The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Loving Monty....

Hello peeps.... It’s been a while since I’ve tottered away anywhere or had anything remotely interesting to ramble about.... that said, things have been far from packed neatly in the luggage department of my life. 

Since Big M and my sojourn to the paradise island of Bali, I’ve hidden myself away down memory lane, madly preening and prepping a manuscript for the Finch Memoir Prize (wish me luck peeps, after 10weeks chained to the desk, the M/S babe has finally hatched and flown the coop). I’ve also delved into the  pre-grandbubba realm, trying to grasp the correct end of a knitting needle and deciphering the difference between blade and pinking scissors - all in the quest to whip up strips of colourful bunting, snugly blankies and soft slobable rag-books for the little peanut who’s about to land on the doorstop in a very short time. 

All my  ‘head in the computer and hiding under balls of bight neon wool’ must have made Big M feel a little dejected recently as he decided to surprise me with a romantic week-end away in one of the prettiest hamlets of Sunshine land – Montville. 
Imagine my delight to find out Big M was taking me to the village that inspired Eleanor Dark’s “Lantana Lane”, a high in the hills community of hilarious, often-eccentric characters.  Would I find a Parisienne Aunt Isabelle, a woman of part time finesse and full time aussie-larrikin dry-wit, here?  Most probably not, but I was not to be disappointed as Big M had booked us into a romantic B&B with a French whisper, the luxurious Montville Provençal.  
There was another reason Big M had decided to get romantic.  A reason I always seem to forget – our wedding anniversary.   27years of wedded bliss....or is that blitz, maybe it’s blazing rows! One thing’s for sure, it’s never been boring.

So, packing the fancy pants, blingy heels and faux pearls, we scooted up the highway into the hinterland of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and arrived at our Oooh la la, c’est magnifique! room – the Rose Suite – just as the sun was setting the sky on fire.
Our wonderful hosts, Laura and Tony welcomed us with beautiful smiles and recommended a restaurant of great delight, the Gypsy Table, for a perfect anniversary tête-à-têtes.  We found ourselves in a romantic setting with log fire and devouring a unique, if not, unconventional menu.   Big M floated off to seventh heaven as he devoured a multicultural curry medley, whilst my tastebuds tingled with the peppered strawberry lamb.   
(Unlike the following night, at another establishment, when my taste buds were burnt to oblivion by a cayenne peppered laced  soup.... like really, who puts cayenne in a Cauliflower & Parsnip soup, and doesn’t mention the word ‘spicy’ on the menu!!!).

The next morning as a gossamer morning light sprinkled across the gardens and the twittering of fairy wrens mingled with the duets of whip birds, Big M and I donned our walking shoes and ambled along the road towards Lake Baroon. To my literary delight (and environmentalist horror) I discover flowering Lantana sprawling across the verges and about a kilometre into our walk, a burst of whimsical eccentricity, the most colourful cottage – pink, purple and blue – covered in thousands of fairies and sparkling slogans of love and peace. Upon reaching the turn off to Lake Baroon, I take one look at the steep incline to the lake, decided there was no way I could tackle such a long, twisting, heart-attack-inducing walk back up without my morning coffee and promptly turned around and head into the village in search of said caffeine hit. 

(Later, when we do make the trip down to Lake Baroon, we find not only a picturesque lake shimmering in the sunlight, echoing the snap lashes of whip birds and bower bird thrawbles , but a hidden oasis called ‘Secrets’, tree house abodes of extreme luxury with an intricately carved  treetop boardwalk through the forest.  Picking up a brochure, my inner-princess swoons at the little ‘romantic’ extras one can have – rose petal trails and hearts outside the doors and petal ‘declarations of love’  such as ‘I love you’ spelt out in real rose petals, not to mention the OMG, spectacular, hanging-from-the-roof, suspended fireplaces!  I'm tucking this secret into my ‘one day list’'.)

Montville is, in a word, Charming. 

But one word is not enough for this hamlet. It’s adorable, picturesque, quaint and oh so chocolate-box sweet.  

