The Princess of Podcasts (but she’s not a ballerina) Amanda Kendle interviewed me and posed the question: have you ever made cultural blunders while travelling the world. Oh, yes, indeedy! I have made many, not deliberately but in my early days of travelling, ignorance, naivete or blundering impertinence sometimes brought me undone. Mea Culpa.
Foloing is the interview link with Amanda, so please foirgive me my past indiscretions. And maybe after you have listened you might be brave enough to comment and tell me your messy mistakes you made at the expense of someone else’s culture.
I‘m going out on a limb with this post, taking a risk, throwing caution to the wind, heading into troubled waters . . .that’s a bit dramatic. Posting this piece on Victoria today, 1 June 2021, while the state of Victoria is in a state of lockdown feels a little ambitious? Yes? No? Victorians have suffered the lockdowns due to COCID-19 worse than any other state in Australia and businesses, and industires, such as the travel industry have been fraught with closures, and empty beds and coffers. BUT it WILL bounce back, it was but now, (today) it’s not bouncing at all, barely a foot shuffle. AND when it does open up again let me invite all Aussies and our Kiwi neighbours to visit and enjoy the beautiful state that comes good on all its promises of natural beauty, great food and wine, classy attractions and sincere hospitality.
A small state but packed like an overflowing picnic basket, Victoria has a taste sensation that covers city to country, ocean to mountains and fine food and regional fare to match the perfect wines. Need to know more? Go there.
Gateway to Victoria, the state’s capital city Melbourne is a river city and a class act. A walkable city or the best way to discover the ‘neighbourhoods’ is to hop a tram and head out of the CBD, But before you enter boho Brunswick, precious Prahan, edgy Fitzroy or to be in the sharp breezes of St Kilda beach, get your bearings in and around the city.
Nobody can persuade Melburnians that their coffee and their restaurants aren’t the best in Australia (and maybe the world when you really push the argument). And they do have damn fine food and java too. Also the proliferation of small bars over the past decade has made the social scene uber cool. Tiny, bespoke bars tucked away in alleyways that have survived city development are almost invisible during daylight hours when you do the laneways tours of wall art that is pretty spectacular.
Don’t miss a trip to the Victoria Markets for all that’s edible and wearable; cruise the Yarra River for a new perspective; go see the brilliant National Gallery and the instagrammable features of Federation Square. Take this city slowly and seek out sporting venues, memorable parks and gardens and some quirky, individual shopping adventures.
Yarra yabba do!
Just an hour outside Melbourne is the splendid Yarra Valley boasting elegant vineyards and boutique wineries. This cool climate region produces high quality winning wines and they are there for the day trippers tasting. Chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon are star players and big name labels such as De Bortoli and Domaine Chandon promise fine tipples.
There are tea rooms, restaurants and hotels along the way for a longer stay and close by is Healesville Sanctuary which has a breeding progam for the uniquely designed platypus.
In the region of the Dandenongs here there are beautiful, classic gardens to stroll around, one of the finest being Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Sherbrooke
Great Ocean Road
Near Port Campbell and famous for the string of rock stars, the Twelve Apostles, bold rock formations, sitting in the Southern Ocean beyond mighty cliffs are a sight to behold. The drive along the Great Ocean Road yields rugged landmarks, beautiful beaches and holiday towns (Torquay, Apollo Bay and Lorne). Inland are caves to explore, waterfalls and rainforest. But it’s all about the drive, which is exhilarating where some of the road hugs the cliffs and winds around headlands. Zoom, Zoom.
P.S. There are only eight of the 12 Apostles left standing. The rocky stacks have been washed by wild seas and time and tide has taken its toll.
The ‘B’ cities
Doubling up here with the two big Victorian ‘B’ cities – both inland cities that have been built on the back of gold! Ballarat and Bendigo are separated by 120km. Ballarat is closer to Melbourne and you can catch a train there (1 1/2-hour journey) or drive the 115km.
Both cities have bold charm as they have beautiful architecture from neo-classical, to gothic and Federation styles. All this built with shiny money.
