In February 2022 we were, at last, able to travel interstate to Victoria without and COVID-19 restrictions.
The virus is still active but less deadly and one by one the States are accepting that we now need to live with it.
So, it was off to Melbourne for a 'Luxury Escape'.
According to Google Maps, it's now possible to drive the 900km to Melbourne (down the M31) in nine hours, non-stop. I once did it on older roads in under twelve, changing a flat tyre on the way. But it's no fun. Much better to fly, as we've done in the past.
This time, we decided to drive again but by a longer route (1,160 km each way), stopping twice in each direction overnight. It would be more relaxing and we'd see some unvisited country on the way.
It would be like driving from Berlin to Paris (1,055 km) but with no stop in historic Cologne (where, at age 10, my eldest daughter, Emily, declined to go into the cathedral with me - as she would have to bin her McDonald's milkshake).
Our first stop would be at Kiora near Moruya.
Mosman to Kiora - 320 km - about four and a half hours driving plus a lunch stop
At Kiora we enjoyed very comfortable (and free) accommodation, curtesy of Sally (Julia's mother) who was unable to be there, as she had higher responsibilities elsewhere.
A neighbour's cow-herd had invaded her garden and I undertook to drive them out. Which turned out to be easy as they acted like guilty dogs and went meekly over the broken fence, as did the bull. But he watched me pull a fallen fence post back up and brace it with a fallen branch.
As soon as I left, he started trying, unsuccessfully, to undo my handiwork. He's surprisingly smart for a dumb animal!
Kiora to Tilba for lunch - about 70km - less than an hour's drive
There's Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba. Both are historic villages but the tourist action is at Central Tilba, in part due to the Tilba Cheese Factory. The village also features several cafés and a number of hand-craft and bric-a-brac stores (need a stock whip?).
The Devonshire tea was good too.
Tilba to Lakes Entrance (our overnight stop). It's - 450 km. This took about four hours of extremely boring driving - as a great part was forest, some of it recovering from the 2020 fires. Mostly, we just zoomed along on cruise control (on the speed limit plus a little bit). Asking Google anything about it was pointless, as there was no mobile connection for much of the drive.
As we have no snaps, Lakes Entrance was either too exciting or too boring to photograph - take your pick.
The Travel Victoria website errs on the latter explanation (https://www.travelvictoria.com.au/lakesentrance/) - but it wasn't that bad.
We had a nice long walk, along the front, and bought takeaway dinners to eat later, watching TV.
The Sandbar Motel was very comfortable with good: bed; linen; shower and WiFi (the essentials) - and even had Netflix
According to Google Maps, Lakes Entrance to our destination in Melbourne is 320 km.
It took us about five hours of (more interesting) diving with stops for lunch petrol and so on.
We'd purchased a four day 'Luxury Escape' to the Crown Metropol Melbourne
Our room was on the 21st floor - about as high as the apartment I once lived in in New York. That had an open balcony, so the drop was familiar - except when I stumbled against the window here.
We walked into town then back along the muddy Yarra
The next day we walked to the Queen Victoria Markets - Melbourne's pride then back via the river again.
On our third day we drove to Phillip Island.
Phillip Island is 140 km from Melbourne and it should take two hours there and back but there was a boat trailer that had lost a wheel on the way there causing traffic chaos and there is a single bridge to the mainland that involved long traffic delays on the way back. So it was more like three hours each way.
First stop - obvious after a long drive - the facilities at the surf beach (Smiths). And a coffee shop for lunch.
Phillip Island is famous for its penguin colony - seen here lurking - they come out at dusk
Despite the traffic problems, it was a good day out and we enjoyed it.
Melbourne hosts, historically, the finest art collection in Australia. The National collection in Canberra may now out-value it but I always enjoy visiting the two galleries in Melbourne (Australian and International art). The Art Gallery of New South Wales probably ranks next yet the Queensland collection in Brisbane see here... is also very good.
Obviously, this is but a small sample.
A Pre-Raphaelite influence - once enormously popular in Australia - particularly in the NSW collection.
Australian Art - well sort of. I include the Glover because it illustrates how badly early artists with an English perception represented Australia. The rainbow is appalling - one would have thought that at least that was familiar.
The blue-grey paintings at the end of the gallery were made by Robert Jacks whom I knew when living in New York in the 70's
and later when we'd both returned to Sydney. He died young in 2014.
Ballarat is 120 km from Melbourne - under two hours unless there is a lot of traffic or roadwork - a good distance for lunch after a late check-out.
Ballarat is the third largest city in Victoria (pop 157,500). It's a town founded on the Victorian Gold Rush.
