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.

Fair Eyre

Day 6 - In which the January Eyre Peninsula road trip brings us to Elliston.

It was a wrench to leave Lincoln and that lovely hotel. We piled our road trip luggage on hotel trolly, astonished at how much we seemed to have.

Blossom, the pet chilli plant, capped it as a bit of luxurious overkill. But, the joy of a road trip is the the joy of almost unlimited luggage.

So, off we went early on Sunday morning, swinging by the famous oyster farming centre of Coffin Bay for a good look at it before humming north westwards to Sheringa to visit our Australia Day host, Kym Callaghan, his wife Robyn, and the boys Tyreece and Brody.

Sheringa is a flyspeck on the map but the Callaghans have a dear little colonial farm cottage there with garden and a few animals. We had a convivial cup of tea in the farm kitchen before following Kym up to Elliston, stopping along the way to gasp with awe at the magnificence of Lock Wells.

The council has created fantastic stairs and platforms for visitors to access the views, and even an eco lavatory. What a view. What huge, rugged cliffs. What wild and beautiful, vivid blue sea with frothy waves rolling forwards, line after mighty line. The glorious, clean air. The roar of surf. The ancient grandeur of it all. These are the mighty sea views people travel from afar to relish. We relished, too.

We skimmed on up to the sprawling coastal town of Elliston where Kim led us to the Council's Information Centre complete with impressive Op Shop in the big hall.

There were some terrific crafts on sale in the Information Centre shop. I bought a very quaint and characterful hand-made emu and some photo placemats. Kim presented me with some local information books and souvenirs.

I hunted for Ellen Liston books, since it seemed important that the town had been named after her - the only town I could find anywhere to be named after a woman writer. There was nothing more than reference to her in some history texts. I suggested her short stories should be reprinted and added to the tourist attractions.

Joy of joys, the Eyre Peninsular loo pride phenomenon rises to superstar quality in Elliston. The Information Centre was covered in impressive murals but, beside it, the public conveniences outshone it. Man and woman, huge portraits on the exterior. One could only smile and take photographs.

Kim escorted us on to the Elliston pub where there were wonderful locals waiting to meet us: Leon, Sonia, Cynthia, Mick, George. We had a drink, devoured lovely fresh grilled whiting and chips and had easy conversation with Leon et al. Leon and I used to work together on The Advertiser, so it was especially easy.

We discussed the Australia Day plans with other members of the council. The citizenship ceremony was to take place in Elliston while the Citizen of the Year ceremony was to take place in Lock, an hour away inland. There was some dissent about this division of ceremonies but in this vast Elliston and Lock District Council, it was traditional that the main event was in the town where the Citizen of the Year lived. This year it was Lock. It was all arranged that we would meet Kim at dawn and follow him to Lock where I would give my Australia Day speech.

We hopped off for an exploration of the area, driving around spectacular Waterloo Bay and along the local cliff roads to relish the stunning rocky vistas. So high. Such frothing sea below. Scary. Stunning.

Checking in to the Elliston Caravan Park, we found ourselves assigned the most delightful cabin where the little porch gave a magnificent view over the scrub to the sea. We walked the little sandy scrub path down to the beach to connect with the water of the darling little bay. We lolled awhile on the sand before returning to the cabin and making Pimms to drink on the porch before heading back to the pub for dinner.

Last time we were in a covered beer garden. This time we were in an austere, olde worlde country pub dining room. It was not too flash - but the fresh, local whiting which came out of the kitchen was stunning.

Eyre apparent

Day 5 - SAT 24 January

Port Lincoln

Next morning, Kim Callaghan came calling with his grandson, Tyreece. I made us cups of tea and entertained them in our heavenly hotel room with its glorious sea vista. Blossom, the travell

ing chilli plant, seemed to be thriving in the fresh air on the little balcony.

Kim is the Mayor of Elliston and my host for the Australia Day Awards. He's a small, talkative man whose life has undulated with interesting jobs and bad luck. Since his daughter committed suicide seven years ago, he and his wife, Robyn, have raised their grandsons on their little property at Sheringa.

Tyreece is a handsome boy, very bright and extroverted. He was quick to introduce himself as a star of Peter Goers Kids' Quiz. He's a coin collector. He has lots to say for himself, very engaging, but his grandfather keeps him in check for he, too, has lots to say to give this guest a rundown on the district and the Australia Day events.

