Echuca

I don’t really have a great deal to write about Echuca. It was nice enough. For those unfamiliar with it, Echuca is an historical town that was founded around a crossing place on the Murray River. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true since we didn’t bother going to the history place but I saw some old rope nailed to a tree with a bit of information under it about a ferry so I’m going to go with that. It’s known for being a holiday spot and has a bunch of old paddlesteamers that take tourists out for various lengths of time.

This is probably as good a time as any to explain that the Murray-Darling river system is Australia’s longest and largest. It collects water throughout southern Queensland, most of NSW and part of Victoria and runs westward, with the Murray River forming the border between NSW and Victoria and ending in Adelaide, in South Australia. I was curious about it so I looked it up and the catchment area for the two rivers is about five times the size of the entire United Kingdom. That would be impressive if the river itself were impressive. Which it’s not. It’s brown and murky, so don’t go picturing a mighty Amazon or anything.

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For a town of about 13,000 people there seemed to be an awful lot of pubs and restaurants in Echuca. There was almost a pub on every corner in the middle of town. We stayed at the Nirebo Motel, which backed onto a pub called The American, where we had dinner. I had mac and cheese, which was enormous and delicious.

We didn’t really do a whole lot in Echuca. We had lunch on a steam-powered paddleboat (the Emmylou) and the view was mildly interesting and a little bit sad. There was so much erosion – according to the captain of the ship it occurred during a storm a few years ago, but I have heard that such situations are worsened by people driving powered craft along the rivers – the waves wear down the banks faster. The red gums along the banks were quite dead looking and a man I spoke to on the boat said the view was pretty much the same the whole way along.

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Apart from the boat trip we looked through the shops and walked around. Despite the fact that country towns have become sadly homogenised  by chain stores, there were still a few amusing sights, such as this book store. The lady working behind the counter said the owner loved every single dog statue and would know if even one went missing. There were definitely hundreds of statues. It was quite mind-boggling that someone might know every single one.

dog statues bookshopYou can always count on at least one amusingly-named store. Or two.

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Next stop: Swan Hill and the PHEASANT FARM!

Australia: An Orange Christmas

Luke and I departed New Zealand early on the morning of the 22nd of December. We were both looking forward to getting home but Melbourne was still a week away – first we were stopping in Orange to stay with my family for Christmas, then on to Albury for a couple of nights to stay with Luke’s family. It’s rather handy that Luke’s parents live about half way between Orange and Melbourne rather than in a completely different direction.

I have a small family and therefore our Christmases are fairly quiet affairs. There’s Mum and Dad, my brother’s family of four and me. This was to be the first Christmas at my brother’s new house and the first time he’d cooked Christmas dinner. It was also Luke’s first Christmas away from his family.

My family.

A few of my foreign friends have remarked on how strange it must be to have Christmas in summer, but fortunately this year the weather was fairly cool and rainy – Orange is almost always in drought so rain is generally something to celebrate. Michael did a fantastic job with lunch, cooking turkey breasts, pork and roast vegetables and Mum contributed our traditional jar of pickled walnuts. I don’t know how many of the people reading this are likely to have tried pickled walnuts but they’re quite an acquired taste. It took me 30 years of tasting them every Christmas before I could enjoy them but now I go through several jars a year.

The Christmas table.

Another tradition with my family is seafood. We always snack on prawns during the day on Christmas. I’m used to prawns being steamed – I was so disappointed in Louisiana when they were always served battered and deep fried. What a waste!

Mum peeling the prawns -twice the size of any we saw in the US.

We all enjoyed Christmas day, and I was amazed, as always, to see how much my nephew has grown. Izaac seems to morph into a new person every time I see him. Last time he was barely talking, this visit I could barely keep up with what he was saying. His half-brother, Ethan, becomes more and more mature by the year and is not far away from high school. There’s nothing like the growth of children to mark the passage of time.

Two cheeky monkeys.

The boys with my mum and dad.

Apart from spending time with family our trip to Orange also included a night in Bathurst visiting our friend Geoff and my annual trip to the berry farm, where I picked several kilos of strawberries. There are some things Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without, and a pile of fresh fruit is high on my list.

I hope all of our readers and friends out there had a great Christmas in 2013 and I’d love to hear about what makes Christmas special for you – especially if it’s something even more obscure than pickled walnuts!