Friday, 23 September 2011


12th - 16th Sep 2011

I think the interpretation above is rather rude. My, more reasonable, understanding is that the map of Tassie looks like a pair of my unwashed shreddies.

Left: The ferry. Quite a comfortable mode of transport. The ship left Melbourne Harbour at 1930hrs and arrived at Devonport on the north side of Tassie at 0600hrs next morning. The cost seemed to vary enormously, dependent on passenger bookings I suppose. My journey over, mostly spent asleep on a comfortable(ish) reclining seat, was $195, and coming back $95. To get a cabin would have cost a small fortune. The sea was calm, thankfully, and the ship boasted a good restaurant, a cheaper cafeteria and two smart bars. My only complaint, and I have to have one at least, was concerning another weird 'rule' they have on the sale of drink. I ordered a double whisky ( to make sure I slept well ). I was told "Sorry Sir, we can only sell singles. Ship's rules". "OK", said I "please give me two singles then". "Sorry mate, can't do that either. You have to bring your empty glass back and I can then sell you another". What wally thinks up these patronising and rather insulting regulations? There must be some odd, rather bossy, people in charge.

I spent the first night and next day in Launceston ( pronounced Launsesston ), about 50 miles south of Devonport. It is on the river Tamar and is a delightful place. Founded in 1808 by a chap called Lt. Col. William Paterson, it features many elegant 19th century buildings like this ( right ), the town hall. Also a 19th century umbrella shop called 'The Umbrella Shop' which has been owned by the same family since 1900. It has some 100 year old umbrellas on display. If you opened them I suspect they would disappear in a cloud of dust.There are several good wineries up the Tamar valley and the town itself is a clean, attractive and interesting place to wander around. I discovered an excellent ( I liked it anyway ) cabernet merlot wine called Velo. This small winery on the Tamar is owned by a chap who used to be a Tour de France standard bicyclist, hence the name. Sadly it is difficult to get it outside Tasmania. They sell it on the Ferry, and you can buy it by the bottle there ( at a big mark up price )....but you still can't have a large whisky.

There is at least one Oirish bear ( left ) next to the funeral director....or maybe part of. Not a bad hostelry, except the price of a beer was $10 and a modest portion of watery micro-waved Irish stew cost $19.50! Phew, enough to drive a man to drink. They did, however, show World Cup rugger matches. I may have mentioned before; this part of Oz shows little interest in rugby. All the other establishments were showing AFL matches.

There is a fantastic walk up the South Esk river, a tributary of the Tamar, called the Cataract Gorge. It is quite an energetic hike up some narrow hilly paths on the edge of a very sheer sided gorge and the views are pretty spectacular. This ( right ) is near the beginning looking back at Launceston and the river Tamar.

Left: A view up the gorge. This part of the world was one of the last refuges of the Tasmanian Tiger. It was hunted to extinction in the early part of the last century. The last known living Tiger died in captivity in 1936. They were thought to be a menace to livestock and dangerous, but were apparently surprisingly timid creatures. They had the body of a tall dog, smooth sandy coloured hair with black stripes over their hind quarters, a long tail and a dog-like head with long narrow jaws and pointy ears. There have supposedly been modern day sightings of them, but no-one has produced any photographic or other evidence. I expect they are about as common as the Loch Ness monster and there is, no doubt, a handsome prize for anyone who can find one. They are extinct.

.....not to be confused with the Tasmanian Devil ( right ). This is the size of a small dog and, to my eyes, rather an unattractive creature. They are carnivorous scavengers and, apparently, vicious little brutes. They are in serious decline due to the rampant spread of an infectious cancerous growth with grows on their heads, thought to be caused by inbreeding. There is a programme to breed healthy animals in captivity and restore the numbers. The Tassie Tourist Offices are trying to promote these animals as cuddly little things for visitors to go and gawp at. I didn't. Suggest you don't try to cuddle them if you value your fingers, or your throat.

