Apologies for such a long period of radio silence. Weeks have become months and here I am again back in Angaston, South Australia after what’s felt like a series of opening and closing doors into parallel worlds.
From new and old vineyards in the Barossa Valley, South Australia back to the port city of Fremantle, Western Australia and then returning to South Australia to pack the bike again for a long wished for trip to Tasmania; the following is a small snapshot of the beginning of a very full few months. The book end of a year that perhaps in the future looking back many of us will see as a watershed moment individually and collectively.
So without labouring over too many words, here is the first blog post of the last three months of travels.
THE RIVERLAND, SA: Despite border closures preventing bigger leaps, when possible I’ve taken advantage of South Australia’s compact geography (by comparison with Western Australia) and punched a nearby location into the Sat Nav for a day’s sojourn. Elements of the South Australian Riverland region reminds me of the Southern Forests region in Western Australia. Diverse horticulture powered by productive soil and water founded by European migration and where backpackers (used to) make a beeline for seasonal work. Loaded roadside stalls, which here track along the Murray River, are always an interesting stop. This one owned by a family who grow a variety of fruit and are also regular stallholder at the Barossa Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
BAROSSA VALLEY, SA: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have supportive, generous friends in the Valley who manage wine grape vineyards. These friends have not only loaned a car and furniture for what’s been nearly a year but offered regular enjoyable social time and employment over the Spring during the planting season. I wrote a little about this in my previous blog post. Working in the vineyards not only offered a chance to feel the new experience of dirt under-feet work with patient instruction on varied new tasks but magical vistas and curious sights. An old water tank with a cast-iron float-weight pulley system measuring the depth with significantly more style and character than today’s Colourbond options. Concrete posts capped with thick clusters of Italian white or Mediterranean snails seemed more ornamental than the reality of their pest-level population.
The final ute (that is endearingly named ‘the poo wagon’ from a previous life in the service of certain biodynamic preparation applications) and tractor / planter unit drive in the yard was a sad day. Working alongside groups of hard working Burmese, Cambodian and Vietnamese people who in this team are not called or treated as ‘labour units’ but respected for the human hard graft they put in throughout the vineyard working year has been a delight. Despite language barriers their warm shy smiles, chatter, singing and laughter in the vine rows was incredibly heartwarming. Now seeing the logistics, attention to detail and how much manual labour it still takes to produce a bottle of wine, I’ll never walk into a cellar door or bottle shop quite the same again.
FREMANTLE, WA: I’d hoped to have spent Christmas back with family in Fremantle however the Parafield Covid Cluster in SA meant a delayed post-Christmas flight back to WA on the 27 December. Summer days here are often very hot and in the afternoons windy so the early morning is prime. On my travels over the years I’ve loved being in port cities. The invisible shipping route networks across the oceans that directly connect each of these cities around the world has made the solitary nature of being in Fremantle / Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, less so and even more of a draw now Covid’s closed the gate on international travel. These giraffe-like cranes standing proud and at the ready in the dawn light surrounded by thousands of containers was a familiar and comforting welcome-back sight.
Victoria Quay is a wharf on the south bank of the Swan River mouth, which together with the North Quay forms the Inner Harbour area of Fremantle Harbour. The Western Australian Maritime Museum that you can see behind the sail-training ship the Leeuwin is on the western most end of Victoria Quay. The museum has six galleries devoted to particular themes: the lndian Ocean, Fremantle and the Swan River, Fishing (including whaling), Cargoes, Naval Defence and Boats (from a canoe to Australia II), which if you have the time and inclination is well worth the visit.
Aptly named Port Beach was the first beach we used to regularly go to when we first lived in a nearby suburb called Willagee in the early 1990’s. Not much has changed bar from the car parks being extended to take the ever increasing population of the Fremantle area.
Tetragonia and seagull footprints in the sand are lovely perennials across so many Australian beaches.
Famously called the Cappuccino Strip, this morning shadow heavy shot of the Market Street devoid of tourists and parading muscle cars was only possible just before 6am. The only vehicles in sight were presumably business owners / staff and a peloton of cyclists that’d just descended on Gino’s for their pre or post the caffeine fixes. I’m never sure which it is. They never look sweaty enough for post! The Cappuccino Strip has long been the eating and drinking centre but Fremantle’s back streets, particularly in the West End are now also coming to life with bars and hole-in-the-wall cafes that seem to launch every month.
