Port Fairy Folk Festival 2012

Lest you think that everything is about bikes, here is a brief summary of our long weekend, now a couple of weeks ago:

Liz and Harry and Jack and I attended the Port Fairy Folk Festival.  That’s a brief summary for you.

Here’s the slightly longer version:

The Port Fairy Folk Festival has been running for, ooohh, ages.  Decades.  Well, according to their website, 36 years.   This was our second year, so we’re relative newcomers.  Unfortunately Zoe couldn’t make it this year, since she’s otherwise occupied, being in New York, or Philadelphia, or Boston or somewhere like that, at the start of her own odyssey.  However, something like 15,000 people did attend this event, which swells the normally sleepy seaside town of Port Fairy considerably.  (None of them made up for Zoe’s absence, by the way…)

OK, so I just looked it up.  When the festival isn’t in town, the population is 2500.  So “swells” is a pretty mild word to describe what happens to the place.  There isn’t a bed or a manger to be had in the place, and finding a spot to stick your tent in the camping ground isn’t necessarily all that easy.  You should book early and arrive early!

There are tents and cars and vans and people as far as the eye can see.

There are tents and cars and vans and people as far as the eye can see.

Once you’re there you get to choose between a bunch of big venues inside the fenced-off area of the Festival proper, or from a bunch of smaller 0ff-site venues scattered about the town of PF and its environs.  The main venues within the festival area are temporary structures called “tents”, although not the kind that you’d pick up for cheap at the local Disposals store.  These are some big-arse tents.

Like any other festival, fete, carnival or event with a large number of essentially trapped punters with nowhere else to go there are also smaller tents selling over-priced food, over-priced bottles of water, and fantastically over-priced alcohol.  At $7.50 for a half pint glass of Guinness the grog is definitely over-priced, but that doesn’t seem to slow anybody down!

Here is a bunch of Youtube links to the acts that we saw over the course of a couple of days:

The Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band.  These guys were meant to be the bees knees of Bluegrass, but they left me a bit cold.  It *was* early on Saturday morning, though, so maybe they just needed a bit longer to warm up:

The Junes.  This is a local group, singing “glam country”, swing and gospel music.  They were fabulous, darling.  Great musicians, didn’t take themselves too seriously.  Lots of fun.  One of the women turned up again on Sunday morning singing gospel songs, but more on that later.

The Davidson Brothers.  The two boys from Gippsland are the current national bluegrass fiddle champion and national bluegrass mandolin champion between them.  They grew up playing in the Scottish Highland Fiddle Club, and when they played to their Celtic roots they were superb.  But a lot of their stuff was more Lee Kernaghan than Trad. Celtic, and whilst it was good, it just isn’t my cup of tea.  But I don’t wanna sound too picky here.  Like I said, the more traditional stuff they played was fantastic, and it’s easy to see how they won their respective titles.  Apparently their banter between songs is usually a bit blue, but perhaps because they saw lil’ ol’ prim and proper me in the audience they toned it down a bit.

Harry James Angus is perhaps better known to some as the guy that plays the trumpet in The Cat Empire.  But he also plays a few other instruments, and he sings, and he writes his own stuff, and stuff for other people, and all that kind of multi-talented kind of stuff.  Not bad.  If you like that kind of thing.

The Sharon Shannon Big Band was headed by this crazy-happy Irish lass whose name you can probably guess.  She gave the impression of having downed 3 or 4 strong coffees, a couple of Ectasy tablets and maybe smoked a small joint before jumping joyfully and lovingly onto the stage.  They were good.  And then they let their fiddle player loose for just one tune – and he was absolutely sensational.  Can’t find video of him I’m afraid.  I guess you just had to be there.

Adam Cohen.  Son of the famous and rightly legendary Leonard Cohen.  Normally it is true that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, but in Adam’s case it seems that the fruit had some difficulty finding the ground, and when it did it must have got kicked around a bit, and maybe chewed on by a passing horse.  The guy has a lovely, rich, sonorous and deep voice, a bit like his dad’s, only maybe a bit better.  But that’s where the comparisons end.  He was vacuous, self-centred, embarrassingly and transparently libidinous and also not very good.  We walked out on him after 15 minutes.

