Category Archives: Travel

Three nights in Echuca

Map (source Discovery Centre)

Map (source Discovery Centre)

No cruise this year! Well not the cruise I’d planned anyway, on the Queen Mary 2 from Fremantle to Sydney. But needing a break, I decided to revisit Echuca, famous for hosting the largest paddle steamer fleet in the world and, of course, took a couple of boat trips.

As a tourist from UK I’d visited Echuca  in 1989 on a day trip but not since so a revisit was well overdue.

Echuca railway station

Echuca railway station

This time round I went by train – another of my ambitions, not a particularly ambitious one, is to ride every rail track in Victoria. Only Bairnsdale and Swan Hill left! Echuca has a fine railway station but it now gets but one train per weekday, two a day at weekends.

PS Alexander Arbuthnot passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

PS Alexander Arbuthnot passes the new under-construction Echuca-Moama bridge

Echuca was first settled by Europeans in the 1850s and by the 1870s was Australia’s largest inland port, being the point of shortest distance between the Murray River and Melbourne. Across the river, on the New South Wales side, is Moama. The first bridge was constructed in 1878. A new bridge is now under construction.

Echuca wharf

Echuca wharf

The railway arrived in 1864, about the same time as the wharf was constructed. Until the 1890s depression the town flourished, but during the first half of the twentieth century the expansion of the rail networks on both sides of the river meant there was less need to for paddle steamers to bring cargo to Echuca. 1944 saw the removal of 80% of the wharf, cut up to provide firewood for Melbourne.

PS Pevensey (aka Philadelphia in 'All the Rivers Run')

PS Pevensey (aka Philadelphia in ‘All the Rivers Run’)

From here on the story might have been one of progressive decay, but from the 1960s the importance of Echuca’s heritage and its tourist potential was realised.

Today tourism is Echuca’s largest earner, given a boost by the TV series, ‘All the Rivers Run’ (I bought and am now watching the DVDs).

Holden Museum, Echuca

Holden Museum, Echuca

Apart from the wharf and multiple paddle steamer trips, there’s an excellent and free Discovery Centre, numerous preserved buildings in the port area and elsewhere, an excellent museum, the National Holden Motor Museum and more.

Next year, if plans work out, I’ll be back in Echuca, taking UK friends to see the sights. If you have the chance, do so too.

 

Silo art 2: St James, Devenish and Goorambat

St James silo art

St James silo art

Here’s a look at three more of the silos I visited last month.

The first are at St James, a small town 148 miles north of Melbourne. It was first settled in 1870 and reached by railway in 1883, St James then being the end of what would become the Oaklands line.

The silo art depicts the history of wheat farming in the area, with one silo featuring a portrait of Sir George Coles (1885-1977). George Coles snr ran the St James store, selling it to his son in 1910 for £4500. From this grew the Coles Group supermarket empire we have today.

The silo art is by Tim Bowtell who also painted the Colbinabbin silos shown in my last piece

Devenish silo art

Devenish silo art

One stop along the line is Devenish, also settled in the 1870s. The silos were painted by Cam Scale and completed on Anzac Day 2018.

These two, built 1943, show a modern day combat medic and a nurse from WW1 – special to me since my maternal grandmother (who I never knew) served as a [British] army nurse in WW1. Fifty young men and women, one sixth of the then Devenish population, enlisted for service in WW1. Seven never returned.

The other silo, not shown here shows a Light Horse man.

Goorambat silo barking owl

Goorambat silo barking owl

The next stop on the line, the last before it joins the main line at Benalla, is Goorambat. The silo art is by Jimmy DVale. Shown here is a Barking Owl, an endangered species with fewer than 50 breeding pairs left in Victoria. What a magnificent depiction of a magnificent bird.

I’ve shown you four of the seven silo groups in NE Victoria. If you ever get the chance go and visit them yourself!


Australia Silo Art home page

 

Silo art 1: Colbinabbin

As previously mentioned, only eleven weeks ago one of our politicians (to spare his blushes I’ll call him ‘Jason Wood’) was telling us that “if NSW could manage with around twenty cases per day, then why does the Victorian Labor Party and our stubborn Premier want to reach this ridiculously unrealistic target of a 5 case average over 14 days?!” Thanks to Daniel Andrews’ ‘stubbornness’, today is our 59th consecutive day without a community-contracted case of Coronavirus. On November 9th he promised us a COVID-normal Christmas as a reward for our long hard winter of coronavirus restrictions and that’s what we’ve had. Sadly most of the world hasn’t been so fortunate.

