VICTORIA: Buchan, Erica and Walhalla.

Heather Livingstone.jpg

Heather Livingstone, artist, with Kate Earle

October 2004: During the couple of days back with my brother Richard and his wife, Kate, I went with Kate to visit the Gippsland town of Buchan where she attended a Women-in-Business meeting to set up an Art & Craft Gallery. Buchan is in beautiful hilly country; famous for its more than 300 caves. Cavers come from all over the country; they even have a clubhouse.

Heather Livingstone's studio.jpg

Art by Heather Livingstone


The Backpackers’ Hostel is owned by a guy, a keen caver, who retired there and built the place himself. I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with him and a 6-pack of VB. On the way home with Kate, we called in at the studio of her friend, artist Heather Livingstone (80) A great character.

Walhalla - Brian

Brian Bright 2004, Walhalla

The following Tuesday, I took Kate to the town of Moe for a meeting after which she would stay with friends, then turned up into the hills to find the village of Erica where old friend Brian Bright was running the caravan park. He hadn’t changed much since I’d last seen him in London on my return visit there in 1971; but, like me, he had added bald, belly and beard.

Thompson Dam

Thompson Dam, Gippsland, Australia

He had me booked into the hotel across the road from the caravan park. We got into the beer and reminiscences and only hit the sack at 03h15. Wonderful company. I was up at 06h00 and wandered around Erica until Brian surfaced then we took a drive through the mountains to Thompson Dam.

Walhalle mineshaft PJE

Peter J. Earle at a Walhalla mineshaft 

Then to the 1860s mining village of Walhalla which was situated down a long narrow snaking steep-sided valley which shared the old rail line. I do so enjoy historical sites but not the tourist prices. Luckily we were the only tourists there just then. Such an intriguing visit into spectacular country. Thanks to Brian Bright for the tour and the company.

Walhalla steam engineWalhalla railbridgeWhen we got back, there was a message from Kate to say she had fallen and broken her arm; that I should pick her up at the regional hospital. Cheers and thanks to Brian, then I went off to collect her, but another message there sent me on to Traralgon where I found her with a friend in the Big Mac carpark from whence we headed home to Marlo and the farm.

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Appealing the Orange, NSW.

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.

My new Bike

Nic’s Honda

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!

Nco's wife Sue & daughter

Sue Jaspers, proud mum.

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.

Nico washing dishes!

Nic Jaspers 2004, domestic

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.

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Tracing Brian Bright

“While you are in Oz, Mate, why don’t you see if you can find Brian Bright?” I was now in touch with Kevin O’Connell in New Zealand and the plan was to spend a couple of weeks with him there before heading back to South Africa. We had both known Brian from London, 1969; a loyal friend – someone to ride the river with, as Louis Lamour used to say. There were not many clues, though.


Kevin O’Connell, left – Brian Bright, right.

His name.

He was about the same age as us. Therefore high school +/- 1960-1964?

He went to school in Echuca.


So, as soon as I had booked into The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in Echuca on 8th October 2004, I went to the Echuca High School. The headmaster, Paul Hon, 37, was most kind and helpful to look back in the school year-books. A Cheryl Bright had attended the school in the early ‘60s, who might be a sister to Brian, but no Brian. He suggested I try the Echuca Technical School, as St. Joseph’s Catholic School didn’t seem promising.

Nomads Oasis BP.jpgWeirdly, the Tech had once been housed in the very same building that now had The Nomads Oasis Backpackers in which I was going to spend the night. I had not even noticed the old bas relief sign over the door. The school had moved to a bigger site a few blocks away. However, the vice-head, Steve Doxey, was unable to find the attendance records of the relevant years. He, and other teachers, were hurriedly trying to set the school up as a voting station for the following day’s elections, so were not able to pursue the matter.

Just as I was thinking that I had hit a dead end, Paul Hon phoned to say that he had contacted a local citizen who was also our age and could confirm that Brian had indeed attended the Echuca Technical School. He suggested that I try The Riverine Herald.

At The Riv, as it was popularly known, Christine Chudley, the Editor/Journalist, was enthusiastic to help. She suggested that I contact a Joan Mitchell of the Historical Society. From The Riv offices, I phoned Joan who was able to tell me that there had been a Bright family living at Mathoura, a community about 25km north of Echuca in New South Wales. The words “had been” were a letdown, until she said that one of the sisters, also Joan, had married locally and was now Joan White, now living in Hare Street. It did sound a bit like a washing soap advert; and Joan laughed when I was so bold, or rude, as to say so.

