It’s an unusual named town, and it wasn’t until I was older that I realised that there was a ‘w’ in the name. This is where my dad was born, where he grew up, and again now later in life where he lives. It’s a rather small town, population around 2,000. Quiet main streets, clean gardens and footpaths and old shopfronts. To hear of the town from my dad, when the Americans were stationed here during WWII, it was a place of intense activity and with some of luxuries that made much larger towns envious. There was an enormous airfield here, which is still being used, though these days it’s a hotspot for gliders, rather than bombers. It’s a friendly, safe place, and my brothers and I remember it all too well from the visits during school holidays (which weren’t always what we wanted to do – no Nintendo allowed). But, now as an adult, I look back on those times positively – nice weather, fresh air and a fun river to swim/fish/play in.
Feeling a little like a pig that is being readied for market, we were fed and fed and fed again this morning. We had plans on going out walking with dad (he’s a walking fanatic, borderline obsessive), but ended up sitting in the sunshine reading the newspaper, and talking with him (I’d say 95% listening, 5% talking).
We didn’t end up leaving his little cottage in a Lions retirement village until after 4PM, and then it was only to go to the park to have a BBQ down by the iconic Murray River, one of Australia’s most important river systems. Steak, sausages, potatoes, onions, coleslaw and the flies were loving it – being in the cool weather for the last few weeks, we’d forgotten how invasive and frustrating the flies can be. Oh, and as a special treat, dad shared one of his prized bottles of red wine with us – Hennings 2005 Shiraz. The wine has quite a story, too. The original founder of this vineyard came over on the same boat that my great-great-great-great-grandfather came from Germany on in the 1850s. After being naturalised, they were allocated neighbouring farms, but sadly that farm is no longer in our family. The wine was pretty damn good, too – very, very smooth, rich and all too easy to drink.
Thankfully I didn’t have any problems during the night after the alcohol that I’d consumed yesterday – who knows, maybe my intolerance to it has ended? Maybe I’m cured? Only one way to find out…
The beautiful clear skies that we had yesterday didn’t carry over to today. Not the end of the world, but just kicking myself for not going out and making the most of the day.
Dad loves walking (I’d say it’s an obsession – and if you knew him, you’d agree), so we went for a historical walk around town, with him recollecting stories of the town back in the 30s and 40s. There are lots of small creeks and lagoons that fill when the Murray River is in full flow, which was a few weeks ago.
We walked out towards where the current day golf club is, which used to be a part of the giant USAF/RAAF base. At the end of WWII, there were some 280 giant Liberator bombers housed here (among other planes). There were also several thousand RAAF/WAAAF personnel and many more USAF – hard to believe for such a small town. Sadly, at the end of the war, 700 planes (including 190 Liberators) were melted down into scrap ingots, and very few Liberators remain. (This is a 1/4 monument to that loss)
We crossed back over and followed the bank of the Murray River for a while. It was great visiting these places that had many fun childhood memories attached to them, like trees that we used to climb out on and jump into the river. It was surprising to see how little and how much had changed. There were trees growing on the beach that I don’t remember seeing before.
From the beach we walked back in to town, past the old buildings, including the shop that used to be my grandfather’s grocery shop, and my grandparent’s house (which my dad later lived in, but has now been sold and is looking quite rundown compared to the immaculate gardens I remembered).
Late lunch/early dinner (dad’s special spaghetti) matched with a bottle of red wine that we bought in Margaret River in WA (it wasn’t quite as great as I remembered it at the tasting… nor as good as dad’s Hennings, but still quite nice). Even managed to get the MotoGP on, much to dad’s initial disgust/sadness.
After dinner we went for a quick tour out to dad’s block of land outside of town, nothing extravagant, only 25 or so acres. Seems he can’t quite decide if he wants to live there, or if he wants to sell it…
And the rest of the day was filled with us showing him photos of the travel (he doesn’t use computers, so hasn’t seen this blog). My parents did a similar trip in the late 70s before I was born, and it was interesting hearing how much things have changed (and not always for the better). Will be interesting to see what it is like in 30 years time…