About three miles up the gorge and cataracts you get to what is known as the first basin. This has a chairlift across it which is, we were told, the longest single span chairlift in the world at 308m/1010ft. This photo was taken from it. It struck me as being rather a flimsy affair and shook a bit. Before boarding for the return I overheard a radio conversation involving an extremely obese woman they were trying, with difficulty, to load on at the far side. I was worried it might collapse the whole thing. I passed her mid-basin. She took up both seats on her 'chair' and then overflowed a bit. I didn't dare wave at her in case she waved back and set up some catastrophic vibrations. We survived. The suspension footbridge at the far end of the basin is quite striking.

"Watch me wallabies' feed, mate, watch me wallabies' feed......they're a dangerous breed, mate, so watch me wallabies' feed"
This little chap was sitting at the end of the chairlift. He seemed very tame.

Left: Nothing spectacular here; just to give some idea of the general countryside on the bus journey down the centre of the island to Hobart. Lots of sheep and cattle farming and some fairly wild wide open spaces. We passed hamlets ( some just a scattering of bungalows off the road ) with names such as Epping Forest, Campbell Town, Tunbridge, Melton Mowbray, Kempton and Bagdad.
The real wild mountainous countryside is on the west side of the island which is mostly National Park land and very sparsely populated.

Right: A view of Hobart from the east with Mt Wellington ( 4165ft ) in the background. It is here in this harbour that (most) of the yachts finish the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

I was most kindly put up by Cheryl and Stephen. I last saw Cheryl about 30 years ago. Other mutual friends had been out to visit 19? years ago. We had a jolly time going through the Visitors' Book. They planted four trees at the time ( left ), one for each member of the family. From the left; Jules, Mart, Henry and the weedy little one on the end, Tom.

Right: Statue of someone or other at Salamanca Square, near the harbour in Hobart. This is the trendy market and shopping area.

Left: A bit of the harbour. It is all very pleasant, especially on a nice sunny day. Lots of island cruises and private yachts use this place. I think someone told me that Hobart is closer to the Antarctic coast than it is to Perth, Western Australia. It is Australia'a second oldest city ( est. 1804 ) after Sydney.

Right: Government House. Not knowing the Governor, we didn't go inside.

Next off to see Port Arthur on the south end of the Tasman Peninsular; about a two hour drive. On the way there we stopped to look at this curious rock structure on the east shore known as the 'Tessellated Pavement'. The rocks have formed into distinct flat square pavement shaped slabs. It was explained how this happened, but it rather baffled me. Curious, anyway. I'm not sure what 'tessellated' means either. I thought it was something to do with being hit in the eye by one of those contra-rotating tassels swinging from a naked Egyptian lady dancer's nipples. "Good Heavens, George! I've just been tessellated".

Port Arthur was a prison set up to cater for 're-offending' prisoners i.e. the real bad boys. It was started by a fellow called Colonel George Arthur in 1830 and sought to reform prisoners by a combination of strict discipline, religious worship and education. It  had a hospital as well as all the quarters you would expect for the soldier guards and staff, as well as a mental hospital wing. With all the wives and children it became quite a thriving little community. They even had a cricket pitch on the lawn below the prison.The prisoners were sent out to do various forms of work such as logging, quarrying and building boats. It was considered virtually impossible to escape due to its isolation and inhospitable surroundings and because, unless you were a brilliant swimmer, you had to pass a narrow neck on the peninsular called Eaglehawk Neck across which, and even on rafts in the sea, they put a 'dog line' of murderous canines. That and the fact that likely escapees wore leg-irons. Those that did attempt escapes were invariably re-captured and subjected to fairly brutal punishment; lots of lashes. Very few, if any, did get away for good.

We were given a guided tour by this gentleman ( right ) called Chris. I thought he looked rather like Rolf Harris. He was, however, a bit serious and told us that we would all be 'spiritually moved' by the experience and this visit would change our lives forever. Methinks he exaggerated somewhat. I kept expecting him to get out his wobble-board and sing us a song. "There was an old Australian stockman lying, dying....etc." He didn't.

Left: A general view of the prison buildings. The sea port is to the left. The Commandant's house is on the left side. They built a separate prison building on the right to cater for prisoners subjected to the 'Pennsylvania' treatment which consisted of total isolation and silence, to allow convicts to reflect on their crimes. Many of these ended up in the specially built mental hospital wing. There is still a cricket pitch on the grass to the right.

