“Stop!” I shrieked as we hurtled along the Bass Highway, south of Melbourne, Australia, “Stu-u-u… sto-o-o-op. It’s the giant worm!”
Ha. Writing that makes me laugh. When I shouted at Hubby to stop, we were on our way from Melbourne to Victoria’s Ninety Mile Beach, and from there heading up the Great Alpine Road to our motel in Bright, in the last month of what we called our “Great Adventure Downunder.” Aptly named because everything in Australia seemed to be great. Or Giant. The “Great Ocean Road,” the “Great Alpine Road,” the “Giant Orange,” the “Giant Pineapple.” I could go on. So before we headed up the Great Alpine Road, we had to stop at the famous “Giant Worm.” I mean, we had to, didn’t we?
|Our pub accommodation, somewhere in Australia, 2003.
Of all the places we’ve travelled, Hubby and I reminisce most fondly about our trips downunder. We’ve been twice to New Zealand and Australia. Both times I took a leave of absence from work so we could travel in the winter. Both trips lasted three months; that’s a long time to be away from home, but we had a lot of country to cover, or should I say countries.
Our first trip, in 2003, was Hubby’s idea. He’d recently retired, and so he did all of the dreaming and most of the planning while I was busy at work. I was happy to go but, honestly, not excited. Not passionate at the thought of being there like Hubby was.
That changed when, over the Christmas holidays, two months before our departure, I read Bill Bryson’s travel memoir In a Sunburned Country. Hubby and I each read it, one after the other, and while we were doing so, read so much of it out loud to each other, that it was like reading the book twice over. We even took Bryson with us so we could enjoy his musings about Australia while we were actually there. The book is filled with tabs, marking favourite passages.
And thus my shriek that day as we passed the “Giant Worm” exhibit. Hubby pulled a 360° turn and we went back. We’d read about the giant worms in Bryson’s book. Once inside we wandered through the animal exhibits, and what I called in my journal “wombat heaven,” saw the hairy wombat sitting on a pile of dirt next to his burrow staring at us dispassionately, sidled nervously by a few peacocks (well, I sidled nervously, making sure to keep Hubby between them and me), fed the kangaroos, and wondered where the heck the giant worms were.
Eventually, we saw some very long, very skinny stuffed worms in a glass case. And gazed at a couple of earth-filled aquariums, willing the real live giant worms to make an appearance. They never did. Ah, well. As Bryson says in his book, “There’s only so much mileage you can get out of a giant worm.” The best part of the visit was Billy the cockatoo, who we saw as we were leaving. He stared at us calmly from his perch as we tried to make him talk, then waited until we sighed and turned to walk away, before squawking, “Come back.” We looked at each other, giggled, and went back, tried to get him to talk again, then walked away again, whereupon he repeated, “Come back.” This could go on all day. “Oh, no you don’t,” Hubby waggled his finger at Billy the second time. Maybe there was a hidden camera, I joked… recording how many times dumbfounded tourists obeyed Billy and went back. Ha. We love places like this when we’re travelling. Kind of quirky, kind of tacky, definitely different, and usually memorable.
|This is as close as I came to seeing a giant worm.
|Hubby outside “Ned Kelly’s Last Stand”. Definitely not a whimp.
The very (very) talkative owner met us in the lobby of the theatre; we were the only customers that afternoon. He ushered us into the first of several rooms, invited us to sit on a bench, told us that each room would tell a different part of Ned Kelly’s story, and disappeared. According to my journal, “we were in what appeared to be a darkened sitting room, walls covered in fake cobwebs and spiders, with several shadowy figures, actually homemade dummies. The lights rose a little and one figure seated in a rocking chair in front of a fake fire began to rock. Candles flickered on the mantle, and a child-sized figure started to whimper. Then the head of the central figure in the room lit up, and a kind of weirdly blue face, unmistakably that of the very verbose owner, albeit looking a bit stretched, appeared under a fringe of hair, and began to talk. The sound was a bit off, but we think it said, “Welcome, blah…blah… hear my story… something, something.” It warned us to “brace ourselves,” and emitted a hokey Vincent Price laugh. Other figures lit up, and tried to take up the tale. Another face flickered blue, made a strange sound, and then went dark. Hubby whispered to me, “Did it just burp or was it trying to say something?” “Mechanical problems?” I replied. We smothered our snickers when the lights went up, and the owner reappeared to usher us into the next room.”
|Animated barroom of the Glenrowan Hotel the night before Kelly’s capture.
“The next room, supposed to be the barroom of the Glenrowan Hotel the night before Ned Kelly and his gang were “ambushed,” was alive with light and music and movement. We had to walk around to see everything. A figure behind the bar, supposedly Ned himself still with the owner’s video face, talked now and again, telling the rest of the story. A piano played in a corner, a barmaid pulled pints, a man playing cards moved his hands and turned his head to ask Ned for a drink, a dog spun on its back feet and lifted its ears, twice a rat ran across the top of the bar, on the pipes overhead a boy sat swinging his feet, while another swung down on a metal thing that Bryson called a “trapeze.” There was so much to see that we paid no attention to the story, much of which we couldn’t hear anyway. Until a gunshot rang out, I whooped, and the owner, in the flesh this time, returned to guide us to the next delight.”
|Me with a new friend. And yes, that’s a real stuffed cat on the barrel
I won’t go on. We eventually emerged into the sunshine with the owner still talking. If we’d been able to face listening to what would undoubtedly have been the long version of the story, we might have asked him how he ever started this disarmingly cheesy, but amazing, spectacle. All those dummies, all those moving parts, all that work.
Instead, we had our picture taken with a ten foot high statue of Ned in his armour and left. “This was our kind of day,” Hubby said as we drove back to Numurkah. Yep. We agreed with Bill Bryson that this place was “so wonderfully, so delightfully, so monumentally bad… it was worth every penny.”
We have lots of wonderful stories from our Great Adventure Downunder. But really, none can compare to the day when we were not whimps, and witnessed Ned Kelly’s last stand.
Not even the day in Adelaide when on our way to turn in our rental car, after weeks and weeks of perfect driving on the left, we drove down an eight lane street the wrong way, pulled a 360° turn in the middle of traffic, only to drive down the other side the wrong way.
Now you can’t be a whimp and keep your cool doing that, folks. Ha… who said anything about keeping our cool?
How about you my friends? Any travel tales to share today? Quirky but charming sights to tell us about?