Trip 45, post #9 – You can pick your friends

A downside of living in Australia is the massive distance between states, and with my sister and her family, and my mum and dad both living in Victoria, we don’t get together that frequently. So with that in mind, we left the rapidly greening hills of South Australia and headed East into Victoria.

Our first destination of the day was Linton, 270 km from Mt Gambier, and was where I spent my major schooling years, from grade 5 through to year 10.

Linton is 34 km from Ballarat and 150 km from the big smoke of Melbourne and was established in 1839 by Mary and Joseph Linton from Scotland as a sheep pastoral run. Gold was discovered in 1855 and the population quickly swelled to maximum ever at 1,969 in 1861. However, a decline in the gold price, gold finds and the two World Wars took a toll on the town and the population quickly decreased to circa 500 by the early 1900’s.

Linton, population 600, the year is 1982 and a young Andy and Jan Budge, esteemed parents of Tony (11) and Maxine (9), decide to make a major lifestyle change and move to the country to build a house and then establish and run a small hobby farm.

6 km West of Linton (away from Ballarat) lies the Flagstaff Ridge, the last significant ridge of hills before moving into the relatively flat and featureless farmland of the Western Plains of Victoria.

No mains electricity, no mains water or gas supply, no sewage or telephone lines, and of course no mobile or public Internet as they weren’t available yet, my parents purchased 10 ½ acres of semi-cleared land on a steep hill with views to the horizon out to the West.

Using an old International tractor, wheelbarrows, lots of hand tools and the odd power tool powered by a portable generator, my parents dug out a couple of dams at the bottom of the block, saving the clay in large heaps. Then, using the tractor and feet in gumboots, they mixed straw and water with the clay to handmake a couple thousand (we can’t remember exactly how many) mudbricks. Each external brick was 45cm long x 30cm wide x 15cm high and weighed over 10kg each. The internal bricks are half this size. Monitoring the drying process and hand-turning each brick until they were ready, the bricks were then manhandled back up to the top of the block and laid on the newly poured slab. All started well until my pet kid goats, Huey, Duey and Louie, decided to clamber atop the newly laid bricks, thinking these were the best climb rocks ever. Dad very nearly prepared the goats for dinner on the spot.

Attending the local Linton Primary School for the last term of grade 5 and then the full year of grade 6, student numbers were so low that classes were typically made up of mixed ages & grades. My new best mate Negz (Tony Negri) and I quickly became inseparable, growing up racing go-karts, shooting rabbits and camping in the paddock. We attended the annual Blue Light Discos’ where we followed the 80’s fashion trends, one year wearing black t-shirts with our nicknames stencilled on the back (we were bulk), another year wearing pastel pink and lemon jumpers (we looked mintox). The chicks must have dug us and thought we were ace.

Moving into high school in grade 7, it was a 45-minute bus trip from the top of Flagstaff Ridge Road, along the Glenelg Highway, into Ballarat. At least once a winter, the road would get so icy that the school bus couldn’t make it up the hill (ridge) to our bus stop. We’d be standing there in the frost and freezing cold, hearing the bus labour, and then suddenly we’d hear it pull up with squeaky brakes, do a 3-point turn on the highway and head home. This left me and Max with a 2 km walk back home in the brass monkey conditions. But you know you are attending a country school back in the day when the school and bus company allowed me to carry Dad’s shotgun, disassembled with no ammo, on the school bus to school so I could use it in the Physical Ed run Clay Target Shooting class we did in year 10.

Whilst growing up, I unknowingly became an amateur ornithologist and could name most of the birds in the area by sight or sound. This included me spotting and reporting to some Melbourne Birdwatcher Groups my sighting of a flock of what I determined to be Diamond Firetail Finches which hadn’t been seen in the region and were hence thought extinct locally, for over 50 years. The big smoke official birdos soon verified my identification which kicked off random groups of people turning up and walking around the paddocks to get their own sightings. Max, on the other hand, became proficient in naming most of the local wildflowers.

At 15 and as I was finishing year 10, I was fortunate enough to be offered a Telstra Apprenticeship and I decided to leave school and home for the opportunity at 16, moving down to Melbourne to attend my training, before moving to Perth to finish my apprenticeship in Perth when I was 18.

Looking back now, it was a fantastic place, time and way to grow up. The closest thing we had to a computer or mobile phone was our Atari Pong TV console. Instead, we chopped firewood, explored and learnt to love the bush, drove an old beat-up VW Beetle (paddock-basher) around the paddocks, and looked after the various animals we kept over the years which included Chooks, Ducks, Geese, Sheep, Goats, Dogs, a Cat, a Horse, Turtles and a various birds and cockatoos in our bird aviary.

At the time I never appreciated the physical, mental or financial stress my parents would have been coping with. But, as kids, we always had clean clothes – well as clean as Mum could keep them as I got dirty pretty quickly – and wholesome food to eat. We certainly weren’t rich in coin, but we were millionaires in experience, love, nurture and nature.

Today I am so extremely grateful for these experiences, which have manifested in my love of camping and exploring our country, and have given me and my sister a “Can do” and “Hands-on” attitude. We may not be an expert, but using the noggin’ and applying some common sense, both myself and my sister have taken on many projects that many people would normally outsource to a professional.

The following pics are photos of old photos from Mum and Dad’s photo album

Mixing mud on the back of the tractor
The old man doing some shoveling
Mum, with Buster the boxer dog, Camel our pet lamb, and Felix the cat, assessing the start of the foundations
Mum and Dad starting to lay the mud bricks
One course in, many more to go
The walls are starting to build up
External walls up, moving onto the roof
External walls are up and roof trusses going on
Calling in neighbours, friends and family to assist on the big jobs
The chooks keep an eye on compliance with building regulations
Looking down the driveway from the road to the finished house. Nowadays you can barely see the house from the road as those pine trees, and other trees planted since, have completely overgrown the driveway so it’s like looking down a dark tunnel to the house
The West facing wall
Max (sister) standing out front of the house
Inside the loungeroom, looking into the kitchen and our big old combustion oven that was our only source of cooking and water heating
Me (left) and Negz mucking about with my go-kart

Driving back down Flagstaff Ridge Road, some dozen or so years after my last visit, I was surprised to see how much things had changed. Seedlings were now trees, new houses had been built along the road and a bloody big wind farm had been established about 20 km away, with the huge wind turbines now clearly visible in what was once our unobstructed views to the West.

A snapshot from the car near the start of Flagstaff Ridge Road of the new wind turbines in the distance. Apparently, they’re planning to install a bunch more. Note, this isn’t the view from my old place, but from our house, we’ve been able to see the lefthand bunch of turbines in our view.

We simply drove down and back up and out of Flagstaff Ridge Rd, pointing out my old house to BJ and Jules. I was surprised at how melancholy I felt and how disconnected I now felt about the place. But hey, it’s been 35 years since I lived there and the place, as have I, have changed, and I’ve got no regrets with the decisions and changes I’ve made during this time.

I had intended to grab a coffee whilst passing through Skipton, about 14 km, before (West) of Linton but was surprised to see that Skipton was essentially a ghost town now with nothing seemingly open. So, we moved through to Linton where the old trusty takeaway shop was still running, so we grabbed a coffee and sanga there. We also said our goodbyes to BJ here, as Jules and I were moving on to visit my family for the next week, whilst BJ meandered his way through to our next stop where we’d meet up again.

Before leaving Linton, I plugged the route to Max and Scott’s place into GoogleMaps, ticking the Avoid Tolls option as we don’t have the electronic toll pass setup. They live up in Ferny Creek, in the Dandenong’s, meaning the most direct route was via the outskirts of the CBD. Unbeknownst to us, this included driving up and over the Westgate Bridge, which I enjoyed but Jules most definitely did not. Then just as we were passing the city, GoogleMaps directed us off the motorway onto Power St, then along the Yarra River and finally made us tow Goldy through the middle of Toorak, along Toorak Road, sharing the road with the luxury yuppy cars and trams. One advantage of the route, however, was it was much slower than the motorway which gave us more time to monitor the road and ensure we were in the appropriate lane at the right time to make the turns needed. All ended well with us arriving at Max & Scott’s late on Friday arvo.

The saying goes “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”. Luckily for us, we like and enjoy the company of my, and Julie’s, family. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no intention of moving back in with any of them, but it was great to spend some time again with my family who I so rarely get to visit in person these days.

We spent the next few days chilling out with Max, Scott and my beautiful nieces Abby, Ella, and Jade. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and miserable, so on Saturday we only managed to pop out for a coffee before I talked Scott into driving me down the mountain (the Dandenong’s) to the nearest BCF where I decided to buy a portable diesel heater to add to our camping kit. On Sunday morning we watched Jade play her soccer game before Max decided Jules and I needed to taste “the best dim sims in Melbourne”, driving us an hour back into the South Melbourne markets, for a $3.50 large, but delicious, “dimmy.” It was then back up the hill to have dinner at the local pub, The Pig & Whistle.

1st order of the day at Max & Scott’s was doggy cuddles – this is Poppy
1st order of the day at Max & Scott’s was doggy cuddles – this is Maisy
Driving down the hill (the Dandenongs) through the clouds and beautiful bush
Jules and Max
Me trying to be happy at spending a bunch of cash on a Portable Diesel Heater we didn’t think we’d need, but eventually succumbed to due to the ever-decreasing temperature.
Looking out of Max & Scott’s loungeroom windows on a winter’s day – beautiful and green, but cold and wet.
Spending an arvo in front of the open fire, watching the footy
Max isn’t a footy fan so she jigsawed the arvo away
My nieces – Jade far left, Ella, Abby and their partners Blake and Alec, and my bald noggin’ in the foreground
Jules is enjoying Scott’s Mandolorian helmet a little bit too much
According to Max, these are the best dim sims in Melbourne
Cake stall at the markets – yes we were weak.
Chicken Parmy at the Pig & Whistle Pub on a Sunday night

A slow start to Monday morning provided us an opportunity to watch a replay of the Austrian F1 race before we jumped back in the car to head further Southeast to visit my folks in Wonthaggi. Of course, we continued to contribute to the small-town economies by having lunch at the Emerald Bakery – yummy.

A quick snap of the Puffing Billy steam-train as it leaves Emerald

The two days with my parents were nice and slow, and a great opportunity to recharge our batteries, and catch up with my folks. Dad and I did some jobs on the van and Jules and Mum did a bunch of washing. I enjoyed spending time working in the shed with the old man again, it’s been many years since we’ve done that.

My mum is a smart cookie! She recently won a bunch of awards at a local community art gig for her patchwork and sold some of her works. So she was excited to spend some of her winnings on us, taking us to a lovely lunch at Fig and the Bay. The food was lovely, but the servings were way too big – at least we won’t need dinner tonight!

Paddy, he’s been with Mum and Dad for donkey’s years now but keeps on keeping on
Lucy, she’s lovely and almost blind now but gets around the house ok. although our van parked in the backyard confused her normal routine a bit.
Tessa, or as I called her Taco.
Us and Dad in the frontyard
Jules snapped this shot of us before lunch
Hopefully our better sides for another photo
A selfie
Our lovely lunch location, Fig and the Bay

So, finishing this post, which as a reminder is titled “You can pick your friends“, if I could pick my family, would I?

No, absolutely not.

I have a fantastic, energetic, loving, diverse, passionate and beautiful family who I love and appreciate very much.

But, if I could change one of them……. It’d be “me”.

I could always be a better human, and a better husband, dad, son, brother and uncle. Although I expect if you asked some of my family, they’d tell you I am already “Mr Perfect” (in joke).

5 Replies to “Trip 45, post #9 – You can pick your friends”

  1. I totally enjoyed this blog Tony. You guys stay safe and warm. There might be just the 3 of you travelling, but I’m sure there are lots of family and friends following you, Jules and BJ through your blogs.

    1. Thanks Leroy, glad you’re enjoying it! We certainly are. Hope you and Sandra are well mate. Cheers Budgie

  2. Great blog
    Brings back memories of when i use to live in a small country town in WA (pop about 120)
    I still visit once a year .
    Enjoy the next part of you trip

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