Right: The central penitentiary, which started out as a flour mill, powered by a convict driven treadmill. It later became a cell block, dining hall and library.
The whole prison closed ( due to a lack of incoming convicts ) in 1877. It was then subjected to a series of bush fires which badly damaged the buildings. It was all going to be pulled down and the settlement renamed Carnarvon but, by public demand and lots of tourists, it has been kept as Port Arthur and the buildings are gradually being restored.

Left: One of the convict uniforms. These 'quartered' outfits were worn by the dangerous guys. Rather natty if you ask me. I'm sure he should have been wearing leg-irons to complete the ensemble.

Right: This statue of a typical guard-dog marks the 'dog line' on Eaglehawk Neck. They described the dogs as 'of evil look, nature and intent'. I think they were a cross between a pit bull and something nasty from the underworld. They had such names as 'Mangler', 'Ripper', 'Fang' and 'Fluffy' ( who worked undercover ).

Many thanks for generous hospitality to Cheryl and Stephen ( left ) plus hounds MacKenzie ( Macca ) and the spaniel/poodle cross whose name temporarily escapes me. Possibly Fang, or Fluffy. Or was it Nellie?
Stephen is the only host I have met who kindly delivers 'breakfast in bath' in the mornings! It makes for soggy toast.

I hired a car to drive up the east coast to meet an Aussie doctor friend who, as a military doctor, visited us in the army in Germany in 1972.  He is now rather a senior doctor.
I hadn't driven a car for a good few years! Fortunately there are few cars on the roads here at this time of year. Indeed, everywhere I have been, with the possible exception of Sydney and Melbourne at rush hours, the traffic is, by British standards, remarkably light.
The bay ( right ) is typical of many lovely places up the east coast of Tassie. Very beautiful country and seaside indeed.

Doctor Rob and Fiona ( left of pic, his brother Jim and Maggie right ) have a magnificent beach side 'shack' on Coles Bay in the Freycinet National Park. It is a marvellous hideaway on a secluded little bay. We had a most entertaining evening which required a brisk walk the next morning before I considered myself fit enough to continue the journey. The dogs are a Tibetan terrier and a corgi.

Right: The view from Cape Tourville, just north of the shack. Glorious views. Apparently the Queen in the Royal Yacht ( they should never have got rid of it ) used to anchor here.

Left: Randall and Susie. I called in on them in Longford ( near Launceston ) before rushing on to catch the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne. They have the most magnificent modern house with, as you can see, large windows.
I had a great time in Tassie and met up with many amusing 'Tasmaniacs'. The place has, to my inexperienced eye, got a very different feel to it than the other bits of Oz I've seen so far. The place, and the people, remind me more of New Zealand. Lots of open space, some beautiful scenery and quite a 'laid back' attitude.

The return ferry journey was uneventful. Calm seas. Just out of interest I tried again to get a double whisky. Nope! Still the same rule. At least they didn't quibble about lifting my 33kg bag.
Off next on the 'Overland' train to Adelaide. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


9th - 12th Sep 2011

From the Shrine of Remembrance balcony.

Continuing my brief exploration of Melbourne, I was most kindly accommodated by an ex-army friend and memsahib in the suburb of Hawthorn. Nice area. I forgot to ask if this was where 'Neighbours' came from. I was by now quite familiar with the city tram system, although it does have one flaw from which I suffered. The trams seem to stop at places not indicated on their route maps, and the stops are very badly marked and impossible to read at night. As most of the drivers do not announce where they are stopping it makes knowing where to get off, unless you are familiar with the area, somewhat difficult. A minor problem.

I got off by mistake at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance ( left ). This is quite an elegant and impressive memorial set in a well kept park area. It is to the memory of Aussie servicemen killed in all wars and features a crypt, memorial hall and gallery, a balcony on the top, and a museum and conference room on the ground floor. Worth a visit.

Right: A small but rather poignant memorial entitled 'Man with Donkey - Gallipoli. April 25 - May19 1915'. This was just outside the Shrine.
Nothing to do with the Melbourne Cup.

