I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How They Do It In The Old Country

The view from the House of NN

One of the most amusing things about my friend NN is that she is very proud of the fact that she grew up in country Victoria. She'll show me a new pastry technique, and when I look excited, she just smiles and says, "That's how they do it in the old country." The "old country" refers to her home town of Bairnsdale, in the Gippsland region of Victoria - about a 4 hour drive east of Melbourne. For years now she has been telling me about life in the old country - about the funny small-town personalities, about the world's biggest liquor store (because what else is there to do?!) and about the fun that can be had with a earth mover and a bottle of rum (when your parents aren't looking.)

A couple of years ago DH and I actually took the kids on a vacation in that part of the world. I won't bore you with the details, but let's just say that I came home wanting to either slit my wrists or sit in the corner rocking back and forth and mumbling. Yeah. Not fun.

This time, though, I was heading for the Eastern corner of Victoria with NN and The Sicilian, for an "Intro to the Old Country" girls weekend away. 3 chicks, 4 hours in a car, a couple rolls of Mentos, a packet of Cheezles, the open road ... Thelma and Louise had nothin' on us. We were going to stay with NN's parents, and finally get to see in person all the places that had become part of NN folklore over the years.

I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it's not the social centre of the universe - but it's filled with pretty houses, some lovely panoramas, and friendly people (and of course, there is that liquor store.) The largest city in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, the City of Bairnsdale itself has some really fascinating parts to it - notably the friezes in St Mary's Church and all the perfect curbs (concreted by NN's Dad!). We had a good sticky beak around the town as well as in neighbouring Paynesville - famous for being the town where NN completed her pastry apprenticeship. We also went koala hunting on Raymond Island - apparently home to one of the largest wild koala communities in Australia. In reality, it's the home of a lot of cursing and yelling,' F-ing koalas! There are no f-ing koalas on this shit bloody island. We wuz robbed! Goddam furry flittle uckers, where ARE YOU?" (Answer: In a tree, about 200 metres down the road. We thought NN was kidding when she yelled, "OMG! There!" We realised she wasn't kidding when she stopped the car abruptly and shouted at us to get the fark outta the goddamn car already.) Note moronic me didn't have a camera on her, so we took photos on someone's phone...and now none of us have any idea how to download them. Yeah, I know. City folk! Gotta love 'em!

The Sicilian thought she could teach us a thing or two about fishing...

But NN didn't quite get the lesson...

...so this is all NN managed to snare on her hook!

We did all the things that good country folk do - including the mid-afternoon nap, the fishing adventure, and of course the (delicious) meal at one of many local pubs. Yours truly felt like a right moron when I asked, "Hey! What's that cool thing? A sculpture?" .....only to find out it was in fact a water tower. Water, perhaps, is the one thing missing from this region. While Bairnsdale runs alongside the Mitchell River, thanks to the drought there is very little water to be found. Some parts of the surrounding land are quite green, but there are kilometres of rolling hills which are a sad, dying brown. For an area known for flooding, this is a particularly sobering sight.

On our last day there we got to explore Buchan Caves - truly a once in a lifetime experience. We scraped, ducked and weaved our way through a kilometre of caves and were truly humbled by the power of nature. Here, too, the lack of water is apparent as the insides of the caves were quite dry - when normally they are dripping with the water which forms these stalagmites in the first place.

Gippsland is a beautiful place, and The Sicilian and I felt truly loved as we enjoyed the warm hospitality of NN's parents, and felt the honest affection that these people feel for their home town. On a personal note, it was really nice to visit a part of a good friend's history, as it defines so much of who she is. The funny expressions (..."they've come for a glass of water and a look 'round..."), the appreciation of the simpler things in life (like a pie and a Coke), the gentle mocking of my accent and city ways - it's all part of it.

I found myself wistfully thinking, you know, I could get used to this country life. The fresh air, the animals, the slower pace, the people on every street corner who know you by name...there is really something lovely about the old country. Except, maybe, for dinner being served at 5:30. I have no objections to an early dinner - hey, more food is a good thing, to counteract the country air - but early dinner (sorry, TEA. Early tea!) implies that you've been up at some god-awful hour of the morning to do hard physical labour. Considering that these days I find it almost offensive to get out of bed before 8:30, I'm not all that sure that I could live there. Still, with the sun coming over that glorious Gippsland horizon, I might be convinced.

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