Dreamtime Journey Coach At Drayton, S E Qld.

I’m a little concerned that my last post about the Miles Franklin Award winning book, Too Much Lip, may have provided too many negative connotations about our First Australians.

So I thought I’de even the score by sharing a positive Indigenous experience from my recent road trip.

DownsSteam Tourist Railway & Museum is located at Drayton, an outer southwestern suburb of Toowoomba, South East Queensland, which makes it a perfect day trip to escape from the Big Smoke.

Toowoomba is on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, around 700 metres (2,300 ft) above sea level. This makes it substantially cooler, or less humid, than Brisbane with defined seasonal changes. Thus, the annual Carnival of Flowers to which those on the coastal fringe have been flocking each September to view the beautiful gardens for the past 70 years.

Operated by the Darling Downs Historical Railway Society and staffed wholly by volunteers, DownsStream Tourist Railway and Museum is dedicated to the establishment and preservation of a tourist railway for the Darling Downs region.

And the big bonus? You don’t have to be a train buff to enjoy this environment – it’s got this really pleasant vibe…..

The gardens are beautiful, you can enjoy a coffee on the station, and view the restoration of Toowooomba’s very own steam locomotive the “Pride of Toowoomba” which was built locally in 1915. After a little more than a century and well over a million miles steaming her way around Queensland, this once proud steam engine is now the only one of her class not to be scrapped. She is being restored to fully operational condition by volunteer craftsmen for mainline tours across the Darling Downs. (Keep an eye open for updates : there’s plans for train travel to the Granite Belt for wine tasting).

You can even enjoy a light lunch in one of the rail carriages!

The highlight of my visit was a tour of the Dreamtime Journey Coach which is a fascinating insight into Indigenous culture.

To acknowledge the contribution made by the indigenous workers to the construction of the railway up the range, an indigenous inmate from the Westbrook Correctional Centre volunteered to paint one of our carriages as part of his prison rehabilitation program.

Inmate “Domi” commenced painting the carriage in 2012, taking 19 weeks to complete his awe-inspiring, unique Indigenous Art Gallery on wheels (static exhibit).

The coach depicts the Aboriginal theme based on ‘Baiami’ who created the earth and all the wonderful landscape, mountains, lakes, rivers, billabongs, oceans and islands.

Experiencing our ‘Dreamtime Journey Coach’ is to take a spiritual journey from dawn to dusk. Domi’s paintings represent the traverse of a day, starting from the entrance with the orange and yellow colours of the dawn, then in the middle of the carriage the bright colours of the day and the other end of the carriage with the pink and purple colours of the dusk.

                – from website http://www.downstream.com

The twenty minute tour of this carriage, which included an explanation of characters, symbolism and meaning, tells a truly interesting and colourful story. Add to MUST DO LIST.

Located at 16 Cambooya Street, Drayton

Note : No, I do not collect tea towels. Not even good at using them.

Fromage blanc, Camels and Conniptions -Part 1

A road trip just days into Spring and we’re already hitting temperatures reminiscent of Summer. This apparently means that bushfires are our new normal and there have been multiple blazes raging across Queensland and New South Wales for the past few days. Not fun on the wide open roads nor those that are winding, single lane through the country but more on that later.

First port of call was only 45 minutes from Brisbane, just outside the small town of Harrisville, off the Cunningham Highway. 

Summer Land Camels is absolutely fascinating and well worth a visit. Yes, camels. Those ugly big things that spit. Really interesting – who knew? 

And camels don’t spit. That’s Alpacas, their cousins. Bulls get frothy mouths when they’re “romantically inclined”.

This Camel farm is the biggest in Australia and third biggest in the world. They milk them on site to produce cheese, yoghurt and gelato – Camel gelato for goodness sake ! – as well as skincare products and leather goods.

The tour around the milking facilities is well worth taking and I was fortunate to learn all the goss from one of the partners of the enterprise who has a background in Biochemistry, Physiology diagnostics with a particular expertise in the innate immune system, gut and organ health, Nuclear Medicine, Physiotherapy and Masters in Sports Science. Seriously, it was love at first adjective.

I was totally ignorant of the fact that Australia had a Camel Corp in World War 1 that participated in the Charge for Beersheba. This means that they’re  going to have to remake the movie The Lighthorsemen and I have to drop by the Library ASAP.