There's evidence that gold was first discovered in the early years of the British colony in New South Wales but that the knowledge was suppressed, as not being conducive to good order in a penal colony. But the California gold rush (1848-9) changed all that. Settlers started leaving for California. So, a reward was offered for an Australian Gold discovery and less than two years later it was claimed by Edward Hargraves, for a discovery near Orange in NSW.
Suddenly gold was being found all over the place. Often in creeks and rivers and much of it in Victoria where, in the 1850's, gold nuggets began to be found, some lying on the surface.
In 1858 Cornish miners unearthed a huge nugget weighing 68.2kg at Ballarat. Then in 1869 the largest nugget ever recorded anywhere in the world, the Welcome Stranger (72kg), was found 100 kilometres north of the town. Ballarat was suddenly one of the wealthiest places on the planet.
Law and order had already become an issue at Ballarat, resulting in Australia's second serious uprising against British authority: the Eureka Stockade (1854). And now some old professions would become more profitable: Bushranging and personal services. Indeed, commerce of all kinds.
After lunch in Ballarat we set out for Bendigo where we would spend the night.
Another 120 km or so - under two hours driving.
Not to be outdone by Ballarat, and today just a fraction smaller (by population), the area around Bendigo was also rich in gold. As early as 1853 a huge tent city had sprung up here. Yet, save for a few examples, and a matching statue of Queen Victoria (in this case proclaiming her: 'Queen of Earthly Queens') the city lacks Ballarat's iconic Victorian architecture (charm?).
Yet, there are a few examples. Across the road, from the Queen of Earthly Queens, is an historic pub: the Hotel Shamrock, where we had dinner.
I later discovered that the Shamrock (Guinness on tap) dates back to 1854 and once, like all good frontier towns, encompassed a music hall. As the town's wealth increased the hotel prospered and was completely rebuilt in iconic colonial style in 1897. But by the 1970's it was rundown and due for the wrecker's ball. The historic building was saved from impending demolition, as a building of state heritage significance , by the Victorian Government and was leased to a commercial management company (the Comfort Inn chain). In the interests of commercial success, the large rooms were up-graded with en-suite facilities and the historic public areas were fully restored. It was officially reopened by Prince Charles and his initial bride, Diana, Princess of Wales, during their royal visit in 1983. No doubt the statue of great great great grandma across the road was a comfort to him? Perhaps her presence there, so far from home, contributed to their, much vaunted, connubial bliss?
Our table, at dinner, was adjacent to a large table of classic car enthusiasts, of a similar age to us, who had driven up from Adelaide and who determined to keep us amused.
By 1910, around 1200 nuggets (each in excess of 620g) had been found in Victoria and for a time the State surpassed New South Wales in population. This is still evident in Melbourne's architecture from the period.
Gold's initial easily accessible abundance in Australia was in part due to it having no value, until the arrival of the first Europeans in 1788. So people had not actively sought it out nor collected it.
Unlike people in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, indigenous Australians had little use for gold. It's heavy and too soft for tools and they had no means of smelting it or working it.
Smelting gold requires ceramics (and kiln technology), that had not yet been developed in Australia.
Today most Australian gold (sill a significant export) is mined on an industrial scale. It's now been found in every State.
At last tally, Western Australia's share of annual production was 67% followed by New South Wales with 12% and Queensland with 6%.
Victoria's commercially viable gold is largely mined out. But you never know, there may still be some big nuggets, lurking, just below the the range of the fossickers' metal detectors.
It's about 900 km from Bendigo to our home in Mosman so we decided to break our journey about half way, at Wagga Wagga, on the Murrumbidgee River
Wagga Wagga is about five hours drive from home non-stop. So in the past I've flown here. But we had all day.
It's in New South Wales and a regional services city, with considerably smaller population than either Ballarat or Bendigo. As the locals say "it's so good they had to name it twice". Yet, repeat naming is quite common in Australia (eg Woy Woy and Tilba Tilba) where Aboriginal names are frequently applied (and preferred).
I like Wagga, it has a familiar country charm and we enjoyed the evening in a local pub, appropriately: The Victoria.
Our motel was comfortable too.
We broke our journey home with a stop for morning coffee in Gundagai - just an hour down the road from Wagga.
As we were on the road home it seemed appropriate.
'Along the Road to Gundagai' is one of the few original Australian folk songs - as opposed to adaptations of Irish or English tunes.
All together now (Australians only):
There's a track winding back...
For those who are Australian but too young (old accent )
Or (Slim Dusty, AO MBE etc - modernish accent)
Further on, we would stop for fuel and something to eat for lunch, near the Big Marino in Goulburn
For most of the trip we'd enjoyed blue skies.
Now, the wipers began to swish furiously, as we approached rain-sodden Sydney.
The garden didn't need watering.