For the last few days, Jill and I have been staying at the RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) Resort at Healesville. It is the first time that we have been away together since Jill’s accident in Singapore last September. It was a test to see how well we would cope with some time away from home together.
We decided to go to Healesville because it was close to home and had a number of easy things to do that would make our time interesting. It is a busy tourist town, just over an hour from Melbourne and is located close to the Yarra Valley which has some of Victoria’s finest vineyards. Healesville was surveyed in 1864 and was named it after Richard Heales who had been the Victorian Premier from 1860-61.
The RACV Healesville Country Club is located in this region – in the heart of one of Victoria’s premier wine and fresh produce regions. It has 80 very comfortable accommodation rooms that offer glorious views from their balcony or patio. A stay comes with a full buffet breakfast, free internet and 18 holes of golf. These are all included in the room rates. We are not golfers, but we enjoy the parkland environment of this place. The Club is a wonderful place for a short break, weekend visit, a special occasion (like my 70th birthday). It’s only open to members of the private RACV Club.
On current display in the lobby is a 1969 Aston Martin sports car. Fully restored, it is the actual car that was driven by James Bond (George Lazenby) in the movie ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
We arrived on Sunday after a leisurely drive – just an hour from home. On Monday, I had an important on-line meeting with my Probus Club committee and after it concluded, late in the morning, we headed off to the Healesville Sanctuary.
The sanctuary was established on land that was previously part of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Mission. The reserve was started by Sir Colin McKenzie who leased the land from the government and used the area to study native fauna for medical research. It is now run by Zoos Victoria. As a zoo, it is home to over 200 species of native mammals, reptiles and birds. They all live in a natural bushland setting. The circular walking track around the sanctuary leads through a number of enclosures or habitats where you can see fauna including Tasmanian devils, lyrebirds, a colony of ibis, kangaroos, emus, wallabies, dingoes, echidnas, owls, cockatoos, flying foxes, lorikeets, bats, lizards and many others.
The Koalas were as dopey as ever but the two bus loads of people from a visiting American cruise ship were very impressed nonetheless. The koalas did come to life later in the day when the keepers brought some fresh bunches of Eucalyptus leaves.
I took a few photos in the Reptile house including this one of a Bearded Dragon. These lizards are found across Australia, typically in arid or semi-arid environments. They live up to their name: like a dragon, they are equipped with armour of spiny reptilian scales that include a “beard” of spikes under its chin which it puffs up depending on its mood.
My favourites were the birds. These Red-Tailed Black Cockatoos were in one of the large aviaries.
We were fascinated by one of the Lyrebirds putting on a full courtship display. It was dancing with its tail over its head and imitating a variety of forest birds – kookaburras, whipcords, parrots and others. These are normally shy birds that prefer the forest floor where they scratch for grubs and insects. The male’s spectacular tail of fanned feathers, when spread out in display, looks like a lyre (a musical instrument of ancient Greece). The Lyrebird is 80 to 100 centimetres long, including his 55-centimetre-long tail. He is dark brown on the upper part of his body and lighter brown below, with red-brown markings on his throat. His tail feathers are dark brown above and silver-grey below. Lyrebirds are capable of imitating almost any sound. As well as their own calls, clicks and song, you can hear them mimicking loud clear sounds made by other birds and mammals, including humans.
During our visit to the Sanctuary, Jill managed to do well on her mobility scooter, spending four hours driving around its gravel paths. That was far more than I might have expected and is a positive sign of her being able to cope with some future time away from home. I expect her ongoing rehabilitation treatments will also help.
After we checked out of the RACV Club on Tuesday, we drove on another 25 kilometres and over the mountains to the town of Marysville. On 7 February, 2009 this little town was at the heart of one of the worst bushfires in Victorian history. Most of the town and the surrounding bush was destroyed. Forty-five local residents died in the fires and it was estimated that nearly 90% of the town’s buildings – including the police station and the primary school – were destroyed. The town has mostly recovered although there are many vacant blocks where houses an accommodation buildings once stood.
Before returning, we spent some time at Steavenson Falls, named after John Steavenson who surveyed and named the town, These are the highest waterfalls in the state of Victoria. There is a large car park and two walks to the falls – the “top of the falls lookout” which is 800 m one way, takes 15-30 minutes and is steep; the Steavenson Falls Walk which is 700 m return, is flat and takes 15-30 minutes (this is the direct walk to the falls).
Our drive home (by the name route) took us back through beautiful forest and fern covered valleys across the Black Spur. The Black Spur (or Blacks Spur) gained its name from the route taken by displaced Aboriginal people from northern Victoria on their way to a mission settlement at Corranderk near Healesville. Severe fires, such as those experienced in 1939, have burnt this area, but the vegetation and wildlife are adapted to survive or regenerate after such events.
The dense forests in this area were not particularly favoured by Aboriginal people, and were originally a barrier to European settlement. Europeans first settled the area in the 1860s to access the Woods Point goldfields and soon the area was recognised as a valuable source of timber. The water catchment value of the forest was also recognised last century, and dams were built at Maroondah and later at Upper Yarra as part of Melbourne’s water supply. They supply the city with some of the most pure water in the world.
Overall, these few days away were quite a success for us. We now look forward to spending more time away on short breaks away from home.