So yeah, there’s all these other touristy activities that you can participate in, like feeding the beasts or going on a camel ride. See here for more information : http://www.summerlandcamels.com.au

I enjoyed a Devonshire Tea with homemade jam and Fromage blanc courtesy of the camels.

So this was a truly enjoyable start to my road trip with my excitement only heightened when I learned that the property used to be the residence of Australian filmmaker, Charles Chauvel. There may have been a hint of conniptions when told that Errol Flynn was an overnight guest before his Hollywood days.

Next trip I will take an esky and ice and purchase some Camel meat. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a Camel recipe but I’de give it a go. My daughters haven’t yet forgiven me for serving up Roasted Skippy with baked veges. A Mother’s payback.

Summer Land Camels is located at 8 Charles Chauvel Drive, Harrisville, Qld.

Next time : maracas, bushfires, and The Breaker.

Possums and Owls

I’m not good with neighbours. I like space.

So when I downsized  it was imperative to live near some Open land. Which I found. My pocket handkerchief property borders a wildlife corridor, and more importantly due to their declining numbers, a Koala corridor. I have wallabies that visit, blue tongue lizards and water dragons, drongos, scrub turkeys, magpies and kookaburras that drop by for the fresh water that is left out for them.

Swamp Wallaby

I had lived only three kilometres away for over twenty years and it wasn’t until I went for a walk through my back gate that I discovered a nearby platypus sanctuary. I kid you not. Platypus. Long time locals are still unaware of its existence!

And then there are the possums. 

I have always had a soft spot for possums having grown up in a bush setting in a little Sydney suburb since destroyed by progress with its inclination for fountains with urinating cherubs and concrete lions by the front gate. Memories of my mother, who died when I was a kid, include feeding injured possums that escaped the bushfires by braving sharks and swimming across the river to safety. I’ve been putting out spare fruit, vegetables and sandwiches ever since.

It’s Springtime now and the possums are carrying their babies on their backs. I’m continuing to put out feed though not every night as they  mustn’t become dependant. 

But our weather is playing havoc and we are still suffering drought. Three hours away the country towns will be without water for Christmas. An hour west the creeks have turned to mud and people are busy trying to relocate turtles and eels to save their lives.

In my own piece of bushland there is little blossom on the trees thanks to the lack of rain. This means that there are more possums (and flying fox). My local council also carried out a huge chemical spray operation to avoid any legal entanglements once bushfire season started so we lost many of the scrub mammals and lizards that live amongst the undergrowth. (And no, I’m not a mad greenie though question why we are still using pesticides banned in other countries, but I digress……)

When I retired one of the first things I did was sign up to assist a study being undertaken by an academic from the local university into Powerful Owls. All these years and I’ve only ever seen one of these owls once. So why not? I’m surrounded by Bush and enjoy learning from our environment.

Powerful Owls ( minoxidil strenua) are listed on the Nature Conservation Act of Queensland as vulnerable. Ever seen one? They are massive with a three foot wing span and talons. And you know their favourite tucker? 

Possums.

The past few nights I’ve spotted half a dozen Powerful Owls sitting on the back fence awaiting the nightly arrival of possums. It’s their equivalent of a smorgasbord.

Second day of Spring and it’s expected to hit 33degrees Celsius tomorrow.

No need to panic. The neighbours are all out washing their cars on their driveways.

Maryborough and a Touch of Whimsey : Part 1

Maryborough is 300kms north of Brisbane, inland on the Mary River, and positioned between those tourist mecca’s, Hervey Bay and the Sunshine Coast. Founded in 1847, proclaimed a municipality in 1861, it became a city in 1905. During the second half of the 19th-century, the city was an entry point for immigrants arriving in Queensland from all parts of the world.

Maryborough’s income comes from numerous farming and station prospects in and around the city and it’s healthy fishing industry. Tourism also plays a significant part in the economy and sells itself as the Heritage City of Queensland  holding heritage markets each Thursday. Many 19th and 20th century buildings have been preserved and the suburbs are littered with the quintessential old Queenslander homes, ( which a Danish friend described as a “wooden s***box on stilts”) and which are worth a small fortune.

However, Maryborough’s real claim to fame is as the birth place of whom? Here’s a clue……

And another, in case that one was a little obtuse….

