Tongues, boats and killer whales (Welcome to NSW)

DSC_8083_editGreetings from New Zealand! I’m sorry there’s been a week of silence over here, internet access has been a little sparse and when I was able to upload and download to my heart’s content all my clever words deserted me. And most of the not so clever ones too. So to make up for it I think I’ll do a bumper travel update over the next couple of days. And I also have some sewing-related ramblings in the works too, so watch this space.

A lot has happened since we left Melbourne. We rejoined the Prince’s Highway heading east along the coast towards Sydney, and after a long grey day of driving we washed up in the town of Lakes Entrance. Which I’m sure is lovely, but the cold, the rain, a terrible bottle of local Shiraz and a motel room that positively honked of mothballs somewhat took the shine off it. We woke the following morning to yet more drizzle and grey skies, stowed our camphor-reeking possessions into the car and took a(nother) little detour from the main drag to enliven the journey. Chris found an off-road touring map at the tourist information, so we dived down a little side road that gradually turned into a pitted, bumpy track. I hung on grimly as our little 4×4 worked its diff-lock magic up the steep bits, and Chris in the driving seat had a wonderful time (needless to say).

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DSC_0336_editAs we crossed the border into New South Wales the thick grey cloud and drizzle suddenly dissipated, and we sped down the hill towards our next stop in beautiful afternoon sunshine. The port town of Eden has white sand beaches lapped by clear blue waters and fringed with lush green forest.

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DSC_0354_editAlso there are Portuguese man o’ war washed up on the beach. So friggin’ cool.

Eden also has a fascinating history as one of the major whaling towns in southern Australia throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. This is almost entirely due to the killer whales of Eden, a pod of local orcas that were documented actually assisting the whaling vessels in the hunting of large baleen whales.

DSC_8095_editPrior to the European settling of the area there are reports of orcas assisting aboriginal hunters to catch baleen whales. The aboriginal people believed that the whales were the spirits of their warrior ancestors, who had returned to provide them with food during the difficult summer months. While the hunters took the whale meat and oil from the carcass, the orcas only wanted the lips and tongue, which the aboriginals would cast into the sea for them once the whale was slain. When the settlers arrived and began whaling from the port of Eden, many aboriginal men were recruited to the whaling boats and the “Law of the Tongue” continued. The whalers would attach a bouy to the body of the slain whale to mark its position and leave it in the water so that the orcas could feed, returning to it the following day to haul the remainder back to the shore.

DSC_0382_editBut the orcas did not just hang around waiting to be fed; in fact they took an active role in assisting the whaling ships. At one time a pod of around 36 killer whales roamed throughout the bay, and during the annual whale migrations they would work together to isolate and trap individual animals. While the main pod corralled the terrified whale to prevent it from escaping, two others would swim to Eden to alert the whalers by splashing their fins and leaping from the surface. They would swim with the boats out to the trapped whale, sometimes grabbing the ropes and pulling the boats along in their excitement and impatience. They would also play an active part during the hunt, leaping onto the whale itself to drown it and even grabbing the harpoon lines to slow the animal down so that the humans in the boats could strike the fatal blow.

DSC_0370_editBecause of the local aboriginal belief that the orcas were the returned spirits of their ancestors, all of the animals were given names and individuals were recognisable by their different dorsal fins. The most famous of these whales was “Old Tom” (who in reality was probably no more than 35 years old). He was believed to be the leader of the pod of killer whales up until his death in 1930, when his body was found in the bay. Tom is such a significant figure in local history that his death made the headlines, and his skeleton has been preserved in the Eden Killer Whale Museum. After his death the killer whales did not return to Eden and the whaling industry, which has already been in decline due to reduced numbers of whales, collapsed.

old tom edenOn this side you can see where Tom’s teeth are worn down to the nub through grabbing the whaling boats’ ropes to pull them along.