R-class loco and grain train

R-class loco and grain train

As part of that long winter lockdown, from the start of August we weren’t allowed to travel more than 5km (3 miles from home). Then from November 8th we were free to travel anywhere in Victoria, so I decided to take a break visiting the silo art in NE Victoria. Much as I love Melbourne, it was so good to be able to go away.

For my base I chose to stay at the Addison Motor Inn in Shepparton which I can thoroughly recommend. On day one I visited the silos at Colbinabbin and Rochester – it was seeing an R-class loco pictured on one of the Colbinabbin silos that first gave me the idea for this trip.

Colbinabbin silo art

Colbinabbin silo art

Pictures do not though begin to convey the scale of these artworks. Look at the size of the person standing in front of the silo and you’ll get an idea of the size of these silos.

Originally only the concrete silos were to be painted, then it was decided to paint all six. The artwork, by Tim Bowtell, was started in April 2020 and took just 50 days to complete. This was his second silo art project after St James.

Colbinabbin - Farmers picnic (close-up)

Farmers picnic (close-up)

The overall theme is the story of the railway and its significance to the Colbinabbin district. How wonderful to see a vision come to fruition and congratulations to everyone involved.

History notes

Colbinabbin was the terminus of the Rushworth railway line, opened 1913, closed 1987. The concrete silos are of the Williamstown type – 57 were built in Victoria between 1935 and 1950. The steel silos are  of the Ascom design. From the 1930s until privatised in 1999 all grain passed through a government body known as the Australian Wheat Board which built these silos.


Australian Silo Art home page

About the art

Colbinabbin Silo Art Trail Facebook page

 

Port Arthur 2020

I’m writing this on March 23rd, ten weeks after my cruise call to Hobart. How the world has changed! Then the news was dominated by bushfires, whilst millions of us enjoyed the carefree life of an ocean cruise. Now the ships are moored and idle, the crews who looked after us so well stood down. Ten days ago our railway museum was still open, Sunday a week ago I was in church (now livestreamed to our homes). On the Monday, UK relatives arrived, only to have to cut their Australia visit short and get on the next available flight to UK. But we were able to visit Sovereign Hill and eat at local restaurants – all now closed.

With this in mind, let me briefly return to happier times. After visiting Adelaide we were meant to have a day on Kangaroo Island, but due to the fires we had to give KI a miss and made straight for Hobart. As I’d visited Hobart before, I decided to go on the full day excursion to Port Arthur, named after George Arthur, the lieutenant governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

Knowing a little of its history and reputation, I went with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. I knew of Port Arthur’s reputation for brutality, and how the only access was guarded by a line of chained dogs. Perhaps not too surprising given that from 1833 until 1853, it was the destination for the hardest of convicted British criminals, those who were secondary offenders having reoffended after their arrival in Australia. Port Arthur’s use as a prison ended in 1877 after which the buildings were left to decay, before being resurrected as a tourist attraction.

After disembarking, and a 90-minute coach trip we were at the site. First a guided walking tour to get our bearings, then a boat cruise, and we free to explore at our leisure.

Port Arthur Penetentiary

Port Arthur Penetentiary

The most prominent structure is the remains of the penitentiary, built as a flour mill and granary in 1845, then converted into convict accommodation: 136 separate cells on the lower two floors and a dormitory for 348 on the top floor. The building was burnt out in 1897.

Port Arthur hospital

Port Arthur hospital

On the hill is the hospital, accommodating 80 patients, also burnt out in the 1890s.

Port Arthur’s regime was tough, but less so in the physical sense as compared to earlier prison regimes. The hard corporal punishment, such as whippings, used elsewhere was now thought to harden criminals, doing nothing to turn them from their immoral ways.

Port Arthur Separate Prison

Port Arthur Separate Prison

Instead in Port Arthur’s silent prison (1849) newer inmates were kept in complete and anonymous solitude and silence at all times. They were not to speak, sing, whistle or communicate in any way except when they needed to pass essential information to a guard or when singing in chapel. When outside their cells they wore masks to prevent recognition by other inmates. 

Port Arthur asylum

Port Arthur asylum

Not too surprisingly, many prisoners lost their minds, thus the need for the next door asylum (1868), the last major penal structure to be constructed, now the restaurant and museum where we repaired to for a welcome lunch. Due to the age of the remaining convicts on site, the authorities were forced to employ building tradesmen to assist with the asylum’s construction.

