Salty Pandas and Boat Sheds

The bloody wind. With two great days of our Travel Australia adventure camped on the river bank near Marlo behind us, we continued our march westward and stopped for lunch in Lakes Entrance. Our goal is boarding the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry in Port Melbourne this coming Sunday. This is the only point in Victoria where the Princes Highway touches the ocean so unless we leave this highway, that’s the last sea-breeze we will feel for a while.

This is a very attractive town, worth coming back we comment, to visit the waterways of this district but we’re reluctant to move on actually, dawdling over lunch in the park taking in the sights and smells of the water front. Lakes Entrance 02

Lakes Entrance is also the most easterly point of the Eastern Plains, the exposed flat country that stretches westward over 300 kilometres, right to the doorstep of Melbourne itself.

As a matter of curiosity, on the other side of Melbourne, the flat country is called the Victorian Volcanic Plains and they stretch another 300 kilometres west, past Portland and almost to South Australia. They’re not called ‘Volcanic’ for nothing, in fact the whole area is covered in low craters and volcanos considered by many in the field to only being dormant ie a temporary lull,  with the last eruption only 7,000 years ago.

With no more excuses and gritted jaw we turned away from the gentle local sea breeze to engage with the full-on, in-your-face bloody wind that slowed our progress and exhausted our tired little engine.  After another 100 kilometres or so, we’d had enough of the conditions.

Obviously new and inconvenient, several highway roundabouts had just been installed on the ribbon of development that defines the eastern entrance to the unremarkable city of Sale. With no reason to stop, we pushed on against the wind, aiming for Willow Park, a free camping site another 20 kilometres west of the city, just before the attractive little town of Rosedale.

The park has a plaque that informs the visitor that ‘at one time this park was considered the prettiest park on the highway’. We couldn’t see how could have occurred unless it was the only park on the highway. We’re not saying it was ugly, but pretty?

willow park

We chose a spot on the river bank near an interesting building / roofed area with four fireplaces and a common chimney. Maybe it was the wind or possibly the nearby coterie of well lubricated ebullient travellers entertaining the park until late into the night with country music (which a less charitable person once described as mutually exclusive terms) that told us this was not a good choice.

The bloody wind, mixed with a little rain, was a constant harassment and got worse overnight to such an extent that I had to get out of bed to retract the awning. Yes, I was doing the manly thing, it was cold, dark, windy and raining and I was doing it on my own. (On the other hand I don’t have to cook which sounds like a fair trade to me.) By that stage though, the music lovers had shut up shop for the evening, thank goodness.

Leaving Willow Park at Rosedale

Packing up the next morning was done without compunction and after a quick visit to the green mobile toilet unit standing somewhat incongruously beside the entrance track, (to the prettiest park?) we pushed on into the strong headwind across the open plains that define the lower part of the State of Victoria.

The plains were well, plain. This is not an area renowned for its beauty (or to my shame, for anything else that I know of) and the overcast skies and strong winds did nothing to improve the journey. To make matters worse, the engine was rebelling against either the hard work or the type of fuel. (I can’t be sure which, but it’s a reoccurring problem.)

It was only Thursday and we were not due at the Melbourne Port until Sunday afternoon, so about 20 ks further on, we left the Princes Highway at Traralgon and headed south, temporarily out of the wind towards the coast, over the only mountains that interrupt the great expanse of plains that define southern alberton west

Sixty kilometres and one hour later we joined with the South Gippsland Highway which in hindsight, we should have taken from its beginning in Sale and saved ourselves the endless gear changes of the mountain road between the two highways.

Having made it over the mountains with our new-but-dodgy glazed-over clutch and joined the new highway, the biggest issue we faced was finding a camp out of the wind, which by now, closer to Antarctica, was becoming quite uncomfortable, worse than it was further inland.

As it happened, we found a remote but well maintained sports ground, way down a side road, a couple of kilometres off the highway near a village called Alberton West.

The place was deserted when we pulled in so we gripped our jackets tighter and just wandered about for a little while deciding where to park the van to get the most protection from the wind.

This was home to a cricket club, a football club and had some new netball courts as well, close to the entrance with the ‘girls’ toilets just behind.

To the right of the driveway stood a reasonably sized brick structure which appeared to be the original pavilion and administration block. The back door, facing the ‘boys’ toilet had a tattered sign that said ‘referees’.

alberton 01

This was the perfect place to hide from the bloody wind which swept across the oval and tore at the tree tops in the farmer’s paddock opposite.

On the southern side of the grounds a newer and much larger building has been erected, probably in the last decade or so, looking north over the oval. Late in the afternoon a dozen young men arrived, opened up the newer building and brought out the cricket practice nets until dark.

No one approached ‘our’ building and we guessed it’s only utilized on weekends. We drew a few curious looks as cars drove in to the grounds, but maybe from the vantage point of someone who has not yet reached his second decade, our coiffures probably made us seem pretty harmless.alberton 02

Now protected by the brick pavillion, we could hole up for a few days until the weather improved. We had all we need, plenty of water, clean toilets (little used but home to a large collection of leaves blown in by the wind) and even power if we had been inclined to steal it. We set up our generator around the side of the building and ran a long lead back to the van. We were already very grateful for refuge and were certainly not going to abuse the privilege.

The area was completely quiet except for the wind and the occasional vehicle using this country road. This was the perfect environment for me to work on my Diary of the Universe essays which by now was up to number six, the question of How many galaxies are there?

While this of itself may not seem terribly important to most people, mankind’s ability to find out, is very important and it’s another step towards my completing the full menu of 300 essays by December 2016, which, in my heart, I know is totally unrealistic. (We’re talking the equivalent of 4 novels + research.)

Lang Lang

By Saturday morning the weather had cleared, the rain and wind were gone and we could set off to find a camp for our last night on ‘The Big Island’ or ‘The North Island’ depending on which Taswegian is telling the story.

Lang Lang, which sounds like someone calling their panda in for dinner with a freshly opened tin of bamboo shoots, is a village of 1300 people, 128 kilometres from our hidey-hole in Alberton West. It also shares its name with a young world-renowned concert pianist from China. Aside from that tenuous connection the only claim to fame for the locals is the one about being the largest asparagus growing (and eating?) area in Australia.

We brushed up against it while finding our way to the Lang Lang Caravan Park, one of the rare times we’ve not chosen the freedom of the open road. It’s close to our destination and seemed to be a good opportunity to settle down early, walk the beach, talk to the locals and get organized for our short run to the Tasmanian Ferry in the morning.lang lang 01

While we will have the whole day tomorrow to get there, I still have the vague nagging concern of breakdown or some other impediment which would cause havoc with our commitment to be in Derby, north east Tassie, on Tuesday.

After making a mess of reversing into our allotted space (didn’t crack it first time, in fact had three forward-backs) I went off for a walk (sulk) on the beach. In the first few metres I was accosted by two blokes who said I looked like an old salty and ‘would I like a beer?’ These two escapees from Melbourne were camping with their respective partners and attendant ankle biters and were pleased to fill in the blanks for a blow-in from the distant north.lang lang 02

Ivan, the timber floor specialist and Matthew the embonpoint builder explained the finer points of why we were standing in the centre of the universe but Ivan admitted he would move to Tasmania if it wasn’t so bloody cold. I pulled my coat around me a little tighter and said I was sure Tasmania was not in the least bit cold, most of the time. Unconvincingly.

We were actually standing on the shore of Western Port bay, which Ivan said was not a bay because it has two entrances. Matty said he felt that assumption may not be correct or words to that effect, but he might have been a little more assertive in his expression. Come to think about it, his reply may have contained some expletives.lang lang2

Whichever is correct, it does have a very large island in the middle, one French Island and the more famous Phillip Island to seaward, making it totally protected against scouring from the open sea, so the beach was very shallow for quite a long way.

lang lang 03

The Western Port Bay name may seem strange, given its situation east of the even larger Port Phillip Bay, but George Bass (a surgeon) after whom the strait is named, only sailed this far from Sydney in his whale boat because of the atrocious weather.

He’d left Sydney on a short discovery expedition and so named the bay due to its being the most western port known at the time. If he’d gone a little further and discovered Port Phillip Bay, he could have named this one after his mother Gaye or uncle Ray or sister May.

Of course he could have made a career of it and named bays alphabetically starting with this one, calling it A Bay, then Port Phillip would have been called B Bay. After C and D he would have got to E Bay and could have put it up for auction and become rich. Instead he went back to Sydney.

Boat sheds

Spread along the shoreline and presumably within the confines of the caravan park were 33 small houses of almost identical design that were once boat sheds. They are now in various states of repair, reflecting perhaps the affection of their owners or more likely, the measure of their owners pocket depth.

In between, where the old boat sheds have been demolished, some spaces have been taken over by semi-permanent caravans and this theme is carried over just back from the beach. On the other side of the park road, we saw two semi-permanent vans for sale with permanent looking annex and gardens for $7,000 and  $15,000 but we did not find out the on-going rental for caravan park facilities.

lang lang 07

The selling price for the little houses on the beach front were quite a deal more I’m told, although I did not see any with a ‘for sale’ sign. Each seems to reflect to some extent, a history that shows the beach is not a gentle environment for buildings.

In the morning we head for Port Melbourne and drive our humble home onto the Tasmanian Ferry. From mid March 2015 we will be Tasmanians, well, for half a year or so, and I’ll be allowed to wear the Tasmanian uniform too.

I’ve got my beanie all ready, I just need the checkered flannelet shirt. I hope my favourite shopping franchise stocks them but I’m sure St Vinnies is Australia-wide. You can forward this article to a friend, assuming you have one, by clicking on the little envelope below.

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