Victoria, Australia 5 - 26 June 2012

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June 25th 2012
Published: June 25th 2012
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We spent our last couple of weeks in Victoria touring around, mostly on day trips - the weather was getting colder and wetter - winter had arrived. We have not missed the cold on our travels and now here we were in Melbourne and they was experiencing the wettest and coldest May/June after 14 years with hardly any rain and severe drought conditions! Over the road from where we were housesitting a small stream had come up over the banks and was partly covering the pavement. It had risen so quickly after a day of rain you could actually see it rising. The football pitch and children’s playground were totally underwater. Our neighbours said ‘not to worry’ as it never gets any higher than the pavement - famous last words! The stream was actually part of a retarding basin, which are critical in built-up areas to help reduce the impact of floods - lets hope it does not get any higher!

When the sun came out we visited Wilson Botanic Park which was only minutes from the Monash Freeway but as you entered the park, via an oak lined driveway it was like being in the middle of the bush. It was difficult to imagine the park was an operational quarry from 1859 until the late 1970s producing some of the highest quality basalt in the Melbourne area. The transformation of the quarry site began in the late 1980s and is now a tranquil place with small walking tracks around a couple of picturesque lakes. We walked around the perimeter with outer views over the rooftops and inner views down to the lakes below all alive with the songs of birds.

The next day we visited The Australian Garden at Cranbourne which had a grand landscaped ‘red desert’ entrance with inland waterways and various display gardens, so different from those back home. Outside the gardens numerous bush tracks meandered around untouched heathlands, wetlands and woodlands. As we walked along one of the tracks we were startled by a large wallaby just feet away from us and as we watched it just continued to munch on the bushes and then we noticed several more nearby. The gardens and bush walks were covered in a variety of plants and trees including many Eucalyptus. These Australian plants were first taken to London in 1771 by Captain James Cook but remained unidentified for many years. A specimen was taken to the British Museum in London, where it was named Eucalyptus obliqua by a French botanist who was working in London at the time. He coined the generic name from the Greek roots eu and calyptos, meaning 'well' and 'covered', in reference to the operculum of the flower bud. We had not realised that there are more than 700 species of Eucalyptus, mostly native to Australia with only 15 species in other countries. Many of them are known as gum trees because they exude sap from any break in the bark.

One day our friend Ros who lived about 30 minutes away said that she would come to pick us up take us to meet her brother Peter and his wife Jill who lived nearer Melbourne. Her daughter had given her full directions and she also had a Satnav so we were hopeful that she would find us and that she would not get lost - if you read our last blog you will remember that Ros got us lost in Melbourne City and Echuca a few weeks ago. We finally got a telephone call from her and yes ‘she was lost’ but was ‘somewhere’ on the freeway near Fountain Gate (a shopping mall nearby). We said to get to the Mall and wait there as it was too difficult to explain how to get to us particularly as we did not know where she was. We drove up and parked nearby, it was Saturday and the roads were jammed with cars going to the newly re-opened mall. We waited for ages but she did not call back so we headed back ‘home’ but just as we arrived back she called to say that she was in the roof car park of the mall - the only spot she could find. So we turned around, parked the car a distance away from the chaos and managed to locate her on the top floor. We all just burst out laughing and Ros said, ‘here was she a ‘local’ unable to find us, thirty minutes away from her home and here we were ‘newcomers’ having travelled all around the world and finding her...............

We were late but we did finally arrive at Peter and Jill’s who made us feel very welcome and prepared us a lovely three course lunch. I asked Jill to join us on our next travels she was such a good cook but sadly she declined! We chatted about the time Ros and Peter had arrived in Australia with their parents and older brother in 1954, travelling on the ‘Ten Pound Pom’ ticket. An assisted passage scheme established by the Government of Australia to increase their population in return for subsidising the cost of travelling to Australia — adult migrants were charged only ten pounds for the fare (hence the name), and children were allowed to travel for free. The Government promised employment and a better lifestyle, however on arrival the expected job opportunities were not always readily available. Peter was only 8 and Ros was 5 when they left Wales for a new life in Australia which was to become their new home and where they both brought up their own families . Now their children’s children were third generation Australians. Peter could speak fluent Welsh when he arrived but ‘lost it’, so he later made the effort to re-learn the language of his ancestors and still feels strong ties to Wales. He could remember being bored on the ship but playing lots of games and Ros could only remember playing Quoits. Peter and Jill were both avid supporters of Melbourne Demons a local football team (Ozzy Rules that is) and have a ‘whole room’ decorated in black and white in their home dedicated just to them........... no Paul we are not going to have a ‘yellow and green’ room.......

