Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 1 - Friday 17 September - Macarthur to Dubbo

It’s late enough when we finish a spot of lunch and conversation with those we leave behind and hop into the car. We don’t get far before we realize we haven’t printed our itinerary. Again. This gives an opportunity for daughter to grab a windproof jacket.

Mum’s ready when we arrive and we ferry bags to be stowed in the bowels of the car carefully prioritized according to the anticipated need of the contents on our day’s journey. Colour coded for ease of identification, mum hands me a navy blue shopping bag. “That’s my swimmers.”

“Oh #@$%” says I. “I haven’t brought my swimmers.” I am greeted by a few moments of dumb struck awe from mum and daughter. When they finally find words:

“You haven’t brought your swimmers??? But you told me so many times not to forget MY swimmers..”

“I know. Bloody Hell.”

So it’s back home yet again. The pattern of my life these days. I really need a mental health break. I can’t wait to get across the divide.#

Theres a polish on the day though. It just shines. Warm but not hot. Clear blue skies, great visibility. It has that sense of glorious expectation that only a spring day can provide. After winter. After a still crisp morning. On a day like this there is only one route that calls. The Northern Road. Through rolling farmland framed by the low rim of the mountains which today are singing to us in rich blue tones. Daughter is driving and as I roam in spirit across the Cumberland plain and over to the Nepean River my thoughts rest briefly on what it must have been like in the days before Wentworth Blaxland and Lawson found a route across the mountains that had defied crossing for so long. Here on the road the mountains belie the rugged terrain of escarpments and deep valleys. They look mild and calm and simple.

We procrastinate in typical fashion as we pass several stands of freshly picked local strawberries. Unbidden daughter suddenly makes a turn in to a local farm. We pull up simultaneously with Range Rover full of young people. An elderly thick accented lady labours out from the farmhouse to serve us. We watch as the driver of the Range Rover, fit and muscular is assisted with the hose to fill his bag of strawberries with water for a brief wash, a quick splash to the car with the hose greeted by shrieks from the girls inside and laughter from the lady of the stall. Another bag to prevent drips in the car and he returns to his friends. All are smiles and laughter. A great match for the day.

Daughter opts for the $10 bag and we string the bag of strawberries, large and red and luscious the size of small plums, between the arm rests of the front seats. As we drive daughter and grandma indulge a shared love of medical and biological minutiae, diseases and such.

I have an errand in Penrith. A brief stop to deliver documents to our solicitor and we are finally on our way. But we have made a mistake. Goodness knows why, but I have directed daughter back to the south to join the M4 and head up through the mountain villages. Oops. It’s early afternoon, but still the traffic is congested. The roadworks on the great western highway continue and several bottlenecks later I am intensely frustrated by our lack of progress. This is why we usually head via the bells line of road. Note to self for next time.

All is not lost though and along the way the wattle flowering is still in full flight. Intense golden yellow in great swathes along the highway. At lower altitude these varieties are coming to the end of their show, but of course as we climb through the mountains things are a little behind. Some pink wildflowers too on small native shrubs. The mountain villages treat us to densely packed candelabras of the classic Magnolia soulangeana, with its beautifully sculpted purple and while tulip shaped flowers. A little later, I interrupt the conversation to draw mum’s attention to a gorgeous red rhododendron. Spring blossom trees sing their song of love to the bees in pinks and whites here and there.

Before long we are heading through Mt Victoria and we exclaim as we see a mob of kangaroos in a vacant block of land between the houses.

I call for a stop at the Explorer tree. I don’t recall ever having stopped here before. Just a quick leap from the car. Ooh. It’s nippy up here. I duck down to the tree. It’s just a rotten old tree stump with a plaque erected in the 1880s. Not at all a memorable stop. Now I come to think of it. I believe we have stopped here before on the way to the Capertee Valley. I stop mum and daughter from bothering with the gentle slope down to the tree. As I make my way back to the car I think of the frustration of indigenous people to this ludicrous worship of European explorers of their land. Indigenous people had several ways to cross the mountains. I understand one of them followed a river further to the south, down in Dharawal country. I recall some time not too long ago there was some vandalism done to one of the Bourke and Wills sites. A physical protest at the insinuation that the land needed to be “discovered” and the lack of celebration of a long standing indigenous ownership and management of this land.

We take the opportunity for a change of driver, giving daughter the chance to exclaim at the beauty of the scenes looking out across the rolling hills of the central west as we descend from the mountains and make our way in the golden light of late afternoon through to Bathurst. What a joy it is to be heading back into the central west. I feel the strains of past weeks lifting with the joy of driving on these beautiful open rural roads.

A lull in conversation and daughter sparks a new discussion. “So what is the view on prostitution in this car?” to which mum, who is never slow to pick up on any ambiguity in language, replies quick as a wink “well, I’m not in favour of prostitution in this car.”

