Friday, January 29, 2021

2021 - Australia Day in the glorious SE of SA

As an Australia Day ambassador for the Australia Day Council of SA, each year I am invited by different SA councils to appear and give a spirited speech with a perspective on Australia Day. In this role, I have visited Wilmington, Loxton, Coober Pedy, Orrorroo, Pinnaroo, Elliston, Mil-Lel, Elliston and Keith. Now, for 2021, my destination is PENOLA and my host is the Wattle Range Council in the South-East of SA.

Saturday, January 23.

GoogleMaps tells you that it is 4 hours and 5 minutes from Adelaide to Beachport. By whose travel rules is that?

What’s their game? 

Does Google never stop for a pee or food or just the joy of a place? 

It takes us at least six hours to do that trip as we head off on the first leg of our Australia Day 2021 pilgrimage. Past Tailem Bend and down that magic road of purest big-horizon flatness to Meningie.
I love that drive, just as I love Meningie on the lake, and its brilliant public loo; first stop on the trip, with a bit of a walk to stretch the limbs and to soak in the rare aesthetic of the dense pea-soup green waters of Lake Albert. Was there ever a body of water of this colour?

 Oh no, the cafe is closed on weekends? No freshly-cooked Coorong mullet to be had. And with so many travellers it is strange country town logic. 

Shelving our disappointment, we do a quick shop at Meningie's excellent Foodland buying picnic fare: ham, low-carb rolls, yoghurt, horseradish, and tiny tomatoes.

Driving out of Meningie, the Coorong unfolds to our right; that long sacred band of pungent saline, so broad and beautiful and perfect. Edged with beach, the shallow waters are a mirror of rich blue. We pull in at Pelican Point where a green public picnic table seems to be waiting just for us. We spread out our fare, watching the aerial passage of pelicans leaving their mass headquarters at the point and flying away somewhere, nowhere. Gracious flyers. Immense, miraculous birds.
And thus do we enjoy our quaint improvised picnic.
It is exquisitely peaceful. Other visitors have just left, and through the quiet of the summer air, we listen to the imposing sound of the southern ocean surf pounding on the distant shorelines out there across the sand dunes. It is really quite profound. We feel blissfully lucky. What an amazing country.

Back in the red Rav, we hum down the long Coorong Road to Kingston, the fishing port famous for its giant lobster. Yes, the lobster is still there and looking rather good, But we skim past it and into the township, our mission being, of course, the next loo stop. 
To that end we find  a very nice coastal convenience, and can’t miss the fact that the  shoreline sky is a-billow with a fantastical display of giant kites: immense sea-motif kites; huge acrobatic kites; hardly any audience; just kite enthusiasts on the big, mown green between the caravan park and the dunes. 

We can't resist. We amble about beneath the kites just marvelling, marvelling. No one seems to mind.

What a serendipitous loo stop it is.

And on we go down to Beachport where we check into Bompas Boutique Hotel. Well, I don’t know about boutique. It is an old, colonial hotel with dining and drinking downstairs and accommodation upstairs; quite a lot of stairs.

Our Room 2 is high-ceilinged and has a section of balcony looking out towards the epic, historic jetty and the vivid hues of Rivoli Bay.
Beneath us a rock band is revving up and young people are gathering about the open-air bar tables. Uh-oh. It is throbbingly, horrendously loud. We hadn’t bargained on that. But we needn’t have worried. Beautiful Flynn at reception assures us that it stops at 7 PM. We book a dinner table for 7 and head off to do our explorations. 

I have been aching to check out the Pool of Siloam, a natural pool of exceptionally salty water in a valley between the sand dunes. It is as buoyant as the Dead Sea, they say. I’ve swum or, more accurately, bobbed in the Dead Sea and had no idea we had an equivalent in Australia.

