Taking the Hard Road-A

Anyone want their fortune told?

Stawell, Victoria 1915

Gas lights flickered through the upstairs windows of the Mechanics Institute as darkness fell.  The hesitant notes of a piano filled the evening air, accompanied by shrill and discordant voices.

The party was a disaster.  Ruby had thought of nothing else for weeks.  The tedious hours at work were made bearable by thoughts of the new dress she was creating in her spare time. Inspired by Paris fashions it was sure to make an impression.

Instead, a fog of despair had descended upon the group of disparate people.  Frank, who normally played the piano, was away fighting in the Great War.  Bella was trying valiantly to take his place but as she thumped on the yellowed ivories of the old Lipp, no one danced and only a few stalwarts sang.  To make matters worse the only males present were those too unfit or too old to go to war.

Ruby’s eyes searched the room, resting briefly on an unfamiliar face.  She gave May Sharp a conspiratorial nudge on the arm.

“Is that the Railway Man from Melbourne?”

May smoothed her wayward hair, turning to look at the stranger critically. “Actually, he’s from the Newport Workshops and is a wood machinist. Wife died five years ago. He’s here to refit some old carriages. Used to be a footballer for Williamstown and his name is Walter.”

“Well, aren’t you are a fountain of knowledge!” Ruby was impressed by May’s rapid outburst.

“I know all about him,” said May importantly, “because he’s staying at Mrs Owen’s place and she is friends with my mother.”

In those few moments, Ruby had learnt enough to pique her interest.  However, she felt it unseemly to brazenly introduce herself so cast her mind about for a diversion.  

Bella struggled to the last chord of “Till the Boys Come Home”, closing the piano lid with a bang.  “Well that’s my contribution,” she said amiably and was met with a muted round of applause.

Harold, the bookish son of the local schoolteacher, nervously suggested a game of charades but this was met with unenthusiastic murmurs. A silence descended.

“Anyone want their fortune told?” Ruby said impetuously.  “I read palms.”

Almost immediately a crowd formed in front of her as she sat down at a table and twirled a scarf around her head.  Anything to relieve the boredom.

Bess, the butcher’s daughter, was first. She proffered her hand.  Ruby stared at the lines and creases, the red patches and scars.

“You have a long life line.  I can see a romance on the horizon – someone who has been in the War.”

“Is it Fred?” Bess was hesitant.

“No, it’s someone you have never met before.  He’ll be here on business and you will have a choice.  Leave with him and have a life of travel and excitement or stay and lead a safe and boring  existence.”

Bess was glowing as she left the table.  Next came Millicent, then Edna.  All left with hope on their faces as they shared their exciting futures with their friends.

Ruby looked up in with a frisson of excitement as the pleasant, symmetrical face of Walter Lane appeared. Close up she realised he was older than she had first thought.  

She took his large hand somewhat tentatively.  Even though his palms were calloused and rough the nails were neatly trimmed and clean.  The lifeline ran strongly before it split into two deep valleys.

“I see you have had great sadness in your past,” she began.  “You can see no future beyond your great loss.  Life has lost its appeal.”

He said nothing but she could sense his silent acknowledgement of her words.

“You will find new hope.  A wonderful, enchanting woman will come into your life and turn sadness into joy.  You will have children around you and happiness in your old age.”

Walter was soon replaced by the next eager participant and Ruby spent another hour using her lively imagination to foresee the future of those around her.  However, she needed no powers of the occult to know that Walter’s eyes followed her for the rest of the evening.

Theme Reveal 2020

This is the fifth year of being a part of the “A to Z Challenge”. In 2016 I wrote about my memories of the 1950s and early 1960s, beginning with “A is for Argonaut”. The theme for 2017 was “Fact or Fiction – Family Stories”, where I fact checked the anecdotes handed down by my parents and grandparents. Little did I know what was to unfold before my next topic, “A for Ancestry”. A simple little DNA test opened a Pandora’s Box and gave me a heap of new relatives. I felt that story had to be told in 2018 but by 2019 needed a change from family history, so wrote about “Travels in Our Caravan around Australia”.

This year, 2020, as we all hunker down to stop the spread of the Corona Virus, I’m escaping to the past. My story begins in 1915, fleshing out those snippets of information my family dropped into my receptive mind. This is my first foray into fiction since childhood, when I happily scribbled stories in my free time. I’m starting with my maternal grandmother, whose life always seemed so different to all other grandmothers I knew. She was a free spirit who rebelled against the constraints of being female in the early 1900s. As this is fiction I have filled in the gaps and made some assumptions but on the whole it stays close to the facts I have at my disposal. Considerable research has been undertaken to make sure the story suits its time frame. I am open to questions about events and settings in the story, the things that really happened and the use of creative imagining or even if you think there are glaring historical errors.