Swathed in overhanging bowers of green with a fusion of colourful blooms, the high street gently winds its way along a mountain ridge.  On one side, panoramic ocean views peak between quaint ‘historical looking’ and historical buildings. On the other side, it’s the forest waving between the edifices.
These quaint edifices ooze with cafes, art galleries and shops. 

Lots of shops. 
Shops selling a swirl of rainbows, copper-art cringes, nicky-naky-noos, high fashion and the latest décor fad – dreams of Paris. 

In an ‘olde-worldly’ timber chalet, cuckoo clocks chime out, near it, a colonial sprouting the name ‘camphor cottage’ with wide verandas entices with the smell of roasted nuts and the visual delight of vintage and up-cycled home delights.  Further along there is a Christmas shop, complete with fake snow and massive Santa out front, and an Italian shop selling exquisite venetian glass and intricate masks for balls. 
There’s a Scottish-Irish shop selling ‘mac’ and ‘O’ someorother tea towels, next to an Australiana shop and further along more shops dedicated to everything French. Down a pretty lane sits an Indian shop to send every hippy(but-in-looks-only)wanna-be into the stratosphere; where everything cheesecloth, hemp, Hindi, Buddhist, embroidered, sequined, beaded, mirrored, tie-dyed can be found. 
Montville is a mini-tour of the world, a mish-mash of colour and variety and all it blends beautifully into absolute quaintness and tranquillity.

Peppered amongst this consumerist array is the history of yesteryear; pictured in tiled murals along the footpath, plaques on the buildings, noted on rest-a-while seats, entwined in the ribbon of wrought iron banisters that meander along the pathways and proudly shown in the restored buildings of the village’s memorial precinct – the heritage listed ‘Green’.  

Of particular interest to us, the memorial gates at the Village Hall. Not only do they list the name of those fallen in the Great War as well as those who enlisted, but also, the 'Rejects'.    

At first, we’re quite taken aback. Is this a ‘name and shame’ thing? It is only after we read the little blurb about the gates that it’s revealed the rejected list is the names of those who enlisted but were unable to serve due to ‘varying reasons’.  I find it fascinating to learn back then, only some fifty-five families made up Montville and from those families, forty men served.  Those who could not join the forty men, petitioned to have their names instilled and remembered on the gates. I don’t know if I’d like to be bestowed this type of memory ‘for all time’, but then on the other hand, acknowledging the desire to serve country and being unable too is very important to families in such small communities. 
These gates sit under a shroud of beautiful figs lining the street, Memorial Close. Planted in 1923, each tree represents a fallen man of the Great War, in all, six men, six magnificent trees.  
Not far from the ‘village green’ is the Montville School, a tree-shaded haven with gorgeous buildings and extensive gardens.  The grounds abound in trees planted each Arbour Day from 1896 by the children, the school ran out of space in the 1920’s.  A great pride to the community, the school and it’s permacultured gardens have recently been accepted into the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program, a project to bring garden, food and community together.
Peppered though out the village are also ‘little’ reminisces of yesterday, hidden away under trees and in gardens, tucked up in buildings and hiding behind corners. 

A tiny wooden bell tower near the school recently called the children to class; not so long ago it rang for the South Sea Islanders to toil in the cane on the coastal fields below.   In the shimmering whiteness of Misty’s, a three storey timber building, is a viewing deck, once boasting a large telescope to wow the 1920’s tourists of the expansive coastline for as far as the eye could see. A massive waterwheel churns next to a stone building, and hidden under a forest of trees, a wooden walk bridge commemorating a century of village settlement sits high above a winding treed road leading to the valley of Hunchy.
Our exploring of ‘old buildings’ leads us into artistic wonderlands and I’m on a high of vibrancy, colour and beauty. 

A glass blowing studio bursts with intricate designs of swirls and bubbles. Pride of place on the wall sits a spectacular glass didgeridoo and as I gush over its beauty, we’re told it has featured in many recordings.  In the Montville Art Gallery, I’m immersed in the works of Kendall, Pointon and Steer, and I cannot resist.   

