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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Notes From Melbourne And The Great Ocean Road - Part Three

Taking the Deans Marsh Road out of Lorne I made my way through a steep and winding incline until eventually it peaked and on the other side, once you had finished with the forested hills, you descended into lush green valleys of pasture dotted with dairy cows. The land looked very fertile, that all a farmer needed was seeds and something to prevent fungus from developing owing to the moisture content in the air and on the paddocks. I was also impressed by the architecture, it was not that usual stuff one might find in other parts of rural Australia, some of the houses were modern, clad with solar, timber, squared lines, glass panel viewing rooms and that more modern approach to fly screen doors and the like that give an architectural look to modern practical applications like harnessing the sun, keeping the sun out or cross ventilation.

My car was now free to hum along the back-country roads where there was far less traffic and onwards I spurred my car towards Warrnambool, trying to make this coastal town before dark so that I could bed down and start my drive in the opposite direction back to Lorne the following day. But country roads can get tiring, especially when you don’t know what to expect. The rains set in again, making it even more difficult and as I passed a car that was turning right off the road I noticed that a car approaching from behind had not seen the car stopped and with blinkers on. The Ford sedan broke hard and as it neared the stationary car it veered off the road and into a long green grassy ditch by the side of the road. I did not stop but noticed others that did. We always think of ourselves as so safe in our little bubbles as we drive along but there are always stark reminders on Australian roads that your safety in thinly veiled and it doesn’t take much imagination to consider what it must be like to be sitting in a smashed-up car, in a ditch, the cold wind and rain against you, wondering if the ambulance will reach you in time. I pray I never need know that feeling, especially on some of those lonely country roads.

Warrnambool was a quaint seaside village of 34,000, and derived its name from the indigenous Australian words for ‘volcanic cone’. It’s popular with tourists for being the first big town at the end of The Great Ocean Road, it’s history as a port during the Gold Rush, whale watching, natural spas and surf beaches. I found a motel and went for a walk as the sun was setting, but not where I was used to it setting according to Sydney beaches. From where I was standing I was looking, when I checked my compass, straight towards Antarctica, with nothing between. It was a frightening thought, that beyond this bleak sea which was churning lay nothing but a huge white mass across a heavy sea.

The following morning, I made my way along the coast road to the 12 apostles, stopping for a ‘big breakfast’ in a small town called Port Campbell. There, despite the temperature being less than 10 degrees, I found two women having an early morning ocean swim on a tiny beach located next to the tiniest of ports.

The road as I headed on was veering close to and away from the sea, revealing high cliffs which plunged straight down, sometimes onto small rock shelves and into the sea and at others onto narrow beaches. The flora was stripped bare, exposed to a menacing wind which must have tested its roots system day in day out. This was a very real form of Darwinism for me, only that which could survive the elements still stuck around. You could envisage that it had been like this, mostly unchanged, for millions of years. That if it weren’t for those soldiers having carved out this stretch of road, you’d never have known about it and it would have just kept on being so until eventually the whole coast line had been lashed away from the sea over millions of years. And, as guests, were here but for small blink of it as a show.

The Twelve Apostles was the most uneventful part of The Great Ocean Road regardless of whatever tourist brochures you read. Let me be clear, they are a series of rocks, once called ‘The Sow And Piglets’, a much better name if you ask me since there are only eight apostles left now. And that’s really all they are – like looking at big rocks in the sea – so if you go expecting something else to happen, you will be sorely disappointed.

However, the one thing I would suggest is taking the helicopter up and over the apostles, not that you care about seeing them from the air, but the coast line comes alive from the air and you see the vast, unforgiving sea which has smashed many a ship across the that strip of coast line and where many lives have been lost in times when there weren’t helicopters and nobody was coming to save you. It also gives you a wonderful perspective of the size of the cliffs which you can’t fully appreciate from the road.

Onwards I went along the coast road until I arrived at one of thehighlights of my trip – a curried fresh scallop and leek pie from a bakery in Apollo Bay which was one of the most delicious things I ate in my time away. It was a shame I had eaten a big breakfast because I would have liked to stash another one for the drive if I weren’t so full.

Towards Lorne, the final leg to complete the entire Great Ocean Road, the road became increasingly windy and rocks had recently fallen onto the side of the road from bad weather the day before. It was a reminder that this road is often closed, in parts highly dangerous and if that didn’t bother you then the sign that said “In Australia we drive on the left-hand side of the road” was even more alarming as you eyeballed the tourists that might have woken up that morning tired and not considering where they were as they pulled out onto the road.

From Lorne, I took the back country and drove to Geelong, what seemed to be one of the most boring looking places I have ever come across. If any of my readers can tell me where it gets good, please drop me a line, because I couldn’t find it. At Queenscliff, I bought a ferry ticket for my car and took a sandwich in one of those sea-side looking cafes that had a view both of Bass Straight and Port Phillip Bay. I was on my way to Portsea via Sorrento. It was a beautiful little trip across the bay giving me a perspective of Melbourne and it’s surrounds that I don’t think I had ever full appreciated, ferries were en route for Tasmania, other ships were passing through the bay with cargo.

I took dinner at the Portsea Hotel and had a glass of red in the beer garden which overlooked the beach and jetties in front as I considered my luck in not having had a punctured tyre or a mechanical problem with my car. I was happy and content with my own company and felt a sense of accomplishment, another Bucket List item was now ticked off and I could relax. I started thinking about future explorations – Adelaide to Perth, Sydney to Byron Bay etc. Especially with a long-range diesel engine with more than 1000kms to a tank – it seemed silly to waste that kind of fuel efficiency and the car journeys truly beat the hell out of airport check-ins, flight delays, uncomfortable seats, baggage carousels, taxis and ubers.

I stayed the next night in Sorrento and the next day I stopped into Melbourne to interview Adriano Carbonne, one of Melbourne’s few remaining tailors who own and operates his own workroom. It was fun, as I will explain in separate post.

I drove out of Melbourne in the afternoon and stopped for the night in the sleepy village of Tumbarumba on the way back to Sydney. This was beautiful country I was very familiar with. Years ago, as a student of the University of Sydney’s faculty of Agriculture, I had done some field work in the area. I went back to photograph the areas then drove on towards Batlow, the roads flanked by pine forests until Batlow before they gave away to apple orchards. I reached Sydney in the mid afternoon and parked my car at the car wash across the road from our Studio. It was completely black from insects on and around the grill. And when I went to pick it up after it had been washed, there was a punctured tyre. After 2500 kilometers, that seemed a small price to pay. :)

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