Today of course countries around the world (with a few notable exceptions) including Australia have banned commercial whaling along with the sale and consumption of whale products, and now instead of thriving on their slaughter Eden has been named as one of the best places to see wild whales in Australia. Sadly we visited out of whale migration season, but we still enjoyed a boat excursion around the bay, and popping by the fish cleaning stations at nearby Quarantine Bay to watch Sammy the local seal and a couple of enormous sting rays hoover up discarded fish guts, fins and tails.

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DSC_8100_editAs always, Chris has been much more speedy about getting his posts up, so if you want to read ahead about our NSW adventures you can find all the craic here.

But if you want longer, more wordsome travel thinks without the spoilers then stick with me. You only have to wait until tomorrow! (Internet permitting).

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Five fabulous things about Melbourne

DSC_0067_editAs this post goes up, Chris and I are on our way to the pub in a little town in New South Wales called Huskissen. Since leaving Melbourne around a week ago we have been making our lazy way along the stunning coast of NSW, stopping for an amazing long weekend in Malua Bay with my cousin, her partner and their two adorable doggies. We ate prawns on the beach at sunset, swam at some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life, and I rode a mountain bike for the first time. But more on that story later, because I still have to spare a little internet space to celebrate the kooky hippy that is Melbourne.

Chris and I are not really city people. Too noisy, too populous and not enough green space. But Aussie cities seem to agree with us, in short bursts. Adelaide was super because the entire city centre is ringed by protected parks, and the whole place has a great relaxed vibe to it. Melbourne likes to dress posh, with shiny skyscrapers and a suave city attitude, but underneath she is a beach bum with a passion for food, just like us. I’ve heard that Sydney can be more like London – unnecessarily hectic and work-oriented, but that is all to look forward to. Here are five things that we loved about the Victoria capital.

Festivals, festivals, festivals

During our first day of exploring central Melbourne Chris and I stumbled upon a sustainability fair, featuring an eco home, an electric car display, and a rapping compost heap.

DSC_0063_editSee? I poo you not.

Chris works in sustainability and is the biggest save-the-world hippy you will ever meet, so he loved it. And I loved it because I am also a save-the-world hippy, I appreciate a compost heap that can bust rhymes as much as the next gal, and because some glorious person or persons unknown had friggin’ YARN BOMBED the surrounding trees. Gotta love a good yarn bomb.

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FOOD

After grooving along to the funky compost we stumbled across a Greek food festival in Lonsdale Street. Eeerrrhhmaahghaad souvlaki omnomnomnomnom. And liquid nitrogen ice cream for afters. None of which got photographed because we were too busy eating it at the time and getting lamb chunks everywhere.

DSC_0065_editBut Chris did get a cheeky snap later on of me with a steaming bowlful of pad thai from a stall on the Southbank.

DSC_0072_editOur AirBnB hostess directed us towards the Chinese New Year food stalls near the casino, so we watched dragon dances and drumming demonstrations while chowing down on pad thai, fried rice cakes and char sui pork buns.

DSC_0071_editAnd if all that wasn’t enough the following day we found our way to Degraves Street for brunch. French toast for me yes please thank you very much om nom nom nom. I really need to get some surfing done now, I have a Melbourne food baby.

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Strictly Ballroom, the musical

I shouldn’t admit this in Australia, but I don’t really rate Baz Lurhman that much. Except for Strictly Ballroom, the greatest movie ever.

DSC_0343_editMy Australian relatives periodically sent us DVDs of classic Australian films (Adventures of Priscilla, Breaker Morant, Picnic at Hanging Rock), and when we were given this one I watched it obsessively. Time After Time is my frigging jam.

DSC_0345_editI didn’t even know that it was a musical until we got off the tram at Flinders Street Station and saw a giant billboard ad for it. Chris took a deep breath (because he hates musicals but is a wonderful husband) and said we should go to the theatre to enquire about matinee tickets. We snagged two grand circle seats for a performance that afternoon, and it was wonderful. I got so teary at the end when Doug asks Shirley to dance! I really hope that the show transfers to the UK at some point, because then I can go and see it all over again.

