The traditional country outing

Today we were country bound. A tradition, that we have (okay, so we’ve only done it done twice now, so it’s not much of a tradition), is to take our visiting American relatives up to our friends’ farm near Ballarat. They’re also American, and enjoy having their fellow countrymen to visit. Perhaps they do weird American things together when I’m not looking; I don’t know.

We also traditionally get my mate Brian to tag along with us. So once again we met Brian at Spencer Street station, ready to catch the train to Ballan, where Steve and Gay and their son Chad would meet us in a small convoy of cars for the drive to the farm.

We had a few minutes before the train left, and since we hadn’t had lunch yet, I nipped down to the cafeteria to see if V/Line had absolutely anything the remotest bit edible. Fortunately they did (they must outsource the cafeteria service – government railways food isn’t normally edible), and I returned to the train, where we munched and slurped on sandwiches, drinks and assorted chocolate goodies during the trip.

The train left the suburbs and sped through the countryside. While Dan slept, the rest of us had a merry old time, making "the bush" joke ("there it is, the Australian bush") and casting evil looks at, and making Darwin Award jokes about, the kids at the other end of the carriage, who were forcing doors between stations. They all got out at Melton, just as the conductor predicted. (Who was it that said "the only thing wrong with public transport is the public"?)

About an hour after departure from the city we reached Ballan, and deftly leapt from the train to be met as planned. We all piled into various cars, and headed straight for… the fish’n’chips shop. Having loaded up with copious amounts of chips, Steve and Gay revealed the plan: to drive around the place looking at various landmarks, before heading to the farm.

Steve and Gay have distinct driving styles. Gay is cautious, but knows her way around the area very well. Steve drives a bit faster, but apparently doesn’t know his way around quite as well, and ended up taking the "scenic route" once or twice. Perhaps we should have held bets to see who would reach each destination first.

First stop was Lal Lal Reservoir, where we gazed out over the water and munched on chips. Then we headed around to the nearby Lal Lal Falls, a quite spectacular waterfall. After that it was up to the top of Mt Buninyong to check out the view, and a short visit to a gallery run by James Egan, an old bearded bloke who does a lot of interesting paintings.

We reached the farm and had our usual stomp around the fields, taking in the country air, watching out for snakes, and generally making sure we got our money’s worth out of our Blunnie boots.

Saturday night of course found us watching Diana’s funeral – in between eating dinner and playing chess and Trivial Pursuit. Having four channels on which to watch the funeral brought me to this conclusion: Channel 7 may be okay at covering football, but not funerals. In contrast with the grace and dignity that the other channels showed, Channel 7 was a mess.

7 had 3, count them, three commentators (what on Earth for?!), and as a result there was rarely a moment when at least one of them wasn’t talking. In those rare moments of silence, not only could rustling papers be consistently heard, but at least once a mobile phone rang loudly on air. But what topped it was that during the hearse’s trip away from the Abbey, a bloody great banner was slapped across the screen, with a big "7" logo and a "Vale Princess Diana" (or something) filling up the bottom fifth of the screen. In one shot, showing all of Pall Mall with the hearse at the bottom of screen, the banner even obscured the hearse! Well done 7.

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