The third leg of my Australian Walk About took me from the Docklands of Melbourne thru the central city sites of Parliament House, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Flinders Street Rail Station, the Old Customs House, Immigration Museum, Federation Square, Cook’s Cottage, Fitzroy Garden, the Old Treasury Building, the Princess Theater, the Old Melbourne Gaol (Prison) followed by a nice crispy duck dinner in Chinatown.
Then, next, a very pleasant three-day drive along the coastal highway for more spectacular examples of Australia’s scenic wonders. And finally reaching Adelaide and the relief of turning in my VW Pissant Rental Car (Passat) to leave the driving to someone else.
I didn’t find Melbourne as interesting as Sydney but certainly the historic district was worth a day of wandering around the museums and parks. The Old Melbourne Gaol is certainly worth a few hours exploration. The old jail cells are the center point of the museum and each cell tells the story of one of its more interesting inmates complete with a description of their crimes, sentences, life in the prison and death mask if applicable.
But the highlight of the museum is the Watchtower experience. Basically, they conduct a tour every two hours and on this tour you are given a real 19th century criminal’s identity and walked thru the intake process as a convicted criminal. BTW I was Sean Tann and a thief. Our tour guide was a butch looking woman in a guard’s uniform and in full kick ass and take names character. Every word she spat out was at full drill sergeant bellow complete with bodily threats.
She lined us up, read us the rules, searched our hair, hands, mouth and shoes for counter band. Then made us face the wall, place our hands high on the wall and spread our feet for a body search. She seemed to enjoy this part way too much. And I am pretty sure she does this same role playing routine at home for fun with some poor soul.
After the body search she put us in our cells and turned off the lights. And that was the moment I was glad I had gone into politics instead of a life of crime (and, yes, I know – some of you believe politics is just legalized crime). There is no way I could do the time. The cell was just rough stone with no window and a steel door with only a covered slot. When the lights went out it was pitch black and totally disorienting. Five minutes and I was feeling the effects. I have no idea how Senator McCain and his fellow POWs survived so many years in the Hanoi Hilton (I will be visiting his cell in May to pay homage to the great man). Just shows the incredible strength of these heroes of our age.
The Immigration Museum was a major disappointment. To begin with, they had a strange temporary exhibit on love that they were particularly proud of and required everyone to waste time walking thru. The exhibit had 5 different sections on the various themes surrounding “love” and had photos, letters and oral histories representing different couples. Everything seemed to have a political spin – a lesbian couple, a gay guy couple, a white female convict and aboriginal man couple, mother daughter, and a bizarre older man – younger woman couple where he as a cuckold endured his wife falling in love and multiple affairs with both men and women.
And, again, I can’t imagine how this exhibit has anything to do with Australian Immigration. The rest of the museum was just as political. The first floor was an indictment against white Australians for mistreating both their native peoples and Chinese immigrants. The remaining floor was devoted to exhibits of “We are the World.” Extolling the beauty of all races and ethnic groups and promoting the blending of all groups into one singular race. Again, WTF!
The Old Treasury Building was very interesting. The beautiful old building was built to house all the gold flowing in from the gold fields during the mid to late 18th century gold rush. And these exhibits were actually – historical and interesting. Exhibits focused on the original gold strikes, the subsequent gold rushes, the lives of prospectors, the danger of the Bush Rangers like Ned Kelly and the growth of Melbourne based upon gold.
And a walk by or walk thru Flinders Station (Beautiful Victorian Train Station), the Princess Theater, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Parliament House are all worth the time. But honestly this can all be done in one long day and be done in time for a nice crispy duck dinner in Chinatown.
The best part of this portion of my trip though was the drive along the Great Pacific Coastal Highway. First stop was to Bells Beach to watch the surfers ride the big waves. Blindly, I stumbled onto the Rip Curl sponsored International Pro-Am Surfing Competition and spent a couple of hours watching the surfers from the bluffs above the beach.
The problem with a sport dependent upon a natural setting is you can’t build a spectator area for the convenience of the spectators. The topography of the area dictates how close to the action spectators can sit/stand. In the case of Bell’s Beach – we were a long way from the action. But no one seemed to mind and there was standing room only and everyone snapped photos with their iPhones from a mile away. Except this one guy who had the mother of all cameras. This thing was two feet long with a lens that was at least 10 inches across. The guy was quite popular with the ladies. They were all asking for a closer look at his big instrument. And, the guys – just a lot of camera envy.
Next up after Bells Beach was Apollo Bay to walk the beach and snap some photos before continuing to Cape Otway to visit Australia’s oldest Lightstation. The lighthouse built in 1848 stands at 90 meters tall. This station was manned by a lighthouse manager and three assistants who worked in 4 hour shifts to keep the light fueled and windows clean seven days a week 52 weeks per year.
Cape Otway was such a remote location in 1848 that the four families that manned it only received provisions twice a year by ship. The rest of their time they were totally on their own and had to make supplies last until the next supply ship.
Next stop on my drive down the coastal highway was the big prize – The Twelve Apostles Rock Formations along the coast. I scheduled my visit for sunrise and enjoyed a spectacular morning with hundreds of other camera clicking tourists. This part of the coast is as beautiful and unspoiled a beach as you will find anywhere.
Interesting historical tid bit – the Rock Formations were originally called the Sow and her Piglets early in the last century but apparently some public relations type decided that the 12 Apostles would make a much better advertising pitch. I think he was quite right – who wants to go home and tell everyone they visited a sow and 11 piglets!
After my early morning with the Apostles and later stops along the highway to visit the Arch, London Bridge (now missing its middle span), and the sea cave – I made my way to Cape Nelson’s Light Station. This picturesque station was built in 1882 at a height of 32 meters and with a light range of 21 nautical miles.
London Bridge after the collapse
Cape Nelson’s Light Station
And after a long day of driving and gawking at seascapes and lighthouses I arrived at my final stop for the night – the Old Mount Gambier Gaol. That’s right I spent my night in an old 19th century prison by choice.
After my short stay in the Melbourne Gaol I was having some second thoughts about my decision though. My apprehension turned out to be baseless, the experience was actually fun. Photos of my night in the pokey as well as all of many of the incredible sites along the drive are included.
My six-hour drive from Mount Gambier to Adelaide was pretty much uneventful accept for the wildlife along the road. My next blog will feature my short visit to Coober Pedy one of the strangest places on earth.