Monthly Archives: May 2018

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.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 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. 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 were settling in, our host suggested this new place, The Empire Hotel. It had recently changed ownership. 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 Towersjoke relaxes us utterly and we enjoy the best meal of the trip so far. This is confirmed when the dessert proves a letdown.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Sunday, 25 March

I could hear the weather carrying all night long. It’s gray and cold when we arise. A good day to work on a jigsaw puzzle under normal circumstances, but by midday we’re rollin’ on the river. Ali has become adept at mooring and unmooring the Mayflower. Me – I’m Captain Afib and we’re heading upstream again. Ali makes lunch and I manage to consume a sandwich one-handed without running us into any obstacles. That comes later. Despite the crummy weather, people are out on the water. The two of us have relaxed into a form of boat existence characterized by relative efficiency and teamwork. Who knew!

Twenty kilometers from where we started out this morning, we decide to tie up for the evening. The shadows are lengthening and the wind is picking up. I turn the craft into the bank at too oblique an angle and we get stuck sideways; not exactly aground, but semi-immobilized against the shore by the wind and current. Distress ensues. There’s no ‘reverse’ possible due to this skewed position. After several misguided and potentially foolhardy attempts at wading in and pushing the goddamn thing, we call service and repair again and confess to pathos. A simple, quick maneuver guided by Josh and we’re in the middle of the current. All we feel is relief.

This was a bullshit snafu. We find a wonderful mooring place sheltered between two fallen trees. Penne with pesto, broccoli, and leftover burger meat weighs a ton and is delicious. Let’s see how puzzled we can get. It’s a hard one, a landscape reflected on water with basically only seven or eight colors repeated murkily on the horizontal axis. Pfeh. Movie time. Tonight – Lion. It has a lovely first half, but then the lost boy, now grown, boringly searches for his home in India via Google Earth. Still, a decent enough film and shot in part in Tasmania. We gotta pack tonight, because we’re due back at Echuca at 9am.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 24 March

PIERCING SHRIEK!!! Jesus Christ, it’s five o’fucking clock in the morning. Is it coming from the boat? Uh-huh. The mechanical room in the stern. Ali can sleep through anything. No, she can’t. What the fucking fuck!!! Okay, let’s start our day and pretend the boat won’t explode. At 7:30 (ever so considerate) I call the service & repair number Chris gave us. Josh, the other guy, answers.

“Did you run the generator for four hours?”

“No.”

“Turn it on and the noise will stop.”

“Thanks.”

Last night, we had been so relieved to have stopped moving that I turned off the clattering generator without really thinking. Problem solved: we don’t explode. Breakfast is Cheerios, perpetrated on the Australian public by a gentleman named Uncle Toby. They are perilously crunchy, these Cheerios in-name-only. We become unmoored and proceed to go with the flow. The Murray is a placid torrent. It winds through stands of eucalypts, flanked sometimes by tall, raw embankments of golden earth. We encounter other houseboats along the way, both moored and chugging, and motor past holiday camps that are basically houseboats on stilts on top of bluffs. Paddle-wheel tourist vessels approach the Mayflower and we discover that the people aboard can be baited into waving. We smile gaily, wave, and say, “Fuck you, you fucking tourists!” Powerboats towing skiers zip by, as do obnoxious jetskis.

The Murray is Australia’s longest and most navigable river, delineating the border between New South Wales and Victoria, and at last passing through South Australia to empty into the Great Australian Bight. Compared to other river systems on other continents, the Murray is small potatoes. The river’s lack of water volume is due to the Australia’s arid nature. Still, it winds powerfully, yet leisurely, for 1,500 miles through forest, scrub, and wetlands.

We slip downstream. Once we get the hang of the blue markers at two-kilometer intervals, we feel more confident of where we are. The real estate has become more upscale: the embankments reinforced with wooden bulkheads or even riprap. Despite the neighborhood, we tie off on two dead trees and begin serious work on the puzzle while contemplating dinner prep. The burgers set off the smoke alarm. Then we turn off the lights and watch The Dressmaker on DVD that Ali had bought at the supermarket. The soccer-like game the sweaty, young Hemsworths are playing at the beginning of the film turns out to be … Footy!