Christine Chudley was startled. She too lived in Hare Street, just a little way from Joan White, and knew her. I spoke to Joan on the phone and she then gave me Brian’s number! He was then managing a caravan park in the village of Erica, near Moe in Victoria. Naturally, he was very cagey to start with. When I gave him my name and mentioned London, 1969, he was quiet for a moment then said:

“You and Barrett wrote The Big Dry. I’ve still got a copy, somewhere.”


Joan White - Echuca 2004.jpg



Christine arranged for me to meet Joan at her house the next day at 09h00. She would bring a photographer and write a little story about my quest to find Brian.

Joy Dettman

Joy Dettman – author

And so we did. What a delightful person was Joan White! We had a picture taken in her colourful garden – I’m sorry that it is in monochrome. I was to be told that another of their sisters was the popular Australian novelist, Joy Dettman. I have since read and thoroughly enjoyed Henry’s Daughter, a wonderful tale about a family of kids who wall up their mum to get her to lose weight!

Brian at Erica 2004

Brian Bright 2004.

I caught up with Brian in Erica later, a special visit, and we are still in touch by mobile text, usually when the Springboks play the Wallabies…

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Steaming in Echuca

On Friday 8th October 2004 I set off from Melbourne, with Orange NSW as my target to visit my friend and ex-brother-in-law, Nic Jaspers. However, my route was governed by a trace mission: find the present whereabouts of a man who went to school in the town of Echuca on the Murray River.

I took the West Ring to the Calder Highway, heading for Gisborne and Mt. Macedon, turning off through gum forests to visit the War Memorial Cross. The view all the way back to Melbourne was awesome, but the weather was very cold so I didn’t tarry. I gave Hanging Rock a miss as it was fenced off. Lancefield, Toobarac, through green fields and rolling hills with bouldery outcrops to the Northern Highway. To Heathcote, with alpacas, sheep and canola fields, arriving at Elmore at 10h30.


Museum, Elmore, Vic.

There is nothing like a museum to stall my plans. Elmore, a little town on the Campaspe River, is home to a little agricultural museum celebrating the surrounding area’s wheat farms and farm life of the 1800s. More specifically, it is a tribute to a local son, Hugh Victor MacKay, the inventor of the Sunshine Harvester. I had even seen Sunshine Harvesters at home in South Africa on the Springbok Flats! The fifth child of Irish immigrants who had settled to farm nearby, he was born in 1865. He attended a primary school, but by 13 he was back on the farm. By the time he was 20, he had patented the Sunshine Harvester which was to revolutionise wheat harvesting and would eventually be sold throughout the world.

Echuca log wagon

Log wagon

With great reluctance, I tore myself away to head for Echuca. And, would you believe my good luck?! One of my passions is steam engines; oh yes, trains of course, but more especially, all the other steam driven machines from rollers to tractors, pumps and mills.

Echuca warf 2

Echuca wharf

Not only was the Murray riverbank a wharf glutted with paddle steamers, the Annual Steam Festival was on that


Of course, because of the Festival, accommodation was scarce, but that was not a problem as I needed the experience of staying a night in a backpackers to further my education in that direction for my own planned hostel back in Uniondale, South Africa. I booked into The Nomads Oasis Backpackers – top bunk in a dormitory for ten! Surviving, and contributing to, all the snores, grunts, moans and farts, I was up at 05h00 the next morning.

Echuca st engI hightailed it to the wharf to look at the paddle-steamers. The wharf itself is built of huge gum trunks, of course, and exploring where I was not actually supposed to, I found myself on walkways under the wharf leading right down to these beautiful river relics. Their crews were beginning to stir; coming on deck half dressed, with mugs and tooth-brushes, to spit into the mighty Murray. Smoke began to appear at some of the stacks, but whether this was for breakfast or to get up steam, I couldn’t tell. I dared not ask to come aboard.

Heading upward to get on top of the wharf, I found myself trapped inside the museum of steam and river life of 1850 that had yet to open for the day. So there was nobody around to see me climb over the fence. Beautifully restored engines were now being unloaded for the festival, and a steam tractor came chuffing down the road. Echuca - ps Mary-AnnLogging had obviously been – and still was – a huge industry in Australia, and steam tractors had played an essential part in every aspect, from loading, hauling, to running the sawmills themselves. The whole street behind the warf is 1800s; wagons, threshing machines, a blacksmith’s shop with steam engines being repaired, timber joinery for ship repairs.

It was with huge reluctance that I had to tear myself away for an interview with the Riverine Herald newspaper at 09h00 and then hit the road north to Orange, NSW.

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GORoad.jpgAmbling down Kororoit Street, Melbourne, I met up with Prince’s Highway – or Freeway – then passed through Geelong for the second time since coming to Australia and on to Torquay, home to the famous Bell’s Beach and so-called Surf Capital of Oz – equated to our own South Africa’s J-Bay (Jeffrey’s Bay), I suppose. It is also the start of the Great Ocean Road.
Of particular interest, though, was a visit to the local Bell’s Beach Backpackers Hostel, as it was my intention to start up something similar in Uniondale, and was keen to pick their brains. The timing was good. Now October, Marcia, the manager, had only been there since May and was willing to share the teething problems with me. They had yet to experience a full surfer season, however, and their full house was about 40 beds. Mine would be about half that.
Onward down the Great Ocean Road with splendid views of the sea and beaches –

Twelve Apostles

The Twelve Apostles – Victoria

Anglesea, Airey’s Inlet with its lighthouse, to Lorne where I had a full breakfast for lunch with a glorious view. I fired up my mobile with an Oz number for the first time and sent it off to relevant folk around the world.
Off to Apollo Bay; the sea was an amazing turquoise, then veered inland around Cape Otway through forests to Lavers Hill then south-west again via Lower Gellibrand. By Princeton I was getting glimpses of the famed sandstone cliffs and crags that, further on, became the Twelve Apostles. I did the tourist thing and parked at the display building; read the geological stuff and joined the procession that walked through an underpass to the cliffs on the far side of the highway to view the fingers of sandstone jutting up out of the roaring waves like a series of up-yours fingers. Columns of harder sandstone were once part of the cliffs, but have resisted the erosion and weathering by the waves over the millennia.
Well worth the visit! I retraced my route back to Melbourne and after a few wrong turns in the dark with poor lights, I got back to my nephew’s home in Newport.

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Weirdest of Oz

What mystified me was the lack of insect life. Not an ant on the leaves, not a boatman on the water, not a fish jumping, not a nibble on my hook. I’d borrowed a rod from my brother – surely one left over from one of his sons as I don’t think Richard was any kind of fisherman. I was up at 05h30 and sitting on his little plank jetty on Cabbage Tree Creek, the only place I could get near the water as the banks were choked with what I was told were tea-tree bushes.

musk duck

Musk duck

Then a hard, rhythmic splashing was heard getting closer and the weirdest brown duck-like bird paddled into view. It seemed to have a piece of seaweed in its beak and thrashing the water with its tail. I was totally gob-smacked as it thrashed its way along and out of view again. It turned out to be a male musk duck (Biziura lobata) which has a large, leathery, pendulous lobe of skin which it can inflate that dangles below its bill. It was actually doing its mating thing by fanning its long stiff tail feathers out, either cocked up and over the bird’s back or spread out over the water, at the same time kicking the water to produce the loud splash. Bizarre.


Crimson rosella

To balance the ugliest bird I ever saw in my life, the gum tree forest on Richard’s farm also sported the prettiest and the noisiest. It wasn’t the only cocky seen there but the crimson rosellas take the prize for beauty, in my view. But what does take some getting used to is the incessant calling of bellbirds (or Bell Miners) which can drill a hole in your head. Apparently it is part of their strategy to rid their colony’s territory of all other birds. However, I did see the famous kookaburras, ravens, an Eastern Spinebill and the odd fairy wren.


Bell Miner

Just prior to the first weekend on his farm near Marlo, Gippsland, Victoria, Oz, I went to Lakes Entrance on my own to take Mum out for the day in Richard’s Ford Stationwagon. It was the first time I had ever driven an automatic, but only once tried to push the nonexistent clutch. It had a petrol/LPG gas set-up – it was weird topping up with both at the filling station. Petrol was A$1-10 per litre and gas was half that. After lunch, I took Mum to Lake Tyers where we sat in the car overlooking the beach and the ocean of the Bass Straight. I’d hoped for a boat trip on the lake, but the weather was too cool and blustery for Mum.

