Words and Photos by Jeff Whitehead.
It finally happened. The on-again/off-again Coombe Estate tour event had been canceled two years in a row due to the COVID pandemic. Gordon and member Rober L, went to a lot of work to make this a wonderful day, and a wonderful day it turned out to be, albeit with trying weather that nonetheless didn’t dampen our spirits. The changes to the itinerary were made with help from Robert, where a drive to Walhalla for lunch, and then off to the amazing redwood plantation, was another enjoyable addition to the event, and added as a perfect way to finish the day.
The majority of us met up at the usual Chirnside Noodle box car park, while some zoomed past thinking that we would have already left, as time quickly overtook us. Before we headed off from the Noodle box, Gordon gave us the run-down of the tour, and thus we headed off in convoy to Dame Nellie Melba’s Coombe estate.
On arrival, and before the tour started, we made our way to the cafe for Devonshire Tea with freshly baked scones served with double cream and delicious peach Melba jam situated in what was Melba’s garage, complete with the original turret clock in working order. We learned that Melba was fond of cars and outdoor telephones, hence the original large garage now converted to a cafe.
At Coombe, we were guided to the museum in what was once the stables by our tour guide, the lovely Rose. Here the first thing we saw was Melba’s massive Louis Vuitton luggage collection, as one can only imagine what a world’s number one opera singer would drag along on tour for a costume change.
Rose also gave us all a good rundown on Melba’s history and showed us an OBE the Queen had presented to Nelly. I was a little ahead with the history here because I had the splendid pleasure of knowing Melba’s 90 year old niece (the Bird) many decades ago. The Bird spent a lot of time telling me about her playful aunty, and how she spent many holidays as a child here and had insisted she was going to take me here.
Regretfully that never happened however Rose, our learned tour guide, certainly made up for this, as many of the stories were the same. For example; there is a small one metre high entrance into the great cypress hedge one sees driving past on the way to Yarra Glen which is still maintained for the enjoyment of children and adults alike, which the Bird enjoyed and played in as a child.
Rose then took us outside and through Melba’s many differently-themed gardens. I think the highlight was the Roman swimming pool with it’s ornate decorations. Rose told us about Melba purchasing this dairy farm which she turned into a delightful playground and basically what seems like the perfect party house, complete with an outside telephone, as Melba loved to spend much time in the garden.
After our long walk throught the estate and gardens, and with threatening weather conditions, we then thanked our host Rose and gathered around the busty peach Melba statue for a group photograph.
From there we all headed off for our drive through the wealthy Gruyere Valley to the economically challenged town of Warburton for lunch in various venues where the threatening weather had started to rain cats and dogs.
Once the rain had abated it was off to the amazing redwood forest plantation. The experimental Cement Creek Redwood Forest in East Warburton
Cement Creek was only accessible via a rough-as-guts potholed road with deep puddles thus necessitating some serious car cleaning later on. Gordon did warn us that the road was unsealed, and that we should expect that sort of thing. Nonetheless the Californian Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) plantation was breathtaking.
The website told me to be aware of feral bees, ticks, and snakes but no mention of mud, but we did love the walk through these splendid fifty-metre-high trees planted out in uniform rows some many decades ago.
With the miserable weather threatening the worst again, and the ground wet and soggy, it was time to leave. Most of us chose not to drive up into the low rain clouds however Godon and Robert did, only to report later that it was lovely up there. Those two must have driven above the rain clouds; as for the rest of us, it was getting late, it was cold, and we had already had a wonderful day, so homeward bound we went despite the inclement weather.