It’s not far from the hotel so we make it a walk. Silly me, because when I get to the shore and see the inviting pontoons and children with their feet in the air as they try against the buoyancy to swim, memories of those sensations in the Dead Sea flood back and I wish I had worn my togs to give it a go. Instead, I dip my hand in the water and taste the salt. Oh, yes, It is intense.
I yearn to bring my grandchildren here, to give them the Aussie Dead Sea experience. In this era of Staycations,  who knew we had the Middle East at home? 
What an incredible tourism gem.
As we walk back to the hotel, we come across a vast park with salty swampland and classic arched wooden bridges crossing between the ponds. Not only but also, a fantastic sculpture garden is spread out within its expanses. And the marvellous native scrub yields a marvel of birdlife. Who knew?

And Beachport reveals another of its sensational attractions. We meander murmuring our admiration, standing on the bridges looking at birdlife, the milky hues of the ponds, and noting the high standard of mowing and maintenance.  

The old Beachport Hotel is there in the main street. We recall the kindness and hospitality we received there many years ago. It is bubbling with holiday business as, indeed, is Beachport.

Back at Bompas, the music is throbbing on and a crowd is dancing, drinking, listening.

We bypass them and walk out onto that legendary Beachport Jetty.

 Built between 1878 and 1882, even with a section missing, it is still 772 metres long. It is the second-longest jetty in the southern hemisphere after the one at Port Germein SA. 

It is smooth and sleek and finely engineered, peopled by walkers and fishers.  And, oh, what a sea surrounds it. What a rich and rare shade of jade it is. No wonder one sees people just sitting about gazing at it. Its beauty is a thing of awe.

We walk out and out and out and out - and there still seems miles of jetty before us. Bruce is tired. He has still not returned to top condition following his prostatectomy. And, despite the hot day, a chill wind is blowing in over the sea. It is, in fact, decidedly nippy out there.  So, we retreat to the shore and find a place to sit and just love this incomparable view - just as we have seen the other people doing.

And after a hot day, the cool night sea air arrives on shore.

Sadly, crayfish are off the menu at Bompas but the Asian chef turns on a wholesome, healthy and delectable dinner.

Sunday, January 24

Serendipitously, I wake for the dawn; what a ripe, red ripper out there across that handsome bay.

I take my phone and snap it from the balcony and proudly post it on Facebook with the message “Good dawning from lovely Beachport".

Incredibly, one is hungry again in the morning and Bompas would seem to be famous for its Sunday brunch. No wonder. We have a stunning hot breakfast and Bompas, which is staffed by very beautiful and well-mannered young people,  kindly allows us to check out late so that I can do the Peter Goers Sunday Smart Arts radio program from the quiet and comfort of our lovely hotel room .
Steve Davis, my fellow resident critic, is in the studio with Peter, and we have a lively exchange about Australia Day (Peter is off to Perponda this year), the gorgeous towns of the Wattle Range Council where I will be speaking and, of course, the theatre shows we are reviewing.

And, with the car packed again (we are not travelling light since we are road tripping) B takes it for a petrol refill while I check out the Beachport Old Wool and Grainstore Museum.

 The delightful Lorraine is manning the little op-shop and ticket office and tells me how to explore the museum. 

Its small colonial shopfront belies the huge scale of its great sheds of collections.  It goes all the way to the street behind.
I have the whole place to myself, so no one gets to hear my aahs and oohs.

 It is wonderful, superbly organised and displayed, and full of fascinating collections: stuffed seabirds, fishermen’s wares, the tragedy of shipwrecks, the sailors lost when a mine exploded on the beach,  a history of train-lines and telephone connections, costumes, farm equipment, huge old trucks and carts,  a schoolroom with lessons on the chalk board and shelves of period children's literature, and upstairs, a world of rooms decorated entirely in period furnishings providing glimpses of pioneer domestic life .
Particularly moving are the relics retrieved from shipwrecks, vase bases and china. I wish I had longer. But, Bruce is waiting with the freshly refuelled car.

Oh, it is hot. We’re in for a scorcher.

We head off to have an eyeful of the coast.