I went on a conducted tour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the famous MCG, or just the 'G' if you are a local. There were only 3 others in our group; an American nanny and a couple from Tasmania. Our guide, Graeme ( left ) is a long serving Melbourne Cricket Club ( MCC ) member. He was quite strict. His wife probably calls him 'G'. When myself and the nanny wandered off-route at some point we were given a serious bollocking and told only to go where he said we could or we would be thrown off the tour!
The MCC was started up in 1838 and the MCG has been in this spot ( in various forms ) since 1853.

At this time of year the place is set up for Australian Rules Football ( known as 'football' ). This game has a fanatical following, especially in Victoria and Tasmania. It is considered here, in south-east Australia, much more important than rugby, 'soccer' or even cricket! The Australian Football League ( AFL ) season is just reaching it's climax and so all  Melbourne is glued to it...they pay scant interest in the World Cup rugger. The Tasmanian couple were obviously devoted RFL fans. They talked of little else and were thrown into ecstasies when they spotted a well known 'football' player practicing on the pitch. I suspect Graeme was more of a cricket man, judging by his asides.

These are AFL players practicing. They wear what look like 'gym-slips' which, for some inexplicable reason, they call 'guernseys' and have to boot the rugby shaped ball, which they can pick up, between the centre posts for 6 points, and between the outer posts for 1 point. I think. The pitch is an oval. It involves lots of fights. Other than that my knowledge of the rules is non-existent. This game was started in 1860 as a pastime to keep the cricketers amused during the winter.
The grass on the pitch is replaceable ( in rolls ) and during the cricket season they have 'drop in' grass wickets. It all seems to work somehow, although the nature of the two sports could not be more different.

If you enlarge this photo ( right ) you might just be able to see towards the right end of the blue section in the 3rd tier a yellow coloured seat. This was installed to mark the spot where the 'furthest' six, to date, has been hit. It is at the opposite end to the batting crease ( i.e. over the wicket-keepers head ). I forget who hit it or the distance ( Graeme did tell us ). Or maybe it is Kiwi Craig's reserved seat ( he kept wicket for Northumberland in the 60s? ).

We were shown all the facilities at the ground, including the dressing rooms ( rather spartan ) and dining room where the cricketers go for their lunch and tea ( just a modest cafeteria ). Also the MCC 'Long Room' which is quite grand and, like that at Lords, now admits women and has a strict dress 'code'. Graeme waxed lyrical about that. He displayed pleasantly old-fashioned values.
Then down to the Sports Museum. This is impressive and, I think, unique in scope and scale. Certainly unrivalled by anything else in the world, I'm sure. It follows on from the Aussie enthusiasm for all sports, and exhibits the lot. Sections range from the Olympics of all eras ( they were held here in 1956 ), boxing, swimming, AFL ( a new big section ), horseracing, basketball, athletics, bicycling etc. etc. and, of course, cricket. In a small room there is a fascinating holographic 'presentation' of Shane Warne describing his career. It lasts for about 15 minutes and is so utterly realistic you actually think he is standing there in front of you. I walked in just after one of the 'showings' had started and apologised to him for interrupting! Has to be seen to be believed; I don't know how they do it. Unless it was Shane Warne.....but I came back later to check and 'he' was still doing exactly the same thing. There is also the MCC museum attached. Again, most impressive. Many original, mainly cricketing, exhibits on parade. I was given a blow by blow account by one of the charming and enthusiastic 'curators' of the history of the Ashes. I hadn't realised it was so complicated. The original little urn kept at Lords, containing, reputedly, the ashes of burnt bails, was given as a joke to the then English captain, Ivo Bligh, in 1882 when the team were on tour in Australia, by a daughter of the family he was staying with.  Bligh ( Lord Darnley by then ) returned two years later and married her. On his death in 1926 the urn was gifted to the MCC. That is why it is sometimes referred to as the Darnley Urn. I've probably got some of that wrong!

Next port of call was Flemington racecourse. This is the venue for the famous Melbourne Cup which is run on the first Tuesday in November and when the whole of Melbourne comes to a standstill. It is probably the greatest social, if not sporting, event in the Victorian social diary. It is a 25 minute tram ride ( No 57 if you are interested ) north-east from Elizabeth Street in the city centre ( CBD ).
The badge over the 'Walk of Fame' ( left ) is that of the Royal Victoria Racing Club of which Flemington is the home.