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Friday, 23 March

Ali forbids me from driving to The Lonely Sock for laundry retrieval, so we pick up a taxi out front and make a roundtrip. The cabbie’s very chatty, a young man from Pakistan. The conversation’s all light until near the end of the trip, when he singles out all Somali youth as incorrigible. Not truly icky, but weird. So many factors at play. A&V repack and call for the automobile, pointing it to the northeast. We are heading to Echuca to spend the weekend piloting a houseboat on the Murray River. An hour or two into the trip, we’re famished. Ali spots a little café in a tiny, dusty town called Elmore. It’s called The Copper Kettle. The young couple have been operating for a month. Lunch is okay, but the two of them are disarming. Their handmade pennants fly from the arcade over the sidewalk and a small white car parked directly in front has “Brekkie” written on a chalkboard on its roof.

On we motor, ever-attuned to the saga of Jim Holden and the frigate Rocinante hurtling across the Solar System. Prior to reaching the Port of Echuca we must stop and shop for a weekend’s worth of groceries – three dinners, three breakfasts, and two lunches – in preparation to be houseboat-bound for three days. We’re met at the wharf by a cheerful, efficient woman named Julie. All’s in order. Is it okay if we park the auto under the large eucalypts over there? We schlep our miscellany down to the Mayflower, a floating rectangle. After signing some kind of waver, a young man named Chris gives us a quick tutorial. The boat has a generator to charge the battery to run the systems, an independent water pump, and, of course, the goddamn ignition. He provides instructions on maneuvering, tying off to the shore, and, counter-counter-intuitively, motoring on the righthand side of the river. He hands me the wheel and vanishes. We’d been towing his getaway skiff. What’s to become of us?

Ali’s reaction to being cast adrift is to freak out, which flares for a while. She paces. She feels nauseous. But when she latches onto her father’s earlier egregious misrepresentation of himself, her mood brightens. I’d introduced myself to Chris as ‘Rob’, a name I have never ever used. “Rob? Rob? Where did that come from, Dad?” She remains, nevertheless, bummed. We cruise for a time, confused by the map they gave us and wary of oncoming river traffic, but jabbering continuously. The ‘Rob’ issue requires lengthy discussion. “Slow down, Dad.” I had been barreling along. “I mean … Rob.”

A good place to moor for the night appears and I bring the Mayflower in successfully. Two ropes, one at each corner of the ‘bow’ must be secured to trees. Now we can survey our lodging. The Mayflower is an exceedingly compact three-bedroom apartment. Two of the bedrooms contain queen beds and the other, a set of bunk beds. The queens fill the rooms so totally that it will be necessary to stick one’s legs into the hallway in order to pull one’s pants on. This means we will use the bunk room as a dressing room. Up a flight of stairs is a covered deck, perfect for hypothetical relaxation. In the bow there’s an open space with a galley kitchen, dining table, and uncomfortable sofa. The helm with a chrome wheel is on the left side. Ali places the Royal Flying Doctor Service co-pilot koala on a shelf by the ignition.

Our bow is right up against an embankment of yellow earth, while across the river, distant hubbub rises from an elaborate caravan park. Two kids in funyaks paddle up to the Mayflower. Their intention is to assemble rows of lumps from the pale gray clay that runs in veins through the ochre dirt of riverbank. They’re chatty but focus intently on their blob collection. We fix dinner, a rotisserie chicken and broccoli, then we pour the 1,500 pieces of the jigsaw puzzle out onto the glass-top table and commence edge-piecing. Twilight is painting the river with gold. “Shhh,” whispers Ali, “Look.” Three wallabies have come down to the river to pray.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Thursday, 22 March

We’re a little rocky this morning. I undertake a mission to find caffeine and some carbohydrate for breakfast ensuite. Today is our Glenn Huddleston day. But first, laundry. I’ve located a wash-and-fold place a half hour’s walk from Hotel Windsock. We have a lot of stinky wash, including the sheets and towels we bought at Target yesterday. In fact, we have so many garment units that a cab to The Lonely Sock launderette will be necessary.