 Walking the trail to the boat ramp is a bit of a soft, hot sand challenge, but the views are just breathtaking.

We take the scenic road tour, stopping on clifftops and relishing the sea vistas, rocky outcrops with spumes of snowy spray,  long ocean ridges of snowy white surf, bays of perfect sandy beach, and, oh, the intensity of the colour of the sea.

We are not the only ones at the outlooks. The scenic route is popular wth visitors and perhaps even locals since a lot of the traffic seems to be big white utes which are absolutely the vehicle-du-jour around these parts. The road winds along cliff tops and through massive sand dunes and, suddenly, there in a deep valley is that magical Pool of Siloam. Again,  I regret not taking a dip.

We drive the road to Southend. 
It is a long road, a fairly rough and narrow one in parts with dirt shoulders. It follows the length of Rivoli Bay and one realises what a vast feature is that beautiful bay.
  Once at Southend, which is a quiet place inhabited just by fishermen and retirees, we can see the full scope of the bay stretching out into the distance,
 one massive ribbon of beach, cars parked along it in the far distance.  It is ferociously hot. Nothing much moves in Southend; the fish and chip shop is shut. We stand on the shore and understand the lure of the place.

It is a great, big, unspoiled piece of epic beach beauty.  Pure nature except for a striking stone carving overlooking the view. 
We're getting hungry. 
Did I mention that it is hot?


We press on to Millicent.

Ah, what a darned nice country town it is.

But it is Sunday and 40 deg. in the shade. The main street is quiet, clean, and neat and devoid of life. But ah, the street trees; what a joy. I can’t identify them but I surely can admire them all leafed out in the most stunningly vivid yellow-green.  We ask Google for places open to get some lunch. It recommends Sharkey's Schnitzel and Burger House It has an unremarkable frontage there in the main street and inside some big games machines and a spacious dining area occupied by a couple of girls devouring huge, plated serves of fish and chips. The menu is strongly deep-fried all sorts of things with chips. I ask if perhaps Sharkeys does something “salady” since Bruce and I are on a low-carb-sugar-free diet. The woman looks a bit perplexed and says they serve salad with the meals. I press on asking if they could perhaps just

serve salad? Or, maybe, do they ever grill the fish instead of deep frying. Oh yes, we can grill, she says. 
We settle at a table and appreciate the quality details of the room: the sturdy quality chairs, the table mats, the handsome sea-theme carved wooden room-divider rails, and oh, the beautiful aquarium in the corner. I’m instantly drawn to the seat in front of the aquarium to gaze at the fish while waiting for lunch. When Sharkey turns up with the plates, it is to present two beautiful chunks of butterfish most perfectly grilled  with brown crust on the outside, moist and tender within, fresh lemon and tartar sauce, not to mention salad with blue-cheese dressing. It is delicious beyond all possible expectations. This man really knows how to cook fish!

Google assures us that the Millicent National Trust Museum is not closing until 3. Perfect. It’s just up the road, albeit too searingly-hot to walk, There’s an ample car parking area and a parkland setting with play facilities for children and a great, big, gorgeous windmill blade lying on the grass to give people an idea of just how immense they are.  This, of course, relates to the windmill farm in nearby Canunda

National Park where the beauty of wind farms has cleverly been demonstrated as a tourism feature. I’m reminded of the grace and spectacle of the many wind farms we saw through our road trip in the US, particularly in the oil state of Texas. Wind is the new crop. Clever Wattle Range.

Lorraine at Beachport had warned me that Millicent Museum was good. But I was soon to discover just how astonishingly good. After QR coding, we are welcomed and signed in by Rebecca, a Penola woman, as it happens.

 Out the door and into the heat, firstly to the railway platform and the darling old steam locomotive. Bruce hops aboard. I check out the ticket office and the period luggage looking as if it is ready to be loaded.
And we follow the arrows on the ground past huge sheds of machinery and into the shipwreck shed. 

