Sunday, October 22, 2017

Australia Day 2017 - in wonderful Orroroo

Remiss. Sitting in my files, needing to go on the record.

My 2017 experience as an Australia Day Ambassador.

A belated posting of my official report to the Australia Day Council.

Orroroo and Carrieton lie in the upper mid north of South Australia on the road to Hawker and the Flinders Ranges. They’re pretty much the last stop before we start thinking Outback. Orroroo sits right where the Goyder Line divides

the state between arid and rural and Goyder is much remembered and respected as one of the icon’s of the town history. A superb corrugated iron sculpture of him sits on the outskirts of the town.

It is wheat and sheep country of highest quality and the agricultural properties one sees on the road up from Adelaide are impeccable in every way. The high-tech harvesting and ploughing have transformed much of the handsome undulating landscape into a patchwork of beautifully-worked swirls and stripes. Haysheds stand full to the roof with neatly packed bales of golden hay. Sheep in their masses graze on vast acreages, their wool always blending with the hue of that particular land. Cattle, also graze on the expansive pastures.

Orroroo itself is a quiet town of huge, broad streets with giant silos on edge of town. It is a town which feels incredibly spacious with absolutely beautiful fresh air.

The main street brags two fine hotels, the Council chambers and Post Office, and a set of very useful shops: stationer, butcher, grocer, and a singularly upmarket gift shop among them.

The Council hosted me and my husband with overnight accommodation at Nana’s B&B, a comfortable and historic stone house which had beds and facilities fit for about nine people.

All the comforts of home were laid on and a welcome gift basket of local produce awaited me on the kitchen table.

Notably, the house was home for 50 years to one Nancy Parnell who was to become author of a definitive book on the history of the area. It was a very special feeling to be able to read the book and immerse myself in Orroroo history right in the place where it was written.

It was a short walk from the B&B o the Orroroo Hotel for a meet and greet dinner with the Council Chairman, Kathie Bowman, the Chief Executive, Steve Rufus, and the community liaison Anne Frick who had been my point of contact for the event. About 24 council members and local identities came to the dinner.

Australia Day dawned crisp and bright with morning chill in the air.

We gathered on the picnic lawns beneath huge, ancient red gums at the Lions Park. Ducks paddled around the reeds in the creek. Morning light on the adjoining billabong cast dramatically beautiful shadows reminiscent of the famous H.J. Johnson painting in the Art Gallery of SA - the first painting the Gallery ever purchased.

It was a simply gorgeous place to hold a celebration.

The scent of breakfast BBQ filled the air and the Orroroo and Districts Lions volunteers had a sizzling production line going on. As it turned out, the Orroroo Carrieton Australia Day breakfast of 2017 was something of a record-breaker. People just kept on arriving until the adjoining fields were a sea of

utes and 4WDs and the breakfast supplies were severely challenged. More eggs and sausages were rushed in. The cheerful queue seemed to go on for ever.

There were farmers and business people, rodeo stars and retirees; a diverse but strong and cohesive community. All very friendly and welcoming.

Local choir, Sing Australia, kept the crowds entertained, as did the 31 questions on the Australian Trivia Quiz provided on the printed programs


And one became aware that this was an event which had been organised with great skill and thoughtfulness. Aussie flags were strung between trees behind the speakers’ area. Trestle tables and chairs had been brought in. There were even table cloths. Plus, an Australia Day cake which mimicked a lamington from the

outside but was in fact, a classic country fruit cake.

CEO Steve Rufus made a lively welcoming speech and cued in the National Anthem, sung by Sing Australia. Council Chair Kathie Bowman’s engrossing speech reflected on the fact that farmers and country people these days could be ranked among the remarkable members of society, since their numbers were ever diminishing.

After the choir had sung From the Outback to the Ocean, I gave the Australia Day Ambassador address which centred on the proud sons of Orroroo, famous Australians born in the area, among them the poet Rex

Ingamells. While most people had heard of Orroroo Carrieton’s modern reputation for pastoralists and rodeos and quilters, it actually had a significant literary pedigree because Rex Ingamells was the man behind the Jindyworobaks, a literary movement of the 1930s and 40s, which was very important in giving the first official voice to Australian writers and, indeed, could be considered as the crucible of Australiana itself.

I spoke also of the history of Australia Day and qualities we all love about our country and fellow country people. And about the volunteers who are so much a backbone to community life.

Thereafter the Orroroo Carrieton Citizen of the Year, Lynette Bollinger was presented,

followed by Young Citizen of the Year, Isaac Jesser and the Community Even of the Year, an amazing catering feat by the Orroroo Area School for the 2016 Bike SA Annual Tour.

Finally, after more music from the choir, Christy Luckraft was sworn as an Australian citizen by Chair, Kathie Bowman.

Then, the cake was cut and

Lions President, Brendan Laskey gave us all fond farewell.

I managed to get a few photo Tweets out on Twitter and one Facebook image early in the piece but it was really rather hard to do more because of the sociable general interest the local people were taking in my presence and the string of wonderful people I was meeting, including some legends of rodeo.

