Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne Australia and The Not Captain Cook’s Cottage

[Updated – forgot to add some stuff before] Melbourne refers to itself as the garden city of Australia, and Fitzroy Garden is one of the city’s many landscaped gardens that earns it that title. The most famous attraction located within the garden is Cook’s cottage, which some sites advertise as having belonged to the famous Captain Cook, the explorer who ‘discovered Australia’; historical buff that I am, this made me excited to see it, but that claim — if you come across it, is wrong. It was never his, it was one of his parent’s homes, and he never lived there. That said Fitzroy Garden where the house is located, is free to explore, but the Cook’s Cottage itself — which has been one of the major tourist draws in Melbourne since it was first moved here in 1934… is NOT, free that is…

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Me, standing as close as you can get to the house without paying a fee

Fitzroy Gardens, in the suburb of East Melbourne. To be technical about it… It’s not actually IN Melbourne, which is one of these TINY dot on the map cities that has never annexed adjacent suburbs so that it could ‘grow’, like Chicago or New York City did, and has ‘neighborhoods’ that are legally separate entities; as such you really have to think of it as the greater Melbourne area when visiting, because Aussies seem to get very irritated when we call East Melbourne, just plain old Melbourne… because it’s not.

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“Technically” considered to be the Oldest building in all of the greater Melbourne area, as it has been dated to at least 1755 [Melbourne was founded in 1835], the cottage had belonged (at one time) to the father of James Cook (1728 –1779), the famous British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy, who was also the first “recorded” European to “discover” Australia…. That said, the man who “discovered” Australia MAY have (we don’t know for sure that he ever did), at best, slept there… when/if he visited his folks in his home town (one has to assume he may have at some point)…. so yes, the connection is a bit tenuous …

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Originally located in the village of Great Ayton in North Yorkshire, where Captain Cook was born, the building was brought to Melbourne in in 1934 by the Chemist and Philanthropist Russell Grimwade, who gifted it to the State of Victoria in honor of the celebration of the upcoming 100 year anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne (1835). The owner had put it up for bid, on condition that it be moved to someplace else “in England”, but (according to Wikipedia) when the highest local bid had been £300 versus Grimwade’s bid of £800, she was ‘convinced’ to change that requirement to “in the British Empire.”

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Originally sold as the home of Captain Cook’s early days, the cottage is now only called “Cook’s Cottage” because later historians, rightly, called foul. While the initials J.C. and the year of 1755 had been engraved into a lintel above one of the doors… the JC did not denote James Cook the son and Captain, but rather James his father, a farm laborer who was originally from Scotland.

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The engraved lintel (covered in plexiglass, I assume for its protection from vandals)

What is not known for sure, however, is was the house built in 1755, or possibly rebuilt… or just purchased by Cook’s father. Also, since James Cook, the Jr., was born in 1728, and had moved away from home at 16 — which was normal at the time, he would have been 27 by 1755, the year engraved probably with his own home; this, in fact, was was the same year he had joined the Royal Navy in hopes of greater advancement, after having already served in the British Merchant Navy where he had been promoted about as far as he could in that profession, i.e., already an adult man with a career and his own private life…. Therefore, it is HIGHLY unlikely that he had actually ever LIVED in the house, at best he may have visited, it was therefore a misleading to continue to call it “Captain Cook’s Cottage”…

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The laminated 3-ring notebook you can reference if you want to know more about the house

The Cottage itself is open every day from 9 to 5, but you have to buy a ticket. These can be found across the walkway at the information building/Visitor Center and Conservatory, which also has a cafe, where you can have a meal, pamphlets about other things to see and do in the area

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And of course a gift shop…. with some very cute items for sale that I had not seen elsewhere, so worth checking out if you’re shopping for souvenirs

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I think these were hand-made Xmas tree ornaments, but they’re cute enough that even I’d buy them … the seemed to be made of pine prickles shoved into a form, sculpted and painted, or something of the like

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Although a bit steep for a rubber ducky at $14.95 AUD, I was seriously tempted to buy one of these …. afterwards I found a few other museums with sections devoted to Captain Cook that also sell them… for the same price. I might give in and buy one next time see it.

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Once you have purchased your ticket you cross over to the cottage and enter through a gate that scans your ticket (like at the airport). Inside were two docents dressed in period garb whose job it was to help orient you, or have their pictures taken with you (which I didn’t opt to do), or help you into the garb if you wanted to dress up yourself… but for the most part it’s all self guided.

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There were two 3 ringed notebooks of laminated pages devoted to the spot if you bother to take the time to notice them (almost no one did) located just in the doorway of the home (where folks would remove their coats and muddy shoes, I assume). The house consisted of a kitchen/living room/dining room with a running voice narrative that sounds like it’s supposed to be Captain Cook’s mother, talking about what it was like to live and work in the house

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Upstairs there was a narrow flight of stairs that were a lot steeper than we’re used to (most definitely NOT disability friendly), and required that visitors make way for each other going up or down

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You find a master bedroom, with more written explanation (and no voice narrative)

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and two small bedrooms, one upstairs and one down

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And in the back of the house is an herb garden

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Around the back/side of the house is the stable, which has been converted into a sort of museum/movie theater

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I am pretty sure I watched four different movies that were on display there, one about Captain cook discovering Australia, one about the sale and transport of the house, one about the history of the house, and one about his parent’s lives. One of the cool things was there were three screens, one of which was showing the same movie at the same time, on a smaller screen, with Chinese subtitles. Every time Chinese visitors stepped in I would point them towards that, because they tended to walk in, see the main screen, hear the English, and looked a little sad… only to have me point out the Chinese screen and have their faces light up… I’m thinking one of the docents should have been in there doing that.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2526.jpgBeyond the cottage, I found that overall Fitzroy is less of a garden, in my mind (relatively few flowers), and more of an urban green space, with tree lined avenues that before air-conditioning probably offered much needed shade in the summer heat. While it has some boring almost obligatory stuff, like the Grey Street Fountain… UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2514.jpg

…. and the River God Fountain, both of which are perfectly nice

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…these looked pretty much like any old fashioned/classic fountain and garden you’d find in any park …anywhere (especially in France or the UK). What’s cool/different about the garden is that it tends towards things that are a bit more fanciful and fun, such as it’s children’s playground, which has a dragon slide and a giraffe like swing set

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And a model Kentish Tudor village. The story on this is kind of cute in that all the homes were built by an elderly pensioner, Mr. Edgar Wilson who lived in the UK and liked to build these things out of concrete, just for fun, as his hobby. He gifted them in 1948 to Melbourne in appreciation of the food that Australia sent to England during WWII

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The town included a scale model of the house owned by Shakespeare’s wife (the one he quickly abandoned) the widow Anne Hathaway. I will admit that when I read the garden had a Tudor Village, I was expecting something radically different from what I found. In my minds eye I expected to find some full or at least half sized Tudor homes that you could walk through … maybe with some staff, sort of like what I had found at Cook’s cottage…. at least tall enough for small children to enter… but nope

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Instead I found a collection of homes that at best might come to my knee, and the homes are all completely fenced off, so little kids can’t really enjoy them much either… and adjacent to the Tudor village I found the the Fairies Tree

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which I was sad to see was ALSO surrounded by a fence, so that you can’t get up close and personal with it. BUT after I got home and studied it I understood why — did NOT find any description of this at the spot. This tree isn’t some modern thing made for kids to play on … The Fairies tree was carved back in the 1930’s by a local artist and author by the name of Ola Cohn, into the stump of a 300+ year old River Red Gum tree which had been original to the garden. Ms Cohn (who was of Danish extraction) was a well known (her portrait hangs in a museum in Canberra, and the link includes an image of her carving the tree) and respected local artist, who went on to be appointed a Member of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry — a sort of knighthood, for her work in the service of art. Because she’d carved it into what was then already a dead tree, there’s been issues with degradation and rot over time, so that in 1977, in order to stop the rot, they had to pull the whole thing out of the ground, removed wood that had already rotted — they found a perfectly preserved mummified Brushtail possum at that point (!!!), and then treated the remaining tree with chemicals to stop any further rot… remounted the tree into a concrete base and returned it to the garden.

