To the far east!

The day started with a grand planing ceremony at Tim and Beth’s place. There are two trees which have been planted in the developing garden in honour of my visit. In years to come they will flock here on pilgrimage to see the Parrott trees!

I started by digging holes. Well I was supervising – does that count?

Then we planted. Now I came into my own. Please note that this critical stage I did in fact handle a spade. I pointed out that when the Queen does this is a given a silver shovel to use. I had better not report the response to this innocent comment!

Then we set off to Helen and Robert, to the east at Nangus, near Wagga Wagga.

We stopped at Wagga Wagga station to collect Ingrid, a friend of Bree’s. She came up from Melbourne by train. As ever the architecture is amazing in these rural places. This is the station house.

We then drove on to the farm. Robert’s farm is a different farm to Tim’s. His was big. Robert’s is huge.

Here is the house, and the land is just about, but not quite, all you can see in this video.

Robert then gave me the grand tour of the farm buildings. it took over an hour, and that was just the barns and equipment.

Just to. Give you an idea of scale: Tim’s tractor vs Robert’s tractor (in his case one of five). It reminds me of the line in Crocodile Dundee. Call that a tractor? This is a tractor!

I mentioned the other day that there has been way too little rain here. It rained last night for the first time in weeks. They think I brought the weather from London! Here is one of the dams on the farm which shows how low the water level is.

When it is very dry in the summer there is always a danger of fire. And so Robert has a fire truck. He is also called on to help at road accidents locally as the distances are so great that farmers with fire trucks can be a real resource. Caspian says this is his favourite.

There are nine of us for dinner tonight. We shall toast being aged 59!


Only a brief report today, as it was a relaxing and slow day.

I woke this morning to the sound of rain. This, you might think, is not a good thing for my day, and perhaps so, but the farmers out here are desperate for some rain. It has been exceptionally dry and so I am sure they will be glad. The usual rainfall for a calendar year is about 590mm. To date this year they have had about 40mm, and they keep telling me that this is winter. So a little rain today (and predicted again for tomorrow) is a good thing for the this rural and farming community.

Bree and Sam arrived here late last night after driving from Melbourne. We all travel on to Wagga Wagga tomorrow.

Sam took me off to Pfeiffers again this morning as he wanted to buy some wine. He is volunteering there this weekend as part of the great Rutherglen festival.

Tim and Beth had a couple of business meetings today while they are both up from Melbourne, and then Bree and Caspian and I went down to the River Murray. Caspian has had a total ‘two year old misery’ day today. No-one does a strop like a a two year old. I thank God that I was always a perfect child. More so, I thank Him that my mother has worked out how to read this, but not how to write replies, so she can’t tell you that this statement is untrue!

This evening we all went out to dinner, before most of us set off to the west tomorrow morning. Can’t wait to get to the ubiquitous sheep farm in Australia!

Today’s Buller-tin

We went to another winery today, this time for lunch. This time it was Buller’s, hence my title. They have extensive grounds. One of the local trees is the River Red Gum Tree, a type of eucalyptus. Here is a fine example with the vines beyond. There are hundreds of them around and they are very beautiful.

Like all the other vineyards Buller’s were gearing up for the weekend. The staff all put huge efforts in, but with a consistent sense of slight dread. The marquee and port-a-loo companies are on full stand by as every winery seems to have created extra space for tasting and drinking. The dread is that amongst the wine connoisseurs are loads of people who come out to the area to have a party, getting drunk of vast numbers of different wines. It all makes it sound as though the spittoons are superfluous to requirements!

Buller’s run a restaurant alongside the winery. Most places have some diversity in their business which is not surprising. Some run restaurants, some rent out space to other business (e.g., Andersons have a specialist cheese shop on site), but all seem to need to maximise their income from the tourists.

We had a lovely meal. I have had loads of lovely meals while I have been here. This time I actually managed to remember to take a picture before we devoured the food. I had duck, Tim had pork and Beth had beef. Oh, and we all had a glass of wine, as you can see.