It was a convivial and information-laden meeting. Instinctively, liked Kim and his grandson. Kim, a lifelong Leftie, is not the usual cut of a Mayor.

We didn't stop talking until we got to his car in the carpark. Still talking, it seemed, we waved goodbye, our plans settled for the next day. I had done quite a bit of research on Elliston and, fired up by the stories of the writer Ellen Liston, I was excited about going there but and also Lock which is an hour inland in that huge Council District and was where, Kim explained, the core of our Australia Day events were to take place.

Meanwhile, it was Tunarama time in Port Lincoln, a festival of the region's agri- and aqua- cultural economy - and it features a large pageant. The festival is quite a tourist drawcard. I'd always wanted to be there for one. I am one of those people who loves a pageant. I wasn't going to miss it.

We walked down the main drag and found a place to watch it all, chatting amiably to a slightly simple chap who said he was a professional photographer. I adored the parade. Many may call it hokey but I think it is a regional joy. Oh, for the old tractors, the many old tractors one after another, ancient puffing, rumbling things lovingly maintained by ruddy-faced farmers. And the faces of the farmers driving their machines. Something about the rugged dependence on the elements gives these men wise, weathered, and good-natured faces.

Of course there were tuna floats and boats, sea rescue, old cars, clubs, bands, marching girls, kids in costumes... It was a major parade as thousands of locals lined the street to see it and to wave to their friends and rellies. It went on and on and on.

Consequently, the town was swarming. The restaurants were packed and my new fav place, the Peacock, was closed. We repaired to the hotel and ordered room service. It took a while to come, but were comfortable in our lovely room, reading in the window corner with the rooftops and sea craft of Lincoln in expansive view - and the food was good.

Bruce had been fascinated by the Tunarama tuna toss competiton so we headed back to the shorefront park to find a place to watch it.

En route we came upon a fabulous art exhibition in a huge old hall, maybe the town's theatre. There was some wonderful work and, with Bruce hanging around outside, I revelled in it.

And on to the Tuna Toss. They used to use frozen tuna but now it is a big fake tuna. It was amusing with the various tourists and locals having a go to do a whizzy hammer throw technique tuna throw. Some of them almost went with the tuna. Bruce was not much impressed. He reckons he could ace it. He wants to come back and show 'em after a bit of practice. The general hubbub in the town was pleasant and we ambled about. I actually did some rather good bargain shopping. We managed to get a dinner at the Peacock that night. It was not as impressive as the first experience. So it goes.

Salty sea Eyre

Day 4

Port Lincoln

- on our Eyre Peninsula road trip en route to Lock for Australia Day.

Surprisingly, one woke ravenous and we were glad of the breakfast buffet downstairs. There, the iPads worked better. B could download his NY Times; happy chappy. Oddly, we still could not load web pages and most of my mail was void of content.

We took a massive exploratory walk after breakfast - a couple of hours and, Bruce's iPhone revealed, 14,000 steps. Then, we hopped in the car and took a tour of the complex of marinas wherein tuna boats, prawn boats and lobster boats are moored en masse. What a spectacle. I love ships and boats and I was simply awe-struck by this concentration. Those massive working boats with their cranes for lifting nets, their massive industrial decks...the sheer size of them, one after another. A vast dormitory of off-duty working boats. Millions of dollars of fishing fleets, neatly nuzzled into the land . And on the tuna boat wharfs there are glossy quasi-mansions of modern vulgar architectural style. They look like nouvea-riche residences but they would seem to be fronts to vast sheds, presumably tuna processing. Who knew they needed such scale? Further on are ugly marina suburbs. Wealth trumps taste, it seems. And big is not beautiful. Oh well, the people are happy and the seafood is wonderful. Who am I to criticise?

On my mission to eat as much local seafood as I can on this trip, I chose the Peacock Thai and Chinese restaurant to see how they dealt with the king fish and prawns. They had a special page of their menu devoted to local seafood. So I had Massoman prawn curry for lunch. It was swoon material. Bruce had chicken. As we were leaving, the fish man was coming through the door, still in his overalls and white rubber boots, bringing the next load of kingfish and prawns. Fresh is the word.

Another Port Lincoln claim to fame is a winning race horse. Makybe Diva. She was owned by Tuna baron Tony Santic, named after three of the women who worked for him (taking the first to letters from their names - Maureen, Kylie and Belinda) and she won the Melbourne Cup thrice, only horse to do so. She won something like $14 million and is recognised in the international hall of horsey fame. So she has a life-sized statue right there on the foreshore of Port Lincoln.

The Tunarama festival was on this weekend and the fairgrounds and stalls were setting up in the seafront park. We ambled back to the hotel checking out the events and the shops in the main drag.

When Frank Martin rang to offer to take us out to see his oyster farm at Coffin Bay - 40 minutes by car and an hour or so on the water - we were too wearied by our exertions. He agreed to come to the hotel later in the day and we repaired to the pool deck to lie down and doze. I did a spot of swimming.

Frank came with his wife Kathy, a plastic bag full of unopened oysters and an old bone-handled knife with which to open them. I ordered us drinks from the bar and we settled at a high table out the front of the hotel while Frank opened one after another of his huge, plump oysters. I sucked them out of the shell with no more than a drip or two of lemon juice. They were the knee-tremblers of oyster perfection, my dream oysters, so unbearably fresh, so utterly plump, so sumptuously sensual... Frank, often likened to Paul Hogan, they say, was a talkative fellow with tales to tell. He regaled us. I said very little. I ate oysters. Bruce likes his oysters cooked so he did not have any. Kathy had a few. Frank had one or two. I had a lot. At least 15. The others were on their second drinks. I was still on my first. I was drunk on oysters. Frank and Kathy were exceptionally agreeable souls, close friends of my close friend, Barb. We assumed a certain familiarity and talked on for hours over a few more drinks - until we realised that we had made a table reservation at Di Giorno's, Lincoln's premiere Italian restaurant.

Here, I intended to eat a spaghetti marinara with Boston Bay mussels, prawns, king fish, cockles and squid. But the oysters had made something of a dent on my appetite and pasta was simply not a goer. I chose the simplest fish dish on the menu - king fish on thai salad vegetables with a touch of mirin. How superb. What a brave and wise chef to allow the fish to be itself. It was steamed, I think. Not too much. And just resting on the salad. It was clean and delicate and simply sublime.

Fresh Eyre everywhere

Day 3

As well as the potplant, Blossom, for a constant supply of very hot chillies, we carried an assortment of provisions, as one can when on a road trip. Our big wicker basket was full of Pimm s-making ingredients as well as coffee bags, bread, eggs and cheese and tomatoes

Hence, while I packed and laid out clothes for the day, Bruce leapt into action in the lovely modern Cowell kitchen to make us a stunning Spanish-style omelette before we hit the road.

And off we went, skimming south in the Toyota Rav my grandies like to call "The Red Beeper" because of her various beeping reprimands. This was her first road trip and she seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were.

There is nothing like that sensation of sublime freedom and curiosity one realises on the long, open road with huge skies and ever-changing landscapes and vegetation.

First stop, Arno Bay. It's a humble sort of old fishing town which has seen busier times. These days its glorious beaches attract holidaymakers and it has a splendid beachside caravan park on one side of its coastal core and a row of wonderful old shacks on the other. In the middle is a large turning and parking circle and an expanse of lawn on which a loo block takes proud prominence. I used that loo block and am here to report that it was the cleanest and best-kept public loo I have ever encountered. Its stainless steel sinks were spotless and its terrazzo floor shone with polish.

This was something I was to observe throughout this Australia Day pilgrimage. One country town after another had proudly-maintained and inviting public conveniences. Not only but also, a lot of them have been turned into works of art, covered in lavish murals. It is quite a phenomenon - and this was my first experience. I was so impressed that I took a photo. I took a photo of the loo floor.

We parked the Rav on the foreshore, the chilli plant on its bonnet to get the sun, while we wandered onto the beach for a while. There was a slow feeling. A couple of women sat under a pergola talking. They did not so much as turn to note our coming or going. We read the huge sign, topped by a sculptured king fish. It described today's Arno Bay fishing industry - a fabulous fish farm breeding kingfish and mulloway. Sustainable seafood. Yes. A couple of kilometres out to sea one could just spot signs of its location.

A pleasant retired couple came out of their shack when we went to read the sign on the long strip of green which stood between the shacks and the sand. "Used to be a running track," said the woman. "They had races here. And the loo block stands where the old captain's house used to be. We were sad when they bulldozed the captain's house. Sad to see history going. The older you get, the more you value history." The woman explained that she had a local background but that her husband was a Queenslander. They had bought the shack 40 years ago for $3000 and, had holidayed there with their 7 children. It had been built for the second captain, so they had never changed its appearance. But now retired and living there, they were working on doing up the interior while loving the life. How do they fill their days in this tiny settlement? "Don't know. They seem to go so fast." They invited us in for a cuppa - but we declined. More miles to cover.

