2 April – 16 May 2012
Leaving the earthquake damaged city of Christchurch we flew across ‘the ditch’ to Melbourne, arriving at the airport late in the evening. We had booked a hotel in the city for a couple of days before our first house-sit in Woodend. After being stung AU$34 for a bus ride into town, we trundled our luggage the two blocks up from Southern Cross Station to our hotel. I had looked on good ol’ Google Maps for the location of said hotel and confidently we strode down King Street getting more and more concerned as the tenor of the neighbourhood seemed to get a bit seedy, with dodgy looking blokes lurking around street corners and nightclubs with names like ‘Golden Hands’ etc. Luckily I had the address of the hotel and we realised we had been going the wrong way down the street, so we plodded back the three blocks to where the hotel was actually situated, having passed it 15 minutes ago. The Kingsgate was a budget place but ok for a couple of nights and we had a quick look around the city the next day. We stopped into an old fashioned ‘Magic Emporium’ to buy a present for Asher, Fran’s cousin’s son with whom we were going to be staying later. A great shop with loads of wonderful things under glass cabinet displays and old photos of famous magicians adorning the walls. On first look we liked Melbourne City with its trams, art galleries, murals, busy streets and interesting buildings old and new.
The following day we headed by train to Woodend, an hour’s journey north from the city. There we met with Denise and Steven, the hosts of our first house-sit in Australia. They were a lovely couple with a beautiful house just out of the town, 40 odd acres of land with kangaroos bouncing through the paddock at sunset, a tennis court, spa and two delightful little doggies called Rosie and Pippa, not forgetting Pud the cat. We loved our stay there and became friends with Denise and Steven too. Their house was situated near to the famous Hanging Rock, so we had to go there with a picnic. It is a wonderful eerie place, high rocks riven with fissures and caves, one could easily imagine getting lost amongst them. On the way up we encountered a party of young people coming down, one of which said to us that if we looked looked to our left just before we got to the top, we would see a koala bear up in a tall gum tree. Excited and pleased with this information from our ‘Koala Angel’, as Fran called her, we climbed up the hill and sure enough there was the bear sleepily wedged into the high branches of the tree. We were having the genuine Aussie experience and had only been here 4 days.
The rest of the time at Woodend we whiled away the days playing tennis and relaxing in the hot spa and enjoying the company of the dogs. Rosie was a jack russell chihuahua cross and full of energy. She bounced on all fours and moved at extremely high speed down the tracks leaving a cloud of dust in her wake like Roadrunner in the Wily Coyote cartoon. It was Easter time and we even got some chocolate eggs from our friendly neighbour Jenny, who lived in the small cottage next door. We had a friendly night quaffing wine and watching the “Pies” and Carlton play Aussie Rules Football on the TV upon the return of Denise and Steven from New Zealand. The Pies, or Collingwood, were Steven’s team and got completely stuffed by their old rivals Carlton, still we waved the black and white scarves supplied by Steven (magpies) and fought bravely to understand the convoluted rules of Aussie Rules – a very big thing in Victoria especially apparently. The next day we would be down in to the city and staying with Fran’s cousin Jay and her family.
We took the train to Footscray Station and somehow in the transition Matt’s wallet went off on an independent journey… it was a bit of a pain canceling and re-ordering his cards, but no real harm done. Jay (my cousin) and her family picked us up from the station, it was great to see her again after seven years, the last time I saw her son Asher he was dribbling on my shoulder, he is now a fine young man who plays a drum kit. Jay and I had a good time reminiscing about the joys and perils of our childhood over a glass or two of chilled white. They took us to their local pub where a jug band were playing, great harmonies and fun stuff with ukelele’s and a washboard.
From central Melbourne we went to another house-sit in Point Cook, we were pre-warned about this one by watching people’s faces fall when we told them where we were heading. It was a pretty ghastly new suburb of Melbourne, built with speed and not much care. We spent a week here trying to find a green patch for the dogs to pee on and getting well acquainted with the ‘lazy-boy’ chairs and wide screen telly.
Next stop… The Great Ocean Road. We decided we had to see more of this vast country and hit the justly famous road. We stayed in youth hostels which were surprisingly sophisticated and not so youthful to be embarrassing. We existed mainly on sandwiches as our finances were very precarious, Matt having no work for a month and the bookings on our house being very sparse, we only went out in the evening twice in the entire Australian trip. Still, we spent a happy time fascinated by the huge crashing emerald waves and the beautiful rock formations of the 12 apostles. One cheap and memorable drama for me was buying some bird feed for $2, expecting to tempt some sweet shy birds into my vicinity, what I got was more like a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’. A cockatoo landed on our balcony and then called his mates over, a whole flock of them were screeching and hassling, flapping their very big wings, when one landed on my back I beat a retreat leaving a giggling Matt taking photos.
After one stop at a motel with a nasty snitty owner, we dropped off the car at Melbourne airport and got ready to fly to Perth. We were picked up at the carousel by Rob, the long time friend of our buddy in Berko. He has a lovely calm house with a great colour scheme and a kitchen like something from celebrity chef. His cat Renzo was a very handsome chap but in a sorry state, having to sport a cone while he recovers from an operation. We all anxiously counted the ‘sleeps’ until cone-off day and the lovely beast was restored to dignity and freedom. We were sorry to leave this lovely refuge and say goodbye to Rob and his beautiful partner Monica, but Rob cryptically said he would leave our bed made up until we left the country…
The joy and novelty of house sitting definitely took a dive in the next chapter… the monster from Munster… We were left in charge of three dogs, one small, cute and looked a bit like Yoda, a medium sized lab who was no trouble apart from attempted sabotage of the fish pond, and one freaking great French Mastiff, bred for bringing down bulls. Luckily he was very good natured, but unluckily, young, boisterous, hardly trained and had a habit of jumping at you with his massive jaw looming in your face. He was so strong that he just yanked you around on walks and could slip his collar, we decided we wouldn’t take responsibility for taking him out in case he maimed himself or someone else.
We had a few nice outings while here, to Freemantle where we looked at the hippy shops and queued for free hot dogs at a May Day fair. We paid our respects to the glorious Ocean on Cottesloe Beach.
We had been planning to spend the last bit of the trip in Narrogin but spent some time calculating costs and realised that was not to be. We were going to see the beautiful Belynda, my buddy from our book group in Ulverston. Luckily the lovely Rob graciously took us back (he told us not to change the bedding!) and Belynda, her Mum and her lovely bonny boy Lachlan were able to come and visit us. We spent a peaceful morning reminiscing, catching up on the last 7 years, and delighting in Lachlan’s delight exploring the mandarin tree.
Another quiet high spot was sharing in Monica’s mothers day brunch, a lovely lazy Sunday with one of her daughters and boyfriend, and some gorgeous food. We have one more sleep here, and then we fly to Singapore, Asia is the last and most enigmatic leg of our year long journey.
Check out Matt’s “Water” video and more gallery pics below: