my right shin.

After lots of swearing, some first aid, much deep breathing and a change of clothes, we started out again – only to be attacked by a persistently aggressive magpie as we approached the town. Not Dave and I mind you – just me. It even had the smarts to attack me from the side instead of only getting my helmet, and I copped a peck on the cheek. Glad I had my glasses on…

As we sat a small time later at the White Rabbit brewery in Healesville enjoying a Sunday afternoon beer (by far the pick of our experiences in that town), I honestly began to wonder what unwritten rule I had broken? Sadly that wasn’t the end of my stupidity/misfortune.

Later that night, relaxing after dinner, I leaned into the front of the van to look for something and discovered the interior light wasn’t working. Worried that maybe the battery was flat, I went around to do what I had done hundreds of time when I was travelling on my own – opened the drivers door, put my foot on the accelerator and started the van to give it a few revs.

I didn’t know Dave had left it parked in first gear.

Yep you get the picture. Scared the shite of myself and Dave as the van lurched forward, red wine spilling all over the bed in the process. My brain was so befuddled (I wasn’t drunk, promise! but if you’d had a day like I had…) that I was too slow to work out what was happening and react to stop it. Our bikes were chained to the roobar: multiple buckled wheels. We had the awning attached: ropes and pegs went flying. I was lucky to work out how to stop the lurch before I risked doing a Malcolm Douglas on the approaching tree.

So eventually we put everything back to right (except the bike wheels, which ended up being a costly repair/replace exercise involving a local bike shop, but at least that meant I didn’t have that option to hurt myself for a good while!) and went to bed.

Next day we hit the road to explore some tastes of the Yarra – found a gem at the lovely little Maddens Rise cellar door, which we vastly preferred to Chandon (stunning location but too big and cold and impersonal – we even went there twice planning to do a tour, and decided we couldn’t stay long enough) or any of the others to be honest. A great recommendation from some Brits we had met in Heathcote.

The loveliest Yarra cellar door - Maddens Rise

The loveliest Yarra cellar door we found – Maddens Rise

At one point that afternoon we stopped outside a cellar door to eat some lovely cheese, crackers and snacks we had with us. For some ridiculous reason we were using the newest sharpest knife I own to spread blue cheese on crackers as we ate. Sure enough – a cracker breaks and the knife slices straight into my little finger. I thought the blood might never stop! The second requirement in two days of the first aid kit that until then had largely sat untouched in the front cab since my travels started.

I’ve often said it, but really wish I was wrong – I don’t do things by half!

By comparison my home region of the Pyrenees treated me well. I did end up committing myself to buy four cases a year by joining a wine club, something I never ever planned to do – ever!  But I guess I can live with that.

First delivery of my celebratory Taltarni Key Club membership...

First delivery of my celebratory Taltarni Key Club membership…

Maybe it was a subconscious celebration of surviving the Yarra. I think I may never go back – way too dangerous.

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Tassie time

Good morning from sunny Hobart!


Well, Hobart is somewhere over the other side of that hill in the background. And yes I am in a t-shirt and bare feet, and its glorious!

I’m on seven mile beach, east of Hobart – it’s near Sorrel I think. I woke up early with aches and pains from yesterday’s run, despite a good nights sleep at the fancy schmancy Wyndham Resort where I’m staying for a few days with my parents, aunt and uncle.

After a soothing bath, and finding the olds all still asleep I decided to come check out the beach and do some cartwheels. As you do! It helps loosen up my shoulders and neck. Wow, totally worth it. I really miss the beach.

And I love Tassie! Looking to forward to whatever the next three days have in store.

Now, back to the unit to see if anyone is awake to let me in…

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Run From the Hills – to a winery!


Well, there they go. Three coach loads of intrepid trail runners, heading for the start line of their half marathon, which they’ll find at the top of the Pyrenees State Forest.

And no, I’m not with them. 😦 I’m super disappointed, having learned of the event early this year, committed to it in March and registered months ago. But the body just wasn’t going to manage it.

I was relatively on track with my training until I fell off my bike a month ago (more on that soon) and managed to hurt my foot. It only hurts when I run downhill. This race has 1500m high loss, so I guess that just wouldn’t be very sensible!

So today I’m just going to do a relatively sedate and flat 7km round the vineyard race instead.

Great to see so many people in little Avoca today – nearly 300 registered for this event alone I understand. And in the main town there’s a large pétanque tournament running for the weekend, they were setting up as I passed through.

Here’s a few more shots of the race village for you, I’m off to warm up for the race!




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