Melbourne is my home town. I was born there, I was raised there, and almost all of my immediate family lives there…well, at least within an hour of there. Therefore Melbourne marks the spiritual destination of our vacation, and visiting my family for Christmas was the basic motivation for this road trip.
Today, we drive home.
So, let me get the apology out of the way before I continue my blog. This entry (and the next few, obviously) are late. And they are late because our daily schedule of visitations and explorations left little time and motivation to get any writing done. At the end of each day, it was simply more attractive to unwind with my family, than it was to share the days musings with you all. For that, I apologize. Additionally, Dall 11 marks the push into Melbourne, so we did not take any GPS lead back roads, nor did we stop at any exciting attractions along the way, we just pushed on to our destination in Sunbury.
At 9:30am on the dot, after wrangling the kids our of their beds and packing the car for what would be the last time for about a week, we pulled out of the Sandors Motor end and deliberately headed in the opposite direction, crossing the Murray River into New South Wales for a fuel stop before putting Mildura behind us. Shop-a-docket coupons for 20 cents off per litre dictated our choice of refuelling stations (as they would), and the nearest was just across the border. A second stop for some breakfast on the run, and we pointed the front of the car South, and turned onto the Calder Highway.
After driving through the NT and Northern South Australia, the proximity of the towns becomes quite a shock. It seems you hardly get a comfortable groove going at Highway Speed before you enter another town, and are forced to slow down to 60km/h. The other big change is the feel of the communities. Life just seems that much more comfortable in these communities, and it becomes palpable when you look at the faces of people, and the facades of store fronts. There are no security guards and screens protecting the retail stores and their consumers within. Council parks and gardens are flourishing, and the atmosphere is just that much more relaxed…less tense.
Ironically, we also get our first interaction with the constabulary just outside of Mildura, when one of the State’s finest pulls us over for a random stop. He is standing in the middle of the highway, at 11am in the morning, pulling over everyone and issuing breabreathalyzer tests. I am not sure how many people are drinking this early in the morning, but it is the Holiday season, and a speed and alcohol blitz has been advertised everywhere since entering Victoria. I thank him for his diligence and for helping to keep the roads safe, and we continue on our merry way.
About 2 and half hours into our drive, we pull into Wycheproof and head for the memorial park for lunch and a break from driving. After 2 hours of driving, the car chimes a rest warning, and we use this as a rough guide for ourselves to take a bit if a driving break and stretch our legs.
As an interesting aside for you trivia buffs, Wycheproof is home to the smallest registered mountain in the world. Mount Wycheproof climbs majestically to some 148 metres above sea level, or 43 metres above the surrounding terrain. To put that into some perspective, 8 of the mountains stacked on top of each other would be almost as high as Uluru (Ayers Rock) while 9 Mount Wycheproofs stacked on top of each other would mean you could step out of the 102nd floor observatory of the Empire State building and onto the top of the stacked mountains. The spire of the famous building would still be visible towering 60 metres above the strange view of 9 small mountains teetering precariously on each other.
Some Communities really take immense pride in their public spaces, and Wycheproof is no exception. The boys really enjoy the well manicured open spaces, kicking the ball around for 30 minutes or so, while I walk around and read the memorial plaques for the various wars in which locals paid the ultimate sacrifice. Reading these you really get a sense of the impact these events have on small communities, where generations may be lost in some tragic cases. Two men sharing the same last name, who you could assume to be brothers, dies in World War II, obviously devastating a family, while two Warnes a generation apart were killed…one in World War I, the other in World War II. It’s a very poignant reminder of the cost of defending a way of life, while we still have troops serving in foreign theatres of battle.
After a belly full of food, and the kids energy reserves drained some, we pile back into the car and continue south, with 3 hours left to drive.
The next town we enter along the Calder Highway is Charlton, and a sign on the Avoca River as we cross it on the approach to the town reminds us that Charlton was heavily affected by the floods earlier in the year, as Tropical Cyclone Yasi crossed into Australia and wreaked a rain swept havoc across the driest continent in the World. The previous prosperity and sense of ease is forgotten as residents are forced to hand write pleas to insurance companies on make-shift banners in front yards, as the community fights big business for the funds to rebuild wrecked lives. It seems that events other than war also help shape the bonds of these rural towns, as neighours rally to support each other in the face of cold hearted insurers some 10 months after losing everything.
Living in Queensland, in the direct path of Cyclone Yasi, we experienced every minute of it’s impact and devastating after effects, as well as the horrific floods earlier in the year that wiped out towns in the Lockyer Valley, and this was a reminder that the impact of 2011’s floods were so much greater and more wide-spread than I could imagine. Thinking about what those people in Charlton are going through, and knowing it’s a scene being repeated in many small communities across Australia, really put a damper on my spirits as I saw the town shrink slowly behind me in the rear view mirror.
Slowly landmarks and sites become more familiar as we bypass Bendigo and Kyneton on the way through the Macedon Shire. Familiar rivers, such as the Campaspe and Coliban are crossed, while Mount Macedon and Hanging Rock appear on our left as we pass through Woodend and Gisborne before the view of Melbourne appears ahead as we crest Mount Aitken and turn off the highway into Sunbury.
Just after 4pm we pull up in front of my sisters house in Sunbury, and all pile out of the car gleefully, knowing we can unpack and unwind without having to move on in the morning. A wonderful greeting by my 3 year old niece is just the welcoming committee we needed after 6,000km’s on the road, and we slowly settle all of our gear inside before enjoying a nice BBQ dinner.
It’s been a remarkable trip so far, with some amazing sights and unforgettable experiences. As I settle into bed, I close my eyes and think about the days ahead. Christmas is just around the corner, and tomorrow is the only real shopping day we have ear marked. Still, what better place to do it in, right?