Town Beach, Port Macquarie...this was actually taken at about 2pm, although it looks like early morning.
Okay, I've finally gotten it all together...culled from my notebooks, camera and memory, here's my account of my holiday (this may take awhile to read, so you might want to get a drink before you settle in...but did you expect anything less?).
Newcastle was looking a bit sad under a grey, drizzling rain as I boarded the XPT for Port Macquarie via Wauchope on Thursday afternoon. On a mid-week afternoon, out of season and with school in session, I'd expected the train to be half empty, but to my consternation I had a seat mate. So I sat, squashed, for about an hour, till I got up to visit the ladies and realised that everyone was bunched up at the front of the carriage, to make life easier for the on-board staff, and the rear carriages were empty. So I grabbed some seats to myself, sprawled out, and settled in to enjoy the journey. The train journeyed inland up into the mountains, before heading back towards the coast. We passed through Maitland, Dungog (I considered visiting my old friend at the museum there, but sadly there wasn't time), Gloucester...and by now I badly needed a cigarette. A beer wouldn't have gone astray either, but there was only lite beer available on the North Coast services for some reason - regular beer being freely available on all other Countrylink train services. I decided just to forgo this, and the on-board meals, and wait till I arrived to get a drink (it wasn't easy!).
Eventually the train arrived in Wauchope, and I took the connecting bus for the 30 minute journey into Port Macquarie. It was dark by now, and the grey drizzle at home had turned into a rather steady rain, but I didn't really notice as we pulled into PMQ itself. I hadn't been there since 1995, and then with my parents, so my memories were a bit hazy. Anyway, the place looked far livelier than I expected, especially for a wet winter week night. I was pretty tired though, so I got myself a huge serve of deep-fried seafood, an even larger quantity of white wine, and retired to my lodgings for the night.
So on Friday morning, I set off early to explore the town centre. I grabbed some breakfast, had a wander and checked house prices in estate agents windows. There were quite a few interesting shops, and I was amazed to discover several shops that sold Goth clothing. In particular, I was very taken to discover a full skirt made of variegated layers of velvet, most unusual and not the kind of thing that you'd find in Newcastle. Then I checked the price tag. $275. $275?!? I couldn't believe that Port Macquarie could support a market for that kind of thing. But I did buy a very inexpensive corset, and also some jewellery.
All this was very well, but I wanted to get a feel for the "real" Port Macquarie, so I went into the town visitors centre to see what was on offer. I paid little attention to the brochures for camel rides, waterskiing and rainforest tours, but immediately was drawn to the literature from the Historical society. There was a well-mapped and easy walking tour of the town historical sights, so I set off on that. It took me up the hill from the town centre, towards the beach, where I stopped at an overlook that was the site of the town's original cemetary, where I spent a few suitably reverential minutes of reflection. Only four headstones remained, and three of those were too weathered to be read. I took a photo of the fourth, but it didn't come out.
From there, I walked down to the beach, but it was too windy to sit and soak up the sun, so I decided to walk along the breakwater past the river back into town. Along the breakwater, I discovered something wonderful. It was lined with large flat rocks, and each of them had been decorated by a group of visitors or locals, with pictures, messages, welcomes or whatever else they wanted. Most of them were dated within the past three years, and there was suprisingly little graffitti. Here are some of the rocks I managed to photograph:
This rock says, "It has better to have loved and lost..." etc, etc. Sometimes I think I would have preferred the never-loved part.
I'm not sure what this is meant to be, but it's cute.
"Got Nothing to Be Thankful for? Check your pulse!" I bet the people who painted this rock drink a lot of herbal tea and play the bongos.
This is meant to be Sami Lukis, former Today Show weather host. I have to admire the effort, if nothing else.
I love this idea...seems like a much better way to remember a friend than putting an ad in a newspaper which will just get thrown away.
These rocks extended the full length of the breakwater, about 2km, and you didn't even notice how far you'd walked because you were too busy looking at them. There was one in particular that creeped me a bit...it was a couple describing how they'd been married at the headland one sunset, with bats and dolphins around. I had a dream only a few weeks ago that I was attending a stranger's wedding at sunset, on the coast, with dolphins in the water and bats in the air. But the thing is, this dream was very recent, and this stone was painted in 2004 on occasion of that couple's second anniversary. Spooky.
Back in town, I decided to visit the local historical museum. I didn't have such high hopes after the Dungog museum - which basically looked as if three local men had cleared out their sheds after fifty years, put all the stuff in one room, and called it a museum - but the one in PMQ was wonderful (but then, I'm a sucker for this stuff). Anyway, I was particularly taken with the displays of antique dolls, replicas of the town in convict days, and an exhibit of bridal dresses and the brides of the local area throughout time. The museum even provided a rack of child-size wedding dresses, so little girls could dress in replicas of what they'd seen, which I thought was a wonderful touch.
By now, my never-reliable energy levels were beginning to droop, so I went back to the flat for a nap, before getting some dinner and - foolishly - deciding to give the local nightlife a try. I say "foolishly" because on my stroll through town earlier that day I'd only seen two buildings that may pass for clubs, and they were both labelled, "nitespots". Nonetheless, I wandered into the closest hotel, however right away realised it was a mistake. I was the oldest person there. And I mean I really looked like the oldest person there, even though I often get asked for ID at home. That was something odd I noticed about PMQ - there were hardly any people in their twenties. Lots and lots and lots of retirees, quite a few families with kids, what seemed like an abnormally high number of teenagers, but the whole time I was there I saw barely anyone my age. I guess unless you worked in a shop or in tourism, or had a trade, all the twenty-somethings from PMQ had had to leave to get work in the cities. Also, there's no university there, which might otherwise keep people in town a while longer.