February 13th, 2016


Australia II -- Onward to Victory(a)!!

[If you'll excuse me I think I'll take a quick break from the Mountains of the Moon and the Great Blue Turaco to fast forward and instead try to cram the last two months in Victoria, Australia into one entry before I get too behind in THIS adventure]

Friday, December 18th, morning - As I walked out of the Melbourne airport into the summer sun, I didn't quite know what to expect. I knew a taxi driver was waiting for me but I really didn't know quite exactly where he was taking me. That's okay, I like a good adventure. I had left California on a winter Wednesday night, skipped over Thursday entirely, and arrived on a Friday in the summer.
   The taxi driver turned up huffing and puffing from the short walk from the car park across the street (he was er NOT in the best of shape). I of course immediately tried to get in the wrong (right side) of the car, welcome to Australia, where the world is upside down! We proceeded south on the highway through rolling countryside, but I quickly fell asleep due to the harrows of jetlag. I was not infrequently jolted awake though by the taxi driver drifting onto the rumble strips on the highway shoulder (!!), suffice to say I was gravely concerned about the driver's health and fitness to actually be a driver.
   We passed through Geelong ("j'long") and continued on what would become a much more familiar route for me, the half hour between the farm and the town. This is the area I now spend my time in, and it consists of rolling golden hills (now finally starting to be tinted with green), spotted with rectangular black cows or brailled with haybales (no longer rectangular, but rolled up like giant cinnamon rolls), and stitched with lines of trees along the borders of the fields. In sum, it's absolutely beautiful country, especially at sunset.

   We finally turned off the highway, drove down a short one lane road for a bit, and finally arrived at The Farm. There I met my boss for the first time -- he was much more friendly and outgoing than his rather stern picture on the company website had led me to anticipate! The farm I guess you'd call a "hobby farm" just because it's not his main source of income and I think he only keeps it up for entertainment, but it consists of a number of fields and he employs a full time farm manager as well. He seems to have a particular interest in aviculture, as there are chickens, geese, turkeys, guineafowl, and peafowl (ie peacocks and peahens). Also five dogs and five cats. The Boss, an Irishman from Kilkenny and Wexford (I lived and attended school briefly in Kilkenny myself!) has named the farm "Ardtarmon," Irish for "hillfort" since it sits on a hill overlooking Lake Modewarre. I like to refer to it as "Modewarre Station," in my mind because so many things in Aus are "X Station," and I like the sound of it.
   The boss lives on a house overlooking the Lake, which has been dry so long now it's entirely grown over with tall grasses and shrubs, but in the morning the mist collects in it to create a lake of fog down below us. He kind of apologetically showed me a furnished double-trailer beside the vegetable garden that I could stay in until I get on my feet and normalized here, but it's actually quite nice. Last time I was in Australia (6 months in 2012/2013) I swore I'd never live on property owned by a boss again after two bad experiences (one expected me to live on his porch and pay $100 a week for the privilege, the other was a decent place but unexpected inspections by my boss were very annoying, especially since he would criticize me for the epic mess my flatmate always made), but so far I'm really loving the non-commute to work, ducking into my own kitchen for lunch, and having been adopted by one of the farm cats. The only real downside is the principal of the thing that I live in a trailer, and also the kitchen and shower and such all being tiny (if I stood up straight the shower ceiling would be level with my chin (I'm 6'2" btw), so showering currently gives me a crick in the neck).

   Having done the relocation thing before I had some tricks up my sleeve, and joined a bunch of meetup groups before I even left Cali. As such I had a pool party to attend in the Geelong suburbs the very next day (again, middle of summer!), which was fun. This group has been great, they also had a New Years party (which was just a week or so after I arrived), and have had several bar trivia nights (one thing I really missed back in the states. Sure tehre are _some_ trivia nights, but nothing like the abundance of them in Aus). Altogether between official meetup events, "unofficial" social events with the same people, and some other things, I've been having at least two or three social events a week, which is actually way more than I was even doing back home!