Ballarat’s wealth from the goldfields began when gold was discovered in 1851, an event that took over sleepy sheep grazing paddocks. Within days of the first nugget being extracted the ‘rush’ was on, and thousands of hopeful miners descended on the, what was to become known as the ‘Ballarat Diggings’.
Ballarat and Bendigo have embraced the coffee culture and cafes flourish as well as classy restaurants and bars. And both cities boast splendid regional art galleries that have snaffled up extraordinary exhibitions that the big smoke have missed out on. Culture in the country? Sure is.
In Ballarat’s Fine Art Gallery, see the original Eureka Stockade flag and a wide selection of Australian artists’ work. Also visit Her Majesty’s Theatre which was once graced with the presence of Dame Nellie Melba.
In Bendigo admire the epitome of gold-boom architecture with the Shamrock Hotel, four flamboyant stories high!
So high, silo
Ballarat is a good base camp to take a six-hour (round trip) drive out along the wheat belt of Victoria with viewing stops along the way to discover the Silo Art Trail, an inspired outdoor gallery.
The concept of having the towering (up to 27m high), cylindrical concrete towers as the canvas for murals started with Guido van Helten’s stupendous ‘Farmer Quartet’ in the tiny town of Brim. Decommissioned wheat silos define the landscape here, and honouring farmers and farming history has turned into a smashing success engaging the entire community.
First stop heading north on the 200km trail is at Rupanyup, with a double modern silo decorated by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This artwork is not for the faint-hearted, given the artists craft their works while working alone, hoisted in a cherry picker. Next stop at Sheep Hills is a four-silo effort by Adnate, where children of the local Indigenous clan dwarf all who stand below.
Onward at Brim is the extraordinary Farmer Quartet, an overwhelming vision with the subtle hues of the landscape humbly depicting four characters from the region – now modest celebrities of the shire.
Further into the Mallee, in Lascelles is the two-silo artwork by Rone. Here, a man and a woman, fourth generation farmers, curve around the silos and are as much a part of the landscape as the Mallee root tree.
The top of the trail is at Patchewollock – a town of dwindling prominence that is the most isolated on the trail. Artist Fintan Magee chose a subject from the only pub in town in Patchewollock: farmer Nick Hulland – a reluctant pin-up.
North east-ish is Victoria’s High Country where the Alpine National Park is home to ten of the state’s highest peaks. The massive park is a space for all seasons: great ski fields in winter; and in summer, miniature wildflowers cover the grassy plateaus above the tree line and the north-eastern small towns are awash with gold and red hues of the autumn parade.
Another two ‘B’ towns that are local celebrities are Bright ands Beechworth. Beechworth is one of Australia’s best preserved gold-rush towns with more than 30 National Trust-classified buildings, a sight for architecture fiends! Also not to be missed here is the Beechworth Bakery, famous for the much sought after Vanilla Slice trophy. You decide!
Provenance in Beechworth is one of the best regional restaurants in Australia, with chef/owner Michael Ryan a Hatted chef many times over. Also, Bridge Road Brewers Bridge Road is fantastic for its range of locally made ales from locally grown hops, as well as its outstanding pizzas. Ox & Hound Bistro is also a gorgeous little French restaurant.
Bright is close by to the ski fields of Mount Hotham and Falls Creek. The town is charming and in April/May it outs it’s colourful attitude into party mode for the Bright Autumn Festival when the deciduous light up, shiny and bright.
Bright is on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail, a 100km sealed, off-road walking and bike trail between Wangaratta, Beechworth, Rutherglen (wonderful fortified wines here) and Bright.
Short sections of the trail can be accessed from towns along the route. (My recommendation as the food and wine here is pretty special – so why waste too much time walking?)
And there’s more . . . the Mornington Peninsula (golfers go crazy for the much-awarded Dunes Golf Links at Rye); Phillip Island and Gippsland (national parks, heritage villages, a penguin parade and the classic fishing town of Port Albert); Spa country – Daylesford and Hepburn Springs – and the Lakehouse Restaurant; the Grampians National Park, an area of magnificence – a landscape of rock-encrusted ranges perching high above the Western District.
The charm of the Solomon Islands goes beyond cheery smiles, waving palm trees and laid back ambience. WWII tourism takes you under the sea for a history lesson.
