Friday, 31 January 2014

Historical Beechworth

We spent a little time in the historical precinct at Beechworth, including the gaol tour.   This lasted an hour and took us through all the main areas of the former gaol (although we didn't get to climb a guard tower as advertised on the web site).    It was obviously an extremely tough place to be in if you were there in the 19th century, and would still have been a most unpleasant place if you were there as late as 2004 (the year in which it was closed).

Interior of cell - used until 2004

Solitary confinement exercise yard

The tour included a close inspection of the gallows.  The only part missing was an actual demonstration of their operation!     Apart from that, little was left to the imagination.

Not sure if T class locos ever operated mixed trains, but does it matter?

One of the other buildings able to be viewed  was the telegraph office.  In addition to a good display of telegraphic equipment, a model of the Beechworth railway station in the 1950s was on display.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Beechworth and Milawa

Beechworth is a pleasant town with a gold-mining history and modern day tourist industry, capitalising on its reputation for good food as well as on its history.   

There's lots of accommodation available and although we considered staying at a B&B, we finally decided on a motel close to the centre.    For the record, we were pleased with our choice:   although any motel is just a motel, the room was a just little larger than your average motel room (with a "cathedral" ceiling which added to the feeling of relative spaciousness) and the outlook was on to the leafy elms in the side street.   There was a coffee machine (the type that uses pods) in the room (a bit wasted on us, but a nice note!) and our car windscreen was cleaned.  Importantly, the air-conditioning was effective!

Post Office - still in use
On the first night we ate quite well at one of the hotels, but the second night presented challenges  In fact, we counted four restaurants (all in Good Food Guide, one having two hats) and a micro brewery (also in Good Food Guide) that we might have considered, but one was on a break of several weeks.  

Two of the others and the micro brewery weren't scheduled to open on Wednesdays, and the one remaining restaurant decided to have an unscheduled the night off!   Of the four pubs in town, we ruled two out on the basis that we weren't a local, and of the others, we'd eaten at what we now know was the best pub in town, so we ended up with an adequate but not brilliant dinner at the remaining pub.

Moral of the story:   if you're coming to Beechworth for fine dining, a bit of planning may be required!
Lunch at Brown Bros
We went to Brown Bros at Milawa during the day, and had a very satisfactory casual lunch, followed by coffee at one of the other Milawa "fine food" establishments.

Beechworth historical precinct
Elm lined streets in Beechworth

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Alpine Way

We drove from Cooma to Beechworth via the Alpine Way.    It follows the valley from Jindabyne to Thredbo and then continues climbing to Dead Horse Gap (which is on the Great Divide).    From here, there's a steep descent to Tom Groggin, which is right on the River Murray (so you are just across the rapids from Victoria), before turning north towards Khancoban.   On the way, there's Scammell's Ridge lookout and the iconic view of Murray 1 power station.    After lunch at  Khancoban, our route took us across the Murray to Corryong, then along the Murray Valley Highway to Tallangatta before diverting to Yackadandah and finishing up at Beechworth.

View from Dead Horse Gap
The Alpine Way is now sealed for the entire distance, although I understand that it's liable to be closed in winter.    There's a $16 National parks charge paid on the road into Thredbo (not sure if or how this is collected if you travel in the other direction).

Thredbo is a typical ski resort, but even though it was mid-summer, we managed to get coffee there.   The central part of Khancoban appears to be what you get when you let an engineer design a town:   basically, a series of rectangles!

Murray 1 Power Station

Many dead trees, but they're re-growing

View from Thredbo

River at Tom Groggin

View from Scammell's Ridge lookout

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Our last morning in Canberra was spent commemorating Savindan (literally, "St Sava's Day") (St Sava was the first Serbian archbishop) and then we drove to Cooma where we spent a night on our meandering trip home from Canberra.


I suppose I've driven through Cooma a couple of times over the years, but to the best of my recollection, I've never paused in the town.

