Sunday 24 April 2011

Melbourne to Robe 4 – 12 Apostles

It's all about the coastline.

Between Apollo Bay and Port Campbell the coast is lined with mighty limestone cliffs which have ben eaten away by centuries of tides and wild seas. The result is a series of spectacular free standing rock formations which sit close by the adjacent beaches.

The locals must have been of a religious bent as these forms take names such as Bay of Martyrs and Twelve Apostles. Nearby Port Fairy was originally named Belfast and still hosts the largest celtic folk festival in the country. Many of the local sites still defiantly carry the Belfast tag. Although Belfast, Northern Ireland is Protestant, the local Port fairy flavor is very much Catholic Celtic.

The best story of our Twelve Apostles visit came as we checked into the Port Fairy YHA the following evening. Allison, the host, made a comment assuming Andrea was my wife then checked herself observing that of course that might not necessarily be the case. She was a bumptious girl who showed no sign of recognizing that this exchange could have put me in an awkward situation, being faced with continuing the lie (of wife and marriage) or joining in and confessing that I was there with my mistress. In my case I had brought the right partner and was able to freely join her stories of deception without guilt

She told the story of the collapse of one of the Twelve Apostles a few years previously which had an unexpected outcome.

A romantic couple had walked across the land bridge to the formation called London Bridge. As it implies, this consists of two pillars of rock sitting in the ocean joined by an arch. On this day while the couple were on the farthest pillar, the gods of deceived wives decided to collapse the bridge section leaving the couple stranded on the remaining pillar. This triggered an emergency rescue with helicopters and national media coverage. The couple were instant celebrities.

Unfortunately, the man’s wife was at home bored and at a loose end (her husband being on his annual fishing trip) and watching the saga unfold while her husband shivered with cold and cursed his ill timed walk over London Bridge.

Melbourne to Robe 3 - Youth Hostels

Apollo Bay is one of a series of resort villages along this stretch of the Victorian coastline. We will be staying at three YHAs along this trip. These former “Youth” hostels have been rebadged simply as YHA dropping the reference to young people.

The story goes that as the original “Youth” of the YHA movement grew older they were reluctant to give up their identity and the benefits of cheap accommodation around the country and internationally. What once were for the under 26’s are now shared by that group and the over 50 year olds – survivors of the magical sixties and seventies era. Andrea was a bit apprehensive but was a convert on discovering the modern amenities offered at Apollo Bay and upon seeing children among the hosteliers.

Travelling can sometimes be beautifully quiet and calm or, depending on your mood and personality, socially isolating. I love both experiences. The tranquility of isolation and travelling with one other for company can replenish one’s reserves of energy and sense of balance. The company of many can be demanding but offers unexpected opportunities for conversations with total strangers.

David was at the third of our hostel stops – Port Fairy. A conversation over dinner in the common kitchen area revealed him to be a retired teacher. He was English born, a teacher for his working life, a father and now a late traveller with a keen eye for the social and political context of his journey. His observations of Australia were insightful.

He remarked on the lack of evidence on our indigenous roots. Comparing his experience of Wales where signage is bi lingual in recognition of the living presence of a native tongue. He had assumed that there would be something similar happening with Aboriginal language. We pointed out that there was not one but hundreds of dialects around the country but acknowledged that where there was a dominant indigenous language, in the red centre or Alice Springs for example, it was still not used alongside English.

Over breakfast we were sharing family stories and discovered that this Englishman’s father was in fact Spanish and then this rich story unfolded of Franco’s Spain and escape to England and a life in fear of retribution and an absence of family. Finally after his father died he began the search for his Spanish relatives who had given up hope of ever finding their brother, uncle, cousin, David’s father.

His search was rewarded. On visiting Spain for the first time at the age of 55 David expected to be met at the station by his aunt and her husband. On arriving he was overwhelmed to find 30 people embracing him as the long lost family member; the son of the man they thought they had lost forever.

At the feast which had been prepared for him a young boy, the only one who spoke English, made a simple statement on behalf of the family: “Welcome home. We thought we would never find you”.

Melbourne to Robe 2 - Ice

Melbourne to Robe 2 - Ice

The decision to drive across Victoria to South Australia rather than fly was to experience the Great Ocean Road which follows the wild coastline fronting the Great Southern Ocean for the first 400 kilometres of the 600 kilometre drive. It did not disappoint.