It is a very smart racecourse, almost on a par with Ascot or Cheltenham. Although the place was 'closed', there were workmen around so it was possible to clamber over most of it without anyone seeming to care, or notice. This photo ( right ) taken from the Grandstand gives a feel of the place. They also have a 'Hill Stand' and a 'Members' Stand' to the left, and other facilities on the inside of the course.

Left: Statue of the renowned trainer Bart Cummings who has trained no less than 12 winners of the Melbourne Cup. This is a feat that will never be bettered. He must know something the others don't.

Right: A poster display describing the history of the 'White Line'.
Rather a good idea if you ask me. If you click on to enlarge you will hopefully be enlightened.

Left: A view across the finish.

Right: This is the 'lawn', to the left of the Members' stand. Lots of lovely roses are planted about the place. It is a sought after and prestigious viewing area adjacent to the track where much picnicking and promenading up and down with people in their finery showing off to their mates goes on. It probably all ends in much vomiting and brawling.

...and they even have a rose garden in tribute to the late Diana, Princess of Wales........!

Right: Set into the pavement down the Walk of Fame are plaques commemorating all the winners. This one is of the horse Archer, the first winner in 1861.

Left: In the new looking Docklands development on the south-west side of the river there are several things on display such as this tall ship, the Polly Woodside.
I am off to Tasmania next and will be travelling on the ship 'Spirit of Tasmania'. That bit of sea, the Bass Strait, has a reputation of being quite rough ( vis. lots of yachts sinking in the Sydney to Hobart race ). I will make sure I have a life-jacket and bottle of whiskey closely to hand.

Lastly, many thanks to my generous hosts, Mark ( wielding his flintlock ) and Honor ( blowing her horn ). It's an old family tradition.

OK, more to follow from Tassie.

Monday, 19 September 2011


2nd - 8th Sep 2011

Melbourne overlooking the Yarra river and the MCG.

There have been delays to my 'blogging' due to a combination of generous social entertainment and the impending World Cup rugger. The time and physical coordination required to operate computers just hasn't been forthcoming. I am, against all the odds, doing my best to catch up.
Departure from Central Station, Sydney, was not without hassle and subsequent Basil Fawlty moments. I was told that the Aussie railway baggage handlers would not touch any bag weighing more than 20kg, but I could check in 2 bags weighing less than 20kg each. I could not believe this. How trivial! I went to make use of their baggage 'check-in' facility and they weighed my bag ( which I have happily carted across several continents and oceans, in trains, buses, taxis and ships, up and down steps and gangways, the length and breadth of streets and passageways without stress or strain or 'weight restrictions', apart from one unfortunate air journey ) and was told it weighed 33 kg. They would not touch it! They generously said I could take it onto the train myself provided I did not ask any of their staff to help lift it. I said that if I held one end and they held the other we would only be lifting 16.5kgs each. This did not wash for some unexplained reason. The Oz 'Office of Health and Safety' ( OHS in true Oz TLA-speak ) forbids their staff to touch a bag weighing more than 20kg. How pathetic I thought, and told them so. So much for the rugged Aussie get up and go. It's obviously got up and gone big time. I wondered if their steeple-jacks are not allowed to climb up buildings more than 50ft high, or their policemen not allowed to arrest anyone over 6ft tall etc., etc…….and told them that also. I also mentioned that if their Olympic weight-lifters were subject to 'OHS' rules they would not be likely to win many medals in 2012. I mean, what are baggage handlers for except to help lift heavy baggage, even if it takes six of the 'weakos' to lift my bag. My granny ( if she was still alive ) would have thought nothing of lifting and even throwing out of the window and half-way across the lawn objects, children or dogs weighing a mere 20 bleeding' kg! What a bunch of wimps! I might have some sympathy if I presented them with a grand piano plus large candelabra or a stuffed rhinoceros, but one bag with wheels on............tie me kangaroo down, sport! I am beginning to suspect that the Aussies are even more rule-bound than Brits. I will be keeping a record of such unhelpful bureaucratic nonsense.