The road south is a classic ribbon, made rather pleasant by surfaces striped in pink and charcoal hues. A pretty ribbon. And it just goes and goes straight ahead, an undulating single lane traversing bush and mallee, swamp and farmland. Now and then there's a bend. Then another straight ribbon, as far as the eye can see. These are dangerous roads. People tend to put the foot down. Others pop the car onto cruise control at the 110k limit and steer. A drowsy moment or an in-car distraction, and the car can drift into the path of oncoming traffic. Three people, a Port Augusta father and his twin sons, were killed by that very thing - drifting into the path of an oncoming road train- just an hour or so after we left Whyalla.

Next stop, Tumby Bay.

Everyone loves Tumby Bay. We did, too. Glorious sweeping white beach, wonderful for walking and good for swimming.

A massive sheltered bay. Calm waters. A pontoon close to shore near the populated area was rocking with a happy holidaying family. Someone was cruising about in a kayak. A pelican watched from a lamp post. It was not busy.

We settled in the lovely little Ritz Cafe on the foreshore for lunch. I had grilled yellowfin whiting, a local fish. I'd not had it before. It was fresh and good. Not in the class of King George Whiting but good by its absolute freshness. Bruce had a toasted sandwich. He is not on a mission to eat local seafood for every meal. I am.

We stream down more ribbons of road. Cleared land becomes more common beyond verges of scrub. And then, there is our day's destination: vivid aquamarine sea, islands, signs of occupation, and suddenly here we are in Port Lincoln. The Port Lincoln Hotel was not hard to find. It is the biggest building in the town, if you don't count the massive white Viterra grain silos which feed wheat out along the jetty onto waiting cargo boats. The Port Lincoln Hotel is the top place in town, owned by one of Lincoln's tuna barons, a man named Sarin. The hotel restaurant is named after him.

The hotel licensees are Peter Hurley and a former footballer called Mark Riccuittio. They are not just hotel folk but Crows people. That is a South Australian football team. "The" football team, if you ask me. There is a fair bit of acrimonious competition between the Crows and a team called Port Power. And that explains the negative reports I had heard about the hotel. it is a gorgeous, classy place. We were in a corner room on the 4th floor with a corner balcony giving us a dream view of Boston Bay in two directions - one towards the town and the other along the coast. The chilli plant took the best real estate, right in the corner of the little balcony. Fresh air, sunshine, fresh water and a view. What more can a chilli plant want?

The downside of this marvellous hotel and this heavenly room was the internet service. We could not get online. The free wireless simply did not download anything. We tried and tried, called the desk and soon became the mission of a staffer called Sarah. A bright girl from Perth, she has become the hotel tech trouble-shooter and our iPads not to mention my MacBook Air were weird casualties of a not-great wireless facility. Dear girl worked like fury on every logical solution. She even brought us a bottle of complimentary red wine for our disappointments - but could not get us working properly. I managed to download some email - but only by placing my iPad on the floor at a weird angle leaning into the door to the adjoining suite. Even then, the email came sans content. I knew who it was from but not what they were saying.

I had some pressure things on the go from Women In Media. I attempted, laboriously, to iPad out some responses and communications, but next morning I discovered that they had not managed to send and were sitting in limbo. Unaware of this, thinking I had at least kept the communications show on the road, I hit the lovely swimming pool. Ooh, cold. But, despite some pretty boorish teenage girls hogging the water, I had a divine swim, pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of an African American fellow who had flown from Sydney especially to swim with the sharks in Port Lincoln. It's a big attraction here. He was excited but very nervous about this booking first thing in the morning. He was glad to find American conversation but not perhaps as glad as Bruce whose devotion to the New England Patriots along with the hours dedicated to watching their victories on American football telecasts have been frustrated by the absolute lack of people with whom to share the love of the games and the results therein. At last he had someone who knew what he was on about.

For me, there was the sheer bliss of an outdoor pool with a view of the sea and boats - not just the cargo boats loading at the grain dock, but, look, the One and All under full sail! A taste of another era on the sea. One can rest one's elbows on the side of the pool and gaze through the glass windbreaks at this vista. Now there is a tug boat leading a cargo boat back to the ocean. This has to be one of the most interestingly-located swimming pools in the country. Pity it has such awkward sunbeds. We lolled for a while, but the mattresses on the sunbeds just slither about. Oh well. I loved it anyway.