(Images courtesy of Gerald Rambert)
With the advent of dark tourism: empty prison tours, walks through defunct death camps, murder sites and . . . well, just about anywhere that pain, suffering, death and destruction have put their mark on the earth’s surface are now popular locations for the instagrammer generation of travellers. Planting a big smile in the middle of a frame with barbwire or prison bars in the background make for a boatload of likes for their ‘brand’.
But something a little softer and less likely to hit the digital top of the pop charts is under the water.
All over the world there are wonderful dive sites for those who don the black to dive deep. Close to Australia, just three hour’s flight away are unspoilt gems, the Solomon Islands.
Many of the islands are not easy to access except for private charters or the slow and steady – and rustic banana boats, so best to discover the islands and dive sites with those in the know and in comfort.
Solomon Islands Discovery Cruises is a company that has an inclusive itinerary which is about diving, snorkelling, relaxing and visiting islands and discovering the local culture and traditions – ‘kastom’.
Wreck diving is at a premium, and the echo of WWII resounds here in many ways, mostly underwater and the watery graves are a benign destination these days.
When the tide of the war turned in WWII, many Solomon Islanders became ‘scouts’, who were the eyes and ears of the allies. Prior to the Guadalcanal campaign of August 1942, the Royal Australian Navy activated a network of coast watchers. The coast watchers were Europeans who remained behind enemy lines to radio information about Japanese naval and ground forces and aircraft. Coast watchers remained concealed. When the US Marines landed on Guadalcanal more Solomon Islanders offered help as scouts and carriers. There are stories of bravery, loyalty and skills to be told and one of them is when scouts ensured the rescue in August 1943 of a future president of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was commander of patrol boat PT-109 which exploded and sank when a Japanese destroyer hit it. An Australian coast watcher and two islanders saw the explosion and found Kennedy and his 10 surviving crew and reported to the Aussie coast watcher who arranged a rescue. An act of divine providence that saved the future president of the USA? Maybe, and maybe one of many such incidents throughout the Pacific.
Scuba diving in the Solomon Islands is a dream for enthusiasts. Not only are there vast swathes of unspoilt and beautiful coral gardens to enjoy, marine life of myriad colourful and plentiful critters, but an ocean-full (not quite) but relatively crowded with WWII relics. Planes of all fighting denomination, artillery, barges and detritus of army, air force and navy equipment that was jettisoned by the Japanese and the American forces when they left or were driven out. So many ships close to the surface and many planes are waiting to be explored. This manmade underwater ghost life has joined the deep blue and is now home to many species of fish and other marine life that has taken up residence, found a good breeding ground and created a deep, watery neighbourhood that divers are fascinated with. There are many shallow wrecks that are suitable for snorkelling too.
Not in the region of Dark Tourism, wreck diving is all about the letting the light in.
I sent this blog post out into the world last week but have since had a lovely update on discovering art once you’re out of the big smoke. I received in the mail (how nice to actually have something delivered by the postman) a little booklet/brochure of Renaissance Tours Summer and Autumn 2021 cultural tours.
Lately I have heard people lament that they can’t travel overseas and that they can only take their holidays in Australia. Well, a big bloody ‘boohoo’ to them. This vast, beautiful, strange and curious country has so much to indulge in. And away from the action-packed adventures to be had there’s a wealth of cultural experiences that are up for grabs that are introduced via special itineraries with Renaissance Tours.
Two took my eye that almost matched up with my piece below.
Regional Galleries of New South Wales – Orange, Bathurst and the Blue Mountains from 18-23 April, 2021. Highlights include meeting local artists in their studios, having a private guided tour of the significant Orange Regional Gallery and there’s a visit to an award-winning cellar door for a wine tasting – well, art does make one thirsty.
And there’s another one, Art Galleries of Regional Victoria – Bendigo, Ballarat and the NGV Ian Potter Centre for 18-23 April 2021.
And others are calling me too – William Morris in Adelaide, 11-17 April 2021; New Art Spaces of Tasmania, 26 April to 5 May, 2021 and there are garden tours, ancient landscapes and sacred sites to view, a music festival, Opera in the Yarra Valley, Northern Rivers Food Trail and many more cultural delights to uncover and discover in Australia.
