The Big Merino, World’s biggest Sheep (?), Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia

On the drive south of Sydney (when heading to Canberra or Melbourne) is a tourist shop that is something of an Aussie institution; properly called The Big Merino, it “celebrates Australia’s fine wool industry” …. and is fronted by a “Big Thing”/tourist trap that stands 15.2 meters, or 97 feet, tall (and is probably the biggest sheep statue in the world, but that hasn’t been authenticated), that the locals have nicknamed “Rambo.” [This post was originally uploaded in February of 2018, but I went a 2nd time in Feb of 2019, and am adding new observations and additional photos]

fullsizeoutput_3a16
The tiny person standing below it is me

The statue stands alongside the store, which sells a whole variety of VERY upmarket Australian made items (there are no bargains here, but what they have is VERY nice) mostly made from Marino wool, such as socks, scarves, boots, knitting wool, sweaters, T-shirt (joggers and hikers LOVE this stuff as exercise apparel) and coats, etc.

IMG_8862
A super soft, thin to the point of transparent marino wool scarf with a digitally printed image on it was selling for about $80 (Australian)

I have now been to this shop twice. The first time I went to this shop in 2018, my favorite item at the time, which I forgot to take a photo of and did NOT buy but simply drooled over), was an $1,800+ lambskin/shearling jacket (made from super soft lambskin with the wool still attached).

IMG_8860
2nd trip a year later, the neon was still not working

That, and because I had never comparative shopped for Marino wool items before, so my first time there I had sticker shock, and my travel buddy… who is MALE, wanted to just go straight to the section selling socks, buy some and leave… so I didn’t really have the chance to properly “SHOP” it — which would have included checking on-line to compare prices, etc., and as such, the only things I bought for myself were an assortment of draw string bags with really pretty Aboriginal designs on them, made for protecting your sun glasses, out of the same microfiber material of the sort used to clean glasses (so doubly practical) for $9.90 (AUD)… but no woolen goods. When I got back to the states afterwards, I discovered that Marino wool items are actually quite pricy … even at Amazon, etc., so the prices I had seen back at the Big Merino were in retrospect, much more reasonable than initially believed… although there are no “bargains” here… and promised myself that THIS year I would insist we come here again, and take the time to actually SHOP.

fullsizeoutput_3a17.jpeg

The first time we went here, it was NOT to please my obsession with big things, but rather because my travel buddy (a native of Sydney) LOVES the Big Merino because it’s the only place he knows of that reliably has nice thick Marino wool socks his size… The guy stands 6 foot something, and wears men’s XXL (size 13 Australian, 15 US and 49 European), i.e., he almost never finds socks his size, let alone Marino wool ones. On this 2nd trip, he did even want to come here saying he’d do it with him mom later … but I said, “well that’s nice, but I WANT to go there. Last time I didn’t have a chance to properly shop it, or even see the place, and I want to,” so we went…. and this time I got a knit cap made of Marino wool, and a cowl-neck lightweight Marino wool top which everyone agreed I looked great in… only it clashes badly with my camouflage pants.

YPVCJIgYS5WD+24AdX0Tug_thumb_c4d3.jpg
The store has a large selection of wool clothing, as well as a bunch of tourist stuff

If you’ve never purchased a pair of merino wool socks I STRONGLY suggest you do. First time I ever saw them was at a sort of outdoors/athletic/hiking type shop located in Evanston, IL, near my University. “$15 for a pair of socks, you have GOT to be kidding me?!” I said… but they assured me these socks would change my life (??) and that I should buy one pair and wear them for a week solid without changing them, and then sniff them, and if not impressed I could bring them back. (No seriously, that’s what they said!) Suffice it to say, they won that bet and now pretty much all my daily wear socks are now made of Merino wool. Not only does the wool wick moisture away from your skin, but something in wool makes it antibacterial (the stuff that makes your sweat stink) and it can take a good two solid weeks of my wearing merino wool socks on a daily basis before they even start to smell (I’ve tested them); that and they also LAST for YEARS!! That first pair took a good five years of regular abusive wearing (2 weeks at a time before washing… till they were good and stiff in other words) before they wore out! Not only that but I’ve noticed that since I’ve started wearing them I’ve not had a single blister develop on my feet, even when wearing new shoes. Seriously, these are a different category of sock and totally worth the price…. and T-shirts or anything else made from the wool share those same attributes, so VERY popular with athletes, hikers and travelers.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_c4d4.jpg
Toy sheep made with real wool, plus sheep dogs

