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5 March 2000, Melbourne, Victoria

It was Sunday, and we decided to sleep in. I was up at 7:00, but Chris snoozed until almost 8:00. We got breakfast at Michelle’s, the hotel restaurant, then talked ourselves into working out. It was our first workout since Thursday morning. We had plans to catch up with Laurence Webb, a co-worker of mine who lives here. He works for SalesLogix, too, but we had never met. We had arranged for him to pick us up at the train station nearest his home around 2:00, so we needed to be on the 1:07 train out of Flinders Street Station. After we cleaned ourselves up from the workout, we headed out for a light lunch. It was still early, but we needed to eat before we caught the train.

We walked over to Southgate again to find lunch. We decided to try out one of the food courts and found a nice little sandwich shop there. We quickly finished and headed back to the hotel to get our packs for the trip. We got back to Flinders Street Station, bought tickets and checked the board to see which platform to use. It said that all trains to Eltham left from platform 1. By 12:55 we were on platform 1 waiting for the 1:07 to Eltham.

A train left platform 1 at 1:00 headed for somewhere else, then the display for the next train changed, showing that the next train left at 1:09 for Lilydale. That didn’t look right to us, so we asked a station employee where the train for Eltham left from. Even though all of the signs we had seen said platform 1, he told us platform 14, which is attached to platform 1 but down toward the east end of the station. We trotted down toward platform 14, apparently a new platform still under construction. It is under the station and is mostly bare concrete. As we walked up, the 1:07 to Eltham arrived, and we got into a nearly empty car for the ride.

Fifty minutes later, and right on time, we arrived at Eltham Station. After a few minutes, Laurence drove up in his Range Rover and gave us a ride back to his farm. He lives in a community named Kangaroo Ground. It was settled in the mid-19th century by Scottish emigrants. It is a beautiful area of rolling hills covered in grass and trees. It is very reminiscent of the California central coast and the Napa Valley. On the ride to the Webb Farm, we saw lots of vineyards, many with acres of sheer netting protecting the ripe grapes from birds.

Covered vineyards

Once at the farm, Laurence introduced us to his wife, Lynne, and their daughter Kimberly. During the past couple of days, a business crisis had flared up for Laurence, so he had had to make plans to fly to New Zealand that afternoon. He would be leaving at 4:30, which gave us only 2 1/2 hours to get to know the Webbs and see their farm. The Webbs have two horses and a pony. They also have two dogs, Bessie and Chance, a cat, and a cow that was due to deliver her calf in two weeks. All of those animals keep Lynne busy while Laurence is managing his territory from Pakistan to Japan to New Zealand. We sat on the porch overlooking the hills of Kangaroo Ground and chatted, getting to know each other better. When we asked about local restaurants, Lynne recommended the Flower Drum Chinese restaurant in China Town, just a couple blocks from our hotel. After a while, Laurence offered to give us a look at the rest of the farm.

Laurence Webb

Their house is on the top of a hill and the farm extends down into a valley where a creek runs. We hiked down the hill and Laurence showed us where he is clearing a space for a picnic area in the shade by the creek. Nearby is a 50-year-old swimming pool, now overgrown. A previous owner had built it and diverted the creek to fill it. The pool tiles, changing rooms, and ladder are still intact, but the bottom is overgrown with tall water plants.

We continued past the disused pool and onto a disused tennis court. Long ago it had been a grass court, but in the years since, it has been grazing land for cows, making the once-smooth surface bumpy and hard to walk on. Laurence told us he has pictures taken there with women in long dresses holding tennis rackets. He is trying to flatten it out again, then cover it with sand to become a dressage ring. Past the tennis court is more pasture land. I kept hearing a sound like a low-pitched bell from a hotel desk coming from the trees around us. I asked Laurence if it was birds or bugs, and he said “Bell birds.” Makes sense to me. As we approached a patch of woods, Laurence stopped, pointed, and there were three kangaroos bouncing down the hill about 200 yards away from us. Laurence and Lynne said we were very lucky to see them, since they don’t usually come out during the middle of the day. Unfortunately, they were too far away for me to get a picture of them.

Chris and Dale

There are flies in the the country; we hadn’t been bothered by them in the city. As I batted one from around my face, Laurence mentioned that that motion — waving your hand across your face to shoo a fly — is called the Australian salute. I’m sure we’ll be using it a lot in Alice Springs, Uluru, and Kakadu.

We returned to the house, and Laurence and Lynne decided to show us the old watch tower, built many years ago to spot brush fires. We all piled into the Range Rover and drove five minutes away to the tower. From the ground, it’s not much to look at, but up four flights of steep stairs is a very nice view of the surrounding countryside. We got a very nice view of the Melbourne skyline 17 miles away. I know it was 17 miles because there’s an iron plate on each wall showing directions and distances to lots of landmarks visible from the tower. One of them pointed towards Melbourne, listed the city name and then “17m”

It was time for Laurence to leave, and his taxi was waiting for us when we got back to his house. We rode with him as far as Diamond Creek train station, where Laurence suggested we step into the local pub if our train was going to be long. As it turned out, we had about 30 minutes before the next train, so we headed into the pub. Parked next to the door was a bicycle with a small dog in the basket on the handlebars. In a room adjoining the bar was an off-track betting office where people were betting on horse races from all over Australia and watching them on TV’s. We each ordered a beer and sat at a corner table to drink it. The pub wasn’t crowded, but it looked like the people there were regulars. We got some curious glances, but no stares or questions.

About five minutes after we sat down, the dog on the bicycle gave a couple of barks. One of the women in the bar shouted “Alan, your dog’s going off!” When she got no response, she shouted it louder. Finally, a large man wandered out of the OTB room and said “What?” “Your dog’s barking,” she said. He stumbled out to the bike and, presumably rode away. Neither the bike nor the dog were there when we left.

The time came for us to catch our train, so we finished the beers and walked back up to the station. The train was there in less than 5 minutes, right on time. I got confused when the first stop was Eltham. I had thought that Diamond Creek was between Eltham and Melbourne, and I thought we were going the wrong way. I asked another passenger who assured me we were on the right train. The next station was familiar to us from our trip out, so we felt better and relaxed to enjoy the ride.

I followed the train stations on the listing I had printed out for our trip out from Melbourne. We arrived at Parliament Station, the fourth station we had passed on the way out and headed on. The next station should have been Melbourne Central, according to my printout, but it looked an awful lot like platform 14 of Flinders Street Station: bare concrete, construction, etc. However, there were no station signs to be seen, and I was sure we couldn’t have missed three stations somehow. The train sat at the platform for about five minutes, then pulled out. We watched in amazement as we passed platform 1 of Flinders Street Station. It turns out that the trip out had made a circle around the city center, and we were starting that route again.

No worries. We just got off at the next station and had a little farther walk to our hotel — about seven blocks instead of two. Once there, we looked up the Flower Drum in the phone book and called to make a reservation. They were completely booked for the evening. Too tired to go chasing restaurants again, we decided to eat dinner downstairs at Michelle’s. That turned out not to be a bad choice, as the service, wine, and food were all excellent.

Once again, we were seated near a table of twenty or so girls. This night was different from the previous one though. These girls were all Japanese and in their late teens or early twenties. Unlike the women at Othello, they were very quiet during their dinner, barely audible over the music playing on the restaurant’s PA system.

After dinner, we went back to the room where Chris read, and I wrote Saturday’s journal. Several times we heard loud talking and laughing coming from down the hall. I think the girls from the restaurant got tired of being so quiet. Whoever it was, they quieted down after not too long.

We went to bed early, because the next day we had to get up early to catch a shuttle to the airport at 6:50am!

Next Day