Afterwards we went to the Cellar Door. This is the common name locally for the place where you can sample and buy the wines. They all call it that. By following this blog you can learn so many useless facts.

We tasted some of their wares, and ended up buying a bottle of the prize winning Muscat. I mentioned a Muscaelle the other day. Many of you know that I love port. Australian port, which nowadays is known as fortified wine (probably some European regulation about name usage and local protectionism) is different to Portuguese port. A totally different taste. That said, back home I would always choose a port over a Muscat, but the Australian sweet fortified wines here are really lovely. Again, they are very different to their European namesakes. The one we bought was festooned with its medals and prizes on the label. For the sake of clarity, the bottle in the foreground is what we bought, not the whole shelf behind. Shame, but true. I rather liked the example in the bottom left of this picture where they sell their fortified wines by the five litre plastic tub, which makes it look a bit like car screen-wash. No comment.

We had another fascinating encounter while we were there. We met Paul, who grows his own grapes nearby and supplies them to. Buller. Unsurprisingly he was there helping set up for the busy weekend. When he found out I was from London he told us that he had worked there just after the turn of the centenary. He worked in County Hall, for the Mayor of London, then Ken Livingstone. I mentioned that I worked for the Lord Mayor of London. His job was to project manage the transformation and reconfiguration of Trafalgar Square, in Westminster, which took place between 2003 and 2005. The north end was pedestrianised outside the National Gallery and the tourist offer was updated. And the team were responsible for the famous fourth plinth idea.

Here, in the middle of nowhere in Australia (Sorry Rutherglen, I have just insulted you!) I meet the guy who led the team. He remembered fondly sitting in his office overlooking Tower Bridge.

Some of you will know that as the Chaplain to the Lord Mayor and the City of London Corporation I am rigorous about the fact that only the square mile of the City is ‘London’. The rest is Greater London, or as I would have it Outer London. Everyone raises their eyebrows in exasperation when I run my little routines about this. The south starts at the River Thames, everything beyond Ludgate Hill is probably Bristol, London Wall marks the beginning of the north, and the Far East is just past Aldgate.

My parting shot to Paul was: its nice to meet someone who nearly went to London. Having worked for the other major local government office he laughed and knew exactly what I meant. This begs the question: why are my jokes only funny in northern Victoria, and never anywhere else?

Please don’t answer that question while I am enjoying myself. It would be too cruel while I am away having fun!

Have I mentioned I am going to a party on Sunday?

Wine, wine, wine. But I did not whine!

Today I have hit 2500 views of my blog. Unbelievable.

I woke up a little later this morning, so I did not get to see the sun rise, but I am still amazed by the sky here. I went for a walk after breakfast and took some more pictures of the house and grounds.

Beth took me to more wineries this morning. I did not want to go, of course. But it would have been ill mannered of me to refuse this outrageous suggestion so I reluctantly agreed! (Believe that and you will believe anything).

This weekend is a long weekend in Australia for the Queen’s official birthday. All the wineries are in planning mode as it is an open weekend. In the Rutherglen network of wineries they are expecting about 12,000 people over the weekend to visit, taste and (they hope) buy.

We went first to Andersons. This is one of the local prize winning wineries and we tasted some fizz, and white and red and fortified wines.

Then we went on to Pfeiffers. Jen, the winemaker, chatted to us and we tasted more, including a rather nice tawny. I bought some to take to the party on Sunday.

This firm uses its unusual spelling to have some fun in its publicity.

Jen was wearing her ‘Naked Wines’ tee shirt. This company is the one I used to buy wines in the UK for Christmas. Small world!

We went from there into the town of Rutherglen and bought some pies for lunch. I was persuaded to have kangaroo, while Beth had emu!

I had been wondering why I had not seen any kangaroo in the wild. I appear to have just eaten the answer. The pie tasted really nice. Nothing odd about it at all. Its a bit like a nice tasty beef, with a firm texture. The emu has a slightly sweeter taste to it. I also tried the emu pie. I am getting braver.

