We would be lying if we didn’t say we were a bit anxious about going away right now, given the little COVID-19 outbreaks around the place. We don’t want to get sick ourselves, and I don’t want to be banned from visiting Dad because I’ve been in a hotspot. However, southwest regional New South Wales is low risk, having had no outbreaks, so we’ve decided the value to our mental health outweighs the very low risk. We will never be more than three hours’ drive away from home so can skedaddle back, if the need arises!
Having thus decided to stick with our annual Thredbo holiday, the next decision was whether to take up my brother Ian’s suggestion to add a couple of days to it while he’s in town and able to visit Dad. After some um-ing and aah-ing, we took up his suggestion, and decided to take the long route to Thredbo via Tumut, a very pretty town on the Snowy Mountains foothills. We realise how lucky we were to get accommodation at such late notice because all the places around us are showing “No vacancy”. Is it usual for this region to be so popular at this time of year? I’d love it if it was – if it’s not just us who don’t gravitate to the beach!
On the road again …
Leaving Canberra, Len noticed one of those ubiquitous (but necessary) roadside fire danger rating signs and said, “Look at that, first week of January and the fire danger is low”. Good point, but my thoughts on setting off on this annual holiday were that this is the first time in yonks that our Thredbo nights won’t feature the Australian Open, which has its good points – more time for reading. I am often torn between Federer (or Barty) and my book!
Anyhow, our trip across to Tumut was peaceful. The weather was good, and we enjoyed our coffee break at a lovely little new-to-us cafe in Yass called Cafe Dolcetta. Good coffee.
The trek to Tumut, via Yass and Gundagai, is well-known to me, as I did it frequently in the mid-70s to visit a good friend who got her first professional job as a geography teacher in Tumut, when I got mine as a librarian in Canberra. We visited each other many times over those early years, and I came to love the drive over the long wooden bridge in Gundagai and through the foothills into Tumut. That lovely old bridge and its parallel railway bridge are now derelict, but they make great photographic subjects (so I always stop to photograph them when we’re in the area.)
Tumut is also a special place for my family, as my paternal great-grandfather, Richard Davies, was Presbyterian minister there. It was the last town my grandmother lived in before she moved to Sydney to train as a kindergarten teacher (around 1912) and, eventually, marry my grandfather. Her sister Lil remained in Tumut, marrying JJJ Learmont, local draper and businessman who built the town’s historic Heritage-listed Montreal (anagram of Learmont) Theatre (in 1929.)
Afternoon in Tumut
We spent the afternoon quietly in Tumut – lunching on delicious local food at Coffee Pedaler, then sitting under a shady tree, overlooking another derelict bridge, by the fast-flowing Tumut River. It was too warm to do the Tumut River Walk which we’ve done before, but we enjoyed watching the birds, kayakers and dog walkers all being more active than we!
We did though do one new bit of Tumut sightseeing, and that was to check out something called the Labyrinth, signs to which we’d seen on almost every crossroad in town. “What is it?” It turned out to be a path laid out in the form of a labyrinth, made to commemorate “the community service of its [Tumut’s] citizens in times of peace and conflict”. It has little way-stations which contain “local stories of Indigenous and European settlement” but, there being no shade at these stations and the temperature being 30°C, we didn’t waylay ourselves but kept moving. Saved for another trip!
For dinner, we had booked into the Tumut River Brewery, a 10-minute walk from our motel. It was a simple (g-f) chicken burger for me and a pizza for Len, but the environment was friendly, it was a lovely balmy evening for outdoor eating, and Len enjoyed drinking Ginja-Ninja (alcoholic ginger beer) at its place of origin. I stuck to wine (a local one) though I was briefly tempted by a Ginja-Ninja Gin cocktail! We did enjoy the happy vibe of this place, which is clearly enjoyed by both locals and tourists.
We ended the evening by watching a quiet but thoughtful French-Canadian movie on SBS World Movies, The fireflies are gone, by writer-director Sébastien Pilote.
A day in the hinterland
We decided to spend our only full day in the area (re)exploring the hinterland, which is known particularly for its orchards and, once upon a time, for gold. Batlow – which suffered badly in the Summer of 2020 fires – was to be our base, but rain, plus road closures due to said fires, meant a change of plan and, after briefly stopping in Batlow, we pushed on to Tumbarumba.
We saw plenty of evidence of the fires, particularly in burnt out state pine forests and in some rapidly regenerating eucalyptus stands. Interestingly, we had just seen a bush-fire anniversary interview with a Batlow orchardist a night or two before we left. His orchard had been burnt, but he was putting a positive spin on it saying that it was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to rebuild using more modern approaches. I like that sort of optimistic/positive thinking, and I hope it works out for him.
There were a couple of points of interest in Batlow not affected by the weather. One was the proliferation of yellow painted bikes on buildings, fences and even attached to trees. A quick Google search revealed that they reflect support for the Tumut-Batlow Rail Trail. Nice!
The other was “The White Gate”, which was “a well-known landmark last century. By 1910 it was old and lying beside the posts which were still standing”. The original gate was erected “at the junction of the Batlow-Tumbarumba and Old Tumbarumba roads, marking the turn-off to Wondalga, Adelong and Tumut”. That turn-off became known as “The White Gate”. There is now a freestanding white gate at a rest area at that intersection, and an old stone marker with plaque.
The drive through to Tumbarumba was pretty, and we arrived in time for lunch. We chose a place called The Nest: Cinema, Cafe, Books, which turned out to be another excellent place focusing on local foods. I enjoyed my Asian Chicken Salad, and Len his Baguette. As they were licensed, and serving “local wines”, I thought, why not, so:
Server comes. Me: I’d like a glass of sparkling. Server, seeming a little mystified: I don’t have my RSA [Responsible Service of Alcohol] yet. Me: Well if you have a sparkling white, I’d like that, otherwise a Chardonnay please. Wine comes, with someone who presumably does have her RSA. Me: What have I got? Server 2: A Sauvignon Blanc I think but I’ll check! [Hmm...] Server 2 returns: A Chardonnay!
Well good, methinks, that’s what I expected, but what I was really asking was whose Chardonnay. Later, yet another server passed by, and asked me how was the Chardonnay. Here was my opportunity, so I asked again, and this time got the answer, Mt Tumbarumba. For the record, it was perfectly nice, and went pretty well with the tart flavours of the Asian salad!
Our drive home was peppered with heavy rain, and took us through more orchards and fire-affected forests and bush. Not the day we expected, but a good day nonetheless, and isn’t that what travel is all about – enjoying the moment?
Dinner was at the local Oriental Hotel. Perfectly pleasant, but just dinner. I did however enjoy my gin and tonic using the local Pretty Parrot Distillery’s Pomegranate and Rhubarb gin.