Wednesday, April 27, 2011

hey there, Bright eyes...

In Australia, this was a super-long weekend as we had Anzac day, which meant from Friday-Tuesday, Nic was off work. Huzzah.
As I mentioned, I'd discovered the grants awarded to graduate teachers going to rural areas, and remembered these beautiful little towns up in the mountains, which we decided to go visit for the weekend.

Of course, it being a long weekend, in a town known for its beautiful autumn trees (remember, it's autumn/fall here, and we don't generally have trees that drop their leaves), the place was packed out. Still, we walked around Bright and quickly loved its little cafes, tree-covered hills in the background, quaint shops, and slightly-larger-than-hodunk-town feeling. On the last day, Nic stopped in at the police station to chat with them about the transfer process, if he does end up applying and going through training to be a cop. Apparently the Bright police station is the one that everyone wants to go to, and you could wait years to get posted there. Awesome. It seems strange, since they have to lure teachers there with money incentives, but police are lining up to be posted there. I suppose if you're a cop at a country town, you have a kind of quiet life amongst the mountains, booking people for speeding, not really dealing with much of the 'hard stuff'... where as a teacher, all our teaching courses tend to be metropolitan, we tend to do our rounds in the suburbs, and teaching bored country kids in tiny schools seems harder than maybe a middle-class anglo-saxon school in the 'burbs.

Wandilligong Primary School: 28 students.

The first day there we did a lot of driving. Lots of little towns with funny names (Wandilligong, Yakandandah, Tawong, Porepunkah, Stanley). Towns we judged based on the number of pubs they had, or whether they had a large or small supermarket, or none at all. We formulated criteria for prospective future towns we'd like to live in- cafes, mountains, a supermarket, and within a certain distance of the nearest cinema in Wangaratta. We drove away from the mountains to the flat plains just north of the apline area, and although those mountains loomed in the distance (as well as Australian mountains can. Having seen the Pacific Coast range, I refuse to believe anything in Australia can loom quite as well as them), we decided that it was too flat: we wanted to be in amongst it.

It was hard to picture these towns without the crowds of tourists sitting in the cafes and sipping lattes like they were back home. Imagining those cafes empty, with country kids stuck in their country town working behind the counter because it's too hard to get out. I imagine teaching these kids, trying to push them to learn, and to love to learn, and to believe in themselves, and their inner monologue telling them: What's the point? I'm going to be a farmer anyway. 

 Looking down toward the valley where Mount Beauty sits.

We visited a town called Mount Beauty, which sits in the valley overshadowed by Victoria's tallest mountain, and it was a gorgeous small town. I think I felt a lot more 'at home' there than Nic did, who kept having to pull me out of the dream of cheap real-estate and mountain-surrounded homes (every house had a view, literally) to remind me that the pretty alpine town was probably usually dead quiet, and that they only had a small independent supermarket. I put up arguments that we used to drive 45 minutes each week do to a 'big shop' for food, and as long as we could get milk, that would be ok.
And maybe he's right... And then I check out the website for the Mount Beauty Primary school, who seem to have overhauled their whole staff recently so 50% of them are graduates, and whose values and motto and direction all add up with what I'd like to achieve in my classroom and think: well, isn't that nice...

We went to one of our favorite wineries, and it felt like we were visiting a celebrity or something. This winery is super well-known here, and we laughed off the bad service as the taste-test ladies assumed we were just after some free booze, and then warmed up when we wanted to buy 6 bottles (surprise surprise). Nic got breath-alcohol-tested 3 times in as many days. We joked that we'd begin to recognize the police officers administering the tests. After having tested two types of wines at one winery (as in, had a sip of each type), we hit the road and quickly came up to a breath testing station. The policeman asks:
"Have you had anything to drink in the last couple of hours?"
Nic glances at me, paniced.
"When was your last glass, mate?"
"Um... well... it was like... 5 minutes ago.."
I sigh, and lean over.
"It was a sample, at the winery just over there. Not a glass, just a taste."
The police officer gets Nic to blow into the machine, and not surprisingly, he's fine. We drive on. From this point, instead of drinking all the wine given to us in a tasting, Nic takes a sip, then gives the rest to me. Being such a light-weight, we walk out of the winery not only with 6 bottles of wine, but with me pathetically tipsy.

View from 'The Horn'

Apparently the biggest cliffs in Australia. You can't see it so well because of the shadow, but there's a waterfall in the middle of 'The Gorge' there.

We hiked twice on the trip- once up to 'The Horn' of Mount Buffalo. Luckily you get to drive most of the way up, then it's a 1.5km walk/climb up to the highest point in the Park, so you don't have to do too much of the walk. Buffalo is a beautiful park, with huge granite slabs, creeks and waterfalls, and a Chalet built in 1910, which is closed and nobody wants to reopen.

The razorback- track at the right side of the photo, which runs along the ridge you can see there.
We then hit the Razorback, which is a long ridge-line running across some of the mountains in the area. The walk we did is one of the more popular walks probably in the state. It's 11km to Mt. Feathertop, which at 1, 922 meters is the 2nd tallest in Victoria. Some people do this walk as a day-trip, which takes about 8 hours... some people walk to some random point, take some photos, then walk back. As we'd done Buffalo in the morning, we wanted to hike in, camp the night under the stars, then hike home the next day. We left at about 2.30, knowing we were cutting it fine for what's said to be a 4 hour walk, and sun setting at about 6.30. The interesting thing about this walk and this whole area, was that unlike most of the alpine areas I'm used to, this one was decimated by a fire in 2003 after a long period of no rain, and huge electrical storms in the area. Generally Australian trees have an amazing capacity to regenerate after fires. You'll see pictures of them sprouting leaves from all over the trunk- trunks that were blackened, and after a year or two, as a visitor, you mightn't know there had been a fire at all. Here, though, because the area is snowy, bitter and windy all through winter, hot and dry through a lot of summer, the trees don't have the same capacity to grow as they do in other areas. Places that were burnt in Black Saturday, 2009, look much greener and more alive than the areas burnt on the mountains in 2003. There are these stark white branches all over the hills, which make them look kind of 'furry' from a distance, as the snow gums take a long time to grow back to that size.

We camped in a little saddle at the base of Feathertop, and as the wind picked up and the sun dipped below the horizon, it quickly became frigidly cold. As I sat huddled by the tent shivering and trying to warm up my hands in their gloves, Nic told me again and again to go inside the tent. This is how he looks after me. I refused to go for a while, citing that just because he's a man doesn't mean he has to suffer out in the cold.
I think I caved in about 5 minutes after this comment, slinked into the tent, and wrapped his sleeping bag all around me.


With Milo and dinner in our stomachs, we attempted to stay awake by playing '20 questions'. My first: A llama, wasn't guessed, even after Nic broke the rules with his question: "On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the smallest and 10 being the largest, how big is this animal?" After I told him a 4 or 5, he later asked whether it was a monkey, which I had to point out wouldn't fit with his size scale question. We made it to about 8pm and, refusing to get out of the tent into the freezing wind, we fell asleep with furry teeth.
We (I) woke at dawn as some crazed photographer trekked up the mountain to get the best views of the sunrise. I was content to poke my head out of the tent, make comments about how ridiculously cold it was out there (frost on the ground), then crawl back into the warmth. We ate, took photos as the sun came up, packed up, then hiked home.

These were both sunset, but same diff. right?

So here we are, in love with these mountains, of being able to hike and bike and kayak and ski and get a place with a yard and chickens and maybe a horse, and some fruit-trees... and it hinges on jobs coming up, for me... and on figuring out what to do for Nic. In the meantime, we need to take another trip up to these towns to see them without the hundreds of tourists.

Anybody have any awesome adventures over the long weekend? We ended up coming home a day early because we remembered how exhausted we get after this type of trip, and that we'd need to do about 100 loads of washing and dishes, and unpack the car, and buy the food for the week etc. It was super nice to have that 'day off' and just spend a few hours on the computer and watching tv shows.


  1. Lovely!!!

    Eep, I hate that! Blowing in the machine is scary.

  2. Haha, I wasn't sure whether everyone else had the breathalyzer machines or not. ;) It's funny isn't it, how nerve-wracking it is even when you've drunk NOTHING, for like, weeks. You're still like: OH NO!!!!!!