Rutherglen – a leaky place!

Dawn in the countryside is an amazing thing. Being in the middle of nowhere beneath a vast clear sky as the sun comes up is a moment worth living. A little lower down the blog today you will see pictures of the town and elsewhere – notice the skies in those too. It is the sky that has struck me today. VAST and blue. Is it not true that the simplest of things can encourage our spirits?

Every day of this trip brings new and unique experiences. Today was no different.

There is a water leak at the farm so we waited for a plumber to come to see if he could locate where the pipe is leaking. The plumber was just the same as the world over. The inevitable sharp intake of breath and gentle shaking of the head! A worried look and mention of time and cost. I was waiting for him to see the trenches which Tim had dug, and which had filled with water despite the ground elsewhere being bone dry. I am sure he would have muttered ‘it shouldn’t be like that’ if I had been close enough to hear!

But let me give the bloke due credit. He worked hard to find the source, which included having to dig up the foundations of the house. So here is a picture of Rutherglen workman in the shower of dust! He even has a dust rainbow.

The leak is fixed (we hope) which was quite rightly the top priority for the day, so by mid afternoon we were able to take a trip into Rutherglen – the great metropolis of northern Victoria; gateway to New South Wales; shopping Mall of the Murray Valley. Well, not quite. Rather, it is a small local town, which is important to the local residential and farming communities and has its own charm and character.

Like most small Australian towns the cars are bigger than the shops. 🙂

We then had time to briefly visit two local wineries. The first was Chambers, the oldest winery in town. They had about 20 bottles lined up for us to taste. I tried a number of their fortified wines, including a really nice walnut Muscadelle. We then went on to a newer winery called All Saints. They had a more grand facade to their sales room. All very ‘look at me!’. Chambers had a more dignified ‘shed’ look about it.

I was of course unaffected by the wine tasting. Olchihol doth not infect me at oil!

Beth came back from Tas today and is driving up from Melbourne this evening (3 and a half hours). Meanwhile, Tim and I are going out for a meal.

City Sunrise and rural sunset!

I started the day in Melbourne where I have been for the past few days. I took this picture of the sun rising over the north east of the city.

James then took me out to breakfast before I went down to the city to the train station. The journey north by train is about 3 hours to a place called Chiltern, the nearest station to Rutherglen. Chiltern, like so many stations on the line once out of the City consists of a platform and a seat and not much more! Along the way the landscape north of Melbourne is mainly flat plains and scrub. It is either wild or used for sheep and cattle. A very beautiful journey, but then the breathtaking views really began.

Tim collected me at the station and drove me the 25km or so to farm he and Beth own near Rutherglen. We stoppped off at one of the small towns on the way, Howlong which frankly looked like some sort of film set. But then its name seems like some sort of plaintive cry to God, so I should have expected no less.

On the way I also saw a wallaby. My first wild marsupial. I am now officially an Australian!

We arrived at the farm just before dusk. Here is the drive from the road to the house. An urban highway!

I had time to take a 360 degree video and a few pictures of the views from the house.

Not long after we arrived I watched the lovely sunset on the flat plains, and across the huge open skies. Hence my blog title for today.

Now, as I am writing this at just after six and it is pitch dark, and I have stood outside and revelled in the silence and the myriad of stars. These are two things we don’t get in City of London.

Rutherglen is on the upper reaches of the Murray River which runs from here south to the coast. The river forms the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales, so when we swung by Howlong I entered my third Australian State. Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales, in case you are not following this with as much attention as it clearly deserves. I shall spend longer in NSW, but many miles from here, next week. You will have to wait for my reports on that.

That’s about it folks. Idid warn you yesterday that there would be less to say today.

Trains and parrots (or not!)

We had breakfast at a local cafe on Phillip Island before setting off back north. We wandered down to the beach to have a last look at the sea. Cowes, where we stayed, is on the bay side of the Island, so no waves, but still very beautiful.

