Welcome to  The Land of Wonder - The Land Downunder

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Kurt of Car Connection met us at Melbourne airport as promised, we saw our first mob of roos within minutes of leaving the airport.  Hearing we were looking for somewhere to base ourselves for the first three months Kurt told us we should stay in his adopted home town, Castlemaine.  I thought to myself, what a nerve, we have only been here 5 minutes and he wants us to just settle for the first town we see.  That first night was spent in a B&B compliments of Kurt.  Next day we took a look around and decided he could be right

One of the first things you notice, right after the gracious ex bank buildings on either end of every downtown block, is the width of the roads.   It took a visit to Herons Art Gallery to solve the mystery.  The proprietor, an ex history teacher with a gift of the gab plied us with wine while he filled us in on the history of his lovingly restored premises and of the town in general

All streets in the original town, not just the main thoroughfares are 1.5 chains wide.  That is 90ft, the amount of room needed to turn an ox train.  Of course, got to be able to turn the oxen around.   One chain is also length of a cricket pitch, just sayin'

That first morning we walked down Mostyn St, past the Empyre and down to the Old Market Hall now housing the Visitor Center. There it was suggested we go to Bull St and look at Mr Lockhart's Cottage.  The key would be under the mat.  It was obviously our kind of town

Mr. Lockhart's Cottage circa 1861

Love at first sight, our tiny perfect home away from home

Across the street from the local primary school

The rear and cellar, home to spiders etc and to be avoided by me

Back yard with wash house leading to a small orchard

So there we were on the first morning of our first day in Australia negotiating to rent the first house we saw in the first town visited.   Kurt was spot on

Telephone negotiations took two days and a visit to Melbourne secured the tiny gold miners cottage.  We offered to pay the full three months in advance, agreed to move out over Christmas so a previous 3 day booking could be honoured.  I volunteered to make up the beds and prepare the house for them so our landlady would not have to make the journey from Melbourne on Xmas Eve.   We would also water and generally maintain the gardens and that clinched the deal, no more back and forth for owner Susie for the duration.  I was paranoid about not breaking any of the the complicated rules of watering during an eight year drought.  But all went well, nothing died and nobody turned up to fine us for violation of the rules

What Australians call the lounge room

Making himself at home, watching cricket on TV

It was a joy to wake up here to the sound of Maggies (Magpies), singing on the hydro wires outside my window.  Should that fail my back up alarm was the sound of Paul Mc Cartney and Wing's rendition of Mull of Kintyre piping the children into Castlemaine North Primary School


While I had the spacious master bedroom to myself, poor Tony slept propped up against the corner of the 'box room' still unable to lie down due to his back injury

 Tony's somewhat monastic quarters  

Bull Street

Castlemaine is a former gold mining town that became instantly prosperous in the mid 19th century with the discovery of the richest shallow alluvial goldfield the world had ever seen

It has since declined graciously into a tourist destination and a place for Melbourners to escape the hurly burly of the city.  With its most prosperous times behind it, the town has remained largely unchanged through the 20th century and now into the 21st 


There is so much to see and do in the immediate area,  within an hour we could be in Dandenong Ranges, Kingslake National Park, the Macedon Ranges and Hanging Rock.  We were only 90 minutes from Melbourne and the Bay and beyond the city, the wineries of the Yarra Valley, the rugged ocean beaches of Mornington, the Bellarine Peninsula and Philip Island with its Fairy Penguin parade and glorious Wilson's Promontary.  The Great Ocean Road is to the East and across the Bass Strait is Tasmania 

Lots to keep us busy, but circumstances dictated we started with Castlemaine and environs.  For local nightlife there is dinner at the movies at the Theatre Royal, the oldest continually operating theatre in mainland Australia.   Built to entertainment  miners during the gold rush with the likes of the mistress of the King of Bavaria, Irish entertainer Lola Montez heading the bill.  It must have been bedlam when the minors came to town

And of course the obligatory cricket club and a croquet club to boot  

With Tony on the sick list we were confining ourselves to the simple pleasures of Castlemaine and surrounds.  Our first foray was to the pretty little Art Deco Art Gallery.  Built in 1930 when the town like many others worldwide was suffering from a depression.  Local business put up most of the money and the unemployed had a job to go to. The lady in the pink gown is the Queen Mum in her prime

It was here to my dismay that I learned Castlemaine has been a city since 1965, as it has no Bishop, no cathedral and a population of only 7,700.  It will always be a town to me

The ground floor gallery specializes in Australian art and the cellars house a collection of everyday artefacts collected by pioneer families, along with mining memorabilia and early photographs of the town

Art is in the eye of the beholder  

At the entrance to the town

Over the entrance to the Hardware Store

With temperatures fluctuating between 35c and 43c it's hard to believe that Crimbo (Christmas) is just 3 weeks away

Having studiously avoided the first two chapters of any Lonely Planet, the bit where they tell you about all the dangers lurking at your destination, I was very upset to find Bill Bryson doing just that in the first chapter of 'Down Under' his otherwise excellent book.  Without seeking the information, I now know that Australia has more things that can kill you than anywhere else on on earth.  "Of the worlds ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian.  Five of its creatures, the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue ringed octopus,  paralysis tick and stone fish are the most lethal of their type in the world 

This is a country where the fluffiest caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip and sea shells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you.  If you are not stung or pronged to death, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback.  It's a tough place"---Thank you very much Mr Bryson

To add insult to injury our local rag came out with photos of two deadly types of snakes that abound in and around town, what you should do to avoid them and if bitten what to do until the ambulance arrives!  Other than panic that is.   I am already avoiding the cellar and checking our wash house for Joe Blakes (snakes) and spiders.  How bad can it be?  There are millions of Australians walking around to prove it can't be that bad.  Fortunately I have three months to come to terms with the dangers before I have to face the prospect of camping

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