Regional art galleries throughout Australia offer a vital contribution to the community’s cultural life. Emerging artists are promoted and travelling exhibitions will see works by artists that are of the highest quality and internationally recognised. If you are lucky enough to catch the gallery’s curator, there’s the opportunity for a yarn about local artists, local history and perhaps a bit of council gossip. Whomever is working at the gallery shop (wonderful for gifts) is a wealth of local info too. Take your credit card with you as this is where you might snap up the next Dobell, Blackwell, Margaret Preston or Grace Cossington Smith.
Here are a few worth putting on the wish list:
Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery, Bega on the far south coast of NSW;
Meroogal House, Meroogal, Nowra, South Coast NSW, a gothic-style house where four generations of women lived until the 1980s when it became a museum of domestic life;
Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah, northern NSW;
Bathurst Regional Gallery, Bathurst, central west NSW;
Bendigo (pictured) and Ballarat in Victoria are the heavyweights of regional galleries. Travelling exhibitions, Lyndsay family works, the Eureka Flag – both stunning and worth a slow walk round the rooms;
The Aboriginal Art House, Hahndorf, SA. The gallery has a wide range of Indigenous art and artefacts along with explanations of the various symbols in the artworks.
Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm on the Dampier Peninsula far north Western Australia, has a stunning pearls on exhibit and pearl shell carvings ‘Riji” by Indigenous Bardi men.
Bunbury Regional Art Gallery, WA is housed in a peachy-pink heritage building.
Stanthorpe Regional Gallery, in the Granite Belt, Qld is a new building with exciting exhibitions – and indeed, prospects.
It’s not regional, only a few kms from Hobart but MONA in Tassie is one of the most provocative and exciting galleries in Australia. Go for the experience and go with an open mind.
The most exciting thing to happen in the regional art world is the advent of Wall art and Silo Art. Towns such as Benalla in north east Victoria has an annual Wall art festival which see the town all buzzy and beautiful welcoming the cream of young artists painting walls. And their biggest fans are the Baby Boomers who travel the towns and are familiar with the artists’ work, talk to them and are encouraging. The Silo Art Trail in Victoria shows stunning work done on the high, decommissioned silos. Often the paintings are of local farmers representing the legacy of those on the land.
Australia’s capital city is a little different to those of other countries; it is confined to a territory and is surrounded by the bush, with a mountain range in the backdrop.
It really began as a rather vast paddock with a view of the Brindabella mountain range to the west, the high country snow fields to the south and the Pacific Ocean way over to the east. And that precious piece of Australian territory became the seat of parliament – the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT.
The place was decreed in 1913 and as early as 1908, tenders were put out internationally to design this new city. And Walter Burley Griffin won the toss and the rest is history.
I talked to a local sheep farmer a few years back (beautiful grazing land here) and he said he imagined that Canberra was designed on a template in the sky and plonked down on a bare paddock. Having not thought about this comment for ages, I recalled it recently when I saw a picture taken of the newly built Hotel Kurrajong Canberra from the early 1920s. It sits alone with an odd gum tree observing in bewilderment at the long, two-storey habitat floating in a sea of dirt and space.
And as the elegant building still sits in the same place now with a sophisticated city built up around it and the rooms filled with memories and perhaps the odd ghost – the gum tree has lived its life and has been replaced by thousands more in this ultimately green city.
The hotel was designed by Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, also renowned for designing Old Parliament House and built during the Australian Capital Territory’s alcohol prohibition years. There was a strong Temperance Movement in Australia (hard to fathom!) but never full-on prohibition – except for the ACT from 1910-1928 – when new liquor licenses were banned. The writing was on the wall for the pollies!
Hotel Kurrajong accommodated officials transferred from Melbourne to set up Australia’s new capital, Canberra. The hotel hosted officials and press for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and continued as a home to Members of Parliament, their families and public servants for years to come.
It was basically one of three ‘hostels’ built in the fledgling capital. It catered to single people or couples (married, natch) with no kids. For almost half a century it provided residential accommodation for Members of Parliament. Basically an upmarket boarding house in a country town.