Yep, P L Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books lived in Maryborough before moving elsewhere at age eight. Her father managed a bank, in the building where, in a room on the second storey, she was born. This is in the centre of town and still in use, no longer as a bank but as a retail shop. A life-size bronze statue of Mary Poppins, as P.L. Travers described her, complete with umbrella was erected outside the old bank premises at 331 Kent Street, on the corner of Richmond Street, in 2005. 

It is now one of Maryborough’s most famous and photographed icons.

From dusk till 9pm every night there is an illuminated mural that is simply enchanting. ( I was between tea and a show so without camera – Damn!) Here’s another mural – the joint is jumping with them!

But there’s more – we Aussies are adept at flogging a dead horse, you see.

Every winter school holidays for the past ten years Maryborough has held a Mary Poppins Festival. The Festival offers something for all the family. The ‘Art of Storytelling’ program includes film, art, music, performance and literature during the 10-day event. Events are held in various locations across the CBD as well as heritage-listed Queens Park.

Maryborough, thank you for your hospitality. It was a lovely visit.

I do so love our country towns and learn something new at each and every one.LIFE LESSON : Get away from the cricket on the telly and help our farmers and country cousins by spending a few bob in their towns. You’ll be blown away by some of the stories these townships can share.

Following The Festivals

When it comes to throwing a party, general celebration and epic public events, Aussies do it as well as anyone. Throughout the year in every corner of the country, you’ll find a huge range of events and festivals showcasing everything from art, music, sport, writing and Aboriginal culture to film, comedy, dance, food and beer. Lots of food and beer.

With retirement I seemed to have slipped into the practise of chasing local festivals. Not having to worry about getting home late on a school night is so liberating after thirty odd years of pre-dawn getups.

This week I enjoyed a function for the Bris Funny Fest (which differs from the Brisbane Comedy Festival in that it showcases emerging performers putting on a show for the first time.) Next week is Seniors Week and I have tickets to a series of old time radio shows at the local museum. “Dad and Dave” – who remembers them?

I’m particularly enjoying the Festivals held in country towns. With Australia suffering such debilitating drought – with a dam at less than 25% capacity the Granite Belt is unlikely, for the first time ever, to produce any wine next year – so many farmers are going under and our country cousins are doing it tough. The three day Camel and Culture Weekend at Tara in Queensland’s Western Downs last week brought a much needed economic boost to the township as well as purpose.

It’s the Peter Allen Festival in country Tenterfield next month, followed by a Baroque Festival in Victoria, and daughter of mine, Cait’s Classics, if you are reading this I thought Floriade, the huge flower festival in the nations capital would be fun. (Can we go to that gin joint again? Pleeeeeease)

Now that I’m getting into the swing of being gainfully unemployed I will be better organised next year. I’ll even print a calendar of events to stick on the fridge. The Darwin Cup next August is already booked as is an Eastern Arnhem Land adventure to learn more First Australian culture. Oh, and the passport is getting a run for its money too…..

Retirements tough.

Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan

I’m currently wading through David Cameron’s The Battle Of Long Tan to better gauge the historical accuracy of the movie released this week, Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan.

Set in Vietnam in 1966 the 1st Australian Task Force headed by Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) is set up in Nui Dat where patrols are sent out into the local countryside. One night the camp is attacked by mortars and while the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery are able to target them, the 1st Field Regiment need to follow up the next day to find the source. Alpha Company don’t find anything, so Harry Smith’s (Travis Fimmel) Delta Company is sent out to chase them down while a rock show – with Little Pattie and Col Joye and the Joy Boys- is happening back at camp and with monsoonal rain forecast.

All goes well until at the rubber plantation at Long Tan the 11th Platoon of D Company comes under heavy fire and it is soon discovered that this is not just a raiding party but a full battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers fight for their lives against 2000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

My initial qualms were about how this would stack up against the big money American movies. And you know what? There was plenty of blood and guts though the point that war is ugly was made without the focus on missing body parts. Bravo.

The Battle is also told through the eyes of Harry Smith and the other leaders on the ground which means that the audience is in on the tactics. Thank you, producers, for taking into consideration that we don’t all have military backgrounds.

This is a very Australian (and Kiwi) movie and the young larrikins come across as brash until they find themselves under fire. The language is littered with colloquialisms  though I admit to being thrown by “ we’re not here to **** a spider”.

