Friday, 24 October 2014

Day 36 - The Great Ocean Road

Bay of Islands, Great Ocean Road
Having had the option of travelling to Melbourne the short way from Killarney Beach - and let's face it, the quickest way out of there would be the best - we of course chose to go the long way, via the Great Ocean Road.

This would be our third or fourth trip along one of Australia's iconic ocean drives. The first, perhaps twenty years ago, was with three lesser adults masquerading as our children. Having suffered the privations of Christmas away from home, the decorating of a casuarina tree with tinsel their mother had stashed under her seat and cold ham and a plum pudding boiled over coals in a campfire, they were being desensitised to the familiar. It held surprising compenation. After all, when you are concerned that Santa won't find you in the Grampians, a thousand kilometres from you usual address, and a reindeer walks through  your camp, you no longer feel the need to leave out a carrot and even the eldest, whose doubts were rising with each December, wants to believe.

Of course it was a red deer but it wasn't a time to be pedantic.

Arriving at The Twelve Apostles - although a few must have stepped out for takeaway, last supper not withstanding, because I the daughter could only count ten - it was probably the first time we had put smiles on their faces that plugged directly into their still just below the surface wonder (although the reindeer had started the trend that holiday). The colours, the immensity, the power of the waves and the fact we were the only five human beings standing there taking it in, were enough. My explanation of the combination of limestone, water and wave action didn't quite cut it in terms of the experience. As the youngest had said on another occasion when faced with the view from a mountain at the Warrumbungles, "it's very wonderful!"

It's much the same today ... well the colours, the intensity, the power of the waves are but one has to learn to be a good boy and share with the other children, because it would have to be 2:00am to have a private viewing and even then, I suspect a Japanese tourist would sidle up to me and and ask me to take a picture of him and the new bride, smiling but perplexed because their only seemed to be ten apostles.

Car park at the Twelve Apostles
At the 10/12 A's, I counted more than a hundred cars in the carpark, now on the northern side of the road with a connecting tunnel which begins just after the information centre/cafe/ toilet block, located near the helipads where choppers take off every three minutes for Japanese tourists to smile and be perplexed at counting mishaps. That's not to mention the seven coaches, the fourteen RVs and caravan rigs and a strange array of bicycles with saddle packs that might have made John Wayne envious. A motel is just a few hundred metres away up a dirt road. There are fifteen cubicles in the ladies alone. Fancy, more cubicles than apostles!

It used to be a small sign and a lay-by at the road side that about four cars could squeeze in and the drivers used to check their mirrors twice to avoid being mown down but others looking for the sign. As Dylan said, things have changed.

That's not to say nature has. The ocean is still carving away at the vertical cliffs. The ocean, on such a sunny, clear day was still that delightful turquoise blue and the cliffs were still combinations of yellows and orange and red and I could still imagine errant, distracted cows, chewing their cud and lost in conversation tipping over the edge and thinking they were pigs.

At Loch Ard Gorge, the story of Tom Pearce  and Eva Carmichael is still courageous and moving and incredulous ... just harder to read from the information boards and more time consuming as shoulder and heads of Japanese tourist smiling for the camera but at least happy that the maths seemed right.

My response to the story of the sinking of Loch Ard, the survival of Tom and the subsequent boldly heroic rescue of the Eva is chronicled elsewhere, so I won't repeat it here, only provide you with a link Sunshine & Shadows Its a poem written in two voices - mine, at the gorge in brilliant sunshine and a third person observer watching the events on that dreadful March night in 1878.

Loch Ard Gorge
As we traverse the Great Ocean Road from west to east, the views were breath taking and that
wonder in my children's eyes still filled mine - both a version of Paterson's vision splendid and the memory of the three of them standing there, gobsmacked and speechless and holding their mum's hand, before finding things to point out and ask questions about and then giving me a group hug. Hard to forget those things, even hidden under the pile of life that has happened since.

We survived a fallen tree across the road as we emerged from the Otways to the west of Apollo and stopped for lunch beside the beach just outside of town on the other side. Sue figures we should produce a coffee table picture book called "Good Places To Eat Lunch". We have had some rather pleasant views as we ate out handful of nuts or gluten free tuna sandwich on this trip alone.

At Torquay, we stopped for a ninety minute half hour coffee with our nice niece, Flick Gibbens. She's one of those twenty somethings that the rest of us beyond fifty can speak with and know that it doesn't matter how much we rape the planet and ignore the plight of the less fortunate, they will fix it. Adults are supposed to clean up their children's mess but somehow, the baby boomers have inverted that paradigm but Flick filled me with confidence there will be something left after I leave. Apart from all that Gone With The Wind imagery, she's just a terrific, interesting and courageous young lady, whom we both admire. Then again, so was her mother.

Onward, late and apologising, to Ferntree Gully, an outer suburb on Melbourne's east and the company of good friends Markus and Virginia Richardson. These are the sort of friends where conversations continue from the last time you hugged goodbye. About to embark on the Good Life, it was a lovely evening filled with enthusiasm and excitement and strange YouTube videos of even stranger americans and chainsaws. You had to be there. Red wine was involved.

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