So I get the history of the things, and why they might want to preserve them… but I have to think little kids don’t really enjoy either of them much as a result. So Nice but kind of meh…

I think my favorite fountain was the Dolphin Fountain, which seemed to be much more modern in construction….

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in fact it turned out to have been built in 1982, and for some reason the park’s website said that it was “controversial” but didn’t explain why…

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After some research I found this website explaining, some of the argument was regarding WHERE in the garden this $30,000 gift payed for by Dinah and Henry Krongold and created by a sculptress by the name of June Arnold should go… or if it was suited to the Fitzroy gardens at all because it wasn’t in keeping with the garden’s naturalism (???)

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Not surprisingly, little kid (according to what I’ve read) LOVE this fountain as it’s the only one they’re actually allowed to interact with… I saw parents lifting their small children up on to the rocks, etc.

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Eight Hour Day Monument, Melbourne Australia

This monument, commemorates the institution of the eight-hour work day movement, which began in Australia in 1856 following organized protests by Melbourne’s stonemasons, i.e, HIGHLY skilled and necessary workers who worked for the local government. The 888 concept went on to become one of the central tenants of the Union movement, dictating a human need for 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of living (being with family, relaxing, etc), and not just a life of solely work and sleep. Although there were two such movements in Australia, one in Sydney and the other in Melbourne, according to this website, Australians credit the Melbourne one for improving workers rights in Australia at large because while the stonemasons in Sydney had achieved the same a year earlier, their brothers in Melbourne managed to do it with no loss of pay (i.e., same total wages, while working fewer hours). As such, it’s Melbourne that therefore gets the credit. The entire state of Victoria (where Melbourne is located) went on to pass the Eight Hours Act in 1916, 60 years later

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The top of the monument shows 888

[When considering the success of the Melbourne movement in 1856, it’s important to keep in mind some key points: 1) the Melbourne area was first purchase, invaded, or incorporated as a settlement — depending on your point of view, by settlers from the penal colony in what is now Hobart in Tasmania, in 1835 — always with the intent of making it a city; 2) the milestone which was achieved (traditionally only given to towns with Cathedrals) in in 1947, upon completion of the Old St. James (Anglican), by declaration of Queen Victoria; and 3) it became the capitol of the newly formed State of Victoria in 1951  — as it’s population doubled in year, and then grew exponentially as a result of one of the world’s biggest gold rushes, as gold was found in nearby places like Ballarat (where the Sovereign Hill park is located). The combination of factors meant that the government NEEDED these guys, whose skill sets were in short supply, happy and working. To quote Wikipedia:

“The 1850s and 1860s saw the commencement of Parliament House, the Treasury Building, the Old Melbourne GaolVictoria Barracks, the State LibraryUniversity of MelbourneGeneral Post OfficeCustoms House, the Melbourne Town HallSt Patrick’s cathedral, though many remained uncompleted for decades, with some still not finished as of 2018.”]

However, the 8 hour work day, 40 hours a week or short-time movement, while it did achieve some of its earliest success in Melbourne was NOT, in origin, an Australian idea; although, based on the little amount of testing I have done I think more than a few of my Aussie friends would be surprised to know that. The slogan: “Eight hours’ labour, Eight hours’ recreation, Eight hours’ rest” was actually coined by Robert Owen, one of the founders of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement, in 1817. It was these sorts of movements… that were popular in that period, that resulted in social experiments — mostly failed, like Lagrange Phalanx experiment in Indiana. A shorter working day was also part of what the Chartist movement reformers (1838 to 1857) in the UK were fighting for

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That said, it was not Australia, but rather Uruguay who in 2015 first instituted a national 8 hour workday, with Australia following five years later in 1920, but with a 6 day workweek; Australia didn’t achieve the 40-hour, 5 day work week until 1948.

The Store of Requirement: or, all things Harry Potter, Melbourne Australia

Harry Potter fans UNITE! While walking from my Airbnb to the local Coles grocery store I stumbled upon a really cool store in Melbourne devoted to all things “the boy who lived” … First time I came by it was closed. I assumed that was because it was the wrong time of day, but later I discovered it keeps funky house. It’s closed Mondays and Tuesday, opens at noon most other weekdays, till 7pm; and keeps its most “normal hours” on weekends, Sat & Sun, from 10 till 5pm.

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Apparently the store has two brick and mortar branches, the one in Melbourne, and another in the suburbs of Brisbane, plus a third an on-line portal which on a quick perusal sells pretty much all of what I saw in the stores… including the limited edition stuff (I’m guessing both stores ship merchandise for the on-line store).

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The interior has been made over too a bit conform to the classic/quirky British style that Harry Potter’s world tends to embrace — for instance it has wallpaper that is fake brick, and the back room reminds me a bit of the common rooms in Hogwarts’ dorms, etc.,

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That said, its one of the better collections of these sorts of stuff and has everything from stuff you can easily find for sale on-line like games, puzzles, mugs, bags, figurines, etc.,

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collectible figurines and wands, plus appliqués to put on windows to mimic stained glass

And the sort of stuff it sells is the same sort of stuff you’d see at stores in “The Harry Potter Experience” sections of Universal’s amusement parks… but more from on-line sources and less from the stuff made exclusive to the parks.

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The Jewelry top left is HORRIBLY nar I say OFFENSIVELY Overpriced… $89 Australian, for earring that AliExpress, a Chinese on-line store, sells the exact same pair for $1.36…  while Amazon sells identical ones for $15… but I know from experience that Universal is also selling the exact same erring in its amusement park stores for about the same price as this store… so I strongly suggest that the buyer beware, and Google these things to do comparative pricing before buying.

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At this store, however, were some collectibles I’ve not seen before, like these limited run lithograph/prints and cards from what I’m guessing is a local artist (??) … although I would have to assume that they have permission from Warner brothers or whomever so as to not infringe the copyright.

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For myself these Gryffindor, 3d (puffy) vinyl stickers for the backs of cars, etc., caught my eye (I’m not seeing an equivalent product for sale on Amazon in the US) — only I DID find it selling for 1/2 their price at a different Austrian shop. Also a friend of mine’s son LOVES these metal model things… although these looked more like Hobbit than Harry Potter. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_24cd.jpg

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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].

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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…)

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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.

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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 … 

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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)

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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

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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) .

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

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

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#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….

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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.

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Nice bathrooms out back, a shop and a cafe

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

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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 ….

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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….

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

 

The big Hens statue, Meredith Victoria

On my international list of BIG things… may I add, three happy hens who are located along the main road, outside of Meredith in the Australian state of Victoria… and are advertising the Happy Hens Egg Farm.

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They’re on the Midland Highway that links Ballarat, where I was staying at a friend’s home, to Geelong, where there’s a dentist who is a jaw specialist [back when I fell and had my concussion, I had landed hard enough to dislocated my jaw, no seriously, totally dislocated it on both sides, it’s been almost a year and it’s still not completely back to pre-concussion condition]. As luck would have it, my friend’s son had previously had jaw issues, so she knew just which dentist to take me to, but warned me, “He’s VERY good-looking.” I was like … “Ok” and she was like, “NO, REALLY, he stunningly handsome”… “sure” and I shrugged… then I saw the guy and it was a good thing she’d warned me because I SWARE TO GOD, my knees buckled… only twice before in my life had I seen men so amazingly good looking that they made my knees actually go weak… it’s a thing. Anyway, if you find yourself in the area and in need of a very good dentist, or if you’re a HUGE fan of the TV show Grantchester when the lead was played by this guy (who looks much handsomer in film when his face is moving than in still shots)

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… then you’re going to want to make an appointment with this dentist in Geelong, Victoria (see my click map)… well that or if you have a bad jaw issue that needs looking at. Well let’s face it a really good dentist is hard to find, and there’s the added bonus of that looking at a doctor that attractive might help you forget you’re going to the dentist. He essentially took an x-ray of my jaw (which we mailed to my dentist back home) and declared it too early in the healing process for me to start wearing a mouthpiece (you know they’re good when they value your health over your money). Told me to wait till it was 6 months after the concussion, and then if my jaw was still clicking, to see my dentist… who ultimately made me the mouth piece (cost me a THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!)