Left: Aussie soldiers were collecting for 'war veterans', or something similar at the station. I was rather impressed by their smart uniform. Somewhat superior in style to the cheap looking banana republic outfits favoured by many ( including the Brits ) european armies. As a result I contributed generously.

Right: And so on board the 'XPT' ( whatever that TLA stands for ) from Sydney to Melbourne. Quite a comfortable train really with plenty of room, even in economy class. I managed ( unassisted of course ) to get my bags into the spacious overhead rack. It was an 11 hour journey including a decent, food-wise, buffet car and a very smooth ride. My frustration with their ridiculous baggage restrictions began to wear off. The only complaint I had was the rather 'British' trait of overdoing 'announcements' involving many f****ng 'elf 'n' safety regulations, unnecessary details of what was on sale at the buffet, threats of execution for smokers and defenestration for drinking too much, especially of what they were not selling at the buffet ( which was almost alcohol-free cat's piss beer and some local wine ) and all delivered in a rather humourless monotone. I begin to get the impression that Aussie public services are terrified by the prospect of their customers drinking alcohol. The countryside consisted mostly of very pleasant rolling grassy hills, farmland, horses in paddocks, sheep, cattle and wooded areas. It all looked quite affluent. We passed such stations as Warwick Farm, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Gunning, Yaas Junction, Coonamunga, Junee, Wagga Wagga, The Rock, Henty, Culcairn, Wangarrata and Benalla amongst others I may have missed while dozing, before arriving smack on time at Melbourne 'Southern Cross'. The stations were all remarkably well kept and picturesque. So, my impressions thus far of Aussie rail transport are a bit mixed.
I was due to meet up with an ex-BWA colleague but, sadly, he was detained, for professional reasons I hasten to add, in Khazakhstan so I booked in to the local YHA. Please forgive the TLAs, but I've got into the habit. Good value except, like everywhere in NZ and Oz, the cost of using the internet, WiFi or not, is extortionate. It is not uncommon to be charged $6 per hour! I am told that this is because some telecom company has a bit of a monopoly here. It would be unthinkable in most parts of the world, especially Asia, Mexico and South America, for such charges to be levied. In Vietnam, for example, just about every hotel, bar and cafe provides free WiFi plus fast broadband and there are really cheap internet cafes everywhere. Maybe someone will smell a rat in this part of the world soon.

I was, nevertheless, most generously entertained by the parents of said Kazak-bound ex-colleague in the charming suburb of Hartwell. We had previously been to water his garden at his new and luxurious house at Mount Martha, by the sea on Port Phillip Bay ( it rained the next morning goddammit ). So, many thanks to Eleanor and Colin ( centre and right ) and family friend, the redoubtable Don ( left ). Good wine too.

Right: A view from Arthurs Seat, over Port Phillip Bay, near Mount Martha. This is about 30 miles south of Melbourne City and a popular holiday location. All the shipping to Melbourne Harbour comes from the Bass Straight through Port Phillip Bay.

Melbourne is, from what I briefly saw, a pleasant and quite smart place with a good shopping area, a large Chinatown, a new and prosperous 'Docklands' area and many historic and interesting places to visit. The city centre ( sorry, CBD ) is compact and easily walkable. It has an excellent, relatively cheap, easy to understand and extensive city tram and Metro suburban train system. They even have a free city circular 'olde worlde' hop on - hop off tram route, plus commentary, which is an excellent way of getting one's bearings around the city. The greater Melbourne district is a very large sprawling mass of suburbs, some rather posh. Isn't this where 'Neighbours', the TV soap, comes from? I'm not sure in which suburb that is located. And isn't this also the home town of the great Dame Edna? As per Sydney, the populace is robotically trained to obey red and green pedestrian crossing lights despite oncoming traffic. Weeuuuuuu...beep beep beeb beep... goes the irritating noise to tell you to cross the street NOW!