We are the only people here on this fierce afternoon. 
The sheds are in darkness but they have light switches one is invited to use. Oh, my, The shipwreck stories and images are just heartrending and the display cases with salvaged objects deeply poignant. There are flower vases, plates, a gravy boat, remnants of gracious living by passengers. There's even a porthole, almost opalescent with its years beneath the sea.
 There are shipwrecks I’ve not heard of. The Geltwood, wrecked in Rivoli Bay in 1876.  There’s its massive anchor, retrieved in 1983. What a feat! And, over there is a mural showing a scene of locals pillaging and plundering the barrels of rum and other cargo washed ashore.  They were sorely punished when the police found out. It is a magnificent display and we soak it in respectfully.
Out into the heat we go following arrows and paths to the old school house, the costume collection, and the horse-drawn transport collection which is immense and excellently restored and maintained. And the shed is, of course, huge. Horse-drawn bread carts. Good grief, I can remember them from my childhood.

 My imagination flourishes recalling stories of pioneer dramas with carriages and buggies racing across the countryside on missions of urgency, or well-groomed ladies visiting each other or going to local picnics. It is all powerfully evocative.  There's even a colonial horse-drawn hearse, so shiny black and stately. Is that a coffin inside it? Oh, my..

And thus we move on from one vast shed to another, using the light switches and sanitisers as we go. The Millicent life is a joy of costumes and cameos, of collections of domestic items, bottles,

medicines, and toys. It seems to be a vast acreage of great sheds and we lose track of time. Oh, look at this Aboriginal cave art! See this natural history diorama?  If it was not for our bladders, we might still be there. We are blown away by its scale and detail and loving care, so grateful that country people seem to have had the space, the facilities, the heart, and the skill to preserve so much of their past.

When we get back to the office-cum-souvenir shop, Rebecca announces that she knows who I am and why I am there and her mum is a fan. We take a photo together and she sends it to her mum.
I buy half the gift shop and a lovely little stained-glass style art work while Bruce scowls at my extravagance.

And we brave the heat to drive the short distance to our Sandpiper’s Motel where the proprietor, Will, allocates us to a lovely, recently-renovated room. It is an old motel which looks a bit down-at-heel from the outside but is pristine and immaculate within. We love our room and settle in with our carload of assorted provisions. Then I hit the pool.

Millicent is rare in that it features a vast public swimming lake; stupendous; a community joy. But, we drive past it because the day is furiously hot and I am nervous about  leaving the car’s contents, especially my laptop, in the heat. And I know that Sandpiper’s has a pool.

The pool courtyard in the centre of the oblong of units is very traditional. It reminds me of an old Hollywood road-movie set. There’s a huge tree with a little sanctuary of pot plants and a swing seat in its shade. It all feels very good spirit, albeit the lawns are in summer brown. The pool water feels cold at first. There are two Victorian women there. They have travelled from Colac to see where in SA McLeod’s Daughters was filmed. They are on their way home. They are farm folk, the older a carer in a home, the younger an employee of a farm-machinery company. They grew up with potato diggers and rural life. The women leave to go and have ciggies and make phone calls and I have the pool all to myself. Utter bliss. I do some aquarobics exercises and loll about for I don’t know how long. 

We meet our hosts, the Wattle Range Council Mayor, Des Noll and his wife, Shari in the Banana Tree Cafe which is a large and handsome Thai restaurant within the motel.

Des is very tall with light grey hair, a reddish outdoor complexion, and extremely beautiful skin. Immediately one senses his easy-going  and welcoming nature and one likes him instantly. Similarly with his wife Shari  and her winning smile. She is wearing an absolutely fabulous silver and black top which I immediately covet. I later inquire about it to be told it was an op shop find. Rats. The motel owner, Will, waits table and with expert charm. The aromas of the Thai cuisine are appetising and, indeed, the ensuing meal is excellent. Des and Shari turn out to be marvellous company and we find ourselves in animated conversation even after the restaurant has closed. Des and Shari drink soft drinks. B has a beer and I have two glasses of the local house wine which is a Sav Blanc “Pearl”.  Shari said it was good and it was. Des spent 40 years in the police force both in the city and in the country before becoming a mayor.  Shari is on long service leave from Kimberley Clark, the famous paper-mill company  of the southeast. With these two worldly, wise and good people, I don’t know when I have enjoyed an evening better.

Monday, 25th January

After a good breakfast at Sandpipers (order the night before if you want a cooked brekky) and some writing time for me, we meander off to have a further look around Millicent township.

It is an impeccable town and, oh, it must have the most exquisite street trees in the world. (pictured right). I don't know them. I'm in love with them. I have to photograph them. Clever Millicent.

And then, off we head to darling old Penola. 

There has been a cool change. And it gets cooler and rains. It is not a long drive to Penola but it feels far when rain splatters smear insect guts all over the windscreen. Finally, we pull over and find things to clean the wipers and the windscreen. Then we can actually see Penola when we drive in. Mind you, I am definitely not pleased with the new right turn into Penola from the Millicent Road. It seems to have become a ring road and the right-hand turn is on a bend, is poorly marked, and it strikes me as downright dangerous.
Penola, however, seems much as it was the last time I was there. Of course, it is quiet on this rainy Monday, except for the  Vintage Cafe which seems to be the only place open for lunch. It is jam packed, inside and out. We manage to share an outside table with an interesting German-accented senior from Naracoorte. She has driven over because she likes to lunch there from time to time. She was a world-weary countrywoman used to long drives because “that is how it is down here”.

Our friend Guy Detot, the sculptor, wastes no time in joining us and we catch up on news while devouring very nice grilled fish and salad. Guy has just done a new sculpture for the town, celebrating Penola’s literary heritage.
We hasten down to discover it. It is a quill pen, well a feather quill with a nib, set up on a raised niche on a prominent corner of the street where Guy’s Le Max Gallery is situated. Guy is very excited and fills us in on the people who have supported him in creating it, including the tattoo parlour next door.  it is a splendid, tall, sculpture, the feathers finely etched, the nib resting on the white areas between the river stones on the dais. I feel very proud of Guy. A quarter of a century ago, I opened his gallery which is named after my father, the poet Max Harris. Max was a man of the southeast. He grew up in Mount Gambier but his strong connection with Penola was through Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint, Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop. He wrote national columns in The Australian, often through the many years championing her marvellous works as an educator, feminist, and egalitarian. He was a potent advocate for her canonisation, known as her greatest secular  supporter, hailing her as a “Saint For All Australians".  He died before her sainthood was granted but the Josephite Sisters loved him dearly for his love for Mary which is how it came to pass that his ashes were interred beneath the rock in MacKillop Park between Mary MacKillop College and the Convent of the Sisters of St Joseph where the new Mary MacKillop Precinct Museum now stands.

We’re staying at Must, Coonawarra

It is discreetly located up the main road on the way out of town. A narrow drive-in leads to a modern string of apartment motel units. Cate Cooper is proprietor and has everything ready for us in number 3. 
There’s a kitchen and living area with a separate bedroom and a bathroom with a spa bath. I don’t do spa baths, but the place is spick and span and new and well-equipped. We settle in easily.  Guy is keen to have evening drinks but I want to focus on the speech I have to give as Australia Day Ambassador in the morning, So we buy a couple of lamb chops from the fabulous Penola IGA. Fabulous is the operative world, It is a classy supermarket by anyone’s measure. I’m blown away by the cheese selection and start buying up immediately.
B barbeques the chops on Must’s excellent barbie facilities and we have an easy night, with rain still falling.

