Eureka Pioneers memorial, Eureka NSW
Earlier this year, we’d moved to Beechworth in Victoria. While we’re pretty content with things in general, we decided we needed to do some remodelling of our house plus a modest extension and a new hardwood deck – and as we’re in a heritage area that meant endless paperwork and permits.
On top of this we’d had one of the wettest winters for years – the backyard developed permanent pools that we half expected to be colonised by tadpoles.
All of this meant I hadn’t got the garden laid out, or the builders had been able to start, so we decided on a trip away to the Byron hinterland in northern New South Wales where, being sub tropical, it was warm and dry.
Rather than Byron itself we stayed in a studio in Eureka, a small village about 10kms out of Bangalow, which is an older if touristy town with some nice old nineteenth century shopfronts, a decent restaurant or two and some pleasant coffee shops.
Eureka had hardly anything. The shop, the post office, the pub had all gone, all that was left was a primary school and a couple of churches, which made for a laid back atmosphere. In contrast, Federal, the next village along had kept its post office and shop, and had acquired a really fun outdoor Japanese cafe – excellent Japanese vegetarian food – and a weekend only restaurant that did a small selection of classic American dishes like ribs and pulled pork, all served with the trimmings. Cash only, bring your own beer, and very relaxed.
While Byron is pretty touristy, and there’s a lot of people with ‘proper’ jobs in agriculture, there’s also an alternative vibe on the back of the protesters who came to protest at the clearing of the old growth rainforest in the seventies, and who put down roots and stayed on.
This makes for a lot of hippie weekend markets – more an event or a day out that a seious market. The weekend we were there it was Mullumbimby’s turn so off we went to the market, which was a little bit like a small scale eighties festival with people selling veggie food – somosas and chickpea empanadas anyone ? –plus Indian cottons and people selling spiritual awakenings – made me quite nostalgic for my time in mid-Wales in the eighties and worth it for the retro alternative vibe.
The rest of the time we bushwalked in the rainforest – swimming in the ocean was off the menu due to a constant onshore wind.
The other really good thing we found was the Tweed Valley art gallery – a small regional gallery which had inside it a recreation of Margaret Olley’s Sydney house cum studio –definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. (The Margaret Olley connection comes through the fact that her family had a property in the area and Margaret had to row across the Tweed to catch the school bus in the 1930’s).
On the way back south we overnighted in Armidale (having gone the long way via Bellingen, another alternative hangout) and Dubbo in the central west. I can’t say much about Dubbo as it was pouring with rain and we took the easy way out and ate in the hotel, but Armidale looked interesting – good solid nineteenth century buildings in the town centre including an array of big solid brick churches. We ate in a pretty good Indian restaurant but the town – which is a university town after all – was amazingly quiet on a Thursday evening – hardly anyone seemed to be out and about.
The next day we stopped off in Tamworth for brunch and I had a chance conversation in a bookshop with someone who used to work in Armidale – apparently UNE’s move to online teaching has meant that the number of students on campus is down, and of course, with material online, they’re not buying books are they? (or if they are it’s either e-texts or books bought online), an interesting take on the online revolution.
Our final day driving back was longer than it should have been – we were going to take the back way via Wagga, but when we got to Forbes we found the road south was still closed due to flooding, so we ended up dog legging across the country to the Sydney Melbourne freeway, including a complete failure to find anywhere for lunch in Cootamundra – it’s one of these towns where everything still closes at twelve noon on a Saturday – including the cafes …