One day we decided to visit both the Mornington Peninsula National Park and Port Nepean National Park about one and half hours drive (a short distance over here). On the way we stopped at Portsea the most westerly settlement on the Mornington Peninsula. Located on a thin strip of land just two kilometres in width and bordering Sorrento (no we are not in Italy!) it fronts both calm waters to the north and rugged surf beaches to the south. We walked along Portsea Pier on its front beach where some hardy locals were fishing - the wind was biting and it was really cold, so we did not stop long. Golden sandy beaches extended in both directions lined with a mixture of English trees and native bush - not a day for beaches though. We continued to Portsea’s back beach where it was not so windy and walked along the cliff to view London Bridge an amazing coastal rock formation. A notice board with a small painting of the scene was displayed on the edge of the cliff. It was part of Arts Nepean - the Peninsula has inspired the work of a number of famous artists, and one of the projects undertaken was to establish the Sorrento - Portsea's Artists Trail which aims to bring artists work to life by positioning images of the paintings as close as possible to the scene viewed by the artist. A really good idea and I hope my photograph turns out as good as the artist’s painting! We walked down the cliff face and along the sea front to the Bridge and sat and watched the waves lapping on the outer side.

We drove the short distance to Port Nepean National Park which is located at the very tip of the Mornington Peninsula, and has stunning coastal scenery and panoramic views of the Bass Strait, the Rip and Port Phillip Bay. Closed to the public for over 100 years Point Nepean is the site of two historic, 19th century landmarks - the Fortifications and the Quarantine Station that defended the Colony of Victoria against disease and foreign attack. We parked our car at the visitor centre (this is as far as you can go by car) and watched an interesting video on the history of the area before catching the park’s minibus along the single lane road to the tip of the park. The little bus stops at various points of interest and you can get off when you want but as it was winter there were not many return trips, so we decided to get the bus to the point and then walk back visiting the various points of interest on the way. If we got tired or too wet then perhaps we may be able to pick up the bus at some point!

If you are interested read on for a little bit more history on the area. During the 19th century the colonies of Australia were concerned about their external security. There were few resources for the protection of individual colonies once the British troops left in 1870, leaving defence in the hands of colonial governments. Officers from the British armed forces prepared reports on the ability of the colonies to provide for their defence, which included recommendations and plans for possible fortifications. These reports formed the basis of defence planning in Australia for the next 30 years and recommended that Port Phillip Bay should be defended by a battery and keep at Queenscliff, a fort at Point Nepean and batteries at Swan Channel Island.

Fortifications on Point Nepean included Fort Nepean, Eagles Nest, Fort Pearce and Pearce Barracks all of which we were able to visit on our walk. The purpose of this string of forts was to ensure that any attacking ships attempting to enter the bay would be under fire from a series of guns from the time they passed through the south and west channels. Fort Nepean was known in the 1880s as Victoria's 'Gibraltar' and in 1890 it was reported that Melbourne was the best-defended commercial city of the British Empire. The value of these defences was demonstrated on the declaration of the First World War when a German steamer, Pfalz, attempted to depart Port Phillip Bay but was forced to turn back after being fired upon by the batteries at Fort Nepean. It was the first shot fired by Australian forces in the conflict. Later it was also the site of the first shot fired in the Second World War.

After the bus dropped us off and returned to the visitor centre we strolled around the headland and fort. We were the only visitors and it was quite ‘eerie’ wandering around the fascinating labyrinth of nineteenth century tunnels and fortifications, some of them leading to unique displays outlining the above history as well as personal stories and war time memorabilia with sound tracks from the past echoing through the tunnels as we passed through. At the entrance to many of the tunnels wooden Arms Racks were still visible where the soldier’s rifles were held when they were on duty in the fort. We stopped outside and had a picnic overlooking Port Phillip Bay watching the ferry crossing between Sorrento and Queenscliff - a far cry from when it was the ‘home’ to the many soldiers defending their colony during the wars. You could see why it was such a strategic point as you could see all around for miles. We watched the ferry crossing the bay and remembered we had travelled on this ferry when we were in Australia last year before our journey on The Great Ocean Road with the company of a pod of Dolphins. Several tankers were waiting at the entrance for the ‘pilot boat’ to guide them through The Rip channel which was clearly visible at the entrance to the bay. As we sat a little honeyeater was singing a lovely tune in the shrub nearby but we were not sure what it was - later after researching on the internet we think it was called the Singing Honeyeater - a very appropriate name.

We started walking back along the peninsular crossing ‘the narrows’ which is where the single track road is only edged by the sea on both side leading from Fort Nepean. We stopped at Eagles Nest, Fort Pearce and Pearce Barracks where most of the buildings were gone but you could still see the Parade Ground and a map outlined the original barrack buildings on the edge of the cliff. We continued on and climbed up Cheviot Hill which is the park’s highest point and contains World War II fortifications. It overlooks Cheviot Beach where the steamer SS Cheviot was wrecked in 1887 and is also the site where former Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared without trace in December 1967, presumed drowned. He had gone to his favourite diving beach with some friends and had dived into the water and was never seen again. It was such an idyllic beach but the scene of so many tragedies - wrecks were in fact littered all around the area.

The waters around Port Phillip Heads have claimed over 180 vessels - I am not sure why we are all so fascinated by shipwrecks (Titanic) but each wreck tells a story of the vessel as well as the human stories of those on board. For those travelling on the steamer SS Cheviot their journey ended one stormy night on 19thOctober 1887 going through the Heads when her propeller broke and she was washed up against the rock platform. Although the life belts had been distributed, many of the passengers and crews were battered to death on the rocks - 24 of 50 people were saved. Only eight bodies were ever recovered but only three - Robert Saunders, James Kelly and William Foster could be identified and they were buried along with the others in a mass grave.

We walked on through the bush and arrived at the Cemetery where they had been buried. The cemetery which had been established in 1854 replacing an earlier quarantine station burial ground which had became unsuitable when beach erosion unearthed earlier burials. The graves in the cemetery were surrounded by white wooden fences (like little gardens) - the tombstones outlined how harsh life was back then. At the entrance a memorial plaque had been erected to those who lost their lives on the emigrant ship Ticonderoga.

Immigrants who sailed to Australia were often motivated by the possibility of wealth and opportunity. The promise of a new life was an inspiring factor for making this move. In Britain, grinding poverty in the 19th century was the primary force which lead immigrants to leave family behind and face the rigorous voyage to Australia aboard ship. One such ship, the Ticonderoga sailed from Liverpool on 4th August 1852 heading for Melbourne with the majority of passengers of Scottish descent. To meet the demands of immigration, the ship was fitted with double decks in order to accommodate 795 passengers and was extremely overcrowded leading to outbreaks of disease on the three month voyage. These ships became breeding grounds for disease; cholera, smallpox, typhoid, influenza and measles occurred in epidemics in the 1800s. By the time the Ticonderoga anchored off Portsea on 5th November 1852, 19 babies had been born, increasing the ships numbers but 100 passengers had died of scarlet fever and typhoid along the way.

The Ticonderoga was the first vessel to disembark immigrants at the newly built Point Nepean which was opened in 1852 as a maritime quarantine reserve to control and prevent the spread of diseases into Australia. The station is the second oldest intact quarantine station in Australia. Ships carrying passengers with infectious diseases were required by law to land all cases there along with those at risk of contracting the disease. Although the ship had arrived safely on Australia soil over 300 passengers were still very sick and many more were to die and are buried in the nearby cemetery.