That takes me nearly to the end of our first day.  I’ll post more soon….


Bright, Audax Alpine Classic, 2012.

I’ve dragged my family up to Bright for the last few years for a long weekend so that I can have some company.  The reason for my visit is the annual Audax Alpine Classic.  The reason my family comes along is simply that I asked them, I suppose, but over the years they’ve found stuff to do in and around Bright which keeps them coming back each year.

Authentic Bright magpies

This year the boys and I drove up on Australia day, leaving Liz and Zoe at home to attend a funeral.  On the way up we stopped at Avenel for a little bit of pizza.  But not just any pizza.  Quite a while ago someone I  know went and bought himself a bit of real estate in Avenel, with the intention of turning it into a Wood Fired Pizzeria.  It’s been a long road for Callum, but it finally bore fruit when he opened his doors for the very first time on Australia Day.

I wouldn’t normally abuse the enormous reach and power of this blog to plug a friend’s business, and you have no idea the number of offers that I knock back each and every day from people wanting my endorsement.  But in this case I just have to make an exception.  If ever you are in Avenel you just have to call in and check this place out.

Which is a pretty daft thing to say, since the chances of you ever being in Avenel are slim indeed.  So let me rephrase it.  Go out of your way and call in to Avenel and find your way through it’s not-quite-straightforward street layout to Bank Street.  Don’t do it on just any day, though, because at this stage I think they are only open on Friday nights and weekends.   But go.  It’ll be well worth it.

Bank Street Pizzeria

There probably won’t be a vintage car parked out the front, and unless you go on Australia day as we did, there probably won’t be so many Australian flags getting about the place either.  And since Jack and Harry and I were already their very first customers you’ll miss out on that honour as well.  But still, GO.

Check them out here if you must, but GO!

Perhaps you’ll be on your way to Bright one day….

Where you can swim in the river if it’s a hot day.

The public swimming area in the Ovens River, Bright.

This is a photo from a year ago, and it must not have been that hot, or maybe it was just early in the morning.  When the weather warms up this becomes a very busy part of the river.  So much so that you would drive up the road a distance to find a quieter spot on the river, if only you knew where to find it.

Chinaman's swimming hole.

There are no sign posts, no directions and no indications that this swimming hole exists.  It’s a short drive from the main road along some pretty rough tracks, and even on a scorching hot day (as this day was) it’s not so busy.

Diving off the cliff

It’s hard to show in a photograph, but at the bottom of the cliff the water is very deep.  And this year, unlike in previous years, the water was very clear.  If you’re brave you can jump off the cliff and into the water below.

And if you’ve had enough of swimming and diving off cliffs, there’s always the majestic mountains in every direction.

Sunrise over Mt Bogong, from Tawonga Gap.

For the Australia day weekend each year the town of Bright is taken over by cyclists, who descend on the place for the annual Alpine Classic.  Some of us ride the “classic” 200km route each year, some take the shorter options, and a growing number of hardy souls enrol for the aptly named Alpine Classic Extreme 250 km event.

The 200km event starts in Bright and heads over Tawonga gap and down to Mount Beauty, then climbs up to the Falls Creek village.  From Falls Creek the ride returns by the same route to Bright, and then up Mount Buffalo and back.  It’s a long way.  But the road is covered with cyclists, there is a great atmosphere and there is lots of support including water and food stops along the way.  Actually, you should try it next year.

A light hearted moment at the start line.

In keeping with the French origins of the Audax cycing organisation the start line always has a bit of a French theme, and the event village is like a little bit of Paris each year.  This charming woman in her French maid’s outfit has been on the start line each year that I’ve lined up, along wit an Inspector Clouseau character, keeping the humour up.

They are used to cyclists in this part of the world.

This always seems an odd sign to me.  By their very nature cyclists tend to share the road, whether it be with other cyclists, or with thundering big trucks.  To my mind the sign should say Motorists:  Share the road!


Victor Harbour – coming home.