Amongst it all mosaics grace the walls and walkways, adding more bursts of colour to an already vibrant village. 

Montville truly is a sweep of romance for all the senses. 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Not quite Monaco.....

It’s every kids dream (big and small) to take a flimsy wooden box, put it on wheels and ride it helter skelter down a big hill!   Once a year, in a village dubbed as “Australia’s Happiest Town” -  Bangalow,  you can do this whether you’re five or ninety five ( that’s if you’re still game). 
Since arriving home from our steamy holiday two weeks ago, it has rained almost non-stop. On the days when it’s not relentlessly bucketing down, it’s overcast, cold and the sky indecisive as to whether it’s going to send down a two second explosion of great big drops or throw a misty film that sneaks under the brolly and makes everything feel damp and clammy. Overall it’s been pretty miserable and a hankering to be back in warmth has seen me trawling the computer looking for cheap flights back to sunshine and fun.  You can imagine how delighted I was to wake up on the weekend and find an amazingly blue cloudless sky and the promise of some jam packed enjoyment spread out over the North Coast.  We had a choice of  an Antique show in Alstonville, a Gem festival in Ballina, a Surf meets Turf Parade in Evans Head, the “Booty” market in Lismore and the ultimate ‘lets be like Ginger Meggs and scuff our knees' fun of the Bangalow Billy Cart Derby. 
A soap box derby down the main street of a step back in time village won and nice and early on Sunday morning we hightail it to Bangalow in the hope to beat the crowds and grab a good possie on the hay bales.   
Bangalow is a small historical village that packs a big punch. Located in the hinterland behind Byron Bay, it’s a vibrant, always happening place where just about everything is celebrated with some sort festival. 
On any given weekend there were will be something on the calendar – like the famous Bangalow Market, the Fatherhood Festival, the Bangalow Music Festival, Self Publishing Book Fair, Travelling Film Festival, Heart Beat and so much more.
Weekdays can be spent exploring shops that offer Afghani rugs and pony pouches, Japanese origami mobiles and vintage kimonos and stunning Tibetan thangkas.  Wander into the local pub and you might find behind the piano, Tim Freeman of the Whitlam's or Missy Higgins playing for free or down at the local A&I Hall, a small intimate concert being given by Ben Lee.  No wonder the locals of Bangalow are some of the happiest people in Australia. 
Pit Lane was where the gleaming machines and the beautiful people had gathered and I could barely contain my enthusiasm when I spied the very sexy leather clad Tex Perkins of The Cruel Sea fame wandering amongst the race wheels; it was almost as if he was ‘choosing’ his speed machine for the celebrity race he would be competing in.   
What would he choose, a deck chair strapped to two bike fames; a black coffin with pink cross, a magic carpet or a sleek yellow miniature formula ford complete with windscreen and custom paintwork.  Further down the street, watching the competition was the ‘yummy mummy’ of comedy, the gorgeous Mandy Nolan and not far from her, another rock god – Pete Murray.
Big M dragged my attention back to the racing when he mused ‘there must be a lot of wheel chairs in Bangalow up on blocks at the moment….all their wheels have been stolen for the carts.’   It could almost be said the same for all the bicycles, prams and skate boards.   In fact there were a lot of ‘big’ carts getting around with extremely tiny wheels, including a door, millimetres off the ground and could only been steered by the driver kneeling on all fours, head pointing down, backside up and praying like buggery! 
Billy carts of all variety of fantastical designs and questionable build shot down the street, gathering speed, some threatening to upspill the drivers, most smashing into the safety bales at the finish line much to the delight of spectators and competitors alike.  It was all very exciting and exhilarating.   The morning belonged to the little tykes with children as young as five bolting down the hill. 

 At midday the racing stopped and a parade had the crowds bopping along to the beat of various bands. 
The local Sikh community was bright and engaging with beautiful sari clad women dancing but it was the pounding of the hot chilli red Samba Blisstas that blew us all away. 