You had one job! Peterborough Coastal Reserve, Victoria, Australia

To quote my friend, “They must have very smart animals around here!” You just have got to love signs like this that don’t say what they’re supposed to because of bad Grammar.

yXYkEe13SRuvXYbcJPGRcg_thumb_7b25.jpgMy friend immediately realized the unintended joke as we were driving down the road. I beg forgiveness as it was only a few weeks after my MASSIVE concussionmy MASSIVE concussion, so my brain wasn’t very quick on the uptick. I didn’t get it till he pointed it out.

(and why yes, I’m STILL backlogged … this happened almost a year ago)

Halls Gap & Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

If you’re traveling around the state of Victoria in Australia, and want to visit Grampians National Park, which lies about three hours northwest of Melbourne, or a full five and a half hours drive south-east of Adelaide, take my suggestion and seriously consider a stop in the small town of Halls Gap. Based on my own perusal of google maps, of all the various ways into the park (which is a fairly large 646 square miles), Halls Gap is the only one ‘organized’ to support tourists’ needs. It is located on the side of Grampians that is closest to Melbourne, and its the only place where I know of where you’ll find a specially trained and staffed “Information Office” who are ready to provide you with suggestions of what to do while there; and it’s also where you can pick up things like hiking or driving maps, or arrange for various tours of either the parks or of one of the nearby vineyards, book a golf time, book lodging for the night, etc. (If it’s anything like the information offices alongside Roosevelt National Park in the states, their computer’s are organized to tell you which hotels still have availability for that night — but don’t hold me to that as we weren’t looking for lodging.)

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Our first stop was at the information center for maps, and then we went to the nearby Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe, for a bite to eat (I strongly suggest checking out the Cafe as it specializes in the unique foods and flavors that the native Aboriginals and original European settlers to the Bush would have experienced.. but, that said, the cultural center was kind of a major let down and only suggested if you have time.)

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After that we drove into the park itself….. Because this visit was on February 10th, only about two weeks after I fell down and went boom on Jan 25th, giving myself the worst concussion of my life, our visit was limited to easily accessable by car locations… so no hiking for me, not even a little bit. Just sitting in the car, being driven around and seeing new things was exhausting for my brain at that point. Getting out of the car to experience the lookouts was about all I could manage.

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Our first stop was at Boroka Lookout

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The first time I tried to take a picture of the friends that I was visiting the park with they had their faces completely in the shade, making taking a photo of them almost impossible. The picture of me (above) was me trying to show them an awareness of light what was necessary in order for them to be well-lit in this harsh/high-contrast light situation (things photographers know); that said, the woman on the left is the friend who I was staying with (who serendipitously for me was a former registered nurse, so she perfectly understood my limitations at that point).

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Before this photo I had them do a little dance (“go left, no, not that far, yah stay there”) in order to make sure they were well-lit

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Our next stop was at Reeds Lookout and balconies …. apparently from the car park & lookout there’s an easy walk to the balconies, but like I said, I was not physically able at that point to do even that. That said I found a REALLY well done video on YouTube that someone made of the walk and the views I would have seen had I done it:

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That said, we met up with a fairly large group of bikers, while at the lookout
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After this we headed to Bunjil Rock Shelter, one of the many Aboriginal religious sites scattered throughout Australia, and then home.

 

 

Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

The Convent: Daylesford, Victoria Australia

You wouldn’t think it, but Daylesford is actually a major tourist destination in Australia. By all appearances it’s just another small Australian town, indistinguishable from many of the other small towns in the area… but it has the advantage of sitting on the edge of what is now an extinct volcano, and as such it is one of the few natural spa towns in the country… known for it’s 65 naturally effervescent (bubbling) springs. Among its many attractions, is a historic (and haunted) nun’s convent that has been converted into an art gallery and wedding venue.

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(Based simply on how the people in the town preferred to dress — unstructured simple flowy garments made from natural materials, I told my hostess that I felt like I was back in Mill Valley, CA — a highly affluent town just north of San Francisco known for its concentration of New Agers, movie stars and retired Hippies … to which my friend responded that I had perceived correctly, as this town has very similar demographics, and has an Ashram a Yogi, etc)

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I was brought here by the friend I stayed with for two weeks in Ballarat. She is a woman of many talents: a former nurse, a real estate agent, an entrepreneur, and about once a month she guides collections of tourists through this convent, as she is also a psychic and medium, a talent she has had since her early childhood.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit so I’m a bit vague on the details of what ghosts were where. I came here on February 9, 2018… only about two weeks after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … but a good 6 months later, and as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

As we were driving around my friend told me that this is the second gay capital of Australia (Sydney being the first), and based on the number of rainbow flags I was seeing I don’t doubt it. She said that there are more gay people than straight people in Daylesford. fullsizeoutput_4145.jpegWe came to this former convent, which during the day triple duties as an art gallery, a wedding venue, and a hotel ….. because in the evenings is when its fourth duty comes into play, as a haunted structure… and my friend has been hired (because of her particular talent), to lead a ghost tour here on a similar regular basis. That said, the woman who normally comes and helps her lead the groups through the structure couldn’t be there that night, so since I had asked if I could come see the place (anyway) she’d tasked me with walking at the end of the group and making sure there were no stragglers (or folks who were breaking the rules and taping the tour without prior permission — photos are allowed). IMG_2078

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As we walked through the hallways of the building, my friend would describe various ghosts that are known to regularly haunt different parts of the building.

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This top floor of building was used as a hospital ward at one point, and she had interesting details to share of how the nuns managed this (getting the bodies up and down, etc.).

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These small rooms off of the larger main rooms were nuns bedrooms. One of them in particular, the one everyone is lining up to get into… is haunted by the ghost of a woman who (I think) had committed suicide there, or some such… (I’m really very blurry on the details at this point — it’s 6 month later — of the specifics of her story, but my friend explained it at great length…I remember it was very interesting and sad)

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IMG_2083I think I remember she said that this church part of the convent was haunted by a former Priest, or maybe it was the head nun… again, I’m very foggy on the details so I suggest if you’re in town you take her tour. IMG_2084At this point my friend was giving a very long story, and I was getting tired and wasn’t paying close attention anymore, and was focusing mostly on taking pictures… but as you can see more of the tour group were riveted on what she was saying

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This painted door, according to my friend, has a particular energy embedded into it, which both my friend and another psychic both had felt independently (I forget what it was, again, you should sign up for the tour to find out), and she was explaining about that during the picture above. She was also leading us into the basement which had been used for some horrible purposes over the years, lots of ghosts… and while we were down there a lot of people who were on the tour came out of there having experienced something…

Clunes, Victoria, Australia

The friend who hosted me in Ballarat brought me to visit a nearby town called Clunes, Victoria (there’s actually more than one Clunes in Australia). The town (like many in the area) was once a gold mining town, but its current claims to fame is that it has been used many times in movies and TV shows, and they hold the largest yearly book fair in Australia.IMG_1860

Movies and shows shot in this town include, Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush,  & Orlando Bloom), Mad Max, HBO’s the Leftovers, Amazon’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and a large selection of Australian TV shows, etc. In fact there’s a new big budget about to be filled there about the life of Ned Kelly staring Russel Crow, that’s currently looking for extras.
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Other than being very picturesque Clunes seems to be just a quiet little Australian town. I could see why film studios like the place, there’s very are lots of very nice building but not much going on that a filming would disrupt.

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What to do with a horse troth? Fill it with flowers

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