Michael Sullivan Online


Week 35: The Desert, the Gold Rush and Melbourne

Melbourne at Night
Melbourne and the Yarra River at Night

CANBERRA AUSTRALIA - 19 January 2001 - The next leg of the trip started on Boxing Day. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas and a national holiday in Australia. Mike and Grant started out by heading towards the Barossa Valley, one of the largest wine regions in Australia. After actually finding the right road, they finally arrived amongst the vineyards of the Barossa Valley. Mike and Grant sampled wines first at Seppelt Winery which offerred some great wines. After a stop at Penfolds for a couple samples, they headed to the Wolf Blass winery on the way out of town. Grant and Mike had a good conversation with the staff. It really showed how much there is to know about wines. After the couple hours of tasting, Mike and Grant decided to head for Mildura. It's a small town on the Victoria, New South Wales border and not too far from South Australia. The YHA hostel there was full so they found another one. They walked in passing a couple sitting outside. Once inside, there was nobody at reception so Grant asked ten or so of the boarders that were there if they knew if there was room or when somebody might be around. After a luke warm response, someone said that they should wait until 5pm; it was currently 5:15. As they walked back to the car to consider their options, Mike and Grant had a quick conversation with the couple outside. They said that they had been there the day before and nobody ever showed up. On this day, they had sat around most of the afternoon waiting for someone. At that point, Mike and Grant decided that the place wasn't that nice anyway and found a nice caravan park (camping ground) just outside of town. For a total of $11, they parked their car and had a picnic dinner. As darkness fell, they headed into town for a drink. The pub was pretty quiet but they had a nice conversation with some Melburnians that were visiting. After a couple of beverages, they drove back to their camp spot and slept in the car.

The next day started with a morning walk followed by the day's drive to Halls Gap and the Grampians. It was an uneventful drive through dry land until a rabbit happened onto the road. Mike saw it in the middle of the road then it moved into the path of the car. Sadly for the bunny, it didn't get out of the way and was killed as it went under the car. The farmers in the area would have been happy as rabbits have few natural predators since their introduction in Australia. Mike was a bit shaken for the rest of the drive. From a long ways off, Mike could see the Grampians jutting out from the flat ground. As he got closer, the mountains became even more magnificent. The drive to the top of them was a bit scary as the road was narrow and windy. Once at the top, Mike and Grant got out and took a look. It was cold and windy but the view was incredible; they could see over other peaks that were covered with trees. The area seemed so lush especially compared to the dry area they had just left from. After a bit of walking there, they headed into the small town of Halls Gap and tried to find a place to stay. Once again the YHA hostel was full and another place wasn't too inviting. Finally, they found a place with the help of the information centre where they stayed in a 6 person dorm. This worked out pretty well. An older couple in the dorm was from California but had relatives from Rochester, Minnesota. After dinner, Mike went for a walk along a small river as the sun set. He saw lots of kangaroos as they grazed in the grass. It was a very beautiful scene with the rugged terrain pushing up from the valley and the roos hopping around. Once in a bit of thicker trees, Mike came across a kookaburra with its laughing call as well as a kangaroo that caught Mike off guard. By the time he got back to the hostel, it was about dark. After a bit of TV Mike headed for bed.

The next day, Mike and Grant started out of town then stopped off at some falls. After a walk through eucalypt trees, they came upon the falls. They wasn't very much water flowing down the cliff but the water just flowed into the ground reemerging about 30m (100ft) "downstream". As they left the Grampians National Park, they got a beautiful view of mountains that just raise out of from the desert. By afternoon, they were in Ballarat. Ballarat is Australia's largest inland city and grew when gold was discovered in the 1850's. It's a nice little rural town. Mike and Grant explored a bit of the city then found a pub and shot a couple games of pool. That evening, they stayed in talking with a couple of fellow backpackers from Ireland via Western Australia and The Netherlands.

