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Country versus Coast

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Australia is a schizophrenic country. You are either from the country or the coast. Rough, earthy and honest or smooth, rich and slippery. Beer or Champage. The two different social spheres rarely seem to meet. That is until I saw a great sign at the Willow Tree Truck Stop, knee deep in hillbilly country. It was obviously making an attempt at something akin to gourmet fare, but somehow didn’t quite have the courage of its convictions. On the sign on the way into the diner, the blackboard was hurriedly chalked up with the dish of the day: Angus Beef in Red Wine Jus Sauce. This chef is obviously after a new type of customer, I mused as I went to pay for the fuel. Perhaps someone with a little more je ne sais quoi than your average truckie. I then scanned down to the dessert, to see what he might tempt them with next. Jelly Slice was all it said. The other thing we notice about Australia and Australians is how they’re not keen on hiding lights under bushels. Signs pepper the highways literally shouting the virtues of their unbeatable produce. Australians absolutely love to big-up themselves, or have never heard about the Trades Descriptions Acts. “Best coffee outside Italy.” That was in a one horse town on the Northern Tablelands. “As chosen by the Richmond Hells Angels chapter,” it said in small print underneath. “The best golf course this side of Perth.” That was a scrubby goat track on the NSW South Coast, and bizarrely, “The best burgers outside of Belgium,” We stopped at this one as it piqued our interest, but one look inside told us all we needed to know. “Maybe they had tried a Belgian burger and thought they couldn’t do any worse?” Vera mentioned as we made a hasty retreat. Occasionally we would get suckered in. It was only after a while, we realised that these fabulous claims of being the absolute best were often in towns where once you’d been through you’d never go back. Yet, you were a captive audience for the hour you were there. And, the one thing you can’t miss is the abundance of birdlife in NSW. With two children under five getting woken before 6am is a common enough occurrence. One of us is often up and out the caravan door with the beginnings of the day. The first and overwhelming thing you notice is birds. The dawn chorus is very different here than in England. As opposed to the melodious songs of our resident warblers and nightingales and the plaintive cries of cuckoos in rural Suffolk, the Australian version is a lot like its human population. It’s a raucous cacophony of in your face sound. Screeching Galahs, Lorikeets and parakeets, fight with the distinctive and rhythmical “ping” sound of the Whipbird. Magpies and Magpie larks insistent and harsh “chak chak” call contesting the odd sound of the Masked Plovers, which is a bit like a 1970 Mini Clubman turning over on a cold winter morning. We have even bought a great birding book which we carry with us most of the time. It’s the Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds, and we love seeing a bird we don’t know then chasing back to the caravan to look it up. Emma is particularly excited by every new one we recognise. One morning Vera and the kids were out in Narooma, a seaside town with extensive mudflats, where a wide variety of wading birds come ashore. A new one we spotted was the Bar-tailed Godwit, which as anyone will tell you is not to be confused with the Black-tailed Godwit. It doesn’t do an awful lot to excite the twitterati; It just seems to stalk the shoreline prodding for things like molluscs and worms to nibble on. But it was great fun standing there pointing our binoculars in the general direction of the birds, appearing like we knew what we’re doing. On the second or third day of doing this, Emma pitched up one evening took over the binoculars swung them over her head and having seen the little Godwits through them, pronounced with utter certainty, “Ah yes, definitely Omelettes.”

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