Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Great Ocean Road

views along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

When I got to Australia, I met up with my dear friend David. Our times in Australia overlapped, so we decided to rent a car and spend a few weeks on the road touring Victoria. We began in Melbourne, picked up our car (with roof tent) from Wicked Rentals and set forth toward the coast. The first thing we learned was "stay sexy--stay left." We were not the quickest learners but we never hit anything! The second thing was to teach me how to drive standard transmission. Let's just say we were better at staying left than I was at mastering manual driving, but hey--I'll get better.

some of the Twelve Apostles along the Great Ocean Road
We detoured from the true start of the Great Ocean Road by first driving along the Bellarine Peninsula. From Torquay we picked up the classic route and traveled on past Anglesea. The coastline along the Southern Ocean features spectacular sheer limestone and basalt cliffs, the occasional sandy beach, and a smattering of coastal towns and villages. It makes for beautiful driving. It's summertime (albeit a chillier one than usual) here in Australia and the Great Ocean Road was the place to BE.

Nonetheless, it was never very crowded and we figured--ehh we'll just stop into some caravan park or campground, no planning ahead necessary. This was wrong. It was New Year's Eve. Everywhere was booked. We didn't worry though (every Aussie we'd met told us "no worries"), and we always found a safe place to sleep.

Some of these places were National Parks. Some places were State Parks. Some places were Recreation Parks. Some places were Cemeteries. Ok--many of the places were cemeteries. This turned out to be a pretty good idea of ours. Lots of privacy. Nice (or spooky) epitaphs to read. Good story-making with various discoveries of very large spiders, sheep employed as groundskeepers/lawnmowers, beautiful (and not too macabre) sunsets.

rock art of Bunjil, a creator spirit, in Gariwerd
No matter where we stayed during our nights, our days were delightful. Being on a careful budget, we were very pleased with the range of things to do free or cheaply. Much time was had exploring the beaches and tide pools, visiting museums, perusing bookstores and op-shops, driving/walking in the bush. In Bendigo (once the world's greatest gold town) I had my introduction to Bush Poetry, the tradition of balladeers singing or reciting rhymes about life on the frontier, wrangling horses, hunting outlaws... I've also started reading everything I can about Aboriginal folklore, thanks to my start learning about this and visiting the rock art in Grampians Nat'l Park (Gariwerd).

the Enchanted Forest
Our favorite stop along the road was the town of Portland, even though the guidebook describes it as "falling short of its potential." We visited a Petrified Forest (actually sandstone, not petrified wood), an Enchanted Forest (actually magic, not easy to find), and got to watch an impromptu dance/photography session of some members of the Fighting Gunditjmara at our campsite on Mt Richmond. The men were kind enough to let us watch, and I traded a poetry recitation in exchange.

me, David, and two members of the Fighting Gunditjmara
When we reached the end of the Great Ocean Road in Nelson, we traveled inland to see the Princess Margaret Caves, the Grampians National Park, the Murray River, the Yarra Ranges, and the Hanging Rock. While each had their gems, our visit to the Hanging Rock surpassed the others in my emotional reaction.

The Hanging Rock was made internationally famous by Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel, detailing the fictitious (or not??) mystery of three 19th century schoolgirls who go missing during one picnic lunch at the Rock. "Rock" is always capitalized. I'd picked up this novel at the beginning of our road trip, and David and I had been taking turns reading it aloud to each other. It's a beautiful mystery. The best scenes are those when Lindsay zooms out and shows the reader parts of the scene that the characters fail to notice:

“Insulated from natural contacts with earth, air and sunlight, by corsets pressing on the solar plexus, by voluminous petticoats, cotton stockings and kid boots, the drowsy, well-fed girls lounging in the shade were no more a part of their environment than figures in a photograph album, arbitrarily posed against a backcloth of cork rocks and cardboard trees.” 

exploring Hanging Rock
The Rock is a sacred site to the local Wurrenjerrie, and information at the entrance wrote that many people, especially the Wurrenjerrie feel a deep sense of foreboding at the site. I was anxious to check it out for myself. David and I explored the peculiar, soaring, teetering faces of the Rock, and I found myself getting nervous, even though there was no apparent danger (unless one slipped down in one of the narrow, steep crevices). I felt watched. Paranoid even. I asked David how he felt and he said 'good, like he felt he could become part of the Rock.' I was shocked, and irritated by all the other tourists who were having such a gleeful time. What was going on with me? I sat down, trying to puzzle out my reaction, when I at last articulated that I knew the Rock didn't trust me.

I know that sounds kinda crazy.

You should probably be beginning to expect this particular brand of crazy from me. I'm trying hard these days to relate to the landscape personally. I want to do the opposite of personification. I can't find a satisfying term for this. Suggestions?

I decided at the time that some meditation was in order. I took off my shoes and socks and sat near one of the extrusion boulder formations. David joined me. We sat there for several minutes and soon the other tourists quieted or disappeared. When I opened my eyes, we were alone and the color of the rocks was a bit brighter. I felt calmer. I closed my eyes again and fell asleep, realizing later the odd symmetry of this scene with the one in the novel, immediately before the girls go missing. Still, I felt comforted.

When we awoke, we gathered our things and proceeded up the trail to the summit. The entire place seemed friendlier, less watchful. Perhaps it's all imaginary, but perhaps these connotations are real. I cannot see that it makes much difference either way.


The next day, David and I returned to Melbourne and returned the car no worse for wear beside the 3000 extra km we achieved. I checked into my hostel and we walked to the train station. When he boarded, I walked away, and tried to feel brave. I think I succeeded, but I also felt pretty dang sad.

It's hard to say goodbye to someone you love very much and be unsure when you'll see them again. But, that is what we had to do, and now I'm back on my own. I'm in Melbourne another couple weeks, living in a city for the first real time. It's neat. I'm digging the anonymity. There are restaurants with food I've never tried before. I'm finding interesting stuff to do and the State Library is gorrggeous. Soon, I head north through the interior to Darwin.

I anticipate I'll feel a more acute loneliness in the coming days, having had the joyful gift of such good companionship the last couple weeks. I will not see another familiar face in person until I get home, just over six months from now. But that is the nature of the year. It's something I intend to relish.

All that aside, if anyone has tips on how to get a Chinese visa, please HELP meee. I'm so confused.

Wishing you many exciting journeys, and hoping to hear from you soon,
me and David on the Great Ocean Road

P.S. Aaugh. Too many stories for one measly post. Ask me sometime about all the wildlife we saw! Stories include kangaroos, wallabies, owls, eagles, koalas, echidnas, platypus, parrots, cockatoos, tawny frogmouth, wombats, and something that made mysterious wild pig sounds for three nights in a row! 

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