I hadn’t been across to the west of Victoria for twenty years. The last time, I was in between houses. I had left one and had space before getting into the new one, so to fill in the time, I took the Great Ocean Road and then the Princes Highway across to Adelaide, coming back inland. It was an interesting experience: no address, no mobile phone at the time; floating free.
Years ago, I drove up to Marysville, situated in the Yarra Valley, two hours north-east of Melbourne. It was a very pretty place then, but was caught up in the devastating bush fires of February 2009. Forty-per-cent of the Murrindindi Shire, of which Marysville is part, was burned, with the loss of 101 lives, and the destruction of homes, properties, animals and wildlife. The day the fire started, 7th February, is now known as Black Saturday.
For some reason, I’d never had a good look around Bendigo and thought it was about time I did.
Bendigo is a prosperous city, 90 minutes north-west of Melbourne, begun when gold was discovered in 1851. The original finds were the first of 9 billion dollars worth of gold found in the Bendigo area, making it the seventh richest gold field in the world.
I was able to find a motel right in the middle of town, and so left the car in its spot and spent the two days I was there mostly on foot.
I’m jumping around all over the place with my New Zealand memories, using those that particularly stand out in my mind. The night before heading down into Wellington, I stopped in the lovely art deco town of Whanganui.
Anyone who’s read any of my stuff would have realised I’m besotted with film sets and locations, so while in the north island of New Zealand I couldn’t miss out on Hobbiton, the location used for The Shire in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ movies.
It was recommended, while in Rotorua, that I visit Whakarewarewa Living Maori Village, which is to say people here still live in the traditional way. As I arrived, a guide was explaining the enormously long, original name of the village, to a group of school children. ‘Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao,’ she said, slowly. ‘Three hundred years ago, a warrior chief named Wahiao, got together an army to get back at the people who killed his father. And so that’s what the name means: The Gathering Place of the Army of Wahiao.
I returned to New Zealand in 2014, this time to the north island. I’d been looking at photos of Rotorua’s thermal wonderland for years. This was my chance to see it for myself. Rotorua is a nice town, set around Lake Rotorua.
While preparing my book, Hangi, Haka and Hobbits: Notes from New Zealand, the second in my Planning to the Nth trilogy, for publication in print, memories are flooding back.