Reception to my presence as an Australia Day Ambassador was extremely positive and the Council quickly asked for a copy of my speech to publish in its Goyder Gazette.

I have been to a lot of excellent Australia Day events around South Australia now and I have to report that this was one of the most beautifully organised of them all.

It is a fantastic Council and community and I felt honoured and heart-warmed to be involved with them.

Thus with a sense of warmth, we left this broad and open old regional town - but not before checking out its oldest resident. At 500 years, the Giant Gumtree is one of the oldest trees inthe country. And it is truly mighty.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is garb turning into garbage?

The glitter has gone from glittering opening nights. In a world obsessed by fashion, people are wearing tat.

There are the gossip pages, endlessly preoccupied by photographs of stars and starlets in designer dresses of the moment arbitrarily accorded marks out-of-ten. In newspapers and magazines, these fashionista displays are given masses of space, as if they are really important. Photos are lined up, set out in extraordinarily clumsy page layouts, some pictures too absurdly small to see, but all of them dominated by marks out of ten for fashion sense.

The media seems to simply snatch them off the wire and then make their earth-shattering and often-mean-spirited editorial judgements. If you saw what some of those journalists were wearing, you'd wonder where the gall, the aesthetic audacity to play god with other people's taste or whim. Perhaps this trait is what is killing the spirit of fashion.

In real life, dressing up for special occasions has gone out the window. What do all these designers create fancy attires for if not for people to wear to fancy nights out? Go to a fancy night out and, what? People are just wearing any old thing. At the opening night of the Adelaide Festival of Arts' headline show, I saw men in shorts and a woman wearing sneakers. Sneakers? Opening night? So much for the glittering formality of the special occasion. So much for a reason to get the glad rags out.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think putting on one's best duds is the making of a special occasion. A room full of people looking their best is not only the sign of a civilised society but it is also a mark of respect for an event. Opening nights used to be the big events; they used to be black tie and formal frock.

It was the black ties which went first. Dinner suits are expensive and men often rented them. The formal tuxedo slipped to dark suit and bow tie. Then dark suit and tie. Then cream jacket, then any jacket, then no tie. Now shorts and open-necked shirt.

Meanwhile, it seems that there are just a few matrons who bother to doll up for opening nights. They look fabulous. But, how ironic is it that they stand out from the crowd. They are fastidiously coiffed, perfumed, and attired, down to their to-die-for shoes. Perhaps, if I was a numbers person, I'd estimate them as making up about five per cent of a foyer crowd. They not only are distinguished by their elegant outfits but also, sad to say, by their age. The sense of occasion seems to be turning into a generational thing. So there's a rub. Beautiful young women certainly wear pretty frocks and smart outfits around the town. But, often, when they go out at night, they wear so little that it is really hard to call it fashion. Skimpy doesn't begin to cover it. It is barely more than primal pheromone for, whether they know it or not, there is a reproductive undercurrent to their baring of the flesh. For the young, dressing up has turned into undress.

Even events like charity dinners and gala nights no longer carry that old glamour cachet. So many people want to short-cut formality that it makes the well-dressed feel self-conscious. The slobs are winning. Nothing is special for them.

This makes one wonder about the massive fashion industry with all those design schools spawning bright new talent. Fashion seems to have turned into an industry of photographs. We look at pictures of it on models and in those endless magazine spreads of never-heard-of-'em starlets posing on red carpets so they can be humiliated with a 2/10 rating for how they look. Perhaps women are so wary of being judged for their formal attire that they have shied right out of the market? Or perhaps people's priorities have changed.

Maybe life is all about speed and comfort these days. Just look at how airports have changed. We used to dress in our best to catch a plane. It was really special. Now, it's worse than a bus depot with all the zigzag queuing, the delays, the scrutinies, and the general intimidatory presence of security. On the planes, the attendants' smiles are rote and their ministrations brisk. They are tired and overworked before one even sets foot in their domain. The meanness of seating for the flying hordes does not encourage dressing up. It requires defensive dressing. Comfort first.

And thus do the denominators go down. Some people's idea of comfort is singlet and thongs. And, heaven help us, they are permitted to travel like that. Dress codes are done with. Wear what you like, from full burqa to next-to-nothing.

But not quite everywhere, thank heavens.

I note that Costo has put up a sign saying it won't admit people who are not wearing footwear. "You have no idea how many people come in here with bare feet," said the door attendant when I commented on the new sign. I was incredulous. I am incredulous. We're not talking poor people; Costco is not cheap. We are talking slobs.

The slobs are taking over. They'll be turning up barefooted to opening nights next.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Australia Day 2016

Australia Day 2016

Coorong District Council

Every year Australia Day Ambassadors are shared out across the land at the behest of urban and regional councils.

This year my invitation came from the Coorong Council which covers a vast area 100k directly to the south of Adelaide. It is one of the biggest gigs on the Ambassador program because it celebrates Australia Day with ceremonies and citizenship awards in three separate towns - three very different towns, as it happens.