Tessuti

I’m a fabric hound in the big city, so this had to happen. After our epic brunch antics, Chris and I wondered back up Flinders Lane to Tessuti. I deposited Chris on the husbands and boyfriends chair, and set to browsing their beautiful assortment of linens. It’s such a lovely, bright, airy space, and everything is beautifully displayed.

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DSC_0341_editThe prices are the same as the UK, so I was very restrained and bought myself one pattern – the Laura Pants – and a beautiful white and blue striped linen to make them in. This project has just jumped to the top of the list for when I get home in April. I reckon they’ll be amazing for UK summer with a plain white shirt or tee, and some simple flat sandals.

The Formula 1 circuit

I would be a poor wife indeed if I didn’t mention this. Melbourne is getting ready to host the season opener on March 15th, so the hoardings are going up, the grandstands are being built and the gravel traps are under construction.

DSC_0026(1)_editWe drove along the start/finish straight, which was still open to the public, not once, not twice, but three times. I love the F1 too, but not as much as Chris, who adores everything from the race itself to the seriously technical differences between the cars. So it makes me pretty happy to see him so giddy!

What motivates you to sew?

DSC_0330_editNot so very long ago, sewing was a matter of necessity. For the vast majority of women being able to sew a garment was the difference between keeping your family warm and everyone freezing to death in the winter. For that reason I can completely understand those who associate home sewing with domestic servitude, something that women have rightly abandoned in favour of more liberating pursuits. Nowadays, and thank goodness, we have dishwashers, washing machines, and Marks and Spencer. Sewing has become a casual pastime rather than an essential domestic skill, and as a result the motivations for picking up needle and thread have changed too, and become all the more diverse and interesting for it. Just browsing through a handful of sewing blogs reveals a myriad range of motivations, from sustainability and fashion ethics through to a simple love of creativity. For some an entirely handmade closet is a badge of pride, while for others their handmade pieces sit comfortably side by side with purchased garments.

So what are my sewing motivations? Making my own clothes was a natural combination of my love of making and my unashamed wardrobe obsession. I am fascinated by the intricacies of the fashion industry, the design process, the history and evolution of trends, fashion as a means of self expression, as an art form, and now that has extended to the construction of the garments themselves. Ultimately I want to be able to turn the designs I see in my head into real, wearable clothes and patterns. If it wasn’t sewing and dressmaking it would be something else. I always have to be making something.

But I am equally enthralled by the design and making process for a fashion brand as I am by my own, and as a result my approach to shopping is so very different now to what it was two years ago. Whereas I used to revel in a £50 splurge on the high street every other week, these days I tend to limit myself to buying one new item every couple of months. I am extremely wary of high street fashion chains and cheap clothes, for the simple reason that I am not willing to accept the inordinately high human cost of fast fashion. This is another sewing motivation – if I make my clothes myself I know exactly who made them, how long it took, and how much swearing was involved.

(Of course, home sewing is not a solution to fashion sweatshops per se, just an alternative. And don’t even get me started on how the fabrics we use are produced, or how and where sewing machines and sewing consumables are made. I don’t think that home sewing is necessarily a solution to all that is wrong with modern clothing production, but it certainly places more ethical control in the hands of the consumer than fast fashion does.)

While buying designer or high end is no guarantee of production ethics, buying from smaller brands who manufacture closer to home can be a positive start. For this reason I am happy to save up for what I buy; I would rather save for a £150 pair of trousers from Charlie May then rush out now and buy something similar from H&M. I use Charlie May as a particular example (no, I am not sponsored, although don’t I wish) because as well as being a designer, she is also a well-respected fashion blogger. Through her blog her customers can gain a fascinating insight into the motivations and inspirations behind each collection. I love watching how the look of her brand evolves with each new season. That for me is worth saving up for and supporting.