Left: The Eureka Skydeck. This building on the south side of the river Yarra has, we were told, at the 88th floor, the highest 'public observation platform', at 984 ft, in the southern hemisphere. It also has a thing on this floor called The Edge. This is a glass cube which slides 3 metres out over a vertical drop, like a short horizontal lift, and makes sounds of breaking glass and creaking chains as it does so just to scare you more. It costs an extra $10. I didn't go in it. Call me a coward if you like.
I tried to take photos from the observation deck but reflections from the glass made these somewhat disappointing.

Right: View from Eureka Skydeck to the north-east over the 'CBD".

Left: The centre landing of the Old Melbourne City Gaol. Quite a good museum and display of the place where several notorious Aussie criminals were incarcerated and some hanged. It closed in 1929. The infamous bushranger Ned Kelly was hanged here in 1880......

.......on these gallows, which have been faithfully preserved. The hangman's lever is on the right by the door. The rope is obviously a replacement model; it didn't even have a noose on the end. The condemned man's cell is to the left. Interestingly, most of the earlier hangings were carried out by trusty prisoners selected, and paid 2 shillings, for the job.

Left: One of the ordinary cells. Infested by rats. Some of the cells had displays of 'death masks' of executed criminals and interesting stories of their crimes.
Next door is the Police Watch House, disused since 1964. This was where you were taken when first arrested by police, normally when scraped off the street for being drunk and disorderly. You were kept there for maybe a night or two to sober up before appearing in front of the beak. They put on a re-enactment of the arrest procedure with you as the person arrested. It is quite amusing. You are given a card with a name, address and what you were arrested for ( drunk in charge of a motor vehicle in my case ) and then put through the process by the cynical and faux-aggressive police sergeant who, whenever she ( in my case ) addresses you, you have to reply loudly "Yes, Sergeant!" Lots of "stand up straight!" and other drill-sergeantish banter. You are then, together with the other tourists in the group, locked up in one of the communal cells......only for about 10 minutes, but that feels quite a long time with a bunch of about 6 complete strangers to talk to. You are then marched around the rest of the facility; exercise yards etc. before being kicked out onto the street again. They do a good job of making their obsolete prisons profitable.

Right: The original suit of armour worn by Ned Kelly in his shoot- out with the police. This is displayed in the Victoria State Library which I had to go and see after my visit to the Gaol. One of his boots is somewhere else. Unless of course he only had one leg, a fact of which I am unaware. The armoured ensemble was made from old ploughing equipment. The dents caused by police bullets are apparent. Photo is poor due to reflection from the glass case

While I was in the Victoria State Library I took this pic ( left ) of the Reading Room from one of the balconies. Quite impressive, I thought.

I had to go on the Puffing Billy train. This is a narrow gauge steam railway which started commercial operations in 1900 ( passengers and freight ) through the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne, from the town of Belgrave to Gembrook, a distance of about 50 miles, until it was closed down in 1953. The rail-track, including 7 engines and original carriages, plus a bigger Garrett engine, have been lovingly restored by volunteers and put back into service for tourists. They seem to do a roaring trade.

Left: One of the Puffing Billy trains. They are all meticulously maintained. This is the one I was on just before we pulled out. We boarded at Belgrave and went about 35 kms to Emerald ( about half the total distance because I got the last train of the day ), and back. There was an intermediate stop at Menzies Creek to allow for more photo opportunities and to shake the soot out.

Right: On the footplate. Note standard driver's mug of tea in the foreground. These trains also operate 'Steam and Cuisine' trips for lunch or dinner during the summer. Costly, apparently, but good food and wine in an interesting setting and are popular amongst the more well-heeled aficionados.

Left: All the bells, whistles and flags; a fond farewell from the station master. Lots of 'whoo-whooo' from the engine and we were off at a sedate rattle and roll.
The train was quite full of passengers, almost entirely of an oriental persuasion. I counted only three of us 'round-eyes' amongst about 100 others. I got the feeling that many had done it before and were wildly enthusiastic about the whole thing with cameras clicking madly and lots of posing ( plus the normal chinese 'V' signs to camera ) for the folks back home. The driver and other staff on this railway must be some of the most photographed people on the planet.

