The Wild, Wombat’s Wonderings!
28 August 1999 – Another lazy day. The weather wasn’t too hot, clouds & drizzle. Got some work done on the diary. I went shopping for the goodies for tomorrow’s BBQ.
29 August 1999 – The day dawned rainy. Yuck! However, the BBQ came off well. The Batho’s have a covered porch. The BBQ began shortly after noon and carried on until relatively late. There was a traffic accident on the one and only road up to the Blue Mts. & Faulconbridge. A couple of folk who were planning on coming were prevented. Good food & conversation until late.
30 August 1999 – The day dawned cool & mostly overcast with some sprinkles. Susan & Graeme took me over a short distance to see some Aboriginal stone carvings. Their being wet made them more easily seen.
Then off to Melbourne. I headed west over Lithgow to Bathhurst. By then I had crossed part way over the Great Dividing Range and the skies cleared up. The day turned beautiful. Then south over Young to the very small town of Wombat. I, of course, took a picture of the town sign & the Wombat Hotel. I paid $2 for a postcard of the hotel. The owner knew a sucker when he saw one.
I continued on to Canberra where I stayed with Alan & Carmel Brain, more fans. They were very kind to this wandering wombat. Lots of nattering.
It was interesting to put a sense of locale to the names on my GTO. While I knew where these towns were, I had never gotten to them on my previous adventures in Oz.
31 August 1999 – I got a late start as Alan & I continued out conversation & I allowed me to get a few email notes sent out. It was another glorious day. I picked up the Hume Highway and away I went. I stopped in Gundagai to see the “Dog On The Tucker Box.” As I used my credit card twice in 5 minutes at shops that read out as gas stations, I had to call Citibank in the US to get it sorted out. No worries.
I reached Albury on an easy drive. I stayed in a hotel noted in a very nice publication: Pubstay. I had a nice room for $25. The shower & toilet were in my room! The owner’s wife recommended a nice Italian restaurant for dinner. It was quite good.
The countryside thru which I drove & was to drive the next day was very pretty rolling hills. It was not much different from a lot of places in upstate New York. However, the trees looked funny; there were sheep in with the cattle; traffic was quite light.
I had been concerned about driving on 2 lane roads in Australia. Outside of the major cities, 4 or more lane roads are non-existent. A divided highway means something else here than in the States. Many divided highways, tho labeled as “freeways” have cross traffic. Controlled access roads are very rare here. However, there is virtually no traffic on the roads. When you want to pass, there is normally plenty of room to get by the occasional car in front of me. There would be times when I could drive for 15 minutes to an hour and not see another car on the road. This can be spooky. The countryside is for the most part very flat. You really can see until tomorrow. It reminded me of driving thru Kansas. The road stretches out in front of me into the far distance. I could see the tops of the road crests undulating in front of me like the back of a black or tan snake. On the other hand the roads are very narrow. A number of the roads show where the bitumen had been widened from one lane to two narrow ones. There was a project to further widen many of the roads to reasonable lane widths. Unfortunately, the shoulders to the roads range from non-existent to ones that are rather narrow, maybe a meter wide, not a shoulder from where I come from. It is great fun to pass a semi with 2 or 3 trailers, known here as Road Trains, in either direction with roads this narrow. It really gets the blood flowing! Excitement!
It was a relatively easy drive down to Melbourne.
I, of course, stopped off in Glenrowen. This was the site of Ned Kelly’s last battle. There is a bigger than life statue of him in town. In the gift shop I chatted with the owner whose husband is a real bushie. Doesn’t like to be around people. She enjoys the bush as well as he does. They drove the Gunbarrel &/or the Warburton Track. This is right across the region between the Gibson & Great Victorian Deserts. He was currently off, with mates in 3 vehicles, along the Canning Stock Route which traverses a couple more deserts. Both of these treks are in Western Australia. These are not tracks I would want to try & drive.
As I arrived in Melbourne, there was actual traffic. It wasn’t too bad. I slightly misread my map which turned out to be a good thing. I went a few more blocks and was able to drive right up to the hotel. I dropped off the car & got settled into my room which, amazingly – I had been told I had a room with two single beds, had two double beds.
The rest of the day was spent being at the con. I went & got registered. I knew a few folk from Australia, but did run into a large number of fans from the US & the UK, whom I knew. When I dropped by the bar, the con had no con suite; it was like being at an east coast con in the UK or an Eastercon in the UK. Most of the folk arriving the day before the con were from overseas. Old home week so to speak. The party had begun. There were a couple of parties, but for the most part the hotel bar was the center.
2-6 September 1999 – WORLDCON! All in all I had a very good time. There were some snafus, but that was to be expected. No con runs perfectly smoothly. Programming was a real mess. Janice Gelb, the DUFF delegate and someone who has been a Worldcon chair, stepped in and straightened out things. She was not alone in reorganizing the programming. However, to someone just coming to the con for a good time, they would not have really noticed a thing. Again, this is to be expected.
The masquerade was small, but fun. I enjoyed it. The MC’s handled things differently than elsewhere, but carried it off well.
I did panels on space exploration, where was I the day they landed on the moon, a reading of RIDDLES IN THE DARK from The Hobbit for kids. I had fun doing the art show auction. I felt the artwork went cheap. The art show director, however, was very pleased with the results. I got to judge the Hall Costumes at the Masquerade. I wish it had been announced better to the audience. I missed a few costumes that deserved recognition.
It was great seeing old friends from the UK & Europe. I got to meet folk I had been in contact with, but had never met in person. I had to travel to Melbourne to meet a young lady from northern New Jersey.
Parties were spread out. The main con hotel, the Centra Melbourne, hit parties with huge fees for parties. Toronto in 2003 cancelled its party there. They later rescheduled it in another hotel. At the Bay Area Worldcon Party [San Jose, as you probably know did win] I got to chat with the editor who is looking at my proposal for expanding the anthology I did in 1982. I also chatted with an editor at a small Australian press who is very interested in doing a remake of my book FINDER’S GUIDE TO AUSTRALTERRESTRIALS. However, unless they can tie in with an American distributor it just won’t be economically viable. They would need to reach the American & European markets.
I gave out a large number of backrubs. I even sold 3 of my Wombat Designer Backrub Mitts. That helped pay for a night in the hotel. The Centra Melbourne was a very nice, but expensive hotel. I never did eat breakfast there. A little bit steep. I did eat in their restaurant a couple of times. It was actually reasonable. There was a food court across the street in the casino. A lot of us went over there during the course of the con. A lot of personal cards were exchanged. Yes, a good 6-day party.
7 September 1999 – Slept in a little bit. I have some driving to do today. I said my goodbyes to the folk still there, settled my debt to society & got my car back from the attendants. Then off down the road to the Grampians. The day was most nice being sunny and warm.
My first stop was in Daylesford. The town used to be called Wombat, but around the turn of the century they changed it so it would not be so rustic sounding. However, there is still the Wombat Hill & Gardens. On of the areas of the town is called Wombat Flats.
Then back to the main highway to head west. The land was relatively flat. It appeared to be relatively good farming & grazing land. Then suddenly rising up out of the earth were the Grampians, a range of hills rising up to well over 1100 m [about 3500 feet].
I left the main highway & wended my way to Hall’s Gap, one of the main points from which to do some hiking. I located the YHA [Youth Hostel Assoc.]. It was in a caravan park. I ended up sharing a cabin with up to 8 or 9 folk. There were to rooms with bunk bed for 4 persons each. It was reasonable at $15 a night.
8 September 1999 – I was up fairly early on a gorgeous day. It was about 20 or so & no clouds. On with my hiking boots & off into the hills. I did a good 10 km up down & around. I climbed to the Pinnacle. Great views along the way & at the top. There was a group of HS students who got up there about the same time as I did. They enjoyed my funny accent & pronunciation. Sigh! Then back to the car park. I had been hiking with a couple. I suggested they walk back with me, & I would drive them back to their car. No sense in just repeating the hike. They agreed & noted later they were glad they accepted my suggestion. I slept well that night.
9 September 1999 – I got up to a wet morning & day. No worries. I was planning on driving along Victory Road to a number of lookouts. As they were 700 to over 1000 m in from the road, I would get a good workout, & I did. Among the places visited was Turret Falls, Mt. Barga Lookout, The Balconies, Reed Lookout, MacKenzie Falls [excellent, but what a climb] & Zumstein, a station turned over to the National Trust. It was a good day. The weather was turning for the better by the very end of the day.
10 September 1999 – I got up early and headed north for Mildura thru such neat towns as Horsham, Warracknabeal, Hopetoun & Ouyen. As I drove north, the land became drier and the vegetation more of scrub. I was coming into the dry lands along the Murray. The Info Centre helped me find a room at the local YHA. Only $13 a night, but needed to dash across the patio to the toilet & shower. Breakfast was only $3. While at the Info Centre I ran into a chap & his wife who owned a small vineyard locally. They invited me to crash with them if I wanted. I later took them up on it.