Then it was the ‘big kids’ turn and the pace picked up with the increased weights on the track.  The spills and thrills mounted and so did the days heat.  I couldn’t believe after a week rugged to the hilt in gloves, scarfs and long coats, we were peeling away the layers and fanning ourselves as the sun beat down.     
Every year the Derby gets bigger, more exciting and action packed.  It might not be Monaco Grand Prix, but the racing is just as serious and the crowds….just as sun soaked, eager. Bangalow certainly is “Australia’s Happiest Town.”  


Saturday, 5 January 2013

"Thar she blows"...

The wilderness paradise of Eden has sat on my ‘one day’ list for a very long time, ever since I heard the story of its unique inhabitants.  So unique, the antics of these inhabitants has never happen anywhere else in the world.  With one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and rich with krill, this is one of the few places where Humpback Whales stop to feed on their migratory route. Joined by many other species of whales such as the Southern Rights, the Blue Whale, Dwarf Minke, Brydes, Pilot, Sperm and the Beaked Whales, this Eden paradise was the perfect hunting ground for Whalers.  Over a hundred years from 1828, they turned the crystal waters of Twofold Bay blood red with their slaughter.

This of course, this isn’t what made Eden unique as whaling took place all over Australia’s coastline, including close to my home region at Byron Bay. One could suggest its uniqueness could have been attributed to a bizarre ‘cure’ for rheumatic fever performed here in the 1890’s. A large hole would be cut into a whales body and patients, nude, would sit inside with only their heads poking out.  They would snuggle down for a good hour or more with the temperature of the dead creature rising to 40°celsius.  It was noted however, the after effects of the treatment were that patients gave off a ‘horrible dead odour for a week or two’... but no it wasn’t this peculiar medical procedure that made Eden unique (or put it on the list for me), it was because of Old Tom and his mates. 

Old Tom was an Orca; a magnificent Killer Whale that gave true meaning to the adage “with friends like these, who needs enemies”.  For he and his pack had made a partnership with the Whalers.  When the Humpbacks or Southern Rights or the Blue or for that matter any of the other Baleen type whales came through, Old Tom’s pack would ‘round up’ a whale and ‘hold it’ whilst Old Tom notified the whalers to come. He would swim to bay, splash and leap until the whalers boat launched, then lead them to the ‘caught’ whale.  When the whalers harpooned the whale, Old Tom would get so excited sometimes he would grab the harpoon line in his mouth to slow the whale down, exhausting it more thus enabling the whalers to lance it to death. As reward for working with the whalers, Old Tom and his pack received the killed whale’s tongue and lips.  After their ‘payment’, Old Tom and his mates would then go in search for another suitable whale for their ‘partners’.  

It’s believe that this did not happen anywhere else in the world. This ‘partnership’ between the whaleman and Old Tom was so unique and unusual, that when Old Tom died in 1930, not a single Orca returned to Eden and the whaling industry of Eden came to an end.  The skeleton of Old Tom holds court in the Killer Whale Museum, and it was to see this ‘wolf of the sea’ that enticed me to Eden.
The surrounds of Eden are indeed a paradise; the most beautiful bays, spectacular wilderness and Lake Curalo is breathtaking.  Unfortunately, I was to find the actual township of Eden very lacking.  The township, first settled way back in 1820’s has gone under many changes and industries over the years, from whaling to timber to fish cannery to now tourism.  And along with the decline to industry so too did the aesthetics of the town change and decline. 

There are very few historical buildings left standing in the centre of the town, most of the shops are of those ugly 1970’s type, basic square brick with big windows. It obvious the local historical society is trying to regain some of the town’s heritage as many of the shops have plaques attached to them saying “The site of....”  but this a poor substitute for a beautiful building. There were some historical buildings, but they were far and few in-between and hunting them out took considerable effort.
Not so hunting out the delicious fare of the Disaster Bay Chillies. 

