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Page 180




Late Spring and Early Summer in Porepunkah, Victoria

But First, Two pictures you'll want to see.

Okay, it's a bit of a cheat; I never promised 'no aircraft' on this page and I'd really like you to see two photos from Temora:

Dog Fight

A Spitfire and a Kittyhawk squaring off. Is this why they call fighter combat 'dog fights'?

Heritage Flight

They called this 'The Heritage Flight'.
Propeller driven: Two Spitfires and a Mustang. Jets: A Sabre, a Meteor and a Hornet.
Why so special? These are the only two airworthy Spitfires in Australia and they both belong at Temora. This was the first time I saw them both airborne together. The Mk 16 is at the top and the Mk 8 has the shark teeth artwork.

Bloody hell, it's Dawn and Phil!

We'd only been in 'Punkah a few days when there was a knock on the caravan door and there stood Dawn and Phil Sedgmen from Mildura, 720 road kilometres distant. They had booked the site next to us for ten days, swearing park owner and manager, Jenny, to secrecy. We'd first met Phil and Dawn at that most bizarre of hotels, the Daly Waters Pub in the Northern Territory in May of 2005 and we've been good friends ever since. Phil was the Australian Speedway Champion in 1967. His son, Gavin, followed him into the sport and now his grandson, Justin, is the Victorian Speedway Champion. So, with the four of us together again it was full on sightseeing and some very elastic happy hours.

On the day after their arrival we were gentle with them; just a drive into Bright for coffee and retail therapy. Then, to alert them to what might be in store, we drove up Mystic Mountain to Huggins Lookout then on up to the launch point from where the suicidal paraglider pilots leap into space. We'd seen many of them in the air from the town below but we were too late to watch any more launch; they'd all gone and the site was deserted. Oh well, can't win them all.

The drive down the mountain's tortuous dirt roads was just as bumpy, steep and dusty as the drive up had been. I'd deflated the car tyres to 30 p.s.i. on the way up as they were still at 40 p.s.i. for caravan towing. That smoothed out the ride considerably.

The following day we stayed on the bitumen visiting the gigantic Eldorado Gold Dredge then the towns of Beechworth, Yakandandah and Mount Beauty. Though the road over the mountains from Mount Beauty to Bright is bitumen, it is not for the faint hearted. Frequently there are almost perpendicular drops on one side of the road and multiple tight bends.

On the Thursday we all used Phil's car. The morning was gentle with a visit to a butter and a cheese factory. In the afternoon Phil drove us up Mount Buffalo. The road is bitumen but very steep and twisty and it seems to go on forever. We stopped to visit the Buffalo Chalet ...

Chalet

Cloud was blowing across the Chalet which is at an altitude of 4,350 feet

We walked around the outside of the Chalet and the paint is still flaking off rotting wooden cladding despite $7M having been allocated for refurbishment work seven months ago. There is hope, however. We saw evidence that rotten supporting stumps were being replaced ...

New Stumps

Strong new pillars now support the Chalet which is built over boulders.
The paintwork on the window frames above, however, bears witness to years of neglect.

From the Chalet we visited a lookout point which afforded us an excellent view of cloud but little else.

Cloud hole

Occasionally a gap in the cloud opened to give us a brief view of the mountains beyond.

There being little to see we drove on up to the peak, known as The (Buffalo's) Horn. There, at 5,600 feet, the visibility was no better so, before we froze to death, I took a quick photo of the others and we piled back into Phil's warm car.

3 on the Horn

Pam, Dawn and Phil looking a lot more comfortable than they really were.
Two days later we saw snow not much higher than this.

Our trip to Mount Hotham was similar to our Buffalo visit in that we left warm, sunny Porepunkah to climb into cold, wet cloud. You get a clue where the snowline starts when the road markings and verge posts change from white to yellow. Again, the road up Hotham is tortuous and steep, characterised by terrifying sheer drops on one side and a rock wall on the other. Full credit to the men who cut this road along such steep slopes.

Long before we reached the summit we saw patches of snow.

Snow on Hotham

Patches of snow persisted in hollows despite the start of summer being imminent.
The structures in the background support the ski lift cables.

We parked for a look around at the summit. All the way up the mountain we'd passed cyclists struggling up the steep gradient and at the top were many more recovering their breath. My God, they must be fit; there wasn't an ounce of surplus fat on any of them. They certainly put the four of us to shame.

We'd been watching the outside temperature fall as we drove up Mount Hotham. It fell to 4° Centigrade at the summit. The wind, though not strong, added a chill factor so we didn't waste too much time sightseeing at the top. I was dressed, as usual, in shorts and T-shirt.

Ski Lift

One of the ski lift terminuses, closed until next winter. Note the large pulley that the cable travels around.
Above the pulley is the motor room and below it stand Phil and Dawn, snuggling together for warmth.

Beyond Phil and Dawn the sky was quite bright with patches of blue. When we looked the other way it was a very different story ... and that was what was approaching.

Dark Clouds

Foreground: Dawn and Phil with a shivering Pam beyond. Middle ground: Ski lift chairs stacked for summer.
Between the two flags on the right is "Billy", our Pajero, abandoned across two parking bays beneath a sombre sky.

