THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Monday, 26 March

We fire up the generator, turn off the water pump, reel in the ropes, and make headway. Seasoned river rats by now, we have no trouble navigating back to the wharf by nine o’clock. Chris meets us in the skiff and takes the wheel, neatly guiding us into the Mayflower’s customary berth. They are happy to see us. We did good. And, ultimately, we had a good time. A relaxing, chill time – not so much. Sliding an unfinished puzzle back into its box is a mournful experience. Our white Hyundai has been parked in a grove of towering eucalypts for three days now, long enough for the vehicle to be covered with a solid layer of birdshit. Our ever-crusty automobiles. We leave the demoralized car and go in search of a more substantial breakfast than Uncle Toby’s Cheerios. At the bakery we choose, they sell a confection called a ‘Neenish Tart’. It looks like a small black-and-white cookie, except the white side is pink. Ali’s real curious. She inquires, “And a Neenish Tart is what?” Evidently, it’s also filled with something semi-gross, like marshmallow fluff, and the meaning of the qualifier ‘neenish’ has been lost. We harvest more peculiar Australian currency from obliging ATMs and plot our route to Beechworth.

It’ll take us through Glenrowan, where Ned Kelly stood his ‘last stand.’ The dude is to the Australian State of Victoria what the Ala-fucking-mo is to Texas. The word ‘hagiographic’ comes to mind, mainly so I can use it in a sentence for the first time in my life. Glenrowan features a 30-foot statue of NK in his iron regalia and wielding a shotgun. Just ten feet in front of Mr. Kelly is a helpful sign pointing to TOILETS. We eat lunch across the street. I am tempted by a Ned Kelly refrigerator magnet with a tiny thermometer attached, but I don’t pull the trigger.

We park the shitmobile in front of our Beechworth B&B, The Graces. Our rooms are lovely, each with a magnificent mantelpiece. In order to get the road kinks out, we go for a walk. Beechworth is a postcard-pretty town radiating from two perpendicular main streets. The Burke Museum (that Burke of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition to cross the continent south to north) is open. We buy a ticket that includes a visit to Ned Kelly’s Vault. Hurry! The Vault closes at four. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Look! Here’s NK’s brother’s Bible, the outhouse door with his initials carved on it, and his cousin’s hatpin. And lots and lots of armor, not only the suits that his outlaw band wore, but the steel ensembles worn by Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger in eponymous movies.

The Burke Museum is funky. First let me say, that the Burke and Wills story is one of arrogance and ignorance succumbing to the implacable emptiness of Australia’s central deserts. Few failures have been quite so abject. They all expired from hubris. In addition to sad (dumb-ass) Burke memorabilia, its most striking feature is a full-size model street with storefronts of the various merchants and tradespeople of 19thCentury Beechworth. Beechworth was a gold rush town: 153 tons of gold were mined or banked (or something) here. A measure of a ton of gold is a beach ball-size sphere sitting on the floor by the door. It’s that dense. Don’t forget the ratty taxidermy and seashells in dusty cabinets.

After a therapeutic nap, we make the dinner decision. When we first arrived, our host suggested this new place, The Empire Hotel. It had recently changed ownership and gone ‘upscale’. We’re game. The food is remarkably tasty, unfussy and ample, though the service is distracted. The waiter seems incredibly busy. In passing, he knocks over a chair and remarks to himself, “Oh, Basil.” This offhand Fawlty Towers joke relaxes us utterly and we enjoy the best meal of the trip so far. This is confirmed when the dessert proves a letdown.

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