Wollongong

The road is wet and slippery from the fog as I descend from the highlands toward Wollongong. The sun is starting to come and makes the road shiny on this Saturday morning.

Wollongong spreads over a coastal lowland from Albion Park in the south to the sea cliffs near Royal National Park. The green landscape gives way to urban areas that spill into the shallow valleys that run down the sea. Wollongong is Australia’s seventh largest city, with its development based around coal mines, steel works and shipping port.

Originally this region was covered by rainforest from the coastal plain to the escarpment. A search for new pastures brought the early European settlers and led to the establishment of the south coast dairy industry. But it was the discovery of coal seams that attracted the most interest and meant that Wollongong – based on an Aboriginal word for ‘sound of the sea’ – grew into something more than just a small fishing port.

Much of the growth in population in the region happened from the 1950s to 1970s to create a string of suburbs that housed workers for the steel mill as well as Sydney commuters. It is this blend of working class, agricultural and urban landscape, I think, that gives Wollongong its unique atmosphere.

I find my way through the traffic to the University of Wollongong. My destination for today is to attend a writing workshop and I am impressed with the clean, modern look of the uni. I think I could spend the rest of my life just studying at different universities! The workshop today is on ‘Reflective Writing’ and as I park the car I’m looking forward to learning some new skills.

I have half an hour up my sleeve so time for a quick coffee and write a blogpost then off to find the lecture theatre!

 

 

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Menangle

The traffic was busy on the freeway heading south of Sydney. Once this area had been all farms and scrub but it is now one of the fastest growing satellite urban areas in Australia.

When I was a baby my family lived for a short while in the village of Menangle. My earliest memories come from here – the hallway in our house by the railway line; walking with my mother as we took my sisters to the small school near the hill where the church looked over the village; trains rumbling by through the night and the light throwing shadows on my bedroom walls.

This area was one of the first settled by Europeans in Australia. Its rich soils provided verdant pastures that made the area a food bowl for the young colony. John Macarthur was granted land here in 1805 and even today there is still a strong colonial presence in the names of the villages, roads and farms in this region.

At first I missed the turn toward Menangle after leaving Camden but I soon found my way back to the correct road. The spring sunshine was warm and I took my time to enjoy the scenery. Before long I was at Menangle and after parking the car near the old corner shop I found myself walking toward my old home.

Menangle is an Anglicised version of an Aboriginal word for place of swamps. Not far from here there had been bitter skirmishes between the settlers and the Dharawal people on the banks of the Nepean River. Governor Macquarie ordered troops to the area and they soon opened fire on a group of Aborigines, killing men, women and children.

I bought a pie from the corner shop and sat outside to enjoy my lunch. It felt strange to think that I had once been in this very place as a baby. By my family had left here a long time ago and new people call Menangle home. As I climbed back into the car I realised I hadn’t found what I was looking for here. The essence of who I have become must be somewhere else.

Richmond and Windsor

It was never a place a had really visited before. As a child I passed through Richmond and Windsor countless times on family holidays to the coast but we rarely stopped. To me it was just the place at the foot of the Blue Mountains. I was usually feeling pretty car sick by then, after the winding mountain road, so I never paid much attention to the old sandstone buildings or green river flats.

The Hawkesbury River forms where the Grose and Nepean Rivers join just to the west of Richmond. It then meanders to the north before turning a big bend at Wiseman’s Ferry and heading toward the sea. Because the early European settlers were a maritime people it the was the deep waters of the Hawkesbury River that allowed early settlement of this fertile area. The first settlers called this place Green Hills and it later became the major regional centre of a mixed farming district that saved the early colony from starvation.

But the idyllic pastures that surround this district today hide the ugly truth of Australia’s colonial past. Settlement of this area came at a huge cost for the Aboriginal people and was one of the first sites open conflict against the European invaders. European farms interrupted the open landscape and regular hunting and foraging the Aboriginals were familiar with. They took to attacking livestock and sometimes, when confronted, the settlers themselves. In reprisal the military hunted and arrested as many as they could round up.

It’s a Saturday morning and the shopping crowd bustles around me as I sit in a cafe sipping on a hot Chai latte. I’m reading The Colony: A history of Early Sydney  by Grace Karskens. I feel like it brings the history alive to read this in the same place where so much happened. Our past saddens me. As a nation we have done so little to repair what was done by earlier generations. I feel guilty because I’m part of that, a white girl that can never really understand what it is like to know your ancestors were hunted and pushed out of their country.

I finish my Chai and take five dollars from my bag. The old Aboriginal guy that is busking in the mall nods and says ‘thank you’ as I drop the note into his guitar case. There has to be more I can do.