Today’s hotel is more than a shadow of its former self. There’s a calm elegance to the hotel that starts to creep up on you as soon as you arrive.
The garden in front of the entrance when I arrived at the beginning of summer was awash with a crowd of English Tea Roses – pink, fluffy fragrant blooms displayed in the garden.
The lobby, reflecting the Art Deco ambience is cool and collected – a fire flickers in the original fireplace (modern gas) alight even in summer to add to the old school ambience of the lobby with quirky chairs surrounding the fireplace. Chairs are of different designs, to give colour and variety to the welcoming space. Look down – Oscar winning designer Catherine Martin designed the 4m x 5m rug in the lobby.
Rooms (there are 147 of them, with 26 in the heritage wing) are large and have the calming edge with blues, charcoals, a dash of silver, dove grey and a pop of colour in the framed wall prints. The room 205 (the numbering has now changed with the renovation) is remembered as the room in which Ben Chifley (Australian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945-1949) lived. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack in 1951. There have been various ghost sightings claimed over the years – apparently a grey-suited man manifests pointing towards Old Parliament House.
Big is beautiful as the bed spreads to eternity with the finest linen and some pretty damn fine pillows. Breakfast is in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, plus dinner served here as well – it’s mostly about the great steaks. The outdoor garden beckons on a fine day but best to stay indoors in the middle of winter and summer here.
Jay Hore, Hotel General Manager – Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, knows his way around the city and advises:
Why visit Canberra? “Not only is Canberra the national capital city and the administrative centre of the Australian government, it is the home of the Australian story! Canberra is a place that is a diverse, innovative and modern city that houses the stories of Australia. Whether it’s the world class national attractions or the bustling events calendar, Canberra has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Couple this with a thriving food and wine scene and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors (we’re called the bush capital for a reason), you’ll see that Canberra is a city full of surprises!
Don”t miss the Botticelli exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, opening 5 March 2021.
Maybe Canberra should be proud of the nickname ‘Bush Capital’, as the hospitality here has a warmth and the service offers friendly authenticity as a country town – that has been gently plonked down in the middle of a big paddock.
There’s nothing like the experience of walking into an Outback pub in Australia. You might be greeted with an effusive “welcome” or a taciturn “g-day”, be surprised by a slick hipster serving coffees at the bar or a bartender who looks like he wrangles steers. A gap-toothed smile is always on the agenda but the dim, cool bar will be your best ,first impression out of a blazing hot day – and the beer is always cold.
Hopefully, once all borders are open you may visit these classics – so giddy up:
1. Daly Waters Hotel, Northern Territory: an historic NT hotel, it has a long, colourful history that has seen murders, cattle stampedes (in the street, not the bar), shoot outs and drunken brawls. A five-hour drive south of Darwin and you’ll be there. Sorry, all’s calm and civilised these days.
Tattersall’s ‘Tatts’, Winton Qld: This is the oldest standing hotel in Winton. The real deal, smack bang in the middle of Queensland, with wide verandah overhang and a fine bar. Grab a meal here – this is where you’ll find the ‘great steak slab’.
Prairie Hotel, Parachilna South Australia: this is something else, a ‘luxury accommodation’ hotel, a casual grab-a-beer bar and a much awarded restaurant serving exquisite gourmet creations. In the Outback in Australia’s desert zone (and after the main course – a remote dessert zone) which stretches from Parachilna to the south to Birdsville – pull into a true blue surprise.
Palace Hotel, Broken Hill NSW: the building was once a coffee palace in 1889, built by the Temperance Movement. No surprise, the idea was not successful and the place ultimately became a licensed hotel. The splendid old building was one of the stars of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The crazy grandiose murals were painted by an Indigenous artist Gordon Waye. Accommodation ranges from dorms to kitschy suites and the restaurant always gets a good rave.
Family Hotel, Tibooburra NSW: 340km from Broken Hill, way out in Corner Country (NSW, Queensland and South Australia are nudging each other here) the hotel sits to serve visitors and the town’s population of 135. It has held appeal for musicians and artists and inside the hotel are some authentic works of Aussie artist Clifton Pugh.
Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville Qld: since 1884 the sandstone walls of this famous pub have weathered floods, fires, cyclones and rowdy crowds that drive or fly in for the annual weekend of Outback eccentricity – the Birdsville Races. For those who brave the unpredictable track, the reward of ‘being in Birdsville’ is the simple thrill of being in this far flung location.
As I said last post ‘How to indulge in Tasmania’, Tassie is hot to trot as borders open up and folk are on the move. Following is more info to fit into the travel plan. This is provided content that I am happy to share as we are all in this together – domestic travel that is! Funny thing, I lived in Geeveston way back in the day when us youngsters would go apple picking and at the end of the season, every nationality gathered at the pub in Huonville and there was an unforgettable party. I was dancing on the bar, blokes were going in for the serious biff and chaos reigned . . . ah, my sweet days of youth. Perhaps a future blog on my Tassie adventure while picking apples and . . . But the area is so very nice now, and has much to offer the traveller . . . just keep yourself nice.
There are plenty of reasons to hang out in the region; some are new and some are as old as the mighty forests that flank its townships. The Huon Valley has been social distancing long before it was on trend, sitting on the edge of World Heritage Wilderness and often popping whole paddocks between neighbours. By its very nature, the valley is drawing visitors and a swag of new locals. Find out why with our top five picks:
Wilderness and wildlife – you’ve seen the pics; this patch is naturally epic. South West Wilderness Heritage Area is on the doorstep. Summit Hartz peak in a day, wander down to South Cape Bay or perch 30-metres above the forest floor at Tahune Airwalk. Venture underground at Hastings Caves and take a dip in the thermal springs. Don’t be surprised if wallaby eyes are watching on, the Huon Valley teems with wildlife. From migrating whales to Wedge-tailed eagles and wandering wombats, there is no shortage of impromptu appearances of the wild variety.
For the love of water vistas – they’re everywhere! Sip morning coffee served with mirror reflections on the Huon River. Dip a kayak paddle in lesser-known waterways deep in the Far South. Watch Huon pine boats bob down Cygnet or Franklin way, likely built near their mooring. Snap your Insta-worthy sunrises across winter misted waters or pour a Valley wine at sunset by the Southern Ocean. Water views come standard in these parts, punctuated by the hues of seasonal changes.
Delish produce – arrive hungry. That is all. This is ocean to plate, farmer to mouth kind of amazing. Pull on gumboots and meet rare pig breeds with Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans or find out why Massaki Koyama’s Geeveston sushi is hailed by some as Australia’s finest. Meet craft cider makers, where apples don’t fall far from the ciderhouse at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, Frank’s Ciderhouse & Cafe or Pagan Cider. Meet the innovative food and drink producers who choose the Huon Valley as home from Hansen Orchards apple growers to Tas Saff, now selling saffron nationwide through Coles and Woolworths, to the roadside stalls with produce and local blooms.
Creative inspo – there’s a bounty of prominent artists and makers in the valley; some national treasures who love the anonymity, others recent locals like potter Bronwyn Clarke, who found a natural clay seam running beneath her Deep Bay studio. Wander the artist studios and galleries, bring your sketch pad or sign up for a workshop. Lots is happening in the creative space including acclaimed producer and writer Posie Graham-Evans embarking on a McLeod’s Daughters TV series spin-off. Settle in to this inspiring hub and let the creativity flow. Did we mention Posie has accommodation known as the Writer’s House?
End of the road – that’s right, you can’t drive further south in Australia. Cockle Creek is literally the end of the road. Park your car at Australia’s southernmost parking lot and pull on your boots. The 4-5hour return walk to South Cape Bay is a cracker. When you get there, next stop is Antarctica. Breathe deeply – it’s some of the freshest air on the planet.
Keen to find out more about any of our five reasons to hang out in the Huon Valley? Pick your fave and we’ll handpick more detail to send your way. If it’s the southern wilds that take your fancy, let us shoot you the latest short walks. Want to connect with our creative community? We’ll fill you in on the current visitor offerings or an emerging landscape artist. If it’s food and drink experiences, we’ll provide your fill from cooking classes to our Pinot labels.