The Great Australian Road Trip – Part IV, Adelaide to Bundaberg

We arrived in Adelaide on 5 November and what a delightful city it is! Of course, I am prejudiced. This is because when the city was laid out in 1837, the planners incorporated a goal to ring the city with parks. Not as an afterthought, “Oh, let’s save a bit of grass here and there.” No, this was a commitment from the get-go. “We shall have parks!” As a result of that foresight—and despite some periods of encroachment and neglect—Australia’s fifth largest city, population 1.3 million, is encircled and enriched with no less than 40 beautifully maintained green spaces. Toss in the 30km-long River Torrens Linear Park that winds through the city, endowed with a walking trail either side and connecting footbridges, and this is a place after my heart.

Low-rise, high-green Adelaide
Moreton Bay fig tree, Adelaide Park Lands

It’s also a city of graceful architecture—stone churches, late Victorian and Edwardian hotels and homes, charming residential streets brimming with flower gardens. A combination of preservation and updating has saved many of Adelaide’s historical gems. The 1885 Adelaide Arcade, for example, is both a highlight of the shopping district and a self-guided museum. Pick up a brochure as you enter, read about the past arcade tenants as you shop for chocolates and chapeaux, then stop in the mini-museum to view the vintage photos and retail ads and to hear a recording of the “Arcade Polka,” especially commissioned for the grand opening. When we came upon modern edifices like the sports arena and civic center, restaurants and stores, they seemed to fit naturally into the scheme of things. To top it off, Adelaide has a colorful central market, a noteworthy state art gallery and library, and a free downtown loop bus to jaunt around.

Adelaide Arcade

Adelaide is the capital of South Australia, and we especially enjoyed our tour of Parliament House. Modeled on Westminster, its lower chamber is decorated in green and cream, the upper chamber in rich red and glossy Australian maple. When I asked the guide if the members of Parliament speak civilly to each other, he pointed to a strip of red carpet outlining the floor space between the seats of the opposing parties. Called the “blood line” it’s an English tradition from the days when politicians wore swords and might take to fighting. In Adelaide, you can call your opponent anything you want as long as you stay in your seat behind the line. Step onto the floor to issue an insult, however, and you will be censured; repeat offenses will get you banished for weeks at a time. Voting is compulsory in Australia, and because you vote for your representatives statewide, the ballot is painstakingly long. Most people, therefore, vote by party and let the party leaders figure out who gets the seats.

Adelaide Parliament, Lower Chamber. Don’t cross and the bloodline…
… and don’t mess with me

From Adelaide, we turned east to Hahndorf, the oldest German town in Oz. Founded as a farming community in 1838, it is now a popular tourist stop where you can dine on beer and schnitzel and purchase handmade cuckoo clocks. Our next stop, Gumeracha, added another Australian Big Thing to our bucket list: the Largest Rocking Horse in the world! The 60’ high structure was created by the toy factory on the site to entice people to visit the factory and shop at the store. Their handcrafted wood toys are full of nostalgic appeal. Naturally, we climbed up inside the Rocking Horse to the top.

The Big Rocking Horse

Then came Eric’s personal Big Day, 9 November, his 70th birthday, which we celebrated at Banrock Station winery near Kingston on Murray. Their merlot had been his favorite back in the United States until it inexplicably disappeared from the shelves around 2009. You still could get their cab-merlot but not the unadulterated merlot. Eric, devastated, has been on a quest to find it ever since. But alas, as we learned from the hostess at Banrock Station, for unspecified marketing reasons it no longer exists even in Australia. We made up for it with a tasting of their other wines and a leisurely lunch on the deck overlooking the 1,000-acre vineyard and wetlands the winery has helped to restore.

Banrock Station Winery. Happiness is a cab-merlot.

We had now been five weeks underway from Bundaberg, traveling along the green coastal belt where the majority of Australians live, work and play. It was time to point Glinda back to Bundy through the drought-stricken Outback, driving mostly on two-lane roads with an unvarying vista of dry scrub. We found an oasis in the very nice town of Hay with a woodsy campground on the Murray River and a POW Museum housed in two train cars at the restored 1880s train station. It seems that early in WWII, the English rounded up a bunch of “aliens” in England, told them they were being sent to Canada, and shipped them to interment in Australia instead. The “aliens” consisted of 80% Jews who had fled the Nazis for safety in England, along with Italians and Germans. All were civilians and many were highly educated professionals, yet like the Japanese in American POW camps they were considered a threat. In Hay, they were billeted in huts outside town and made some friendly contacts among the townspeople. Later on, 3,000 POW soldiers from Italy, Germany and Japan arrived, doubling the local population and creating a bit of unease; Japanese POWs had rioted and attempted breakouts at other internment camps in New South Wales. Hay remained calm, however, and at the war’s end, not a few of the civilian POWs chose to stay in Oz. With their education and skills, they were made welcome.

Hay Train Station

Another Outback drive brought us to West Wyalong where the public campsite boasts a replica of a gold mining “topper,” the structure erected above a mine to haul out the buckets of earth dug up by the miners below ground. Stopping at the city park, we admired the DC-3 airplane—donated by someone to the Lions’ Club, which then oversaw its installation—and chuckled at the park sign. West Wyalong is in Bland Shire, so named after some politico, and has teamed up with the cities of Boring, Oregon, and Dull, Scotland, to proclaim themselves the “League of Extraordinary Communities.” Bland’s slogan is “Bland…far from Dull and Boring,” and we assume the sister cities have reversals on that theme. You have to appreciate a community that has a sense of humor about itself.

Gold mine topper
If you’ve got a DC-3, flaunt it!

Our next leg took us deeper into the drought-afflicted regions. In Bathhurst, a city of attractive brick heritage buildings and a waterless park fountain, the sky became an eerie pale orange. Past town, we watched the wind lift clouds of red topsoil off the baked and barren earth and swirl it into the air. By the time we drove through Orange to Wellington, the sky was burnt umber and we were in a full-blown dust storm. Though the bushfires were mostly distant from our route, we experienced two scary nights at campsites when a wind shift at sunset brought in a pall of choking smoke. If you care to read a fuller account of these experiences and our perspective on the bushfire crisis, please see the post I wrote in January when the conflagration was at its height:

Nevertheless, we found places to enjoy. The Oxley Museum in Wellington, housed in a mid-19th century bank, was crammed to the gills with everything imaginable—vintage typewriters, telephones, cameras, irons, kitchen utensils, bottles, food tins, photos, sewing machines, books and phonograph records. Detouring south to Parkes, we visited “The Dish,” the radio telescope that in July 1969 broadcast the first footage of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. NASA had asked both the Parkes and Canberra observatories to stand by, a wise move because when the time of the landing was moved up, the US telescope was on the wrong side of the globe. The Parkes telescope having a better signal than Canberra, the honor fell to it. The story is told with fun and pride in the Aussie movie The Dish, and the film set is on display in the Parkes visitors’ center. The slowly rotating Dish now searches for radio waves from distant stars and galaxies. 

E.T., phone us!
Movie set from The Dish

Another memorable stop was Tamworth, the Country Music Capital of Oz, where the first must-do is to pose in front of the Big Golden Guitar. Then delve into the story of Australian country music at the Wax Museum and the Hall of Fame. We learned about such early greats as Tex Morton, Slim Dusty, Smoky Dawson, Rick and Thel, and Shirl Thoms, Australia’s “Yodeling Sweetheart.” Didn’t know there was such a person, did you? The majority of these performers were Outback born and raised, often in families with musically talented parents and grandparents who entertained their communities at local events. The kids went on to try their luck in bigger talent competitions, won those, and developed careers. Paralleling the rise of American country music stars, some of the Aussies had their own radio shows and comic books featuring imaginary western adventures, ably assisted by a trusty sidekick and devoted sweetheart.

It was radio that popularized country music in Australia, and the Tamworth station began promoting the city as the Country Music Capital in the 1960s. In 1973 it launched the Golden Guitar Awards, now an annual festival that draws huge crowds. The city sits alongside the Peel River and has a pleasant, tree-lined main street with shops, cafes and wide brick sidewalks. Having visited Nashville and attended a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, we can say Tamworth is smaller and far less glam. Which is precisely why we enjoyed it so much. It added a new perspective to our understanding of the Outback, namely that amidst the hard work of farming, ranching and surviving the harsh environment, music strengthened the bonds within families and between isolated communities as perhaps nothing else could.

