Page 143: More fun at the festival
     
  A Night of murder and mystery  
 

When we saw "Murders and Mysteries" in the programme of events for the Bright Autumn Festival, we couldn't resist, especially when we learned it was to be conducted by Diann Talbot. Back on Page 111 of this tome, Diann gave Pam and I a personal tour of the Buckland Valley. She's a historian, an author and probably the greatest source of knowledge on the history of the Bright region. And she's a really lovely lady too.

So we rocked up outside the Alpine Tourist Centre at 6:30 p.m. and found a group of about twenty people already waiting outside in the dark. Diann is a very accomplished speaker and began by telling us the story of Ellen, the wife of the licensee of the hotel which had occupied the premises directly opposite where we stood. It is said that Ellen still haunts the building. While alive, she had been fastidious about neatness and when her ghost is seen now she is invariably wiping a table, straightening the curtains or tidying up.

Diann then said we would move on a short way towards the centre of Bright. Although the street lights were on, it was still fairly dark under the trees. As the group began to move away we noticed a silent woman in period costume standing in our midst. How did she get there? We hadn't seen her before. She followed silently behind the group as we walked after Diann. Pam and I were at the rear, as usual. The silent lady stayed with us for a while and I had shivers running down my spine. When I glanced behind again there was nobody in sight.

Diann gathered us around her again and began to tell us about another building across the street. It had been occupied by a doctor and his wife. The doctor took in a man called William to do odd jobs for him. William was very strange and eventually the doctor's wife couldn't take it any longer and gave her husband an ultimatum: "Get rid of William or I'm leaving."  Well, the doctor wouldn't and his wife left.

As this story was progressing we all noticed a very odd character walking up and down outside the doctor's house, muttering and waving his arms about as if in passionate conversation with someone. Passers-by stared at him but he didn't appear to see them. Diann continued that eventually the doctor passed away and William was sent to an institution. There they discovered that William was actually a woman.

We then took a back lane, even darker than before, and Diann told us that some Chinese used to mine for gold nearby. They had dug a 'race' which brought fast-flowing water from a higher location. The banks of the race were steep and more than one child had fallen in and drowned; there was no requirement for fencing in those days. On one occasion a mother was walking along the bank of the race with her children when she suffered an epileptic fit and fell in. The children were helpless to assist and had to watch their mother drown.

Proceeding around a corner, Diann again stopped opposite a hotel. We gathered around and she was telling the group of how the hotel had once caught fire. At that instant a terrible screaming startled us and a woman dashed out of the darkness near the hotel and ran into the street crying, "My babies, there's a fire, my babies, my babies!" She appeared absolutely distraught, wringing her hands and crying out again and again.

At that moment an old man on a pedal cycle was passing. He wobbled all over the road as he tried to see what was happening, for it was quite certain something terrible was happening. He turned his bike and rode back to the woman, dismounted and bent over her, obviously asking what was wrong. Our group, on the other side of the road, were now in fits of laughter. What the woman said to him I don't know but he remounted his cycle and rode off, followed by peals of laughter. Poor man.

Meanwhile, two people carried another woman out of the 'fire' and sat her down on a low wall. A doctor went to tend to her as she was leaning further and further forward, in danger of collapsing. She did, in fact, fall forward into his arms. What he didn't know was that the woman was actually the wax effigy of an infamous murderess. It was in the process of being transported from one location to another. The people in charge of it had managed to get the dummy away from the fire then returned to give assistance in the hotel. The heat of the fire, however, had softened the wax which resulted in the dummy slowly bending at the waist until it collapsed into the arms of the doctor. The poor man was very puzzled indeed and was the butt of jokes for a long time after.

So the tour continued with stories of death and disaster. Around every dark corner we tensed, waiting for something to happen. Eventually Diann stopped opposite another hotel, this time The Oriental. As she told us the story of that establishment we heard music coming from the upper floor. Standing on the hotel balcony was a group of women in period costume, calling to us and guaranteeing the men a good time.

Diann had co-opted some members of the Bright Amateur Dramatic Society and they did an excellent job. We haven't had so much fun in ages. If only I'd taken my camera!

 
     
  A Historical Tour of 'Punkah  
 

The day after we attended the Night of Murder and Mystery - and God, it was a fantastic night - we had to be up 'early' to go on a historical tour of Porepunkah.

