For the next four weeks I’ll be riding my 1997 Honda Rebel 250cc cruiser east out of Adelaide area.
I’ll head south to Kangaroo Island, then take backroads eastwards. I’ll jump on the Great Ocean Road into Melbourne and then linger in that city to catch up with a cousin. If time allows, I’ll catch a ferry to Tasmania and tour and camp.
On the way back I’m considering following the Murray River north and west back into Adelaide area. I might pause in Clare and Barossa valleys to sip some wine.
I won’t be posting stories as frequently here, but I’ll definitely collect stories as I go. Wish me luck, and see you beginning of March 2017.
Another help is that I speak the local language—albeit with a Canadian accent.
Travel Tip: If you learn how to order a beer in another language, know how to ask for the toilet.
If you’re an international traveller, you know how important this is. It’s near impossible using body gestures to ask where the toilet is.
But I digress.
If you speak the local language, you understand the words on local websites. You can phone and speak with local sellers almost fluently. You can phone government call-centres and come close to deciphering their requirements.
I am now the owner of a 1997 Honda Rebel 250. It’s got a mere 45,900 kilometres on it. It came with all the riding gear I could need: a full-face helmet, DriRider jacket, Draggin pants, gloves, boots, saddlebags, a gear rack, and much more. And they all fit because the previous owner was the same height and shoe size as me.
I’ve got six weeks left in Australia.
Kangaroo Island, the South Ocean Road, the city of Melbourne, Tasmania, the Flinders Ranges, and the state’s campgrounds await. That’s the exciting part.
The scary part is waiting to hear back from the bank…where I applied for an account…so I can register the bike with the South Australian government…so I can ride it safely and legally.
I wore a skimpy dress, a floppy hat, sunglasses and a big grin.
With one hand I guided the handlebars of Ruth’s sidewalk bicycle. A sunflower perched cheerfully in a faux wicker basket hanging off it.
With the other hand I balanced a blue wine glass. It contained a mimosa cocktail of sparkling wine and orange juice—until I used that same hand to shift into a higher gear.
Thousands of spectators lined either side of the McLaren Vale Main Road. They waited for the team riders of 2017’s Tour Down Under to wheel past in a mass of muscle, metal, and resin.
In the meantime, they had me. They hooted and then cheered when I tucked in for an attack.
I pedalled past Michelle’s gang who drank bottles of Moondog’s White Feather Fizz and twirled painted umbrellas every time the peloton of athletes blew past.
Hundreds of roadies
Once I got onto the High Street, things got a little technical.
I had to practice my slow-speed pedal as hundreds of Lycra-clad road riders suddenly joined then passed me on the road. They were regular road cyclists, on the course to glide in the slipstream of the greats—Ewan, Porte, Chaves. They looked fast and wealthy in team-style jerseys and ultra-light bikes.
Some laughed when they passed me and I raised a glass to them. One scowled and swerved when he passed me after I signalled a left turn. Just like a roadie, I thought. Too busy watching his front wheel to see a few metres ahead of him.
I started pedalling up the Willunga Hill with the rest of the cyclists, still holding my wine glass. “Why, this isn’t so hard!” I remarked to a man on a Trek. He grinned and kept pedalling. He would join the other cyclists on the shoulders of the winding, 3.7-kilometre hill. It would mark the Tour’s Stage 5 finish.
I’ve staffed a bike shop, worked for a bicycle designer, written about cycling culture, presented slideshows, been a sponsored rider, and solo-cycled several countries.
I’ve also ridden a bicycle all my life. When people ask me when I started riding, I tell them, “I never stopped.” When they ask if I ride for the environment, or for fitness, or to save money, I say no. I ride for fun.
Road riding is great, but I think it’s all just so earnest and serious. And expensive. And corporate.
Me, I raise a toast to the people of South Australia who add a little fizz and ridiculousness to cycling’s Tour Down Under.
It’s a Sunday in South Australia. I get my groove on in a couple of gardens.
My groovy Sunday begins in the garden of environmental sculptor Evette Sunset. Her Willungal garden “Etre” is just 630 square metres, but she’s reshaped the old mechanic’s back lot into a thoughtful landscape of textures, moods, and food plants.
Evette is a member of Open Gardens. Homeowners like her invite visitors like me past their gates and into their yards. For about eight dollars (which goes to a charity) we can nibble tasty treats, sip lemonade, explore exotic and local plants, and mingle with other green thumbs.
It’s an old church on one side and a towering gum tree on the other. In between, a performance stage, tikki bar, and tables of rhythm-and-blues lovers fill the space with music, colour, and energy.
Each week local musicians play blues, rock, country, reggae and folk music. Samra Teague organizes the open-air jam session between serving cheese platters and ice buckets of bubbly wines.