According to my friend (the first time we came here) it was a shame we hadn’t arrived at the Big Merino after dark because at night the security lights give it the effect of appearing to have glowing eyes

Bkv8cnacRd+RUA9YacTU9A_thumb_c4c5.jpg
On the 2nd level is a small unimpressive museum dedicated to the wool industry

What he didn’t mention at the time, and I found out by googling it (while writing the initial blog post) was that you can actually climb up the statue and look out through those eyes to the road. … I made SURE we did that the 2nd time we went (before we shopped)…

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_c4cb.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_242e.jpg
The two eyes and nose as seen from inside the structure… and the views out

That and the One obligatory picture I SHOULD have gotten but didn’t (the first time), was the view of the back of the sheep… a view which Australians with their sense of irreverent humor seem to love to the point that it has its own Facebook page. Suffice it to say… that oversight has been corrected….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2420

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2421.jpg

Advertisements

Ned Kelly: The Story of Australia’s Billy the Kid, Glenrowan, Victoria

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23ec.jpg

At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police.

ZVeY9InaTymo2JH7fxmgwg_thumb_c520.jpg

I actually came here twice, the first time was only about a month after my massive concussion which was so sever it dislocated my jaw and took a good year to actually heal from; at that time between the heat of the day (which drained me), and my very limited energy to begin with (just sitting in a moving vehicle was a mental strain) we didn’t actually get to see much… as I discovered upon writing up this blog post the first time (in early 2018) — I had in fact missed a LOT (which made me VERY sad).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_c536.jpg

Can you believe I missed THIS the first time… THIS!!! And here’s how very much OUT of it I was… we were not 100 feet away from it and I DID NOT notice it. It was directly in our line of sight, I’m shitting you NOT, and I did not SEE it… WHAT THE FUCK!!! But that tells you JUST how out of it I was by the end of our first visit.

ypSmp8OIQ8WpDAG%2ZST2A_thumb_c556.jpg

The second time was almost a full year later, the weather was MUCH cooler and I wasn’t sick… so we saw must of the things we missed, except for THIS attraction, which I wanted to see… to compare it to things like the Battles For Chattanooga attraction …. but which my travel buddy is as a matter of course NOT game for things of this sort (I would have had to pay for his ticket for him to be willing to do it… which I was NOT game for).

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_240e.jpg

Before ever coming to Australia, every book that I read on Aussie history that covered the settlement of the non-Sydney parts of the country talked about him (yes, I’m THAT sort of traveler, I read in advance), and he’s about to have the 11th movie about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it). [This part was written a year ago, I’m afraid it’s currently in post-production and it should be released soon].

IMG_2009
Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

The first time I came here my travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…)

IMG_8692

When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an official sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke then, I still don’t. The area is famous for two things, wine and Ned Kelly, and that helmet says “Ned Kelly” to any Australian who knows his story… which is pretty much all of them.

IMG_8633

Anyway, he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly is holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch. So we stopped here, at Billy Tea RoomsIMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

IMG_8655

Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So I already knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since the kid he saved was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it wasn’t… which in my mind almost makes it a symbol of the inequality with which Irish immigrants were treated …

IMG_2052

That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned (supposedly the finest piece of cloth he’d ever felt in his young life) and was such a treasured possession that he chose to wear it under his metal armor on the day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die — some 20 years later.

IMG_8651

Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, intended to make people aware of the injustice. But he failed, all that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad.

