It was Shakespeare who once said “To drive betwixt Sydney and Canberra to go geteth underwear is folly”. How right he was.
Or was he? Many scholars now claim that many works previously attributed to Shakespeare were in fact written by a second, perhaps even a third author. Likely acquired by Shakespeare and published under his own name during his brutal reign as the “Bastard Bard of Berwick”. [Word of advice, don’t google imagesearch for Bastard Bard]
If that is not enough to throw his account into the valley of ill-regard, allow me to climb myself to the Peaks of Personal Anecdote. For unlike many others, I have drived betwixt Sydney and Canberra and goteth underwear.
I’ve long had a fascination with the area east of the Great Dividing Range and before the plains and grazing lands of Central West New South Wales. Something strikes me as universally dull but also irrepressibly romantic about the area. Unfortunately, but predictably, since this is the way of major highways, the fastest route from Sydney to Canberra is the Hume Highway. A diabolically dull drive once you cross the southern highlands and one which simply gets more diabolically dull the further south you follow it, until marvelously you appear on Melbourne. So, to avoid this problem, we took only backroads from our starting position in Emu Plains. Heading south from Emu Plains we went along the eastern edge of the Sydney basin. The kind of odd interface of the rural and the suburban. Patches of land marked out for sale as beautiful new housing estates. Come live in the peaceful rural flowing rolling hills of Picton they cry out to you. You might get a good four months of that view of a rusty nail infested dam before it is turned into the community centre of Greenvillage Park Hills Estates and surrounded by three thousand homes open for viewing.
Which was nice.
Then suddenly! Highlands! Taking this route actually is a bit of alright. The elevation doesn’t grab you as sharply which means eventually you get to do that most wonderful of things – touch the window to feel the temperature outside. Feels cold, you say. Colder. Whatever it feels it is better than the humidity and heat of Sydney. So you are rollicking alongside an old abandoned railway line, passing through little villages called Balmoral and Hill Top. Villages that once lived because of the rail line and now… I don’t know. They live on! Much like this concrete monument which is by the side of this back road without any kind of identification of purpose.
The internet, which you are likely to be on right now, says this is a “Monument to Human Achievement”. In recognition of the hard labour (including deaths) of those who built the now disused railway. It is a kind of tragic self-assessment. We honour your now absolute achievements. This was the thinking behind my recent invention for feeling shit about life etc. You open a new document. You set strikethrough on. You set font colour to red. You start typing. Now everything you type is instantly erased without any kind of review or discussion. Enjoy that, that is life!
It is things like these that you miss when you’re on a highway, no matter what highway it is, an Interstate in the USA or an A road in the UK. My single line advice to everyone doing a roadtrip is “GET OFF THE INTERSTATE (or your local equivalent)”.
We stopped for lunch at Mittagong, one of the four or five cute little towns in the Southern Highlands. The coffee was reasonably good and suffered none of the failings of what I like to call “Coffee from Western New South Wales” or what Americans like to call Coffee. That is actually a little unfair. American coffee is generally marginally worse. Scrambled Eggs with Haloumi and hash browns (something America does so well and Australia so poorly!) at a bargain price was welcome. Where else can you get a haloumi side for $2! From Mittagong we went through Bowral and then eventually across the Hume on the road to Canyonleigh. Which turned out to be a beautiful rich red earth road.
Lined with ghost gums and the green of rolling valleys and a vast blue sky, it was a beautiful road that followed first the ridge line and then the creek and valley below. Fortunately we were not in a rental car so we weren’t breaking any rental agreement by taking the car off sealed roads. Also I didn’t tell my mum.
Along the way we stopped to entertain some donkeys. I think these were donkeys and not mules, or humlots or bigbigs.
The road to Canyonleigh eventually dumped us on the Hume Highway, having never quite being sure whether we’d passed through Canyonleigh or not, fortunately, across the Hume was another back road, taking us to Wingello. Then it was south through forests of gum trees and brown grassed farmland before hooking west towards Canberra. Just outside of Tarago and on the eastern side of Lake George we found a herd of cows and a windfarm. I had only minutes before imagined a fine photograph of a cow and a windfarm, so I pulled over immediately. When I stepped out of the car the cows began mooing insistently and then as I crossed the road they ran away, about fifty of them, off and over the hill. This is the only photo I managed to take that hand cows in it. Moments before this the scene was wall to wall cows.