Road trip to the Gold Coast – day 3

It was time to head home from the Gold Coast and I wanted to get as far as I could in one day. Stephanie and I set off on our next adventure after having a quick breakfast and we were soon on the highway heading south. It was a Saturday morning and the traffic was pretty light as we soon found ourselves back in New South Wales. With the new freeway you hardly notice the difference from one state to the next – there isn’t even a sign to say you’re leaving Queensland.

After crossing the Tweed River we flew past fields of sugar cane and coastal scrub. This was a trip I had done so many times as a child in the backseat of mum and dad’s car that I could nearly recite the order of towns and rivers that we passed. Of course, most of those towns are bypassed by the new freeway so it is a much quicker trip than the one I remember. ‘Just hang on until the next town,’ dad would say every time someone mentioned a toilet stop. Or my favourite, trying to catch glimpses of the sea as the road wound around the hills.

Off to the right was Brunswick Heads, then Byron Bay, Ballina, then Woodburn. After nearly three hours down the road we stopped for morning tea at Ulmarra. A cute little park by the Clarence River, complete with bats hanging from the trees and water dragons sunning themselves.

No time for sunning myself today, it was back on the highway and whizzing past Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Nambucca Heads, Macksville and Kempsey. Then another quick stop for lunch and catch up on phone messages. What would we do without technology?

After nearly eight hours on the road we were both getting tired so we decided to pull into the next town. This happened to be a little place called Karuah on the banks of the river of the same name.

The name ‘Karuah’ was based on an Aboriginal word for ‘plum tree’ and it’s another place I remember from my childhood. Back then it was a busy highway crossing over the river. We often stopped here for lunch while the traffic roared across the bridge. It was the sort of place you caught glimpses of other families lunching in the park before everyone piled back into their cars and disappeared down the highway.

Stephanie and I booked into a nice, cosy little motel for the night. It was nothing fancy but the lady in the office was friendly and that makes all the difference to me. Then we discovered the most gorgeous fish and chips I have ever had! We sat by the edge of the water and ate our crumbed flathead while I reminisced to Steph about the times we had stopped here when I was young. It is peaceful now, beautiful in a way I had never noticed before. I could have sat there by the river all night if Stephanie had let me. But we had another long drive tomorrow and I let Steph lead me back to the motel.

Until next time, safe travels

Molly xx

Road trip to the Gold Coast – day 3

Just before all the excitement of the Commonwealth Games I arrived on the Gold Coast in the bright sunshine. Of course, I was here for the swimming mainly but there is such a contrasting atmosphere in this place that I could already feel the excitement building. My motel was across the road from the Aquatic Centre so it was a short walk to the pool each day where I saw some amazing swimming.

Even though I was here to support my friends in their attempts to qualify for the Commonwealth Games (they didn’t but they tried their best!) there was still some time to enjoy myself wandering the streets of Southport and Main Beach. I find this place such a contrast because it has an air of holiday relaxing coupled with the hustle and bustle of a large population rushing about their daily business. A lot of the activity involved construction in preparation for the Commonwealth Games but it also made me wonder what it must be like to live and work in a holiday area. How strange that must be!

Tall buildings, Wet n Wild, beaches, marinas, bikini girls, surfers in board shorts, sunshine, sand, shops, shops, shops! There is so much of the Gold Coast it is almost overwhelming. One of the things that intrigued me was the mix of old and new. So much of this place is shiny and new and just waaay over the top, and then there is a little shop or an older building tucked away and refusing to change. These older things made me happy to know the Gold Coast wasn’t just about urban development, but I could see it disappearing.

Until tomorrow, happy travels,

Molly xx

Road trip to the Gold Coast – day 2

After a long day of driving over the mountains yesterday I woke refreshed to see the sun just rising over the horizon. I left Stephanie sleeping and went for a stroll around the grounds of the motel to check out my surroundings. It was so beautiful now it had stopped raining and in the daylight I could see were on the edge of a beautiful green valley.

I woke my sleepy-headed friend and we decided to drive down to Bellingen for breakfast. The Waterfall Way lived up to its name with plenty of water splashing down the gullies after last nights rain. It made me feel light and happy.

Bellingen is a river town that began its life as a service centre for the pioneer cedar-getters. The town later became known for shipbuilding and dairy farming. Now Bellingen is a beautiful and historic-looking town that has been well preserved by it’s community. Wandering through town I see a mix of bohemian, hippy and farming-types living together.