The Council's Executive Officer, Ben Jarvis, booked an overnight at stay Tailem Bend so that I was on the spot for an early start. That was a good idea since, if I was to drive up from Adelaide in time to start the Australia Day events program, I would have had to rise at 4am - and it gave my husband and I the sheer pleasure of experiencing Lyrabend Farmstay, which is set in the countryside just a few miles out of Tailem Bend.

On January 25, we drove up to Tailem Bend, popping in on Murray Bridge for the best chocolates in the world - handmade at the Chocolate Box.

These handmade chocolates can't be found elsewhere. They are a well-kept secret and worth a pilgrimage. Some have exotic, almost Oriental centres - and look how beautiful they are, like jewels.

But I digress.

Tailem Bend is a broad silo town situated on a bend in the Murray River. Its river location is extremely beautiful but, oddly, the main part of the town itself is set away from the river with the interstate highway in between.

The Council building is in the sparse main CBD street opposite a pleasant park with towering gums. The building is new and handsome with a lifesized pelican statue standing welcome at the door.

Ben is a tall and lean young man with a disarmingly willing and good-natured disposition. He provided all the background information I sought to play my part on Australia Day as well as directions to Lyrabend.

I could not leave without perusing an art exhibition arrayed on the walls of the council building. A splendid cross-platform art show which evoked smiles and admiration and gave me a sense of the sort of progressive council which was hosting me.

And thus to Lyrabend which was out of town and a few klicks down a dirt road, way out in the plains of stubble under the big, big sky.

The farmstay has new owners, Michelle and Michael, originally from Mildura, who are settling in with their four children.

Our log cabin was set down a curve of dirt drive and a rough desert garden of stunted trees separated it from the homestead. Everything was dry.

Several goats foraged in a paddock nearby. Sheep happily flicking undocked tails were guarded by a couple of very nervous alpacas in another large field, and there was a shetland pony grazing on a massive haybale near some farm sheds.

The cabin was lovely. Spic and span, well-equipped, very welcoming. We adored it on sight. The kitchen window looked out past a gum tree to a vast flat expanse of pure rural Australiana. A breathtaking aspect.

I poured a glass of cold Savvy and repaired to the bench on the front verandah whence I studied all the local background and news material Ben had provided.

It was a calm, warm late afternoon and the sense of space did my soul good. The shadows were lengthening and I could see the children playing out the back of their house under a massive eucalypt from which hung the longest country swing I've seen.

There was a broken trampoline in the yard and other play equipment all upon an expanse of powdery, dry brown earth.

Watching the little girl called Tenisha in her thin cotton summer frock playing barefooted in the dust in this isolated piece of rural domestica, I fell into an intense Patrick White reverie. This world truly evoked that which he created in Season in Sarsaparilla and that story Down at the Dump. His imagery was still fresh in my mind from the vivid Brink production, The Aspirations of Daisy Morrow.

I loved White at that moment and I loved the Australia Day Council for giving me such moments of national and cultural identity.

Scents of steak wafted from inside the cabin. Bruce was thriving at the challenge of cooking in a new place. We had a delicious dinner and then took off down the rocky farm track for a walk in the country - down a long, flat straight, potholed dirt road with paddocks of stubble stretched out under the big blue canopy of sky. Odd things one sees in the country, Two huge square rocks one on top of the other in a field.

A sandy embankment tightly grown with bamboos, signs of dirt bikes and rabbits in the red dirt mounds around it, but no hint as to why it had been planted. Two cars went down the road as we walked. One waved in the characteristic country way. The other, a black ute with odd equipment and a huge black barrel on the back, slowed down and looked us over. It was a bit weird. We thought of Wolf Creek and quickened our steps.

A lovely sunset followed by an almost full moon. It dazzled between the trees when I ventured onto the verandah before bed. The Southern Cross was pale in its light night sky. 'Twas a good bed in that little cabin. We slept well and were up at 5.30 to be ready for our hosts Ben along with the Coorong District Mayor, Neville Jaensch, who arrived promptly at 6.50. I liked the Mayor immediately and, as the day wore on, just liked him more.

We drove in convoy to Tintinara, about 90k south. It is an historic agricultural town on the edge of the fabulous South East region and it is gateway to the wonderful parks such as Noonameena of the Coorong. Limestone Coast country.

The Tintinara Community Hall is a large, airy and extremely well-appointed. It was packed. All the tables were adorned with coke cans topped with Aussie flags. The Lions Club was serving Australia Day breakfasts - mountains of barbequed sausages, eggs and white toast. Everyone was tucking in. The mayor made a push-in place to get us fed ready for speaking. The people obliged in good humour.

I don't know why those barbie fried eggs are so especially good. Somehow those country volunteers have a knack with then - old hands on a barbie. As for those country snags. They just do the trick on OzDay. It is not high cuisine but it is trad tucker and we love it.

Well fed, the large crowd settled down for formalities. Even the standing room was full. People lined the walls. It was a fabulous turnout of really nice people I beheld.