In the USA, F perfected the art of sitting on the edge of car and peeing from the passenger seat with the two doors open to provide privacy. This didn’t work under pregnancy conditions. I made her then take a photo of us holding hands in the sunset because romance. Before heading into Canberra we went up to Lake George, which had water in it. Lake George is a large flat plain just to the north of Canberra. It is oddly spectacular for what is really just a big, flat paddock that very occasionally fills up with water. In the distance wind turbines send power to the capital city to power the communist workers.
We stayed at the prestigious Ibis Budget hotel, which is the same hotel we stayed at when we were in Canberra in 2004. But it was called the Formula 1 hotel back then. Not much had changed, though last time we visited there was a plague of beetles which covered the entire city in a most repulsive and crunchy way. The ground was literally a black seething mass of beetle. We didn’t have any particular reason for coming to Canberra other than to not be in Sydney for Easter. We had dinner in the suburb of Dixon. It was astonishingly good, perfect vegetarian South East Asian food, mock beef Rendang and mock chicken & duck pho. The mock beef had a better taste and consistency than any slow-cooked beef I have had in my life. We’d go the whole way to Canberra just for that meal again.
Canberra is the closet thing Australia has or will ever have to a communist era Eastern European city. It stark, measured, open and entirely planned. All wrapped in a kind of concrete brutalism and nationalistic triumphalism. F explained to me that it is easy to find shops in Canberra because each suburb has a signposted area called “Shops”. So, “Dixon Shops” literally meant where all the shops were planned to be. “Bank Shops” pointed to the tiny corner of shops in Bank. I had never noticed this before, it seems convenient and completely lifeless. We slept in the spacestation like pod of a room. Perfect white walls with a single long fluorescent tube lighting the room. A toilet and shower capsule stuck in the corner. It was tiny, clean and expensive. Another thing Australia lacks. Roadtrip infrastructure. Oh, we have roads. We have truckstops. We don’t have several thousand small family run hotels at $29.99 a night (incl. tax if you don’t immediately agree to the price) lining each highway. In Australia it is conceivable that wind up without accommodation. In America, if there is no motel in the town you’re in. There’ll be one at the highway interchange. Or three. And a Waffle House and a Denny’s. But always go Denny’s.
Unsure with what to do with ourselves we went shopping for underwear. $57 later we were suited up with singlets, socks and underpants and tights followed by breakfast in Kingston (Columbian Style Scrambled Eggs, delicious but with a weird smell). We also went to a bookstore called “Rows of Books No One Wanted” aka “Academic Remainders”. After these brief encounters with Canberra’s cosmopolitan shopping experience we headed out of town via a scenic drive to the west. I had wanted to cross up into the Brindabella Ranges, but time was against us. It was either fork out for ridiculously expensive accommodation or drive home and have dinner with mum and dad. The choice was obvious. But not before taking a scenic drive up to Cotter Dam. Which I found was not available for viewing. On the other hand, they were building a bigger dam for viewing, and this satisfied my desire to view a dam.
I also learnt about the history of the Cotter Dam. Including the fact that it was a controversial dam. Not, as you might presume, for the impact on the environment, or anything like that. No, but because it was considered to be a few feet too tall. Not, a thousand feet too tall or only a few feet tall. Both which would perhaps be reasonable grouds for a Royal Fucking Commission. The reason was that it was a little bit taller than they expected. I don’t think I need to point out the irony of my situation there. But I will. The irony is that as I stood reading about the Royal Commission finding that the dam was too tall, I was observing an even taller dam being built because the dam that was declared by Royal Commission to be too big was in fact now too small. It seems that back in the olden days they’d have a royal commission about just about anything so long as it was utterly inconsequential. What did the Royal Commission into ‘Is the Dam too Big’ hope to achieve? Either answer: Yes it is too big or No it is not too big could have no impact on anything since the dam had at that stage already been built. No one was seriously considering making the dam smaller as the result of finding it was too big. And really, what is the worst possible consequence of having a slightly too big dam? You have slightly more water stored? Thankfully, the whole situation was resolved when the Government simply rescaled all of reality except for the original dam so proportions were again as required.
From Cotter Dam, it was round the backside of Black Mountain and the back north via Lake George. And the obligatory and inevitable stop off at the Big Merino in Goulburn followed by a terrible stale pastry from the bakehouse across the road which despite the signs saying it is the best bakehouse it is in fact the worst. The worst bakehouse that there is and we found this out last time and we found this out again and my god we’ll find it out next time too for fucks sake.
Also; why concrete sheep have scarf?
Edit: Turns out that Knit Guild NSW are responsible for the scarft! Full details of the giant scarf and the guild here: http://www.knittersguildnsw.org.au/news/562-goulburn-group-keeps-rambo-warm