Thursday, November 26, 2009

Reconnecting with my roots

Now that we have a car, and with itchy feet because we are not travelling any longer and not seeing new things every day, we had planned a day taking the two mums over some of the country that my mum grew up in. We get away in good time and are on the road after breakfast about 10 am. First stop is to say 'hi' to Dad and check on his grave at the largest cemetery in Newcastel, the Sandgate Cemetery. All looks in good condition and it is hard to believe that it is almost 9 years since we lost him to Motor Neurone Disease. We pass by the graves of Mum's parents - George and Annie Stevens as well and it is nice and clean as well. They are not at all like the cemeteries that we saw so often in Europe, adjacent to the churches and filled with flowers growing on the plots. Here the cemeteries are sited on seperate land are are somewhat stark, just row on row on row of gravestones with little colour - I guess we are following somewhat the example set by the early English settlers.

So we push on, knowing that we want to cover quite a bit of territory today. Our next stop is at Bulahdelah, north on the Pacific Highway about 80 kms from Newcastle. There are major highways works underway around here with a bypass planned doe the town. But at the moment, we still pass through and there, in the same spot as he has had for the last 20 years or so is a cherry seller, next to one of the local petrol stations. We stop, eager to taste more of the amazing fruit that we have available to us here in Australia in summer and buy two half-kilo bags. One for Michael and I in the front of the car and another for the mums in the back. The next half hour or so is very quiet as we all stuff our faces. Gosh they are good. Thick and firm, they burst their juices into your mouth with the first bite, full of deep cherry flavour. Yu-um!

We leave the Pacific Highway and head on to The Lakes Way that will take us around the Myall and Smith Lakes system to reach Forster and Tuncurry where the lakes enter in to the ocean. Long known as caravanning beach holiday towns on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, these have grown to include many medium density holiday apartment complexes and all the mod-cons that the modern holiday maker seems to need - clubs, cinemas, shopping centres. But if you leave the main street in either of these twin towns that straddle the Wampoola River mouth where it connects with the draining Wallis Lake, connected by a bridge that is clowly sinking in to the sandy depths, then little has changed - there are streets and streets of holiday homes waiting for the arrival of the summer holidays, getting ready for their owner families who will spend much of the 6 - 8 weeks living a very casual beachside lifestyle. First time visitors to Foster-Tuncurry are usually amazed at the colour of the water that break out from the lakes under the bridge and out to sea. With a sandy base, this water is some of the clearest, bluest and aqua water that you see in this part of the country (you need a sandy base to get a blue river, when they have a mud or dirt base then it looks muddied).

We continue our trip a little further north to Old Bar just outside Taree. This was where my Dad grew up and I have fond memories of a holiday with my sister Donna when I was about 13 or 14 staying with our great aunt and uncle on their dairy farm at Pampoolah just down from Grandma and Granpa's home. Of course this once very rural area is changing with more new subdivisions springing up every time I come through here. We head right down to the beach, exposed to gale force winds today, whipping up huge seas with very obvious rips - but it doesn't deter the board riders who seem to take great delight in the less than safe seas - thankfully there are no swimmers trying to brave the waters - just a few paddlers. We are disappointed that the surf club is not open for meals as it is well and truly lunch time now - in fact it is after 1:30 pm.

There is a small hamburger shop open in the park just back from the beach and once we have placed orders for 'burgers with the works' for us all we head back out into the sun. Netta lies soaking it up while the rest of us head for the shade of one of the covered picnic tables. Now, those burgers were fantastic - mince patties, bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, pineapple, beetroot, cheese and onion barely held within a straining bun. We had bought a serve of hot chips to share, but really the burgers are enough. This is fast food at its very best - hot and fresh and bursting with goodness. Followed by coffees all round we felt like kings.

Onward and upwards to Taree where Mum had lived for many years, where she met and married Dad and where I was born. This city sits on the banks of the Manning River and is a lush green city. As we cross the bridge into the city we can clearly see the one remaining riverside black of undeveloped land that Mum's aunt owns. That has got to worth a bit these days with everyone wanting waterfront property. Over the bridge I call on Mum's memory to take us up to the family home on the corner of Smith Street.

You know with the memory of a child, I remember this house to be a huge sandstone construction. We spent many happy times here visiting with Nanny and Pa and the first time I came back passed here (when we were moving our family to Bundaberg in Queensland), I was disappointed as it was much smaller than my memory remembered and of brick construction. Today, it is beautifully kept and is indeed a large home for its day with a multiple of bedrooms and the most enormous sleepout (a closed in verandah area lined with beds along the outer long wall) that catered for the large Stevens family of 8 children and the many visitors or workers who also regularly stayed. Taree has adopted the Flame Tree as their city emblem and today the main street of Victoria Street is lined with superb examples in full bloom - a truly beautiful native tree.

Ellenborough Falls
Comboyne to Landsdowne - a real trip down memory lane for both Mum and me!

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