Rockin’ in Tamworth
Hanging out with the stars

We made the acquaintance of another famous Australian in Uralla, the local bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. Said to be gallant toward those he was robbing, Thunderbolt operated from a cave hideout in the woods in the 1860s until he was pursued and shot down by a constable in 1870. He is commemorated with a sculpture at the entrance to town, a grave in the cemetery, a series of paintings in the Uralla museum, and an annual Thunderbolt Day reenacting his last stand. In the museum, housed in an 1870 flour mill, we once again benefited from a dedicated docent who explained that the building was lucky to have been saved; in the name of progress, some on the town council had wanted it torn down. The citizens protested and prevailed. After all the imaginatively repurposed buildings we’ve seen in Oz, to write off any historical structure without a thorough review seems extremely shortsighted.

Captain Thunderbolt rides again

On we went to Glen Innes, settled by immigrants from Scotland, Ireland and England and proud of its Celtic heritage. Shades of Stonehenge, Glen Innes has erected its own Standing Stones. In Stanthorpe we ticked off the cheese factory for a tasting of a dozen delicious cheeses and snapped a selfie at the nearby Big Apple which celebrates the region’s apple orchards. In Toowoombah, we went to the Cobb & Co. Museum. The Cobb Company was founded by a group of Americans in 1853, and their stagecoaches were famous for carrying mail and passengers in the Outback prior to the railroad. If it seems we saw nothing but towns and museums in this last installment of our road trip, you’re right. The Outback was so scorched there was virtually nowhere to hike. The scenery was depressing, state and national parks were closed, rivers were dry. The incessant sand flies aside, the birds and other animals had vanished as if into thin air. They can’t exist where there’s no water.

Standing Stones, Glen Innes
The Big Apple
A restored Cobb & Co. stagecoach
A whole lagoon, vanished in the drought

Three special encounters rounded off our journey. In Coonabarabran, we spent a relaxing evening at the home of Leonie Jenkins, the mother of our cruising friend Tammy Hood. We had met Tammy, a Brisbanite, when she was crewing on a boat in Santa Marta, Colombia, and when we arrived in Oz eighteen months later, she put out the word to all her family and friends to make us welcome. Indeed, they did, and now we got to meet Tammy’s mum and her sister Donna, who cooked up a delicious dinner and treated us to good conversation and a comfortable bed. We caught up with Tammy a week later over lunch in Brisbane. On our last night before Bundaberg, we stayed with friends of friends of Tammy in Mooloolaba, Julie Allen and Lindsay Graham. They put us up, fed us royally and took us sightseeing. Such is the generosity of the cruising network, and it goes without saying that wherever Eric and I end up when we complete our voyage, our door will always be open in return.

We arrived back on Corroboree on 23 November. At Christmas we flew down to Sydney and Tasmania to spend the holiday with our children. In late January and early February, the east coast of Oz finally got some thorough drenchings from the long-awaited rain. Almost all the bushfires were extinguished or brought under control, but flash floods requiring evacuations also resulted. At present, we are in high gear preparing to return to sea. In mid-March we’ll begin sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef to the northern tip of Oz. From there we’ll jump off to Indonesia, probably in July. Thanks for following my blog and our journey. It’s not over by a long shot, and we’ll keep you posted as we go.

Our route:

5-6 Nov. – Adelaide
7 Nov. – Hahndorf, Gumeracha
8 Nov. – Walker Flat, Banrock Station Winery (Kingston on Murray)
9-11 Nov. – Mildura, Hay, West Wyalong
12 Nov. – Bathurst, Orange, Wellington, Dubbo
13 Nov. – Parkes, Coonabarabran
14 Nov. – Gunnedah, Attunga
15-16 Nov. – Tamworth, Uralla
17 Nov. – Guyra, Glen Innes
18 Nov. – Stanthorpe
19-20 Nov. – Warwick, Toowoombah
21-23 Nov. – Brisbane, Mooloolaba, Bundaberg