A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

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Another Country Diary


After about a week of these diary entries, they go to the archive.
Wednesday 23 November '04
With the prompt of the last Diary item on cherries, and Jan on a few days break from work, it seemed a good time to head off to where the cherries grow - Young, Cowra and Orange. We were also doing some research for Regional Food and had decided it was time to visit Selkirks, the 'two hat' restaurant in Orange. We were only away for two days, but short breaks seem to be how it happens nowadays. There was a lot of driving in mid 30 deg temperatures but in an air-conditioned car, the dusty back roads we took were still pleasant. What lucky people we are eh?

The Central-West area of NSW is blessed with a warm climate and usually reliable rain. It has become a major source of our food and grain over the last 100 years and brags about being the 'food basket of Australia'.

The winter wheat and canola had started to be harvested and the fields had patterns I kept stopping to photograph.


There was a feeling of lushness and even though we visited on some very hot days, you could feel that the winter was not as cold as around Bungendore by the advanced growth.
As we went north, some of the paddocks had been hit by locusts and the wheat stripped and contaminated too much to harvest. Only by seeing for yourself (and driving through a small cloud of the grasshoppers) do you realise how tough it is being a farmer and dependant on things like enough rain, fearing rain at the wrong time and then being hit by pests that you can't stop.

The small towns we passed were a delight. The ones off the main roads have managed to keep a charm that will become the real tourist attraction of the area. Preserve, preserve!

This is the Koorawatha Memorial Hall. God bless its little corrugated iron supper room.


And the Koorawatha Road House. Meals, Hamburgers, Drinks.

It's just opposite the two story Koorawatha Hotel with a lovely old verandah and big curved front windows.





Not being too rushed about the time we had left home, it was lunchtime when we stopped at Young. We'd planned to visit  Zouch, a restaurant in the old  Masonic Hall. Zouch has a huge inside room that you rattle around in a bit, even with some attempt to break up the space with standing divider screens. There's a small sunny courtyard outside where the wind sometimes wafts the smell of the next door KFC, but inside it's very pleasant and cool in summer. The chef Susie Forrest came out to say hello when I showed one of the staff my Brewers Winter Feast photographs after noticing that they also sold Scott Watkins-Sully's Braidwood ales at Zouch.

After lunch, we visited the Equitas fruit packing factory. While marveling at the technology that grades fruit by colour and accurate size, it still sends them to be hand checked at an assembly line that would be as much at home with grading computer parts as it was with our cherries.



The activity was intense and like all assembly lines, continuous. There wasn't much talking or laughing (although I'm sure they do) and this image of a girl with a faraway look, pale and dreamlike in the fluoro lights summed up how I felt about it.

Do we really want our fruit to be so consistent that it looks factory made?

 This old photo was in the Young Tourist office and suggests much different times. 'H. James, Produce Dealer' has bags of flour in the window and he sold Ogden's Guinea Gold tobacco
(Ogden's Nut gone Flake featured in a diary entry here)


 

And if you look closely, there was this well dressed delivery boy, in cap, jacket, short britches and long socks.

 

 

 

 

We'd booked that night into a cheap motel in Orange and into Selkirks, a not so cheap restaurant that is a consistent 'two hat' winner in the SMH Good Food Guide. Chef Michael Manners sticks to a classic touch in preparing good local produce. There's no 'fusion' cooking here. The meal we had was excellent, everything tasted great and it all seemed to be  effortless (a sign that someone knows what they're doing). Mid week the atmosphere was a bit subdued, we shared a main room with just one other couple who left early, but there was a buzz from a larger party in a private room out back. The meal and local wine (by the glass and we both had selections that made us buy a bottle or two the next day they were so good) felt expensive but we did have three courses and we don't eat these kind of meals often so I'm glad we made the visit. We'll come back with friends next time.

Thursday 24 November '04

If you travel the Orange area, allow time to take the side roads that go through the small towns.

The beautifully restored railway station at Millthorpe looks just like a movie set, as does the whole town.

 


Millthorpe is surrounded by vineyards and green fields, there's a classic country pub next to the old railway station and an upmarket restaurant, Tonic in a beautifully restored old corner emporium.

There was a lady painting a watercolour of the street, and as I photographed she despaired of capturing its charm.

The Millthorpe Grand Western Lodge was built in 1901 and dominates the wide main intersection. At a time when travellers passed through the town from Sydney, it boasted "forty expensively furnished accommodation  rooms, three sitting rooms, two dining rooms, a billiards room, two bars with gold inlaid cedar counters, gas lighting and modern features".

Cowra's Japanese Gardens however were a disappointment. There are some areas where you feel there's an esthetic involved, but the rest looks like a low budget theme park. There are parts where the curving paths and artfully placed rocks look like they were there for years but I'll give it another ten years of growing and maturing before I visit again.
 

Much more 'finished' was their display of bonsai, including this small grove of Japanese maple. I like bonsai, Jan doesn't, she thinks it's artificial but to me there's a feeling of the magical about them. I know how hard they are to look after. I've killed a few some years ago, that were neglected for just a matter of days. Sorry trees.

 

Even allowing time for the vegetation to grow, I suspect that the 'theme park' elements will still be there, such as the crudely placed signs that tell you which button to press on the hand held audio tour for a description. I skipped the $5 device for the free map.

Equally disappointing was their standard theme park restaurant The Red Carp. If you thought you might get a Japanese meal, maybe a noodle or sushi, forget it. The specials board promised a Fisherman's Basket and Chicken 'Snitzel' topped with bacon, pineapple and cheese. We passed on the Red Carp restaurant. They had nice graphics though.

Instead we bought some take away products from the Cowra Smokehouse, (including some great smoked sun dried tomatoes and some smoked trout pate), teamed with some wimpy white bread rolls from a Vietnamese hot bread shop in the main street, a bottle of water we had ourselves a picnic.

On the trip home, we sat for a while, on a winding narrow road, behind a truck of fresh made hay bales, barely dry and loose enough to shower us with straw and fill the car with the smell of fresh cut hay. The Young area has had much more rain than Bungendore and some of the paddocks were on a second cut of hay. Some of the paddocks and the bales looked very scrappy, but with so many people having to buy feed over the last few years, there was a feeling of 'quick, get it cut before the drought comes back'. And then there's the threat of locusts to add more tension.
But... it must be getting on to Christmas. These homemade Santa decorations were on top of every commercial building in Canowindra, courtesy of the Lions club. It meant that I couldn't take a clear photo of the curving verandah'd main street without seeing little red men, but it was such a nice community touch, I'm happy to wait until I next pass through.

(That's unless they're like the Santa decorations on our Royal hotel a year or two back that stayed up for a couple of Christmases. A few reindeer lost their heads and it looked pretty tatty but it finally came down during the year.)

 
Fred Harden    
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Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden