Today is the day Australia sets aside to honor their soldiers who fell in battle. I had a chance to sit through a high school convocation celebrating this day with a full orchestra and students singing. Finally, after an address to the class about the struggles of the diggers (soldiers in Aussie slang) during the various wars, a lone student playing an acoustic guitar sang a wrenchingly plaintive version of “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the auditorium. Most of us don’t know the words to this song. Eric Bogle wrote it just in 1972. Here are the first two verses.
Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray’s green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said, “Son,
It’s time you stop ramblin’, there’s work to be done.”
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.
And the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.
And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin’, he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell —
And in five minutes flat, he’d blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.
But the band played “Waltzing Matilda,”
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.
Note: A “Matilda” is the pack carried by Australian Bushmen or Swagmen. To “Waltz Matilda” was to carry your pack around Australia’s outback or bush.
Brisbane to Adelaide
A driver picked me up early in the morning for the transfer to the airport. He commented that it must be strange for me to be picked up by an Italian rather than an Aussie. I nodded and explained that I knew that many of the early immigrants to Australia were from Italy and Greece after the convict period. Plus, we ended up speaking Italian together for the trip to the airport. He was originally from Rome.
The early morning streets were still empty however several Anzac Day sunrise services were emptying in neighborhoods as we made out way to the airport. Old soldiers were standing in groups wearing their medals preparing for the parade later and then a day of drinking with their mates, playing Two Up or spending time with families.
The two-and-a-half-hour Qantas flight from Brisbane to Adelaide was uneventful. (The distance is similar to flying from Boston to Chicago or from Reno to Denver.) Breakfast, that we don’t find on most airlines in the U.S., was good and I progressed through my about the history of Sydney to the mutiny against Captain Bligh, the military governor (yes the same Captain from Mutiny on the Bounty — this was his second mutiny).
Adelaide airport is spacious and clean. Cleanliness of the public areas of Australia is a constant. The people seem to take care of their cities and towns. I waited for my group and we eventually bundled into a van for the one-and-a-half drive to Barossa Valley.
The road took us through downtown Adelaide past Victoria Square, their main square, and into North Adelaide. In the town center the Anzac Day parades were just finishing. Police were still at their parade roadblocks. Crowds of families with racing children were milling about. Veterans strolled down the sidewalks wearing their blazers with medals proudly pinned across their breasts, and one of the last brass bands marched past us just before we crossed the Torrens River.
The twin parts of town, Adelaide and North Adelaide are side by side, separated by the river. Parklands surround both. On a map it looks like a convoluted green figure eight — square on the bottom and round on top. The built up beige city areas are ringed by green parks.
Our driver explained that the parks were created to be a clear zone that would take the place of walls to protect the city from attack in the early days of colonization. Theoretically the width of the parklands was the distance a cannonball could fly back in 1836.
These parks seem to have every sport available for the Adelaide residents. There were archery ranges, cricket pitches, rugby fields, golf courses, swimming pools, biking trails, racecourses and lawn bowling clubs. The parks also contain a botanical garden, playgrounds and a zoo.
The houses of North Adelaide are small stone structures with wide porches. The trim along the porches is Victorian gingerbread reminiscent of the houses one might see in Cape Cod, Key West or New Orleans. Most of these houses are set in well-manicured gardens.
To the Barossa Valley
The city gave way rapidly to countryside then heavy forests and hills. We wound our way beside the twisting, turning and occasionally churning river through thick gum-tree forests, taking the scenic route to Barossa Valley. There were few houses interspersed in these forests. The first village of any substance was Cudlee Creek where a wildlife preserve has albino wallabies, kangaroos and other local species.
A short drive further and the landscape changed to rolling hills and pastures with a stand of cultivated commercial pine trees. Cattle, sheep and horses grazed. Orchards of pears, apples, apricots, peaches and cherries stood beside the road. These trees and pastures slowly gave way to the vineyards of the Adelaide Hills then across the Para River; we entered the Barossa Valley with vineyards stretching into the horizon.
The largest town in the valley is Tanunda with 10 wineries within two-and-a-half miles. The cute town has a notable furniture store, Wohlers, that maintains a steady stream of curious window shoppers checking out a dining room table that seats 24, massive couches, lawn furniture and everything from silverware to placemats.
The first winery we visited was Kabminya Winery, a tiny modern winery that is experimenting with underused varietals such as Pinot Blanc, Carignan and Cinsaut. Of course, they make big Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon wines, but always with a small mixing twist. My favorite of the tasting was Irma Adeline 2003, a blend of Shiraz, Matero and Grenache. Their Muscat dessert wins were also excellent.
The last vineyard visit of the day was at the Langmeil Winery. This was the wine maker whose wine was served in business class on Qantas during my flight. Here we walked through the vineyard to see their 164-year-old-growth Shiraz — arguably the oldest vines in the wine world. The wine from these old vines is handpicked and carefully made and sold for A$100 a bottle.
Finally we settled into our accommodations for the night, Peppers the Louise (08-8562-2722). This is the only true luxury property in the valley. It has 15 luxury suites that focus on elegance and privacy. Gated courtyards with high limestone walls and shaded terraces provide for total privacy. The modern fittings and furnishings with flat-panel TV, marble bathroom, jetted tub, his and her sinks, heated towel rack, rubber duckie and separate rain shower complete the experience.
Their upscale, award-winning Appellation Restaurant has been ranked by regional critics as one of the top three restaurants in South Australia and by Gourmet Traveller Magazine as one of the best in the world. The menu focuses on locally grown and raised produce, fish and livestock. The menu changes based on availability of local ingredients. Naturally, the wine list is one of the most extensive in the valley.
Tomorrow, I visit more vineyards, orchards and cheese makers in the valley.