IMG_2008

What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, that he believed would protect him for the bullets of the police — and its as common a symbol to them as a bell with a crack in it screams Liberty Bell to Americans.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_bb87.jpg
Saw this Ned Kelly at Paddy’s Market in Sydney

but was ultimately his plan failed, he was seriously wounded instead of killed, and as such he was captured, so that instead of dying while defending himself, he was taken to the gallows.

IMG_8663

Inside the museum were a large collection of collected objects about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to Ned’s sister. As a child, my friend had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually owned, was a deeply emotional experience for him.

IMG_2014

Behind the museum was a reconstruction(!!!) of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and is NOT open to the public. That said, I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper, so it was interesting to see it here… I have no idea how realistic this reconstruction might be.

IMG_2016

Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

IMG_2013

On our 2nd visit to this place we didn’t redo any of our previous visits, but instead tried to see all the stuff we’d missed the first time. Firstly, we approached the town from the other side of the railroad… which is where Ned Kelly’s standoff with the police actually happened in 1880… to find signposts explaining the history laid out around the town in the order of where various events had occurred, that you could follow around… the first one we found being #4, the site of Ned’s capture (which was clearly shown on our google maps when driving here)

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2412.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2413.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2414.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2415.jpg

Possibly because his capture was something police take pride in, in 1885 the town built a new police station directly adjacent to the location of the stand-off, as a “Look at how Good we are at our job, don’t fuck with us statement.” (Let’s forget the fact that Ned was entirely outgunned, and the only reason they caught him was he was too honorable to leave those he held near and dear behind to face their wrath at NOT catching him.)UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2410.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2402.jpg

FkgyRjmoT9C3Ng+bZrp0zg_thumb_c557.jpg

Not far from where he was ultimately captured, we found location #1, a piece of land where the Glenrowan Inn had once stood (where Ned had taken hostages while waiting for a large group of police that were coming to get him by rail) .

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2407.jpg
LOVELY replica of the original sign, don’t you think? Almost transcendentUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2417.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2416.jpg

Kiddy corner from the Inn was location #2,  where the 35 police who ultimately arrived took up position, protected by some trees

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23f8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_240a.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2418.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23f5

xAYOu3IaQaCYYMYRz1iETQ_thumb_c515.jpg

#4 and #5 I already showed, (where he hunkered down while putting on his metal armor and shooting at the police, and then where he was finally captured)….  but somehow I managed to miss taking pictures of location #6… please to forgive me….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23e1.jpg

I think it involved walking over to where the railway station was, but it had started to rain by that point, so I never got there….  That said, before we went to see locations 1, 2 &3 we had taken the bridge across the railway to A) go to the bathroom (we both really needed to go) and B) pick up some lunch.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2419.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23e6.jpg

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23e7.jpg
Nice bathrooms out back, a shop and a cafe

The selection of Ned Kelly themed items available for sale amused me

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_23d6.jpg

There was the Ned Kelly Tea Towel with his wanted poster printed on it (I was tempted, but they were too heavy to shlep around the world –It’s Feb and I won’t be going back to the States till October; Ned Kelly socks that say “such is life” — purported to be Ned’s last words before they hung him by the neck ….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_241b.jpg

Ned Kelly soap (???) and of course the obligatory mugs… WHY does EVERYPLACE have mugs? I mean how many mugs can one person reasonably own?

My friend had wanted to go to the same Tea shop we went to last time at the other end of town, but I rejected that, suggesting we try one of the other places… ultimately we got sandwiches from the bakery shop (they’ve got some deli fixing and you can make the sandwiches up however you want to). My friend had some sort of vegetarian combo, while I had ham & mustard, with beetroot (red beets), black olives and lettuce on whole grain (and hold the butter). Although in retrospect I’m thinking maybe we should have eaten at the Vintage Hall cafe…. anyway…

While there we found location #7….

ESan6EsZTza88NCrHjcEkg_thumb_c55c.jpg

That said, here’s The Ned Kelley story told in cartoon format: