Alf, Murray and the Australian dream

I’ve thought a lot about Alf recently. Alf Stewart, that is, the Home and Away living legend.

Enjoying a pretty true blue Aussie experience, a couple of weeks ago I got to visit the lovely town of Echuca, on the banks of the Murray River. I stayed in an actual caravan park (so Home and Away), and even saw my first ever Gallas. You’d know what a Galla is if you watched Home and Away (or if you’re Australian). Previously, I’d only ever heard of them when uttered in the classic Alf expression “Flamin’ Gallah!” which Alf likes to throw around when confronted with Summer Bay idiots.

Back to Echuca, the town’s tourism website would like you to know that it’s home to the largest riverboat fleet in the world, and yes, I can confirm there were numerous paddlesteamers based at Echuca’s port. It also refers to the area as Echuca Moama — ‘twin towns’ on either side of the river, which I guess don’t individually warrant their own websites. Sorry about that E&M. The beautiful paddleboats conjure up images of ye-olde-yesteryear, and appropriately enough the historic port is bursting full of tourist-enticing attractions, including a blacksmith, woodturner, and even a giant log. No, seriously, it’s a really big log. Check it out:

Giant logIf you think that’s special, wait till you see the Thong Tree.

Thong tree

I don’t know how a thong tree comes into existence, but now that I’ve seen one in all its glory, I feel my life is a little more complete.

After we wandered around the port, we headed to what would be the main event of the day — watching the footy at the local pub. It was the first time I’d ever watched a game, so I had the enthusiasm of the uninitiated, helped along by a few beers, naturally. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on, but the players were pretty and I cheered along when appropriate. Except that time I realised I’d been backing the wrong team. Sang was a little unimpressed with that one. I also had to have her explain what ‘carn’ meant, as in, “Carn the Bombers!” (Come on, apparently.) Australia, you have much to teach me.

Something I’ve definitely learned to appreciate is the Aussie obsession with parmas. It’s basically a national dish, on every pub menu and served in an assortment of tasty options. At the American Hotel in Echuca (delightfully Australian despite its name), you can order the parma half-size, which is perfect for those that don’t want a coronary alongside their crumbed chicken and chips. Most parmas tend towards the size of a dinner plate, and that’s without sides.

Parma

With the footy and an hours-long spell at the pub checked off the list, it seemed time to enjoy some of Echuca’s other attractions, perhaps even get off my arse and maybe get close to nature. A stroll along the river reminded me that we were in ‘the country’, and that reminded me that I was in Australian country, and therefore dangerously close to all the potentially life-threatening creatures that inhabit said country. I’ll admit I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t see any whopping great spiders, but I did see a seriously oversized ant. It might not sound that impressive, but woah mama, I swear I nearly tripped over that beast.

We did see some of these, however.

Carp corpses

European Carp, strewn all over the sand along the river. It was freaky, they were EVERYWHERE. Many were still alive, little gills fruitlessly expanding and contracting. Some had no eyes — pecked out by birds, we guessed in moderate repulsion. Turns out these carp are considered serious pests, so much so that if you catch one you’re officially not allowed to return it to the water, or you face being fined. Bummer. For you and the carp.

On a happier note, Echuca really is beautiful. It’s a statement of the extremely obvious, but wow, Australia’s landscape is unique.

Echuca tree

It’s all dry and dusty, all muted tones of silver, orange and dull green. It’s an exciting feeling, being somewhere new, in new surroundings. Echuca was my first real taste of Australia outside of Melbourne, and I liked it. Yesterday I received my Medicare card, now I can say I’ve stayed in a caravan park. I’m crossing things off the Aussie checklist, and I think Alf would be proud.

 

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