It's clearly the gateway to the snowfields and the Snowy scheme.   But apart from that, it's, well, a country town!   The Snowy scheme is commemorated by a relief map of the area and a row of flags representing the countries from which workers on the scheme originated (including the flag of former Yugoslavia, but not of the successor countries - understandable, I suppose).

We by-passed the Services club and the Indian and Chinese restaurants for dinner and ate at a Lebanese restaurant.   It was quite good actually:   nice food, white cloth tablecloths and so on.   However, our bill doubled up on several of our items.    I guess we'll give them the benefit of the doubt and accept the explanation that it was a "computer glitch".

Monday, 27 January 2014

The National Library

I had never been to the National Library and, in fact, was only vaguely aware of its existence.  But I was given a ticket (thanks, A) to a guided tour of the current temporary exhibition, "Mapping Our World - Terra Incognito to Australia".  This is an impressive display of maps starting with some indigenous material and a Ptolemy map from about 90 AD (rediscovered in about 1300), and the amazing Venetian map by Fra Mauro. This is perhaps the highlight of the exhibition, given the size of the map and the complexities involved in bringing it from Venice to Canberra.

The exhibition then proceeds through the "discovery" era maps of the Portuguese, Dutch and of course Cook and the other English explorers and culminating in Flinders' "General Chart of Terra Australis or Australia".     All very interesting indeed.

There's also a permanent exhibition in the "Treasures Gallery", which contains a display of maps, pictures, photographs and objects designed to illustrate episodes in Australian history.   Again, the range of material on display is quite breath-taking.

As for the library itself, sorry, no bookstacks at all!    I guess they must exist somewhere but seemingly are not for public access.    There are various reading  rooms (complete with arrays of computer terminals, as well as people reading hard copies).  There are also some Leonard French windows - quite nice but not as impressive as the ceiling in Melbourne's National Gallery.

Edit:   As we were leaving Canberra, I noticed a warehouse-type building with a National Library sign on it.    Maybe the bookstacks are out in a warehouse, instead of on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The National Portrait Gallery

I've previously blogged with my thoughts about the National Portrait Gallery.    As I stated in that post, I quite like this Gallery.  In particular, a reasonable proportion of the art is relatively conservative. Ar least, that is, until you get into the "Australia Now" room.

I revisited the gallery when in Canberra and confirmed my belief that I don't really like the Princess Mary portrait, even though it still has a very prominent position.   And this time there was even a religious portrait (mind you, just one, at least so far as I could see), being Bishop Burgman. Even this work (on loan, and there because Judy Cassab's work was being highlighted) is an "interesting" choice.  I've always thought this secular trait in this Gallery suggests a particular "take" on its claim to select portraits of Australians who have been "significant in the field of endeavour".    For example, Eddie Mabo, Clarles Perkins, Neville Bonner and Harold Blair are all there, side by side.   And the Gallery has managed to obtain photographs of Lee-Lin Chin and Tim Winton.

Anyway, Whitlam and Kerr still hang side-by-side.   Menzies and Evatt are separated by two other portraits,  both politicians (one Liberal, one Labor).

There was a special display of Elvis Presley photos, but I didn't have a lot of time so decided not to pay the charge to enter this section.

[Edited 26 Jan 14]

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

We drove to Canberra.  We were in rain most of the way, sometimes quite light but also heavy at times.    Yet a week ago we were all sweltering.
Impressive vegetation - nice to see
Two things struck me during this boring trip.  First, the trees planted along the highway in Victoria when it was duplicated are now reaching maturity, and so they form quite an impressive array, often for extended sections.   We regularly travel this route, and I suppose I've been aware of the trees, but on this occasion I became even more conscious of them.

The contrast after crossing the border is stark, although of course perhaps there were fewer trees north of the Murray even when the land was in its original state.   There are some plantings, so perhaps things will change as they reach maturity.

The Dog is there, but the shop has closed
Secondly, in the battle at the "Dog on the Tuckerbox" between Shell/KFC vs the more traditional wayside refreshment places there, Shell/KFC have won decisively.   Shell have a more prominent location, slightly closer to the highway than the smaller businesses, and they have now closed.
....and the business on the other side of the access road to the Dog has also closed

Friday, 24 January 2014

Box girder bridges

Box girder bridges don't have a great track record, and the news of a crack in the West Gate Bridge - which is such a bridge - caused me to pause for thought.

Sure, the crack a few days ago seems only to relate to the surface, and not to the structure.  In fact, I'm told that the fact that there was yellow at the bottom of the crack is somewhat reassuring, as that means the membrane under the asphalt that protects the structural steel is intact.  Had the steel itself (which is under the membrane and is red) been visible, then the integrity of the membrane would have been breached and the issues would have been somewhat more serious.

More generally, however, what would be the implications for Melbourne if a structural problem with this bridge did emerge?   Perhaps life would go on with lower load limits and lower speed limits - but in a "worst-case" scenario, if the bridge had to be closed for safety reasons, there would be enormous disruption.

Bridges - like other structures - do fail from time to time, but it's interesting that the West Gate Bridge is a box girder bridge.    Some of these bridges failed during construction including,  as well as the West Gate Bridge itself,  the Milford Haven Bridge in West Wales (also known as the Cleddau Bridge) and South River Bridge in Koblenz, Germany. Since then the Cline Avenue bridge in Indiana has been closed.

Failures can occur in any sort of structure, of course, but apparently box girder bridges can be more susceptible to rusting and corrosion than some other types because water can begin to pool within the cell of the beam.   Hence, the authorities presumably keep a close watch on the West Gate Bridge and  seem to think that (and in relation to the latest incident, here) all is OK with it.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Credit cards and PINs

It seems that PINs will be required to be used for all credit card transactions from 1 August.  Apparently, signatures will no longer be accepted.  Since the opportunity for fraud will be lessened, this certainly appears unobjectionable.

I suppose most of us already use PINs much of the time.    However, the exception seems to be in restaurants, where the custom, particularly in Victoria, is still to place your credit card with the bill and allow the merchant to process it away from the table.

I got out of the habit of allowing this as long ago in the early 2000s, when we were living in Perth.  There, even at that time, it was the custom to pay the bill at the cash desk, so that  your credit card was always within your sight.  However, returning to Victoria, I lapsed into the more "traditional" ways.

The use of PINs will require either payment of bills at the cash desk or restaurants to bring a portable machine to the table.

On the window of a local shop
It will also require the customer to state how much is to be added to the bill by way of tip, instead of the more discreet practice of adding an amount when signing.  This will make the practice of telling the restaurant to "split the bill" a little more complex, because the total amount, including tip, will have to be nominated.   I suppose another option would be to leave a cash tip instead, but I can't see this taking off. 

All this reminded me that we've come quite a way since Bankcard appeared (in 1974).    It was withdrawn in 2006 but occasionally you see still see the symbol, such as in a local shop.

On a slightly different note, I wonder if travellers from overseas will be inconvenienced?  So long as they know their PIN, they should be OK.  I understand that in the US, chip technology is only now being introduced, but this is a different issue.  Even with the change, presumably card readers will continue to accept magnetic strip cards, so that they can process debit cards.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Mister Bianco

Mister Bianco in Kew gets a few rave reviews on Urbanspoon as well as a 14.5 rating in the 2014 edition of Good Food Guide (together with the usual gushing, adjective-rich write-up).  Yes, the food was nice.  My "ricotta and spinach gnocchi" was a little different, and I'm told the barramundi and cotoletta dishes were good, too. I couldn't complain about the prices (at least, for the food), which were fair enough and in line with the quality we received.   Nor did we mind sitting upstairs where it was probably just a tad quieter than downstairs appeared to be (every little bit makes a difference) although the stairs are certainly challenging!

But there were a couple of small points.

The website doesn't reveal the winelist, and probably for good reason:  it's expensive.    And our waiter freely admitted that he wasn't familiar with the Italian wines on it.  A bit of a flaw in the service we thought, which was otherwise fine.

In relation to the deserts,  the menu said it was a "dark chocolate souffle", but in fact it was raspberry:  yes, very nice, but not as described and no explanation.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

To - and from - the tennis

We can't really complain about public transport arrangements to get us to the tennis, because the 605 bus from the end of our street drops us off right outside HiSense arena.  True, the frequency isn't great (and is even worse in January), so we have to plan our trip, but once we get that sorted, it's an uncrowded, virtually door-to-door, air-conditioned trip.  And if the bus times don't suit, there's always the train to Richmond.
Getting home after an evening session is a different matter.    The session we attended was on a Thursday and play was still in progress at midnight.   The bus doesn't run after 7 pm, and the train service in the evening is a bit "lumpy" with the services being bunched together.  Once again, some pre-planning is needed.   But the big, big issue is, what do you do if the game is still going at midnight?   True, on Fridays and Saturdays, the trains  run until 1 am, and in addition I suppose there are "night-rider" buses.  The latter are a bit of a mystery to mere mortals such as me, and anyway they only run on Friday and Saturdays night.   On other evenings, the only option is a taxi or a tram back to the city if you had the foresight to drive in and park there.

In relation to the taxis: when we left in time to catch the last train - before the end of play at both Rod Laver and HiSense - the taxi queue was (I would guess) getting on for 100 metres.    There was an equivalent queue of taxis, true; the delay was getting passengers into the cabs  - not helped by a set of traffic lights just past the head of the taxi queue, which stopped the cabs from moving off.

What's the solution?  Perhaps there isn't an easy one.    I don't normally travel by train at around midnight, so I don't know if the quite-full train that we caught home is typical.   If there are regularly passengers around at that time, then perhaps run services until 1 am throughout the week (instead of just on Fridays and Saturdays)?  Otherwise, perhaps run them for the duration of the tennis?   This wouldn't solve the issue in relation to matches that went even later, but it would help.  Another possibility would be to run some or all of the tram services past midnight (in addition to the shuttle trams to the tennis, which do wait until the last match is finished).

After I had prepared a draft of this post, Daniel Bowen drew attention to a proposal for all-night trains at weekends.Of particular interest is  his comparison with other cities.  Apparently all-night trains aren't common around the world, but many cities have better all-night bus services.  From my intermittent observations, I would say that the signage of such services is in many cases much better than in Melbourne which, to my mind, is an important factor in encouraging their use.    While there's some information in Swanston St, there's not a lot elsewhere.   It's not much use having a service if no-one knows about it. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

The mail to your door

I see that the Canadian post office proposes to cut out home delivery of mail.    Instead, letters will be delivered to "community mail boxes". It's all in the interests of reducing costs.

The issue is relevant in Australia, too, as I see that an increase in the price of stamps is being requested.

But, so far as Canada is concerned, I wasn't sure what a "community mail box" is.    My googling suggested that it's a group of mail boxes in a central location.  Presumably there wouldn't be a charge involved.

As a long-time user of a mail box at the local post office, the idea of the post office providing a free, secure location has quite an appeal.  We pay about $100 a year for the "privilege" of collecting our mail instead of having it delivered to the door.  Admittedly, most mail is available early in the day and the mail is held securely if we're away, but in some respects the idea of paying not to have the mail delivered is a bit odd!

Understandably, the idea of community mail boxes doesn't appeal to everyone.  Where will they be located in densely populated areas, and how far will you have to travel to get to your mail box?  What about the infirm who rely on the mail being delivered to their door?   And will the Canadian post office require mail being sent to a community mail box to be addressed to that mail box, or will it still be delivered if only a street address is given (in which case, won't additional sorting costs eat up any cost savings)?  We always publicise our mail box address, but in spite of this, letters are regularly addressed to our street address (and are delivered accordingly).

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Wilting agapanthus

Obviously we all felt the effects of the hot weather in Melbourne over the past few days.   The usual issues arose, such as fires, air-conditioning units on trains failing (but so long as the fans still work, isn't it better to run a train that's not cooled rather than no train at all?), fears of power outages....and so on.

