Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend

This weekend is a national (bank) holiday here in Australia. In celebration of the Queen’s birthday. We had planned to go to Melbourne but guess what?

That’s right! There has been another covid panic. Sparked by one so called “case”! Bloody hell! They “test” thousands of people and eventually find a “case”, then panic and put the city into lockdown – again!. But never a full explanation of these odd “cases” that they “test” for. Never. Did they die? Are they at death’s door? Probably not. In fact the disease is so bad that they have to test thousands (and by their own figures it can be 20-25,000) before they discover a single “case”. Then they have to tell that person that they “have covid”. More or less that’s how it goes. Hardly a terrible thing is it that they have to search really hard for someone who doesn’t know they have it…. Hmm… I always sceptical but these days even more so. Really pathetic. Words fail me…

At least it means that we won’t be spending any money in Victoria. Let them be! I never wanted to go – it was Dani’s mum – and at least she got the money back after cancelling the trip… That reminds me. I still have to write about the time we tried to enter Victoria during our outback trip. (I will do that in the next post)

Alternative Plans

This all meant that we needed to make alternative plans for the Queen’s birthday weekend. Here’s what we did…

Opera House via The Rocks

It is winter festival time at The Rocks. Basically the usual stuff going on but rebadged. At least we made it into the Endeavor Tap Room pub. they have plenty of their own brews plus enough guest ales.

Behind the scenes at the Endeavor Tap Rooms
My tasting paddle got the thumbs-up from Dani…

From there it was a short walk around Circular Quay to the Opera House. They had some special event on – apologies, I have forgotten what it was called/for – which involved projecting onto part of the famous tiled roof. Here are a couple of snippets of that light and sound show…

It would never have been my first choice but Dani and his mum enjoyed it…

On the way across the quay for the sound and light show…

Zig-Zag Line

The famous Knapsack Viaduct that was built for the original rail crossing of the Blue Mountains

The line literally zig-zagged its way up the steep mountain then crossed over the range to zig-zag its way down again to Lithgow on the western side of the Blue Mountains National Park. Part of that old zig-zag descent into Lithgow is still in operation as a tourist train. It was always closed (due to covid) whenever we were in that area. It is still closed and due to reopen late this year….

Blue Mountains

Blackheath market in a park at the cenotaph and Govett’s Leap. This is definitely one of the most spectacular places to in the Blue Mountains. The open canyon is truly magnificent and they actually call it The Grand Canyon. Plus there’s a decent waterfall… Again this area was closed off last time we came up here.

This area of the mountains is called the Grand Canyon
The falls at Govetts Leap

Cenotaph at Blackheath

We stopped at a town called Springwood. It is quite a lively little town with plenty of shops and places to eat. There is even a (relatively) large theatre. then I noticed this poster…

When did she move to Australia?

I never liked Annie Lennox and The Eurythmics – maybe the odd song. I didn’t realise she had moved over here? It’s all happening in the Blue Mountains eh? Then again… The poster is misleading. Other adverts stipulate that the act is a tribute act but the Annie Lennox poster did not. However, when you visit the theatre website it clearly says that it is a tribute act.

The modern Blue Mountains Theatre at Springwood
An older art gallery in the town, right next door to the theatre.

Winter is here…

Meanwhile, it is officially winter here. Has been since June 1st. And it is cold. I definitely thought autumn was much cooler than it was last year. Now, it turns out that a few days ago was the coldest day in Sydney since 1984. Towns inland have been covered in snow. Although a fair distance from here.

Film Review – Hot Rod

I thought I needed to review this relatively old film. Mainly because I have recently watched it with my son and he finds it as funny as I do. If you like daft movies. Really silly ones of the Bill & Ted kind, then you will love Hot Rod.

I first saw this film in the middle east, in Jordan of all places. It was on some film channel in the hotel. I thought it was hilarious. Its definitely on of those movies; you either get it or you don’t. And if you get it, then it really is hilarious. This film was made way back in 2007 when it was a box office flop. But it has since gained cult status (whatever the hell that means). I just thought it was (and still is) extremely funny. And now so does my son…

Most of the characters are supposed to be late teens/early twenties (I suppose) but are clearly played by older actors. Rod is played by Andy Samberg, his dorky (half) brother Kevin is played by Jorma Taccone, while another of Rod’s crew (Dave) is played by Bill Hader who should be recognisable. Rod’s mother is played by Sissy Spacek. She plays the role completely straight as if not in a comedy, and that works well. Rod’s stepdad Frank is played by Ian McShane while Isla Fisher plays Rod’s love interest Denise.

Plot

Rod is trying to be a stuntman doing jumps on his (crappy) Tomos moped/scooter. He believes his deceased dad was a great stuntman who worked with the legendary Evel Knievel (Rod has a photograph of his dad with Evel). He is brave but clearly hopeless as are his “crew”. Basically they are a bunch of losers but the type that you want to succeed.

Rod’s stepdad (Frank) is always mocking Rod’s stuntman efforts and continually beats him in fights. Rod is determined to prove his stepdad wrong and eventually beat him one day in a fight to prove that he is a man and deserving of his stepdad’s respect. That day seems a long way off. But then Frank becomes terminally ill and the only thing that can save him is a heart transplant which costs the conveniently round figure of $50,000.

Rod decides he will jump 15 school buses to raise the money and his team set about training Rod. At the same time they raise funds by doing small (and incredibly daft) stunts at kids  parties and public shows.

In an effort to help, Kevin makes a short documentary film of Rod’s work and they sell-out the local theatre. That turns sour however as people just laugh at Rod. In anger Rod smashes the projector (and a car windscreen n the bargain) which costs him all the monies they have raised so far. When all seems lost a local AM radio station steps in to sponsor the big jump and the event is back on.

No spoiler alert required as it is up to you to watch the movie and see what happens.

Critique.

Personally I can’t fault it. Dani is on the same wavelength. We laughed till we cried watching it recently. But I understand that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I give it 5 out of 5 simply because it makes me (and Dani) laugh. A lot!

The “Cool Beans” scene was apparently almost taken out – Samberg and Taccone repeating the phrase “cool beans” until it evolves into a kind of pseudo-rap. The scene was left in the film’s last test screening and it seems that the (test) audience scored it highly as one of their favourite bits. You will know it if you have already seen the movie. Or, when you see the film you will definitely remember that scene.

The movie soundtrack features songs by Swedish rock band Europe. And there was me (and I am sure plenty of others) thinking they only had one song! There is also a great scene featuring John Farnham’s You’re The Voice.

If you like movies like Bill & Ted, Wayne’s World or any daft Adam Sandler movie (which is most of them), then you will love Hot Rod. If not then, well… you will probably think it stinks. It’s hard to see anything in between. But watch it just in case. You never know.

In and Around Wentworth

We spent a few days in Wentworth as a good base to check out the Murray river area and also to visit the Mungo National Park. You can read the fist post on Wentworth here. There are several places worth visiting in and around Wentworth… Here are a few…

Wentworth Gaol

You can’t beat a good old gaol. At least that’s what Dani and his old dad think. Dani’s mum begs to differ. Wentworth gaol is a remarkably well preserved example of the earliest Australian designed gaols – along with Dubbo Gaol (which we have visited), Hay Gaol (see future posts) and Long Bay Gaol (which is not far from where we live in Sydney).

One of the punishments. Chained to this rock in the intense heat.

The gaol was built in 1879 and the design included a quadrangle, cell blocks (with ten male and two female cells), kitchen, hospital, storeroom, block, gaol warden’s residence and two observation towers. Next to the kitchen was the bathroom equipped with a bath and shower on a concrete base. The gaol even had a well-stocked library. It was run by three warders and there was as many as 18 prisoners locked up at any one time. That’s nothing compared to modern prisons eh? This was an impressive structure, all for (what today amounts to) only a handful of prisoners.

Prisoners would be chained to this tree stump with no shade.

Ah… we can dream…
Another piece of Ned Kelly history to fuel Dani’s interest.

In case you were wondering… No. Kelly was never held here. But that didn’t top the gaol shop selling all kinds of Kelly memorabilia. Like these metal plaques. Naturally Dani wanted one. Oh, go on then… I usually say “no” to most things he asks for (he is definitely not spoilt in that department) but now and again… Anyway I quite liked this piece.

Ned Kelly wall plaque. Quite artistic I thought…

Museum

Almost across the road from the gaol, the museum looked small – why wouldn’t it be for such a small town? But it was surprisingly interesting. As small as it was it was packed literally to the rafters with exhibits.

Small but well stocked museum

As far as the larger items go there was an old Fergie tractor (naturally) and a Model T Ford. The original mass produced motor car. I had never seen one in the flesh (so to peak). This one didn’t exactly look like those rolling off the production lines in the black and white movie reels though. It had been “pimped” some time ago…

My first Model ‘T’ Ford

This one was my absolute favourite though. The moustache teacup. I wonder if you could sell these now with all the young men insisting on sporting facial hair? I reckon you could. At least as a novelty, maybe a stocking filler Christmas present…

The moustache tea cup

Yes, they really did used to have these. Way back when those big Victorian/Edwardian curled up moustaches were in fashion. The idea being that only your lips get wet with the tea. Also in those days moustaches were waxed to hold them in the style of the day and the steam coming off the hot tea used to met the wax causing it to drip into the tea – Ugh!!! Amazingly these things would have been quite common and this one only dates back as far as the early years of the 2nd World War!. Personally I think it’s a great idea and would teach the young fellas of today a little about facial hygiene.

Perry Sandhills

The Perry Sandhills are large sand dunes located a few kilometres out of town. These dunes seem to appear out of nowhere. This place is some 400km from the sea and although the area is classed as outback it is not exactly desert. It has something to do with when the rivers ran higher and faster but it was so many years ago (they say) that I really can’t be arsed with the detail. They look great though. Named after the areas first land commissioner George Murray Perry these dunes have been used as a backdrop for films and adverts. You can also add this one to your list of FREE things to see and do…

Rivers and boats

With two large rivers converging in Wentworth the area is a playground for anyone with a boat. Whether that is for fishing, riding up and down the rivers or water sports like water-skiing/wake-boarding. There are also plenty of house boats, large and small. Some owned but mostly rented out for holidays on the Murray.

Most of the boat hire places were just across the Murray, in (or near) a much larger town called Mildura which is just up river and in the state of Victoria. Unfortunately at that time access into Victoria was limited due to some coronavirus “clusters” in the Sydney area. That said we did ty to cross over just to see if they really were stopping people enter. More on that farce to come…

Wine tasting.

With all this irrigation available there are plenty of farms growing all sorts of fruits. And of course grapes! The area has several vineyards and wine cellars. We visited one called Trentham Estates and sampled some great wines. In fact Dani’s mum was smooth-talked into becoming a “member”. Basically that means we bought six bottles (and received two free). You then have to order at least 6 bottles twice a year. They then throw in a couple of bottles. And they deliver for free – well, it’s included in the bottle price. Actually not bad. We have since placed one order and recently received them. Good wines at a reasonable price!

Mungo

We stayed a few days in Wentworth as a base to explore the area, and that included the place I was most interested in seeing on this whole outback adventure – Mungo National Park. Stay tuned for that one….

On to Wentworth

From the Broken Hill area we headed directly south on the B79 road – also known as the Silver City Highway. After a few hours of driving we arrived at Wentworth.

Wentworth

In 1830, while navigating the Murray, explorer Charles Sturt came across a river junction which he was convinced was the Darling. In the mid 1840’s it was a settlement known as McLeod’s Crossing”, named after the first white residents of the settlement. The arrival of the river steamers in 1853, saw the place grow with boats able to deal with the commercial aspirations of the outback areas.

For years Sydney was the only port in New South Wales to handle more cargo than Wentworth. The wealth that the steamers brought changed the face of the area and in 1857 the authorities began to establish a proper township. The town site was approved in 1859 and was named after the New South Wales explorer and politician William Charles Wentworth, on June 21, 1859.

Wentworth Wharf. The source of the town’s early wealth

Considering where it sits at the confluence of two important rivers you might expect that Wentworth would have grown to be a much larger town. In a way it is good that that never happened. My first impression was that it is a nice little town. Several pubs and places to eat. Art gallery and a friendly information office. The whole place had a genuinely friendly feel to it.

Captain John Egge statue on Wentworth wharf

His name may not suggest it but Captain John Egge was Chinese. Born in Shanghai in 1830 he lived in Wentworth form 1859 till his death in 1901. Egge was a pioneer paddle steamer captain and businessman. Exactly the type of man that put Wentworth on the map.

After seeing the Darling river in so many little outback towns and parklands we finally got to see where it finishes. By pouring into the mighty Murray River right here at Wentworth.

Where the two great rivers meet. Darling to the left, Murray to the right.

Murray River

The Murray forms the border between NSW and Victoria for much of its trajectory. In fact they say that the river belongs to NSW and you do not enter Victoria until you land on the southern river bank. The problem with that is that most river craft hire is located on the south bank – in Victoria! More on that one to come in a later post…

The Murray is Australia’s longest river – 2,508 km (1,558 miles). Its tributaries include five of the next six longest rivers in Australia (the Darling being one of them). The catchments of these rivers form the Murray-Darling basin, which covers about one-seventh the area of Australia and is the country’s most important irrigated region. The Murray starts off on the Australian Alps, then meanders northwest forming the border between the states of New South Wales and Victoria and flows into South Australia.

The mighty Murray

A Little Tractor Tale

The Ferguson TE20 is an agricultural tractor designed by Harry Ferguson. By far his most successful design, It was manufactured from 1946 until 1956, and was commonly known as the Little Grey Fergie. Its strength and popularity lay in its small and versatile design. It was  lightweight, had great manoeuvrability and came with a series of easily fitted attachments.

Why am I telling you this? Well the town of Wentworth has a kind of love affair with this little tractor and this is why…

Full size Fergie tractor inside one of the town’s pubs

In 1956 the town of was in severe danger of extreme flooding. Higher than normal rainfall in the Darling-Murray basin combined with extreme rainfall in western Queensland led to floods moving down the Darling river and across the Murray. Areas were flooded that were located up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the normal path of the river were flooded.

The thing that prevented the town of Wentworth from being washed away in the floods was the work undertaken by a small fleet of the little grey Fergie tractors. Due to their manoeuvrability these little work-horses were able to get in and out of spaces where bigger tractors could not. The Fergies were used to build levee banks that ultimately saved the town.

The town of Wentworth, erected a statue (monument) in 1959 in honour of the Fergie TE20 tractor. It has to be said they could have made a better job of it…

Tractor or Tonka Toy?

In 1959 the Managing Director of Massey-Ferguson Australia unveiled a statue to commemorate the part that the Ferguson tractor played in saving the town form almost certain inundation in 1956.

The statue of the Fergie tractor that sits in Adelaide street near the town centre is actually quite funny. I was expecting a life sized statue but we got this….

The statue to honour the little Fergie tractor
Its true size in perspective. Funny or just silly?

It is no bigger than some toys. I actually thought they could have done better. And they did. In 1917 they erected another monument just outside town over the Darling river bridge in Fotherby Park. There they installed a real Fergie tractor stuck up on a pole for all to see. Now that’s more like it.

Full Fergie in Fortherby Park
A real tribute to the little Fergie

The town also holds a tractor rally every five years to celebrate the little Fergie.

 

Baked Tomatoes and Feta

It’s been a while since we did any cooking or easy recipes that you can do with kids. Here’s a very simple recipe me and Dani have recently prepared a couple of times. Well its not even a recipe really – you’ll soon see what I mean – but here goes…

Recipe (such as it is)

Pre heat oven to 180ºC.

Throw a bunch of mixed tomatoes and 250g block of Greek Feta cheese into a suitable oven proof dish. Pour over a little olive oil and sprinkle some salt.

It couldn’t be simpler. Zero prep time no mixing just throw it in.

Then throw it in oven for about 30 minutes. We also added a bunch of tomatoes on the vine too.

Bingo!!

Baked Tomatoes with Feta. Delicious…

It’s a makes for a great starter for sharing and tastes fantastic.

