Life kicks on in rural Victoria

Geelong Advertiser, Monday,12 March 2007, p. 15

In the last few years parts of rural Victoria have had to cope with drought, bush fires and floods, sometimes in quick succession. Daylesford has escaped the worst of these natural phenomena. Over our thirty years in Australia we have travelled many of the back roads and byways of the state of Victoria, but this is one of the places we have only passed through occasionally. We have stopped for a quick cup of coffee and on one occasion we walked down to the lake with our children when they were young, but this last week was the first time we had really got to know the spa town. And what an engaging and surprising place it is!

Finding somewhere to stay these internet days is a cinch. Daylesford must be a model for any small urban centre in rural Victoria with its well-organised tourist industry including accommodation finders with a string of properties at all prices, complete with full descriptions, prices and pictures. We ended up in a miner’s cottage, thoroughly and tastefully refurbished with the addition of all the technology you could wish for to make life comfortable. Within walking distance of the centre of town and the lake, yet hidden away as if deep in the bush, it was an idyllic base for exploring Daylesford.

There is a walking track around the lake and that’s where we had the first surprise coming across a seat with a plaque in memory of my former colleague and friend Laurie Schwab, the soccer writer and editor of Soccer Action. Daylesford was his favourite place in Australia. One reason I have no doubt was the quality of the cuisine. Daylesford has a myriad of restaurants and hotels with some first class food.

Another surprise was the Convent Gallery, redeveloped brilliantly by Tina Banitska from the home of the Presentation Sisters into a series of galleries, a museum of the convent and a stunning garden. Built on the slope of Wombat Hill the gardens benefit from a slow seepage of water from a spring near the top. The Convent is billed as ‘A temple for the arts’ in its publicity and that is true, but it was a bit over the top to claim that the gardens are ‘equal to those of Versailles in France’. Why do people feel the need for that kind of exaggeration? I was not carried away by most of the paintings, sculptures and artefacts though there were one or two excellent pieces, including some glass vases and a few items of furniture. There is a function centre and the restored chapel must be superb venue for weddings.

Then we travelled further up Wombat Hill to the Botanic Gardens, climbed the lookout tower which gave a view over the valley to Mount Franklin, looked at the greenhouse containing a rich variety of Begonias and walked around the avenues of elms, supplemented by sequoias, spruce, Norfolk pines and monkey puzzles. Next we set off north through Hepburn Springs to Lavandula an Italianate lavender and fruit farm, where we had lunch of bread and olives and then walked around the orchard and gardens. Things are very dry, the dam is empty and they are dependent on bore water. Many of the plants were stressed.

We returned ‘touristed out’ but marvelling at the resilience of the locals in face of adversity and impressed by the various ways in which they have responded to the challenges faced by small urban centres in rural Victoria today.

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