My one regret is I am unable to finish this story in one A to Z. It will end at a point where you will hopefully be wanting to read Part 2. The alternative would be long chapters for each letter. Instead they will be relatively short so that you will be tempted to take a minute to read them before moving on to other A to Zs.

I just realised I haven’t given this story a name so will choose a tentative title “Taking the Hard Road”. That may change. Who knows, the story might change too as it progresses, based on your comments. Happy reading.

A to Z 2020

Here we go again! It’s nearly a year since my last blog so my brain is working overtime remembering what to do. So far so good and if you are reading this my brain/the site must be working.

To learn more about the blogging challenge, check out the Blogging from A to Z Website. You might be tempted to try it too!

Monday, March 16th is the day for the Theme Reveal Post. I’m looking forwarding to rejoining the challenge this year with something a little bit different!


#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary Reflections badgeBefore I start I want to thank all the people who responded to my posts.  I would wake each morning, see Anne’s post (always the early bird) and then post my own.  With growing excitement I would then look for comments.  Often people asked questions or showed they really enjoyed the post.  Some people put a lot of thought into their responses which impressed me greatly. That encouraged me to read their posts so it was all very time consuming but a lot of fun.

Researching the places I had been over the past 50 years and reliving those experiences was most enjoyable.  Finding some of those photos of long ago was hard work.

I was happy with the way the 2019 A to Z was organised.  As someone else suggested, putting the blogs into categories would be useful.  I was trying to find more travel blogs and maybe I missed some.

The best moment during this year’s challenge was probably when I finished writing the last post a few days before the end (apart from reading the comments).

The best comment on my blog during the challenge was from  josna.wordpress.com who wrote this about Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter.

Wow–what a bold-faced plan! No wonder they have become legends! While I applaud the bad boys’ writing skills and generally approve of those with a healthy disrespect for Authority, I do draw the line at insulting wombats with the epithet “wombat-headed”! (And what’s with “slim-hipped as an insult? Is that 19th-century Australian homophobia?). Thanks! This was fun to read. 

There were so many other good comments I’m sorry I can’t put them all in.

I’m already planning next year but have not decided which option to take.  I’m thinking I might write historical fiction based on my family.  I have actually started it and am of two minds.  Either write three drafts before letting anyone see it OR put it on A to Z and take note of people’s suggestions – as did  https://stuartnager.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/a-car-in-the-woods-atozchallenge/

Alternatively I might do an A to Z of interesting places I have been outside of Australia, especially if I can think of a different angle to the usual travel narrative.

I was looking for travel blogs and found whenithoughtiwasnothing.wordpress.com where the writer did some impressive planning.

I also enjoyed Anne’s outline for her visit to Great Britain where she will find the places her ancestors lived in ayfamilyhistory.com  She is meticulous with her references which is somewhat different to my less than careful family history posts.

A Car in the Woods had me hooked.  https://stuartnager.wordpress.com/2019/04/01/a-car-in-the-woods-atozchallenge/

CassMob’s short mind grabs about life in New Guinea were fun to read and nostalgic, recalling a past era.  cassmob.wordpress.com

I’m always interested in food and gained some useful knowledge for my trip to Japan from Food Memories at  https://wordsfromsonobe.wordpress.com

Susan’s Freedom Posts in https://www.gardenofedenblog.com were thought provoking and moving.

I’ve only just discovered https://www.laceydearie.com/2019/03/the-to-z-challenge-2019-theme-reveal.html where she writes about A to Z of Nanowrimo.  I am motivated to look into it.

Now I know I left someone out who wrote a great post and It has slipped my memory or fallen through my chaotic filing system.  Hopefully I put a comment on your post.

I didn’t find the A to Z much different this year and seemed to have about the same amount of comments as last year. I don’t put my posts on Facebook and am happy with the responses I get with just the Master List.  Maybe I prefer strangers to read my posts rather than my Facebook Friends.

My thanks go to the organisers who make this whole thing happen.  It is so important because it gets people writing, connecting and relating to others.  I admire you for what must be a difficult job for the month of April (and before, and after).

Arlee Bird (founder) @ Tossing it Out

J Lenni Dorner (captain) @ Blog of Author J Lenni Dorner

Zalka Csenge Virág @ The Multicolored Diary

John Holton @ The Sound of One Hand Typing

Jayden R Vincente @ J R Vincente Erotica Writer

Jeremy Hawkins (graphics) @ Hollywood Nuts

Here’s hoping for all our sakes that you do it all again next year.