We then headed off to Puffing Billy, via Wilds Park both in the Dandenong Forest. Wilds is a bird park in the forest where you can pay to feed the many and various parrots. Except… (isn’t there always an except in my blog) the staff were telling us that a few days ago a huge number of White Cockatoos arrived. The nature of nature (!) is that they can’t control these things. They, being more aggressive than the Parrotts, had scared all the other breeds away. But they were still beautiful.

James and Bree insisted that I fed them, but Caspian was less than convinced.

Then on to Puffing Billy – Victoria’s, and in their own publicity Australia’s, best steam railway. Now my dad and brother-in-law will be appalled to hear that it was described as 726mm gauge! That’s 2′ 6″ in proper railway language!

They gave us two tickets. A nice souvenir (proper) ticket and a modern bar-coded version.

We had a wonderful trip, so here goes with some pictures.

At the top of the run is a wonderful forest park and lake. It turns out that I did not take any interesting pictures there, except for one bird, whose blue luminescent plumage caught my eye.

But videos are no much better!

When we got back to the start point I was trying another video, when James started to attack me from behind – hence the short commentary on this last one. (Except – that word again- I am not sure if I captured sound or not. I love being the ultimate amateur!)

So, we travelled back to the City after a wonderful weekend away. Thanks to James and Bree for organising it and taking me.

Tomorrow is a travel day, so expect a lightweight blog. Unless I find something exciting to report. Watch this space.

Philip Island

We had another gentle start today. James and Bree had a lay-in and Beth and I looked after Caspian for a bit. Well actually she looked after Caspian and I made cups of tea, but that is valid contribution to the process.

We then all got ready. I mentioned a few days ago that Beth’s Dad was awaiting an operation. He had it and all is well. He went back home last night and Beth set off this morning to Tasmania to visit him.

Meanwhile, an update on yesterday’s blog, which had a disastrous auto correct in it. I meant to say the I found it a moving performance. It got changed, after a mis-type, as a mocking performance. Most certainly not what I intended to say. Beth is in therapy after reading it!

James, Bree, Caspian and me (have I told you I am called Gramps by him?) set off south to Phillip Island, at the south end of the huge Melbourne Bay. So, having travelled some of the way south we stopped for a lunch at a wonderful rural pub. Now this was not the sort of thatched idyll you may be thinking of in England. More like to bar in Crocodile Dundee, but with a decent chef! How about that for an oxymoron.

James was very sniffy about my beach pictures yesterday on the basis that it is not a beach if it has no waves. Most of the beaches in Melbourne’s bay, such as the lovely beach yesterday, are calm and not great for the surfing fraternity. So today we found some waves at Woolamai Beach. It was lovely.

I liked this sign near the beach. It appears that dogs are not part of nature- or was I just having one of pedantic moments?

Then we went on the the Penguin Parade. Now this is the real reason for coming to Phillip Island. It has a huge colony of Little Penguins. At dusk they come ashore into the dunes and roost. The tourism people have set up a whole viewing area so that tourists can see them come ashore, and then walk through the boardwalks over the roosting areas and see them. This is why J and B wanted to bring me here. Now the little penguins above are not called that for any random reason. They are the smallest of the species and so seeing them come out of the water needed a degree of telescopic vision and faith to believe that the slight movement in the distance was in fact the penguins. But it was great fun.

But this was not the last penguin of the day. Gramps cracked and Caspian now has a furry friend. I could not resist. I know you all think I am a hard hearted old man, but I have my softy moments!

A light supper, some Caspian play, a call to Sue on FaceTime, and now it is time for bed!

Tomorrow we have parrots and a steam train to look forwards to.

Habs and a concert

I started the day slowly and then set off to meet a couple I know from London. I had to get into the city centre and back out. My first challenge was that there were no trams running. Someone had parked across the lines! I had to reroute. I love a challenge.

I found my way to the suburb of Mentone and was met at the station.

On the train I heard a mother who was in such a state. Her daughter had locked herself in the flat and the Mum had to kick the door in. Both were in a terrible state. And gentle motherhood had gone out of the window. It reminded me how hard is for some people, but also how good James and Bree are with Caspian.