When the music winds down at six, I get back on my bike and hit the Shiraz Trail bicycle route back into my home base of Willunga. The rail-trail connects the villages of Willunga and McLaren Vale on its route towards Adelaide.
The bike ride is beautiful as always, and it’s a great way to keep the day groovy.
I am a meat eater. I eat kangaroo and I eat bacon. I eat whatever is indigenous to the culture I am visiting.
This morning I ate fake bacon. It was my first time.
That’s because I’m staying with an Australian family that is variously meat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free. Two of them left the house this morning for a two-week sojourn. I faced a kitchen of intriguing leftovers including bacon-style rashers.
Today I sighted my first classic Holden ute. Then I got to ride in one.
The first time I ever heard of a ute (a utility coupé automobile) was in church. Delilah and I had gone to the Christmas tree festival at the Willunga Uniting Church—the same community that organized a Blue Christmas service for people not happy about the holidays.
“Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Christmas in Australia
On a scorching summers day.
Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Christmas time is beaut.
Oh what fun it is to ride in a rusty Holden ute.”
“What’s a ‘Holden ute?'” I asked Delilah. The five-year-old looked at me as if I’d just asked what colour the sky is.
“It’s a kind of truck,” she responded.
Fast forward to today, in the yard behind the 21 Junk Street café in Yankalilla, South Australia (map). I’ve finished my healthy lunch and have wandered out back to use the toilet.
What’s that? Why, it’s a beaut of a ute. I know because it says HOLDEN in block letters. The car, er, truck is elegant and streamlined and it reminds me of the 1970s-era Chevrolet El Caminos I’ve seen in North America.
Holden is an auto manufacturer that started as a saddlery in South Australia in 1856. It moved into the automotive field in 1908 and became a subsidiary of General Motors in 1931.
Later in the day, Ruth drops me off at Scott’s place in McLaren Flat for a visit and a tour of his studio. We have a beer next to his pool and he asks if I want to join him and some friends at The Willunga Hotel (“the middle pub”) for Happy Hour. Sure, I say.
We walk around the corner and there is pretty well a carbon copy of the ute I saw in Yankalilla.
“Climb in,” Scott beckons, “But the seat might be a bit wet.” I get in the ute and it feels like—a car. I look back. It’s the payload of a hard workin’ truck.
It’s the mullet of cars, I say to myself—It’s business out front and a party in the back.
I visited Maslin with a friend a few days ago. She likes to do a brisk, six-kilometre walk on the beach’s firm sand. It’s only once we got there that I discovered she does it naked.
Me, I laid a sarong out on the sand, pulled off my T-shirt and skirt, and performed a few yoga sun salutations. In my swimsuit. It’s brand new.
Naked woman, naked man, where did you get that nice suntan?*
When I was done with the yoga, I laid back on my elbows and checked out the view. Most of the people walking up and down the shoreline were men. They seemed to be looking for something. There were also men lying in the sand wearing sunglasses.
I saw a few male-female couples. Many of them seemed to be reading books. Most of the women were not naked from the waist down. I found the same phenomenon on Vancouver’s Wreck Beach.
Showing your vulva is just a bit too unclad for some of us.
Me, I’m not embarrassed of my body, but I am modest. I am grateful that I visited beautiful Maslin Beach and that I had the choice to take off my clothes—or not.
First, the heritage building (a bakery in 1886) is neatly positioned at the foot of the daunting Willunga Hill. The long, winding hill is challenging enough to be part of the route for the annual Tour Down Under road bike race.
Many MAMILS (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) pedal up the hill on their road bikes. Sometimes they pause here for a fuel stop and I get a chance to chat with them. It’s kinda fun because I’ve worked and written on the bike industry and know more than the average gal about cycling; but they wouldn’t know that looking at my borrowed Fluid sidewalk bike.
Second, owner Bec is friendly as could be and she’s included bicycles as part of the outdoor decor.
Third, La Terre serves a fantastic, all-day breakfast. There’s a wonderful chef/baker in the kitchen who concocts a hearty, meaty “Farmer’s Breakfast” that includes bacon, sausage, greens, grilled tomato, mushrooms, potatos, eggs, toast and a marvelous sweet tomato chutney.
It’s a breakfast I can count on to sustain me when I roll out in the 40-degree Celsius heat for a practice-run of cycle-touring South Australia later this month.
They invited us to join them for a coffee and tour of their heritage home the next day.
Willunga’s Old Post Office and Telegraph Station
While Leith made coffee, Sue led us through the 160-year-old building and pointed out odd features.
For example, the City council at the time taxed buildings according to how many windows they had. When it came time to build an addition for the new telegraph station, the builders added a large glass doorway, but blocked in a window space next to it.
