Great Ocean …

… no road.

As beautiful as the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Peterborough is, it does mean that there are no secluded hideaways along the coast. It’s one of Victoria’s top tourist attractions but I can’t help feeling that an inland road with dead end offshoots would have given the magnificent coastline more of a Cornwall feel. For me the adventure starts where the road stops and this road goes on and on.

But at least there is access. Continue west beyond Peterborough and the highway ducks inland. It hits the coast at Warnambool, very settled and domesticated but a good place to see whales in the winter. You can get to the sea again at Port Fairy, more rugged and way more charming. After that access to the coast is extremely limited until you get to Portland. Tourists can look across privately owned farmland to the distant ocean and wonder what they’re missing.

In fact they’re missing scenery that is the equal of the Great Ocean Road.

From the Crags and from Yambuk Lakes you can see Australia’s only off shore volcano, Lady Julia Percy Island. It’s been fairly quiet for the last 6 million years but you could get lucky. The island is home to Australia’s largest fur seal colony – about 27,000 strong. Sea Lions and Elephant Seals are occasional visitors. A number of different sea birds nest there. It’s the long flat topped one on the horizon …

Ship wrecks are a dime a dozen along Victoria’s coast but plane wrecks are not so common. There is a memorial at the Crags to four airmen who lost their lives in 1944. They were the crew of an Avro Anson thought to be looking for submarines. For reasons unknown it failed to return to its base in Mount Gambier. Wreckage was found on Lady Julia Percy Island and in the sea nearby. The bodies of the crew were not found.

You can visit the island by boat from Port Fairy courtesy of Southern Coast Charters. It’s a great trip.

Griffiths Island …

The early history of the European settlement of the Victorian coast is shrouded in mystery. Most of the early players came across Bass Strait from Van Dieman’s Land to explore and exploit what was then the Port Philip District of New South Wales. By ship it is less than half the distance from Launceston to any part of the Victorian coast than it is from Sydney. Settlement was forbidden and mostly went undocumented.

Port Fairy gets its name from The Fairy, a cutter that visited the Moyne River in search of fresh water in about 1828. Sealers and whalers from Van Dieman’s Land were probably using the area from about that time on.

There were three islands at the mouth of the Moyne. Some characters named Penny and Reiby established a whaling station on the  largest of them.

In 1834 the Henty brothers settled an area about 70 km to the west which would become Portland. They were the first settlers to come to the government’s notice, their presence being discovered by an exploring party commanded by Major Thomas Mitchell. By the time officialdom, in the form of Foster Fyans reached the area in 1839 there was already a settlement at Port Fairy catching whales and growing potatoes. Captain Foster Fyans, magistrate and Commissioner for Crown Lands arrived in Geelong in 1837 charged with the virtually impossible task of overseeing the orderly settlement of all of south west Victoria. Geelong and Portland are 240 km apart. Fyans and his party made the first recorded overland journey between the two.

In 1835 a gentleman named John Griffiths purchased the whaling station at the mouth of the Moyne and the island acquired his name. The station operated until about 1843 by which time Southern Right Whales were too scarce to warrant such an establishment. But as whaling declined the importance of the port increased.

Melbourne was also pioneered by adventurers from Van Dieman’s Land. The founding of a town wasn’t approved until 1837. Until Melbourne eclipsed it Port Fairy was the busiest port in the district. It remained busy until 1960 when the harbour at Portland opened for business. It still is a working port – 30 tonnes of squid were landed during my stay.

Victoria gained its independence from New South Wales in 1851. Van Dieman’s Land became Tasmania in 1856.

A lighthouse was built on Rabbit Island in 1859. Various improvements were made to the mouth of the river which combined with natural build up of sand caused Rabbit, Goat and Griffiths Islands to coalesce into one, still known as Griffiths Island.

Griffiths Island

The lighthouse was manned by two keepers until it was automated in 1954. The keepers’ cottages were demolished soon after but some plants from their garden linger on.

The island is home base for a colony of Short-tailed Shearwaters. They nest in burrows during the summer. They spend the remainder of the year on an extraordinary journey that takes them way into the northern hemisphere.

A stroll around the island takes about 45 minutes. You are quite likely to meet one of these on the way …

Pied Oystercatcher

Port Fairy Again …

In the old joke an Arab goes to Blackpool for his holiday. On his return to the desert he’s asked how it was. He replied “Perfect, it rained every day”

It hasn’t rained at home in the Goldfields for two months, three days in Port Fairy and two cold fronts later has me wondering if the grass will be green by the time I get home. I doubt it but the sea looks even more exciting in a gale …

… and the sun has been out between showers. A bit of bad weather can’t spoil Port Fairy. Stay at Doc’s at the Mill, it’s right on the wharf. You book through Langley’s (03 5568 2899), tell them I sent you and I’ll get a discount next time! A morning walk on East Beach and lunch at Rebecca’s. You can’t beat it.

The mill was built in 1860 and enjoyed a relatively brief career as a steam driven flour mill. It’s right on the wharf and the tallest building in town.

In the evening as the lights come on …

The town is situated where the Moyne River reaches the Southern Ocean. It is one of the oldest settlements in the state of Victoria and was once an important port.

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Bright Yellow …

and utterly stupid.