What could be easier eh? As you can see it really isn’t a recipe it’s just throwing two ingredients in the oven!

You may notice some onion in the mix there… That was only because there was half an onion lying in the fridge so I thought we should use it. In fact you could add other things to this simple Tomato and Feta dish but it’s great with just the two ingredients.

Kinchega Woolshed

During our time in the Kinchega National Park we visited a ‘must see’ attraction; the Kinchega Woolshed.

Now that may not seem very exciting eh?. A place where sheep were sheared? Yeah! It’s kind of what I thought too. But it was genuinely impressive for a number of reasons.

Historic Kinchega Woolshed

Historic Kinchega Woolshed

Woolsheds like this one (and there are quite a few dotted around the outback) were not just places where sheep were sheared. The whole thing was an efficient production line with the wool being packed, weighed and labelled before being shipped off. Some of the process was even semi-automated and the power required to do that was produced on site.

The woolshed from the visitors centre

Built in 1875 of corrugated iron and river red gum trees, the historic Kinchega Woolshed is a huge and incredibly well preserved classic piece of Australian pastoral heritage. During its 97 years of operation, six million sheep were sheared here. That is an amazing statistic to consider when you roam around this now silent, imposing building.

Yet again however, for me, it’s not even that. I just found myself wondering how they managed to do it all in such a remote and hostile setting. That never ceases to amaze me.

The shed was first built in 1875 and the sheep station was owned by the Hughes family from that time right up to the final shearing. At its height there were four shearing areas – or “boards” – meaning that up to 64 shearers could work at any one time.

Remains of one of the old steam engines

Every spring thousands of sheep would be rounded up and routed through this woolshed. Rounding up so many sheep spread out over such huge distances was itself a monumental task in those days. Most of the herding was done by the local aboriginal people. Even today these operations still cover vast areas. These sheep station workers really are a tough lot.

The Operation…

One way ticket from here for the sheep. The shed entrance ramp.

The sheep were first held in “sweating pens” then moved to “catching pens” – generally one for each shearing point. From there the shearers took the sheep one by one and removed the wool before throwing them down the exit chute into the counting pens outside.

Once inside the sheep were segregated into “sweating” pens
The shearing “boards” showing the overhead shafts powered the shears.
Like a shorn sheep. Dani out in one of the “counting pens”

The overhead shearing gear powered a set of shears at each shearing “board” station. The shears were known as the “handpiece” or “bogeye”. Over the years there were four methods of providing power to the shafts inside the shed. Steam engine, kerosine & diesel engine, petrol driven engine and finally directly by electricity. The overhead gear was modified to adapt to each change in technology.

Cutting, Baling and Weighing

Sorting, weighing and baling area.
This heritage building is wooden so needs a modern fire protection system.

The open plan area in what was the centre of the (original) building was where the wool was sorted into different grades. It was pressed, baled and weighed then labelled, ready to be sent to market. The finished bales of wool were then moved the short distance to the Darling river for transportation.

Self sufficient…

The whole set up was self sufficient with adequate water nearby and never a shortage of food on site. They would simply slaughter some of the animals.

The ‘killing shed’ where some animals were slaughtered to feed the workers

The workers were housed in barrack type buildings. These have recently been restored and used as accommodation for tourists, school parties etc…

The workers accommodation blocks have been restored.
Old woolshed office.

The end of the line…

The original building was almost twice the size. The place originally had a mirror image of the sorting and shearing section, with the middle bailing and weighing section common to both. As the shearing process became more efficient the west side of the shed was no longer required and no longer stands.

In March 1967 the final shearing took place and the workers loaded 500 bales of wool. The Hughes family held a ceremony where it was announced that the woolshed would be handed over to the NSW government as an historic place worth keeping for future generations. It was then that the final and six millionth sheep was shorn.

Old Kinchega Homestead?

By comparison I found the nearby Old Kinchega Homestead fairly disappointing. Long since abandoned and derelict to the ground there is very little to see which was a shame after visiting the woolshed.

A walkway takes you around the homestead ruins.

In fact it was so bad it was difficult to make out most of what was there before it became such a ruin. I am sure there are plenty of examples like this around the many other similarly remote locations in Australia.