The national anthem was played. There was no soloist so the crowd softly sang along. It was rather pretty. And then the speeches and the presentations. Brenton Jones was the man of the moment, a vigorous community volunteer described rather nicely, I thought, as "a well-rounded citizen". It was clear he was very popular.

My speech was well received. I kept it short because no one has ever complained about a short speech. I spoke of "Tinty" as a community and of the special characteristics of country people. I spoke of Australia Day and its history. The audience response was warm.

People were coming to introduce themselves and chat to me afterwards but the Ben and the Mayor had to hustle us out because we made more driving to do and another town ceremony to attend. We were on the clock.

Mengingie is a town I have always liked a lot. It is on the shores of Lake Albert, the lesser-known great shallow lake of the area. Lake Alexandrina is its sister. It is a world of pelicans and famous Coorong mullet. It is an historic traveller's watering hole and it has pleasant little shops, a dear old country pub and my favourite motel which, while not flash, is one of the most stunning places I have ever stayed. The lake water is so close to the window that one could almost reach out and stick a finger in.

There is a lot of trouble and controversy in the area just now with seals invading the Coorong waters and devouring the precious Coorong mullet - and even killing pelicans. The call is for a seal cull. There are strident objections from city nature-lovers. I'm afraid I'm with the fishermen and locals. The seals are recent invaders.

But there also is good news arising as this close and clever community rises to the celebrations of the town's sesquicentary - not the least of things being the uplifting of the most extraordinary piece of folk history in the country, the tale of the Birdman Bushranger. I had happened upon it when researching for my speech and I was astounded, incredulous, amazed, thrilled and generally awed by this tale so outrageous, so colourful and so bizarre... How come I had never heard of John Peggoty, the quaint little gold-festooned lakeside bushranger who terrorised travellers from the back of an ostrich? This tale is being lifted to the national awareness it deserves, being recognised as a long-overdue tourist attraction and, to this end, a statue of an ostrich has been erected on the shores of Lake Albert where that funny, tiny man, bedecked in gold chains, used to do his devilry.

Meningie's crowd was spread out around under marquee shelters along the rails of the town oval. The speaking and catering areas were under verandahs outside the club buildings. There were a lot of people. They were the town's second Australia Day wave. About 200 had taken part in a long funrun earlier in the morning. Everyone seemed well settled in and comfortable in rows of chairs and the atmosphere was very welcoming.

The Council's Ben Jarvis sat in the front row with my husband, Bruce. I could see him on Ben iPad recording the proceedings for the Council's official record.

A member of the community, one Miss Cartledge, sang the national anthem in a voice clear and pure, beautiful and confident. It was downright perfect.

The Mayor called me up straight afterwards and what I lovely audience I had. They were with e for every nuance. They laughed at my punchlines and everyone seemed well pleased that I was up to speed with their Birdman Bushranger. The Meningie citizen awards were wonderful. Two outstanding and special people who were nominated and spoken for by two other outstanding and special people.

Denice Mason was one, a teacher and craftsperson who, it turns out, has been spearheading the promotion of the Birdman Bushranger.

Bob Lewis also was recognised. He's a Viet Vet struck by PTSD whose community generosity has made him simply beloved. Oh, yes. Love was in the air at Meningie - and positivity.

There were lots of people to meet after the speeches. I was quite swamped and I wanted to talk properly to all of them. But, yet again, we were on the clock. We had to head off and cover some more territory to get to the final town.

Tailem Bend.

The town in which we started early in the morning. It was now lunchtime.

It is not only Coorong Council's HQ and a watering hole for travellers but also, most recently, the chosen location for a planned race car track. This promises to be a massive development which doubtless will change much about life and style at this dreamy river bend location.

A rather good band was playing 70s Aussie pop song covers when we arrived . They were under trees at once side of a park and on the other side, with a wide stretch of lawn in between, people lolled on camp chairs in rows. The weather was heavenly.

Balloons bumped each other from hanging spots. Marquees shaded refreshment options. In one corner of the green, a giant chequers board was laid out for children to play upon.

The Mayor found a couple of chairs and I got busy Tweeting as we waited beneath the trees while the band played another two rousing old 70s hit song or two - and then I was called up to speak, with a music stand provided as improvised lectern.

The crowd seemed a long way away and was not as easy to read as the others.

Talk about improvising, I looked down at the wrong speech notes, so I, also had to improvise. Lucky I had my car racing history to draw upon. Having been a marshal in Grand Prix races and having participated in Classic Car rallies and Variety Bush Bashes, I claimed a certain expertise about the petrol-head world - and the authority to assure the Tailem Bend people that they tended to be beaut people.

I realised later that they had been there for quite a long time and they were having to wait for all of us to do our speaking before they could have their Australia Day BBQ lunch. They were hungry.

But they had some fabulous Australia Day citizens to recognise.

Peter Verrall is another man who has been a success story while battling PTSD. He's a power in the Tailem Bend RSL and conducts the town's Anzac services. The Mayor also presented an award to Trevor Gordon, a former local government official who eschewed retirement to work tirelessly for the community.