Strong performances by all concerned. Reviews are raving about Travis Fimmel’s performance. I found his eyes so mesmerising that I tended to lose focus for a moment or two – a bit Paul Newman-ish.

Whilst this movie didn’t enlighten me any as to the whys and wherefores of this war, it did perpetuate the ANZAC ideals of mateship, larrikinism, and sheer courage.

What I did learn was that the Artillery at Nui Dat fired almost non-stop for 5 hours in support of the battle and that artillery fire was eventually being brought in “Danger Close” to within 50 metres of the Australian position.

And also that the helicopter pilots were as mad as cut snakes.  I’m now chasing a copy of (pilot) Dr Bob Grandin’s book. See here: 

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-helicopter-pilot-remembers-the-terrifying-battle-of-long-tan-as-new-film-premieres-20190613-p51xkx.html

I like a movie which leaves me curious. Vietnam was not discussed in schools back in the day. No political agendas. How things have changed….

I hope that these (now old) men receive the respect that they perhaps did not have previously.

Tip: Don’t rush out of the theatre. Read the screen right till the end. This is when you’ll be privy to a few sobs. Sitting in the dark in the quiet, I felt as if I’de been winded. 

***********

Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on the 18th of August, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan for the men of D Company, 6RAR.

On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR, honouring the 18 Australians who lost their lives.

In 2017 the Vietnamese Government made the decision to hand the cross back to Australia, as a gesture of “goodwill” (following a political incident which barred Veterans from visiting the cross in Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the event. Just one of those little “incidents” that we must gloss over). It is now on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Two Good Ol’ Girls

It’s officially been the warmest July (winter) on record though we’ve still lost a couple of Australian Icons.

Last week we lost MARGARET FULTON, aged 94 years. Scottish-born Fulton was the first food and cooking writer in Australia, a journalist, and commentator, with 25 cookbooks to her name.

She was awarded the Medal of Australia in 1983 “ in recognition of service to the media as a journalist and writer in the field of cookery”. In 1998, Fulton was added to the list of 100 Australian Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia.

In all honesty, I never owned a copy, though my m-i-l swore by hers and probably prevented my death by poisoning.

A personal thanks to Ms Fulton who single handedly changed Australian cuisine from post Depression “ meat and three veg”, and for showing my mother’s generation that afternoon tea did not mean freshly picked radishes from the garden, curly celery – My God, do you remember this? – a packet of Jatz crackers, and a salt shaker. 

Only days ago we lost 89 year old DORIS GODDARD. 

Goddard, the legendary publican who was known for putting the Hollywood in Sydney’s beloved Hollywood Hotel, Surry Hills, which she purchased in 1977 before the suburb was gentrified (and in the days when I was too fearful to walk those streets). She cemented herself as a Sydney icon, famous for pulling out her guitar and serenading fellow drinkers at the bar.

As a young woman Goddard travelled the world as a cabaret singer and actress playing bit-parts opposite the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Mel Gibson, Piper Laurie, Bob Hope and Sid James.

At this year’s Vivid festival held in Sydney Goddard was honoured when the Hollywood was made a canvas for visual effects house Heckler’s 50 Iconic Women projection. Goddard herself was inducted as the 51st iconic woman, alongside the likes of Kate Moss, Brigitte Bardot, Amy Winehouse and Queen Elizabeth II.

My favourite memory of Goddard is in the role of a Danish shot-putter opposite Bill Travers in Geordie, released in 1955.

Geordie is one of those nice little movies. No saloon brawls, no profanities, no car chases, no explosives. Remember those? The book of the same name was written by David Harry Walker a Scottish-born Canadian novelist.

It is the account of a young Highlander saddled in boyhood with the title Wee, for obvious reasons, and of the astounding results which followed a course of body building. He becomes the top-ranked hammer thrower at the Highland Games and is chosen to represent the UK in the Olympics at Melbourne, Australia. Of course, he wants to compete in his kilt which becomes an issue.

Thirty one years ago I gave my daughter Geordie as her middle name.  Damn those hormones. 

Only a few years ago a reporter asked Ms Goddard the secret of her success.

Sweetheart,” she said, “I have been happy no matter where I am. You have to make the f***ing most of what you’ve got on the day you’ve got it. No one’s going to give it to you.”  

Bless ‘em.