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with holidays.  Holidays that don’t end probably are more properly called something else:  sea change, retirement, council roadworks supervisor.

Our last sunrise in SA (for a while)

The drive back from Victor Harbour to Murrumbeena was hardly the highlight of the holiday.  It was just the return trip.  You can dress it up, pad it out, fill it with adventure, but it’s still going to be just the return trip.  Frodo et al may well have fought the occasional orc, and even deposed a much-reduced Saruman on their return, but it all happened after the climactic moment, and Tolkien’s readers, though they read it all, they did it whilst puffing their post-coital cigarettes,  and more from a sense of loyalty to the characters than from any kind of enthusiasm for the narrative.   Jason and his Argonauts did battle with the orcs of their day, plugged their ears against the song of the sexy sirens, and all that other epic stuff, and then they returned home to find a pile of bills under the front door and a note from the neighbour saying the fence was falling down and would they mind getting a few quotes.

Give me the journey’s beginning any day, and keep the journey’s end for someone else.  Sure, it’s nice to wend one’s weary way homeward, and it’s wonderful to crawl into one’s familiar slippers and settle down in front of the home fire with a pipe filled with the finest weed the Shire can offer.  Be it ever so humble, etc etc.  But when it comes to stories, be they epic or not so epic, it’s rarely the bit at the very end that draws the reader in.

Cable ferry across the Murray River

The highlight of the trip home was this river crossing.  This is one of 27 such river crossings in the whole of Australia, apparently. Now there’s a trip for someone.

Let it be said, then, that we drove home from Victor Harbour, arrived safely back to our warm burrow and are even now living most wonderfully and happily ever after.

Alpaca surnise



Victor Harbour Day 7 – The Queen Stage.

It’s Saturday as I write this, but it’s not this Saturday that I’m writing about, it’s last Saturday.  Only last Saturday, that is, and yet it seems like quite a long while ago.

Saturday last week was the 7th day of our South Australian holiday, and the 5th day of the Tour Down Under.  The so called Queen Stage.  Not because the riders all dress up in drag for the day’s racing, and not because there’s any member of any royal family involved in any way.  The title of Queen Stage is given to the toughest or possibly most decisive day of a multi-day bike race.  Usually that means the day with the biggest climb, or the biggest climbs.

Of all the days of the TDU this is the one to watch.  It begins in McLaren Vale and takes the riders on a few laps between McLaren Vale and Aldinga Beach before taking a couple of laps up the quaintly named Old Wilunga Hill.  In previous years the race has gone up Old Wilunga hill three times, and down the other side three times before finishing in the town of Wilunga.  This year the race organisers made the decision to have only two laps up the hill, with a hill top finish, making for a much more exciting prospect in the last lap, and opening up the General Classification to the climbers, edging out the sprinters a bit.

My day began with a ride from Victor Harbour north-ish to McLaren Vale where I met up with a couple of riding buddies to watch the start, followed by a delicious second breakfast.

Black cockatoo?

On the way to McLaren Vale I passed about half a dozen of these birds in the trees on the side of the road.  The looked like cockatoos, and they sounded like cockatoos, only they were black, with some white in their tails.  If only I was an ornithologist…

There was quite a buzz at McLaren Vale, with a huge crowd gathered to watch the race begin.

The starting line


The first lap through McLaren Vale

Some of you may not be that interested in bike races, in which case you should just admire those clouds.

Meanwhile Liz and the boys had set off in the other direction and managed what we had hitherto failed to d0:  they had found a surf beach at last.  They were going to do a bit of surfing, then meet me later on the side of Wilunga Hill.

After second breakfast I waved good bye to my McLaren Vale riding buddies and headed off to Wilunga to catch up with another riding buddy, who I found tucking into a hearty lunch with a goodly supply of ale, seated in the pub with a couple of his mates.  This is the essence of the TDU experience – bike riding, eating, maybe drinking or wine tasting, and a bit of race watching.

The pub in Wilunga is one of those perfect vantage points.  The race goes right past the door not once but five times, and when it’s not out the front you can watch every detail on the TV screen indoors.

