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|News from Downunder 2004 - Part 3
Broken Hill, New South Wales and Sydney
Our first stop in New South Wales was at Broken Hill, only a few tens of kilometres from the border with South Australia, in fact it has much in common with South Australia and retains the same time zone, rather than the half hour shift to Eastern Standard Time. We planned for a couple of days in Broken Hill and the surrounding area for two reasons, firstly it was, and still is, a major mining centre and secondly we planned to visit Kristy's parents who lived there and also pick up a few items to take across to Kristy in Sydney. We stayed at the Broken Hill City Caravan Park, on the outskirts on the main road in from the West. One of the Top Tourist Parks, it was probably the best equipped site we have used with a kitchen with fridges, freezers, cooker and microwave as well as the universal hotplate style barbeques. We were woken every morning by the calls of hundreds of white 'Major Mitchell' cockatoos as they wheeled overhead.
We had not realised how well the Broken Hill area would fit into our sequence of mining area visits. Many of the miners who came to the surrounding areas, first to Silverton then Broken Hill, came from Kapunda and Burra when the copper deposits started to decline and some from the Victoria Gold fields whose 'rush' had contributed to the copper decline. Again by chance we first visited the Day Dream Mine near Silverton then the Delprats Mine, one of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd (BHP) original mines on one of the first blocks found and pegged by a Boundary Rider who was aware of the success at the nearby Silverton area and was prospecting. Broken Hill turned out to be a much more significant resource for Silver, Lead and Zinc and parts of the lode are still being worked today. In their time Kapunda, Burra, Daydream/Silverton and BHP/Broken Hill contributed to and helped shape Australia along with the Goldfields we have yet to visit.
The first morning we went up to the observatory and memorial to the many miners who had died in the mines at Broken Hill. In the early days they had a notorious safety record - many miners died unnecessarily from poor working practices and pressure on the miners to avoid taking time to operate safely. Many deaths were from Lead and Lung damage from dust resulting from drilling dry and use of explosives in an uncontrolled manner. This led to the formation of Unions and an unprecedented level of strike activity starting in 1892 and culminating in an eighteen month strike in 1919 which finally brought in more sensible hours and safer working practices. Nearly 1000 miners had however paid the ultimate price whilst the companies and their shareholders prospered greatly. They are remembered in a striking monument on the top of the main load which can be seen from all round town, it offers views over the town and the current workings and areas which have been worked as open cast. Just below was the poppet head and buildings for the Delprat's mine, not worked commercially but open for two hour underground trips once a day.
We tried to book tour tickets at the Information Office in town but discovered that the tours rarely reached their limit of 60 and were on a first come basis out of school holidays and public holidays. Unusually, tours had to be paid in cash, and were $40 each. We purchased books and got some other information but found their help disappointing compared to most, although they had a good range of books and souvenirs. We later discovered they marked up prices in an extortionate manner; books were 50% more expensive than at the Daydream Mine. We were not alone in our view which was echoed by many others we spoke to during visit. We however found much of the information on New South Wales we required at the camp site! On Saturday the tour at Delprat's Mine does start till 1400 (it is 0930 weekdays) so we took the 30 km drive out to the Daydream mine, the short gated stretch off the main road to the actual mine being in some need of improvement to the seal.
Firstly one should give a little about the geology and history of the area round Broken Hill and especially the deposits around Silverton. The original ore body was laid down 1700 million years ago at a time of both sedimentary and volcanic activity and have undergone numerous events of metamorphism and folding. The deposits around Silverton were formed much more recently in shear zones from material remobilised from the Broken Hill deposits. During 500 million years of metamorphism fluids moved up the shear zones - Lead and Silver were dissolved and re-deposited where the shear zones cut graphite rich rocks which acted as a chemical barrier. The zinc was re-deposited on route into mica and other rocks. Following the depositing of the remaining Lead and Silver in the Silverton region another 65 million years of weathering and erosion have greatly concentrated the Silver above the water-table and those were the rich deposits which were first discovered and worked in the area several years before the main ore body they had come from was discovered at Broken Hill.
The Daydream mine near Silverton was originally discovered in 1881 and the story goes that a prospector called Meach grew tired whilst searching, lay down and slept in the shade of a tree then waking saw a metalliferous outcrop - a 'blow' of minerals with bright blue, green and yellow colours - he called this 'blow' the Day Dream as he did not believe his luck when he first saw it and thought he was daydreaming. Another smaller blow was found nearby which, with great originality was called the 'Little Blow'. The mine was floated as a public company in 1885 and shortly after a smelter was set up on the site which can be seen as one enters down the road. The mine was soon overshadowed by the new discoveries at Broken Hill and the Smelter was moved there although intermittent mining operation continued for periods including one in the mid 1960s, after which it has only been open for tourists.
We were shown round the Daydream Mine by Terry, son of the owner Kevin, and both were funds of information. After an initial tour above ground we went down into the mine itself. The seams were small in dimension but rich and angled down steeply - the mine grew by evolution rather than planning as miners followed the seams from the surface. The mine grew to have 4 levels, each accessed by declines of 20 to 30 degrees and we followed these and the drives and stopes (not a spelling error, they are areas cut out to extract ore) to walk through about 10% of the original working which totalled 4.2 kms. We only went down to the third level; the 4th level is now filled with water. All the mining work was done by hand. The holes were drilled by hammering and tapping a heavy hardened and sharpened steel rod held and slowly rotated by one man whilst his partner or partners swung a sledge hammer. When the hole was about 2 feet deep it would be packed with explosive, most often black powder, a fuse set and lit with no regard to noise, pollution or other nearby miners. The ore released was shovelled into bags or hand barrows and initially dragged to the surface, or later trucked to shafts to be lifted out. The mullock was then used to backfill to hold up the roof along with timber called Toms. Most of the timber in the mine is original Mulga from the surrounding hills and is still as hard and sound as when it was installed.
The ore was hauled by bullock to the rail head 160 miles away at Terowie. The Bullock teams and wagons could manage up to 10 miles a day in good conditions. The railway was gradually extended to service the fields prior to the discoveries at Broken Hill. When the border with New South Wales was reached from the South Australia side the NSW Colonial Government refused access to the 'foreign' company and eventually a private tramway had to be set up to link the rail head at Cockburn to Silverton. It was then continued on to Broken Hill when that field was discovered - it could not be called a railway because that implied government ownership.
We went from the Daydream mine to Silverton, not quite a ghost town, but still very quiet although it has a number of well preserved buildings. it is perhaps best known these days as the site of the filming of one of the Mad Max films and one of the cars is still parked outside the Silverton Hotel. We were limited in time and had to head back to Broken Hill for the 1400 descent into the Delprat's Mine.
The main ore deposits at Broken Hill were found by Charles Rasp, a boundary rider on the nearby Mt Gipps Station in 1883, he was actually a German food technologist but had been excited by all the nearby discoveries and tried his hand at prospecting. He spoke first to the Station Owner consequently 7 blocks (each 40 acres) were pegged by a group including the owner of the Station. These were spread all along the outcrop of ore or what came to be called the "line of lode". Initially the assays were poor and it became joking called the hill of Mullock but that was soon to change when rich ore was discovered at 30 metres down and the end result was the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd (BHP) being formed from the private company owning the first 7 blocks.
It turned out that they were working the tip of a huge body of rich ore shaped like a boomerang 7 miles long and dipping to over a mile deep at the ends which is still being worked today with reserves for another decade. The middle of the boomerang which stuck out formed a jagged and Broken range of Hills which led to the name - they have long disappeared with open cast mining along the summit. The ends drop to over 5000 feet and was one of largest and richest bodies of Lead, Zinc and Silver ever found. It totalled about 160 million tons and 2.5 million tons is still being extracted from deep mines at present.
The mine we went down was one of the original BHP mines, the Delprat's Mine. We descended by cage to level 4 some 400 ft below ground level where the mining we saw was typical of that in the 1960s and our guide was a real miner who had worked the face for 15 years before becoming a supervisor for another 15. Since retirement 20 years ago Ron told us he has run guided over 3000 2 hour trips underground. His style was definitive and refreshingly dismissive of any political correctness. His favourite saying was "You can't learn mining from a book" and he made it abundantly clear why. We learnt a lot about mining at that time, a point where safety had become important but total mechanisation had not replaced small very interdependent teams of men working on contract terms. We walked through drives still with the original Oregon Pine Toms to stopes, saw how the filling in with sand took place as the stopes were worked steadily up between levels taking 20 years to work up the 50 metres. We saw the pneumatic tools in operation and a typical 40 year old front loading bogger, a small bucket loader which tosses the load over the top into a truck behind, in operation. We sat in candle light and total darkness as did the early miners - overall a memorable experience and well worth the $40 each.
We spent the evening with Kristy's parents Cheryl and Richard who provided us with an excellent barbeque and some memorable sweets. Unfortunately it was not warm enough to exploit their pool. In the morning we followed the heritage walk round the town before starting on the long journey towards Sydney. The walk had a lot of boards with old pictures showing the town at various stages of development as well as the more usual information. Another feature we noticed driving round were the 'clubs' some such as the Musician's Club had very fine old buildings.
Our first stop then was at Cobar. The camp site was good and quiet and birds ran round our feet - doves with crests and tails they fanned in mating displays whilst tapping their beaks on the concrete and Lazy Jacks which were so tame they ran between our feet and had a noisy round nest like a coconut in the tree above us.
The Cobar area turned out to be much more interesting than we expected, Cobar Shire is huge - the same area as Tasmania or Denmark but with a population of only 6,500. Cobar started life as a one of the few water holes with surface or near surface water even in the worst droughts. It was therefore an area where Aborigine and settlers met and the name comes from the red ochre found in the area used for Aboriginal Cave paintings which was called Kuparr 'raddle, ochre' in the Ngiyampaa language. Prior to 1870 the district was made up of huge pastoral holdings depending on the Darling River trade. The discovery of Copper transformed Cobar.
In 1870 three itinerant workers whose trade was digging wells and installing tanks passed through and whilst camped at Kubbar waterhole near Cobar noticed some unusual colours of rocks in the water and held onto a few rocks for interest. They were showing these off in the Glillunnia pub where the wife of publican recognised them. By a coincidence, before emigrating from Cornwall, she had worked as a 'Balgal' - a sorter of ore in the Cornish copper mines. This chance discovery and identification led to the formation of the Great Cobar Copper Mine which became, at one point, the largest copper mine in Australia. It is strange that everything one reads about in Australia has been the biggest or best at some time in some area and most involve the Cornish! Cobar grew to a population of 10,000 before the copper demand collapsed at the end of 1919 and the Great Cobar Copper Mine closed. The other major mine, the Cornish Scottish and Australian (CSA) suffered a catastrophic under ground fire in 1920 which burnt for 16 years and was also forced to close. The population quickly fell to under 1000.
The wheel turned and copper prices improved and mining restarted in the area. In 1934 the New Occidental Gold mine opened 6 kms from Cobar and continued to 1950. Now the Peak Gold Mining Company has started to mine again at the old site and is open cutting a new site just outside the town on Fort Bourke Hill for Gold. The CSA mine also reopened, in 1965, and after a brief closure in 1998 is back in production processing 650 million tons a year of copper, lead, silver and zinc ore. Modern techniques of survey using magnetic and gravitational anomalies indicated the likely presence of large untapped metallic deposits in the general area of Cobar and following diamond drilling to map the deposits a number of very large scale mines are now in operation both for Gold and Copper. The Elura mine opened 45 kms to the west of Cobar in 1982 and is know known as the Endeavour Mine producing Silver, Copper and Zinc. The Peak Gold Mines opened a huge underground mine in 1992 about 12 kms south of Cobar working to a phenomenal depth accessed both by a shaft with enormous winding gear to bring out the ore, and also by access tunnels for vehicles. This, with their New Occidental mine and mines at Chesny is resulting in surface and underground working which they plan to integrate to cover work most of the area back to their workings at Cobar.
None of the mines are open to visitors but the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, sited in the old Great Cobar Copper Mine administration building has an excellent introduction to mining and specific information on the main mines, both past and present - overall some of the best information we have seen although some of it is a few years out of date. We spent well over an hour and it helped greatly to understand the area. They have some excellent three dimensional models of the Peak Gold Mine and maps and cross-sections of all the ore deposits being worked as well as all the technological details of each operation. Inside and outside they have various artefacts including one of the rail coaches which was towed round the area providing medical services and clinics There is also a short walk round part of the original open cut working where gravel was dug out to backfill the mine workings underground to stabilise them. - the open cut is now mostly a lake.
Opposite the Heritage Centre is the Cobar Mining Heritage Park which has a bronze memorial to all the miners killed in the workings as well as a number of larger mining structures and artefacts which have been gathered in the area including a mine head and winding engine and a loader from the CSA mine. There is also a well documented heritage walk which we did not have enough time to complete but instead drove round the accessible sections to get a feel for the buildings - some of the old hotels with verandas and balconies in ornamental cast iron are well worth a stop and we took a number of photographs.
We wanted to have a look at some of the mining operations but none are open to the public. However the Peak Gold Mine corporation have made a viewing platform down onto their new open cut workings on Bourke's Hill which has interpretation boards and excellent views. Unfortunately it was the other side of a locked gate - there are some local politics which have led to the farsical situation where the Mine built the platform and the local government sealed the road but it cannot be used. We also went out to the Peak Gold Mine main site where they have a short walk past old workings with a stamper battery complete with steam engine and boilers on display, the only time we have seen them all intact and together as well as some 100 year old head gear. There is a lookout over the new head gear which is a huge tower and the processing plant with information boards with a lot of more up to date information than at the Museum.
Unfortunately we then had to move on and started the next stage of the drive across to Sydney stopping for convenience at Dubbo. The drive took us from the arid outback into farming areas with huge fields of grain stretching as far as the eye could see without a fence, just a few odd trees amidst the golden crop. We drove through several swarms of locusts, enormous and strong insects some of which were still alive under our windscreen wipers after impacting at 110kph.
The next day we went to Ophir, one of the places which was at the top of our priority list to visit as we had not only visited its namesake in New Zealand but also because we knew it had been the start of the Gold Rushes to Australia and hence had played an important part in the development of the country. It was 27 km from Orange where we were staying and we took a trip to it from the information office in Orange. The trip took us to the Gunnadoo mine at Ophir which is still active, though small, which had contributed some of the Gold used in the medals at the 2000 Melbourne Olympics, most of the rest also came from the Ophir area from the Cadia mine which is one of the largest in Australia mining 16 million tons of ore from which 325,000 oz of Gold were extracted in the year of the Olympics. The trip continued to visit the original areas of Alluvial workings and areas where the Gold was in Quartz Reefs which were mined and we had time for an hour round trip walk before returning via the monument to Banjo Paterson who wrote many well known verses and poetry including Waltzing Matilda.
The discovery of Gold in Ophir generated the first Gold Rush in Australia in 1851, the small find by Edward Hargreaves, a Californian Gold Miner, and his partners was almost certainly not the first but circumstances had recently changed and the thought of a Californian style Gold Rush was attractive to an impoverished government and they had offered a reward of 500 pounds for the first discovery of a workable Gold Field. Despite considerable controversy as some of his partners had made the significant sized discoveries after he had found the first indications Hargreaves eventually collected the majority of the rewards. The name was suggested by Parson Tom from the biblical quote to King Solomon's gold 'And they came to Ophir and fetched from thence gold'.
Ophir grew quickly and estimates indicate that at the peak in 1851 there were 2000 diggers on the field although only 446 monthly licences were issued - Ophir has the dubious honour of both being the first goldfield to have a licence system and the first to generate a system for licence evasion via a Raven's call to warn unlicensed diggers to scatter. The field declined as the alluvial deposits were exhausted then had a revival when gold in quartz reefs was discovered in 1866. Deep leads of Alluvial gold were also discovered where river beds rich in gold had been covered by subsequent volcanic activity. The mine we visited was one which was working such deep leads in an area on Doctors Hill, an area worked for over a century. To complete the background story major surface alluvial gold is still to be found at Ophir, - in 1979 a 199 oz nugget containing 168 oz of gold was found by a fossicker with a metal detector.
The trip round the Gunnadoo mine was fascinating; it was being worked in almost the same ways as it would have been a hundred years ago although electric jack hammers and pneumatic hammers reduced the effort over use of a hand pick. The shaft they have dug into the hillside intercepts many of the old workings and uses the old Slater's tunnels dug at a lower level to drain the workings. The tunnel intercepts the rich gravel with alluvial gold at the bed of the old river, now covered by up to 30 metres of rock with a basalt (volcanic) top. They have passed the area more commonly worked in the past and are working towards the far side of an island in the old river system towards what may be new and rich grounds. The ground is so hard that they were only making a few feet a week and are having to employ explosives. We could see the sedimentary layer of the deep lead on the edge of the tunnel about 30 cms deep and where areas had been removed.
The ground above has enough ironstone to be stable with very little need for props. We also saw areas which had proved rich where the cut had been taken sideways, again by hand and with a height of under a couple of feet one of which went back tens of feet and 10-15 feet wide . There are only two or three of them working the mine and the yield is only about 0.25 oz per ton so they depend on the income from showing tourists round at present but, of course any day they could find the big one. The owner was also an instigator of using Ophir gold for the Olympic medals and Gunnadoo gold formed part of that used. Whilst they work through the hard rocks towards the new ground they tell of finds such as that when a digger went up a hillside on a hunch and saw what seemed to be a mirror of gold - when he investigated he found a sheet of gold squeezed in a fault between two sheets of quartz. When the quartz was cleared and the gold prized away he rolled down a sheet reputed to be 8 feet by 12 feet and a quarter inch thick. We bought a tiny nugget of their gold to help them on their way. A trip well worth while taking and reasonably priced if you go by yourselves at $14 each. The road down is very steep and potentially slippery so consider leaving your car at the top where the coach parks.
The next part of our tour was an unguided walk round the original Ophir mining area - there are several walking trails from the parking and camping area by the river join and ford where the first find was made. We only had time for the shorter walk but it still covered all the various phases and had 16 interpretation boards and frequent markers - even so it seems to be hardly used, perhaps because the ground is rough and there are many climbs. We saw the races where alluvial gold was worked, the remains of water races, many tunnels and some large cuts into the hillside from the time that reef gold had been found - a fascinating hour if you are reasonably fit and well shod.
The return trip takes a different and again unsealed road in the National Park section and we rejoined the common sealed section to stop at the Banjo Paterson memorial where we had a few minutes to take pictures. Banjo Paterson wrote many of the best known Australian songs including Waltzing Matilda and the classic poem, the Man from Snowy River. Later in the holiday we managed to find a second hand book of his poetry.
We left Ophir on the main road towards Sydney and passed through Lucknow, another rich source of gold and where mining continued from 1851 for many years. Many of the buildings, hotels, mine workings, poppet heads etc are still intact and there is a heritage walk. We looked rather than stopped and marvelled at the size of the largest nugget found there just behind the Perseverance Hotel - it weighed 76 kgs, considerably more than me and probably twice a miner of those days. The gold was very rich and nearly 70,000 oz was bought by the banks in five years from 1862-67 plus that sold privately - nearly two tons from 1033 acres. The little leaflet we got on the village with the heritage trail was fascinating and we would have liked to spend longer.
It was then on to the Blue Mountains and the first highlight was a trip on the Great Lithgow Zig-Zag Railway in a steam drawn train. This goes down the face of the Blue Mountains in a series of zig-zags over viaducts and through deep cuttings and tunnels - the engine is moved from end to end for each of the three sections. This novel method was the only way to get a branch up the steep hills from the main line in 1861. A good trip lasting an hour and a half.