Big M was in his element when we found these gourmet condiments and a phone call to Stuart at the ‘processing’ plant resulted in an invite to visit – they were cooking and we were welcome to come and try.  It’s not a very big production, but it certainly packed a punch! The smell was divine and Big M had much fun ‘taste-testing’. With arms bearing jars of delicious condiments and Chilli Wine, made from nine different chillies and not a single drop of grape in sight... we headed off for the next gourmet stop – Bega,  home of cheese.
Where Eden lacked street appeal, Bega surpassed and delighted.  Bega’s township is abundant with historical and country style buildings and houses all set in a beautiful valley with rolling hills.  In fact it’s said that the ‘most smug-looking cows live there’ and judging by the beauty and tranquillity of their farming area, I can see why.  We dropped into the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre for something to eat and perhaps taste-test and although I’m sure during non-high-season times, this place would be a delight, the crowds, the grottiness of the café sitting area and the lack-lustre service put a dampener on our visit to this charming little town.  With so many ‘little fingers’ grubbing about in the testing cheese display, we weren’t game to go anywhere near the samples.
We  did not entirely miss out on our feast of cheese, for just sixty kilometres up the road was the Tilba Cheese factory and the boutique South Coast Cheese company both located in the divine village that time forgot – Central Tilba.  Set in picturesque hill soundings, every building is beautifully restored, their fronts brimming with flowering gardens that entice colourful parrots and small birds right into the main street. 
The quirkiest signage adorns to the walls of the shops, such as the local pub offering “Husband Day Care”, or the shop that advertises it’s opening hours as “Most days about 9 or 10, occasionally as early as 7, but some days as late as 12 or 1. Closed: about 5 or 6, but sometimes as late as 11 or 1 and somedays we arn’t here at all....” and I just loved the colourful prayer wheel inviting one to turn it and mumble the Aussie mantra of “She’ll be right” instead of om mani padme hum.

As we arrived at Norwa we debated our last place to visit.  We were close to the Southern Highlands where we first started our ‘one day’ road trip and time had come to an end.  Work was calling it was time to get back.  Looking at the map, Big M thought it’d be a good thing to head straight up the highway to Sydney but I was adamant that the trip wasn’t about to end that abruptly, no there was another place I wanted to see, to finish off with, but Big M wasn’t too keen. 
Just prior to reaching Eden the day before, I’d insisted a detour after Mallacoota to visit Genoa and see its “historical” bridge.   When we arrived, the bridge -classed as one of five trussed bridges left in Victoria and with the maximum number of trusses – was at best, ho-hum and very debatable on the photogenic scale... in Big M’s opinion – NO!  So, when we came to end of our trip, my suggestion to detour from the highway and head to another bridge did not go down too well. However, Big M is a big softie at heart and knows that a happy wife means a happy life and so indulged me and off we went to our last stop, Kangaroo Valley.

Climbing the curves of the Highland mountains took us back into beautiful pockets of rainforest and we were blessed with two sightings of lyre birds – one with tail in full plumage. The village of Kangaroo Valley is another picture perfect darling and one that induces a plethora of oohs and arhs.  Once again, quaint colonial buildings surrounded by  a stunning forest landscape. 
Gardens filled with flowers and abundant birdlife contour the main street. A street filled with art galleries, home-made fudge emporiums, sumptuous cafes and adorable cottage-style B&B’s.  The pride of Kangaroo Valley is the magnificent Hampden Bridge.  A sandstone suspension bridge with four battlement turrets that would look more at home in a castle than in a tiny 300population village, yet it looks fabulous sitting astride the beautiful stone lined river surrounded by rugged forest.  Medieval in character, it wasn’t hard to imagine the clip of hooves that crossed in year gone by.

It was the perfect ending to our fabulous trip of tiny Aussie towns, towns diverted from the main highways and hidden from the everyday.  Gorgeous towns fighting for remembrance and to stay alive.  Although I’ve ticked off some of the ‘one day’ list, another has formed - the ‘I’m going to return to....’ list, and its getting quite long.