Mike visited the Sovereign Hill historical park that is connected to the hostel he was staying at. Basically, they represent three different eras of gold mining that took place in the area. Gold was discovered in 1850 and quickly people came to the area in search of riches. They'd dig up dirt and use different techniques including panning to get the gold. After a couple years, a full blown town sprang up and this is represented by a main street with shops, houses, and school house all staffed by people demonstrating crafts, etc. of the day. There were a couple highlights of the park. One was the panning for gold. To this day, there is still some gold in creek. Unfortunately, it's mostly smaller than the sand that's in the water. One of the tour guides walked up to the creek and demonstrated the technique of panning. Soon he had a small fleck of gold. With this bit of direction, Mike gave it a try and perhaps saw something in his pan. From here, Mike went to take a tour of the mine. In the mine, they represent different eras of gold discovery with displays of what the mine looked like. The last big hightlight was the battery that is used to crush large amounts of gold-bearing rock (quartz). They were demonstrating it in action. It is run by a big steam engine that powers a bunch of belts that ultimately lift weighted rods that crush the rocks into a powder. This whole machine was housed in a big shed. Other interesting things at the park include the nine pin bowling alley and the main street. After most of the day at Sovereign Hill, Mike went back to his room to do laundry. That night, Mike and Grant went to the local Irish pub for a couple pints of Guinness.

On Saturday morning, Mike and Grant headed for Melbourne. After the hour drive, Mike headed off to the Melbourne Museum. It's a brand new museum that still has galleries that haven't opened. Mike started out going through the forest gallery that has different displays amongst a small man-made rainforest. The most interesting gallery was the aboriginal centre, which tells about aboriginal culture and mythology. The last gallery Mike went to was the Australia Gallery. This part of the museum has a lot of momentos from Australian history. The busiest part of the gallery was the Phar Lap exhibit. Phar Lap was and still is Australia's most legendary race horse. Horse racing is a large part of Aussie culture (everything throughout the country stops during the Melbourne Cup) and this horse won more races than any other during the Depression Era. Part of this exhibit has press clippings and other trivia about the horse but the highlight perhaps of the whole museum (at least for Aussies) is Phar Lap in the flesh. After it died of a disease in the United States, it was stuffed and brought back to Australia. Other interesting pieces of Australian history are the armour that Ned Kelly wore when he was captured in a shoot out. The armour included a helmet with a slot to see out and upper body protection. Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang were the most popular bushrangers (Aussie bandits) in the same vein that Billy the Kid and Jesse James are popular in the United States except more so. After some quality time at the Museum, Mike walked in towards the city passing the State Parliament house, Princess Theatre, and Flinders Street Station. From there, Mike crossed the river and walked through gardens with monuments dedicated to different kings and queens as well as other Australian figures. This led directly into the Royal Botanical Gardens, which first opened in 1873. These gardens have species of plants from all around the world as well as Australia. After wandering around the grounds for a couple hours, Mike headed in the direction of the city again, stopping off at the Shrine of Remembrance to remember those who've died defending their country. After a nice conversation with one of the guards, Mike continued towards the river. Along the river are upscale shops and classy restaurants and bars in the area known as Southgate. At the other end of Southgate is a huge casino and a maritime museum, neither of which Mike entered. By this time, the sun was about to set and Mike knew it was time to really see the city so he wandered over to the tallest office building in the southern hemisphere, Rialto Tower. From the 55th floor, Mike could see to the sea and the start of the Great Dividing Range. As the sun set, the views became even more spectatular as the colours became an intense orange and finally the last effects of the sun left. Once darkness arrived, the city provided its own spectacular light show. After Mike had taken it all in, he headed into the shopping distrit for a bite to eat. In the process of finding a quick meal, he came across the Myer Christmas Window, which displayed scenes from A Christmas Carol. It was a nice display and almost put Mike into the Christmas mood a week late. After finally finding a McDonalds, Mike called it a night.