The southern suburbs are very different to where I am staying in north Melbourne.

David and Mary Lou were my hosts. David was the hall manager ( Beadle) at Haberdashers Hall when I arrived at SLJ. I took the baptism of their granddaughter in 2010. They then retired and came to Australia where their daughter lives and now enjoy being supportive grandparents. We had a great time catching up on City matters.

The Haberdashers have one member who was Sheriff last year and may be LM in a couple of years time. Another is standing for election in my own ward of Cheap in early July.

Poor Mary Lou fell yesterday and broke her arm. David took me for a long walk on the wonderful sandy beach and then to lunch.

I then headed back to the city centre. Beth has spent just 4 weeks organising a community concert, entitled kaleidoscope, including writing, stage craft, and rehearsals.. It is acted and sung by anyone who cares to join. This includes staff and students of the university, and they had a number of people who came in from the streets, quite literally. They get fed after rehearsals and have chance to work on the play. It was an exhilarating mix.

Socially inclusive musical theatre is a way of bringing together diverse groups of people of all abilities. The themes of the event included the suffragettes, displacement of the aboriginals, refugees and homelessness. These themes were chosen by the students and participants. It was very moving to hear the edgy take on these themes by young people with a social conscience and some of the people affected by the issues themselves. A wonderful evening.

It was. Not possible to take. Pictures of the event itself, but it was a very impressive example of working inclusively through the arts.

After the event we went out for a Thai meal. Another fine day!

River day

Another day, another trip on the water. Viewers of my bog will by now know that I love being by or on the water, so today I took a river trip in Melbourne. We started by going out to breakfast in a lovely Italian restaurant near the City centre. Then Beth went to work and I toddled down to the riverside and booked a boat trip.

The river frontage in Melbourne is like many others in some ways, but each city is just a bit different. I started through the business section of the City.

We passed the inevitable PwC office. The current Lord Mayor of London works for this firm, and in every city I have been to I have seen their offices towering over me. A reminder to not forget what I have left behind in London.

As we moved down stream towards the docks the views got better and better.

There are some wonderful views to be had, even in a built up area. The sun was shining and this building showed a wonderful reflection.

The river then opens up to the working port and it is always amazing to see the juxtaposition of new high rise offices and the older working areas.

Along the way the south bank has been developed with a walkway and series of shops and restaurants, much like London’s south bank.

After the trip I went to get a coffee. I handed over my cash, only to have it rejected, as I had given the guy 10 NZ Dollars. I am sure I got rid of my NZ currency, so I think someone palmed it off on me in my change at some stage. I am still at the stage where I don’t notice. Indeed, if I go into a shop and try to pay for something I am that tourist who is peering manically at the back of coins and notes to try to work out which is which!

I then went to find a barber for a haircut. (I thought you would like to hear about my domestic trials as well as my sightseeing).

Looking for the authentic Ozzy experience I found a small barber in a lane near the centre of town. It turned out the guy who did my hair was from Middlesborough in England! We had a load of banter. He accused me of being a southerner, which is a bit rich from a bloke who lives in the Southern Hemisphere. You can take the man out of Middlesborough, but you can’t take Middlesborough (and north south prejudice) out of the man.

It turned out he has some good friends in NZ who he visits regularly, so having paid my dues I tipped him with some Aus Dollars and also with 10 NZ dollars! At least he will be able to make use of it. And he was perfectly happy and amused.

On the way back on the tram a guy got on who was clearly very troubled and was shouting and screaming about something that he was annoyed about. This reminded me that I have seen the same issues in every city I have visited. The homeless and the troubled are part of every city community. While I am gadding about enjoying myself as a tourist it is good to be reminded that poverty and troubled minds are part of every city community. It is right to keep things in perspective. I am having the time of my life, but for some the daily struggle is great.

I offered to cook dinner again tonight, but James tells me it is ‘take-away night’. Great. No work for me then.