We left Bonny Hills just after 9am in our way to Port Macquarie and morning tea with an old acquaintance from our Armidale days.
Brian "Smooth" Connolly was a fine cricketer, good enough to score a hundred at the SCG during what used to be called Country Week - a week where regional sides would come to the big smoke and play against each other. He was also a thoughtful and patient school Principal, with a big heart for kids who had limited opportunities. He and his wife Nancy were our first landlords, when Sue and I first lived together as students in Armidale. We lived in their caravan at Pembroke Caravan Park. He happens to be a fine man and above and beyond all of that, it was Brian who introduced me to Waratahs Cricket Club in the late summer of 1978-79.
I had played with the St Peters club when I first came to Armidale late in the 1977-78 summer, playing against Waratahs in the final game of the season, which was to decide the wooden spoon. Brian, bowling offices, pushed one through a little quicker and had me dead to rights in front. Waratahs A-grade side was one of old heads and their chatter, as much as anything, played on my ego.
More than a year later and Sue and I had just finished our tenancy of the Connolly 17 foot van, having survived winter evening where being in the fridge was the second was the second warmest part of the van behind bed. We endured weeks of minus 6C and beyond that winter. We had moved into a flat which we are renting from a local dentist. I bumped into Brian in the bank, just as I was collecting money to pay the first four weeks rent. He enquired as to where we were living and asked whether I was playing cricket again, having missed the previous season with a serious leg injury from a motor bike accident.
It turned out, the dentist was Graham Johnson, like Brian, a senior member of Waratahs so it seemed only logical I should re-enter the game in the royal blue cap. The rest is a glorious history.
One of the Connolly clan went on to become a good mate ... son Michael ... so it was only natural to call in on Nancy and Smooth and catch up on intervening years. Smooth by name and nature, the pair of them had lost none of their humour and broad views on life. We shared stories of our kids and people we knew and life events. Sue and I learned about life and our "old school" attitudes and values from such as these and it was pleasant to see how well those things had served them. Being with them was like putting on a favourite jumper on a cold day.
We have been to this spot several times over the years: first when we wee newlyweds on holidays with the infamous AJ Bennett and his first wife Christine and then later with our three children. There is a family favourite image of the three kids - Sam would have only been three - sitting on the granite edge of one of the huge windows of the assembly area, all smiles an innocence. Apart from improvements to the museum and a charming looped video presentation developed and staring the Prickle Farmer, Mike Hayes, very little has changed.
Kangaroos were lying in the shade of the seaward wall and seemed unlikely to stir regardless of any action we might take or how much of their space we invaded. The shell of the gaol remains as it has been since the late 1920's, when it was stripped of roofing tiles and al the iron which made the stairs, doors and elevated walkways. it was all sold for scrap by the NSW government. The walls, cell bocks and remaining outbuildings are made of locally quarried granite and look as solid as they were when first built, nearly 130 years ago. It was a gaol for which saw no hangings and mostly model prisoners from the 1880's until it closed in the early years of the twentieth century. No one was ever strung up on the whipping triangle at the end of the "silent" cells but that's not to say punishment wasn't cruel. Until a Royal Commission outlawed the use of them, wooden gags were still strapped to the heads of prisoners who used blasphemous or foul language, their wooden plug mouthpiece extending into the mouth of the prisoner as far as the back palate.
|Sue examines the huge bakery oven|
The gaol is now the leading attraction of the Arakoon State Recreation Reserve, an area which includes picnic and camping areas established on the small area of land around the tall rock walls of the gaol.
We spent the late afternoon driving the forty minutes to Nambucca Heads and our base for the next few weeks as we wait out our car repairs. A bottle of local red was decanted as we watched the sunset at the Vee Wall Tavern and then a quiet evening reading ended out a full and satisfying day.
Rain approaches over the next few days.