The riders take a U-turn outside the Wilunga pub. How about those clouds?

About half an hour ahead of this bunch I had ridden up that same road, past those same crowds, on a road that was already closed to motor traffic.  The road through town is one long straight up-hill stretch of more than 500m, and the crowds were three to five deep on both sides, all with nothing to do except wait for the race to come by and cheer on the passing cyclists like me in the meantime.  I felt a bit self conscious riding up this road in a group of one, with a smattering of applause and the occasional cheer.  There were even people holding water bottles out for me.

After the town of Wilunga the road turns upwards more steeply and continues at about 7 or 8% for about 3kms before reaching the top.  Riding up this was just like riding through town, only more so.  The crowds were more pumped, more vocal, and ready to cheer anything or anybody.  Even I got a few cheers, but the loudest roars were for the cyclists in costume – the mankinis, the Telly Tubby suits, the zoot suits – for the police on their mountain bikes, and for any kind of kid.  It was a great atmosphere.

A break away on the first lap up the hill.

On the first lap up the hill young Australian rider Nathan Haas made a gutsy breakaway.  He reached the top with nearly a minute over the following bunch, but he was reeled in before the bottom of the descent.

In between laps there are two things to do.  You can watch the crowd, which is pretty entertaining, or you can watch the race on one of the big screens.

The big screen, courtesy of Bikeexchange

Wilunga hill top.

Earlier in the week I’d ridden up to this spot and there was none of this to be seen.

At the end of the stage the crowd begins to disperse, many walking back to their cars, but equally many getting on their bikes to head home.  Liz and the boys were still surfing, not wanting to waste this fantastic beach that they’d found on the last day of our holiday.  So we agreed that they would drive from Goolwa to Adelaide, and I would ride from Wilunga to Adelaide, and we’d meet somewhere along the way.

Riding back with my Kazakh buddies.

I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon for people riding from the race finish back to Adelaide find themselves sharing the road with the pro cyclists, unwinding after the race.  There are a few cyclists in the pro peloton that I’d really like to ride alongside, just for a little bit.  None of them rides for the Kazakh team Astana.

We all met up on the outskirts of Adelaide, chucked the bike in the car for the last few kms, and kept going, to check out the sights of the city.  Not surprisingly we saw churches.  And other stuff.  Then we ate, we had a beverage, and we jumped in the car and headed back to VH.

Our last South Australian sunset. For a while.


Victor Harbour Day 6

A few days have elapsed since last we conversed, dear Blogosphere, and I am somewhat sad to report that we are back in Melbourne and I am back at work.  Not that there’s anything wrong with work or anything.  But there’s also nothing wrong with holidays.  Well, except perhaps just the one thing which has been a feature of every holiday I’ve ever had so far, which is that they all end at some point, and it’s back to work.

Reminds me of something Phil Connors said once:

“I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster, drank Piña Coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn’t I get that day over and over and over?”

That would be Phil Connors as in THE Phil Connors, Punxsutawney’s most famous weatherman.  You know…

So anyway, from the vantage point of back at work I shall attempt to fill in the details of the last few days of our trip to SA, if for no other reason than to ensure the integrity of the historical record.

Day 6 was last Friday (has it really been that long already?), and it was dominated by the beach.  Sure there was a morning ride, but you’ve heard enough about them by now.  Rode here, rode there, yada yada, blardy bla.  AFTER the morning ride, and AFTER the obligatory morning coffee and snack and newspaper thing we all headed off for a bit of a drive over to the west side of the Fleurieu Peninsula in search of more snorkelling.

Our drive t0ok us right down to the bottom, to Cape Jervis, which is the jumping off point for those getting the ferry to Kangaroo Island.  When you look at it on the map it’s easy to imagine something a little interesting, perhaps exotic.  Surely that southern-most spot must be a place of great beauty, or of special interest, or of rare flora, or something.  But alas, Cape Jervis is a lonely, isolated, windswept, treeless hillside with a few shops and an ugly ferry terminal.

Not photogenic, but still worth recording for posterity.

This was the point that the camera battery gave up.  We actually brought two cameras with us.  A pocket digital camera and a bigger digital SLR, but we didn’t bring the battery charger for either, so we had been expecting this moment for a while.  Slightly less expected was that both cameras would give up at the same time, but that’s the way it was.

Not inspired to stay at Cape Jervis we headed back up to a place called Rapid Bay, where we had been told the snorkelling was good.  Rapid Bay isn’t quite as uninspiring as Cape Jervis, but it gives Jervis a good run for its money.  It has a camping ground and a little store, and a large industrial looking pier, recently built, which appears to be there to serve the adjacent facility.  The adjacent facility, however, has the boarded up and dilapidated appearance of yesterday’s quarry, so just what it’s all for remains unknown to us.  For the little while that we were there the pier was used by recreational fishermen on top and three amateur snorkellers underneath.  We didn’t stay long.

Next stop Second Valley, where we’d been before.  Here it is much nicer.  The beach is better, the surrounds are nicer.  There are trees.  By this time the sun was high, the heat was on, and the water was calling.  Oh, and your idiot blogger remembered that he can also take photos with his phone.

We spent the rest of the day at Second Valley, enjoying the beach and the water.  Harry saw a real live Leafy Sea Dragon amongst the sea grasses, but unfortunately (or actually fortunately, if you think about it) he didn’t have my phone with him, so there is no photographic proof of this encounter.

Second Bay beach.

The end of a hard day's holidaying.

TDU hits Victor Harbour.

Today the Tour Down Under came to town, with the finish of Stage Three on the waterfront, so a fair bit of the day was devoted to being in the right spot at the right time to catch a glimpse of a bunch of cyclists as they flew by.  Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, although it did kind of put a lid on non-cycling activities for the day.

Not sure where to start, so …

Diving in

I’ll just dive on in.

A few shots of the surrounding things.

Looking back to Victor Harbour, from Granite Island

The bridge, or causeway if you prefer, links Victor Harbour to the tiny uninhabited (except by penguins) Granite Island.  You can walk across it, or take the horse drawn tram.  Also, you can snorkel under it.  There are more species of sea grasses here etc etc etc.

Looking west across the Fleurieu Peninsula

So much countryside!

And just so you know it's Australia

And not Scotland

Scotch Thistle - scourge of the wheat/sheep belt

There are still the locals though…

If I was a botanist I could capture this image with a name. somethingflower?

Sea Grass!

The sea grass is here in abundance, as you may have heard.  And yet, it’s not as common as it once was, and it’s not as easy to re-establish as you might think.  There are so many ways in which humans have impacted negatively on the environment.

Metamorphic rock, Second Bay, western Fleurieu Peninsula.

Luckily rocks are tough!  And, in what is possibly the lamest segue of the day, how tough are those cyclists?  Three and a half hours of racing and they still have enough left in the tank to wind up to a 60 or 70 km/hr sprint in the last few hundred metres!

Greipel takes the win, Stage 3 TDU 2012.


I wouldn't mind one of these Ripleys.

Because they’re amazing of course, and not because I’m in any way susceptible to marketing or peer influence.



Having a whale of a time.

After yesterday’s heat and the blustery north wind it was kind of nice to wake to a cooler day today.  Long hot days are perfect for beach holidays, but it’s nice to have a cooler day here and there.  It gives one a chance to do some non-beachy things, it gives the skin some time to adapt to its new hue, and it justifies those long sleeves that you packed as you left home.  All of which is a kind of bullshit way of making it sound like not such a bad thing that it’s too cold for swimming, but let’s be honest, we’d all rather that it was a bit warmer.  It’s summer after all.

Not that I’m complaining.

Jack and I went out for a short ride this morning.  Just up the road from where we are staying is Mount Alma road, and the sign at the corner of this road suggests that there is a bit of a hill to be found nearby.

A hill beckons

Since neither of us was riding a truck, a bus, a caravan or a trailer, we figured that we’d be OK.

But whoever is in charge of signs in this part of the world obviously wanted to make sure that we got the message.  A little way further up the road there is another sign:

Apparently it's steep up ahead.