11 September 1999 – I was up fairly early to get ready for my tour out to Mungo National Park. I was very interested in getting out there as it was the locale for DEATH OF A SWAGMAN an Upfield mystery. The day was brilliant. Warm & sun & a light breeze. It was a drive of about 125 km over unsealed road. We stopped along the way for tea. We got a nature lecture along the way. At Mungo NP we toured the museum & the old woolshed, it had kept getting smaller as the technology improved. The property had been abandoned several decades earlier. After lunch we headed across the dry lakebed to the “Walls of China.” They are actually sand dunes. However, under a hot sun, themirage effect made it look as if there were perpendicular walls of stone out there. We tramped across the dunes & were shown 40,000 year old campsites, fossils [including one of a many thousands of years old hairy-nosed wombat] & told about the various layers of rock & the lakes history. It was a fascinating day.
12 September 1999 – Another beautiful day! Mildura is noted for the amount of sunny days it gets. Sun, a light breeze & temps in the low to middle 20’s. I headed over to the Mildura Zoo. I had heard that they had a wombat. It was pleasant little zoo. It is actually a private zoo. There were a number of walk-thru enclosures. Many of the critters would mob you expecting food. Being a Sunday there were a number of families there, including a birthday party. Their wombat was quite cute & active. Apparently it had become more or less diurnal. There was a low wall about its enclosure. It was just the right height for the wombat to stand up and prop its front paws on the top of the wall & look out. I later got a picture with it.
On the way back to the hostel I was startled to see 2 teams warming up for a “Baseball Game!” Hell, that is like driving thru Albany, NY [not WA] & seeing a cricket match. Actually, baseball is fairly popular in Australia. There is a professional league of sorts. I dropped by to watch for a short time. Baseball in Mildura is a “winter” sport. It gets too hot for too long during the summer to play it then.
I spent a couple hours in the library catching up on email. Later that evening I called to confirm I could drop by the Grant’s for a couple of days.
13 September 1999 – I took a leisurely leave of the hostel. It was a 10 km drive out to the Grant’s place. I ended up doing not much of anything that day. We had tea & just chatted. Tom showed me about his vineyard. He raises grapes that become raisins & sultanas. I stayed in his motor home out behind the house. Hey, it was free. I had water & electricity. What more could I ask for. I got to see the Milky Way for the first time in years. Pretty sky.
14 September 1999 – Oops, I over slept. Oh well, I needed the sleep. I drove over to Wentworth to visit the Wentworth Gaol & historical museum. While there I learned that one Maxine Withers was editing letters writer between Upfield & a local station owner during the 20’s & 30’s. I contacted her about dropping by.
After visiting the museum I headed out to the home of the woman who ran the gaol. She had called him for specific info on the person editing the Upfield letters. He invited me out for a cuppa. I managed to find the place without any problems. The house was on stilts, about 4 m above ground level. I asked if this was against flooding, but it wasn’t. During the worst flooding the water only reached the very bottom of the stilts. This was many meters above the current river level. We had a nice chat on Upfield and the history of the region. We then took a walk thru the grounds about his home. I got to scare the hell out of a shingle-back lizard by picking it up. The skin/scales or whatever has a very different feel to them than that of a snake.
15 September 1999 – Up & on the road fairly early. I was off to Broken Hill. I stopped along the way at Springwood Station to meet with Ms. Maxine Withers. The station house was about 8 or 9 km off the main road over an unsealed road. We had a very nice chat. I gave her a set of the Upfield zines I have produced. Looking over some of the letters I got a better idea of how & why Upfield wrote some of the books. I would love to be able to read the complete manuscript. I hope I can get her to do an article for me.
Then onward to Broken Hill. I had been driving into the teeth of a very strong north wind. About halfway to BH the grass sort of gave up & left just scrub in the red soil. At the same time I noticed a distinct drop in visibility. I was driving thru a dust storm. It was not as bad as ones noted in Upfield’s novels, but bad enough. You could taste the grit. I stayed in another “Pubstay” hotel. A most useful publication. Booked a tour to Silverton on Thursday & out to Mootwingee & White Cliffs over Friday & Saturday.
16 September 1999 – I began the day with a walking tour of BH. There are lots of very neat bldgs. in BH. In he afternoon I did the tour of Silverton which is about 30 km to the NE. It was a mining boomtown before BH was founded. However, everything ended up shifting over to BH once silver, etc. were discovered. There are only a few bldgs. left, but the town & the surrounding area have been used for a number of movies including Mad Max II. A few km to the west of Silverton begins the Mundi Mundi Plain which stretches away forever.