VICTORIA

 

After weeks on the road exploring Iceland, the UK and France it was wonderful to get back home to Australia. Not that we intended to rest mind because we resolved to dedicate an episode to all the wonders of our home state of Victoria.

No matter how far and wide I travel I often have to remind myself that some of the most interesting experiences I can have are right here in my own backyard. The capital city of the State of Victoria is Melbourne, a large metropolis catering to a population of close to 5 million people.

Melbourne was first inhabited by Aboriginal Australians at least 30,000 years ago. Europeans began arriving in the area in 1801 with a small settlement created in 1803 and in 1835 the city of Melbourne was founded. Surveyor Robert Hoddle created the layout for Melbourne’s Central Business District opting for a grid system of major boulevards serviced by smaller back streets and small laneways. It is the laneways that we decided to focus our attention on because many of them have been transformed from service corridors to bustling culinary and artistic hubs that draw Melbournians back to the CBD.

Our tour of Melbourne laneways took us through iconic laneways like Hosier Lane, a mecca for street art creators, AC/DC lane with its tributes to the Australian band who filmed one of their first music film clips in the city’s main thoroughfare. Then onto the myriad of arcades starting with the beautiful Block Arcade with its classic Hopetoun tea rooms, Royal Arcade home to large carving of mythical figures Gog and Magog. One of my favourite lanes, Howie Place, feeds onto a tiny offshoot lane called Presgrave Place where the street art is framed, and Melbourne’s smallest exclusive bar can be found.

It was Centre Place that really struck a chord for me. I met with young homeless woman, Sarah, who brought home the reality that, for many people, life in a city this size is tough. Metres away we found a small kitchen/café that offers customers the opportunity to pay it forward by purchasing soup vouchers for anyone in need.

The laneways of Melbourne were captivating, full of energy and life.

Next, we decided to ascend to the rooftops of the city to chase the amazing views they can offer of the bustle below and it was there we noticed something very unusual – bee hives! Rooftop Honey have been utilising the rooftops of various Melbourne buildings since 2010 to cultivate honey and work to save honey bees from threats of disease and reduced habitat by bringing bees back to the city and suburbs. It was fascinating examining the hives up close and the honey produced by Matt and Vanessa and their team is sensational to the taste.

Other delights dwell on top of buildings in Melbourne. Rooftop Cinema, atop Curtin House, provides a movie experience like now other – watching iconic movies whilst lolling in deckchairs enjoying a drink, under the stars and surrounded by the lights of Melbourne’s tallest buildings.

Then there is Notel, 4 beautifully appointed Airstream caravans available for short term rental again on the roof top of a Melbourne carpark.

There was no doubt that Melbourne’s hidden secrets gave me a new perspective on the city I love, and I know I had only scratched the surface!!!

 

The Great Ocean Road is internationally recognised as one of the great road journeys in the world. Stretching 243 kilometres, the winding two lane road meanders along the spectacular southern coast of Victoria. The road alternately passes through charming seaside towns with glorious beaches before souring back up cliff faces before plunging down into forests of massive trees and ferny gullies. It is a magnet for local and international holidaymakers, surfers, bushwalkers, rock climbers and fishermen all of whom boost the local population of the Coast right throughout the year.

The road is notable because it was built by returned soldiers from the Great War between 1919 and 1932 and, since the road is dedicated to the soldiers killed in that conflict, the road is the world’s largest war memorial.

Our journey along this landmark piece of bitumen needed to be memorable so I chose to drive a memorable car – a 1967 Ford Mustang GTA convertible. What a beast! A spectacularly powerful and weighty vehicle and yet a breeze to drive on the winding roads. Our journey halted first in the seaside town of Lorne with its beautiful beaches and famous pier. Stig’s clumsiness got him in deep water here. We then drove Cape Otway photographing Koalas in the trees on the roadside leading to the Light station that sits on the cliff face of this most Southern part of the area. The Victorian coast was extremely hazardous for shipping and the lighthouse kept many, but not all, vessels from a watery grave.

Next on the agenda was attempting to get a cracking sunset and sunrise image at Marengo Beach near the seaside town of Apollo Bay. Here I decided to call on some professional expertise in the form of Robin and Gigi Williams two incredibly talented Melbourne based landscape photographers. Robin and Gigi helped me achieve some fantastic results although my shots weren’t as good as Robin’s shot below.

 

 

Marengo Beach was not just brilliant for sunrise and sunset because it also gives access to a seal colony in the Marengo Reef Sanctuary. Using canoes, we were able to get within close proximity to these playful sea mammals.

From Apollo Bay the Great Ocean Road takes us inland into the Great Otway National Park and this presented Robin and Gigi with the perfect backdrop to give me some hints on photography in forested country. We have all seen beautiful shots of rain forests, but I have always found them very tricky to achieve. I was particularly impressed with Gigi’s infra-red shots of the forest foliage.

