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The paucity of text and pics during the last month might lead readers to believe that I bagged the blog and succumbed to writerly exhaustion, death or taxes. Well, I did fall prey to taxes, unfortunately. This is tax season in the Antipodes. But after the annual go around with the numbers and receipts our activity level and enjoyment picked right up.

The Melbourne Festival kicked in with the installation of a kindergarten full of alarmingly tall, one-ton, black cherubs with reptilian tails and wings. They arrived courtesy of a Russian art collective, which had previously set them loose in Lille, France. Prominently placed in downtown Melbourne, the six meter (20 foot) shiny black babies gave pedestrians good reason to pause and stare. They looked ready to pounce, mischievous and not at all angelic.

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The rest of the Festival could not compare to the dramatic presence of those enormous angel/demons, but a theatrically-oriented arranger and composer of Indian music certainly did his best. His set, inspired by the red-light district in Amsterdam as well as Hollywood Squares and Bollywood movies, played a stunning counterpart to the bewitching folk and classical music from Rajisthan.

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Then there was “Hedda Gabbler,” performed with dazzling panache by a renowned German troupe from Berlin. They turned Ibsen’s claustrophobic play into a modern fable of psychopathic obsession. With the ultra-modern set spinning like the events on stage, it was hard to know if the conceit really worked or not, but I was rooted to my seat. We followed that up with an Edinburgh Fringe Festival favorite– The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane. This one deconstructed Hamlet with three actors auditioning for the role, two well-trained, live Great Danes, and a scene in which actors pop in and out of garbage bins. The piece passed me by as “Much Ado about Nothing,” but it was our fourth night out.

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Then our guests arrived. We have known each other a couple of decades now, first in Montreal, later as next-door neighbors in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia. After a long career as an educator and director of a day care, Barbara has launched a new career doing workshops in “challenging behavior” mostly in North America, occasionally overseas. This year she landed a three-day workshop in Melbourne hard on the heels of one in Singapore. While our respective wives worked, I introduced Martin to the sights and sounds of the City.

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I had made firm plans for one outing during their stay at our place, up into Spa country with a stop at Hanging Rock (for a picnic, of course,) followed by a visit to one of the Gold towns. In the meantime, Barbara had been urged by some of her “students” to go down the Mornington Peninsula for a visit to wine country. It seemed simple enough. We could go down on Friday, avoiding the weekend crowds. What I hadn’t counted on was the very beginning of the four-day weekend heralding the “Race that Stops the Nation,” – the Melbourne Cup. In a version of hell reminiscent of my worst memories of Los Angeles, our arrival back to Melbourne corresponded exactly with everyone else’s attempts to flee via the Westgate Bridge.

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Hanging Rock seemed to have moved. I concluded that after driving in circles for a good half hour in a vain attempt to find the back road that led us there on one of our first outings after we bought a car. We eventually got decent directions at a tourist information centre, learning that a craft festival was in progress so our entry fee would be reduced. Unfortunately, the weather gods had picked that day to be taking their cues from the demons. What with the wind and the rain, the craft fair was a far cry from the thriving place it should have been. One soaking after another dissuaded us from tackling the strange, spooky mountain.

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Our accommodation, at least, was all we could have hoped. We had booked two cottages at a place called Bodidharma in Shepherd’s Flat, out on the border of the bush. My wife and I had stayed there once before, and been charmed by the ambience. With fresh pasta from the fair and a couple bottles of wine from town, we settled in to keep watch for boxing kangaroos. It was sparring season, apparently, but they were shy. We had to settle for the DVD of “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” long walks, and a fascinating discussion of the rewards and perils of bush life and the prospects of reincarnation.

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The next day we drove up to Maldon, one of the best preserved of the small gold towns in the area. A folk festival was in progress, so the town’s population had probably doubled that very day, not unlike the actual days of the gold mine boom. The discovery of gold happened in 1853. At least 20,000 miners flocked to the area, working the alluvial deposits. Within a year the surface gold was largely exhausted, and by the next year, only 2,000 miners remained.

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After a hearty lunch, we attempted to orient ourselves and follow a map with a walking tour of the town’s architectural gems. It took in more territory than we thought possible, but the founders of Maldon had no reason to think the gold would play out as quickly as it did. Our tour came to an end in front of the huge chimney of the Beehive Mine. It was one of many that kept the place hopping until 1929. A total of 2,105,000 ounces were extracted from the Tarrangower Goldfields. It would be worth close to 3 billion dollars today. The present population is about 1600, not counting kangaroos and wallabies.

It was a fine trip, even if the kangaroos refused to come out to play. Stay tuned. I haven’t given this old blog up yet. There is more to come.

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