The town is just waking is Stephanie and I find a cute little cafe for breakfast by the side of the Bellinger River. Bacon and egg roll to fill an empty tummy and conversation with my best friend soon has a big smile on my face. I could stay in Bellingen forever to enjoy its music and atmosphere.

We are back on the road and after before I know it we have arrived at Grafton. I haven’t ever really stopped in Grafton before so we decide to pull over and wander the main street. Apart from the amazingly wide Clarence River, there isn’t much to see in Grafton. Even though it is still bustling I feel it has the air of a town that had already seen its hey-day.

Next stop was Bangalow. This is one of my favourites places on the planet. It is beautiful little town just inland from Byron Bay and it has a real sub-tropical feel. It’s a kind of classy hippy place where the boho dresses have price tags that make me gasp. I love looking though!

Lunch in the park under the leafy bangalow palms and then it’s a short drive to Southport on the Gold Coast. That is for another day, so until then safe travels.

Molly xx

Road trip to the Gold Coast: day 1

My goal was to drive to the Gold Coast as quickly as I could. No time for sightseeing along the way. No time to stop and enjoy the varied colours of life in country Australia. I was on a mission and so was my travelling companion. Stephanie had been training hard and was about to swim in the Australian trials for the Commonwealth Games team. I was there for moral support and to share the driving. And I could never turn down an offer of a trip anywhere!

We left my parent’s house in Orange after breakfast and drove north. A quick hop across to Molong, Wellington and Gulgong before we stopped for a morning tea break. It was windy – really windy! and there were signs of rain ahead. Stephanie and I hopped back in the car to eat our snacks because it was too cold. Some cars and trucks roared past on the highway. In the distance was the Liverpool Ranges and threatening clouds. Closer to us a farm sat silently in between harvest and sowing season.

The rain started as we approached Tamworth and by the time we drove into town it was torrential. No point stopping for lunch and getting wet so we kept moving in the hope that the rain would stop. My tummy was grumbling more and more but the rain got heavier and heavier. Eventually hunger won out and we pulled over to the side of the road somewhere around Moonbi. The Moonbi Range is a steep ascent to the New England Plateau and it was good to have a break from driving, even if we had to sit in the car because it was too wet and getting freezing cold.

Armidale approach in early afternoon and we decided it was too early to stop. So we pushed on, hoping to make Grafton before nightfall. Did I mention the rain? I could hardly see the road by now as we snaked through national park toward Ebor. Grafton was still over an hour away and we were both getting tired so we decided to detour to Dorrigo and stop for the night.

Dorrigo started as a timber town; surrounded by mountains and forests. All I could see of it was the cloud that we were driving through. The road was windy and steep but eventually we arrived in town. That’s when we realised our mistake because there  was only one motel in town and we didn’t look the likes of it very much. As we sat in the car I was close to tears because we had come so far (8 hours of driving) and I didn’t know if I could go any further today. Stephanie was searching her phone when she thought there was a cabin park ahead. We drove on and missed the turn on a sharp hillside bend, had to find somewhere to turn around, drove back… and found the office was closed.

Luckily, though, a man came out of one of the buildings and was able to help us into one of the cabins for the night. The rain was still teeming down hard and had been joined by a gale force wind. After such a long day, can you imagine a log cabin, open fire and dinner cooked on the stove as the wind roared outside. Such luxury! I had a long hot shower and then promptly fell asleep!

I woke next morning to birds twittering and poke my head out the cabin door to be greeted by this spectacular scenery. The rain and wind had stopped and the sun was starting to appear through the clouds. I felt refreshed and ready for another day on the road.  I woke Stephanie (she is such a sleeper!) and soon we were on our way.

Until tomorrow, safe travels.

Molly xx

The pressure to perform

The main news story this week has been about the Australian cricket team and the ‘ball tampering’ issue. The outcry has left me amazed. Yes, it’s cheating. Did it affect the outcome of games? Judging by the result in favour of South Africa I would have to say no. Was it the worst thing to happen in the world this week? Was it worth the public humiliation and shaming of these three men? We pay our sportsmen huge money to perform and win (and yes, I deliberately excluded women because they aren’t being paid the big dollars). The pressure to win is immense. Seemingly, the penalties for losing exceed the rewards for winning. Is that what drives a grown man to scratch a cricket ball? Even our main government sports funding program is titled ‘The Winning Edge’. You must win at all costs. But step over that fine line and you will be publicly castrated. Sent home in shame to reflect on your evil ways. How dare Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft shatter the illusion that Australian cricket is above all others. Meanwhile, in the real world, war and poverty and inequality continue to thrive. But at least Cricket Australia has made a stand!

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