Right: Crossing a rather rickety looking trestle bridge. The sides of the carriages were open and it seemed the done thing to sit with legs hanging I say, most of the passengers knew to do this straight away! Being British I stayed firmly inside. I didn't want to lose my hat.
We chuffed along at a very sedate pace. There were some steep climbs and great views from the Dandenong hills. On the level bits we might have got up to 20mph...even faster downhill.

Left: Station staff at Belgrave. These boys would have absolutely no problem with handling bags weighing more than 20 pathetic kgs!

Right: The Melbourne Museum. Very new and modern with a big IMAX cinema on the left side. They have a large ethnic Abo section called 'Bunsilaka' which is the only bit where photography is banned. Something to do with the 'spiritual' aspect of the display, or maybe some of the exhibits were nicked. It harped on about how the Aboriginals were dispossessed of their land and treated brutally by early colonists and how they want all their kit and bones back. There was only one poxy boomerang on show..and no description of how it worked. I was not too impressed by this section. I learnt that the local 'Lama Lama' people had clans called Woi wurrung, Boon wurrung and Watha wurrung in the Melbourne area. You learn something new every day.

The natural history section was more interesting. Quite a lot on the many and varied creatures in Oz which try to kill, eat, maim or just give you a painful bite. This is where Oz differs dramatically from NZ. NZ has no dangerous fauna or flora. Oz has the lot!

The red-back spider is tiny; about the size of a bee.
As eloquently described above, it gives a painful bite.

More serious in it's intent and lethality is the funnel-web spider ( left ), the most poisonous of which is the Sydney variety. These are tarantula sized creatures. There is an anti-venom now available. They only recently discovered how to retrieve the spider venom to make this antidote by finding that it stuck to glass and from which it could then be removed. They say that hardly anyone dies from being bitten by these nowadays. I think they live in dark shady places. I know a few, and will avoid them in future.

 Right: The skeleton of a pygmy blue whale. It is about 20 yards long. This one was found washed up on a beach somewhere. It would be interesting to see the skeleton of a normal blue whale.

Left: Two pythons. I think these were each about 10 meters ( 30 ft ) long. It would be entirely unwise to tangle with live versions. I don't suppose they would have much difficulty in devouring a sheep, or human for that matter. I can't remember where they live, which is a bit worrying, but will be keeping a sharp look-out. Also on the look-out for the much mentioned and supposedly dangerous Australian 'drop bears'. The museum made no reference to these.

There was also a section called 'Mind and Body' which explored the strange workings of the brain and all that goes with it. There were some fascinating optical illusions and descriptions of mental illnesses and how  treatment of these has changed over the years. They had a series of booths which you could enter and see and listen to characters talking about their strange mental afflictions. I think I recognised several of them. The body section was, as you can imagine, rather revolting. I won't bother describing it.

In the 'Melbourne History' section they had a very life-like stuffed Phar Lap. Even the veins and muscles were realistically prominent. This is presumably why the case in the Te Papa museum in Wellington was empty. I think it may rotate between them. Personally, I would just make another. As you may know the racehorse Phar Lap was bred in NZ and won many top Flat races in Oz and the USA in the 1930s. After his last victory, the Agua Caliente Cup in USA in 1932 ( I think ), he died of arsenic poisoning in suspicious circumstances. It was never conclusively proved that he had been murdered.

This flag ( left ) was waved at departing soldiers during WW2.
Many other Melbournian 'personalities' were accorded exhibits, not least Miss Helen Porter Mitchell aka Dame Nelly Melba. There were old gramophone recordings of her singing such songs as 'Home Sweet Home' in 1914, her signature tune. By crikey, you would have to put the wine glasses away if she was around and singing! It sort of left a ringing in the ears. Dame Nelly was also famous for her many 'final' appearances, and finally, really, completely, died in 1931. So at least she cannot have been responsible for  poisoning Phar Lap. There was also an exhibit in memory of a chap called Roger Hart. He was something to do with pop music, I think. I had never heard of him.

Lots to see and do around Melbourne yet but the World Cup rugger starts tomorrow so my attention will be  somewhat diverted. My money is on the All Blacks, without a doubt. Expect a noble performance by Samoa and Fiji, and I expect England will disgrace themselves at some stage.

Australian Xmas Lunch buffet