Our Great Ocean Road journey ended at the famous 12 Apostles which are actually 9 large limestone stacks standing off the coast in the Southern Ocean. The Apostles are a tourist magnet and getting a good shot requires patience and good fortune with the weather. But, even if a good shot is not in the offing, the view is enough to make the journey worthwhile.

This road trip is one you would never forget if you are ever lucky enough to make it. I hope I have managed to whet your appetite!

From the Great Ocean Road, it is a picturesque drive to the Grampians or Gariwerd Mountain Range. This region is one of my favourite holiday destinations because it offers challenging mountain walks with spectacular views, an abundance of wildlife and a charming country town called Halls Gap to return to each night.

However, we have decided to look into the indigenous significance of Gariwerd. In caves and on rock walks right throughout the National Park you can find more than 200 Aboriginal Rock Art sites that date back up to 30,000 years.  Robbie Fry from the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre took us to see some of these most significant sites but first he performed a Welcome to Country in a traditional smoking ceremony and tried to teach me how to play a didgeridoo – unsuccessfully I must say. The Cultural centre gives visitors a detailed history of Aboriginal life in Gariwerd. Of particular importance in the life of the traditional owners of the land in and around the park boundaries was the arrival of white settlers who dispossessed them of the land and moved them to institutional living quarters outside the park. This systematic disruption and dispossession of Indigenous peoples occurred all over the Australian continent and remains one of the most tragic and shameful events in Australian history.

First stop on our tour of Indigenous Art Sites was one of the most important, a small cave depicting the only know representation of Bunjil – the creator deity, cultural hero and ancestral being. Sadly, this site, like many others, has had to be caged to prevent vandalism.

After a long road trip and a steep walk, we arrived at the Camp of the Emu Foot. This site is now closed to the public, so it was an honour to visit it and take some shots. It was here I experimented with an app that helps differentiate rock art from the surface it is painted on.

We spent the day exploring and taking in many sites, some of which lie in the far west of the Park. The experience was profound because it reminded me, very strongly, of how deep Australia’s history runs with its root’s tens of thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. A visit to Gariwerd reinforces how important it is that modern Australia recognise and enshrine in law the significance and rights of the country’s traditional owners – The First Australians.

The road back to Melbourne passes through the Victorian Goldfields and so we decided to stop in the beautiful township of Castlemaine. I wanted to meet a man by the name of Benjamin Leckie who is keeping the ancient art of the blacksmith alive and well. From his workshop Benjamin manufactures one-off metalwork that adorns many local properties. His other speciality is the manufacture of high-quality knives. It was enormous fun photographing Benjamin at work because the elements of fire and steel make for glorious effects. My aim, as always, was to find just one photograph to sum up the experience and I believe I found it.

Whilst in Castlemaine I couldn’t resist dropping in on the Goldfields Railway. This unique railway company has two restored K Class steam locomotives ferrying passengers back and forth between Castlemaine and Maldon, another historic township 20 kilometres to the west. I found the railway’s publicist Jonathon Newton to be as passionate about steam trains as I am and Stig is not! I was lucky enough to enjoy a first-class dining car experience in one direction and then had the privilege of getting behind the controls of this 120 tonne behometh.

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Many Melburnians make a Sea Change and move to this lush and historic part of Victorian and it is easy to see why. The townships enjoy a real sense of community and the 19th century architecture remains in evidence everywhere, a welcome change from the modern high rise buildings of the city.

Back in Melbourne and our next story was the fulfillment of a personal wish. The Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) is one of the greatest stadiums in the world. With a capacity of 100,000 patrons the MCG hosts the Australian Football League (AFL) season and Summer Cricket as well as the occasional rock concert and exhibition football match. The public can explore this amazing venue in organised tours, and I resolved to experience this first hand. However, I was looking for a bonus. The MCG’s Light towers are huge, and I wanted to climb one of them to get the ultimate view of the playing surface. As it turns out my wish was granted but more on that later! First MCG guide John Gilham took us to all corners of the venue from the impressive sports museum, with its interactive games section, to the venerated member’s inner sanctum ‘The Long Room’. My favourite place in the venue was the toilet in the committee room with its window that offers a view straight down the cricket pitch so any committee member needing relief does not miss a single ball bowled.

After the comprehensive and incredibly instructive tour my chance game to climb the light tower. Let me assure you this climb is no doddle. Countless steel ladders that have to be ascended almost at a crawl so that safety lines can be attached and then re-attached endlessly. However, the effort was well worth it as I was able to see the stadium in a way that very few punters will ever get a chance to do. A colossal and thoroughly enjoyable day.

 

 

And that brought our home-grown episode to an end. Nest episode it’s off to the USA for a road trip never to be forgotten.