Below is a brief summary to highlight some of the key aspects of my journey til now. Just ignore if you’re not interested in old news, I won’t be offended. 🙂 From this point on I’ll only bring you news as it happens, promise!
4 July – I can’t clearly describe the feelings I had on finally leaving behind the Perth environs. True, I’d been staying in the rural edge (Oakford, near Byford) most of the month I was there – but the hum of highways, roads, airports and seemingly endless new housing developments was still ever-present. When I hit the south-west highway and was firmly entrenched in proper rural country, I felt home. Which is strange, considering it looked nothing like home! but it still had that feeling of open air and big sky, and far less traffic. I guess that’s when it was totally cemented for me that this journey would be one dominated by regional areas, not cities. I’m really happy about that decision.
9 July – finally striking out on my own, after 5 nights (was supposed to be 2) staying with Chiara in Margaret River. A great visit, not without some stress and anxiety (Monkey, the sick chicken at the place she was house-sitting, being the no1 concern!) but it was great to spend some time with Chiara. She has such amazingly positive energy and a real can-do attitude, it was just what I needed! Margaret River appealed to me more than I expected it to – last time I’d spent a few days there I hadn’t been overly excited. But still – for me – just a little too busy and something not quite right for me – though I can’t quite put my finger on it…
I had intended staying four days or so in Augusta, but again ended up staying much longer. It took a good three days for me to even attempt to settle down into some kind of routine that would allow me to be halfway productive with my time – resulting in eventually working out how to make a blog happen. 🙂 Augusta was a pleasant place to be and I enjoyed pottering about and exploring, trying to get a handle on what the community is like.
I’ve come to realise that this is one of my driving forces. I’m not content to just sit back and relax when visiting a new place, or just to visit the obvious attractions. I’m more likely to be seen checking out the local library, CRC, community notice boards, local rags etc – trying to get a feel for how the community ticks. Maybe even trying to get involved to some extent. Perhaps it’s partly because I am on the lookout for a potential new community to settle within – or perhaps its just habit, as I have moved around quite a bit in my adult life.
On the way to Augusta I did a tour of the Lake Cave, which was interesting. I found myself critiquing the tour guide as much as I was listening to what he was saying. He had an odd way about him. He obviously knew a lot and had a wicked dry sense of humour, but seemed a bit jaded and not overly concerned with whether he was doing the best job of engaging his audience. As a recently qualified tour guide, and likely to work in this field sooner or later I hope, it was an interesting learning point.
Once in Augusta, the only attraction I visited was the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse – cycled out there on a blustery day, got stung at the cafe on discovering the turkey and cranberry panini I’d ordered cost $15! ouch. it was tasty, but I can’t work out where a price like that comes from. The coffee I had there was one of the tastiest of my journey so far though – kudos! The tour itself was interesting and I enjoyed wondering around the settlement etc. but boy was it cold! Cycling back, I noticed a cruise boat hovering in Flinders Bay – sure enough, right by it was a humpback whale – only about 50m offshore so I got a good look.
My overall impression of Augusta is of a sound little community with lots of evidently active community groups and reasonable lifestyle possibilities. Stunning location. Perhaps just a tad too small and isolated? My last full day in Augusta brought the best weather yet, and I enjoyed sitting in the Augusta Hotel setting up my blog over a couple of drinks, watching the sun glint off the estuary and the distant ocean.
17 July – eventually I figured I’d better leave Augusta! It was slow going through the southern forests, with lots of hills giving Sweetie (affectionately known as the brick on wheels!) a hard time. Ironically, as I listened to talk back radio they discussed how annoying and dangerous slow drivers are. After a brief stop in Pemberton to get a national parks holiday pass (4 weeks) and work out some kind of plan of attack, I continued on to Manjimup for the night. I had intended going south from Pemberton instead to check out the Understory sculpture trail at Northcliffe first, but the weather was cold and drizzly and in the end I just didn’t fancy being outdoors. What a softie!
I feel bad, but I really don’t have much positive to say about Manjimup. It feels like a depressed community, and I was starting to feel depressed too. The highlights of my two night stay were cycling out to Deanmill (the most recently active milling operation / mill community) – especially the return journey on the forestry road with the occasional field of grazing cows watching my progress; a fantastic burger from the deli at the Manjimup Central Caravan Park where I stayed; and the excellent aquatic centre where I enjoyed a good swim on my way out of town. Lowlights were the lack of any kind of interpretation once I got to Deanmill (it is history in the making surely?) the Timber Museum (exciting new building, tired old content); Timber Park (which included a quaint historical village where the displays looked unloved, and a gorgeous new-ish building that looked abandoned – what a waste); and my fan heater dying at 6:30pm the night I arrived! It got down to about 1 degree that night… ouch.
My overall impression is that a Manjimup is a town that can’t even muster up any interest in itself, let alone inspire the same from others. The guy I saw at the visitor centre came across as apathetic. The last time I passed the visitor centre, I noted him standing outside with two other people smoking – the phone was ringing in the centre but none of them seemed interested in going to answer it. One of the ladies I recognised as having been pretty much in that same spot on 3 of the 4 occasions I passed that way – was she, I wonder, supposed to be working at the visitor centre too? Or just the resident “smoker on the street”?
It’s a shame. I appreciate that the community must be having a hard time, with all the timber milling operations that had employed the majority of the town and been its driving industry gradually closing one by one. But the town and environs must surely have hundreds of fascinating stories to tell, historic and emerging ones – if only someone had the imagination and drive to make it happen and see that this was a potential alternative to keep the town alive…
19 July – so, leaving Manjimup, and happily! Bridgetown beckoned, with fond memories of my experiences at Blues at Bridgetown in November 2008. It has not disappointed. One of my favourite venues of the festival was The Cidery, and having discovered that they have a Friday sundowner session with live local music, that was a no-brainer. I was fortunate to be invited to join a table by a couple of super friendly local ladies – Ingrid and Eileen – and had a really good chat with them during the night, as well as meeting their friends and acquaintances – including some of the musicians. It was a great night for me, particularly as it inspired me to dig out the piano, which I’ve so far been dragging around the country more as a penance than a useful or necessary tool for life!
After winning the wood raffle yesterday 🙂 I bumped into Eileen again at a high tea at Ford House, which was all about raising funds for Henri Nouwen House – the local crisis centre offering counselling, drug and alcohol services and much more. I ended up buying two scarves, inspired by the accessories fashion parade. (I had been looking for scarves, so not too naughty of me!). A fun event, even for an outsider. Ford House is a beautiful and fascinating place – the WAG shop is just dangerous though! too much nice stuff.
I’ve been writing this entry from the Bridgetown Hotel where I’ve enjoyed a decadent dinner – finishing with a decaf frangelico affogato! – and extraordinarily good service. Its a top place. They are advertising vacancies at the moment, super tempting to stay in Bridgetown a while… And as I’ve sat here, Pat – one of the owners of The Cidery who Ingrid introduced to me the other night – has come over to say hello, introduced his wife and we’ve had a chat. Such a friendly place, definitely its top of my list so far, and I suspect will stay there for a good while yet!