Sunday, 10th October 2004: Torn between leaving the Steam Festival in Echuca behind, and seeing my old friend Nic Jaspers again at his home in Orange, NSW, I headed via Deniliquin across the flat farming plains all the way to West Wyalong.
A text message from Nic told me to take the Forbes route where he would meet me. I described the car I was driving and kept a lookout for Nic but didn’t see him. Some bugger on a big red motorbike dogged me for quite a way and if there had been more than one bikey, I might have been nervous. My route was now rising into hill attractive country. Then the bike rider stopped me in Eugowra with his helmet off. My old mate!
At a nice house in Crinoline Street, Orange, I met Nic’s wife, Sue, and their son, Alex, for the first time. Alex was much the same age as Nic had been when I first met him in Swakopmund, South-West Africa, all those years ago. He was a keen drummer and spent a lot of time in his room practicing; thankfully with the ability to apply silent mode! His two elder sisters, Elizabeth and Anneke, were already out of the house.
Nic was a conscientious guide. The view from Mt. Canabolas is panoramic and the countryside attractive. From there we went to Canowindra, the “balloon capital of Australia”, but there were none flying that day. However a visit to the Museum of Fish & Fossils was fascinating. On to Wyangala Dam; tragically only 7% full because of the drought but reputedly 72m deep when full. Hilly country with frequent rock outcrops. We had a peek at the historic villages of Carcour (1830) and Millthorpe (1850) on our way home. Back in Orange, Nic showed me some of the buildings he has designed over the years. As an amateur designer and builder myself, I appreciate the pride one can’t help feeling in being a part of edifices, large and small.
Later on the Monday morning, I joined Nic at his architect office in Orange. After a chat to Kevin O’Connell in New Zealand by phone, Nic and I went to a travel agent to book flights to South Island on 27th October, two weeks away. I had been trying to trace an old schoolfriend, Kees Korndorffer, in New Zealand, and thanks to his unusual surname, I finally tracked down Mineke Wells, his sister in Auckland, who gave me his home number, but said I’d have to delay a call until he got back from a week’s holiday in Fiji. I do so love the tracing game. If I got to finding him, it would be 35 years since I’d seen him last.
I hit the road the following day, through Millthorpe, Blaney, to the little village of Trunkey Creek, a goldrush village, +/- 1860, where I saw a plaque: Thomas Arkell-Smith was appointed Police Magistrate & Gold Commissioner in 1871. Arkell, being a family name of mine, made that of interest. Nearby, I turned off to see the Abercrombie Caves in limestone country where the river falls into a sinkhole and runs through a grotto. However, after a long walk, it was to find they were closed off, but I did see my first live wallaby and two goannas.
On roads that alternated between gravel and tar I got to the old gold mining village of Tuena with its three little churches and a beautiful rusty old truck. Through Binda (1825), an agricultural settlement with interesting stone buildings and a population of about 30, then Crookwell, over the Great Dividing Range to Goulburn, a small city. Next came Braidwood, across a plateau, then down a series of zigzag passes through eucalypt forests to the coast at Bateman Bay. I decided to push on to Tilba, another hour away. Refuelled at Narooma for $40-00 then turned off at Central Tilba to look for accommodation. $95-00 scared me off a B&B there, but the Dromedary Hotel was a good find at $45-00.
Obviously the pub was known as The Drom. An Australian, Jim Tom, I had known in Maun Botswana had said he came from Tilba, so naturally he would have inhabited the Drom. I asked around and found his old buddy, Bunna, who hadn’t seen Jim for years, but thought he was crop-spraying in Deniliquin, which I had passed a few days back. Ah, well. Built a fair hangover at the Drom with Bunna, anyway.
I spent the next morning, after a leisurely brekka, exploring the pretty area, then headed south. Biga, Merimbula, Pambula, and Eden when I had another brekka for lunch. It is lovely panoramic country with forested hills, lakes and rivers and tantalising glimpses of the sea. At Nullica River mouth I turned off to park and watch the lovely bay for awhile. I got to my brother’s farm near Marlo, Victoria, just before dark.
Next day, I looked up crop-sprayers operating out of Deniliquin and ran down Jim Tom, one of the pilots there, after the second try. I couldn’t persuade him who I was, even though he’d been living in the same yard for a year. He’d drunk with us, had meals with us. But he kept getting me mixed up with Peter Thorneycroft, his old employer in Maun whom he had run out on. Guilty conscience, I suppose. Sad. Them’s the breaks, as they say Down Under.