Food and coffee were clearly our next priority so we reboarded Billy and headed eleven kilometres east to Dinner Plain where we knew of a nice café with a log fire. Or we thought we did. It had gone! However, we soon found another place which had excellent food, good coffee but slow service.

According to legend, Dinner Plain was so named because the horse-drawn coaches used to stop there for refreshment and to rest the animals on their journeys over the top from Bright to Omeo and back. In the 2011 census, Dinner Plain had 368 private dwellings, but a population of only 143 to live in them!

Dinner Plain

This Wikipedia photo of Dinner Plain was taken in very different weather. How drab all the buildings look.
Copyright: Flagstaffotos (http://www.flagstaffotos.com.au/)

Despite the depressing colour of the houses, the road names were interesting. We saw Drybone Lane, Tea Bag Lane, Little Bit Lane, New Borehole Road, Black Sallee Road and Scrubbers End. Black Sallee is a type of eucalyptus tree that grows at high altitudes, I looked it up to save you the trouble.

As we left the café the cloud descended and the rain started. We were extremely glad that we had a nice, warm 4 x 4 Pajero waiting outside, not a pedal cycle as in the case of most of the café's customers; it was 44 km to Omeo in one direction and 67 km to Bright in the other. It was cold and wet and miserable but at least it was mostly downhill. I don't begrudge those guys and girls their extreme fitness, they earn it.

It felt as if Dawn and Phil had only been with us five minutes and it was time for them to leave. They were returning to support grandson Justin who was defending his Victorian Speedway title.
Two Flying Critters. A Cicada ...

Cicada

The bright green cicada on the right has just emerged from its larval husk (on the left) through a split in its back.

If you think you've previously seen another article on cicadas on this site, you're right. We came across them in Sale, Victoria, in November 2010 (page 130).

Briefly, the larva has lived underground on sap from tree roots for perhaps seven years, growing and moulting several times. On some unknown signal, all the cicada larvae dig their way to the surface, climb a short way up the nearest tree trunk, split their outer skin and emerge as a mature insect. They are programmed to climb rapidly to the top of the tree where a bonk-fest of cicadas is taking place, the males making a very loud sound by vibrating their abdomens to attract a mate.

The specimen shown above nearly 'lucked out' when the tree it climbed turned out to be a wooden gate post and it could climb no further. Had it not been for the intervention of a rather overweight geriatric with a camera, its future might have been one of frustration, listening to its pals frolicking in the tree tops above. Though it has fine wings, it seems to be too heavy to fly well though we did see them occasionally flying from one treetop to another.

I picked this cicada up and placed it on the trunk of a nearby tree. When I checked on it later it had gone. I subsequently rescued others in the same way.
... and a bogong moth

Bogong Moth

A deceased bogong moth. The dollar coin is for scale.

There I was, chatting to Marshall and Jenny, the park owners, one sunny morning when Jenny asked if I'd ever seen a bogong moth. I didn't think I had. She pointed to a dead one lying nearby. I'm not in the habit of photographing every dead insect I come across, but bogongs have a strong significance in south-eastern Australia so I thought it justified a mention.

Bogongs were a favourite delicacy of the Aborigines who used to gather in the high country every year to celebrate and feast on these very nutritious moths. They used to roast them, burning off their wings and legs in the process, then they would either mash them into a paste or eat them whole. (This was before they discovered McDonald's.)

The moths migrate from as far away as Queensland to the Victorian High Country to escape the summer heat. They arrive in vast numbers and live in mountain caves and crevices where they mate. Looking at the rear of the one in the picture, maybe this one was in the act when it expired; what a way to go! Having mated they return to the lowlands to lay their eggs.

The moths experience severe navigation difficulties when they pass Canberra as the lights on Parliament House prove an irresistible attraction to them. If they could know what goes on inside, they'd undoubtedly give the place a wide berth. As it is, thousands of them swarm into any opening they can find, jamming up air conditioning systems and disabling lifts.

Mount Bogong in the Bogong National Park is Victoria's highest peak. At 6,454 feet it is significantly higher than Mount Hotham and Mount Buffalo. So was the moth named after the mountain or vice versa? The word bogong is said to mean 'Big Fella' in an Aboriginal dialect so it could apply to the moth or the mountain.
It's our anniversary!

Today is 4th December 2013, exactly nine years since we left our Perth home in Western Australia to adopt a nomadic lifestyle living in a caravan about the size of an average kitchen. Since then we have not returned home though we did pass through Perth once on our way down the West Australian coast and called in to see if the house was still standing. Later it nearly burned down in the February 2011 bush fire which destroyed 72 homes.

We don't have the original caravan, we upgraded to a newer one eighteen months ago, but we still have the same car.

Pajero

A credit to Mitsubishi. Our eleven-year-old Pajero with 190,000 km on the clock still goes as well as ever after nine years of towing a heavy caravan around Australia and enduring the worst the climate could throw at it.

The Pajero has been meticulously serviced and is on its third or fourth windscreen. Apart from the usual tyre and battery replacements it has cost us very little. Its fuel consumption is acceptable; what more could we ask of it?

When we first started our travels we found Pajeros were way down the list of preferred tow vehicles after Land Cruisers, Patrols, Prados, Discoveries and a range of ute derivatives. Today Pajeros are much more commonly seen in caravan parks, sometimes outnumbering every other type.