Bowral. Wild Ducks and The Piano

This is not our first visit to Bowral. In fact Julie was a resident here somewhat briefly in September 2014 when the doctors gave her a new hip. At the time we were house-sitting, or should that be farm-sitting, a thousand acres near Crookwell as part of our Travel Australia adventure. On our first day Julie was helping me tension-up a fence wire when it snapped. In the resultant stumble and fall, she broke her hip.

We’d already met our hosts Bruce and Diane when we came to visit their magnificent home about two weeks after Julie’s little adventure and she was doing a test run on the new hip. On that occasion we enjoyed Diane’s hot fresh scones for morning tea and we were joined by Bruce’s parents, Arthur and Olive who would be keeping us company while we looked after the house and grounds.

Now we were back to stay for a month and it was like meeting up again with old friends already. I could forget about the bush-fixed tow-bar for now and learn about the workings of the palace.back yard

Quite aside from the beautiful house, the grounds and gardens are a work of art in their own right, designed by Diane who happened to pick up a degree in horticulture to book-end her accountancy degree. There are acres of lawns and a lovely small lake making it feel like one is living in a manicured park. Calling it a palace sounds like I am being disingenuous or ungracious but Diane and Bruce worked hard for their piece of paradise and deserve to be acknowledged for it. My task was mainly to ensure the lawns were maintained as the gardens were largely under irrigation, however the mowing is not something to be underestimated, not least because of the acres of green to be monitored.mowing


One can’t skip the ducks or should that be, one can’t skip the ducks’ tracks (careful where you’re walking there mate). The common Australian Wood Duck population seems to have its headquarters in Bowral. Maybe that’s why the ground is so fertile, these ducks are waddling production lines for fertilizer. Were it not for the mulching capability of Bruce’s ride on mowers, (yeah, he kept a new one in the shed on standby) mowing might have been a matter of driving around in a mist of vapourized duck shit, but maybe I’m exaggerating. At least I know why Bruce’s apple trees are so productive. ducks1


Bowral itself is a small but always-busy town of 13,000 people, 130 ks from Sydney. The cool mountain air and naturally good soil (did I mention they have ducks?) has made it a rural retreat for Sydney-money for 150 years.Bowral Many rural estates and manor houses were established here from the late 1800’s onwards and in this regard, not a lot has changed, although of course, these days there is as broad a cross section of Australian society here as anywhere else.

One thing I did notice though, the average age was a little disconcertingly closer to my end of the scale than in a few other places I’ve been. In fact one third of the population is over 65 and that is definitely not normal.

Although it is now February, near the end of our southern hemisphere summer, autumn is just around the corner and many days are quite nippy, especially if it’s raining, which it is often, often enough to interrupt the mowing. pondBy June or July the locals will not be surprised to see the occasional dusting of snow here.


Not a week after arriving we discovered that we needed to find a new home for our books, crockery and grandma’s old tea set that everyone normally keeps in the garage or attic. While moving the boxes was not very urgent, after Bowral we were booked for assignments in Tasmania and at the moment, we are as close to Queensland as we were going to be for the next 8 months. If I was to move our storage junk to a new home, it should be done sooner rather than later.

This was going to involve leaving Julie in the convivial company of Arthur and Olive while I took first the train to the airport, a cheap flight to Ballina, pick up my work ute and then drive the last 200 kilometres to Ipswich.

This ‘hole’ in my time in Bowral meant I needed to get a wriggle-on if I was to somehow replace the tow-bar in a cost-effective way. Any thoughts about the dodgy steering were pushed into the background by this more pressing issue. Bowral and Mittagong are not where you expect services to be cheap so I was unsurprised by quotes over $500 to replace the tow-bar.

Once again Julie came to the rescue with a suggestion we try the local car wrecker which turned out to be run by a young bloke who was happy to help. You can always tell when you go into a business if the people are really interested in helping you or only interested in looking after themselves. This was the former and I hereby give the ‘Mittagong Auto Wreckers’ my official endorsement. Not only did Peter have to work hard to find the right type of tow-bar, one previously used on a 4WD, the price was excellent and he even carried it out to the van for me. This made us very happy and somewhat relieved that we had a solution.

Just up the road, another business in Mittagong was just as good. Steve from ‘Atomic Fabrication’ made the spacer plates I needed to make the tow-bar compatible with the flash brackets I had earlier designed and fitted in Adelaide.  He too is the type of guy who is happy to help, even though it was such a small job and I was probably just a pain in the arse. I really appreciated that. By the end of the second week, I had all the parts manufactured and the cutting and grinding completed, ready for the fitting. As I was going to be away for a week in Ipswich, I had the last week to finish it off. Time to spare. Maybe.

Sir Donald Bradman

bradman pavillion

One can’t mention Bowral without mentioning Sir Donald Bradman, probably the world’s most famous cricketer. (Don’t mention ducks around here.) The oval where he played as a youngster is in pristine condition and Bowral is also the home of the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame.

Glebe Park was the name given to the area in 1909 and in the decade that followed, Bradman played here before going on to become the greatest cricketer of all time. This rather average ground was re-named Bradman Oval in 1947 and since then has been improved to a point where international one-day matches are played on its hallowed and now beautiful facility and it is one of the most sought after playing grounds in Australia.bradman oval

While we drove past many times and admired the vision, as non-followers of the game we didn’t stop by, although even for those who don’t have a strong interest, one can still get a sense of the area’s importance in Australian culture.

The piano

One of the joyous little discoveries in house-sitting is sometimes finding a piano, often little used, forlorn and waiting patiently in a rumpus room. On the farm near Crookwell we saw the old pianola and several electronic versions, in Grafton Chike’s keyboard and studio and now we made a discovery in Bowral.

Indeed there was a piano, but a quite beautiful one, boasting prime position in the main dining lounge. In addition to Diane’s other skills she is a pianist. Unfortunately she did not give us a demo but had gone to the trouble of having the piano tuned before we arrived. Some people are organized and some are very well organized. Guess which one.

With such temptation on hand I could not help myself. There is something special about an acoustic piano, something that one cannot find in the electronic versions, even one as good as my key-weighted treasure in storage.

It’s probably better to use an earpiece or headphones to hear just how good the sound of a well-tuned ‘goanna’ can be, despite the stumbling playing.

(You may recognize the music in the second half but don’t ask the name of the piece in the first 60 seconds. I never heard it before either. I was just making it up as I went along.)

Diane does not have it all her way, as Bruce too is a muso with a couple of truly amazing banjos, a top grade electric guitar and by all accounts is very proficient with the cornet.

Arthur and Olive

Arthur and Olive at dinner

If there was one highlight of our assignment in Bowral, it was the company of Arthur and Olive who have been married longer than most of the world’s population has been alive. This wonderful couple live in their own apartment in the house, and we invited them over for dinner the first week.

Nine thirty pm arrived just after we finished the second bottle of red so it was perfect timing for a gracious ‘not-too-early-not-too-late’ evening retirement. Mid-morning the next day, Arthur knocked on the door as usual with his ‘paper boy’ call and delivered the daily paper.

Many of the comings and goings of the house were centred on Olive’s support carers but there was also a fair bit of activity through the controlled gates for tradesmen, gardeners, tilers and other maintenance workers.

This was a busy period for us too, with the trip to Ipswich and the tow-bar competing for attention with the ride-on mowing. On the rainy days I was able to delve into research and publication of a couple of articles for the Diary of The Universe web site, although much of this was hindered by the need for education on development of the web sites themselves. With no previous experience in coding .php files shaping the websites is an on-going exercise in patience and concentration. I could not have picked a more serene and comfortable place to do it.

Link to article three The First Nuclear Fire

Reassessing the power

We knew by now that my choice of generator, inverter and refrigerator was all wrong and the only practical solution was to sell them all and start again. By very good fortune, we managed to advertise and sell everything for $37 more than we paid so it was not too difficult to buy new equipment, better suited to the lower power needs of the campervan and most of this arrived while I was in Ipswich.

We offered to deliver the generator to the buyer’s friend in Sydney as he lived not far from Milperra where we could take the opportunity to stop off for a BBQ lunch with family. Normally the van struggles at 100 kph but we managed the trip in good time by tagging onto a passing truck on the M1, cruising along at a respectable and safe distance but still within the low pressure area behind the big rig.

Our only other local area trip we had time for was a train ride to Circular Quay where the train ticket gave us unlimited access to the ferries. This meant we could do a trip around the harbour before heading across to Manly and a stroll along the beach. In terms of bang-for-buck, the $2.50 concession ticket takes some beating. Pack a thermos and low income folk can have a wonderful day out, a long one too, as it was nearly dark when we got back to Bowral.manly beach

The last week was upon us so quickly. Thanks to the hospitality of my brother who also lives in Ipswich, a couple of trips to his home garage a few streets away had our ‘good junk’ safely stored for now, at least until we get back to Queensland for Christmas 2015. Before the third week was out, I was driving back to Ballina to drop off the ute and catch the flight back to Sydney.

My return only left us 11 days to complete the fitting of the tow-bar, which still required some difficult steel drilling and shaping in-situ.

There was still a fair amount of cutting, grinding and painting to get it done, but with a couple of days to spare, we had a brand new tow-bar for an all-up cost, a little under $100.tow-bar

In the final couple of days we fitted the new 12 volt fridge and did a quick test run on the equipment. We hooked up the trailer on the morning of departure day, showing some confidence that this little babe was not going to give us any trouble. It was going to be tested too, with a complicated route south over many hills and mountains to arrive in Melbourne 8 days later to board the ferry for Tasmania.

A final flurry of activity, one last run over the property with the mower and another exciting adventure is about to begin.

And the punctuation in my article headlines may need a little work.


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