1967-68: It was 4th Grade, Andrews School, Bristol, RI. The school was right next to the old Pastime Theater, just steps from our big house on the little dead end street known as Central Street. Our teacher Miss Bonvicin gave us a class assignment which, if successfully completed, would be to find a place you wished to visit someday.
Since a little boy, Australia was that choice. The fascination? Those odd animals – the kangaroo and wallaby, the wombat, platypus. The fact they had one of the deadliest spiders in the world – the Funnel Web – which just so happened to be in our own honeysuckle bush. Fierce defenders, they have lobster-like little claws in front and stand at their funnel-shaped home’s edge being all menacing. Southern New England and eastern Australia are the only two places on earth where Funnel Webs are known to inhabit.
Picking a destination was no easy task. This was a time they were readying Sydney’s great music hall – the Opera House – still in construction 10 years with four more to go. Reading about the great explorer Captain Cook and the early Aboriginal encounters got me digging deeper. The Bee Gees, Sandi Shaw, The Seekers, The Easybeats and a quirky tune we all sang called ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport’ (Rolf Harris, album cover here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:S75079.jpg ) had me hooked on Aussie tunes.
Then one day that handy little research tool in our library – the World Book Encyclopedia – led me to the Twelve Apostles. No, not the ones we heard about in Sunday School; this photo opener attests to what my eyes fixed upon: monuments of sand-like stone, found at the western end of Victoria’s Bass Strait – the body of water separating the Australian mainland from Tasmania, a seaway at the northern tip of what a southern voyage would reveal as the shores of Antarctica. This seaway, with its ever-present rolling surf, gently wear down these silty structures while carving out new ones from the mainland’s ample shelf. In presenting the report, I vowed that someday I’d be on those shores.
Matty made that vow a reality – and at a time I didn’t have a penny to my name. Having met through a blog website of similar bearding interest, he and I got to know each other so well that I could not hide the fact his nation had been wooing me to be there. Matty added to the woo, providing the means to make this trip happen while I coordinated the details. What makes this story so powerful is contained in the little known details – how the impossibility of this trip turned into the trip of a lifetime:
- I was flat broke, facing eye surgery, and wondered if I’d be able to drive the distance from our Cottage at Pennyroyal Farm to the location near the town of Port Campbell VIC – several hours drive west on the Great Ocean Road which features mainly 2-lane pavement along the very scenic and winding coastline. We actually drove through to Port Fairy, our westernmost venture, and eventually back-tracked to Port Campbell.
- Matty is agoraphobic, not the social type. It was amazing to see him waiting in a group as my flight from the States landed at Melbourne. Since he is prone to being indoors, it was even more amazing to see him greet me at the airport alone, take a 3 hour drive to a pizza and fish establishment where we chowed down on some great food, stay with me 8 days in a beautiful cottage in the midst of a cow pasture, go with me to get food in grocers and restaurants and even a beer developer’s tap brewery. We walked tons, ate much, took a slew of photos and just had the time of our lives. He got to experience 8 days ‘away’, where he could finally be himself, in some of the most beautiful landscapes Australia lovingly provides.
- Wherever we went it felt like home, only better. Aussies are about the most unpretentious lot of people in the world, at worst I felt like a curiosity – but far more I felt welcomed and engaged. From conversations with fellow travelers telling me of places to visit, people to meet, ingredients to buy for some perfect home cooking to discovering things about the new surroundings that created a craving to never leave, I still have pictures of moments on computer screens and walls reminding myself that it’s still there and beckoning.
Bliss: That is the pasture land of Australia – pure bliss. The cottage rented for the eight days sits right at the heart of a rolling series of grazing lands bordering a rain forest to the south, and just beyond is Lorne – all part of south-central Victoria’s ‘Surf Coast Shire’. The land is as complex in variety as my brain is at processing things, so this place was a mental fantasy with a visual to stimulate! A primer on the region can be discovered here:
Lore: Some of the earliest settlements and encounters ventured by the famous Captain Cook happened on this stony coast. The indigenous met with them there. All sorts of stories of settlements and incidents and contributions to history result.
Source/Attribution: Wikipedia; BirregurraMainStreet2010-MattinbgnOwnWork.JPG
One of the more recent fascinations centered around a little bar room in the tiny town of Birregurra – just 5km west of Dean’s Marsh. Years back I remember watching one of the paranormal series featuring a haunting at this establishment (though finding the link to it seems impossible at the moment). Drove by it a number of times going west to Colac for groceries and the usual what-nots, but the 6th pass-by seemed to be the one trigger that brought the show segment back to memory. For the skeptic Matty had been (atheist – agnostic-leaning to learning about Messianic Judaism) he made it expressly clear we were not having anything in the establishment. That feeling became even more punctuated every time we passed a cematary as he inhaled, held his breath, then exhaled at the graveyard’s passing. Yes, I did ‘slow down’ a time or two just to test his endurance, and the explanation revealed that both he and his older brother had a belief that ‘soul snatching’ was possible – with their remedy being the response to not let such ever happen.