The Family Responsibilities Tour – Part 1

Note: A video covering the material in this post can be found at the foot of this blog post.

Apsley Falls in full flow. Walcha NSW.

On 23rd November 2021 I lost both my eldest brother, Ivan, and my brother-in-law Colin, my only sister Aileen’s husband. Colin passed in the morning, Ivan in the early evening. Ivan was in the northern suburbs of Newcastle and Colin at Moe in Victoria’s West Gippsland region. There was no connection in their deaths, just one of life’s coincidences.

Covid-19 was at its high point, with borders closed in some states but not in others. We could have travelled to NSW, possibly to Victoria, but we would not have been permitted back into Queensland. We faced a real travel ban. So we had to provide our condolences and the support that we so much wanted to give by phone call, email and text message. We decided that as soon as possible after borders opened, we would travel south to visit grieving relatives and graves.

The opportunity came in March. With borders open and three vaccinations completed we headed south on 12th March, just four days after what would have been Ivan’s 88th birthday celebration.

Apsley Gorge. Walcha NSW

Our intention had been to first spend a couple of days with friends in Ballina, but they had been evacuated a few days before due to flooding of the Richmond River, which had closed the Pacific Highway from Ballina to south of Grafton. Their home was not inundated, and they returned to it after a couple of days, but a visit was not practical so soon after the floods, so we opted for the New England Highway.

Our first family call was to Marjorie, my sister-in-law, who requires constant care and who had gone into respite care in a retirement home in Bulahdelah, which is located about an hour north of her home in Newcastle. You will possible have read of Bulahdelah in the pages of these blogs. It is the town near which I spent the first 15 years of my life and where I met Ruth, my wife of almost 60 years. Ruth, of course, has been part of all the travels covered by the blogs.

Apsley Gorge. Walcha NSW
Forster-Tuncurry Bridge on Wallis Lake

We spent the first night in Armidale. On day two we drove south to Uralla and there turned to join the Oxley Highway at Walcha, to reach the coast again. When we travel for almost any reason we are touring and taking in sights and points of interest along the way. We had been hoping for some early Autumn colours in the roadside trees so were a bit disappointed by the lack of colour, but the area had not progressed far into Autumn but it was very green from recent rain.

But just east of Walcha the Apsley Falls were at their thundering best. On our previous visit, back in our caravanning days, the drought was it its height and there was not even a trickle of water on the falls, just a pool of brackish water at the bottom. Viewing facilities at the falls are excellent. Ruth was able to make her way to the main viewing deck and was able to see as much as I could. There are some good walks at the falls, but time did not permit. We had appointments to keep.

Wallis Lake, Forster NSW

We paused for lunch at Wauchope and made it to our motel at Forster, at the mouth of Wallace Lake, in good time. Time to fit in a walk! So, with camera in hand, I set off for the bridge that spans the lake at a narrow point between Forster and neighbouring Tuncurry. The bridge is about one kilometre long with a hump on each end to allow boats to pass underneath.

Resort building beside Wallis Lake

An area south of Forster, Tiona, was a favourite holiday destination during my childhood, as it offered a range of options for my fishing loving Father. There were two ways of getting there from where we lived back then. If we came via Tuncurry the car and trailer (containing our camping equipment) would be loaded onto a small punt which was pulled through the meandering channel to the other side. Now the sand bars that shaped the channel carry the pylon foundations that support the bridge.

The bridge provides a scenic vantage point for both towns, Wallace Lake, and the entry to the lake from the ocean. Ever watchful for sea birds I noticed an Eastern Osprey making long sweeps over the lake in search of dinner, or perhaps a late lunch. After several failed attempts, it landed on a bridge street light and remained on its perch as I walked past taking photos of it. A call at the ocean beach and it was time to return to the motel for dinner.

Wootton School now a community centre

The easiest route from Forster to our next call at the retirement home at Bulahdelah was to fallow the Pacific Highway but a more interesting way was to leave the highway south of Coollongolook and followed The Wootton Way to where it re-joins the highway just north of Bulahdelah. This detour took us past a school that I attended for a couple of years during primary school and past the property on which I and my family lived for about 5 years prior to moving to Victoria when I was 15.

