Vagabonding – Sydney, Byong & Albury

Week 3

Please note: No cockatoos were harmed in the creation of this blog.

I'm obviously easily amused
I’m obviously easily amused

While in Sydney we had been abusing the hospitality of two amazing couples, Kathy & Mark and Carol & Greg. Mark is Jenni’s brother and we stayed with him and his partner Kathy for about half the time and with Carol and Greg the other half.

Kathy & Mark are both journalists. Mark is Foreign Editor at The Australian Financial Review and Kathy is National Music Writer for News Limited. Kathy, in her professional career, which is long and distinguished, has met and befriended many proponents of modern and not so modern popular music. Mark & Kathy’s house is full of amazing music paraphernalia, books, CD’s, posters etc etc but this unusual item really caught our eye. It was sitting in the corner of the dining room propped against the wall. For the last week we’d been wanting to ask what it was and eventually we did. I moved it to take this pic while Kathy was out, and replaced it precisely hoping Kathy wouldn’t notice, obviously didn’t think that through.

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The story of the thing goes a little like this, apologies in advance to Kathy for any artistic interpretations. Kathy was at a Christmas party at Jimmy and Jane Barnes house. Jimmy Barnes of Cold Chisel, yes that Jimmy Barnes. For a Christmas gift Jane Barnes presented Kathy with this special personally created Advent Calendar. The covers of the little boxes have stickers from the concerts Jimmy performed at, was VIP guest at or did a special appearance at. Inside each box, with a quick release pull tab is a miniature drinks bottle, every one different. Jane Barnes made the whole item herself, mounted it on the board, everything. It’s a special thing of special beauty and took thought and effort and consideration and was presented with obvious respect and love. Rock and Roll indeed.

Working a lot

I feel I have to keep reminding, myself as well as readers of this blog, that Jenni and I are working as we are Vagabonding. Sydney was a very busy week for both of us, there’s so much business to do and customers to catch up with here we hardly stopped for a second. But, as you will see, we did stop for this interesting, non work related diversion.

Too Many Zooz

So, there’s a back story here. Jenni and I went to see them while we were in Edinburgh, but didn’t see much of the show due to misunderstanding of timings and incorrect assumptions. Basically we turned up late and caught the last song of their set. Still, all lessons learned as you go through life. You can read about our Edinburgh trip in this blog.

We were so very happy when we discovered they were playing in Sydney while we were here. We made sure we were not going to miss them this time, they’d obviously read my previous blog and came all the way to Oz from Edinburgh to give us a second chance to catch their act. That’s the sort of guys they are. Mark, Kathy, Jenni and I went to the The Factory Theatre in Marrickville.

Too Many Zooz
Too Many Zooz

To recap, Too Many Zooz were busking in the New York subways when their video went viral, and now they were in Sydney playing for us. Too Many Zooz are 3 young guys, Leo Pellegrino (baritone saxophone), Matt Doe (trumpet and keyboards) and David “King of Sludge” Parks (drums and other clangy, noisy things).

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Too Many Zooz

The boys were great, full of energy and humour and bashed out an hour and a half musical set (no singing) made of fast rhythmic back beats provided by “The King of Sludge”.

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Too Many Zooz

Frontman Pellegrino kept the audience enthralled with his saxaphone riffing and dancing. It was the sort of show you couldn’t sit down at. If they are playing near you, go support them, the industry needs live acts to be supported and these guys were great.

Last night in Sydney

Our last night was spent with Carol and Greg. If you are reading this, you guys are fantastic. We had a blast staying at your beautiful home and we’re sure your beautiful cat Missy will miss us. Well, me anyway.

You guys still here?
You guys still here?

The last night we went to an amazing little restaurant Teriyaki Boy in Balmain. The food was fantastic quality and great service.

Teriyaki Boy Balmain
Teriyaki Boy Balmain

My picture does not do their food justice,

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This pic is from their web site, check it out for proper food pics, it looks just like that. Its a BYO so we brought our own Saké and some Japanese Kirin beer , which Greg told me is brewed in Australia. There’s a story around the Saké Greg & Carol brought. They googled for a bottle shop that sold Saké that was close to their home, turns out there’s a specialist shop 10 mins drive away. Upon entering this place they discovered the shop is split in two, first half Saké and Japanese beer and other half Japanese knives. Carol and Greg and Jenni and I discovered we had a shared penchant for Shun Japanese knives. The shop also does a specialist knife sharpening course and as neither of had brokered the courage to use a shitty sharpening tool on our beloved knives we thought this would be a great idea. So when we get back in May Greg and I will be booked into a Japanese Knife Sharpening Course. Cannot wait.

Byong

After a hectic working Thursday morning we left Sydney about 12pm for our next stop Byong. Our next business appointment was in Bendigo but on the way we’re stopping in Byong and Albury.

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Sarah from Summerhill Road Wines

Byong is about 20 minutes north of Canberra. It’s not exactly “on the way” to Bendigo from Sydney but when we saw this Airbnb in Summerhill Road Vineyard we jumped at it, and it was well worth the detour.