The autumn sun shone; the ocean was at its turquoise best; the road was relatively quiet; the surf rolled in perfect formation towards cliffs and pristine beaches. There were occasional pods of black suited surfers collected on the points of various headlands but few others wearing less than boots, jackets and long trousers and most of these in coffee shops or enjoying the view from their cars.

So naturally, at Lorne, unable to resist such a picturesque beach and perfect water, I went for a swim. No wetsuit for me, just skin and speedos. At knee level I usually ask myself why I made this decision but by then it’s too late. It was freezing as I dove through the first breaker I couldn’t outjump. My testicles had already rejected me as the water crept up to my waist. Now my eyeballs went into deep freeze mode and threatened to carry the pain through the eye socket to my brain where all life would cease. But as all fools who enter subzero waters will attest, it’s just a matter of waiting for the body to adjust. Translate this as lose all sensation and then mistake this for pleasure.

Fifteen minutes and a half dozen rides on some great body surfing waves I emerged and returned to the car numb, but still with the capacity for speech. As we drove off my feet were on autopilot as they worked the pedals of the Corolla but as my body returned to its normal temperature, rather than feel relief, it seemed to have a delayed shock reaction and pain not pleasure slowly crept over my body as we headed for the Wye River and a much anticipated lunch of lamb and minestrone soup.

Melbourne to Robe 1. - Melbourne

Melbourne to Robe 1

The Easter break has arrived. Though I’m not working it still feels necessary to treat it as a special holiday event. Andrea (working) and I (not working) have decided to take a 10 day break which will be extended to 14 days for me, one of the perks of “not working”. We flew to Melbourne on Friday the 15th and then on the Monday (18th) jumped in a hire car to drive to Robe in South Australia – there to meet some old friends for the Easter weekend.

Melbourne was great as usual. We explored its inner city laneways, had dinner with Andrea’s brother on Brunswick Street and drove to the far beaches of the Mornington Peninsular with her cousin and two boys (see photos). I took my togs but decided against a swim.

We also spent an evening with a distant relative in the hope of unraveling another part of the family history. It’s a long story and it’s the one I’m working on this year with the goal of producing a draft of a book length account of the journey. I will post an account of the evening with the O’Brians soon.

Monday 4 April 2011

writing not writing - Lorenzo's Laugh

Last week I attended the first of five writing workshops I've signed up for.

The series is called "The Year of the Novel" The tutor/workshop leader is Nerida Newton, a published author, who has run these for the Queensland Writer's Centre over the past five years. A group of fifteen writers of varying experience (some with none!!) will meet every 8 weeks to discuss our projects and to receive some guidance from Nerida.

The goal: a full length first draft manuscript by the end of the year. I had enrolled in their "Year of the Memoir" but that got subsumed in the "Y of the Novel" due to low enrolments. After one day I'm confident that the same writing principles apply so, though I was a little reluctant to transfer, I feel conmfortable now.

I'm telling you this because it is dominating my time and satisfying my creative urges, to the extent that blogging is taking a bit of a back seat in my consciousness.

I will use this blog to report on progress (as well as have a bit of a play from time to time) by way of keeping in contact with people and as a bit of pressure to stay on track.

So what is my project?

Working Title: "Lorenzo's Laugh"
Briefly its my quest to uncover the mystery behind my family name. Without giving too much away it was triggered by the discovery that we don't carry the name which my great grandfather was registered under on his voyage from Italy to Australia.

Lucky for me there is a rich story of hope and dashed dreams; of a cunning French Marquis who sells poor Italians a trip to a non existent paradise in the Pacific.; of beautiful landscapes and untimely deaths. And then there's me.

The one thing I learnt from Nerida last week was that even a memoir needs a protagonist and an antagonist which means that unless I try to write a factual history of these events (which I am not interested in doing) I will be there in the story and I will need to be brave enough to be fairly self revealing to make people interested in my quest.

I wrote 2000 words today. Much more than I expected. I thought I would get stuck on page one but the story kept flowing. I expect it will emerge as a series of episodic accounts of varying aspects of the puzzle. My plan at this stage is to keep writing without too much concern for the final product. Let the juices run free and, fingers crossed, hope the story takes shape through the telling and through some judicious (and tough Ouch!) editing when the time comes.