Another Fremantle institution is Kakulas Sister. Opened in 1994 its shelves and floor space have increasingly expanded in hundreds of unique international and local food product variety and choices despite the space being the same. It’s been interesting to observe the changes coinciding with the differences in the migration of various cultures coming into WA and their need to source familiar ingredients.
I’ve long been a regular customer but now even more so as our daughter Anya works here. No day is the same and she often returns home with hilarious tales of bolshy Southern and Eastern European women for whom shopping for food is part necessity and part sport. Particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas as the stress levels and weight levels of their increasingly lethal shopping baskets rise!
Bathers Beach is a short 300 metre beach, which is part of the A Class Arthur Head reserve where many artists have practiced in nearby studios and the site of Western Australia’s oldest public building, The Round House jail which was built in 1831. Now significantly gentrified and a beacon for tourists.
Little Creatures has equally been a favourite over many years. Formerly this huge shed was a crocodile farm that in late 2000 reopened as a working brewery with a large restaurant offering interesting upmarket pub food, long central tables surrounded by booths and a modern industrial, particularly unique Freo-feral vibe that consistently still holds its own style 20 years later. On the right, Fremantle’s historic High Street looking up towards Market Street (the Cappuccino Strip) in the sleepy early morning light.
During my 2 week trip back to Western Australia I took the opportunity to visit the new WA Museum Boola Bardip, which opened in late November 2020. Some 18 months prior, the museum had contacted me while I was working as the Agritourism Coordinator for the Southern Forests Food Council to ask permission to use text from my book Food of the Southern Forests in a display of West Australian agriculture. Along with the above quote are images taken by photographer Craig Kinder for the book and other commissions that are now permanent displays in the museum. An extraordinary privilege and long-lasting reminder of this significant life chapter.
The Fremantle Arts Centre has also been a significant place for work and pleasure over the years; its origins as a women’s asylum not entirely lost on me at times. Thanks to the connection at the time of then new and now old treasured friend Loretta, I was employed as the Food Coordinator for the Cafe and also for the creation of a series of food and wine events that were a collaboration with wine educator and now equally treasured friend Lexie Thompson. Loretta possess a great talent of bringing people with simpatico together for projects and it was her that also introduced me to photographer Brad Rimmer whose work brought my first book PicNic – Outdoor Feasts in the Australian Landscape alive and was launched here under the shady plane trees in 2002.
I return here not only to enjoy the latest exhibition, the craft shop with multiple treasures but to be with these now lovely memories of people and place again.
ANGASTON, SA: After 2 full, hot but enjoyable and nostalgic weeks in WA I returned to my cottage in Angaston to prepare for my trip to Tasmania via the Great Ocean Road. To get back in the swing of motorcycle travel and camping I took a short midweek overnight stay in Wallaroo on the Western side of the Yorke Peninsula to visit my youngest brother and his family on their annual summer break.
WALLAROO, SA: Wallaroo is a South Australian holiday town with a jetty particularly popular for anglers and divers, a deep sea port facilitating a variety of seed and grain export grown in the nearby mid-north region and a multi-million dollar marina development. Marine craft of all sizes and fishing gear for all kinds of catch seem to be attached, pulled or packed into every vehicle you pass heading to, from or in this once copper-mining town in January.
MOUNT GAMBIER, SA: With a serviced bike and packed panniers I set off for Mount Gambier after a night with accommodating generous old friends in Strathalbyn. The Blue Lake on the edge of town occupies one of the craters of the extinct volcano after which the city has been named. Early each November, the lake’s sombre blue, which is in evidence during the winter months, mysteriously changes to an intense deep turquoise blue almost overnight. The colouring remains until late February. Even on an overcast day the depth of colour is quite something to see.
Staying a night in a Gaol is not an experience I’d ever thought I’d have but fortunately this one was entirely of free will not incarceration. The Old Mount Gambier Gaol was completed in 1866 after a need for a gaol in the southern regions of South Australia became an issue.
The Gaol in nearby Robe was insufficient and poorly built and the Government at the time saw Mount Gambier as the next best location and a more central place to build a gaol that would alleviate the issue of travel to Adelaide for inmates and Police officers.
There are a variety of different style rooms and dormitories available to stay. I chose, with full affect, a renovated cell with an original heavy prison door opening on to a small courtyard and garden area. Along with the experience of sleeping in the hull of a fishing boat off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada many years ago it was a rather enclosing experience I think would take sometime to adjust to. Nonetheless, the facilities were very clean and well maintained and James the host incredibly welcoming and helpful.
Women inmates have always been a part of the gaol history, though in 1873 a new section was commissioned especially to accommodate them. In the early years, women imprisoned were sometimes accompanied by their children as they had no one else to care for them whilst serving their sentence. In the short time before sleep came, I wondered and tried to imagine the women who would’ve laid down in the same spot where I lay and what their stories would’ve been.
GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC: The Great Ocean Road is a 243-kilometre stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia between the Victorian cities of Allansford on the Western end and Torquay on the Eastern end. It was built by returned soldiers between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to soldiers killed during World War I making it the world’s largest war memorial. Along with thousands of tourists each year, it’s a beacon for twisty road loving motorcyclists. Despite enjoying the intensity of a twisty ride, my ‘chicken strip’, which is slang for the amount of tread left on the outer edges of the tyres (it gets worn off when leaning hard into corners at speed) is still wide enough to reveal I’m indeed well and truly still in the chunky chicken category.
There are many landmarks along the way but none more famous than the Twelve Apostles. Seven of the original eight limestone stacks remain standing at the Twelve Apostles viewpoint, after one collapsed in July 2005.
Mount Defiance is located on the Great Ocean Road near Cumberland River between Lorne and Apollo Bay. A small pull out bay has a plaque detailing the remarkable construction of the Great Ocean Road by World War One returned soldiers and is a good spot for a photo and a breather.
APOLLO BAY, VIC: The next overnight stay was at Apollo Bay, located on the eastern side of Cape Otway on the lowest slopes of the Otway Ranges. Cape Otway is where the Southern Ocean meets Bass Strait and was magical scenery to ride through. Apollo Bay is a very popular tourist town that seemed well serviced by the number of seafood restaurants lining the main street.
Fish Sandwich and Turnip Greens and beautiful flowering eucalyptus blossom in Apollo Bay.
GEELONG, VIC: I left Apollo Bay fairly early in the morning before the crowds surfaced and enjoyed a spectacular ride along the cliffs on the Great Ocean Road to reach Geelong in time for lunch. I’ve long been admirer of the chef Aaron Turner and was keen to check out one of his businesses The Hot Chicken Project. This is how he describes it:’The Hot Chicken Project is a hot chicken dive bar, really. Fried chicken and booze. It’s my idea of the perfect restaurant. Doing hot chicken, it was important for me to take what I thought Nashville hot chicken was – which was a real community based restaurant, not a big chain of mass produced chicken – and make sure that it was a restaurant and bar that was ingrained in the community.’
My Great Ocean Road ride finished at Port Melbourne to catch the Spirit of Tasmania late afternoon for the night journey across Bass Strait to Devonport. There was a bit of a delay boarding as prior to domestic vehicles entering the ship, large freight trailers are loaded first and were held up due to roadworks on the West Gate Bridge. Spirit of Tasmania I and II were built in 1998 by Kvaerner Masa-Yards in Turku, Finland and make approximately 800 sailings per year. 500 vehicles and 1400 passengers can be carried on each ship. Admittedly I’d felt a bit nervous about the journey ahead as it seems to take sometime for my sea legs to kick in but opting for a shared cabin to sleep and shower, a preparatory Kwell and taking the advice of a herbalist friend to drink ginger tea made this trip very comfortable and an easy start to Tasmanian travels ahead.
From fishing vessels and container ships in the West to ocean ferries in the East these months like the beautiful country I love to call home have been girt by sea. It’s now time to explore it’s treasured Apple Isle state, Tasmania.