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Jenni at work

We had to do some more business on Friday so didn’t have much time to explore but we forced ourselves to take a break around lunchtime and see what the place had to by way of picture opportunities.

Under the Radar

Our later chat with Sarah informed us that Summerhill Road Wines don’t use pesticides and are keen on ensuring the ethical treatment of animals in the making of their products. They have a few smart and humane gadgets for keeping the birds from stealing the grapes. They have laser on a pole that sweeps the vines and the birds think its scary and stay away.

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Under the radar
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Anti Cockatoo Radar

Unfortunately the Cockatoo’s have sussed that if they zoom in like Luke Skywalker and avoid the laser long enough to nip a bunch of grapes off the vine and have it fall to the ground they can then eat the grapes off the ground below the radars vision. They loose half a row in a week that way if they aren’t careful.

To try and combat this humanely they also have a noise maker that the birds thinks are humans or large animals approaching. They also have to resort to some traditional methods and have 2 adorable wine dogs that run around the place regularly keeping the predators at bay.

They don’t have to cut the grass as the local herds of kangaroos eats it and keep it low and the kangaroos droppings are natural fertiliser for the vines. The circle of life in a business plan. Love it.

Sarah offered us a wine tasting at dusk, who could resist?

Scaring the cockatoos
Scaring the cockatoos

But first she had to scare some Cockatoo’s away. A bit of clapping does the trick.

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Summerhill Road Wines

We tasted some great wines and had a lovely chat with Sarah, she’s a very gracious host. Their Pinot was lovely and their Shiraz was divine.

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Wine tasting

There has been a common theme across our travels, especially when we stay in rural places. At Linga Longa Farm their creeks were dry and they were hoping for rain soon.

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Drought

In Byong their dam was almost dry. I must say it’s a growing concern. Although last year they had the opposite problem, too much rain and flooding and they had to pick the grapes early.

Kangaroo’s at dawn

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In 1770, Captain James Cook’s ship ran aground off the coast of Australia and led a party, where they found the aboriginal people. One of the sailors pointed to the animals that hop around and put their babies in their pouch, and he asked what they were. The Aborigines said “kangaroo”. It wasn’t until later that they learned that “kangaroo” means “I don’t understand”.

This is, of course, untrue. It’s a line from the movie Arrival. If you haven’t already go see it.

I am fascinated by Australian flora and fauna, and especially Kangaroo’s. Apart from maybe spotting a Duck Billed Platypus (which I haven’t yet) I think seeing these creatures fill me with the most awe and wonder and I never tire of seeing them in the wild. They are majestic. We knew there were roo’s around, their poo was left in fresh abundance, piles all over the place every morning. Sarah told us that they come around at dawn and eat the grass so we set our alarms early and get up to get some Aussie wildlife experiences. We were not disappointed.

Initially it didn’t go so well. We looked out the window and there were dozens of them all around the front door feeding quietly on the short grass. I eventually found my camera, I’d left it beside the bed where I was uploading yesterdays pics into the laptop. It had the short lens on it, no good for distance pics so I swapped the lens for the long one. This seemed to take an age but luckily the kangaroos hung around and waited for me to finish faffing. Very, very quietly I opened the door and crept silently out. Not silently enough though as they heard me and scarpered. One second there were 20 kangaroos all being very picturesque grazing in the short yellow grass basking in the sunrise, the golden morning light casting highlights on their fur, with a row of vines perfectly placed behind them glowing in the early light. The exact picture I was after. The next second, zoom, as silently as they arrived they were gone. Boy are they fast! I don’t often use exclamation marks but this sentence required it.

Aussie bush in the morning
Aussie bush in the morning

This is a lovely picture of the road they disappeared along.

One or two of them were a bit slower so I put the camera on high speed and fired off a hundred shots of them hopping along the grass between the vines and leaping high over the fence at the edge of the vineyard. “There must have been one good one in there?” I told myself as I checked the camera, only to see the sign “No Memory Card”. I’d left the card in the laptop last night when uploading. Rookie error. I placed the above in my “Lessons learned” box and consigned the scene to permanent memory instead of in pictures and went back to retrieve the memory card.

Now with a functioning camera complete with memory card and every lens I own upon my person Jenni and I set off again to explore the vineyard and I would try and get some nice sunrise pictures. Didn’t expect to see any kangaroo’s but thankfully there were a couple still mooching around.

The last kangaroo
The last kangaroo

At this point I’d have been happy with a snap of a roo’s tail as it ran away, just to support the story above, but one or two were most obliging and one even posed for the picture above. Very accommodating of him/her.

Kangaroo at sunrise
Kangaroo at sunrise

Then Jenni spotted this one still grazing in the field across the road. The light was perfect. I was happy. She was joined by a few mates shortly after and I got this picture.

Roo family picnic
Kangaroo at sunrise

The whole family including a little baby Joey at the back paused for just a second in the morning glow for me to get this pic. A second after I clicked the shutter on this picture the sun went behind a cloud and the kangaroos disappeared into the distance. The end of today’s big animal encounter, I am certain we will get many more on our travels around this amazing land. You never know, I may get to see a Duck Billed Platypus as well, probably playing with a Kangaroo and a Kookaburra.