I just know from an Australian cricket perspective, we hold our heads high and I’d be very disappointed if one of our team members did that …                                        David Warner 2016

It is an enormous honour to represent your country. And that’s exactly what you do, you represent it. If you do well you enhance its reputation. If you cheat you diminish it.

I’m all for holding a trial before the execution. Steve Smith has pleaded guilty which makes that part of it quite easy. He has sought to share the blame as widely as possible but so far I think we only have his word on that, for what a cheat’s word is worth.

I was obviously nervous about it because with hundreds of cameras around that’s always the risk, isn’t it?

Said Bancroft, what a cretin, bright yellow tape – you’d have thought he would have been smart enough to conceal some carborundum in sticky tape on his fingers.

Leadership group? I doubt that we’ll see the minutes of the meeting. It matters little really, it’s more about the responsibility group. Smith as captain is the one who must ensure that sportsmanship prevails. He should be assisted by his vice captain … if he’s not too busy in a bout of fisticuffs. And the whole philosophy of the team is the business of the coach.

It’s time for the three of them to go. And I do mean go. None of them should ever have the honour of representing their country again.

Flat out …

I heard a standup comedian on the radio the other day. His shtick was essentially based on the notion that men are always flat out busy whilst women just get things done. I doubt his career is going to rocket along, as comedy it was quite unfunny and if it was a snivelling attempt to curry favour with women he’s forgotten that in the new snivellisation it’s at least a micro-aggression to suggest a gender difference.

But let me tell you, I have been flat out busy.

It was the vintage. Time to pick the grapes. The family gathers, the sun shines, the pretty girls ply the workers with their choice of chocolates or fruit, old uncle Joe plays his accordion, a glass of a previous vintage waits at the end of every row. Perfect bunches of fruit bursting with the elixir of life itself drop almost effortlessly into baskets that fill quickly without ever seeming to get heavier. Ah, the romance.

photo GHD

The reality may be a little different. The infinite number of people who will help you drink the wine haven’t turned up for work. You start the day early in the prolonged cold, wet, intimate embrace of dew laden foliage. You cradle a bunch in one hand cut the stalk (occasionally a finger) with secateurs wielded by the other hand, drop the fruit in your bucket and search for the next bunch. Your back is bent for most bunches, you’re on your knees for the low ones.

By 10 am it’s drying out and warming up. That’s when the European wasps arrive. Those bunches that you cradle may now be armed and dangerous. You carry your full buckets to the end of the row where band aids and empty buckets await, samples of previous vintages are nowhere in sight.

photo GHD

At the end of the day the fruit goes through the crusher-destemmer and into the vat. It’s funny how your windscreen wipers only pack up in the rain and your crusher-destemmer only refuses to work when you harvest. The day was extended by the time it took to take it apart, find that the drive chain was rusty, get that cleaned up, freed up and reassembled.

Then the grapes go in the hopper, most of the stems are ejected to one side, the grapes and their juice go through into the vat. A days picking goes through in a couple of minutes.


photo GHD

It was a productive year. It’s the second year that we’ve netted the ripening crop to keep the birds from eating it all. I was dubious but the lovely Gayle insisted and she has been proven right. She gets things done.

We have some white grapes too but my attempts at white wine have been disappointing so we just leave them for the birds. With the nets we can leave the grapes longer to develop a bit more sugar. By the time that they were ready to pick a vine without a net on was a vine without a grape on.

Yeast is added and fermentation begins. The liquid, now called must, ferments on the skins for a week. This will be red wine in due course and that’s how it gets its colour. The berries float on top and need to be pushed into the liquid four or five times a day, a process known as punching the cap.

Then it’s time to transfer the liquid to a variable capacity stainless steel vat and press the skins to get the last few litres.

photo GHD

Nature now takes its course. Time for a few days break at the seaside.

Autumn …

In this neck of the woods the leaves stay green, and for the moment the grass stays brown. Not for us the fall colors that give the American and English photographers fresh inspiration.

Walking in the bushland reserve just across the creek yesterday I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of Dusky Woodswallows, many of them juveniles with their streaky heads. The reserve supports a couple of pairs that breed there most summers. The large numbers are the result of the previously dispersed population forming flocks and making their way north.

The Reedwarblers, Bushlarks and Sacred Kingfishers seem to have quietly departed already. Time to start looking for Swift Parrots and Flame Robins.

Dusky Woodswallow (juvenile)

The Swamp Wallabies will be sticking around. At the moment they’re eating my grapes. I’m just about ready to pick what ever the birds and wallabies have left for me. Before the one above took off she gave me a moment of her time. Just long enough to grab this portrait of her and her joey against the early morning light.

Wallabia bicolor

Buloke …

I’ve known this tree for about 30 years. It hasn’t changed a bit, half dead when I first saw it, half dead today.

Allocasuarina luehmannii has a broad distribution in the drier parts of southern and eastern Australia often on sandy soils. In Victoria the most fertile part of its range has largely been cleared for wheat growing. So there are far fewer than there used to be.

It is a hard wood. In fact, according to the not always reliable Wikipedia, it has the hardest wood in the world. Black Cockatoos are fond of it, they eat the seeds.

This particular tree sits nicely against the sky. I have photographed it often. This time at sunset.