Let me digress for a moment. That name, Porepunkah, where did it come from? Somebody asked our guide and he gave the following response: The name consists of two Indian words, 'pore' means little or small. A punkah is one of those baffles that hangs from the ceiling and swings to and fro, operated by a rope, to create a draught. (Confirmed by the Oxford Dictionary.) Thus the name means 'small draught', or no appreciable wind. And it's true. After being here a week and a half our flag hasn't flapped once.

Anyway, the tour of Porepunkah consisted of about twenty of us meeting at the local school. There we were met by the ex-principal of the school. He led us about 200 metres west of the school and told us some of the history of 'Punkah. Then he led us 200 metres to the east of the school and told us more of the history. Then he led us 200 metres back to the school where we had a coffee and a snack, followed by a walk 200 metres north of the school where he told us more of the history which mainly consisted of the devastation wrought by the dredges. Then we walked 200 metres back to the school and that was it.

In fact, there is little left to see in 'Punkah so all our guide could do was tell us what used to be in the places he indicated. If I make the tour sound uninteresting then I apologise. It wasn't.

On the first leg we saw the view pictured below . . .

 
     
   
  An autumn view from the north side of the Ovens River at 'Punkah looking across to Mount Buffalo.  
     
  A visit to a green tea farm  
  This was a PINK day, make no mistake about that. Herself drinks green tea, I do not. It was quite interesting but whatever you do, don't tell her I said that. I'll leave Pam to tell the story in her journal. Below is a picture of the farmer who owned the property but only worked it part time. In his day job he is a builder/carpenter.  
     
   
  The green tea plantation owner, Colin Walker, one foot on his audio amplifier and a giant iced tea bottle at his side.
Behind him is his crop which resembles long, parallel hedges, cut square and with a narrow gap between each hedge.
 
     
 

The aspect of the plantation that I found particularly interesting was a large four-bladed propeller mounted high above the tea plants. Initially I thought it must be some sort of windmill for pumping bore water. Wrong! The fan's axis was at 5° to the horizontal so that, when energised, the fan sucked air from above and blew it slightly downwards. Why? Because, although some frost is essential for the tea, too much is harmful. The powerful blast from the fan blew warmer air down from a higher level, displacing the freezing air near the ground. The whole assembly rotated slowly so the air was blown to all points of the compass.

 
     
  Festival Day  
 

The next day, Saturday, commenced with a visit to the Bright Market which covered the whole centre of the town, traffic having been diverted. The weather was beautiful if a little cold. I lost sight of Pam very early on and, despite her wearing her pink 'mad woman' hat, she was hard to find in the crowd as her head only comes up to most people's shoulders. Eventually I spotted her and we agreed to meet in the Riverdeck café at 12:30. Naturally she was late.

 
     
   
 

Market Day in the clock square. Notice the Bunya Pine tree to the left of the clock tower? There are notices warning you
to beware of falling pine cones which can, depending on who you believe, be the size of your head or larger.

 
     
   
  We loved the registration plate on the van behind this nut stall.  
     
 

In the afternoon the traffic was further disrupted by the big parade led by the town crier and consisting of - well, you name it. After a while I went for our folding chairs and grabbed a good position for the RAAF Band performance in the park. Many people had already placed their chairs to reserve the whole front row, then gone off to watch the parade. Cheeky buggers.

 
     
   
  Despite his resemblance to an evil, cut-throat pirate captain or a body snatcher, the Town Crier is actually a nice man.  
     
 

The RAAF Band was just fabulous. The band members' appearance was immaculate and their playing - to my inexpert ear - faultless. There was humour injected into their performance and there were three solo singers.

 
     
   
  The Band of the Royal Australian Air Force.  
     
   
  Squadron Leader Steve Wright conducting the fabulous RAAF Band.  
     
   
  Corporals Byron and Roxanne giving it their all.
For those that like messing about with Photoshop, etc, I combined two solo performance photos to create this 'duet'.
 
     
   
  Left: Squadron Leader Wright conducting. 
Right: But he wasn't alone. This little chap made a great show of conducting too. You should have seen him bow after each piece.
 
     
   
  And as always, when there's music and an audience there were young girls ready to put on a show.  
     
  Mothers' Day.  
 

