On Australia Day (26th of January) whilst on the way back up north to Sydney from Melbourne thought we’d take at detour through the King Valley wine region. We went there not for the wine but to view the William Hovell Dam spillway that my wife was interested in seeing because she is an engineer.
As one drives through King Valley one will see there are plenty of signs declaring the area a gourmet food and wine region. To tell the truth though, there isn’t that much in the King Valley except the vineyards, and there isn’t that much accommodation outside of vineyards, except for the Mountain View Hotel in Whitfield.
Travelling in rural Australia can be a mixed experience. In general though, I can say that I have found that rural Victoria provides an encounter that I consider to be closer to the Australian stereotype that us Australians have in our minds than just about any other part of Australia that I’ve been to. That stereotype is peopled by down to earth, hard-working, gregarious souls who enjoy a good laugh and would generally make a person feel welcome. Sure enough that stereotype does exist, but there is also the darker side of the Australian archetype and that is of the hard-working, hard drinking, none too bright, belligerent xenophobe.
It was getting late in the day and we thought we would just stay at the Mountain View Hotel (although I don’t usually like staying at pubs). So we went in and stood at the sparsely populated bar while the bartender ignored us for about 10 minutes, without so much as a, “I’ll be with you in a minute” as he loaded up some cartons with bottles. As we waited, we could hear a drunken local loudly intimidating some other older fellow locals in a “in your face” kind of way, about how outsiders can just all go and get fucked.
After he ranted on for a while he then went on to invite his unfortunate drinking companions over to his place for a barbecue. It was obvious from the looks on their faces that they were struggling to think up reasons why they couldn’t go. One of the guys mumbled something about having to do some work on the farm.
Finally, the bartender who was probably one of the most dull-eyed people I’ve ever seen in my life came over, so I asked him if he had any rooms vacant. His red alcohol flushed face rolled his dead eyes back in his head as he pondered such a weighty question, and after what seemed to be an eternity answered “nah”. As he prepared to walk away, I asked if he knew of any other places around the area that might have some accommodation, and with the reflexes of a brontosaurus, he took another eternity to ponder this next heavy question, to answer “nah, you won’t get anything around here, they’re all full because of Australia Day”.
We got back in the car and went further north, up the road to Wangaratta, which is a pretty little tourist town, but there was no accommodation to be found there either. So off we went further up the highway heading north thinking we’d probably be able get a place to stay in Albury. On the way, we saw a sign to Chiltern indicating that there was accommodation 1 km from the highway and since it was about nine o’clock at night we thought we’d give it a try.
Just as we entered the town there was a motel that had a vacancy sign so we pulled in, but the reception was closed. At the entrance of the reception was a note stuck to the door with a telephone number to call for late check-ins. I called the number, which was answered with “hello Wayne speaking”. I told Wayne that I was looking for room to which he said, “can you see that little green box to the right of the door?” When I said yes, he said, “just reach in and pull out a key and tell me the number.” I told him that I had the number 12, to which he replied, “that is your room, just help yourself and I’ll settle with you in the morning.”
As someone who lives in a big city and who is constantly conscious of security, I was blown away by how relaxed and trusting Wayne had been. That’s the kind of trust that my grandmother used to speak of, of the time when she was a little girl and you could leave your house unlocked all day. I didn’t think people lived like that any more, and I sure hope that Wayne never has his trust abused.
After putting our things in our room we decided that we would go into town and get something to eat. After driving from one end of town to the other and then back again, which took about a minute, we decided to go into the Ironbark Tavern. Many country pubs serve fairly ordinary food, and we weren’t that sure that we could get some so late.
Imagine our surprise when we walked into a nice clean, freshly renovated establishment with beautifully polished wooden floors, that was playing Australian music hits, because it was Australia Day. And they were still serving food! The next surprise we had was at the price per glass of wine they were serving. Only $3.50, which is so cheap in comparison to Melbourne, which tended to be in a seven to eight dollar range, but it even gets better than that. There was a wide range of food on offer, but because we weren’t very optimistic about the quality of the food due to previous experiences in pubs, we only ordered the fish and chips for a very reasonable $10 each.
Again, we were surprised as we were brought a lightly battered delicious piece of fish with an excellent salad with some chips. My wife (Engogirl) said it was the best fish and chip she’d ever had in her life.
As the evening wore on, the pub filled up with locals celebrating Australia Day and a large group of them had also came in for food. Judging by what was brought to their table I’d say that everybody would have left stuffed and absolutely satisfied. The food looked very good and there was plenty of it.
Later on, I spoke to Kerrie and Phil who had just recently bought the Ironbark Tavern and renovated it.
They are both really lovely people of the type that lives up to the good Australian stereotype, and I wish them the best of luck as it’s not often that I enjoy such warm hospitality, good food and amazing value.
What a nice way to end Australia day.