I got back to the farm to meet the first of the arrivals of the weekend’s retreat Richard and Kate hold several times a year for a number of their fellow Catholics. They were an Italian Australian couple, very excitedly showing photos taken in Richard’s little chapel at the previous retreat. There were white streaks over the congregants heads which they pronounced was ectoplasm! Holy moly, more weird.

Friday 1st October 2004 saw the rest of the retreat folk arrive, including a priest whom Richard and I fetched in Orbost off the bus from Canberra. Luckily, when we got back, my dear friend and ex-brother-in-law Nico Jaspers arrived from his home in Orange NSW. After breakfast the next day with the retreaters, Nic took me via Lakes where we visited my Mum – she recognised him right off, so nothing wrong with her marbles – to Berwick, just outside Melbourne, where his own mother lived with his brother Frans Jaspers and his family. Nobody at home, but Nic’s guess was that we’d find them playing the pokies. Spot on! We bought beer, wine and biltong – from a South African butcher – and had a very festive reunion.

Next day, Nic headed home to Orange while Frans took me to Armadale to collect Richard’s daughter Jennifer’s Toyota Corolla where it was being looked after by a friend of his. Jen had already settled in London by this time. From there I braved the Melbourne traffic and safely got back to 6 Schutt Road, Newport, to spend a few days with my nephew, Mark and his wife, Katrina.

The next day’s adventure was going to Melbourne Central by train – it took this bushman nearly an hour to figure out how to get a ticket out of the machine!– to buy an adaptor plug for my cell phone as the Oz plugs are different to those in both South Africa and Botswana. The day after, I took the train again to Parliament Station, walked along Nicholson Street and spent the day at the Museum.

It has huge gardens, but the Exhibition Hall was closed after holding a large art display. Two floors, however, were open to the public with a variety of exhibits. The more memorable ones included Australian insects and their role in our lives. The human body and development of medicine with computerized virtual reality as teaching aids for medical students. Melbourne slums in the 1880s. Weirdest was the adventures of a turd on its journey from the toilet through the sewer system all the way to the sewerage works near Werribee. The legendary racehorse, Phar-Lap. A walk through a gum forest with real trees, animals, fish and frogs. I was kicked out at closing time while mentally panning gold in 1850. I love museums!

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To get a balanced view of comparative monetary values and lifestyles between my own country and another, I enjoy going to supermarkets to compare prices and choices. (Prices of the day per kg were: Rump steak $13-00, Premium mince $9-00, whole chicken $6-00, Pork chops $9-50, potatoes $2-00, Onions $1-60.)

It gives a much more accurate idea of living costs than do exchange rates which are influenced by manipulation and politics. Simple things like courtesy and security are also great markers as to the heart of a country’s people.

On Sunday, 26th September 2004, Richard and I set off to Lake’s Entrance to visit our mum, but on the way, in Orbost, Richard attended his Catholic mass while I walked off to the local supermarket.

While in London, in ’69, I had got the impression that the Aussies that I met travelling abroad were predominantly loud and insecure, always referring to how much bigger and better things were in Oz. Meeting the populace in their own back yard soon dispelled that idea as friendliness was the overwhelming impression. Folk were not afraid to chat in queues to complete strangers in friendly helpful ways. Courtesy was the norm.

Stony Creek Trestle Bridge

Stony Creek trestle bridge

On our way again, Richard took me to see the Stony Creek trestle bridge near Nowa Nowa, just 3 km off the main road. No longer used by trains, it is a feature on a popular cycling trail. It is an impressive bit of historical engineering; the local resources put to good use to cross deep gorges.

Lakes EntranceGippsland is, like a lot of eastern Australia, heavily wooded with enormous gum trees. The views, from the twists and turns as one approaches the watery world of Lakes Entrance on the coast, are beautiful. We picked our mum up from her room in the old-age Care Centre on Lakeview Drive to take her out for a very reasonably priced lunch at the local Bowls Club.

Lakes E street art 1Lakes E street art 2Although a bit tottery, using a wheelie-walker to get around, at 89, then, she was in pretty good nick. I was to see her several times in the next couple of months, but, in retrospect, I wish I had asked her more of her memories and thoughts and opinions. She had always been introverted and difficult to get close to. Rather than try harder, I’d backed away. I hadn’t been a good son, and I wish I’d said I was sorry.

We went to see the extraordinary tree carvings that line the main road of Lakes Entrance. Unbelievably intricate forms of early Australian colonial life. A lot of it was carved with a chain-saw!

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