Tall strait trees

The school is now a community centre and the town much smaller than it was 70 plus years ago. The road is sealed as, for a time, it was the Pacific Highway. Further on we drove through magnificent stands of white-trunked trees, typical of the area. Further on we came to the property where our house stood near the road. The house was moved shortly after we vacated. New owners built further back on the property, behind the tree line and have operated a farm stay business for many years.

The old shed in which I milked the house cows

We arrived at the nursing home in good time next morning to complete the Covid safety procedure before visiting sister-in-law Marjorie. We found her in good spirits despite having been told a few days previously that the nursing home was to close thus causing uncertainty about her future. We stayed for morning coffee and lunch before making our way further south. Happily, Marjorie’s future accommodation arrangements were settled a few days later when her two daughters completed arrangements for her to take up residence on the top floor of a facility near Lake Macquarie in Newcastle, where she will have views of the lake as well as, we hope, good care.

Bulahdelah Alum Mountain
The sloping lawns of the Lake Macquarie Memorial Park

We stayed two nights at Warners Bay, our motel overlooking the northern end of Lake Macquarie. Ivan is buried at Lake Macquarie Memorial Park at Ryhope, just a few hundred metres off the Pacific Motorway, south of Newcastle. A very convenient location for paying our respects during future trips south.

Warners Bay viewed across the lake

We met Ivan’s two daughters with their respective spouses at the park. They showed us to the grave site, already almost covered with grass. The plaques are under way and should be in place when next we call. The grave is in a pleasant area on the side of a gently sloping hillside. The entire garden area appears to be well kept and will continue to be so. We left the cemetery and drove to the sports club in Toronto where we lingered over coffee with nieces and nephews that we rarely see.

White-necked Heron at Warners Bay

The afternoon was fine and sunny so we parked, and I took a walk on the path provided between Warners Bay and Speirs Point. It is not always possible to keep up my walking schedule when we are travelling, so such opportunities are not to be missed. As a bonus there were birds to photograph, including a White-necked Heron, a first sighting for me.

Next morning, Tuesday, we took the short drive to the home of Ruth’s elders sister Judy and her husband Alan, at West Wallsend. Judy has mobility problems but maintains a positive attitude which is most demonstrated by her determination to keep travelling. So over lunch we discussed, as well as family, travel plans and experiences. Visit over, we headed for Sydney.

Cronulla Beach

We were to have spent two nights with our daughter Briony at her Erskinville home, but she had come down with a non-Covid virus that we did not want to catch. A quick change of arrangements took us to the Travelodge at Bankstown, a bit of an experience as it is also the Bankstown Sports Club. Temporary club membership was bestowed upon us so that we could use the facilities of the club.

Coffee shop at Cronulla Beach

On our second night with Briony we had planned to meet Ruth’s youngest sister Dorothy (Dot) for dinner. So, a quad became a threesome at the NEM Riverwood Vietnamese restaurant, for good food and a good old family catch up.

Ferry terminal at Bundeena

To fill in the intervening day we revisited old stamping grounds from the first period of joint residence in Sydney during the time of my appointment to East Coast Transport at Botany. We started with morning coffee at Cronulla, right on the water on a lovely sunny morning. We then drove past Miranda Fair, where we used to do our shopping and stopped for a look at our former residence at 4 Tulong Place, Kirrawee. This house was built on top a couple of huge boulders, with views over the Royal National Park. Every time I see this house, I wish that we still lived there.

Bundeena main street

Next, we drove into the Royal National Park to the town of Bundeena on the southern shore of Port Hacking. This was to have been our lunch location but, after a largish morning coffee we were just not ready for more food. After looking around Bundeena we returned to the road through the park that leads to its southern coast entrance at Otford. At this point you will find one of the best scenic lookouts in Sydney. Otford lookout has an elevated viewing platform, heaps of parking space, a kiosk and views over the coast and from Sea Cliff Bridge to Port Kembla. We had a snack there before driving back through Stanwell Tops and Waterfall to Bankstown and dinner.

The following morning, we left Sydney early and drove to Bowral in the Southern Highlands of NSW, to call on Ruth’s youngest brother Wallace and his wife Ginny. Wallace is in advanced stages of a degenerative disease (similar to Parkinson’s disease) so our visits are relatively short. We joined them for lunch and family news. These calls are always sad and happy events because you never know if each one will be the last.