Two brilliant pre-teen girls stood up and sang the national anthem, all of it, in the most exquisite harmony. They were simply Breathtaking.

The proceedings finished with the cutting of a glorious Australia Day cake

I was presented with a huge hamper of beautiful fruits and treats - and it was all over, except the long drive home.

But I took away memories of marvellous new people and the community spirit of three great and very different Australian country towns.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Eyre, we go.

Day 9

- being the last leg of our Eyre Peninsula road trip in honour of Australia Day 2015.

In the morning we caught up with the Internet by setting up in the lovely old reception lounge of the hotel. And we had breakfast in the old breakfast room. The new owner was running around clearly in the throes of getting to grips with the new hotel. She and her husband were not too experienced at running a pub. They were Queenslanders giving it a go. That explained a lot. One wishes them well. It is a fabulous old pub and one would like to see it thrive in that Gateway to the Outback town.

As I began to pack the car for the day's travel, I noticed a flat tyre. Oh, no! I phoned the RAA which sent a mechanic from a nearby town. Oddly, despite Kimba's status as the significant town half way across Australia, it did not have an RAA man. When the lad turned up, he swiftly identified the cause. A wooden kebab stick. It protruded from one side of the tyre. A little wooden skewer could cripple a big, healthy Toyota Rav? A modern tyre can be vulnerable to a prick of wood? What are kebab skewers doing out on the dirt roads?

My mind spun with theories. After all, we had criticised the food last night. Chef's revenge? Bruce just laughed and called me fanciful. The RAA mechanic said he had seen them flatten tyres before. No big deal. The tyre was changed in no time. The RAA guy directed us to a garage where the wounded tyre could be mended to return to service as the spare tyre.

And off we went to experience a country tyre depot. Another nice, chatty country mechanic. He was only slightly surprised at the kebab stick phenomenon. And soon we were on our way again.

They were pretty good roads out of Kimba, the countryside flattening out as we headed towards the Gulf. Wonderful big skies.

We stopped at Iron Knob and poked around the neat little town with its grid-pattern layout. It was once quite a vibrant town with a rich mining enterprise. Now it is quaint and quite characterful in a yesterday's boom way.

The museum was open and very pleasant indeed, manned by very friendly volunteers. We watched a little film about Iron Knob's heydays and explored all the specimens and souvenirs. I bought a lovely hematite necklace.

And off we set for Port Augusta and that motel we so like. it did not disappoint, albeit the pool was extremely cold and not too clean. We met up with Roseanne again and had a daylight tour which revealed the strange salty world of the very tippy top of the Spencer Gulf, just a brackish puddle really. This side, Eyre Peninsula. That side, Yorke Peninsula. Hop to and fro. Tee hee.

All around, a fantastic saltbush landscape with the glorious Flinders Ranges always imposing in the background. Roseanne thought nothing of putting her foot down and bringing those beautiful ranges a whole lot closer. We were almost into Horrocks Pass when she found what she wanted to show us - fields of wild lilies. Rare and special lilies. Growing where they belong. They don't bloom often, she said. Pity I forget their name. We wandered around amid them, free and happy. A treat of nature.

Finally, as light began to fade, we headed back to her house for dinner. She and Paul live on the outskirts of the town with a magnificent view of the mighty Flinders Ranges across the corrugated iron fences around their property. She had prepared a wonderful meal. Paul appeared after an hour or two and produced music and French red wine. Roseanne faded into the background while he held forth. Somehow, their world and relationship made me think of a Patrick White play - which made it all the more interesting and absorbing. They are both brilliant, accomplished and idiosyncratic individuals and I loved seeing them in situ.

Day 10

The long road home.

Eyre today

Day 8

- in which our Eyre Peninsular road trip in honour of Australia Day takes us to KIMBA

It had grown cold during the night. My American quilt was too thin, even with two sarongs on top. What a weird summer it has been so far. Lovely mild days, albeit windy by the sea. But never more than about 25 by day and down to a nippy 11 or so in the early hours. Bruce, already at home in his new kitchen, makes eggs scrambled with chilis and asparagus for me and eats leftover bog sauce piled high on toast. We manage to liaise another snap of time on Nomadnet. Again given for free for whatever the problem has been with the servicce. This time, its strange limit is barely used. I catch up a bit but can't seem to read the Tiser. It jumps around the won't show pages. And this is not the Tiser App. Hmm.

A last quick swim in that glorious pool of the Streaky Bay Motel and Villas. We love this place. It is all class, beautifully appointed, everything thought of - and yet only $20 more a night than that abysmal dump up the road. I don't want to leave. I vow to return.

Off on the road, we strike inland towards Poochera. Long, straight roads with lush and beautiful scrub on the verges. Open farmland. Tiny settlements. Huge, prosperous stations. Vast acreages of wheat stubble, sometimes ploughed brown and maybe seeded. It is food bowl country in this big brown land. We don't see a lot of traffic. A car or caravan now and then. At Minnipa, we follow the signs to see Tcharkulda Rock formations. This requires yet more dirt roads. The car already is covered in the pale dusts of the region. It has seeped in to every join and crevice as well as all over the red exterior. Bruce has finger-written "Hi" on the back window. And here we go, creating another great plume of dust.

