Our previous and first Australian house sitting experience in Armidale did us a favour in our acclimatization to cold weather which was a jolly good thing because if we expected it to be cold in Victoria in winter, we were not to be surprised. It takes at least a couple of hours after dawn for the sun to warm the house through the big East-facing windows and when the snow on the distant mountains reveal their true white brilliance, you know it is safe to venture out into the garden.
Not that we had to wait for the sun to warm the house as the reverse cycle air conditioner did the job very well. We’re not ‘big house’ people so it was natural for us to only use the space we occupied to the kitchen-dining-sitting room that bordered our bed room because it was all the house we needed and it was easy to maintain the temperature. We barely ventured into the larger section of the house with huge lounge room dining room combination and adjacent rooms although there was an attractive fire place and sub-library.
Our new little furry friends too were happy to keep to this, the ‘living’ part of the house as they had ready access to the pool area and a large area of fenced off yard beyond that. In the evenings they would settle down with us as we watched the news and were able to get outside whenever the urge took them.
One of the best parts of our Glenrowan stay for me was Peter’s shed. It had a bench and a number of tools hanging on the wall, although I had most tools I needed. What I did appreciate a few times was the drill press as I was keen to get the van in better working condition. To that end I called on a workshop garage owner in Wangaratta, which is about a 15 minute drive along what used to be the highway many years ago.
It’s called ‘going into town’ and not at all like driving the 3 or 4 minutes up to the Glenrowan pub where the convivial host ensures that on Friday night, it’s the place to ‘be’. In the village there are also a few conveniences, like a good bakery and a newsagent that doubles as a post office but the village’s real claim to fame is the Ned Kelly museum made famous by Bill Bryson’s description of it, in his book ‘Down Under‘.
Having read Bryson’s description of it’s being so bad, he and his friend wanted to go back through and see it again, I thought he was being a bit tough. Prior reading Bill’s book Julie and I had driven through the village, maybe 15-20 years ago and like Bill, paid the entry fee to marvel at its wonders. Our memory of the experience was more positive and we thought the eccentric owner had made a pretty good job of presenting his visitors with a dramatic actualization of the capture of our famous Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. We remembered the talking dummies and atmosphere as a good attempt with what was technically available at the time.
We didn’t stop in again so we’re not sure how it holds up these decades later, but passing by a couple of times a week, we saw a trickle of new customers every time so we silently wished him well.
The trip down from Sydney had been a little uncomfortable to some extent because of the engine stutter which I had a great deal of time to think about. After discussing it with the mechanic, we decided to tune the engine for petrol rather than gas and just use gas as a backup fuel. Given the cost of gas, the difficulty of getting supply in many places and the lower performance, running on petrol full time seemed a better option.
Other work included replacing a few parts and a good general tune up but it was largely ineffective with the ‘missing’ in the engine surfacing intermittently. The promised new rear tail-shaft universal joint and the boots for the steering apparently also just got ‘missed’. Maybe Ned Kelly’s relatives still live around here.
The other primary work I wanted to do was to find and eliminate as many squeaks and rattles as possible and to make a home for the secondary battery and inverter under the bed. The total amount of work, running cables, pulling off panels and filling with insulation and other jobs was only possible by having access to the shed.
The cold mornings meant it was impracticable to begin work until mid-morning and by mid-afternoon the sun was gone behind the mountains putting the house in the shade and with that came the cold. The shed was the temporary home of two nesting birds which I think set up house there every year. Their call is particularly musical to my ear and we became quite companionable. Actually I think they merely tolerated my presence in their shed.
Speaking of birds, the area has many types, the air is continuously filled with birdsong and the flowering trees in the gardens brought in daily visits of gorgeous king parrots while the lawns were picked over continuously by tiny blue wrens.
Beyond the fence lived the cantankerous old white horse that belonged to a young woman neighbour that, surprisingly, we never met. It was Peter’s custom to give the horse an apple at least some days so I attempted to do the right thing and duly went out and bought a bag of apples.
The cranky bastard tried to bite me every time I got near the fence and it took a few days for us to work out that seeing I held the apples, I made the rules. Eventually we got along.
The other interesting wild life, well interesting to a Queenslander, was the abundance of rabbits sharing the paddock with the white horse. I thought long and hard about building a trap to see what they tasted like and it was only the need to work on the van and the desire to take some day trips that saved their hides.
As winter restricts lawn growth Peter assured us that we should not concern ourselves with cutting the grass during the four weeks they were to be away and sure enough, by the time they returned, it was just a little longer and still very attractive. In fact the whole garden was beautiful with flowering trees and lots of shrubs and easy-care garden beds. Aside from keeping Porgy and Tess company there were few chores for us to do which made it possible to move forward with the upgrade on the van and still have days free to see the local sights.
One of the first towns on our radar was Bright a town close to the mountains and one we had visited many years ago when we had the plane. In 1988 or 1989 we had flown into Wangaratta and met up with a couple of dozen other aircraft owners, bussed up to Mt Buffalo for a few nights and nearby Bright was part of a day trip bus tour. Twenty five or more years later we were keen to see if it was anything like our memories.