Bruce and I dined in the Sarin restaurant in the hotel. I had oysters, of course. Half a dozen natural and half in a quandong/ tomato treatment.

They were small oysters. It is out of season. Two were a bit rank and I sidelined them. The others were good, but not knee-trembler good. The chef sent out two more, learning I had rejected two. They were better than all the others. Thereafter I had bluefin tuna, another local specialty. It was sesame-coated, seared and and presented in a delicate Asian curry sauce on top of a nori roll and surrounded by tofu and lightly cooked Asian vegetables. It was stunning. Bruce had pork.

I fell into a food coma the moment I hit the bed. Dinner had been just a bit rich. It was, consequently, a rather broken night.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Where Eyre We Roam

Day 2.

Soft rain and grey skies greeted us on Wednesday morning. The pet chilli plant was able to feel the elements for a while and I went for a swim in the lovely motel pool before we packed the car, went shopping for things we had forgotten to bring, such as straws for our Pimms, and then meandered out to the Arid Botanic Gardens for lunch and a walk amid the plants. We love this place.

Everyone does. It is special - spread out in the red sandy soil with the Flinders Ranges as a breathtaking landscape backdrop, blue against a bluer sky. We gazed upon this beauty and brunched at the Garden Cafe - upon an Aussie burger which was flavoured with bush herbs of some sort and utterly delectable, Bruce upon a toasted sandwich. We drank in the pristine desert air, examined the seemingly inexhaustible variety of eremophilas, pored over the industry of bull ants, and marvelled at the sweet scent of the witchetty acacia.

And then it was back on the road and south down Eyre Peninsular to the steel town of Whyalla. It was a mighty mecca in its day and it is still a really striking place, its red-roofed industry juxtaposed against a vivid azure sea.

The town has some lovely old architecture and it features Hummock Hill, a vertiginous winding trail up which one drives to lookouts which showcase the town in all directions. And there is the shallow bay - pale swirling greens and yellows against white sands and deep aquamarine seas. Cargo ships dotted the horizon. A busy marina lies in one foreground and industrial buildings in another.

The shallow bay lured us down for closer examination: those colours like nowhere and nothing else; a well-tended foreshore, perhaps too much so; a lot of cement paving and strange zig-zagging roadways onto the beach; playground and exercise machines; an elaborate sculpture of a diver beneath a school of fish; a white sandy strand with moderate seagrass; indifferent seagulls. We ordered a cup of tea at the cafe and sat in the brisk breeze enjoying this very different view before using spotless loos and and resuming our drive, noting as we went the darling old workers' cottages.

There followed a long, straightish drive down a beautiful road through undulating scrublands with the plan to hit Cowell with plenty of daylight.

My friend Janice Madden had organised accommodation for us. I thought it was going to be at the dear old Commercial hotel in Cowell's main street which I remembered fondly having stayed there years ago when visiting Cowell on a newspaper assignment. But, no, it turned out to be around the corner in a very modern two-storey holiday house which is an adjunct to the hotel.
Blossom, the pet chilli plant, took the sun on the bonnet of the car as we explored these swanky digs. There was a lovely little balcony where we could put her out in the fresh air and where, once unpacked and organised, we sat and relished a Pimms, looking out on a strange wasteland vista which seemed to separate the township of Cowell from a section of burbs.

Cowell's great claim to fame is as an oyster-producer. It used to be a major grain port but times have changed and now its exquisite, pristine waters are home to big, beautiful, delicate oysters - knee-tremblers, if you are an oyster-lover of my ilk.

We booked a table in the pub for dinner and went off for an exploratory walk down to the jetty, looking out to where the oyster beds sit in the clear sea, finding a lovely mangrove boardwalk. It was a pleasant walk which gave us a strong sense of the place.

The feeling was very laid-back and quiet and yet the caravan park was crowded and the town's other pub was rocking with merry tourist business as we walked past.

Funnily enough, our pub was very, very quiet indeed. It would seem to be out of fashion, patronised more by locals than tourists. We ate at a side table in the dining room, fascinated by the quaint old salad bar with its lace-motif plastic flaps to protect the food from the famous Aussie flies.

I had Cowell oysters, of course. A dozen. Presented in four different ways; specialty of the house. The food was not gastronomically remarkable. It was strictly country-pub. And off we trotted to our great big house to stretch out in the upstairs living room and watch the telly.