Swamps and steam

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Friday, December 21, 2012

Victoria, Halls Gap 13th December to Echuca 20th December

Hope we didn't confuse anyone with the date on the last blog, we were one day out. We seem to be having difficulty keeping track of the date here.

After leaving the high land of the Grampians we rough camped in a National Park near Maryborough where we saw no-one. Unfortunately there were not many birds around either. It was strange being on our own about 3 kilometres from the road. From there we travelled to Maldon in the gold mining area of Victoria. We didn't intend to stay there but when we visited the Information Centre the man was so helpful that we felt we had to stay. He contacted birding friends to find where to go for birds so we had to go back and see him again. I think we might have been his only visitors for a while as every time we made a move towards the door he thought of something else to tell us.

Thanks to him we climbed the lookout tower from where I saw a dotted pardelote, a lovely little bird. It has a white front with some yellow near its tail then a splodge of egg yolk yellow (or the colour in a Cadbury's cream egg) on the upper chest, its wings and back are black with random white dots all over its back.

Maldon (named after Maldon in Essex) itself is like a frontier town, which it was when it had its gold rush. In a matter of weeks in the mid 1850s, the population grew from almost nothing to 30,000. Then the surface gold ran out within a couple of years and it started dropping to its present level of 1600, although commercial gold mining continued for some time.

When we came to leave the Maldon site a warning light came on the dashboard. As we don't have the manual we had to phone the emergency number again and they sent a breakdown van. That was after we sorted out which state we were in. They didn't understand my accent, despite giving the full address, and passed me to South Australia Breakdown Centre and then New South Wales before finally reaching the Victoria Centre. By this time the camp manager had looked up what the warning sign indicated (low fuel level light) on the internet. Jim knew the level was fine as he checks it every day but he managed to spot where the connection was lose so when the breakdown man arrived it was fixed. He was quite happy to have an easy job and we were soon on our way again. At least I am now familiar with the call out system.

Staying within the gold mining area we travelled to Bendigo and stayed 2 nights. I wanted to see the buildings in Bendigo as the wealth created from the gold mining lead to the erection of some very impressive ones. In fact, according to their information the town's elders wanted to create a city like London. Fortunately the money did not last that long, but it is a pleasant place to walk around and we had lunch in The Shamrock Hotel, one of the oldest buildings. That was enjoyable but then we went into Rosalind Park in the very centre. Within the Fernery area, a lovely shady glen, I looked up at the tall bare trees overshadowing the ferns and at first thought I was seeing some kind of Christmas decoration hung on the branches of trees until Jim pointed out that they were bats - big ones but not quite as big as fruit bats. There are hundreds. We returned at dusk to watch them fly but also to wait for the possums to descend from the trees. We watched with a local family who had brought the children out for a walk and to see possums. They gave me a piece of apple to feed to a possum so I had to be brave. I was the only one not to be nipped on the fingers, I think because I had the biggest piece and I let him take it all immediately.

Perhaps I started to get a touch of gold fever because I was telling Jim that if there had been so much gold around there must be some left, and perhaps we should go panning. He said it was long gone and not to bother, then we saw a couple of men panning in a stream. Hmmmm could have made my fortune.

Next day we went to the Cohuna Information Centre in what is called The Riverine area, the region around the Murray and its tributaries that is low lying and swampy in parts. We asked where we could rough camp. They were very helpful, working out how we could find somewhere without too much dirt road. (Remember we are only allowed to drive 500 metres on unsurfaced roads), and giving us huge amounts of information. We found the area (a swamp - Jim takes me to all the best places) and Jim pullled off by the side of the bridge as they had suggested. To find a good spot he decided to reverse a little and suddenly found the van was stuck with a front and rear wheel in separate water filled holes. We both stood looking at it thinking how on earth are we going to get out of this when a great long road train full of tree trunks pulled out of the forest and the man asked if we had a problem. Within minutes his long handled spade was out, he dug out the front of the holes, and then with a few pushes from both of us Jim was able to accelerate out. A lovely man and we were very grateful, especially as only one other vehicle passed near the rest of the time we were there. He even stopped by the next morning on his way for more trees to see if all was well.

It is a very good spot for birds and within an hour we had seen 10 to 15 varieties. Then we spotted an azure kingfisher, similarly coloured to the ones in Britain but smaller and with a white breast. Jim was enthusiastically trying to get a better shot when he suddenly started yelling - he had upset a colony of large fire (I think sometimes called bull ants?) ants and they were all over his feet. After much hopping around and a few expletives order was restored but I have to say they were persistent. They had to be extracted from his shoes with force, they didn't give up easily. Needless to say the azure kingfisher was long gone so no photograph I am afraid!

As we drove away the next morning, along the Gunbower Swamp, we spotted a water rat - reminded me of Wind in the Willows. He was too handsome to be called a rat though. Have a look at the photograph and see what you think. He was about a foot long.

From there we moved to a site in Echuca for 3 nights. It is a good site with a lovely pool which we needed this afternoon as the temperature reached 38 degrees. Echuca, on the Murray River, became the largest inland port of Australia in the mid 1800s (just a thought, were there any other inland ports?) as the wool from the surrounding areas was brought here and loaded onto steam paddle boats to be taken to Melbourne and then on to Britain. Now it is a small town but it still has working steam paddle boats. We took one today along to the jetty of a winery, half an hour away by boat, where we tasted their wines and had lunch before returning on the Alexander Arbuthnot steam paddle boat - a pleasant way to spend the day and no chance of being caught drink driving. It is not only boats that were driven by steam but all kinds of machines for lifting, cutting, transporting wood and bales of wool etc.

We have now stayed an extra night because there is so much to see here. A possum came to join Jim as he was typing at the table attached to the side of the van. He did get a shock when it brushed his leg. This morning we went for a bush walk and saw more kingfishers and a noisy friar bird.

Its back to a swamp this afternoon for our last visit here. I saw a 4 to 5 feet long blackish snake in the water there yesterday, the first snake this trip. I love to see them but preferably from a little distance away. Jim had another run in with the giant ants this morning. One minute there was nothing on the ground where we stood watching a bird, the next there were thousands swarming around his feet. He is becoming hardened to them as he kept his shoes on until he reached the track where he could stand on clear ground before taking the shoes off!

Christmas will be strange as we will be in Deniliquin, still in the Riverine region but in New South Wales and in the middle of nowhere, except I believe it has a beach (along the river). Our Christmas treat is that we have booked a powered site with ENSUITE bathroom! Never had one before so not sure what form it takes and it may well not meet our expectations (which in wild moments run to jacuzzi etc) but we thought we might enjoy a little luxury for once. Will let you know if that describes it or not in the next blog. Have a good Christmas everyone!
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Comments

Silvernomads on

Hi you two - enjoyed the blog, particularly the cute possums. We have had a couple of en-suite sites in Oz and they were all good so hope yours is too - enjoy enjoy and keep enjoying. Love P&SX

Maggie Knudsen on

Feliz ano nuevo to you both! I really enjoy reading your blog; great pics too.
besitos, Maggie.

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