The rest of the day was spent in the Blue Mountains mostly on short walks to a number of spectacular viewpoints. The Blue Mountains area is now a National Park covering 247,000 hectares coming within 60 kms of Sydney and crossed by two major roads allowing a 150 km round trip through spectacular scenery. It is not a conventional mountain area with discrete hills, ranges or mountains - it is a flat topped area which has been uplifted and tilted about 3000 feet and has then been eroded into a network of deep valleys with almost shear drops from the plateau. It proved an impenetrable barrier for over 25 years. It is very different to, for example the Grand Canyon where the rivers have cut deep gorges - in this case the layers of harder sandstone are mixed in with softer shale layers and the water has cascaded over much wider areas at the bottom of which the shale has been eroded undercutting the edge of the raised area and caused large vertical faces to separate.
We visited several of the viewpoints on the edge of Mountains starting near Blackheath where we went to Govett's leap which has a heritage centre where we gathered our first information. We took another few km detour to Evan's lookout. By now we were impressed enough to consider staying in the area to investigate further and we found a virtually unpublicised camp Town site in Katoomba from which we could investigate more of the lookouts and some of the network of walks and trails along the 'cliff tops'. The campsite was expensive but had the best facilities we had found so far.
The best known lookout is Echo Point where one can look out over the Three Sisters, rocks which had significance to Aborigines, as well as making a fortune from Japanese tourists who were present in droves chattering like monkeys so one could not hear the wildlife and taking pictures of each other rather than the stunning scenery. We came back and admired it after 1700 when parking was free and the tourist buses had departed. Most of the other lookouts and paths were fortunately much less busy despite a tram running round the tourist loop.
In the morning we worked along to Wentworth Falls where there are another set of viewpoints and a comprehensive network of paths along the cliff tops, down into the valley and viewing and following the Wentworth Falls themselves. We walked enough of the tracks to get a little exercise but found the labelling and maps on the boards somewhat confusing as there seemed to be little correspondence in the track names, destinations and distances. We bought a couple of pamphlets with track details which will help next visit at the Conservation hut which also served huge portions of ice-creams from local ingredients - a welcome find as Australia has proved to be an scoop ice-cream dessert since leaving Perth.. We had our final walk at the lookouts over Wentworth Falls and tore ourselves away to head for the Hunter Valley to stock up with wine before we reached Sydney to stay with Kristy.
We drove across using what seemed to be a couple of shortcuts, firstly the Hawkesbury road from Springwood to Richmond and then from Windsor up the 'Putty' road to Singleton and the Hunter Valley. They were very scenic but very winding and poor surfaced; we can not agree which was worse for twists and surface. We arrived too late for a vineyard lunch and almost too shaken to taste. We stopped first, by mistake, at Hunter Cellars which was an outlet for a number of wines in the area and in the original premises of Tempus Two which they were tasting and was on our list. Pauline tried several and we were quite impressed by the Gewurztraminer and bought a cold bottle to go with supper.
We then went on to a couple of the big names which we wanted to try. Our first stop was Rosemount who export a number of their range to the UK, and we found two to keep an eye open for, namely the 2002 Roxburgh, their Flagship Range Chardonnay 2002 from the Upper Hunter valley which is expensive but will drink well in a couple of years and their GSM 2000 (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) which was very French (Rhone like) and would make an interesting addition to a blind tasting. We were, however, not tempted to buy at the Cellar Door.
Lindemans next door was a different matter and we not only tried a number of their wines but also bought several. We tried two of the 2003 Chardonnays, the basic Bin 65 and the Reserve which was more oaked and one to look for in the UK. Pauline tried the 1996 Semillon for which Lindemans and the Hunter Valley is famous and was very impressed by the depth of flavour, it was only available from the cellar door and not cheap but we ended up getting one to take with us. We then tried two Hunter Valley Shiraz against each other, the 1997, again a limited release and their top of the range 'Stevens' 1999 Shiraz which was very different in bouquet and taste to any Shiraz we had tried before. It comes from a small parcel of 45 year old vines using natural yeast and only 500 cases were made - very good but not a wine to be knocked around in the back of the van. We bought several wines for everyday consumption on the basis of those we had tried including a couple of bottles of sparkling - we will update when we try them.
We stayed in Cessnock, the main town in the Lower Hunter Valley at the Valley Vineyard Big4 camp site, picked because it had an associated 'B.L.U.E Thai' Restaurant and Take Away where we had an excellent meal - the camp site also had a good camp kitchen so we were spoilt for choice. The restaurant was BYO (Bring Your Own) only so we drank the already chilled Gewurztraminer we had obtained for the purpose of going with Thai. The camp site claims it is in the vines but they are going better and have planted rows of vines to separate each pitch from the next. We had a memorable night with thunder and lightning and the sort of rain which felt as if it was denting the roof then cleared to a morning with a clear blue sky.
We spent some time walking round Cessnock in the morning and found a computer shop which was very happy to put all our pictures onto CD from the two big (256) Compact Flash cards for the sum of $5. Whilst waiting the 15 minutes we investigated some second hand book shops and found a second copy of the wine book for a couple of dollars so we are sending one home in our first mailing. An Op shop caught Pete surreptitiously weighing himself on some scales for sale, to see what damage had been done by all the good life in Australia, then made him an offer he could not refuse and sold them to us for $2. We can now weigh our packs back to the UK and our suitcases - his comment was that it was worth $2 for that much flattery as he is convinced they under-read!
We then rushed to Wyndham Estate and persuaded them to let us join Keith and his 1100 tour although we were a few minutes late. It was very good and gave us a lot of insights into the way the wines are pruned and picked in the Hunter valley. Their view was that the machine picking is so good fast and consistent that they can harvest at night and daybreak when the grapes are cool and that hand picking is only appropriate if the pruning or training does not allow machines to operate. We also learnt about the use of weed killers round the vines. Likewise we learnt a lot about the fermentation and maturing process although it was not Keith's area of expertise. The tasting was very comprehensive and Keith and then Wendy spent a lot of time with the various people on the tour giving a personal tasting to match each ones interests and knowledge. Thoroughly recommended as a tour and also the wines where we stocked up for much of the remainder of the time before we get back to Adelaide and the Murray River.
Wyndham Estate also have a winery restaurant which does reasonably priced lunches including tasting plates where 5 wines and five small portions of food can be tried in various combinations to understand the interactions between the wine and food. They do three options, red, white and mixed and it was Pauline's day to drive so Pete had the Red option at $27 which was again very instructive as well as enjoyable - it is an idea others should follow. The only problem was that the 5 samples were actually almost half a glass each and it seemed a shame to waste them! Pauline was beginning to wonder about the chances of having an accurate navigator for the challenge of Sydney.
First stop after lunch was to investigate the Tempus Two vines further - the winery is a stunning modern design and we wanted to get a couple more of the Gewurztraminer as it had been so good. Pete tried a couple more of their wines; unfortunately the better ones do not yet reach the UK. We enquired about the name as we wondered if it was a take off on Robert Mondavi's Opus One but that was not the case. The winery was originally going to be called Hermitage after the location in which it was sited but the French, with typical arrogance, threatened to sue them because they also have a wine called Hermitage. So at three days notice they sought a new name as they thought it best not to risk be confused with a little known French Wine once they had gained the reputation they sought - hence Tempus Two for their second try.
Final stop before the long drive to Sydney was at Brian McGuigan, they were again very attentive despite being a very large enterprise with many tasting stations. Pete was not permitted to try many but he did try their Gewurztraminer to compare to Tempus Two, both are very good but we were quite happy with our choice. One point we learnt from McGuigan was that the Hunter Semillon has the distinct advantage that the fruit reaches flavour ripeness at quite low sugar content so one can make a wine with only 10% alcohol which can have big advantages whilst still have the ability to go well with lighter style foods. They had recently had a fire and the tasting room was slightly damaged and the building alongside almost gutted. Perhaps for this reason they were making some very good offers and we noticed many people were buying half cases of Magnums of their basic Black Label wines - we tried the Black label wines and they were pretty good value at the usual $9.85 a standard bottle but at $60 for 6 magnums it was exceptional and we bought a mixed case to take as a present to Kristy.
Despite Pauline's fears, Pete navigated to within a few yards of Kristy's door in Parramatta without a wrong turn. Parramatta is an interesting old town where the initial immigrants settled at the upstream end of the navigable part of the Parramatta River. Unfortunately it is now more often thought of as just part of the main Sydney area by those who are unaware of its history, heritage and the major role it played in the early days of the Australian nation. We took her out in Downtown Parramatta to a Lebanese Restaurant where we had a huge and very excellent mixed plate of seafood and meat which we barely managed to finish. We ate outside which was nice and we watched a steady parade of street cars parading round and round the block. Unfortunately being outside we did not have such a good view of the belly dancing which was laid on. We staggered back late having caught up with all the news.
Kristy is working very hard and long hours so could not free up the whole weekend so we took the ferry from Parramatta to downtown Sydney which is about 20 kms away. For $15 you can get an all day ticket covering ferries, buses and trains. It was a very relaxing 50 minute journey down the river taking us past many interesting sites including the Olympic Village and under the Sydney Harbour Bridge with excellent views of the Opera House as we came into very central Circular Quay alongside the passenger terminal where the QE2 berths. We followed the 'approved' walk round the downtown sites including the Sydney Opera House which is even more impressive and elegant in the life than any picture can convey. We did not realise it was covered in small tiles and that there is texture contributing to its beauty which does not come through on the pictures. We walked round the Royal Botanic Gardens where one memorable feature was the noisy flock of Royal Ibises (or are they Ibii) fighting in some tall bamboo over our heads whilst we had an ice-cream. Unfortunately Government House and its grounds were closed for a function.
We crossed back past the Quay and under the Harbour Bridge to visit the Sydney observatory with its time-ball which is still dropped every day at 1300. We spent time admiring the building etc in the old area which is known as 'The Rocks' before we used the last of the available time to look up MacQuarie Street at some of the fine old buildings which house the State Library and Parliament. The trip back on the ferry gave us a chance to rest our feet. A couple of Kristy's friends from the Gym came round in the evening and we tasted far too many wines and cheeses.
In the Morning Kristy took us to one of the gyms and while she took a couple of Aquarobics classes Pete tried to undo some of the holiday's damage on one of the cross-trainers. We had not realised the scale of the fitness movement and the size of the gyms in Australia until then. Membership also seems much more reasonable than in the UK. We then drove straight to the 'Sculpture by the Sea' symposium at Bondi Beach the other side of Sydney - a nightmare drive in the traffic. We were very glad we had used the ferry and swore to avoid driving into Sydney ourselves. The beach was itself very impressive with the rocks surrounding it worn into fascinating shapes in which many of the sculptures were displayed. Many of the sculptures were very modern and employed recycled goods, metal etc, for example there was a life-size elephant built largely from discarded televisions and similar family items. The symposium was certainly thought provoking.
Kristy had to work the early part of evening so she took us to one of the local RSLs to eat. Most towns seemed to have a number of 'clubs' which welcome visitors and the RSL (Returned ex Servicemen's League) we went to was no exception. We were however surprised at the rigid dress codes enforced and that we had to offer photo-identity when we signed in and carry a pass - Kristy also had to produce her card from another club to sign us in. We understand that if we had gone to one of the many clubs whose signs say they welcome visitors we might have needed to pay a day membership, if you live locally then full membership is only a few tens of dollars. The food was good cheap cafeteria style as we were late - most, like the one opposite Kristy's Fitness Centre apparently do very good full fixed price meals. Drinks looked very cheap with wine at shop prices, although we only had a beer which again was well below pub prices. There was a small group playing that had a really excellent violinist - they were better than many we have heard recently on the QE2. The clubs seem to be none profit making hence the sign in system or it could be because of the huge number of pokies we could see in the distance which mean that it has to be members only. We had noticed that some of the camp sites recommend local 'clubs' when one checks in - we will investigate them further as we travel as they seem cheaper than cooking for oneself and have pleasant surroundings and even live entertainment at weekends.
We only need a quick walk round Parramatta in the morning to complete this phase of the journey - the saga will continue in Canberra, Victoria and Melbourne.
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