We continued back down the track and shortly arrived at the Quarantine Stations itself. Though viewed as ominous places, these stations provided safety and shelter to those just off a rigorous voyage. Fears of smallpox and other diseases instilled paranoia in surrounding communities, and quarantine stations helped ease those anxieties by temporarily confining crew and passengers upon arrival to Australia. This incarceration was mandatory until medical professionals verified health conditions. We were able to wander freely around and had access to many buildings erected for quarantine purposes, including including accommodation blocks, hospitals and a large boiler house where luggage was fumigated with formaldehyde gas and passengers were required to take baths using antiseptic soap.

With the discovery of gold in 1851 the steady flow of immigrants continued and within a year nearly 100,000 people had arrived in Melbourne by sea. The isolation hospital and ward, constructed between 1916 and 1920, and the emergency influenza huts illustrate the bathing and disinfecting standards set by the Commonwealth during the First World War. Many soldiers returning home from overseas duty were required to be quarantined at Point Nepean after falling victim to the Spanish influenza pandemic. The Quarantine Station was finally closed in 1980.

We thoroughly enjoyed our ‘day out’ to Port Nepean which we had just expected to be a scenic coastal walk but we stumbled across so much interesting history we could have spent several days in the area and not seen it all. Later on the Channel 9 news, coverage showed close up pictures of two Humpback Whales. Where we had been sitting eating our picnic a mother and calf had entered the channel into Port Phillip Bay. The pair had spent several hours playing in the wake of the Ferry and circling boats, leaving the bay right where we had been standing an hour before! I had taken some pictures of the ferry and we think we can see a little black dot in the ‘wake’ - Paul said now we had seen Humpbacks we need not go to Hervery Bay now in July!

A couple of days later whilst relaxing after dinner my chair started to shake and Paul and I just looked at each other as the floor began to move as well and a noise like a huge train rattled through the house - we just couldn’t believe it. It stopped as suddenly as it had begun and we thought that maybe a plane had crashed nearby so had a quick look outside but then realised it must have been an earthquake. We checked the internet and after a few minutes reports started to come in saying strong tremors had ‘rocked’ Victoria. The earthquake had a magnitude of 5.3 and was almost 10 kilometres deep. People were reporting significant tremors from the suburbs of Melbourne all the way across the state of Victoria. You may remember that we had experienced a quake before on Boxing Day last year when we were in Christchurch, New Zealand which had a 4.9 magnitude so this one was bigger.... We had hoped that we would not have to experience one again but here we were just 18 months later. Later it was reported that this was the largest earthquake in Victoria for more than 109 years. We think it is definitely time we moved on........

Paul has just reminded me that today is the shortest day in Australia and it is the longest day in UK. In Melbourne it has been cold wet and windy and we have just heard on the news that its cold wet and windy in the UK as well............We had also just heard from our tenants in the UK and they want to extend their lease on our house in Winchester for a further year - so yet again we looked at each other (as we had done in the Cook Islands the previous year) and said ‘why not’ I guess we will have to keep travelling a while longer........... so have emailed the family to let them know.............

A few days later a break in the rain enabled us to travel to Phillip Island, reached by road bridge the island is 16 miles long and about 6 miles wide. We had visited last year to see a Koala Sanctuary but this time travelled to ‘The Nobbies’, a scenic headland overlooking the wild water of the Bass Strait - and it was really ‘wild’ today. Just offshore from the Nobbies was Seal Rocks an important breeding ground and nursery for over 20,000 Australian Fur Seals - the closest seal colony to a major city in Australia.

At the headland a purpose built Information Centre showcased the seals and the unique marine life found in the surrounding waters with many stories on life on the island. Outside a long boardwalk led us to a blowhole, which although the sea was rough was not that impressive. The views were though and the boardwalk kept people off the headland and helped to maintain the coastal vegetation as well as providing protection to the numerous Little Penguins and seabird colonies that call the island home. The penguin as the name suggests is the world’s smallest penguin species and the only penguin permanently found in Australia.

