After struggling for over an hour to find our way onto the M1 (the largest road out of Melbourne), we managed, with only a few minor arguments, to eventually put the city in our rear view mirrors. We were at last on the broad Princess Highway, heading towards Gelong, Colac and onward towards Port Fairy. As Australians drive on the left, I had very little trouble adjusting to the driving. Well, apart, from the occasional tussle with a road train, the huge trucks that pull up to four, yes, four trailers at once. You find them hurtling along almost every Australian freeway, their huge metal frames cutting a dust filled, petrol fuelled swathe through the the vast outback. Apart from that, there was nothing to hinder a smooth easy drive cross-country. Well, apart from the odd Kangaroo, Koala, possum and god knows what else lurking in the bush with a rabid fascination for headlamps. Oh, and my darling wife’s phobia of my driving (I have tried to explain to her on many occasions, that when it comes to driving, bickering wives cost lives!!!). Apart from that, the driving was pretty straight forward!
The road was as straight as if it had been built by Rome herself. Like a line on a diagram, it stretched into the distance and as we were driving West, straight into the sun. As we drove on into the blinding sunset, we sped past sleepy town after sleepy town. Each of their Victorian high street facades appeared untouched by time, the only nod to modern consumerism being the Carlton Draught or Victoria Bitter signs above the local pubs and the Coca-Cola signs outside the general stores.
Four long hours later, just as the sun finally set, we dropped off the highway and onto the main street of Port Fairy. The road was wide but nothing more than rough gravel. There were scattered buildings on both sides of the street but there wasn’t enough to describe it as a high-street. Unfortunately, as it was now dark we had no idea what the place was really like. The only thing for sure was that Port Fairy was a one horse town, but as there were three pubs on the main street, we figured the place couldn’t be all bad.
We found our hostel, an attractive converted merchants house at the back of town and quickly dumped our stuff in the converted out building that would, for the next couple of nights at least, be home. We checked the time and noticing it was 9pm, made a dash for the pub(s). Not, you understand, because we were desperate for a drink, although it would be hard to argue otherwise, but because in Australia, it appears to be illegal to eat after 9pm.
Sure enough, we couldn’t find a scrap of food. The restaurants, cafe’s and pubs had closed their kitchens at quarter to nine, just as we had feared. We eventually found a helpful young waitress who pointed us in the direction of a pub at the bottom of the high street where they apparently served pizza over the bar. The pub was as rough as boots, as was the pizza, but as they say, beggars can’t be chosers. The bar was also the local bottle shop and TAB, or betting shop. Betting shops and bars are a common combination in Australia and they provide a heady mix of drunken frustration and out and out violence. Although we appeared to be fine and the locals were friendly, we ate our carpet crust and moved on.
We found a beautiful pub further up the high street that couldn’t have been more different. The Caledonian, was a traditional Victorian, Australian bar. It was the hub of the town and was packed with locals dancing the night away to the live music (a heady combination of folk and rock covers) provided by a guitarist that looked and unfortunately sounded like Paul Hogan. Their hospitality was faultless. We didn’t stagger out until some time after 1.am, a host of new friends, a complimentary six pack of Victoria Bitter and an invite to the next days Port Fairy country fair. Once back in our out building, we crashed, exhausted but enthused and excited by our invite to the fair and the prospect of winning the raffle with its top prize of a truck of wood.