From there we can walk to rendezvous with Glenn and his wife Gil (Jill). I first met Glenn on September 11, 2001 and haven’t seen him since the planes started flying again on the 14th. Every year, though, I think of him. I had a young Aussie houseguest, Ryan Ely, who got stranded at LaGuardia that day and, sitting on the curb watching the towers burn and fall, befriended a New Zealander (Glenn) who had no place to go. They found their way back to 54 Bleecker Street around six o’clock in the evening. He and I had been out of touch for sixteen years, but eighteen months ago, he emailed me. I told him I regretted not trying to get in touch when Joss and I went to New Zealand. “Oh, I live in Melbourne now.” Hence, Glenn.

Ali and I are early, so we walk in the shadow of the gargantuan casino/convention center on the south side of the Yarra River. Nearby and moored in a smelly berth, is a three-masted barque, the Polly Woodside. Shrieking schoolchildren are storming the deck. No further exploration of the Polly Woodside is necessary, so we find our designated tram stop / meeting place. I recognize Glenn, even though I hadn’t been able to conjure up his face. Seventeen years have passed. He must have been in his early twenties; I was fifty-one. Now, he’s almost a middle-aged man and I’m a venerable son-of-a-bitch. Some happy, awkward moments ensue. Ali, bless her, picks up the slack. Then, his wife appears and the gabbing really commences.

Soon, the tram pulls in. Yeah, Glenn and Gil have reserved a table for us aboard the Tramcar Restaurant. These are shiny, maroon, decommissioned trams kitted out with Victorian frou-frou and teeny-weeny galley kitchens. We roll along for two hours, merrily indeed, as the streets of Melbourne pass by. Glenn points to things, like the preparations for the upcoming Melbourne Formula One road race, Melbourne’s early 20thcentury amusement park, and this park and that park. Oh, and the food is surprisingly decent. Photographic evidence of this grinning foursome exists.

Ali and I retreat to Hotel Windsock to continue our nap marathon, because tonight – Footy! Glenn is taking us to an Australian Rules football match. Carlton versus Richmond. There isn’t a nuttier, more beloved sport played anywhere on the globe; in fact, it’s pretty much exclusive to the state of Victoria and the city of Melbourne, in particular, which has seven or nine clubs, Carlton and Richmond being two.

Glenn meets us in the Windsor lobby an hour before the match, given there’s a thirty-minute walk and stadium security to deal with. Mistimed. We miss maybe the first twenty minutes due to a clusterfuck at the arena entrance. Up three escalator flights and through a milling horde, we search for our level and gate and section. Suddenly, what had been a growl becomes a roar and the blazing, enormous field and stadium opens to us, vibrating with passion and beer and incalculable wattage. It’s heart-stopping.

Tonight, 90,000 fans fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the largest stadium in Australia and the 10thlargest in the world. All for two local teams. The Mets and Yankees should be so lucky. We have wonderful seats, high up, but behind one of the goals. Here are some stats – a vast playing field, perhaps four times the area of an American football field, four goalposts on each side, eighteen fielded players to a team, four quarters of play at a half-hour a piece, at least six referees in electric yellow ensembles, a handful of team factotums in lavender, and MAYHEM! What a demented fucking spectacle! I love it. Ali loves it. Glenn is delighted. Ali and I last through the third quarter and bid our friend good-bye. Richmond is leading. It has been a reunion of great fun and satisfaction. The walk back to the hotel is all giddiness.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Wednesday, 21 March

More excello and long blacks. And lovely, lovely bacon. We have an appointment at a house museum at 10:30. There will be a cab in our future: the less city driving for me, the better. It’s located in a suburb about 20 minutes from the Hotel Windsock. We’re greeted at the door by Leah Justin, wife of Charles. They are the owners of the house and passionate collectors of current abstract art. She ushers us into a black room with two rows of orange chairs. Opposite, a wall-size video is playing, a grid of human figures, four by eight, dressed in black and lying against a white background. They stretch and contract, contorting into fetal position at random. The, one by one they wink out, disappear. It’s mesmerizing, then a little self-conscious.