We undertook several walks but the wind was so strong it nearly blew your off the headland so we did not venture too far from the car! One track led down to a small beach and again everywhere there was ‘evidence’ of the Little Penguins with numerous sand dune burrows all around - although they were ‘not at home’ and fishing out at sea........ A little further on was Penguin Parade one of Australia’s most popular wildlife attractions where every sunset the penguins emerge from the sea and waddle across the beach. It was far to cold to wait until sunset to see them and as we had seem many before we continued on travelling through a town called Ventnor. Paul had lived at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight in Hampshire, UK as a child so we thought we would take a look to see if it was similar - but there was only a few houses, so we continued on to Cowes located on the northern side of Island and facing towards French Island.

Cowes was originally known as Mussel Rocks, it was re-named by Commander Henry Cox, a government surveyor in 1865, after returning from a holiday on the UK’s Isle of Wight. Many of the roads on Phillip Island are named after other towns and villages on the Isle of Wight, the island that inspired both town’s names and as we entered the town a sign indicated its friendship connections. A glorious tree lined avenue of Golden Cypress trees led into the town centre which ended with a gradual descent to the waterfront where we parked the car. The town jetty, built in 1870, was the main point of arrival for ferry passengers from the mainland before the bridge linking San Remo and Newhaven was opened in 1940. As we sat in the car watching the wind whip up the waves and blow foam across the pathways, it did remind us of the Isle of Wight and many other seaside towns in the UK in summertime!! We have many memories of sitting in the car overlooking a rough sea with parents and children.

Our last few days in Melbourne we visited Ros’s second daughter Vickie and her husband Phil, they had just returned from a long trip to the UK and thoroughly enjoyed their visit where they had managed to incorporate, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They had not been before and were amazed at seeing so much history and particularly enjoyed visiting our Cities, Castle, Cathedrals, Churches and ancient monuments including Stonehenge. They seemed to have done so much on their visit in a country which must have seemed quite small to them as it is not much bigger than the State of Victoria where they live but said they would love to return as they missed so much. It reminded me of the postcard that we had picked up on one of our trips where it showed Europe and the UK fitting inside the map of Australia and plenty of room to spare. We stayed and chatted exchanging travel tales on each others’ journeys and had a laugh about their ‘historic markers’ compared to ours! So it was time to say goodbye to our dear friend Ros which was so sad - we all got on so well and it had been good to see a little more of each other this time. Although she was going on a long journey herself to Europe and the UK in October we would sadly miss her as we were leaving for Costa Rica a few days before she arrives - but I know we will meet again sometime...........

Before we left we were invited ‘next door’ for coffee by Beverley who made us feel welcome and had prepared some delicous freshly made scones. She said that she loved Devonshire Cream Teas - but I am afraid they do not have Clotted Cream in Australia, only double! She kindly offered to give us a lift to the railway station for our next journey which was great, particularly as it was quite a ‘hike’ with ones luggage.

Well it is finally time to say goodbye to Victoria we have really enjoyed our second visit to this lovely State and cannot thank Bronwyn and Alan enough for inviting us to housesit in their lovely home. We are so going to miss the comfort of their well designed home. We are hoping to meet up with them again ‘somewhere’ in Queensland, as they are making their way back to Melbourne as we are making our way up to Cairns, so hopefully should meet somewhere - it is a big country though! We shall miss everyone who has made us feel so very welcome in Victoria, particularly Ros and even Tina the shop assistant in the large Coles Supermarket who remembered us each time we shopped. Tomorrow we fly to Sydney to meet up with Len and Gaye who we had last seen in Broome following our Kimberley Tour together last year for our next adventure and hopefully some sun - see you there.

Additional photos below
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27th June 2012

You're welcome
Just read your latest blog and caught up with all you have been doing in your last few days in Narre Warren. Weird to see 'us' at the end of it! We are really pleased that you have enjoyed your visit to Victoria and taken advantage of seeing more of our lovely state. Hope to see you up here in 'sunny' Queensland.
11th July 2012

Keep the sun for us
Hi you two - make sure you don't use up all the sunshine...... Cheers ?Silvernomads
27th June 2012

Wet & Cold
Good to hear your weather isn't much different from ours - wouldn't like to think you were having too good a time!! Very interesting reading about the quarantine station & enjoying the pictures you are posting too.
11th July 2012

Good to hear from you
Hi there - Great to hear from you and looking forward to catching up in the Autumn - hopefully it will be an Indian Summer! ?Silvernomads

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