View from the Monaro Highway

Our destination for the night was Canberra. We were joined for breakfast next morning by grandson Jeremy who now works in the National Capital. The remainder of the day was spent driving via the Monaro Highway to its junction with the Princes Highway at Cann River. Then the run through the East Gippsland mountains and Orbost brought us to Lakes Entrance for the night.

There is always bird life at Lake Entrance, so the long lens got some use that evening and again on my walk next morning. Swans and Pelicans predominate, but there are many others. After leaving Lakes Entrance we detoured to Metung for morning coffee, lunched in Traralgon and arrived at our accommodation in Trafalgar in time to unpack and go out to find some dinner. 

A Different Way there … and Back – Post 8

Days 36 – 1st May – Stratford to Lakes Entrance – 90 Km

A short drive had us in the park at Lakes Entrance at lunch time despite having stopped at Bairnsdale to buy some warmer clothes. A bitterly cold wind was blowing from the south and totally negating any influence that the sun was having on the temperature. Two digits required to express the temperature, but only just. Other family members arrived mid afternoon so the catch up has commenced.

Days 37 to 40 – 2nd to 5th May – Lakes Entrance Area

A day by day description of these days would be like watching paint dry so I will comment only on the highlights.

On Friday (Day 39) the entire party of 6 joined a ferry cruise on the lakes. The objective of the cruise was lunch at the Metung Hotel but with sightseeing, accompanied by a commentary from the skipper, as a bonus. The entire event took about four hours and occurred under clear skies and sunshine. Thursday and Friday were both much better days that the day that we arrived, although the mornings were still very cold.  If winter is not actually here it is not far away.

Cormorants crowd a sand bank.

Cormorants crowd a sand bank.

Metung is a small village on a point, or tongue of land that provides one shore of the channel into Lakes King and Victoria, when approaching from Lakes Entrance. Its status as a village is confirmed by the presence of a genuine village green. There are a few businesses. The housing is a mixture of luxury and humble but the overall effect is

The hotel is right by the lake

The hotel is right by the lake

an attractive one. The hotel is right on the water with its own jetty. We simply moored, disembarked and strolled in for lunch. I think this is how the rich do it!

Parked for lunch

Parked for lunch

On Saturday we took a lay day and on Sunday (Day 41) we embarked on a two car tour convoy. Quite coincidently Aileen and Colin had friends holidaying in Lakes Entrance, so we invited them to occupy two of the spare seats. We set roughly a triangular course. I like triangular courses. They mean that you don’t have to pass the same point twice.

Mouth of Snowy River

Mouth of Snowy River

Marlo, a small village at the mouth of the Snowy River, was the first destination. When we did our day trip out of Corryong we were near the source of the Snowy, so it was interesting to be standing on the bank watching it empty into the ocean. A bit further along the coast from here, to the east, is Cape Hicks, the first part of the Australian coast to be sighted by Lt. James Cook in 1772, but we didn’t drive that far.

The day was cold and cloudy, so the shop on the edge of town with a sign that promised hot coffee was irresistible. On a quiet Sunday seven for morning coffee was probably quite acceptable. To reach the coffee shop it was necessary to walk through a fishing tackle shop. There were no customers for bait while we were there but a few more came in for coffee.

On our way into town we had noticed a sign to a side road showing “PS Curlip”, so as we passed the sign on way back we turned in to see what it was all about. Moored in the Brodrib River, just upstream from its junction with the Snowy, was a paddle steamer of about 15 meters, fitted for passengers.

PS Curlip II at her mooring

PS Curlip II at her mooring

This is the second PS Curlip. Curlip I was a work boat in the area for many years but was lost in a flood in 1919. In about 2002 locals devised a plan to rebuild the Curlip, and this was done as a community project. The vessel now is used as a cruise boat. Had we been in the area for another week we could have boarded for a Mother’s Day Lunch Cruise. A diary entry for a future visit to the area is appropriate.

We had been told that there was nowhere to eat in Buchan, the next corner of the triangle, so we drove back to Orbost, the larger town in the area, for some lunch before taking on the narrow mountain road to Buchan. Fish and chips and the like seemed appropriate on such a day so we stopped off at Chooky’s Nook. Good food, if a bit fatty. Great chips!

Parked in Orbost's main street

Parked in Orbost’s main street

Many years ago when I worked in the transport industry I had accounting responsibility for a transport operation that we had bought in the town. In those days Orbost was an important bean growing centre, producing hundreds of truck loads of beans for the snap frozen bean market. There is no sign of bean production now but the pastures are dotted with dairy cows.