The rock formations are fascinating, but not so easy to see because of trees all around. There is a little ruined hut. We take pictures and wander a bit.

On to Wudinna which also is famous for its great granite outcrops, in this case, the sacred Turtle Rock. I was determined B should see it, so off we bumped, out of town on the unsealed roads. The novelty of dusty dirt roads wears off after a while, even with our purpose-built all-wheel vehicles.

Turtle Rock is no longer as easy to admire in its sleek scale as it was when I was there a couple of decades ago. It is on private land and one cannot get very close. But the landscape is stunning. But we drove out, parked the car and just relished the rock and timeless vistas. It was good for the soul, if not for the female bladder. Back in Wudinna, we had the devil of the time finding the public loo at the sportsground.

But what we did find in darling Wudinna was a chic little cafe for lunch. We chanced upon it in a backstreet. Alicia's. So inviting. So charming.

The perfect, welcoming watering hole for the traveller with a stylish outback theme inside corrugated iron walls. We ordered lovely fresh home-cooked chicken wraps and coffee. Oh, yes, could not quite resist the fresh carrot cake, served with a warm country smile by its maker.

Last leg of the day was to Kimba where we were booked into the pub for the night. Wonderful, sprawling old country pub it was, too. Our room was in the "modern" section out the back, a sort of motel room. It was not terribly nice.

In fact it was pretty dire. But there was a crude verandah where Blossom could sun herself. I had our own bedding and pillows so we made the best of things and headed off for an adventure walk to visit the famous Big Galah. It was big. And pink. We shopped in the Galah souvenir shop chatting with an extremely pleasant assistant. Back into the dusty day and down the road, we were a bit peeved to find the Kimba museum was closed, despite signs saying that at this hour it should be well and truly open. Oh, well.

Returning to the hotel, we hopped into the car to drive the dirt roads up to the town lookout correctly known as White's Knob Scenic Lookout. There zany irony sculptures remember the man it's all about - Edward John Eyre. He was the first explorer to cross the country from east to west. He discovered the Gawler Ranges and the Sturt Desert Pea. Lake Eyre and the Eyre Highway are named after him - and Eyre Peninsula.

And Kimba's great claim to fame is that it stands in the middle of Eyre's greatest journey. It is the halfway mark in a trip across Australia.

Of course, no such significant place would be complete without a golf course. And there it was. Befitting its location at the Gateway to the Outback, its "greens" were brown earth and the tees were bitumen. The arid option.

We drove around the wide streets of Kimba, getting a feel of the town. Once prosperous, it was not much of a happening place. The old pub was its most imposing feature. Therein, we had reserved a table for dinner.

It was all a bit disorganised when we got there. The pub was relatively busy.

I knew better than to try to order fish there. I was ready for hearty country steak and veg. Bruce ordered bangers and mash. It was a long wait. Then the food came. The steak was cold, small, tough, and awful. The veggies were unbelievably mean - a spoonful of mash, a spoonful of pea. Bruce's bangers and mash had almost no mash. All illusions of country pub and generous, man-sized serves went out the window. We were still hungry. I told the waiter I was a bit disappointed and he said the place was under very new management. We wandered off to see what else may be open in the town . Not much. Everything except the servo was shut. Crisps and crackers were about all there was to buy. How disappointing. We repaired to our quaint little room. The Internet was a failure so we watched something/nothing on the little TV.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Eyre apparent

Day 7

- of a road trip in honour of Australia Day, 2015.

Cosy in our neat little self-contrained cabin, we start the day with coffee and Bruce's chilli scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, the Internet remains a nightmare. We struggle uselessly trying to download the papers or get the mail and then give up, packing the car, filling up with petrol at the Elliston Liberty station and hitting the open road again.

The roads are fabulous. The countryside is divine. We've learned a lot about the history of the area and how the landscape is haunted by tales of the lonely graves and Ellen Liston's stories.

Having read Gail Wiseman's Bringing the Stones, our imaginations are lured out into the miles of sandy, rocky coastal no man's land. Pioneers traversed it on horse or foot. It is beautiful, but harsh and arid. And yet, intrepid settlers built houses and fences and employed itinerant shepherds who dwelt way out there for years on end in crude huts. Relationships with the Aboriginal people of the area were often tense and violent. Ellen Liston wrote vividly on the issue in her short stories of the 1800s when she was a governess way out there in the rugged wilderness.

We asked for directions to find a famous murder spot of John Hamp ..but we fail to find it.