   Another thing that's helped a lot with normalization of life here is that I've been given use of the "farm ute" (ute being Aussie for pickup-truck), so I'm free to roam! On the first several weekends I immediately set about exploring. The city of Geelong (pop 200,000) is about half an hour east, but I usually don't have to go any further than the closest suburbs for shopping, and sometimes into downtown in the evening for pub trivia. (I've come up with two epic team names I'm quite proud of: "Rock the Quiz-ba," and "Don Quiz-ote & the Flailing Windmills"). Closer at hand the nearest place with a (tiny) general store is Moriac ten min down the road (I feel like a lot of places here sound like planets in Star Wars. "Colac" is ther other nearest large town), just a village really with just that one shop. A slightly bigger small town maybe fifteen minutes the other direction, but best of all, 30-40 minutes south, on the far side of the Otway National Forest is the Great Coast Road, along a great coast!! Both a forest and a coast!
   Those first weekends I immediately set to driving up and down the coast, which as one would expect, is dotted with cute yet touristy seaside towns. I drove as far as I could east until I got to entrance to Port Phillip Bay and the beautiful little town of Queenscliff full of beautiful colonial style buildings and punctuated by a grand red brick fortress guarding the bay.

   Another day I set off west along the coast, and this direction the highway is hemmed in closely by the forest so you have the crashing waves below you, long mostly empty beaches below the cliffs, and just steep forest-blanketed hills on your right, as you wind down the coast. It's these views that make one really think "god I'm lucky to live here." By the Cape Otway lighthouse I saw koalas in the wild for the first time. Some tourist tried to get too close to one and man can they bellow! There aren't terribly many roads through the national park but returning I intentionally took a smaller road and found myself winding through deep rainforest, the forest floor hidden under giant ferns. And then, unexpectedly I came upon the unmistakable towering mass of a grove of redwoods. I'd heard about these redwoods but had no idea they were on the obscure rouate I was on. Even though the sun was setting and I was in a hurry to get out of the forest before dark, I reversed back to the turnoff and explored the redwoods. According to the sign they were in fact California Sequoias planted in 1938. I love all foest bu there's somethign about redwoods. They seem to deaden sound or something, so that when you're in and among them, it's so serene and peaceful, and the air smells and feels so fresh. The sun was slanting in at a very low angle (it was after 7pm with a 9:15 sunset), and I've alwasy felt the evening light in Australia is unusually golden, so the serene redwoods plus this Australian twilight combined for just a beautiful zenful experience. Add to this that being from California myself and having a great love for the redwoods there there was a bit of nostalgia added in as well. I'll definitely be going back to visit the redwood grove!!!
   From there I had to hurry on my way, first winding through more thick forest that looked like jurassic park and then through the fields as the hay bales' shadows stretched across the hills, reaching for the East, and shadows pooled in the valleys beneath a purpling sky.

The Laver's Hill Adventure, or The Sudden Death of Kermit
Saturday, January 16th
- my friendfrom meetup, Billie, and her twin sister (they're actually triplets!) invited me to go to Otway Fly with them, a place in the forest where ziplines and canopy-level catwalks had been built. So I ran to my car and drove out to where they were, which was about an hour away, west by south from me, mainly along the route I'd returned from the redwoods by, and I'm going to keep saying this, but I took note the countryside was just beautiful along the way. Got there around 2pm. We opted not to go ziplining because it was expensive, though I'd like to go some time. The catwalks themselves were pretty fun. I think we were about 75 feet up, and one viewing tower was about 150' (47 meters) -- which I noted was about as tall as the tops of the masts of the Swedish ship Gothenborg or the barque Star of India, but sadly didn't swing through the air nearly so much. Still made me nostalgic for the smell of tar, but hey I was in the middle of a forest with two beautiful twins, who's complaining?? Both on the catwalks and on the ground level walk there were informational signs about some local flora and fauna, which as a nature lover I love to stop and read. Apparently there's a carnivorous snail here!

