Words and photos by Chris Gallagher
Mid-afternoon on Friday before the June long weekend, a select group of Motafrenz members and Frenz (Gordon, Paul, Lyric, and yours truly) met at the Calder Park service center, eager to get into the long-anticipated weekend away in the goldfields of Central Victoria.
After a warming McCoffee, we headed up the Calder Highway to our accommodation in Harcourt, an AirBnB known as Create @ Harcourt. We soon found out why. The décor was – well – idiosyncratic. No scrap or offcut of fabric had gone to waste before finding its place on a chair, cushion, stool, wall hanging, or quilt.
And if anyone lost a button off their shirt, there was a jar of them masquerading as decoration (or lollies!) on the coffee table! Nevertheless, it was a large, comfortable, two-story house with ample accommodation for all. We each had our own bedroom. Sheer loooxery! A unique touch was a pianola on the ground floor complete with a huge selection of rolls. However, we weren’t brave enough to try it out for fear of breaking it. So no Cockney knees-up for us then, Mother Brown.
Chris Q and Matt N-M joined us later that evening for a self-catered dinner, replete with wine and pleasant conversation. Staying in and staying warm was a wise choice since it was somewhat chilly to be out and about. Sadly Chris and Matt could only stay one night because of their work commitments.
Saturday morning turned out to be cool and cloudy, but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the events organized for the day. After a breakfast of indifferent quality at the café adjoining the house, we set off to the Wesley Hill community market where we met up with Daniel B and his friends who were staying at a different house but were joining us for all the planned events. Then we headed off to The Mill in Castlemaine for lunch at a perennial favorite of Motafrenz, Das Kaffeehaus.
Despite the absence of yodeling, there is a decided Tyrolean vibe to this Austrian-inspired restaurant. Although we could not book in advance, our liaison with the venue proved invaluable, as we arrived and were seated just in time to avoid the most horrendous queue which persisted the entire time we were there. Tony M, a member of the local LGBTIQ+ group, the Alluvians, joined us for lunch. It was great to have an opportunity to meet and liaise with other groups.
After lunch, Tony M led us to the Castlemaine Art Gallery where we browsed its collection of colonial and modern art. Having our fill of ‘kulcha’, President Paul led us on a walking tour of historic Castlemaine to look at the amazing buildings that the gold wealth brought to the town. Our really excellent day ended with dinner at the Bridge Hotel in Castlemaine where we were joined by another Alluvian, Ross F, and local Motafrenz member, Mark D.
Sunday dawned on our main event of the weekend – a visit to the Bendigo Art Gallery to see the Elvis Presley exhibition. We spent a good couple of hours learning about The King’s origins in poor, rural Mississippi and his unique talent taking him into Graceland, his home for life, and onto wealth and fame. We also saw the progress in his spectacular costumes, from typical 1950s boy-next-door style through to the bespoke sparkly jumpsuits of the 1970s. All the latter were made from close-fitting wool gabardine so he must have been really toasty warm performing under the lights! Only one of his hundreds of cars was on display. Amazingly, not a pink Cadillac but a discreet red MGA roadster.
Following lunch in town, we headed to the Central Deborah Gold Mine to join the Bendigo tram tour to the Joss House and back. The tram was a former Melbourne W Class, and it was packed as if it were peak period. Unfortunately, the Chinese Joss House, one of Bendigo’s oldest buildings, was not open because of post-Covid staffing problems.
Our next activity was a visit to the Stupa of Universal Compassion just outside of town. This spectacular building reflecting the Buddhist faith is progressing slowly as funds allow, but is now largely finished as a structure with only the internal fit-out and decoration to be completed.
Our day in Bendigo finished with dinner at a local Chinese restaurant where we were joined once again by Mark D and three of his friends, which made for a convivial, fun night.
Our last day in the Central Goldfields was essentially a leisurely drive home by ‘the long way’. Because some of us can’t last more than a couple of hours without a caffeine fix, we stopped at the delightful historic village of Maldon for a look-see and to top up our breakfast intake. We then headed to Newstead for a brief walk-around. Gordon took the opportunity to buy some hand-made cut steel artwork from the local men’s shed. Then Daniel’s Toyota chose to be most un-Toyota by declining the invitation to start. Flat battery. Luckily, Gordon’s Volvo came to the rescue with a jump start and we soon had Daniel’s Toyota running.
From Newstead, our travels took us next to the bakery at Malmsbury via the 1920s railway resort of Vaughan Springs. Since it was conveniently lunchtime by then, we duly fortified ourselves with pies and cakes at the bakery. Having taken in solid sustenance, we bade each other farewell and took our various ways home, surely looking forward to the next Motafrenz weekend away.