Even more years ago, I explored much of this part of East Gippsland with a friend, each riding our own Vesper motor scooter. With sleeping bag, tent, clothes and food on the rack at the rear, or in a pack on our back, we travelled the area on long weekends and holidays. It was on one such trip that I first visited Buchan, travelling in from Nowa Nowa and departing along what is now known as the Barry Way, to the north.

So the road in from Orbost was a new experience. Along the 56 Km of this road forest and farm land alternate. On a couple of occasions we broke out of the bush on a hill top to be met by a picturesque valley complete with farm houses, sheds and autumn tintedtrees. The winding road meant that we were proceeding at a steady pace but that added to the charm of the drive. This part of the trip was the highlight of the day.Buchan is a rural centre but its main claim to fame is the limestone caves that are located near the small town. No one in our group was interested in tours of the caves but were keen to visit, or revisit, this quite unique place. The cave administration buildings, the day use area and small caravan park are on the bank of a stream and enclosed by steep hills on either side. The caves are in the hill side on the far side of the stream.

Buchan Caves NP

Buchan Caves NP

The area is sheltered by well established Australian natives interspersed by pines and more of the deciduous trees that are responsible for the autumn colours. It is a truly delightful spot. And it was sheltered from the cold wind!

Buchan Town & Valley

Buchan Town & Valley

The person who told us that there was nowhere to eat in Buchan badly maligned the town. A cafe and a road house both provide meals, but it was too soon after lunch to eat again so we continued on to the small town of Bruthen on the Great Alpine Road, where we invaded another small shop for tea and coffee, before making our way back to Lakes Entrance following the road that runs along the banks of the Tambo River to Swan Reach and from there back to base.

A departing view of the entrance from which the town gets its name

A departing view of the entrance from which the town gets its name

Day 41 – 6th May – Lakes Entrance to Ringwood North – 307 Km

We left Lakes Entrance in sunshine, experienced cloud and drizzle through the Latrobe Valley and finished in sunshine. We parked the van at the Wantirna Caravan Park, packed three days gear into a plastic bin and shopping bags and drove the remaining few kilometres to our friends place at Ringwood North.

Days 42 to 45 – 7th to 10th April – Ringwood North

Thelma and Joe have been friends for almost 50 years. Our families grew up together to a large extent and our youngest daughters remain in contact. We drank much tea and coffee and talked. These pleasant interludes were interspersed with some other activities. Ruth sustained a knee injury early in the trip and as it is still worrying her, she sought medical advice. We also went out to lunch one day. We returned to the van on Friday afternoon ready to depart Melbourne the next day.

Day 46 – 11th May – Ringwood North to Castlemaine – 149 Km

The first part of the journey was across the suburbs of Melbourne to the Calder Freeway. As we passed through the new suburbs that were country towns when we lived in Melbourne, we were once again reminded of the growth of this southern city. The Calder Freeway runs to Bendigo and passes by Mount Macedon and a sign to Hanging Rock that reminds of a very nice wine and a certain picnic.

We stopped off at Kyneton, now bypassed by the freeway, to top up supplies. Many historic buildings line the main street. I remember them from when the highway passed their doors. It was a very busy day. Kyneton has excellent markets, we are told. If the crowded streets are an indication they must be very good indeed. In the IGA supermarket I spied a familiar face from a TV program. I am still trying to fit a name to the face.

Days 46 – 12th May – Castlemaine

Keith and Lynda lived near us at bay side Edithvale where we lived before moving to Queensland. As often happens, Ruth met Lynda at school where our daughter Briony and their son Dean were in the same class. Keith and I were drawn together by a common love of sailing. I used to crew for him in various long distance races on sheltered waterways in Victoria. They now live in Castlemaine in alleged retirement. I say alleged retirement, having heard their activity schedule.

The Giles have a view that they can never loose

The Giles have a view that they can never loose

A quite day, but as it was Mothers’ Day and our 51st wedding anniversary we enjoyed lunch at Tog’s Place in Castlemaine. The town’s proximity to Bendigo has provided opportunities to entice citizens of that fair city to drive down and dine. Good eating places abound. We were very satisfied with the meal that we shared.

Lightly Curried Beef Pie

Lightly Curried Beef Pie