   Billia and Lexie were planning on sightseeing in the area all day, camping somewhere, and continuing the next day. I hadn't been part of this original plan but they invited me to come along with them to their next destination or two. So next we went to nearby Triplet Falls (Triplet Falls with (two of) Triplets!), which had a beautiful 1.5ish km kilometer loop hike through the forest and along the series of falls that forms the triplets. It was quite lovely, I've added it to the ever growing list of places to take my parents when they finally visit.

One of a set of triplets on one of the Triplet Falls!

   From there they planned to have dinner on the coast and watch the sunset, (and after that go see glow worms somewhere, but.. never got that far! dun dun dun) so we continued along, to where the road came to the little town of Laver's Hill and turned off toward the coast there. Upon reaching the coast the road turns back east towards Apollo Bay, which is about as far as I'd gotten previously following the road from the east. We stopped briefly at a viewpoint on the coast and sdmired the beautiful beach way down below for a few minutes. Then we got back in our respective vehicles, me in the ute, them in Billie's green sedan she's named Kermit... but Kermit wouldn't start, the engine wouldn't even roll over. We tried this for awhile, readjusting the clamps, giving it time, nothing worked. As it happens there was no cell phone reception on this remove ocean overlook, so Billie and I went off looking for somewhere we could get some help.
   To the east the road descended steeply into a valley, with a cluster of four houses and the ruins of some bigger building with little more than stone walls and a big chimney remaining overgrown with tall grass. A short distance down that way the map said there was a town called Glenaire so we headed that way. After driving ten minutes though my gas tank was running on E (I wasn't expecting this much adventure when I started!) and there was no sign of Glenaire (404 town not found!). No other civilization was expected until Apollo Bay some distance away, so we turned around and came back. On closer inspection on the return we determined that the small cluster of houses WAS the "town" of Glenaire. I've found Austraia is full of these ghost "towns." If you investigate carefully many of them once had a schoolhouse or post office, probably before modern transportation made it possible for them to go further afield for these things, but I've found plenty of "towns" on the map which appear to have no remaining physical manifestation at all, just fields and maybe one family dwelling.

   We touched base with Lexie again and then went the other way to Laver's Hill. By now I was crossing my fingers I wouldn't run out of gas, thus leaving us with two nonfunctional cars and no reception!! I was veritably praying to Odin that Laver's Hill had a (diesel) gas pump. First place with a pump was out of order. 404 gas not found! Breaking into a nervous sweat we headed to the Lover's Hill roadhouse.. and they had a diesel pump!! So I was greatly relieved to gas up, and Billie called her uncle, a mechanic, who said the battery may have failed completely but if we unhooked it and bypassed it by connecting the jumpers from my truck directly to her battery leads we should be able to start her car.
   So we returned to the overlook *over 'Castle Beach' I think for those of you following along at home) and made dinner first. Since they were planning on camping they had a camp stove and pots and cans of noodles or rice or something, with tomato sauce. The sun was setting as we did this, so at least we got our sunset, though it kind of smouldered off into the sea haze. Then we set about making the fix ... but we had no tools to unbolt the battery leads!! 404 pliers not found! Despair!
   So we put their swag (Aussie for a sleeping bag that's enforced against the elements so you don't need a tent too) and overnight stuff in the back of my ute and all piled in the cab, which was a really tight fit for three, and headed up the hill.
   The Lover's Roadhouse had an adjacent field in which other people had already pitched tents, and I don't think they even charged us for the privilege. I joined the girls for a drink in the roadhouse before heading home. I'd have liked to stay but i hadn't brought my swag unfortunately ):
   This roadhouse was the kind of delightful quaint place on fears doesn't exist any more. It was warm and cozy inside, with the kind of stuff on the walls places hope they look like when they put kitsch on the walls, but it just fit the place in this case. It seemed overstaffed with like five people who appeared to be staff and a dozen patrons who seemed mostly tourists. The staff were hilarious though, constantly ribbing eachother, and the owner full of self deprecating humour and sarcasm. I wish the place was closer I'd love to hang out there more.
   Alas by and by it was time for me to go (around 1am I think!) so I bid the girls goodnight and embarked on what felt like a VERY long journey through twisting roads that veritably tunneled through the thick forest. At one point I had to slam on my breaks as a large deer bounded across in front of me (deer were imported, are now an invasive species, typical). Finally arrived back at the farm and took a moment to marvel and the millions of unfamiliar stars sparkling like diamonds in the black sky above.