Apparently, you didn’t get taxed for doors.
Wine, quince and a surprise
The four of us settled into the front verandah and Sue and Leith started telling hilarious stories about their days as tour guides and hosts in Adelaide.
Leith disappeared and then reappeared with tall flutes of sparkling red wine.
After the second or third bottle, Leith brought out a tray of local cheeses, home-baked crackers, and his very own quince chutney paste. He told us he named it “Black Ninja” after his little black cat.
Leith makes the quince in small batches, and local wineries snap it up to offer at their own cellar door tasting rooms.
I told a few stories of my own and when Leith heard me say that I’d like to get on a motorcycle to sightsee South Australia, he made a call.
A few minutes later Brett arrived on his Harley-Davidson and asked if I wanted to go for a ride. Did I?
I jumped on the back and Brett roared us out of town, along the winding B34 to Myponga (map), and then north along the coastline back into Willunga.
When we landed I asked Brett what our top speed was. 160 kilometres per hour, he answered.
It was nearing 5 pm and Mémé begged off our spontaneous dinner plans, saying she needed to be elsewhere.
Sue, Leith and I crossed the road to the Old Bush Inn, which locals call “the top pub” because there are two other pubs on the same road, on the same side of the street, further down the hill. Naturally, they are Willunga’s “middle pub” and “bottom pub.”
Leith told us it was “Rump and Red Night”—a roast beef dinner with a glass of wine for $18.
Brett whipped home and reappeared at the pub with a gift bag for me. I opened it and gingerly pulled out almost three metres (nine feet) of snake skin.
“I thought you might like it,” Brett grinned. “My Inland Python shed it.” Brett does welding, trailer repairs, and building maintenance.
It was beautiful. I gently looped the snake once, twice, three times around my neck like a boa scarf.
Brett promised to help me find a motorcycle of my own and we all settled in for a social dinner.
Mémé Thorne is a well-established actor in Australia. She’s also an arts enthusiast, and at the Wanganeen opening she promised she’d introduce me to life in the area once she got back from a hiking expedition in Asia.
New Year’s Day I received a text from Mémé. She wanted to know if I was ready to visit some winery cellar doors to ring in the new year? I said Yes and she arrived in 15 minutes.
Magpie Springs and Small World
I climbed into Mémé’s custom-plated Honda and we headed to Avril Thomas’s Magpie Springs. Avril made us coffee and opened the gallery space just for us. It’s currently exhibiting Small World, a collection of 240 postcard-sized works by 200 artists from around the world. The show closes January 15, 2017.
The works are an even mix of local and international artists working in water colours, oil, acrylic, pencil, mixed media, and other media. It includes a beautiful piece by Avril Thomas, herself a portrait artist.
Avril toured Mémé and me around the property, including her studio. There she showed us all the envelopes that the small works arrived in, including a stamp-covered envelope from the USA.
Magpie Spring’s cellar door was not open for business, but Avril did show us a surprise in the corner of the property: an impressive bouldering/climbing wall. I used to live with a climber, and Devin would have been smacking his lips at this wall.
“I want to see the Cube,” Mémé enthused as she steered her car north on Olivers Road. “I’m hoping it might be open by now.”
The D’Arenberg Cube is a radical structure that D’Arenberg Winery has almost completed. It sits atop acres of vineyards and it looks like a Rubik’s Cube, mid-roll. Adelaide’s InDaily.com.au calls it a “Willy Wonka’s Wine Factory.”
D’Arenberg wasn’t open either, but Mémé recommended I return there with someone willing to buy me a posh lunch.
Coriole Vineyards and Samuel’s Gorge
We had better luck at our next two stops. Coriole Vineyards‘ terrace restaurant was hopping and I was able to catch a few tastes of Coriole’s rosé and Fiano—an Italian-style white wine I hadn’t heard of before.
A few vineyards over, we parked under a tree at Samuel’s Gorge winery, named for the serpentine Onkaparinga Gorge that it perches over. It was busy here too, but I managed to sample a few reds including their Grenache, Tempranillo, and Mourverdre.
Red Poles (Brick Kiln Shiraz)
Ready for a snack to accompany our next tasting, Mémé and I rounded off the day with a garden table at Red Poles (Brick Kiln Shiraz). It’s a woody, funky, relaxed place with cheese and paté platters and a very tasty sparkling Shiraz.
As we chatted and chewed, Leith from a nearby table came over to say hello. He introduced himself as the Willunga Postmaster and said he and his partner Sue lived in Willunga’s old Post Office and Telegraph building. He invited Mémé and me for coffee the next morning and we gladly accepted.
But it’s not a crowd of bogans and Eskys and stubby coolers—it’s a funky, hippie crowd. They’re wearing tie-dye, hand-woven fabrics, ethical leathers, and Indonesian-style face paints.