What we do find on the road north is the Woolshed Cave. I was prompted to take the detour by a road sign which had the added word "spectacular". Down dirt side roads we bumped to discover one of the most breathtakingly beautiful of natural phenomena I have ever sighted. Another brilliant council engineering job of providing easy stairs made it comfortable to descend the dangerous cliffs to get close to this magnificent, marvellous interplay of rock and sea, the thing of dreams. And we walked upon huge flat rocks which seem to have melted onto each other in soft folds. There was a channel of incoming water, rich green with sandy base and weedy sides,softly ebbing to and fro with the tidal flow. Huge fish darted in the pristine water beside the wafting green fringes. This lovely inlet through deep cuts of rock, leads into a big, dangerous-looking cave. One does not venture too close but looks from a safe vantage point.

Back on the road. Next stop, Venus Bay. We poke around and pee in yet another impeccable public loo.

Then we're heading to Port Kenny for lunch on our way. Who recommended that? Was it a joke? Oh, my. Port Kenny stank, stank, stank of putrid septic whiff. Sad, dead, ugly, smelly. Pub sad and for sale. Ordinary people ordering schnitzels. We walk around inside looking at the sad menu, feeling extremely deterred. Can't face anything here. Ugh.

Drive on hungrily to our destination for the night, the lovely Streaky Bay. The most appealing lunch place looking towards the sea was closed. We settled on a yuppified old corner building called the FunktionCentre. It is rather cute-looking in a self-consciously rustic way but, sadly, extremely overpriced considering the mean portion of whiting and chips I was served on my ongoing seafood pilgrimage. The twee menu board presentation indicated it came with salad but it did not. When I asked, I was told there was an extra charge for salad. The coffee was nice - but the overall impression was irking.

Next, oh no. Our start in Streaky Bay is not great. The seaside motel I have booked is not only not on the seaside, it is at the back of the old pub. It is a very run-down old and cheap-looking motel, the sort of place one goes to commit suicide. This can't be right. I ask for a key to check out the room and retreat in horror. Renovated? Not. Cramped, dark, musty...

I simply cannot sabotage the experience of a nice place like Streaky Bay by staying in a dump. I have made a terrible mistake. The two Streaky Bay motels have almost identical names. This is the wrong one. I want the Streaky Bay Motel and Villas. I phone the rival motel which is lovely and am oh, so relieved to secure a villa for the night. Phew. In an attack of cowardice, I send B in to deal with cancellation. He gets very angry when they charge half the rate for the cancellation.

The Streaky Bay Motel and Villas is just divine. I am in love. It truly is the most aesthetic and civilised place with its groomed gravel and its giant cactus with a Buddha at its base. Various yuccas and cacti adorn the gardens along with Oriental sculptures. Neat brick paths guide one to the laundry, pool, and barbecue area which also features a pizza oven. And there is a trampoline and a solo tennis pole, plus soccer table and pinball machine in the pool area. Heaps to do for the young. The pool is superior, in its own elegant house, heated, with a shower at its side and a spa in the corner.

The villas are tasteful and well appointed - right down to the surprise gift of Drumstick icecreams awaiting in the freezer compartment. Our villa is two-bedroom and airy. B is happy it has a kitchen. We set the chilli plant in the sunshine on the porch and head out to shop for a spag dinner at the Foodland. Oh, and to stock up on Pimms.

Then we take long tourist trail coast drive to see magic beach - Back Beach. It is sublime. Then another long dirt road drive to find blowhole. It said 14 kms on sign...21 km down and we still had not found it. We turn back, sick of rattling along unsealed roads. B cooks his famous bolognaise using copious chillies from plant.

I have a heavenly swim all alone in the gorgeous indoor motel pool and bask awhile in the afternoon sunshine. Bliss.

The only downside to this lovely haven was the Internet. Yes, more Internet struggles. Nomadnet is the system they use here but somehow it is just not working. We call its help line. They couldn't be nicer and help by giving us a free 300mg. Thrilled. At last one can catch up. But when Betty Snowden's pix for my dad's biography have come thru twice, the limit is reached and one is cut off. Disappointed.

Make the most of things. Lovely dinner. We watch the Tracks movie and The Life Aquatic.

Country Eyre is fine

Day 6

Australia Day, 2015. Lock, Eyre Peninsula.

Alarm clocks went off bright and early and we readied ourselves to meet Kim and his Council colleague, George, to drive behind them from Elliston to the town of Lock which is where the formal Australia Day ceremony was to be held. A smaller event with a citizenship ceremony also was being held in Elliston - a division we later found was very controversial.

We headed inland on smooth country roads through a beauty of shafting morning sunshine. Kangaroos and emus lurked roadside. Kim drove very sedately ahead of us because this early morning, along with dusk, is the most dangerous time to travel on Australian country roads because of kangaroos which have a habit of springing out in front of cars as they move around the dewy morning grazing areas. Seasoned country people know to drive prudently.

Lock was quite a substantial wheat town in the middle of Eyre Peninsula. We found people gathered for the Australia Day ceremonies on a park lawn beside a massive sculptural landmark of a baling machine with hay bales. Pride and joy of the area is this celebration of the town's centenary and the local rural economy - well worth celebrating, if you ask me.

Bacon and eggs were sizzling in vast quantities and people were lining up for the traditional Australia Day free breakfast before the official proceedings.