But equally, if I see a garment that I think I could make for myself, then I go for it. It’s a little perverse rule of mine that I am not allowed to buy anything that I could easily make for myself. Neoprene sweatshirts for example. I felt that a simple sweatshirt was probably within my sewing abilities (ah, the confidence of a new overlocker), so I bought some fabric and went for it. The result is one of my favourite wardrobe pieces to date, and one I will make again and again. These days I am not allowed to buy breton tops and a-line skirts, and I’d feel pretty weird buying pyjama trousers. This year I want to add a good tee pattern to the ‘no go’ list, and maybe a trouser pattern or two.

So there you have it, I think my habits can be summed up as a simple love of the creative process mixed with fashion obsession and a need to do my version of the right thing.

What motivates you to create?

 

Out on the Ocean Road

DSC_0236_editThe mighty Princes Highway extends southwards from Adelaide, stretching almost 2,000km around the southern coast of Australia to Sydney, and has been our semi-constant companion since we left Adelaide last week. However, for one short 243km stretch of Victoria coastline, we broke away along the Great Ocean Road, frequently branded as one of those bucket list lifetime road trip deals. This was our route between Adelaide and Melbourne. And I have to say that it pretty much lives up to the reputation.

From Adelaide we made our way south through the towns of Meningie and Mount Gambier, where we spent the night in gaol. Not for any misdemeanors, but because the old Mount Gambier gaol has been converted into a hostel cum guest house, with the original cells converted into bedrooms. The accommodation is simple and comfortable, our hosts were incredibly welcoming, and if you are ever passing through I thoroughly recommend it.

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DSC_0163_editWatch out for the inmates though, they’re a truculent lot.

DSC_0172_editMount Gambier’s other claim to fame is its stunning Blue Lake. No matter the time of day the lake is always the bluest shade of blue that ever blued in blue town. The colour may be something to do with the limestone rocks in the volcanoe crater beneath, but no one is entirely sure. Take that science.

DSC_0183_editWe broke our next day’s journey at a small town called Portland, and had a leisurely drive out to Cape Nelson, where there is a lighthouse, and Cape Bridgewater, where there is a spectacular petrified forest. The “forest” is actually a series of ancient limestone chimneys that look remarkably like preserved trees, but it is nonetheless dramatic. Huge waves come rolling in from the Southern Ocean, crashing back on each other to create great plumes of spray.

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DSC_0225_editOh, and we saw another echidna.

DSC_0203_editSo shy compared with the first one!

We also realised that we hadn’t taken any classic jumping shots. Also we’d just had a massive slice of cake in the Cape Nelson cafe and were feeling caffeinated and silly!

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DSC_0216_editPort Fairy was our next stop, where we splashed out on a night and a meal in the Merrijig Inn. Oh yes, it really was that twee. But in a kind of wonderful way. Where most hotels give you a door hanger for privacy, this place gave you a stuffed pig – a privacy pig. Ours was named Prudence.

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DSC_0199 (2)_editWe enjoyed a delicious meal and some amazing home brew wine in the hotel restaurant, and went to bed drunk, happy and early. The following day we blazed through Warrnambool, broke away from the Princes Highway and joined the Great Ocean Road.

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DSC_0274_editThe first section of the road is, in a word, a little dull. We drove down to Port Campbell through mile after mile of farmland and plantation with barely a glimpse of the sea, although along the way there were places to park up and look at the spectacular coastal rock formations. These got progressively busier and busier throughout the day, until we reached the Twelve Apostles and had to circulate looking for a spot to park. Since we had gotten used to passing no more than two cars during an entire day’s driving, entire coachloads of other tourists was a bit of a culture shock. We skidaddled out of the car park, via an unfortunate interaction between the front bumper of our hire car and a wooden post (thank goodness for insurance) and snuck off the sealed road in search of some peace and quiet.

The unsealed “Old Ocean Road” is a handy slowcut for anyone looking to cut the corner after Princeton, following the Gellibrand river inland almost to the Great Otways National Park. We dawdled along in beautiful peace, accompanied only by the occasional flock of crimson rosellas. Once we rejoined the main drag the road climbs away from the coast up through the Otways, a mountainous rainforested region of dramatic twisting roads that I’m ashamed to say I slept through almost entirely. I awoke as we rejoined the coast and made our way to Apollo Bay, our next stop.