 

Charles leads us, by now there are ten of us seated in the orange chairs, in a discussion of what we see, a little self-conscious and not mesmerizing. Then we move up a flight of stairs to a red room filled with black-and-white work. Each piece merits a thorough discussion. I’m enjoying this. Close reading or close looking is all the same exercise to me – brain drawing: filling in blanks or turning over an image to see the bottom or listing synonyms or making educated guesses. Fun. Some of the work the Justins have collected is truly lovely. I’m the only man in the audience: Ali’s the only person under 50.

 

After this lively exchange, we adjourn to their apartment on the top floor, where a beautiful spread of canapés covers the dining table. It’s a gorgeous, light-filled space with bright colors and art everywhere. Clearly, they love what they’re doing. They don’t throw great wads of cash around, most of the pieces cost in the range of several thousand dollars. Their eye is highly personal, yet acute and practiced. A house museum, what a concept. Back to the Windsor for lunch and a rest.

 

Late in the afternoon, Ali and I walk to the State Library of Victoria to see the death mask and armor (!) of Ned Kelly, the last (d. 1880) and most famous bushranger and folk hero (and eloquent psychopath). A lot of space here is devoted to this outlaw and murderer. The armor, for God’s sake, the armor. In their final showdown with the law, he and his gang wore ungainly, patently ridiculous, iron get-ups made from ploughs and boiler plate. Very Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m sure the two of us haven’t seen the last of Mister Kelly.

Ned Kelly is but one element of the encyclopedic display in this fourth floor gallery that wraps around the vast dome of the Library’s Main Reading Room. Looking down, wooden tables are arrayed in a snowflake pattern around a large podium. Students peer into laptops. Ali finds more reading material in the Library’s bookstore. So do I.

 

Dinner options in Melbourne are dauntingly multitudinous. This is a sophisticated town in so many ways. I shepherd us toward Cookie, which the guidebooks all agree is a decent Thai establishment. First, it doesn’t seem to be at the address given. It’s on the first (second) floor. And Second, seating is mystifying; we inadvertently seat ourselves in the ‘reservations-only’ section and get shooed to the bar. Oh, the hipster hubbub. After fumbling over the menu which promises much savory goodness, it become apparent the ordering process takes place at the bar. How many challenges do we have to overcome in order to get fed? The bartender tends to us pretty quickly. He’s chatty and kindly with colorful arms. The food is delicious and the hipster veneer endearingly Australian.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 20 March

I slept uneasily due to fretfulness. Boy, is that a fucking waste of time and energy. Stepping out of the hotel and turning the corner reveals a café that advertises an ‘excello’ breakfast, the main ingredients of which are fabulous coffee and BACON. Gotta love Australian bacon. What it might lack in ‘crispy’, it more than makes up in ‘porky’. We then walk down to the National Gallery of Victoria, the NGV, to see what we might see. A wonderful and exhaustive exhibit of art and artifacts from its colonial past, 1770-1861 fills the museum. A lot of what’s here belongs to the period before Melbourne was founded in 1835. It’s fascinating, with many beautiful paintings, drawings, furnishings, textiles, and curiosities. The entrance to the exhibit presents a stunning collection of Aboriginal shields. In a long row and lit for emphasis, these shields set a tone of resistance that colors the whole history lesson. Then, on the third floor, the Aboriginal response is fierce, funny, and furious. We discover many marvels in the museum store, for example, Dame Edna potholders on sale.