   Now my part in the adventure ends there but the next day apparently Billie got someone (a police officer?) to lend her tools, they hitchhiked back to the overlook, getting a ride from a British couple who actually stayed with them for the rest of that day's trouble. Were able to detach the battery leads and jump the car that way ... but as soon as the car powered on the doors locked, with her keys inside!!! At this point I would have screamed and cursed the gods I think. So this couple drove her and her sister to Apollo Bay where they were able to get a locksmith or tow truck or some such to return with them to get the doors open AND start the car (which had then been running all the while since the keys were in it in the on position?). I don't recall if Kermit was able to return to Geelong under her own steam or had to be towed but anyway it was a lot of shenanigans!

   But wait, there's more! Sometime during this Billie's wallet fell out in Laver's Hill, and was found and the good samaritan (maybe this was the police officer) called her. So she had to return to fetch it (keep in mind Laver's Hill is at least an hour and a half from her). On her return from this trip she encountered a motorcycle cop who looked stranded by the side of the road ... his battery had died! Seeing him Billie pulled off the road behind him, which as she commented was kind of a funny reversal of the usual roles, walking up to him saying "what seems to be the problem officer?" So she was able to jump his bike for him and return the karma.

Aus Day
   If I knew what was good for me I'd end the entry there with the completion of the story arc and warm ending, but I don't! You can consider this an epilogue though maybe? I just want to get caught up so I'm going to power through this last bit of adventure I'd like to mention!

   The first three waves of human migration onto the Australian continent between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago leaves no memorial date, but the fourth wave, triggered when Great Britain found they could no longer send their criminals to America and instead raised the flag in Australia, is celebrated on January 26th. My last Aus Day we got 21 inches of rain in Bundaberg, I waded through knee deep water to get to the local bar to celebrate (and in retrospect its kind of hilarious it was still open and having traffic), getting out again just before the roads closed and my town became an island, but anyway, that was 2013.
   This time Aus day fell on a Tuesday. Billie invited me to a celebration the preceding Saturday in a place called Beeac out in the country a ways (Yeah I thought she'd typoed the name first as well, nah mate, it's actually spelled that way). Here I found a good ole country gathering, with a homemade aboveground pool constructed of (old style rectanguler) hay bales and carpet. Unforunately it turned out to be a kind of a cold blustery day (weather here is entirely unpredictable! Christmas was 103f and two hours later sideways rain) so the pool didn't get much use but there was a hot tub! And a pig roasting on a spit, that had been raised on that very farm (doesn't get fresher than that!). We partied on into the night with bonfires and then I slept in my swag out in the field. The next morning we had fresh fresh bacon, did some clay pigeon shooting, and hung out the rest of the afternoon. That evening Billie and went back to our respective homes, changed into much nicer clothes, and reconvened to hurry on down to Melbourne (again, like an hour and a half away) to attend a comedy club with some other friends of hers. Altogether a great weekend.
   And then that Tuesday we had a pool party with the meetup group.

   Anyway, as you can see I've been staying busy, and the adventures continue! (not to mention I was in the Philippines last week, but that's definitely another entry) Oh Billie is calling, we're off to the rodeo! The adventures continue!

(All pictures so far here! )
(don't worry there's not that many yet!)