[Edit - updated image]
I was scheduled to attend a meeting in the city late one morning during the hot spell, but it was cancelled due to the heat.    Initially I thought this was a bit of an over-reaction, as the temperature mid-morning, when I would have been travelling in to the city, wasn't too extreme.  But by mid-day, things had heated up, so I decided the decision was probably for the best, after all.

Instead, I walked up to the local library.   It was full!    Clearly, the locals were taking full advantage of the  air-conditioned atmosphere!  I heard that the local shopping centre was also quite busy!

Stressed street tree - doesn't look good!

There's been a bit of an effect on some of the younger street trees, but hopefully most will recover (EDIT - although some, such as those in the image, look to be in a bad way).  Even the agapanthus in the street - not my favourite plant  - are showing signs of heat stress.  No doubt they'll survive.

Friday, 17 January 2014


We were given tickets to the Australian Open (thanks C! ) and had an excellent evening there.  Perhaps it's a couple of years since I've been, but the there has been a lot of development in recent times.

Our seats were for the Rod Laver Arena, and although in the 2nd tier, they were in a corner block.   Having sat over the years in various locations, it now seems to me that corner seats are very satisfactory, particularly if you're not in the lower rows, because you can take in all the action without turning your head.

There was a delay getting into RLA because the day matches ran over time.  In particular, the Sharapova match earlier in the day had apparently gone on for a long time (I see in the paper this morning there's some controversy about the hot conditions most of it was played in).  So we had a few minutes to look around the outside courts, and saw a few games by Dimitrov who is apparently an interesting guy.    On the centre court, when play started (shortly after lightning and even a little rain had resulted in suspension of play outside), we saw Azarenka and then Andy Murray.

Their opponents aren't well known, but both played some good tennis just the same and the matches were interesting to watch. Murray's opponent was a French qualifier, who had possibly had never been on a centre court in his life, but the crowd warmed to him (as it had to Azarenka's) and by the third set he was lapping up the attention.


Outside court

Rod Laver arena

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Windows 8 on the way out?

There  are reports (and also here) that Microsoft is already thinking of superseding Windows 8.  One of the quotes was, "Windows 8 is not getting a look-in from the corporate users and the consumers I've spoken to all say they are appalled by it."

I've previously set out my views about it (most recently here).

Frankly,  I wonder if everyone would be better served if desktop users stayed with Windows 7?   However, I suppose Microsoft need to keep changing things so as to sell more copies of the program.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Friends in High Places

I've  read a few of Donna Leon's crime stories in the past, and have generally enjoyed Commissario Guido Brunetti's investigations.    Brunetti is a high-ranking police officer in Venice, who takes his food and family seriously.  He is usually confronted with both the  bureaucracy and the corruption in Italian life.   He's mostly above such matters, although he couldn't be described as perfect.   He doesn't hesitate to utilise the computer-hacking skills of his co-worker, Signorina Elettra, for example, nor (occasionally) the connections of his high-placed father-in-law.

Friends in High Places isn't a new book, but I came across it a while back and put it aside for holiday reading, as I knew it would be very readable.  Brunetti is faced with a range of issues, and effectively solves the main plot but is forced to leave some issues unresolved -  an outcome  consistent with the imperfect society in which he operates.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


While at Lorne, we made what has become our annual visit to Qdos for coffee on the deck and a walk around, viewing both the art and the sculptures.   

View from the deck
All very interesting, but while (as always) we enjoyed the coffee and ambiance, we didn't find a sculpture for our courtyard to our taste, particularly having regard to the prices being asked!
Lily pond
Looking up towards the gallery and the deck

Monday, 13 January 2014

Lunch at Somers

We were invited to have lunch by C and P at their house at Somers.   Although the day started off as cloudy, by mid-afternoon the sunshine was great.   We enjoyed lunch in good company on the deck with a nice view out over Western Port.

Late in the afternoon we went for a walk on the beach.  The beach here is quiet but it's attractive in its own way.