Undaunted we pressed on.  Actually this is what we came for!  A bit of steepness.  But how could we be sure that it would be really steep?  Well, there’s those sign placing people, for starters.  They are adamant that people hear their message.  A little further up the road…

It's steep!

And, just a bit further on again….

Oh, steep! Now you tell me!

So anyway, the photo doesn’t really do it justice, but it was quite steep, OK?

Here’s what it looks like from the top, looking back down:

Sensibly pondering the descent.

After a couple of laps up and down all that steepness it was definitely time for something not so steep.  Like a flat white.

Morning coffee was therefore had, or iced chocolates, depending upon who we’re talking about.  Then came the stuff that you do when it’s not quite warm enough to swim.  A bit of a stroll around town, and a visit to the local must-see tourist attraction, to be found in nearly every seaside town of any touristic substance, and which would possibly struggle to survive the summer season were it not for the occasional too-cool-to-swim day. In Victor Harbour it is the Whaling Centre, that celebrates or at least records for posterity all things related to the harpooning and consuming of whales which, whilst most definitely not PC to the modern observer was once the height of ocean-going derring-do and topped the list of must-have consumer items.

Today’s consumer, far from the oil wells of the Middle East or Bass Strait, greedily makes his or her way through a steady diet of oil related stuff.  Plastics, DVDs, lip balm, guitar strings, and all manner of other things are cheerfully derived from wonderful oil gleefully extracted from the ground each day.  It could go on like that for ever!  But the consumer of Olde didn’t have an endless supply of Crude to turn to, instead preferring whales as the source of all their goodness.  Whale oil, whale bones, whale blubber, whale meat, whale teeth, whale intestinal goop and everything else whale was used to basically run the whole economy.  Whales and slavery.  Or convict labour, depending on where you sat.  Who could have imagined a whale-free future?  And it was renewable!  Well…

Of course there are not whole whales in a small coastal town’s Whale centre, but there are bits of whales.  Whale skulls, whale vertebrae, whale flipper bones and all that kind of stuff.  Just the sort of stuff you’d expect a responsible blogger to photograph for you, but alas dear reader, although I do indeed have photos of some of these things I didn’t deem any of them to be of suitable quality for you.  Anyway, you know what whales look like, right?

Curiously though, the Whale centre also had a whole section devoted to sharks and to some of the other creatures of the sea, so here is a photo of a Port Jackson shark

Port Jackson shark.

and a Leafy Sea Dragon

Leafy sea dragon. A bit dead. On a wall.

The parting message from the Whale place should probably not be about sharks, nor about desiccated sea horse, but about the whales themselves, and why it’s perhaps maybe not so good to kill them, sustainable oil production notwithstanding.

Can anyone forward this to Japan?

So, our heads full of cetaceans and their ilk we exited the Whale centre and made for the next activity.  Whilst Liz paid a visit to the local Rotary Art Show the boys and I walked into the water, snorkels at hand, in search of some real live Leafy Sea Dragons.  Needless to say we didn’t find any, which is hardly surprising given their leafy camouflage.  (The leafy camouflage obviously doesn’t survive the dessiccation process as well as the rest of the Leafy Sea Dragon, so the photo above probably has left you with an erroneous impression.  In real life these things look like a bit of sea grass.  Only leafier.)

We did see one of these, though:


Only the one we saw was quite a bit smaller, and wasn’t a Great White, but an actual real live Port Jackson Shark.  The great white above was part of a video presentation in the Whale centre.  While snorkelling we also saw some stingrays, a very orange starfish, and each of the nine different species of sea grass (NOT algae) to be found in these waters.  (More than is to be found in the Great Barrier Reef.)

Back on dry land we learned that Rotary Art Shows here in Victor Harbour are very much like Rotary Art Shows back in Melbourne,  with even some of the same artists on show.  On the streets the big thing is the Tour Down Under.  Stage 3 is tomorrow and it finishes here

Tomorrow's finish line

In honour of the TDU the whole of Victor Harbour is festooned with bikes.  They are everywhere.

Red bikes everywhere.

Sorry about the flat white pun.


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