I am typing this in a pub in Benalla, just off the Freeway home to Melbourne, it is by small Australian town standards, a bustling metropolis! Sprawling along the main drag there are more than average car dealerships, a large trade Bunnings (B&Q) and several big shops alongside the smaller one man band efforts. ‘Can’t get to Paris, try Benalla!’ was one proud boast in the crockery/cutlery/kitchen ware window. Bless them.
Driving over here is easy for several reasons: The country is huge, and there aren’t many cars. People generally stick to the speed limits, as you don’t know when a police car is going to pop up and catch you for speeding, or even for that matter a helicopter, so the traffic generally flows better as there are less accidents due to eejits wrapping their cars round trees or other cars. They also publish the road death tolls in the papers, we are up to about 120 in Victoria for this year so far, when we were over here last time, being the Christmas break, they ended every news round up with the death toll. In the UK there are over 4000 deaths a year, but very rarely mentioned unless it is a particularly bad accident, here every single death is highlighted. Mainly to remind people that driving is dangerous, but also because of the huge distances people travel, daily. Tomorrow is ANZAC day, which is a national holiday, they are already warning drivers on the radio to wear their seatbelts, not to speed, not to drink and be careful – or you will be caught. The country side is full of signs telling you to have a powernap if you are tired, pull over to revive yourself or my favourite so far: Break your drive, stay alive. We got overtaken on the way to Albury by a mum ferrying her children to school, over an hour later she was still driving, with no school in sight. Now that is a school run.
Today we have driven from Berrigan to Albury, where we had breakfast (more later), then to the Hume Dam and Tallongatta, round the lake trying to find the ‘Old Tallongatta’, they moved the village in the 1950s to create the dam. There were old dead trees stuck up in the middle of this now plain scrub land, where only 10 years ago the lake and dam were full. It controls the flow of water into the River Murray, which splits Victoria and New South Wales along the state line. Known as the Mighty Murray, it’s a bit depleted at the moment. I have a new theory I’d like to test out on you, the water that isn’t flowing into the rivers in Australia is coming from the mountain ranges, what in the past 10 years has taken off? Bottled mountain water. Can you see where this could lead to: drink tap water, save the rivers!
Watching TV last night we were looking at the local advertising. One chemist specialising in Christian Dior perfumes and aftershaves in Shepparton, another a pie shop in Rutherglen. Both of which are around 70 miles from Berrigan. There is a cracking road sign on the side of the road on the way into Berrigan too:
Can you imagine saying to your kids, we are off to KFC, it’ll take 2 hours to get there, so make sure you don’t argue on the way. After Tallongatta we drove to Beechworth to the ‘Best bakery in Australia’, then onto Rutherglen to visit said pie shop and the vineyards in the area. We brought a pie each to take away as we were still stuffed from our breakfasts, and elevensies that we’d had about 2.30 in the bakery. They were worth the wait though as they were easily the best pies we’d both had.
I have to tell you about our food today, it has been of such a high standard, and it never ceases to amaze me that these sometimes tiny little towns in the middle of nowhere can create better, cheaper, healthier food than we have in the UK. There are very few chain bakeries, each town has a thriving local version, only the big cities have chains, but not like ‘Greggs’ this bread is edible. We walked through Albury looking for bacon and eggs, and found Connors Bar run by Dimitri. We had a coffee each, I had a tomato juice, we both ordered breakfast number 2: bacon, sausage, tomato, toast and eggs the way you want them. 3 doorsteps of toast, 4 pieces of bacon, an enormous sausage, hunks of plum tomatoes, Dan had poached eggs, I had scrambled and we couldn’t finish it. It also cost less than £10, for all of it. Elevensies was a tea, coffee and piece of cake each, handmade that morning on site, less than £5, the pies were £3 each, but worth every penny. They were also handmade on site, and most are award winning recipes too.
We visited 4 vineyards, brought 6 bottles of wine for us, which will stay over here. A bottle of wine for Ross and Leonie’s friend who lives near Andover, which will come home with us to be delivered. I also needed a new pair of sunglasses as my Oakley ones haven’t been dark enough while I have been driving, brought them in Albury, I got a hairdryer, Dan found a pair of shoes to wear on Sunday, having packed his smart ones into his cricket coffin which is now being stored in Lachy’s garage (not the cleverest thing we’ve done admittedly) and also found a vest/gillet in Kathmandu, for less than half price, so about £35.
We have a boot full off ‘stuff’ and will arrive back in the pitch dark, I need to iron some clothes to wear tomorrow, we also have to take the hire car back tomorrow morning, go to the ANZAC parade, then up to the MCG for the footy, then into the city for dinner. It’ll be busy, but good fun. I hope I get this up tonight, if not I am sorry there’ll be a few along at once again.
I’ll raise a pot of beer to you *elbow bend*