Port Arthur Church

Port Arthur Church

After lunch, increasing rain prompted a hasty retreat to the gift ship but I did get to see the remains of one more  burnt out building, the church, built 1836-7 and destroyed 1884. It could accommodate 1000 worshippers: convicts seated on benches whilst 200 free settlers had pews that had been produced by the Point Puer (boys prison) boys.

Then back to the ship for dinner and the homeward sail to Melbourne.

 

Adelaide 2020

As outlined in my last post, my 2020 cruise’s first port of call was Adelaide. I’d been there four times before so with no pressure to do anything in particular. I decided to revisit the National Rail Museum (NRM) and make a first-time visit to the South Australian Aviation Museum. Both these, along with the South Australian Maritime Museum, which I’d visited before, are at Port Adelaide, an 11-stop 10.2km train ride from Outer Harbour, where we were docked (the train station is conveniently next to the cruise terminal).

As a volunteer at the Melbourne Newport Railway Museum, railway museums now have a special interest to me, and on this second visit to the NRM I was able to see a number of exhibits with fresh eyes.

National Rail Museum Loco 504

National Rail Museum Loco 504

A great find last year was the book, ‘Kings of the Iron Horse’, the story of two of Australia’s greatest railway engineers, Alf Smith and Fred Shea. Shea was Chief Mechanical Engineer (1923-39) of the South Australian Railways (SAR). Working with William Webb, Chief Commissioner, he oversaw a massive re-equipping of the SAR during the 1920s. The 500 class, built by Armstrong Whitworth UK, was over twice the size of the biggest pre-Webb engine, and was the most powerful locomotive in Australia. 504, seen here was in service from 1926-1962.

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

National Rail Museum Clyde GM2 loco

One of Australia’s big mistakes was not building its railways to one gauge – South Australia has all three: 3’6” narrow gauge, 4’8½” standard gauge and 5’3” Irish or broad gauge.

Over time standard gauge interstate lines were constructed. Finally on 23 February 1970, just 50 years ago, the first Indian Pacific service left Sydney for Perth, becoming the first direct train to cross the Australian continent. GM2, here, built 1951, hauled the train from Port Pirie to Kalgoorlie, a distance of nearly 1800km.

Fokker F27, South Australian Aviation Museum

South Australian Aviation Museum

These are but two highlights of the NRM and by the time I’d dragged myself away I only had an hour for the Aviation Museum. Lots of to see and all very well arranged and signed. This Fokker Friendship was used for scientific research.

Then back to the Queen Elizabeth and on to Hobart.

2020 cruise – back on the Queen Elizabeth

2020’s cruise was my fifth and longest so far: seven nights from Melbourne to Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Hobart, then home. After last year’s Queen Elizabeth cruise to Brisbane I was really looking forward to being back on board.

No upgrade this year! After two out of two Cunard upgrades it would have been a bit much to expect another one. A couple of days before departure my heart leapt on seeing an email titled ATTN: Anthony Bryer – Upgrade Notice but it was merely notifying me that I’d been moved from a cabin on Deck 8 to a very similar one (grade BB to grade BA) on Deck 6. It suited me well – deck plans

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

Queen Elizabeth Britannia restaurant

With no upgrade, boarding meant joining an unnecessarily long queue (it would have been a lot shorter had people not been allowed to join it until their allotted time) and each night turning up promptly for dinner in the Britannia Room at 5.45p.m. (I chose early dining) rather than any time dining. As on previous cruises, I was very fortunate in my table companions, especially 93-year old Patricia, still enjoying life to the full. Excellent food and top-notch service.

Not surprisingly soon after sailing we were told that we would skip Kangaroo Island because of the bushfires, with an extra day at sea being substituted. All us passengers felt for the people of eastern Kangaroo Island who weren’t in the immediate fire zone but lost out on thousands of money-spending cruise visitors – we were one of several cruise ships whose planned visits were cancelled.

But the extra sea day was fine by me: there’s never enough time to do everything on the daily entertainments programme. On this cruise one of the guest lecturers was Dr Richard Harris, a key member of the Thailand cave rescue diver team. Unfortunately due to a programme clash I had to miss his main talk, but his Q&A session gave us all an insight into the massive responsibility he and his colleagues had shouldered, knowing that it could all have ended in tragedy. His recognition as joint Australian of the Year last weekend was all too well deserved.

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

Afternoon tea in the Queens Room

For the first time, I joined the solo traveller group – ‘solo’ not be confused with ‘single’, since some solos may well have left partners at home. On sea days social host Cordelia did a brilliant job organising coffee mornings, a couple of lunches and reserved tables at afternoon tea. Like my dinner table, good company, much enjoyed.