Rumour has it they’re from the Aldinga Arts EcoVillage down the street. According to their website, they are an intentional community that, “…showcases the exploration of new lifestyles for a more humane, sustainable future.”
They’ve flagged an area of the beach off for sand castles. One of the castles looks like a pyramid. One tanned, face-painted fellow grins and digs at the sand like he is unearthing organic potatoes.
Another man, perhaps in Thai fisherman pants, walks by with an empty wine glass in one hand and what looks like a didgeridu novelty item in the other. He occasionally toots on it plaintively.
After the sun sets, he joins a few other men at the foot of the sandy cliff wall. I hear bongo drums and maybe a gamelan.
Appreciation or appropriation?
There’s a pop and whistle and then all eyes turn to the pyramid. “It’s a volcano!” exclaims a small boy.
The pyramid-volcano unsettles me.
It unsettles me the way the Mexican churro-selling Copenhagen café in the German-themed village of Hahndorf in the heart of the British colonist-settled ranges of the Kaurna, Ngadjuri, and Peramangk Peoples’ territories unsettles me.
It unsettles me that way a traveller, visitor and guest should be unsettled.
I try to listen, learn, and make sense of the mish-mashed, mixed metaphor that is contemporary and ancient culture, ceremony, artifice, authenticity and—intention. And it’s one reason I started travelling deep (one place for a longer period of time) rather than wide (many places in a shorter period of time)
But I admit I still can’t make sense most of the time. And I’m learning that is an unsteady-but-acceptable way to be, at home or away.
I found myself following kangaroo trails instead of park trails (which were grown-over and unmarked anyways). I could quietly stand and watch a kangaroo mum massage her pouch where a young joey might hide.
“The Aldinga Scrub is one of the few remaining patches of native vegetation characterising the pre-settlement coastal scrubland in the vicinity of what is now greater Adelaide. It is of rare significance and is noted for its unusual association of plants including species characteristic of sclerophyll forest, mallee scrub and coastal sands.”
For me as a visitor, it was a nice contrast to the Mount Lofty Botanic Garden which I’d visited with Jared and his family the previous day.
Jared turned the key a few more times, got out and tightened the battery contacts, checked the starter motor, and then looked at the engine ruefully.
A young guy in a white T-shirt walked towards us on the dusty road. He asked if we needed any help. “Are you a mechanic?” I asked hopefully.
“Nope,” he laughed, “I’m a paramedic. I can fix broken bodies but not broken cars.” He told us he was staying with a group in the nearby Tapanappa campground. He offered to ask his friends if anyone could help.
Help and beer
After he left, several vehicles drove by also asking if we needed help. One of them was a huge four-wheel-drive, all-terrain recreational vehicle. By that time Jared and I had absorbed the fact that we were stranded.
Colin and Mia turned the 4WD truck around and invited us to jump in the back. “We can take you to the park boundary, no problem,” said Colin. “You should get mobile service there.”
“With a bicycle, a breakdown isn’t a big deal,” I joked. “You just flag down a pick-up truck and throw the bike in the back. Often there’s a case of beer nearby and it all works out!”
Jared climbed back into the truck. “RAA will be here in a couple of hours,” he exhaled. “They’re coming in from Yankalilla.”
Colin and Mia drove us back to Jared’s car. We climbed out and Mia motioned to the backseat. “You want a beer?” she asked, “We’ve got a few extra here and you’ve got some time to kill…”
Jared and I looked at each other. “Sure!” we said almost in unison. Mia handed down a couple of Asahis and wished us well.
Assess the situation
Alone at the car we assessed our situation: we were stalled in front of a campground with toilets and fresh water. It was overcast and not hot with plenty of hours of daylight remaining. We had beer, snacks, maps, and the world-class Heysen Trail nearby.
It could be worse.
“Well,” said Jared, “What do reckon we go for that walk after we finish our beer?” I laid out a towel, leaned back on a tree, took a swig of my beer and nodded enthusiastically.
The walk was beautiful, with peeks of the St. Vincent Gulf oceanside and kangaroo families inland.
The tow truck was a massive flat-bed truck. Its driver, James, was a mechanic. He guessed that the problem was the timing belt—a problem he could not fix on the spot.
After some discussion Jared agreed to James loading the surfboard-laden Toyota on the back of the truck, hauling it to the Yankalilla Towing yard, and then dropping us and the surfboards off at the Yankalilla pub. Jared’s dad Darryl would drive in from Willunga to pick us up from there.
I climbed up the steep steps of the truck cab and settled in on the bench seat between James and Jared. James steered the truck along the corrugated dirt road and out of the park.
