THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Monday, 19 March

God, what a cozy night! The elemental wind raised a ruckus and rattled the windows. I slept protoplasmically, due in part, perhaps, to my nocturnal Australian poetry ritual. Many swagmen doing jolly and unjolly things. Breakfast is served up at the café at nine o’clock. Long blacks and flat whites all around, plus the settling of last night’s bill.

Ali and I stow our bags and walk the grounds. We climb the tight spiral of the lighthouse stairs and peer into the dark horizon. This vantage offers us the opportunity to flip the bird at the elbow-y couple who pushed us out of the way on their way down the stairs. They’re taking each other’s picture standing in front of the lighthouse.

This lightstation on Cape Otway has been, and still is, vital in keeping ships off the rocks. The Bass Strait, separating Tasmania from the mainland, is one hundred and sixty miles of treachery, treacherous not because of its width, but its relative shallowness and the pounding of the Roaring Forties, the perpetual westerly gale of this latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. Last night’s storm really dramatized the importance and majesty of this lonely place. Stepping inside the station’s telegraph office and cottage, which operated for about seventy years, gave insight on this isolated, crazy, little community at the end of the world.

Then, we’re off to complete the Great Ocean Road, with Melbourne our goal. From here on, the road becomes pretty hair-raising; for instead of winding along to top of bluffs, the bluffs are gone and it’s all hairpins on steep slopes that slip into the sea. I drive with all the power vested in me. We stop for lunch in Apollo Bay, a beach resort town just starting to nod out after the high season. After the meal, we poke around the shops. I find a clever garment, a navy-blue cotton jacket that zips up the side, which supports the tagging of Great White sharks. Shark tagging: now there’s a job.

Prior to Melbourne we intend to visit the National Wool Museum in Geelong. For almost one hundred years Australia was the world’s primary source for wool and Geelong its main manufacturing and export center. The centerpiece of the Museum is an operational 1910 carpet loom, the most spectacular piece of machinery I have ever seen, with the possible exception of the Mighty Wurlitzers at Radio City Music Hall. It’s bigger than a bus. Seven colors of yarn (each color unreeling from forty big bobbins) stream into an incomprehensibly complicated loom and out rolls an exquisite runner called Manor House. The museum covers every possible aspect of the wool industry. Now I know what a teasel is and exactly what it does. It’s my secret.

Thus begins the final leg of our journey to the big city. I’m driving and, while Ali’s navigational skills are peerless, this is freeway and city traffic and conflicted signage, so – tension. We pull up to the Hotel Windsor emotionally drenched. The guy at the reception looks at us like we have multiple heads. “You’re in the Duke of Windsor suite? That books for $2000 a night.” “Well,” I reply, “I reserved it online six months ago. I got a discounted rate.” “It’s my favorite room in the hotel,” he said, softening a bit. The suite has a living room with a fireplace. And a goddamn dining room. The second bedroom, though, is ridiculous, sparer than a dorm room; a single bed, a fold-top desk, and a safe. That’s it. No chair. Most likely, it had been a dressing room back in the days of multiple suitcase travel. Needless to say, our new digs are just a little de trop. Ali claims the big bedroom, though I appeal to her generosity to share some closet space.

I like to book a grand hotel once a trip, because nothing speaks to the romance of travel like a lobby with a grand staircase. The Windsor was built in 1884 and is slowly being restored to its High Victorian glamour. It’s the last 19thcentury hotel of its size and reputation operating in Australia. The Constitution of Australia consolidating the seven colonies was drafted here in 1898, no doubt because the hotel sits right opposite the Old Parliament building. One fascinating note: Shortly after it was built, it was bought a leader of the temperance movement and renamed ‘The Grand Coffee Palace’.

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