We arose early on Sunday morning for we planned to spend part of the morning in a cemetery. Good old Diann Talbot was giving a talk in, and on, the Buckland Cemetery and we wouldn't have missed it for the world, the Buckland Valley having such a very interesting history. Remember the massacre of the Chinese miners? The Chinese cemetery is adjacent but every headstone has been 'souvenired', for want of a nicer alternative for the word 'stolen'. Some people should be thoroughly ashamed.

Talking of shame, somebody who shall remain nameless, forgot it was Mothers' Day until Pam received a phone call from son, Nic, in Perth later to wish her a happy Mothers' Day. Mothers' Day? Oops!

There were local people on Diann's graveyard tour who had relatives buried in the Buckland Cemetery. There appears to be a strong local interest in researching and improving the graveyard for there are few headstones but many bodies.

 
     
   
  Diann pointing out something of interest to the group. Sorry, Diann, what did you say?  
     
 

The cemetery is in a wonderfully scenic spot and if I had to be dead, I wouldn't mind resting there. Prefer not to, of course, but forgetting Mothers' Day isn't the best way of living a long and healthy life.

After the graveyard tour we were invited to the house next to the cemetery where John and Nanette Hall live. The Halls look after the cemetery and even have some relatives buried there. There has been a Benjamin Hall in the Buckland for many generations. We were given a lovely morning tea in beautiful surroundings.

 
     
   
  Lots of graves, few memorial stones. But what a place to lie at rest. Only if you have to, of course.  
     
  More of the RAAF Band.  
 

Leaving the Buckland Valley we drove straight back to Bright in time to listen to the RAAF Band give a midday recital in the park. It was as excellent as their previous performance but not quite as cold. Even so, we were frozen stiff after an hour and retreated to a local bakery for a hot drink and a warm up. That took us very nicely to the start of the live music at the Bright Boutique Brewery where copious quantities of extortionately-priced red wine of doubtful quality kept us warm until sundown.

And that was Mothers' Day.

The next day, Monday, was a total dud. We visited a local 'open garden' but the owners were out and the garden failed to meet expectations. So we went supermarket shopping in Bright. B-o-r-i-n-g.

 
     
  The Mount Buffalo Chalet  
 

Tuesday saw us back up on Mount Buffalo and it was f-f-freezing. Okay, so it was 7° C. but there was a breeze that chilled us to the bone. This was our second tour of the Mount Buffalo Chalet and I was quite surprised that only a couple of our party had not seen the inside of the Chalet before. In fact, at least three had worked there when it was still a going concern and some had been paying guests there.

Inside we were out of the wind but it felt just as cold. There are some old fashioned radiators scattered around the walls but they were stone cold. The heat to the whole building has to be either on or off; individual sections cannot be separately controlled. Just before the Chalet closed for business in 2007 they had a monthly bill of $57,000 to heat and light the place. To make matters worse, in the winter the Chalet has to burn aviation jet fuel because ordinary diesel would freeze. Today the heat remains off.

Because there were ex-employees and ex-guests on the tour a lot of different and interesting stories came out. For example, staff used to have separate male and female quarters. If a man was found in a woman's room it meant instant dismissal. However, if a woman was caught in a man's room there were no recriminations. They say that's why the female ghost wanders the corridors; she's trying to find her way back to her room.

One ex-employee told of the time that the Chalet had eleven paying guests and eighty plus staff to look after them.

The future of the Chalet is still undecided. A consortium is currently looking at the viability of re-opening it with a fifty year lease. This is a building without mains electricity, which pumps its water from a creek and has an inadequate sewage disposal system. It desperately needs renovation and insulation. Much of its wooden cladding is rotting though that is being replaced. If fresh paint touched it, I think it might collapse with shock. On the positive side, the structure itself is "in reasonably good condition given its age".

The Chalet's future role as a lodging for skiers, as it was in the past, is being discounted due to climate change. As it stands, in my completely uninformed opinion, the best commercial solution would be to put a match to it and start over using 21st century materials and technology and keeping the size down to what is really necessary. In one sense it would be a tragedy but the truth is that the Chalet is well past its use-by date and only clinging to life because of human sentimentality. The site, however, is pure gold. Location, location, location.

Why no photos? Because there are several already on Page 109.