As he and Jared compared surf beaches, I took in the gorgeous, rolling agricultural views from the heights of the cab. We passed hundreds of kangaroos relaxing in hay fields. A double rainbow hung over Sellicks Hill.
It was beautiful and I felt like I was flying.
Later, Jared and I thanked each other for remaining calm as we worked through the day. He was optimistic that his mechanic wouldn’t charge him for the timing issue because it was part of the work he gone done.
I told him I remember hearing a quote Mother Teresa might have said. It was something like,
“When I encounter a problem, I consider it a blessing.”
At 1,200 kilometres, the Heysen Trail is Australia’s longest walking trail. It starts in Cape Jervis (the ferry pier for Kangaroo Island) and stretches east and then north towards the Flinders Ranges, ending in the Parachilna Gorge east of Lake Torrens. It’s named after Hans Heysen, a German-born Australian artist.
Jared led me onto a boardwalk trail over sand dunes. We walked and talked about how plants and traditions were both different and similar in Canada’s and Australia’s indigenous cultures.
At the crest of a hill, we paused and looked out. The sea sparkled and the rounded slopes of the land seemed to melt into the blue. The edge of the Great Australian Bight began just west of where we stood.
Now I know why so many Aussies in Canada play hacky sack. It’s their brown balls.
That is, it’s the brown balls of fibrous material that litter beaches in South Australia. They look like naked hacky sack balls, ready to bounce off your ankle.
I recently visited Middleton Beach with my friend Jared. While he sought waves on the water, I scanned the beach for artifacts.
Along with round stones and shards of surf board, there were millions of hairy balls that I affectionately called “beach potatoes.” They were generally smooth, matted spheres that had some heft when you gave them a gentle squeeze.
I did an image search on Google and it led me to a page on Wikipedia for Posidonia oceanica. If the balls I saw on the beach are the same, they are a very common type of sea plant called Neptune Grass.
“It forms large underwater meadows that are an important part of the ecosystem. The fruit is free floating and known in Italy as “the olive of the sea.” Balls of fibrous material from its foliage, known as egagropili, wash up to nearby shorelines.”
And further down in the Wikipedia entry, it says,
“This species is found only in the Mediterranean Sea where it is in decline, occupying an area of only about 3 per cent of the basin.”
The Mediterranean Sea? So either these mysterious beach potatoes are not Neptune Grass; or they are Neptune Grass and have escaped the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal. They then floated their little brown butts down to south Australia.
All I know is I think these little brown balls are cute—and they probably make awesome hacky sacks.
When you arrive, just park off Esplanade. Use the concrete-mounted binoculars to watch the surfers out on the breaks. Follow the stone steps down to the change room kiosk. Wash off your feet if they’re sandy. Pour some water for your dog. It’s all here.
You’ve got to, you know, go?
Turn around and check out the mural. A white figure of a woman on a surfboard points you to the female toilets and change room. How fun is that?
If you need an all-access space, wheel your chair right in. There’s a surfboard for you too.
Here at Middleton, even if you’re not surfing, you can pee like a surfer—on dry land, anyways.
I brought my motorcycle helmet to Australia because I figured it would be hot and hilly. A motorbike would be a great way to beat that. But I didn’t figure how the coastlines, vineyards, and breezy ranges here on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula make me want to go slow, real slow.
I borrowed a hybrid bike from my host Ruth and set out.
From Willunga I pedaled a zig-zag route to Sellicks beach. Locals know Sellicks as “the driving beach.” You can drive your vehicle right on the sand—albeit at a snail-like ten kilometres per hour. I wheeled the bike onto the beach, climbed on the saddle, and stepped down on the pedals.
The bike rolled as if I was on pavement! Plus, the breeze off St. Vincent Gulf was refreshing with just a hint of a tailwind. It reminded me of a similarly heavenly ride I did cycling on Majorda Beach in Goa, India. I raced past 4-wheel drive cars and SUVs at a blazing 18 kilometres per hour.
I turned off the beach where it turned into a wildlife sanctuary. In the parking lot I took a drink of water and admired a neon-green Kawasaki motorbike on the back of a guy’s pick-up truck. He caught me looking.
“Nice bike!” I grinned.
“Yeah, thanks.” He looked over, then motioned to a pile of bags in his passenger side. “I broke up with my girlfriend. Hey, where you ride from?” I told him I’d started about 20 kilometres back. He heard my Canadian accent and then asked the usual questions: Where you from? What brings you here? How long you here for?
“I broke up with my girlfriend,” he said again.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said as I pointed my bike homewards. “It being Christmas time and all. Good luck to you.”
Driving the driving beach
Later that week, Jared, Ruth, Tilly, and Delilah and I returned to “the driving beach.” This time I was inside an air-conditioned hatchback packed with surf and snorkel gear.
The beach was beautiful the second time around, but it wasn’t as much fun driving on it as it was cycling it.
“Look out for the deep sand, Dad!” called out five-year old Delilah from her booster seat in the back.
I still haven’t decided if I’ll travel around South Australia by motorcycle or bicycle after Christmas. But I’ll keep borrowing bicycles until I decide…
Jared and I watched the film and I learned—through the lens of Hollywood cinema—that the real Ned Kelly drank horse blood, hid in the Wombat Ranges, wore a suit of armour, and fetched a reward of £8,000 for his capture. Enough citizens of the time resonated with his Irish-Australian idealogy that more than 30,000 of them petitioned for his release.
After a hostage-taking, gun battle, and capture in Glenrowan, Ned Kelly died by hanging in 1880. Rumour has it that his last words were, “Such is life.”
“Okay,” I turned Jared when the film credits started rolling. “But why is a meat pie with egg and cheese on top called a ‘Ned Kelly’ pie?”
“I dunno,” he answered. “I guess we’ll have to watch the documentary too.”
We did, but my meat pie question remains unanswered.
Watch Outlawed – The Real Ned Kelly from ABC (Documentary, 52:18):
I feel lucky to have met a kindred spirit. We, like many others, must live through a blue Christmas.
S. lives in Adelaide. Her 31-year-old son died in October.
I’d never met her before, but when I saw on Facebook that she would be in the area with a bicycle, I offered to pedal the nearby Shiraz Trail cycling path with her.
It’s an old railway bed that’s been converted into a paved bike and walking trail. There are many wineries nearby. Unfortunately and as I’ve found in the past, the winery we aimed for was closed and two others were about to close.
No worries. We aimed for a café in McLaren Vale town, ordered pizza and wine, and shared our sentiments about Christmas.
S. has the support of her family and spirit community and so she seems to be doing okay. She has a lot of wisdom and is taking things moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
“You are free”
Me, it’s been thirteen years since my boyfriend P.H. chose to kill himself. His birthday was December 23 and he started feeling low around this time of the year. Like S., I had to learn how to live again, minute by minute. I had to tolerate the months, weeks, days leading up to Christmas.
The dead joy of Christmas.
To survive, I learned that I can mostly escape it by flying to foreign countries. It started with Baja, Mexico, then led to winters in India, France, and this year—Australia.
S. and I talked about all this openly and honestly, and it felt like a blessing.
I had planned to attend the Willunga Uniting Church‘s Blue Christmas service on December 21. But having met S. I feel the peace and companionship I might have found at that gathering. Nonetheless, I feel grateful that this little village church would do such a kind thing as to call a service for those of us who face a blue Christmas.
New York Times Magazine has proclaimed the term “cellar door” is “beautiful to the ear” and “purely harmonious.”
However, as a Canadian visiting one of South Australia’s nascent wine regions, I say that a cellar door (winery tasting room) is a place you can cycle to, sample wine, get back on your bike, pedal about 200 metres, and repeat.
I found this was true with McLaren Vale’s McMurtrie Mile a few days ago. It’s a rural road with a number of very eclectic cellar doors. My host Jared and I didn’t linger at any because, mysteriously, these cellar doors close in the ideal wine-sipping and tapas-tasting hours between 4 and 6pm.
I find this confusing as we in Vancouver have passionately taken to this time we call happy hour as an ideal time to have a glass before you head home after work. But maybe that’s just me.
Cycling to wine
To prove I am no weekend pedal-pushing sissy, I cycled up the Willunga Hill on a borrowed mountain bike. It’s a 250-metre ascent over 3.7 kilometres—challenging enough to be part of the route for the annual Tour Down Under road bike race.
I continued north along the paved, roll-y Range Road and then pointed the bike down a narrow laneway called the Kidman Trail. It was a steep gravel descent, but signs alerting me to the presence of koala bears kept me attentive.
At the winery I quickly discovered that a “cellar door” is not a musty, rusty place with old barrels and cobwebs. The Kangarilla tasting room was positively arty.
I sampled a rosé with strawberry and poached pear notes, a Pinot Grigio with hints of coffee and fresh cut grass, a Duetto with aromas of citrus marmalade and crystallized ginger, and settled on a glass of ‘Street Cred’ Moscato suggesting ripe pear and Turkish Delight.
After pouring me a very generous glass of the sweet white wine, the cellar door staffer invited me to relax on the sun deck while she and her colleague packed up and went home. I availed of her offer and spent the rest of my “happy hour” slowing savouring Moscato until the wind picked up and pushed me to dinner.
According to Bernard Salt, you are a wastrel hipster if you order smashed avocado on toast for brunch. Wrote Salt in The Australian magazine in an opinion piece titled Moralisers, We Need You! (October 2016),
“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this?… Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.”