We detour up Hosier Lane, a back alley and graffiti heaven. A fellow on a cherry picker is putting the finishing touches on an enormous portrait of Biggie Smalls, the one with the crown. Groups of schoolkids are hanging out, fooling around and smoking or texting and just being cool by association. Ali is most impressed. We fade back to the hotel to put our feet up and our heads down. I need this. Thus rested, we go in search of more postage; quite a flurry of postcard composition has been going on at the dining room table.

The true nature of our present mission is to buy sheets and towels for our forthcoming voyage on the Murray River. The houseboat we’ve rented won’t supply linen. A nearby Target has just what we’re looking for. Heeding the muse of practicality, a small suitcase gets bought to carry our burgeoning tchotchke collection.

Consolidating our purchases in the handy little suitcase, we roll on down the street looking for some place for dinner.A stylish-looking Italian bistro beckons. Yeah, but sometimes stylish only pretends to have a decent kitchen. So what: I’m starving. We fall for the tasting menu, which is very good until it sucks.

Goodnight.

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’.

THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Sunday, 18 March

Not so speedy get-away. Ali slept shitty. No spiders, just exogenous crap. A short walk from the hotel (after an epic conversation with the proprietors – last night’s many bushfires further inland, the possum family in their roof at home, tourist season in Port Fairy, the Great Ocean Road), we nail a hearty breakfast and some postage stamps and are on our way.

The Hyundai passes many cows, a prelude to entry into Warrnambool (pronounced – Warnable), home to CheeseWorld, a major roadside attraction dedicated to curds and, probably, whey. The Uebergang family has been local milk moguls for quite a few generations and pride themselves particularly on their milkshakes. We depart with much cheesy swag and milk moustaches on our faces.

Warrnambool’s the western terminus of the Great Ocean Road (actually Portland is, but nevermind). We’re driving that train, high on, um, cheese beverage. Along the GOR there are many scenic turn-offs with paths to promontories. The storm clouds that threatened earlier blow away all of a sudden, but the wind will not subside. The true magic of the day becomes apparent at the Bay of Islands, our first overlook. We stand on a great bluff with a panorama of scudding clouds and frantic teal blue surf battering golden limestone towers before it expires on an inaccessible beach. The sunshine and bluster could not be more bracing. The more easterly we drive, the more formations to stop and gape at. Particularly striking is London Bridge, which had been a double-arched peninsula until the landward arch collapsed in the 90s stranding two hikers.

The final group of towers is the famous Twelve Apostles. Simple observation discloses four and a half Apostles. Apparently, this is the third most popular attraction in Australia, after the Sydney Opera House and Uluru, I suppose. Busloads of heedless wankers disgorge here, stalling in the middle of the walkway to obliviously wave their selfie sticks. A little guidebook research reveals that the original name for the Apostles was Sow and Piglets.

We’re cranky now. Reconnoitering the seaside hamlet of Port Campbell for sustenance proves fruitless, as the town is suffering from a power outage. The wind today has been relentless, more challenging than we knew. We rip into the remaining banana bread. The turnoff to the Cape Otway Lightstation winds through temperate rain forest. The eucalypts here are astoundingly tall and slender, with scant foliage. Their white bark stands in stark contrast to the blue blue sky and the canopy bows and ripples like a vast curtain of gray-green lace. The road has become unsealed due to ongoing construction/reconstruction. We are undaunted, despite the Hyundai’s modest transmission. We know mud: this ain’t no MUD. We arrive at the gate just as the guy is shutting and locking it. But. But. But. It’s only 3:30. Apologetically, he explains that they’re closing the road on account of mud-related trauma.

So, we’re in, yet we have no dinner, having had no lunch. Kindly staff gives/sells us a couple chicken-y wraps and a pasta salad left over in the café’s larder. We’ve brought a bottle of Pellegrino along, thank God. The wind blows and blows, but we sleep very soundly.