Z for Zebedee Springs

ZAt last we have come to the end of the journey.  We are finishing in one of my favourite places, the Kimberley.

Zebedee Springs is part of El Questro Station.  For as little as $2,989 per room per night you can stay at the Cliff Side Retreats.

The freestanding Cliff Side Retreats are situated at the edge of a sheer escarpment overlooking the wild and natural beauty of the Kimberley. Uninterrupted views of the Chamberlain Gorge can be enjoyed from your luxurious feather topped bed. Secluded by high stone garden walls your privacy is assured as you enjoy the free-standing outdoor bath.


Or, for $20 a night you can stay here.

Our campsite at El Questro

We left the Lotus in Kununurra at the Hidden Valley Caravan Park and drove the Prado into El Questro. The bitumen lasted until the entrance gate and then the road became rough and corrugated.  There were some creek crossings to negotiate.

The road to El Questro

After setting up our tent we grabbed our swimmers and wandered down to a lovely pool formed by a weir on the river.  On our way we came across two little girls who were jumping in and out of the water. I asked if there were any crocodiles.  “Only freshies”, the older one told me seriously.  “But they won’t bite you unless you jump on them.”

The pool at El Questro Camping Area

The evening was spent by the campfire listening to a folk singer before we retired early, ready for a big day ahead.

Zebedee Springs was our first destination.  We had heard it could become crowded so were up at 5.30am and on the road so early the gates were still shut when we arrived.  Places are never quite as expected and so the walk to the springs was much longer than I thought it would be.  The pools were also smaller than I imagined but the water was warm and we each sat in a pool enjoying the heat.

Zebedee Springs before the crowds

More and more people arrived and the pools filled up.  The sign in the car park said, “If the car park is full, so are the springs.  Come back another time.”

Zebedee Springs

After dragging ourselves away we drove to El Questro Gorge where we ate breakfast in the car park. It was a two hour return walk to the halfway point where there was a refreshing pool to swim in. The scenery on the walk was spectacular.

El Questro Gorge

Back across three river crossing and we were home again in our camp.  Another swim in the  river kept us cool until evening. We booked a cruise on the Chamberlain Gorge for the next afternoon and retired early, exhausted after an active day.

The road to Moonshine Gorge was only opened the day before so we let the tyres down to 30 and followed the El Questro Gorge Road until the turnoff.  The next 4.5 kilometres seemed like 20.  Sand, rocks, water crossings and steep bits kept John busy.  When we arrived there were five other cars parked but no-one was keen to go for a swim.  The lagoon and cliffs were spectacular but the resident freshie had left his tail tracks on the beach.

Moonshine Gorge

Around 2 oclock we drove to the jetty.  The road was rough and steep in parts.  However others we spoke to didn’t think it was too bad.  Everyone seems to be an experienced four wheel driver and all had a strong opinion about something.  We saw the upmarket accommodation perched high on a cliff overlooking the Gorge.  That’s as close as we got because the cruise boat didn’t go underneath it.

Chamberlain Gorge Cruise

The Gorge was quite interesting. We searched the rugged cliffs for wildlife to no avail but the fish feed provided lots of entertainment as the archer fish squirted us when we held pellets above the water. We also saw catfish and a couple of very large barramundi. Glasses of bubbly were produced along with orange juice and fresh fruit.

On our last morning we packed up and were away by 8 oclock.  We thought we would drive along the Gibb River Road until we reached the famous and much photographed crossing of the Pentecost River.  For five kilometres the road was so rough and the stones so sharp we were worried about our tyres, having only one spare. We came across a Prado with a flat tyre, towing a Lotus Off Grid Van.  That was enough for us and we turned around.

Emma Gorge

On the way back to Kununurra we called into another part of El Questro, Emma Gorge.  In a very civilized manner, the cafe at the entrance offered coffee and scones. We then set off on the two hour return walk to Emma Gorge. At the turnaround point we had a blissfully cool swim under a waterfall before heading back to the car park.

Arriving at the caravan park sometime later we met up with our Lotus which we now called “The Palace”.  Manoeuvring  her into a powered site we enjoyed the luxury of our own bathroom, washing machine and comfy bed.

El quest

So ends the A to Z of our caravan trips around Australia.  I had to leave out so many places and it was really hard to find a story to go with some letters but I got there.  I hope if you haven’t been to Australia you have been inspired to visit at least some of the places I have written about.  Even if you are Australian there may be somewhere you haven’t yet been featured in this A to Z.  Happy travelling everyone and I hope to see you next year.

