July 20 was our 12th wedding anniversary and, as is our custom, we decided to take a short vacation to mark the occasion. This time the destination was the home of my brother Tim and his partner Leonie. A few years ago they moved from Sydney to Lakes Entrance, a beautiful part of Australia in the Gippsland district of Victoria. We had been promising ourselves that we would visit, so we finally did.
Rather than taking the shortest route, we decided to take the slightly more leisurely route of about 750 kilometres with an overnight stay in the village of Central Tilba, NSW. We had not been there before, but took Tim’s recommendation and booked a bed and breakfast.
Central Tilba looked great on the internet, but was even better in real life. The area was settled by Europeans well over 160 years ago, but when gold was discovered in 1850 people flocked to the district. With the gold running out, dairying took over. The village was founded in 1895, when Samuel Bate created a subdivision on his land and sold lots at auction. His descendant, Jeff Bate (MP), was later to marry Zara Holt, the widow of Prime Minister Harold Holt who had gone missing in 1967 while swimming at a Portsea surf beach in Victoria. Zara (a Dame by then) lived for some time in the former post office (1873) that is now the bed and breakfast where we stayed. In fact we had the exact same bedroom Dame Zara used. She was so smitten with the village (and new husband Jefferson?) that she ensured its preservation by successfully lobbying for the entire village to be listed as a National Heritage site. There are just 20 or so buildings, all timber except for the cheese factory, and a little over 70 inhabitants.
We spend the next morning absorbing the atmosphere of the village on a brisk but sparkling day, buying cheese and souvenirs. Then we drove the remaining 360 kilometres to Lakes Entrance, arriving just after sunset on a dark, cold and windy evening. However the welcome, and the home, was very warm and we settled in quickly and started planning our stay with Tim and Leonie.
About 35 kilometres from Lakes Entrance is the nearest major town, Bairnsdale. It’s very pretty with a population of about 12,000. Main Street is enormously wide with gardens up the middle. One of the features is the Catholic Church. Externally it seems rather too big for a town of that size and the red brick design is uninspiring. However inside is a different story! The high ceilings are beautifully painted with murals in the style of the Sistine Chapel. The work was done by out of work Italian artist, Francesco Floreani, during the Great Depression>. As Sunday was our anniversary we attended 11am mass there, stopping afterwards to take photos and chat with the friendly priest.
Later the same day we visited a fascinating motor museum in the Central Gippsland rural town of Maffra. Locally known as “the shed”, the Gippsland Vehicle Collection is a non-profit community project. The exhibits are constantly changing and are in the main lent to the museum by local enthusiasts. It’s quite surprising that such a wealth of motoring history was just sitting around in barns in nearly farms.
Over the next couple of days, Tim and Leonie drove us around Lakes Entrance and the surrounding district, and it certainly is spectacular. The ocean is
separated from the lakes by a long narrow line of dunes known as Ninety Mile Beach. Over the years the ocean has broken through at various places and then the dunes have closed up again. There is now a constantly dredged opening at (appropriately) Lakes Entrance. Driving around, it seemed as if the lakes or feeding rivers were always visible on at least one side of the road.
Tim and Leonie’s home is about five minutes from the centre of Lakes Entrance, up in the hills. It’s very comfortable, situated on a large block of land looking over a farm at the back with another farm across the road in front. Leonie is an avid decorator and antique collector.
There are old Singer sewing machines in mint condition, collections of china and many other nostalgic treasures throughout the home. Tim too has taken up collecting, currently specialising in miniature commercial vehicles bearing logos of products sold in Australia in the first half of the 20th century. He trades worldwide, and eBay is his home page!
There are a number of vineyards throughout the region, with one of them, Wyanga Park, being the oldest. Better still, it was only about 15 minutes north of Lakes Entrance, so that’s where we headed for lunch on Wednesday. Cold outside, but with an open fire in the tasting room, the wine was always going to be given the benefit of the doubt.
The white was young and a little expensive but enjoyable. The four-year-old cab-sav was good value, so we had one of each with our very tasty antipasto lunch platter. (Tim generously volunteered to drive home.) That night friends of Tim and Leonie came for dinner and we had more of the wines with Linda’s traditional Filipino casserole.
For our return trip to Sydney we considered travelling the much longer alpine route via Mount Hotham, but that was overtaken by events when we needed to go home a day early. So we decided to return the way we came and stay overnight at Central Tilba again. We had enjoyed meeting the owners of the bed and breakfast, Ken and Linda Jamieson, on the way down; they seemed a lovely genuinely hospitable couple. But when we phoned they apologised saying they were taking a couple of days off and would not be there. But they quickly added that as they knew us we were welcome to stay and they would leave the key under the door mat! They were true to their word and we enjoyed another night there, exploring the village again in the morning before heading off for an easy trip home.
All up… another wonderful wedding anniversary with my dear wife.
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