Finally the other first-time experience was to go on the behind the scenes tour, not cheap but a great experience. I’d love to post some pics but it was strictly no cameras, no phones. The tour included going backstage in the theatre, meeting a couple of the ‘Top Hat’ cast, the medical centre, winch room, massive food stores, print shop, galley and, the high spot, meeting the captain on the bridge.

All in all, a brilliant cruise. Coming soon, my day in Port Adelaide.

2019 – Good memories

Another year ends and the 20s are about to begin. I can look back on 2019 with almost unalloyed satisfaction. High spots of the year:

  • A two-night mini break by rail to Warrnambool.
  • Seeing our church continue to grow, with the opening of a new service in Docklands.
  • Being headhunted to help with our church ‘mums and bubs’ midweek meeting creche. For some reason this old single guy seems to be quite good at looking after little people!
  • A four-night cruise, Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane, on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, made even more special by being upgraded to a suite. No upgrade for my 2020 cruise though!
  • Visiting Brisbane for the first time.
  • Through the year working as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, building homes in Yea.
  • Visiting friends and family in the UK – when I emigrated I promised to go back and visit them each year, a promise I had to break in 2018 following surgery, and taking a first-time stopover in Singapore on the way home, something I will do again
  • Through the year working as a volunteer guide at the Newport Railway Museum, also joining the works team.
  • Taking a winter holiday in Port Hedland – seeing big boys toys close up.
  • I only got to see one musical but it was a superb one, ‘Come from away’, the remarkable true story of thousands passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them in the aftermath of 9/11
  • And continuing to run my software business, which celebrated its 30th birthday in April and once again reached my annual sales target (just).

Port Hedland winter holiday

With my annual visit to family in the UK trip being earlier this year, a space was left for a short winter break. Seeking somewhere warm, I decided on Port Hedland. Half my Australian friends looked blank when I told them of my plans: “where?”; a few in the know responded with “why would you want to go there? The only things to see are ships and trains”. Quite so, and that’s why I went there! In August the temperature gets up to about 30C, falling to the mid-teens overnight. The record summer high is 49C!

Winning Universe ore carrier

Winning Universe ore carrier

Port Hedland is up on the north coast of Western Australia, almost as far from Melbourne as you can go on the Australian mainland – about 2,000mi/3,200km as the crow flies. To get there took me a four-hour flight to Perth, then a further two-hour flight to Port Hedland. Port Hedland is the port from which most of Australia’s iron ore is exported, currently around 1.5m tonnes a day.

On day one (Sunday) I was made very welcome at St Matthew’s Church, then spent the rest of the day getting my bearings. I stayed at the Hospitality Inn motel, just across the road from the beach where I enjoyed peaceful early morning and evening strolls.

Mariners waiting for the launch

Waiting for the Mission’s launch

Day two was taken up with the first two of four tours. If you’re visiting Port Hedland do take these tours or you’ll miss out on a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

In morning I joined the Mission to Seafarers harbour tour. After a talk on the port and the work of the mission we all went aboard the Mission’s launch for its trip round the harbour collecting seafarers who had been given shore leave – in most cases their berths don’t allow landside access. Back at the Seafarers Centre they have access to food, recreational activities, a shuttle bus to the local shops and, most prized of all, free wi-fi.

Port Hedland salt stacks

Port Hedland salt stacks

After lunch I was back on another minibus for the Eco Salt tour – the giant salt stacks on the outskirts of Port Hedland are the final stage of the salt production process. It starts with seawater being drawn into the first of eight concentration ponds, 7800ha in total. As the water evaporates under the hot sun, the remaining water is moved from pond to pond as it gets saltier and saltier.

For day three, realising that I wasn’t going to see much without a car, I went back to the airport to hire one. In contrast to some of the ‘phantom damage’ car hire ripoffs seen in UK, Avis’s policy shows a refreshing appreciation of driving in the Pilbara:
Please note our Fair Wear and Tear Guidelines are below. If there is damage to the vehicle that falls within these guidelines, we do not consider this chargeable damage.
– Stone Chips 25mm diameter without denting
– Scratches less than 25mm that have not penetrated the paint
– Dents less than 25mm in diameter and 2mm deep without paint cracking or flaking
– Wheel scuffs without cracking or gouging
– Minor scruffs that can be polished out
– Scuff/scrape marks under lower bumper

Day four, Wednesday, was largely filled with my last two tours. The first, run by the Seafarers Centre took us into Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) facility. Kudos to FMG for allowing the Centre to operate this tour as a way of raising funds. It was a enthralling experience to drive past the massive trains, loaders, conveyors and then along the quayside next to a ship about to be loaded.

Sunset

Sunset from Finucane Island

After lunch, taken in a 1930s US stainless steel dining railway carriage, my last tour: the Twilight Industry tour. This tour looked in on all the mining company sites from public roads finishing up with a drink watching the sun go down – which it does very quickly in the tropics. This and the Eco Salt tour only started this year, so I chose the right time to visit.

My trip to Port Hedland was all but over. I wish I’d stayed a little longer, but I went not knowing what to expect. Perhaps at some point I’ll go back, but there’s a lot of Australia I’ve yet to visit once.

Singapore Stopover Part 2

Singapore Maritime Gallery

Singapore Maritime Gallery

After a good sleep and late start I headed off on the Red Line to Marina South Pier so as to visit the Maritime Gallery, a small museum telling Singapore’s maritime story from the 13th century to today. There was lots to hold my attention so I ended up spending the rest of the morning there.

Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer

Then back one stop for a second, daytime, trip to Marina Bay for lunch, much less interesting than day one’s hawker stalls. I didn’t have enough time to visit the adjacent Science Museum and Gardens by the Bay – next year perhaps.
Instead I took a leisurely stroll (too hot to rush!) to the Singapore Flyer, and a chance to see Singapore from above – it was the world’s highest ferris wheel when opened (2008: 165m/541ft). Needless to say I enjoyed this very much.
It’s interesting to note how ferris wheels fell out of favour – the Wiener Riesenrad, Vienna, was the world’s tallest from 1920-1985 – only to be rediscovered in recent years: I can see the (poorly situated) Melbourne Star from my window.

Pasir Ris Park

Pasir Ris Park

Back at the hotel I took a needed shower and change and headed east to Pasir Ris to meet up with Kate and see where she lives. Pre-visit my expectation was that Singapore would be wall to wall high-rises, but not here. The norm seemed to be blocks of around twelve storeys set in secure compounds containing various resort-style amenties  – pools, picnic areas, tennis courts etc – as compensation for a very small (by my standards) apartment. And, again not what I expected, a large park nearby.

Dinner over, we went our separate ways. The next morning I was back on a plane, looking forward (not) to the Melbourne winter. It was my first stopover, but won’t be my last. I enjoyed the change of scene and had none of the usual jetlag on my return home.

Singapore Stopover Part 1

Back when I lived in London I visited Melbourne 13 times; since moving to Melbourne I have made the return trip a similar number of times. With a few exceptions I have always flown via Singapore – there’s no better airport than Changi for a transit stop. Until this year, though, I’d never set foot outside the airport.

Why change now? In late 2017 a good friend, Kate, got a posting to Singapore and I promised to visit her on my next trip. A further incentive was that I always suffer more from jet lag when returning home, so the hope was that the break of journey would reduce this (it did!).

So for once my case left LHR with a tag saying SIN instead of the usual SIN|MEL. 13 hours later I’m queueing up at Changi’s immigration counter – slow and not what I expected. And then on to the train. Those of us who live in Melbourne, where an airport rail link is just a dream, are regularly reminded that every city of note except us has a fast airport-city rail link. Singapore does have a rail link: to get to my city centre pad (Hotel Jen, Orchard Road) meant two stops on the green line to Tanah Merah, then nine to City Hall, and two more on the red line to Somerset, about half an hour. Far from fast. Next time I’ll try and find a hotel on the green line.

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

Lau Pa Sat hawker centre

But once checked in I was keen to explore. The time shift meant I was wide awake although it was now dark. I’d been told to go to local hawker stalls, not restaurants. Good advice – I ate well for a few dollars. Back at the hotel I enjoyed a late-night swim in the rooftop pool.

Off to bed, and I didn’t wake until about 9.00. I deliberately didn’t set an alarm so as to take some sleep. It was raining hard so I took myself off to the famous Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre. More good food. Not so a coffee, costing more than a decent meal.

National Museum of Singapore (1887)

National Museum of Singapore

As it was still tipping down, off to the Singapore Museum, housed in a fine building opened by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1887 where I spent several educational and enjoyable hours. I’d always wondered why Malaysia had allowed Singapore its independence, given its prosperity. I was surprised to learn that at the time of independence it was viewed as something of a basket case and best got rid of. Now, of course, it’s anything but, home to arguably the world’s best airline and a massive trading and financial centre.

Then back to the hotel for a shower and change, ready to meet up with Kate for an enjoyable reunion over dinner. My first 24 hours in Singapore were over.