Between voicing our own views; considering the sometimes challenging views of absent friends, and relating the story of Dell Bourke and the Yellow Hotel once of Lusk WY we are kept entertained for the run into Orange.

The sun is dipping down to the horizon, making beautiful silhouettes of the deciduous trees along the road. We pull over for a photo before heading in to Orange. Orange is such a lovely town. It must surely be one of the nicest towns in Australia. Many small towns are endowed with charm from the integrity of their historic streetscape which has been caught in a bit of a time warp as the existing structures continue to meet the needs of residents. Orange is that rare thing, a town which has continued to consistently prosper and slowly grow without becoming a horrible architectural mish mash. There are modern touches but they blend seamlessly with the old. Beautiful tree lined streets and parks.

It’s almost 6pm and we plan to eat in Orange. Orange is not only beautiful it has a reputation for good food as well. We pass Orange Kebab in the main street. That’s definitely a contender. We had the best kebabs of my life there on a previous trip. As we come to the roundabout with sign directing towards the botanic garden I make an impromptu turn. I think this was the way to a restaurant we ate at in orange before. A slow drive down an uncommonly lovely surburban street arched with the bare branches of delicious trees and lined with old houses, we pass a bar on one corner and I am encouraged to continue on as memory revives. Ah yes, here it is. I have no idea what it was called when last we visited, but it is now called The Harrison Restaurant and Lounge. Daughter and I breath deeply of the faint aroma of wood smoke in the air and venture in to enquire about a table for three. Soon we are shaking off the shivers of a brisk western night in the coziness of the restaurant. It has a lovely ambience. Linen napkins, french doors overlooking a beautiful flowering camellia. All bodes well for the opening meal of our long awaited spring road trip.

We peruse the menu and opt for a serve of tomato and bocconcini bruschetta. Appropriately as each serve comes with two pieces, our attendant offers to just have the kitchen bring us three. On arrival we find the bruscetta is constructed of thick slices of soft french stick, capped with a deliciously dressed fresh tomato salsa and a couple of slices of cherry bocconcini the whole lightly drizzled with a lurid green basil pesto. The colour of the drizzle doesn’t look natural its quite strange. We each take a slice. It is fabulously delicious. The colour is forgiven. A truly outstandingly delicious start to our meal.

None of us are really up for a huge meal, so we share an entrée between us of seafood cake with tempura prawns resting on a dill buerre blanc reduction. This was a bit disappointing. The sauce was a bit heavy and the tempura batter a little floury and not really light enough for tempura. The seafood cake was a little bland.

There’s not a huge range of options for the mains and they are all pretty conservative, comparatively unchallenging choices. Daughter and grandma go for the scotch fillet with diane sauce. I went for the surf and turf, which is also scotch fillet. On the up side each main came with mash and some nicely cooked broccoli. My surf and turf was quite nice, but again the sauce was a bit too heavy. My steak was cooked a bit more than I requested, but I like my meat ruined so it wasn’t a big drama for me. Still nicely tender. I enjoyed my meal.

Daughter and grandma’s dianne sauce was very strange. A little research reveals that there are a couple of interpretations of Dianne sauce. This one is the type that involves Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes, and no brandy. We are accustomed to the variety that involves a bit of brandy and cream and no tomato so this sauce is a bit of a surprise. It’s very strong. Their steak, which was requested med/rare, was undercooked, but it was beautifully tender. The sauce was too strong though and there was a lot of it so the sauce was hard to avoid. Not too big a drama as grandma was full after the shared entre and bruscetta anyway.

An offer of packing up grandma’s largely untouched steak, it is brought promptly back artistically packaged in aluminium foil shaped like a bird with arched neck and fan tail. The warm steak encased in the body giving an illusion of life. We settle the bill and head off into the night after a friendly farewell as the restaurant slowly fills with tables of cheerful diners. The best things about our meal this evening were the ambience, the service and the bruschetta.

By now it’s 7:30 and we have a couple of hours to go before we reach Dubbo. It’s well and truly night time, so we’re not that keen on going overly fast. Not much traffic on the roads. It’s peaceful with the bright dance of red and white reflectors in the light of our headlights. We discuss the colouration of cats and the associated genetic quirks and permutations.

By 9:30 we are busily heeding the numerous security warnings from host and notices in Dubbo Country Apartments and removing pretty much everything from our vehicle overnight. The apartment is fresh and cosy. It’s so good to arrive. 10pm and we’re settling down for the night.

#The great dividing range is a mountain range that runs from the far north of Queensland right down to Victoria. As you can see here, we commonly refer to it as “the divide”. Anywhere on the eastern side of the divide is referred to as coastal. Anywhere on the western side of the divide is called inland. The vast majority of Australias population leaves on the coastal strip along the east coast of the country…most of the rest lives on the coast around the rest of the continent.

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