Apollo Bay is a cute little town of surfers and holidaymakers wedged between the Otways on one side and the ocean on the other. From here the journey was seriously spectacular, and everything we’d been given to understand this route would be. The road hugged the cliff edge in a series of twists and turns, giving dramatic ocean views in the early sunshine. We parked up frequently to watch the intrepid Saturday morning surfers.

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At Lorne, someway up the coast, we took another little deviation to visit Erskine Falls, and from there went on another lengthy slowcut that took us through exciting back roads and finally back into Lorne, about 100m further along the road from where we started. Totally worth it.

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tumblr_njusqya5Oo1u6rsg7o4_1280I was actually quite sad to arrive into Melbourne. We’d had a fun few days as explorers on the road, and suddenly having to navigate a city again with no trees or visible ocean felt very strange. We stayed near St. Kilda (good old AirBnB) and staggered down to the seafront for dinner on Valentines’ Day. Apparently V-Day involves dressing up as a pirate or a mermaid, at least in St. Kilda, and I got to utter the immortal words, “Don’t look now, but I think a drunk pirate is riding an inflatable dolphin down the street.”

But more on our Melbourne adventures later. Would I do the Great Ocean Road again? Absolutely.

 

Kangaroo Island #2: the invisible kangas

“Excuse me,” demanded the woman who marched up to the main desk in Flinder’s Chase National Park office on Kangaroo Island. She had a pompous, patronizing air about her that endeared her no end to the harassed and overheated person manning the desk. “Excuse me. Where can we see actual kangaroos?”

DSC_0379_editSadly I didn’t stick around to hear the response to this question, but the question amused me no end as it perfectly demonstrated the strange entitlement that some people show when it comes to wildlife. Animals and birds don’t bumble around in the undergrowth waiting to put on a show for tourists, no matter how much money they’ve spent, but somehow this fact seems to pass many people by. And while there is the argument to be made that naming an island ‘Kangaroo’ does imply a certain abundance of leaping marsupials, it is surprisingly difficult to see ‘actual kangaroos’ without making a little effort. Living ones anyway. Sadly, we saw plenty as road kill. Kangas are most active at dawn and dusk when the temperatures are cooler, and unless you are out and about early or late, or visit the major wildlife park on the island where the animals are in enclosures and sightings are pretty much guaranteed, you are actually quite unlikely to see them.

DSC_0373_editWhen we set out on our walk through Flinder’s Chase National Park, a short bumble through the bush to some known platypus burrows, we had no particular expectations of seeing animals. However, we set out nice and early on a cool overcast morning, we walked slowly and quietly, and kept an eagle eye out for the slightest movement in the bushes and trees. And we were very lucky. A 4.5km walk that should have taken two hours tops turned into a four hour wildlife extravaganza.
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DSC_7997_editWithin 100m from the visitors’ centre we came across two kangaroos having a leisurely breakfast, and by the time we made it to the platypus pools the tally had risen to five kangaroos, two koalas and a hoard of various small birds. During the summer months when water levels drop and pools dry up, platypus tend to enter a state of torpor and are even harder to see than normal. But in the bushes near one of the pools, Chris encountered this guy.DSC_8049_edit

DSC_8037_editThis adorable ball of spikes is an echidna, one of only two extant monotreme (egg-laying) mammals in the world, the other being the platypus. Normally they are quite shy of humans, curling up into a ball or running away. But this guy was completely chilled out, bumbling right up to the edge of the path, using its front paws to tear into an ant nest and hoovering up the insects with its straw-like beak.

DSC_8043_editActually, I learned a fun echidna fact the other day. The female lays an egg that she carries around in a pouch on her belly. When the baby echidna hatches it rides around in the pouch until it is old enough to be left in a burrow while its mother goes hunting. The official name for a baby echidna is a puggle. Yes, a puggle. I pretty much died from cute overload.