Y for Yerrinbool (again)

Y Before I begin let us go back to P for Point Nepean.  I mentioned that the German ship “SS Pfalz “ had a cannon fired across its bows as it tried to escape Port Phillip Bay after the declaration of World War 1.  The captain decided discretion was the better part of valour and turned around.  The crew was free to roam Melbourne and report to the police once a week.  Alas the good times could not last and they were all interned in Prisoner of War Camps.

Now here is the Y for Yerrinbool connection.  It was my birthday and there is nothing I like more than a day in the Southern Highlands, checking on my old home in Yerrinbool (see picture of the Curry Apple Orchard at top of page), eating out at one of the many restaurants or cafes and just breathing the fresh mountain air.

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I’m afraid the “Waterhole” where I grew up is just a shadow of its former self, but the highland air remains unchanged so it was with some enthusiasm we drove to Berrima where I wanted to visit a particular museum.

I had heard that this was where some of the men on the “SS Pfalz” had been sent and that the museum was dedicated to their story.

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Arrival at Moss Vale Railway Station

In March 1915 the first group of internees arrived at Berrima, walking from the Moss Vale Railway Station.  Although the weather would still have been quite mild (Autumn) there was no furniture in Berrima Gaol which had been empty for six years.  The luggage hadn’t arrived but there were basic sleeping materials and food they had to cook themselves.  The men were understandably depressed and called the gaol Ahnenschloss (Castle Forboding).

Berrima Gaol (Castle Forebodong) This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

There was considerable inequality depending on the internees circumstances. Those from the German Australian Line were allocated beds from the company store.  Some were receiving a salary from Germany and were able to order beds from furniture stores.  Most had to build furniture from timber found in the forest.

The Berrima winter is very cold so the cells in the sandstone gaol were freezing once the cold weather set in.  Built for 140 prisoners, Berrima gaol was already overcrowded by 1915 with 200 internees,  By 2018 it had 300.

While you might think a prisoner of war camp would be a place of misery and deprivation it would seem that life was not all bad for the internees at Berrima.  The day to day management of the camp was left to a Camp Committee consisting of ship’s captains, officers and seamen.

Berrima internees on the river, c1916.  Courtesy of the Berrima District Museum

The largely German committee organised gymnastics, wrestling, football, swimming and athletics to promote health and fitness.  Sporting areas and vegetable gardens were constructed.  A commercially run camp canteen raised money for purchase of seeds, renting of ground for gardens, adding to the camp orchestra and buying German delicacies from Sydney. Classes were run by those with skills in theatre, music, carpentry, joinery, shorthand, photography, sketching and painting.  Education classes in English were popular as all letters sent home had to be written in English.

The captains gave classes on navigation and marine skills to juniors who wished to take examinations after the war. Crystal radios were made in wireless courses enabling the internees to know the latest world news.

The skills of the internees knew no bounds.  They designed a water supply from the river and installed a generator for power long before the village had electricity.

There were a number of families interned in Berrima as well.  They had been living in Australia before the war and many were shore-based employees of the German shipping companies.  They asked their Australian friends for books and as a result the library was well stocked.

Five families sought to be close to husbands and fathers in the camp. The house you see below was shared by two families.  The only downside was it had been previously occupied by soldiers and required considerable work to get it to a suitable state of cleanliness 

Former Gaol Governor’s residence This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Frau Hurtzig wrote in her diary, “I pray never again to have to clean up after a mob of soldiers”.

The most interesting effect on the environment made by the internees was the damning of the Wingecarribee River, the building of a bridge and numerous huts and gardens around it forming a “Pleasure Garden”.

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Internees’ canoes on the River, c.1916. The canoe to the right is Störtebeker. Courtesy of the Berrima District Museum

Canoes were made out of hollow trees and races and regattas formed entertainment for the men and families.

The Hansa Bridge across the man made lake   Courtesy of the Berrima District Museum

The fame of the German’s work spread far and wide so that they were responsible for Berrima’s first tourist industry.  Not all tourists were friendly so the internees chose to erect a high barbed wire fence enclosing 17.5 acres  on the left bank of the river known as “The Compound”.  The right bank was free for the tourists.  Villas and huts were supposed to be built only within the compound but spread beyond.

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Schloss am Meer(Castle by the Sea) hut of the SMS Emden prisoners of war, c.1916. Courtesy of the Berrima District Museum

I was fascinated by the huts.  The men were only allowed to use them by day but they would have provided some peace and tranquillity in a trying time.  If you had to be in a prison camp then this one sounds like it would be the one to choose.

