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A spin through the NSW Central West to Port Stephens (Ch 1)


A spin through the NSW Central West to Port Stephens (Ch 1)

Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 03:47 PM
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A spin through the NSW Central West to Port Stephens (Ch 1)

Last week we headed off for a few days at Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, and decided to take a spin through the Central West of New South Wales on the way.

We left Canberra on a bright Sunday morning and, driving via Yass and Boorowa, were in Cowra in 2 hours. The countryside along the way was a succession of unusually green rolling hills, mostly grazing country interspersed with scattered gum trees and purple patches of the pretty but pestiferous Paterson’s Curse weed. (I should mention here that the farmer-saving rains over the last few months have produced one downside – an unusually large fly population. Don’t leave home without your insect repellent.)

Cowra has diversified into newer industries such as canola, wine and tourism and looks prosperous – a common pattern in and around larger NSW towns. Having previously seen the Japanese Gardens (a memorial to a bloody mass breakout of Japanese prisoners from the local POW camp) and the well-made hologram show at the visitors’ centre (refer Bill Bryson’s “Down Under” a.k.a. “A Sunburnt Country” for details), we pressed on to Bathurst, about 3 hours’ drive west of Sydney but only 100-odd km from Cowra, with a brief stop in the old village of Carcoar, sunk in a picturesque hollow.

After finding the Bathurst visitor’s centre on the Great Western Highway we booked into an undistinguished motel (did I mention that this was a budget holiday?) and then had a couple of weak cappuccinos at the Acropole restaurant, which advertised, not altogether accurately, “the best coffee in town”. The Acropole is one of those Greek-owned places which hasn't changed its menu or décor since about 1970, when the height of culinary cool was Lobster Thermidor, and isn’t about to start now.

We decided to look elsewhere for dinner but in the meantime set off on a walking tour of some of the city’s historic buildings. And Bathurst does have a fine collection of splendid civic and commercial buildings that attest to its 19th-century prosperity. We were depressed to see that the city’s old town hall had been demolished some decades back to make way for a stupefyingly ugly Civic Centre, which makes a nauseous contrast to the excellent Court House next door. Fortunately, vandalism on that scale doesn’t seem to have been repeated. As in so many country towns, the contrast between the civic pride of earlier days, with well-proportioned, solid stone and brick railway stations, post offices, court houses and banks and the stately homes of the bourgeoisie, and today’s shoddy, gimcrack and disposable cheapest-bid architecture could hardly be greater. It’s enough to make you gag.

We had a quite decent nosh-up at a cheerful Chinese restaurant up the road from the railway station (they also do Vietnamese and Thai), walked a bit further then took ourselves back to our accommodation. Next morning we continued our investigation of historic Bathurst, by car this time, took a spin around the Mount Panorama racing circuit then went to check out the house of former Prime Minister Ben Chifley.

Joseph Benedict Chifley was PM from 1945 to 1949, losing office on the back of his reluctance to end wartime rationing and an ambitious but ill-conceived plan to nationalise the banking industry. Apart from being responsible (as Treasurer) for Australia’s wartime economy, he had a huge influence on Australia’s post-war airline industry, establishing TAA and nationalising Qantas and injecting the capital it needed to become an international player. He also initiated the massive Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme and much else.

He was a Bathurst boy, a train driver, and abstemious and retiring to a fault, living in a modest hotel room while in Canberra and driving himself home to Bathurst and his wife Elizabeth, who continued to occupy their modest 2-bedroom home, whenever he could. Poor Elizabeth, though, despite hailing from a middle-class family and being the PM’s wife, was never quite accepted in Bathurst society – wrong politics (Labor) and wrong religion (Presbyterian married to a Catholic).

Chifley has become a sort of Labor saint and was one of those rare leaders who seemed to have few if any enemies (although a Labor MP of my acquaintance who’d met him described him as “stubborn old bugger”.

Remind me of a story about a later PM, the hapless Sir William McMahon, who reputedly once said to his colleagues in frustration “Sometimes I think I’m my own worst enemy!” His fellow Liberal, Jim Killen, replied “Not while I’m around you’re not, Bill.”) McMahon was virtually laughed out of office by his Labor opponent Gough Whitlam. He had a habit of retiring to his home on the Isle of Capri on the Gold Coast, from where he’d make marathon late-night calls to editors and journalists. The erudite Whitlam commented with a straight face “There he sat, on the Isle of Capri – Tiberius with a telephone.”

Sorry about the digression. Seeing the Chifley house will cost you a few dollars and you'll have the company of an informative guide, who couldn't however shed much light on the rumour that St Chif had had a girlfriend in Canberra. He may have adhered to the "one vice at a time" rule.

Visitors looking for more upmarket accommodation might like to look at the Royal Apartments in the fine Royal Hotel. The Royal started as a colonial Georgian structure in 1840, and in the 1890s acquired fine late-Victorian detailing and cast iron balustrading. It hosted numerous luminaries including the novelist Anthony Trollope and Dame Nellie Melba. The Crepes Royale restaurant in the same building also looked worth checking out. There's also no shortage of B&Bs.

And so we boarded the uncomplaining Camry and headed for Mudgee.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 07:08 PM
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I think that is stretching the truth rather stating that Bill McMahon lived on the Isle of Capri - it was actually the eastern suburbs of Sydney - Bellevue Hill to be exact!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 09:08 PM
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prue, I think he had a holiday home up there - yes, I knew Billy was an eastern suburbs boy and social animal/gay-blade-around-town. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 10:04 PM
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Two Mudgee fans here waiting to hear about your visit. Our Camry was also uncomplaining.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2005, 10:10 PM
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I suspect that the Acropole DOES do the best coffee in Bathurst! Sad, isn't it?
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