“Bernard salt can pry my smashed avocado from my cold dead hands” tweeted Simon Xmarse. “Skipped smashed avocado for breakfast this morning. Excited to buy a house next week.” responded Tony Broderick.
As a visitor from the hipster neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant in Vancouver, Canada, I have mixed feelings about this.
I’m a foreigner who really likes avocados, especially for brunch. At home it’s a treat you might see next to your eggs benny—two or three slivers of avocado alongside your heritage tomatoes and organic yams. It will not be cheap.
Here, it is a part of an admittedly expensive brunch, but that price tag includes tax, and there’s no tipping.
I admit I may be a mature hipster. But I also own an apartment with a paid-off mortgage. Does that make me a Moralizer (as Salt puts it) who is entitled to eat over-priced avocado breakfasts as I look down my nose at younger people who share my love of smashed green stuff on grainy toast?
It’s a trivial topic at first pass, but it touches on an issue that is huge to cities such as Sydney and Vancouver: housing affordability.
Hard-w0rking people can’t afford to buy a home because global market issues—foreign investment, aggressive developers, slow-moving policy-makers, and Airbnb greed—are sucking it out of their hands. These are the same hands that merely want to enjoy an open-faced vegetable sandwich.
Today I settled on a compromise: a couple of ripe, New Zealand avocados from Coles (two for $5 AUS); scooped out with a round spoon, piled on multi-grain bread moistened with Nuttelex, and sprinkled with a tasty spice mixture. A salt mixture, to be exact.
I miss out on the hipster bistro culture here in the kitchen (sorry Jared and Ruth), but I do get to defy Salt and his posse of Moralizers in my own, rebelliously East Van way.
Ice? Check. Beer? Check. Chicken and sausages? Check. Barbie? Fire it up.
It’s Sunday evening and my hosts Jared and Ruth tell me they’ve invited some friends over for a barbeque. Naturally, we’ll need some ice in the Esky (portable cooler) to keep the Coopers (pale ale) frosty.
Jared preps the retro grill, Ruth marinates the chicken, I sweep the shed (covered patio area), Delilah wipes the kids’ table, and Tilly tunes her guitar.
There’ll be three little kids running around, three guitars jamming, one dad bongo-drumming, a backyard fire burning, stars twinkling, and me pushing twigs into the fire and quietly taking it all in.
“Based at the vintage and charming Aldinga Airfield, Adelaide Biplanes is all about delivering some of the most awesome flying experiences it’s possible to imagine. From the joy and sheer romance of a gentle Waco biplane flight at 1,000 feet, along the scenic Adelaide south coast, or a vintage Tiger Moth flight with a stunning sunset as your personal backdrop, to an extreme Great Lakes biplane open cockpit Aerobatic Flight that offers a totally unique, adrenalin-pumping experience, that literally puts all your senses on overload. To the ultimate buzz of actually learning to fly at the most motivating, challengingly-fun, inspiringly-easy going and singularly safe Flying School. At Adelaide Biplanes, we have a passion for pretty much everything there is to do with aeroplanes.”
I was grounded this time, but rumour has it Santa Claus has logged a flight plan with the tiny airport. Maybe I’ll bump into the big fella next time around.
In South Australia, a stairway to heaven goes down, not up.
It starts from a road where you park your sand-carpeted hatchback. There’s a industrial-size tub of SPF50 sun lotion in the back with the towels. It’s got a pump so you can slap it on fast.
Faster than it takes to pull on your wetsuit. It’s thick neoprene rubber and if you’re lucky, you’ve got a buddy nearby who’ll pull the back zip for you. If she’s local, she’ll tell you how the surf looks before you even peer over the rail.
When you do, you see an expanse of blue with strips of white foam. They curl and break like slow-motion music. If you’re a surfer, that’s heaven.
Ruth called them jaffles and I had no idea what she was talking about. I wondered if it was a blend of words like jandals. Jandals are a New Zealand contraction of “Japanese sandals,” also known as flip-flops or thongs. However, in Vancouver, thongs are a type of uncomfortable women’s underwear. Some of us call them “butt floss.”
But I digress.
this morning I cycled to the neighbouring village of McLaren Vale to buy some sensitive-teeth toothpaste that doesn’t cost 22 dollars (as I was shocked to discover at the Willunga local pharmacy).
Chillax is a wax that you dot on the top side of your surfboard. It’s designed to offend sharks. It’s organic.
According to Chillax’s Common Sense Surf Company Facebook page, Chillax Wax is “…heavily dosed with four organic essential oils and four strong spices.” I spoke to the inventor of the wax at the weekly Green Light Eco Market. He hinted that one of those essential spices is chili pepper.