Frieda hut built from clay-filled jam and milk tins by marine engineer Karl Wirthgen. Photos: BDH&FHS       Southern Highland News

When the war ended the internees were keen to go home but were kept waiting until Germany signed the Peace Treaty in June 1919.  On the day they departed the Berrima Guard took the head and rear of the column and the band struck up Muss i’ denn, muss i’ denn aus Städlein (Now, now must I from this little town). At the Surveyor General Hotel the procession stopped and the men gave three cheers before marching to Moss Vale Railway Station.

The train took the internees directly to Pyrmont Wharf in Sydney. There the 950 internees from Berrima and Holsworthy and 200 men, women and children deported from other parts of Australia, boarded the SS Ypiranga bound for Germany.

X at the end of Pandora’s Box


What has Pandora’s Box got to do with Townsville?  Filling in a few hours one afternoon on a trip up north we visited the Museum of Tropical Queensland and discovered the gripping story of the HMS Pandora and the significance of the Box.

Most people have heard the story of the Mutiny on the Bounty when Fletcher Christian and his followers put the irascible William Bligh and eighteen supporters adrift in the ship’s open launch. Against all odds Bligh and his men sailed 6,701 km to Timor (now part of Indonesia), losing only one man in a fight with hostile natives in Tofua.


Meanwhile Fletcher Christian left sixteen mutineers in Tahiti who wished to part company with him. Before he left he married Maimiti, the daughter of one of the local chiefs, on 16 June 1789. The remaining nine mutineers, six Tahitian men and eleven Tahitian women went with him to start a new life on the remote island of Pitcairn, hoping they would never be found by the British authorities.

Pitcairn Island

Their hiding place was not discovered until 1808 when the New England sealer Topaz (Captain Mayhew Folger) came upon the tiny uncharted island. By then, all of the mutineers but one were dead, most having died under violent circumstances. John Adams was the sole surviving mutineer and had renamed himself Alexander Smith.

John Adams

Britain did not allow mutineers to go unpunished so as soon as Bligh returned to England plans were made to capture the missing men. The HMS Pandora sailed from the Solent on 7 November 1790, commanded by Captain Edward Edwards and manned by a crew of 134 men.

Of the 16 crew members in Tahiti, four had remained loyal to Bligh but could not fit in the open boat and so had been left on the Bounty. He had recorded their names and assured them he would testify to their innocence. Two others had died violently so 14 were rounded up when Edwards arrived in Tahiti. These fourteen men were locked up in a makeshift prison cell, measuring eleven-by-eighteen feet, on the Pandora’s quarter-deck, which they called Pandora’s Box. Those who had remained loyal were treated exactly the same as the others.

On 8 May 1791, the Pandora began its search for the remaining mutineers. It visited many islands in the south-West Pacific without finding any trace of the Bounty or its crew.

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Model of men escaping Pandora’s Box in the Museum of Tropical Queensland

At this time there was a fledgling three-year-old settlement in Sydney, New South Wales, but the HMS Pandora was much further north when it ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Can you imagine the terror of those in Pandora’s Box as the ship went down? Four of the mutineers drowned as well as 31 crew. That all of the prisoners escaped from the Box was thanks to a last-minute release from a crewman, William Moulter. A Cay was renamed Moulter Cay in 1984 in recognition of his humane deed. Four prisoners did not make it to shore, however.

The foundering of the Pandora (artist Oswald Brett)

What about those four men who had wanted to go with Bligh but couldn’t? Well, they survived the shipwreck but spent the next two nights on a small treeless sand cay. Fortunately, there were four open boats rescued from the wreck on which they made their way to Kupang and then to Batavia.

The ten remaining mutineers must have wondered what lay ahead as they travelled by ship back to England. The court-martial  began on the morning of September 12, 1792, in the captain’s great cabin of Lord Hood’s ship, the Duke, moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Of the ten, the four detained against their will were exonerated and given a pardon. The other six were sentenced to be hanged but three more escaped the noose, two receiving pardons and one getting off on a technicality.

Three men, Burkett, Millward and Ellison were hanged at the yardarm aboard the Brunswick in Portsmouth Harbour.

The wreck of the Pandora lay peacefully under the water until it was discovered by several competing explorers on 15 November 1977, Ben Cropp, Steve Domm and John Heyer. After the wreck site was located it was immediately declared a protected site under the Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976.

I was totally enthralled with the artefacts and the story that went with them on my visit to the museum in the year 2000. There had been nine excavations of the site between 1983 and 1999 and much has been discovered about life on board ship in the 18th Century. There is still much to excavate from the site as it is in deep water and difficult to access. It is extremely well preserved and 30% of the hull is intact.

What happened to the people on Pitcairn Island is another gripping story but as we can’t visit it in our caravan  regretfully I will leave it out of this A to Z.