Tuesday, January 26
Australia Day 2021

The rain has stopped. It is a soft, cool, cloudy day. It is hard to work out what to wear. The Penola ceremony is out of doors, as is usually the case on Australia Day wherein barbecued breakfast and flag raising ceremonies are always featured.
The Wattle Range Council CEO Ben Gower is my special host for this day. I meet him with his wife, Sally, at the Memorial Gardens where people are gathering and setting out their chairs, and the Lions Club fellows are cooking up a storm of eggs and bacon. The event it so well attended that they have to rush down to the IGA for more supplies.  I love those Lions Club fried Australia Day eggs.  There is

nothing like them with their crispy edges.
Ben and Sally are marvellous hosts. Ben is unlike any CEO of my experience. He ditched a corporate high-dollar career to live in the SE, doing up an old property on the edge of the Limestone Coast. He had lived for years in Nova Scotia as an air force navigator flying in P3 Orions. He had never planned on becoming a council CEO but when the job came up, well.  And he has loved it.  Methinks everyone also loves him.
Sally is irresistible. She’s a kindie teacher and has an infectiously enthusiastic good spirit. She’s just had knee surgery, but one would not know it from her general agility. 

The Australia Day ceremony is conducted by the Lions Club, MCed by Ray Haines with Wattle Range Councillors Rich Paltridge and Dean Burrows presenting the two Citizen's Awards. This is one of four different ceremonies taking place in Wattle Range Council. Mayor Noll is at over Beachport where people from Uzbekistan, the USA, and the Philippines are being sworn in as Australian Citizens. 

My speech and some wonderful music by Trevor Gill and Steve
Bowring are the features in Penola and a very large crowd has sorted itself very neatly into rows, front stalls and back stalls. Some are wearing Australia Day hats and regalia. Most are just keeping warm. It’s a nippy country morning but the mood is extremely cordial.
There's lots of chatting and greeting going on. The Lions volunteers are cooking their hearts out. And there are pancakes on offer, too. A hot favourite with the children. 
It is time to start. We stand for the National Anthem.
We stand again for the traditional formal flag raising, 

A chilly breeze is whipping through the little marquee when I take to the dais. I thought I was warmly dressed but not perhaps ready for that wind. Anyway, it is a very ready and attentive audience; a warming sight on a cool morning.

I plough into my speech using my acknowledgement of the local Aboriginal Paintjunga/Boandik people to segue into the Mary MacKillop story.  I’d come across the most serendipitous link in the story of Annie Brice, a Boandik girl who was taken in at Alexander Cameron’s station. Mary MacKillop was to work there as governess in the 1860s and she taught the young Annie Brice to read and write, thus equipping her with the skills to live in the white community and to never take a wrong sitting down. She was a feisty, clever woman who had a string of children by several men before settling with the right one. She even worked at the local pub for years and was quite an identity. Hers is quite a story and, had there been time, I would have loved to tell more of it, albeit that some of the locals know it well and, as it turns out, she has many proud descendants in the area. I am later told that my mention of Annie has made a lot of people very happy. Of course, this makes me happy. I am suggesting that her life should be made into a film and I try to leave this message strongly.

Of course, my speech includes the significance of Mary MacKillop in the land; that brave and feisty, pioneer teacher, and fantastic feminist. Indeed, I assert, we have the one and only feminist saint, the one excommunicated from the church, the one who did not perform implausible miracles but performed the huge miracle of giving education to children across the land, giving lost souls a raison d’ĂȘtre and leaving a legacy of enlightened teaching nuns and generations of emancipated, educated women across the land.
And, there is the literary heritage of this special region: Julian Tenison Woods, John Shaw Neilson and, of course, Adam Lindsay Gordon. Hence Guy Detot’s new statue, celebrating this rare creative core. My father dubbed the area “the land of white man’s dreaming.”