Summerhill Rd Vineyard in the morning
Summerhill Rd Vineyard in the morning

The sun appeared from behind the cloud as we walked back to the cottage enabling Jenni to get this beautiful picture of the many layers and textures and colours of the vineyard.

Cockatoo checking the laser cannon
Cockatoo checking the laser cannon

I once read a bit of good advice from a great National Geographic photographer, “if you can’t see the subject in the picture you weren’t close enough”. See the white dot on the top of the tree in the distance, it’s a cockatoo? The subject of this picture was that cockatoo, I was too far away, I had the short range lens on the camera and didn’t think I’d get a chance to change it before it flew away and I heard the advice in my head about the subject too far away and ignored it and took the picture anyway.

What I was imagining was that this cockatoo was the Flight Commander. It was watching the laser cannon sweeping the vineyard, timing the sweeps and planning the flight path and at the just the right time the Flight Commander would make the special “go, go, go” “caw caw caw” call and their ace flyer a brave cockatoo, probably called Skywalker, would swoop in on the pre-determined flight path on an impossible mission, to avoid the killer laser and snag some grapes. But the Flight Commander had called it wrong, the laser swept left instead of right. “Abort! Abort!” cawed the Flight Commander but Skywalker was having none of it. The laser hooked left straight into Skywalker’s flight path, there was no time to change course or stop, he was flying into certain cockatoo death. Skywalker closed his eyes and summoned the force, immediately he hit an impossible double spin, drop dive manoeuvre only he could do. The laser swept over his head but he wasn’t low enough and it hit his tail and took a centimetre off the feathers. The Flight Commander screamed again “Abort Abort!” but despite the pain Skywalker gritted his beak and focused. As the laser swept back across his flight path he faked an upward escape trajectory and as the laser went up to intercept he dropped like a stone and with an impossible one and a half spin, swept under the laser and under the canopy of the vines landing perfectly on the biggest bunch of grapes in the vineyard. As the laser swept angrily and uselessly over his head the cockatoo s’caw’dron go wild, cawing and whooping, they were going to dine on sweet grapes tonight that’s for sure.

I know this picture doesn’t portray that story but that’s what I was thinking when I snapped it. I definitely read too much sci-fi and probably Matthew Reilly too.

We were leaving the vineyard that morning so got packed up, waved goodbye to the kangaroo’s, cockatoos and other assorted wildlife that made the stay special and drove down to Canberra, along a road lined with dead an decaying carcasses of kangaroos killed by motorist. It’s very sad but a fact of life in parts of rural Australia. Made me realise, as we drive around on our little Mazda 3 that if we hit one of those big fellas we’d probably not be in a good way. It reinforced the plan we had to only drive during daylight hours to minimise the risk.

Albury

Our next destination was Albury where we had scheduled an overnight stop to stay with Ordette and Paul, long time family friends of Jenni’s, on our way to Bendigo.

Albury Intriquing Bike Rack
Albury Intriguing Bike Rack

Ordette and Paul run a catering business and make the best paella you’ve ever tasted. That night over a drinks they told us the most amazing story of their busiest catering event ever, when they provided food for the emergency workers during the great fire that became known as Black Saturday. Around Saturday 7th Feb 2009 the State of Victoria saw Australia’s worst bush fires. Around 400 individual bush fires were alight and ultimately caused the deaths of 173 people and injured another 400. It was a disaster and was fought by total of 383 firefighters over several days. Ordette and Paul and their team of chefs stayed at the site providing food 24 hours a day, Paul worked 36 hours straight the first night, and their paella and other dishes were extremely popular.

There wasn’t much time for humour during the event, the firefighters were exhausted at the end of every shift but as the fires died down they were approached by one of the chief firefighters with a complaint. The complaint, delivered with a big smile on his face, was this, “Guys, when we get events like this that run for days we always lose loads of weight, however, because of you guys we’ve all put on weight. Thank you!” That was probably the best complement that they could have received.

Albury Community Wood Fired Oven

Albury Community Wood Oven
Albury Community Wood Fired Oven
Albury Community Wood Fired Oven
Albury Community Wood Fired Oven

On the last morning in Albury, Ordette and Paul took us on a walking tour. We walked along the river and through the botanical gardens. We also walked past the Albury Community Wood Fired Oven.

Paul is one of the volunteer chefs who man this oven that runs two Sundays a month and it’s a very popular community event. People bring loaves, pizzas and even entire roast dinners The last time I’d heard of something like this was in Morocco where in the medina’s the communal oven, the faraan was a way of life.

Albury was fascinating and so was Ordette and Pauls home. We’re due back again at the end of June and will stay 2-3 weeks and explore properly next time.

Next stop Bendigo. On the way there, somewhere around Murchison we passed our 2000km Vagabonding milestone. But Bendigo is for next weeks blog.

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