Mike started New Year's Eve by heading to the Old Melbourne Gaol (Jail). Along the way, Mike got side tracked by the Queen Victoria Market. This market opened in 1878 and sells everything from clothes to meat. The atmosphere is rather like a flea market from the United States. There is a cover but the market traders just set up some tables or racks for their wares. In the meat building, twenty six butchers are trying to get customers so they have barkers that tempt shoppers to their stall. They do this by offering specials or saying how much better their product is than that guys. It is very different than anything in Minnesota. After this sojourn, Mike got back on track to the Old Melbourne Gaol. The gaol was the site of 135 hangings including the infamous (at least to Australian) Ned Kelly. While walking through the gaol, Mike saw short stories about convicts especially those who had been excuted. The place was haunting as Mike looked upon the area where the hangings occurred. This was in addition to the various descriptions about how the executions were carried out and the state of psychology at the turn of the century. For the rest of the afternoon, Mike went into the city centre and did some much needed clothes shopping. He got some new shoes and a shirt.

After a quick nap, Mike grabbed a snack and got dressed. He was planning on heading to St. Kilda, a nice suburb of Melbourne, to catch up with someone he'd met in Ballarat. He hopped on the tram and headed for the city not knowing exactly where he was going. He started talking to a group of locals who said they were heading in the same general direction so he asked if he could tag along and get any help with navigation. Mike sent a quick phone message to the person he'd hoped to meet ask where the bar was; unfortunately, he got no response so he asked the group he was with if he could tag along. After a 20 minute ride on a train, they arrived in the upper class suburb of South Yarra. It was a relatively long walk to the bar and once they got there, Mike was out of luck because he didn't have a ticket. The other six had gotten tickets earlier in the week, and there were still some left earlier in the day. By this time it was about 10pm and the prospects of getting into some great party were pretty slim. Mike got back on the train in his best clothes and headed for the city. He walked along the Southgate where there was to be fireworks at midnight. By this time, it was about 10:30 and Mike decided to go to the Crown Casino along the river. It was pretty busy, but Mike was able to find a blackjack table. After losing a bit of money, Mike headed back outside and waited for the new year. When around midnight, it was hard to tell when the real new millenium started as their was no real clock that Mike could see. Once some fireworks went off, it seemed like the right time. Unfortunately, the fireworks were further up river and Mike couldn't see them too well so he went back into the casino to give them some more money. By about 2:30am, Mike was ready to leave. On the way out, he stopped at a pokie (slot machine) and tried to put in a 50 cent piece but it only took $1 coins. After finding an appropriate coin, he played for a while. When his money nearly ran out, he hit something that really paid out. He played some more and pretty soon it happened again and again. By this time, he was getting really tired and cashed out. Since he'd never expected to win, he wasn't prepared for the 36 one dollar coins that came out. He quickly scooped them into his pocket and headed for the cashier. Just as he left the machine, three people raced to the pokie to try their luck. While he'd lost money for the night, that $1 investment sure seemed to pay off. Mike wandered the streets as he made his way back home. There were lots and lots of drunk people stumbling around town but Mike had behaved himself and had all of two drinks that night. The whole thing seemed more like the Fourth of July than New Year's Eve especially along the river where families came out for the fireworks.

On the next day, Mike and Grant headed for home and stopped at Albury for the night. They went into the ghost town but found an ice cream shop open. After talking with a girl from The Netherlands that was living there, they had dinner and a couple drinks at a local bar. The following day, they got back to Canberra. They'd had a great trip but Mike was glad to finally be home. Except for Melbourne and Ballarat, they hadn't spent two nights in the same bed. They'd covered 3500 kilometres (2180 miles) of Australia (not counting daily driving after they'd arrived in town). They got to two capital cities and saw some of the best nature Australia has to offer. All in all, it was great trip that Mike will never forget.

Here ends Mike's thirty fifth week in Australia.

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