Once there was Marg Muller’s Max Harris Literary Festival down here and now there is the Penola-Coonawarra Arts Festival. The arts are strong with noted writers including Father Paul Gardiner and Peter Rymill. Readers and writers are strong. Country people write letters as well, and when I first visited Millicent as a schoolgirl, it was to discover that behind the utes and dogs and sheep, inside the country homestead, there were walls of books, for this country also breeds high brows.
I sing cheers to the revival of rural media, the Border Watch and Naracoorte Herald having survived closedowns and been revived.
And, one cannot be in the Coonawarra without talking of the John Riddoch legacy and our heavenly wines and the terra rossa. I tell about my US road trip and the weird wines of the Appalachians.  I joke that did not dare comment about the sickly sweet wines amid those proud mountain folk because they all have guns. 
Also on our US road trip I discovered, apart from miles of corn and soybeans, the beautiful new crops covering the US landscape, especially in the oil state of Texas: windmills as far as the eye can see. And here, oh scenic spectacle, are the new windmill farms spread out in Canunda as a beautiful tourist drive. The SE is on the zeitgeist!

And now, on my road-trip here, I am finding breathtaking  museums; magnificent, incomparable museums in Beachport and Millicent. Country people treasure, preserve, restore, and share their history.
Of course, I name all the award recipients and talk about the volunteers' contributions to the community and how our Australia Day awards are for these people, the unsung heroes, the doers.
It is the celebration of these people that is the real reason for Australia Day.
Oddly, Australia Day itself has a bumpy history, and it’s still bumpy.
It started with a Sydney push to mark the landing of the first fleet in 1788. But the other states said they did not want to celebrate the founding in NSW, so there was some general pushing and shoving, and it took until 1935 just to agree on the name Australia Day. And it took until 1946 for the whole country to agree to have the day on the same day.
75 years later, we are still working on this. May 8 is a bit of a front runner — Maaayate!

But, say I, it is important to have a day to think about this country and who we all are and to have a bit of a group hug about our freedoms and cultural depths in this lucky country.

I talk also about the nurses and carers who took care of my mother when she was in hospital; a united nations of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, from Iran to Pakistan, Lebanon to Africa, and they did not need to be told about our wonderful life in our beautiful free country. What they pointed out was that we raised our children in a climate without fear.  
We try to keep our speeches tight, as Australia Day ambassadors.  Ten minutes is considered ideal when speaking out of doors. This speech ran fifteen but  the applause tells me that it was it is well received by the crowd.

As Trevor Gill and Steve Bowring entertain us for some time, marvellous exponents of Australian folk and popular music, I take photos with Citizen of the Year Sue Zwar, a rosarian. You see her touch everywhere in Penola, roses, roses, roses. And the Young Citizen of the Year, Ebonie Moulton, a multi-talented, vigorous, and very clever teenager who will go far

And people crowd around to talk to me. Some are saying they enjoyed my speech. Always a big "phew" moment if you are speaker. Some are remembering my father and his descriptions of Penola. Some just want to say hello. I am very taken by one gentleman, Jim Childs, an imposing nonagenarian who was the 2020 Senior Citizen of the Year. He is a local icon with the nickname "Chipsy"  He's a piper, organises rodeos and has run the pony club and...well we didn't get time for his full story, so we posed for a piccie.

After the crowd has dispersed, Marg Muller and Peter Rymill take us across the road to see Poets’ Corner, in which busts of John Shaw Neilson, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and William Ogilvy are displayed. What an elegant attraction.
What a fine salute to the town's remarkable literary heritage. I am ferociously impressed. Yes, Penola really is a stand-alone town with a powerful image.

I line Peter Rymill and Marg Muller up with them since they stand tall among today's literary identities.

And there is more.

CEO Ben Gower and Sally along with Councillor Dean Burrow, guide us through the Penola backstreets to see historic Petticoat Lane and the perfect old pioneer homes, some now used for tourist accommodation.

 There's a primitive early slab hut which recently has been moved into this heritage precinct, One can't help but immerse oneself in contemplations of the general privations of pioneer life in this country.  What hardy and resourceful folk. 

And there are their solid, simple cottages standing strong through the years.

And there is the heritage herb garden, thriving with companion plantings of marigolds. It is run by the National Trust.

We linger. 
We wander.
It is serene there, and fecund,
The air is exquisitely fresh.
The sun is finding its way through the clouds.
We each drift into little worlds of our own, at ease in the spirit of this pioneer place.

 We meet a marvellous old golden tabby with just a squeak for a mew.


And find the little "shop" of freshly-picked herbs and vegetables.  So beautifully presented. I pop some money into the honesty box and take some white zucchini for dinner.

We stroll back down the lane, pausing at the heritage cottages. One displays period garments hanging from a washing line. Nice touch. 

We meet another visitor, a mother with two little boys. One has found a tiny, tiny snail which is marching happily over his hand with its eye stalks proudly out. It is odd. The snail seems to like this child. Is that a crazy concept? Are we over-anthropomorphising? We make comment. The mum explains that she has

somehow produced a child with an affinity for snails and they will probably have to take it home. He has been keeping snails for years. 

We amble past other pioneer homes along Petticoat Lane - Gammon Cottage, Wilson Cottage, Sharam Cottage, Davidson Cottage.

Penola knows its stuff when it comes to making a tourist statement. They have created a place where families many vacation and immerse themselves the world of our settlers.

Back in the centre of town, we meet up with Guy Detot and head off, driven by CEO Ben with that divine Sally, to lunch at Councillor Rick Paltridge's sumptuous property, Still Water.

There, we meet and mingle sipping very moreish champagne. Councillor Dean Burrow is there with his wife, Eleanor. Sophie Angas, Guy's dear friend secretary of the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival, Peter Rymill, Marg Muller and husband Peter among others. Peter Rymill presents me with a copy of his stunning Penola Coonawarra history book and another smaller text on Adam Lindsay Gordon. He is a sterling historian I am thrilled.

Of course, red wine is the preferred drink hereabouts, but reds and whites as well as sparkling waters soon furnish the handsome table which has been laid out for us all with a Council-sponsored feast prepared by a Coonawarra caterer. Everything is fresh - terrines and pumpkin frittata, cold meats, olives... 
A convivial luncheon ensues complete with platters of freshly baked brownies, marzipan, apple cake...accompanied by the mournful wails of pet peacocks competing with the strident calls of sulphur crested cockatoos and corellas.

Cathy Hughes, partner of our host, takes some of us to visit her netted quince orchard. She calls herself the Quince Queen and is growing myriad varieties of that splendid old fruit, making jams and jellies and pastes and wine, writing a book about them and planning to do a PhD. She is a serious quincer.
 When I mention my friend Nancy Stefanik's quince business in Vermont, she becomes very excited. She knows of Nan and her enterprise. I'm putting them in touch with each other. 

We then follow her for a tour of the old established garden, strongly influenced by Edna Walling, she says. 

Lush herbaceous borders, a hedge of miniature quince, towering old roses, fine old trees...
A partly man-made lagoon is edged by massive ancient gums. Lotus flowers bloom in another tranquil pond. 
 And beyond the oasis of manicured lawns and English blooms, there spreads the glory of Australiana, ancient gums Hans Heysen would have loved on expanses of summer yellow grass. 

Beyond these gorgeous gardens, lagoons and lotus ponds, it's officially a beef cattle property.

It has been a magnificent lunch and sensational hospitality from Rick Paltridge and the Wattle Range Council. I am quite overwhelmed and, of course, charmed to bits. In an effusion of thanks, we lucky luncheon guests part fondly. 
Such a special lunch will be a memory treasured by us all, methinks

Back in the township, we gather around Guy's

new sculpture to give it an unofficial official opening. Sally had gathered peacock feathers for her kindie class and, with Marg Muller, they hold them up against the sculpture and, with me uttering a couple of words about Guy, to Guy's command, they draw them apart and he shouts "it's open". And it is.

And thus, tired, happy and sated, we go in our various directions. 

Australia Day at the wonderful Wattle  Range Council 2021 is complete.

For the pleasure of it all, in no particular order, some added photos:

Penola's sparkling public loo.