Thereafter came speeches by local council dignitaries, presentations and admirations of local heroes, the singing of the National Anthem and a speech from me. It was a wonderful, attentive audience to whom it was a pleasure to speak. Country people are listeners. Every time one goes out to the country towns, one is again struck by the differences between country and city people. Country people are more patient than city people. They also are curious, wise, community-minded and generous-spirited. Not to mention hospitable.

My role as an Australia Day Ambassador is to talk about the history and significance of the day. Australians have never been flag-wavers and their patriotism is a thing of gentle adamance, a simple assertion that this is the best bloody place in the whole world and we love it.

Australia is a young country and Australia Day is relatively modern. Complemented by Australia Day Honours and citizenship ceremonies, the people have been responding to it with a power of enthusiasm. Now, all across the land, in big cities and the tiniest outback outposts, people gather to share breakfast, raise the flag, sing the anthem and celebrate this lovely country of ours. Some among the Aboriginal people disdain it and refer to it as "Invasion Day" but it is not a challenge to the Aboriginal traditional ownership of the land in any way. Rather, its spirit embraces it.

Councils invite Ambassadors to their celebrations to give them an extra bit of formal oomph and sense of occasion.

The Ambassadors are people who are fairly high achievers in their professions - from politicians to entertainers, from scientists to media people like me. Every year we are invited somewhere different, spread out across the State. For me, it has been a glorious revelation of much of the country. This is my fifth year in the role. It really is quite an honour.

After the ceremony on the lawns of the Lock town park, we were whisked out for a tour of the area - the fabulous race course and sports facilities all strongly supported by the community and the amazing two-level reservoir.

We toured the Lock and Districts Heritage Museum with its darling preserved schoolhouse, collections of farm machinery, and domestic memorabilia set out in the old police station and residence. It was hard to drag me away; I found it all so precious and engrossing. And this after I had already had a good tour of the place online. Yes. Lock may be far away, but it is no backwater. It is classy cutting edge in the Internet outreach department. One can examine all these treasures closely on its Flickr page: .
Again, country people are good at preserving all these wonderful relics. They not only have a strong sense of pioneer history and the hardships of breaking the land but also, unlike city-dwellers, they have sheds and places where things can be stored safely forever.

While Elliston has the distinction of being probably the only town in the world to be named after a woman writer, Lock has the unique position of being the only town named in honour of a fallen WWI soldier, a young surveyor, Corporal Albert Lock. He died in Belgium in 1917.

Lock brags a stunning community library complete with banks of computers for students and locals. The librarian, who is of Italian heritage, won our hearts and minds in a nanosecond - and our stomachs, too.

She had laid on a massive luncheon spread featuring a mountain of the most delicious lamingtons ever. Lamingtons, I hasten to add, are the Australian national cake - jam-joined pieces of sponge rolled in cocoa and coconut. Joined by council people and farm people, we tucked in enthusiastically. It was all utterly gorgeous.

They thanked me for my visit with a generous bag of goodies - coffee mugs, a baseball cap, and wonderful history books of the region.

By the time we left Lock, I was feeling a strong connection with the people and the place. I now carry abiding affection for it and sing its praises at every opportunity. It represents the true Australia, a real heartland.

And to underscore this sentiment, as we drove away, there were the local lads playing Australia Day cricket in the middle of the road outside the pub. I stopped to take a photo and say "hi". They promptly told he how much they had loved my speech and the things I had said about Lock. Ah, yes, country people are listeners.

They also are often a bit eccentric. On the wide open road returning to the coast, we were clearly passing through a vast rural property and just to underline how big a place it was way out there, the roadside letterbox took the form of an aeroplane. It even had a dummy pilot.

One of the wildest letterboxes I've seen.

Back in Elliston for the aftenoon, there was still lots of exploring to do. This darling coastal town has miles and miles of cliff roads with vantage points for breathtaking views of the wild and spectacular shoreline. We drove and drove, oohed and ahed, took photos and played proper tourists.

Just as they are eccentric with letterboxes, the people here are a bit eccentric with their tourist pride. They have adorned the cliff-winding dirt roads with quirky art installations - odd Aussie iconography such as an ugly surfer on a bicycle, a pair of giant thongs...

At the pub the night before we had met Cynthia and Mick. She is the local school headmistress and she had been quick to invite us to come down to share some of the glorious fish they catch almost daily from their boat. Fishing is a big part of the local lifestyle and the Elliston people, rightly, are rather proud of their fabulous fish diet. City people could never afford to eat such good fish let alone have it fresh from the sea. It was a bit of a cold and windy walk to their esplanade house from our campground, but there was masses of wine and hospitality at the end of it; a lavish feast, in fact. We felt very spoiled and fortunate.

Back in our snug little cabin, bellies full, we contentedly watched the one and only choice available, the film about Cliffy, the Australian potato farmer who became a marathon legend. And then we hit the pit reading books of local history we had been given by the people of Lock - tales of stoic pioneers, of lonely graves and brave, solitary shepherds way back in the days when there were no roads let alone crazy artworks to adorn the rugged views.