There’s been some speculation on what the other ingredients might be. One wag offered, “Chili peppers and other strong spices? Isn’t that what you’d tenderize a piece of meat with…?”
Me, I’m just learning to surf so rest assured I’ll stay in shallower, less-shark-infested waters.
And I can’t help but think the wax looks like a creamy, custardy, and spicy crème brûlée.
The Chillax people hint that Version 2 of the wax will be even more repugnant to sharks:
“Chillax is an ongoing project of investigation and innovation; but with the help of consumers and supporters it will be made redundant by our second envisioned product – a shark repelling surf wax.
“This will be Chillax with a treated and olfactorily-tolerable Necromone, the scent of necrotic or rotting shark. This appalling stench makes sharks flee.”
Tilly, Delilah and myself learned to snorkel today, in different ways.
We were at Second Valley Beach in South Australia. The water was a bit cool but the air was still and the sun warm. Tilly and I donned wet-suits and floated in the buoyant, salty St. Vincent Gulf.
We sighted bright pink and orange sea stars.
I came back to the beach, eager to peel off my neoprene suit and sit on the soft sand. Five-year-old Delilah was patiently waiting there for one of us to come back.
Delilah’s graduated to “Starfish” level in her swimming classes and I asked if she’d keep me company in the clear, sandy shallows. She was justifiably doubtful of the undertow at first but I held her hand and we waded in slowly.
In a little while her sister Tilly returned and asked Delilah if she’d like to try the snorkel mask.
Slowly the two of them made their way into deeper water and Tilly coaxed her to slip on the mask and then lower her face in the ocean. It was just in time for her dad to proudly witness the big moment. He had been snorkeling in the deeper blue of the cove.
Here’s a traveller’s tip if you stay in a place for a month or more: Get a library card.
It’s usually free. You can borrow guidebooks, novels, maps, and movies. You can pick up useful local knowledge like events calendars, newsletters, and volunteer opportunities.
And you can chat with friendly librarians like the lady at the Willunga branch of the Onkaparinga Public Library. She told me all I needed to earn my own library card was have my hosts Jared and Ruth write a letter. Ruth was kind enough to sign the letter I pushed in front of her this morning.
(Lucky for me neither Ruth nor the library staff noticed I spelled Onkaparinga incorrectly.)
The public library is a great place to pick up events calendars for the area you’re staying in.
Tilly is in Class 8 at the Waldorf School here in Willunga. It’s an unusual school, where 13-year-olds discuss personal journeys, portrayals of women in advertising, and 9/11 conspiracy theories.
I was pleased to join her and her family to the school’s end-of-year concert. According to Wikipedia, a Waldorf education’s “…overarching goal is to develop free, morally responsible, and integrated individuals equipped with a high degree of social competence.”
It also includes a high degree of musical competence. The event showcased everything from percussion poles to xylophones to classic guitar. A piece by the Senior Band, Kaze no Toorimichi, felt transcendent.
During the break I wandered the school grounds and got a sense of the Willunga Waldorf School’s radical building and grounds design.
From what I’ve seen so far, and having spent some time with Tilly over the last couple of weeks, I’m impressed—and just a bit jealous.
I wonder how my generation would have turned out if we could have received this kind of creative education?
The roads wind beautifully along picture-postcard coastlines, through vineyards, and between mountain ranges—how could I not?
The trouble is, I need a bike. It’s got to be small, light, ready to carry gear, and less than $2000 AUS.
A few people have suggested a Postie bike. Similar to my vintage-style Symba Honda Cub, the Australian Post’s delivery vehicle of choice is small (just 110cc) motorcycle that is nimble, easy to operate, and tough as all get out.
Today I caught sight of a Postie zipping in and out of drive ways on his specially-equipped Honda Super Cub CT110. I literally waved him down and then fairly grilled him on the particulars of his bike.
“…one of the most sustainable, lean and delicious meats that Australia produces. Kangaroo is a 100% natural lean meat that is sustainably and ethically sourced from the open ranges of Australia. Kangaroos are free-ranging animals, the range over extensive pastoral areas of Australia, graze on natural vegetation and are harvested in their own environment…”
The sweet-voiced song told the tale of a young man who met his first true love at a mysterious place called “Bondi Junction.”
I eventually discovered that Bondi Junction is a real place in faraway Australia. I wondered if I would ever go there.
I did. It’s a transit station east of Sydney. It’s a great place to find a direct bus to Bondi Beach. But, like poor Peter, it was not the place to find love.
The song did well for Peter, though. It was a Canadian’s break-out hit single nominated for several awards. He might have been influenced by three brothers he met when he was still in Australia—the brother Gibb. They’d go on to become the Bee Gees. He’d go on to direct a film that is rumoured to inspire the film American Pie.