When you consider travelling in Australia, you are faced with the problem of distance, which for most also translates into a time problem. Covering distances of 3000kms, 1000km or perhaps a broken up itinerary requiring a regular 300kms daily dose of nursing that hot steering wheel, is demanding, and it can be a little off putting when planning your travels. Let’s face it, it is not common to have months at your disposal for that ultimate Aussie adventure. Well, I think I have good news for all those planning travels Down Under – there is lots to see and do in each little piece of this fantastic country! So instead of skipping all across this vast land, just plan to concentrate on one specific area. This way you will be able to see all the local attractions, discover a few amazing spots of your own, spend some time marvelling at the various masterpieces provided by nature, and listen and read all the stories of the local populations, the Indigenous myths and stories of Dreamtime, the tales of explorers, settlers, adventurers and Aussie larrikins.
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When you visit a place with a plan to stay two days, and extend your stay 3 times, it is fair to say that you like it. This was the case with Beechworth and it’s very enjoyable countryside surroundings.
Beechworth is a 3 hour drive away from Melbourne. Once you come off the dull, straight and hot highway, you know you are somewhere special. The first thing you see are the farm buildings, fences and other related landscape features. Of course this is sparsley spread out, as you would expect in this vast land. There is perhaps a certain stereotype image of Australian country or outback settlements, with key features like a big metal letterbox made in various shapes and colours, the very recognizable wind mill and a shed or two made out of corrugated iron. And you get some of that here too. Of course this is not the outback, and we are not in the desert so the scenery is not quiet so homogeneous, especially when we hit the area east of Beechworth, but I will come to that.
About 3000 lucky people live in Beechworth, with the number swelling considerably during the town’s music festival, writers weekend and other events. Ford Street, which is the towns main strip, is very wide with both sides lined by buildings from an era those touch the big cities are doing well to extinguish, giving the place a certain Western-like feel. Walking under the the verandahs and awnings you discover that the place is definitely not about cowboys, with gourmet cafes, restaurants, a well-regarded local brewery, great bookshop, some clothes and homewares offerings as well as establishments offering the local wine and food produce. Oh, and there are four pubs, all seemingly atmospheric with wooden bars which have heard a few yarns in their time, and all keen to welcome a stray visitor for cold beverage and a tale.
We were not so lucky, but gold was found here in February 1852. It is said that over a 14 year period about 115 tonnes of gold were found in the Beechworth area. I guess there were many success stories, but most prospectors did not find their stay in Beechworth pleasant with terrible sanitary conditions, harsh climate and some degree of lawlessness. The Ford Street Historic Precinct is worth a visit if you are into history. Here you will find an old telegraph office and a grand courthouse. The courthouse is probably where many of the area’s bush rangers were tried, with the most famous one, Ned Kelly, probably serving a six month sentence in the Beechworth gaol.
While the town is very enjoyable, it’s surroundings could keep you here for weeks if not longer. Enjoying the countryside was made possible by the ambient cottage in which we stayed (check out thewoolshedcabins.com). Set in the bush, with a proper front-of-the-house verandah, a must in these conditions, it was comfort with a great ambience and a ‘design’ edge. It really allows you to take in the sights, the sounds and the smells of the bush. We loved it!
The Woolshed Falls are a great point to start your exploring of the town’s surroundings, and the Scenic Gorge Drive is also worth a look. There are also a few great villages to visit within a 30 km radius. The town of Yackandandah is definitely a favourite for me. The area around Yackandandah and generally east of Beechworth, is a fantastic foodie destination with local apples, apple cider vinegar , berries and walnuts all available along your drive. And while the area around the Woolshed is your sterotypical Australian country landscape, the area to the east, around the tiny village of Stanley is more like a European farming destination with lush green dominating the scenery from the grass to the tips of the trees. From the information we got the area is also fantastic in Autumn with chestnuts, walnuts and fantasticly coloured trees making up a feast for the senses.
We stayed for much longer than we planned. Wandering the Australian countryside is very relaxing and addictive. Once you start you can wander for ever.
The title of this blog is an ode to the mesmerising opening paragraphs, and the book as a whole, of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s “The Soccer War”. I have read those lines a thousand times. About living on a barge in the backstreets of Accra. The barge is essentially a hotel, Hotel Metropol. The barge. There are just so many reasons why these opening paragraphs have fascinated me so much.
The barge itself. The barge represents a home away from home, a temporary, fragile living arrangement. It is difficult to separate the barge from the other elements described in these paragraphs, but if one does the result is the barge as an imaginery, symbolic place to live, without the excessive bagagge of “home”. A place where a nomad will stop for rest, where the shipwrecked and lost touch down for a connection with others. Connection for the wanderers, the lone-wolfs, and those who crave solitude.
The barge, of course is a traveller’s oasis, and a traveller’s tale. A point on the map, where life’s hidden details come to meet. The winners, the loosers, those that once had it all and those who are chasing it all their lives. Those who have lost the people whom they lived for, and those who have gone through life alone. This is what the barge is in itself.
Kapuscinski’s barge sits in Accra. An exotic location, especially when the author was there, where heat and humidity take its toll on someone from foreign lands. Now, I have never been to Accra itself, but reading these lines I am very quickly transported to long summer nights on islands of Thailand, dusty streets of Siem Reap, Laung Prabang, Vientien, Australia’s Alice Springs. When one travels or waits for something in a strange place, the days are long and pointless. Then comes the warm, sticky evening, the bars and verandahs, where sitting, watching and drinking can be a luxury for those on holidays, but a kind of never-ending torture for those stuck here, voluntarily or not. To get through it, and hopefully not alone, these lost souls drink. Kapuscinski describes it very well, but the subject also comes up in Graham Greene novels among others.
The key element to the barge is, however the people. The people who ended up on the barge, living in this hotel of sorts. People with wonderfully colourful life stories. All had travelled, some made big money, others lost everything. These colourful stories will be, in some way, the inspiration for this blog.