Monday 26 July 2021

Little Lives: Part 1 - Tumbarumba

My argument went like this. “Shorty”, our VW campervan, our tinyhouse on wheels and additional access to adventure in these covid-constrained times, would allow us to effectively move house whenever we fancied. Want a house by the sea? We just drive to the coast and make it our short-term home. Or a cabin in the mountains? Simply drive into the hills and stay awhile. There we could experience “little lives”, snippets of “what-if” life, in places we’d always wanted to be.

["Shorty" has a practice run]

I thought it sounded good, but Lynne wasn’t so convinced. She’d always thought we’d move by the beach after retirement, and my “little lives” idea sounded like a fob off. (I guess we’ll be having that “move to the coast” discussion for a while yet.) In the meantime we agreed that some adventures in “Shorty” were overdue. We had acquired a short wheelbase VW Transporter van, and had it converted into a campervan by the good folk at Achtung Camper in Geelong, Victoria. Being the SWB version, we nick-named it “Shorty”, and so far the name has stuck.

[Sheep near Tumba living contented little lives]

After a series of shakedown trips within Tasmania, we felt ready to venture to the “big island”, mainland Australia, via the Spirit of Tasmania ferry. A reunion in Sydney with people we shared our youth with some 45 years ago was the impetus. Around that event we planned some cycling, some walking, some beach bumming, and some family visits. But Sydney, in late June: let that sink in! 


Right from the start we sensed this would be a different trip in terms of forward planning. Melbourne was in partial COVID lockdown when we arrived, but we were permitted to transit Victoria, stopping only for food, fuel and toilet breaks. So our plan for a leisurely trip to some Goulburn Valley wineries, and a few days sipping, riding and living the “little life” dream of being winemakers, went west. Actually it went north, as we made a bee-line for the NSW border. We didn’t stop until we got to Tumbarumba.  

[Yep - Tumbarumba]

Of all the border towns on offer, why Tumbarumba? Well, to be fair the Riverina Highlands are lovely, and they do have vineyards. But the main attraction for us was a new 21km rail trail from Tumbarumba to Rosewood (or “from nowhere to nowhere” as someone unkindly put it). Tumbarumba’s beauty is on the subtle side. It nestles in some pretty hills, though calling them “highlands” would be a stretch. Its fame is somewhat meagre too, although a 1959 vernacular poem by John O’Grady has made it memorable for some. Its famous line is about a bloke who is “up at Tumba-bloody-rumba shootin' kanga-bloody-roos.”

[Pretty wooded hills near Tumbarumba]

[Low hills with vine-covered slopes]


The local roos would certainly have needed their winter coats, as overnight the temperature plunged to minus 4. I was glad Lynne had made sure our doona had been given a feather reinforcement a few weeks before the trip. The only other incumbents in the wee caravan park found their water had frozen overnight. 

[Ready for the ride: Tumbarumba to Rosewood]


The temperature didn’t encourage an early start, but the sun soon enticed us up the hill to the start of the cycle trail. We’ve been on plenty of cycle trails in Australia and New Zealand, but this would be the first time we’ve ridden one that is sealed the whole way, in this case in bitumen. There are reassuring hints that this was once a rail line, with old-style station names, the remains of old platforms, plenty of cuttings, and various bits of rail paraphernalia. Crucially, as with most rail trails, the incline is quite merciful. Trains are generally not able to climb a slope of more than 2 degrees. So while the vibe is retro, the surface and the infrastructure (think bridges, fences, crossings, toilets, sign posts, interpretive panels) are all shiny new. 

[The rail trail is paved and smooth all the way]


Lynne was still recovering from a cold, and we were both short on riding practice. More than that, we’d had a rushed and stressful trip across Victoria, after a sleepless night on the ferry. Sometimes you go for a walk or a ride not so much because you really want to, but more because you know you need the brain re-set that being out in the fresh air gives you. And so we rolled down the smooth track through hilly open woodland, before breaking out into wide, gently rolling hills dotted with eucalypts, sheep and cattle. It was quietly, gently exhilarating, the perfect way to ease us back into the present. Our coffee stop at a little wayside seat added some needed caffeine into the mix, and also some humour. While we had a thermos of hot coffee in our packs, we’d forgotten cups. All we had was a urine specimen container that we use to carry milk or condiments. So we took turns to sip micro-brews from our little yellow container, in between giggles.

[Lynne pours a "specimen" cup of coffee!]


[We found a ewe and lamb warming themselves on the track]

Our minds soon turned to the future. If we went all the way to Rosewood, we would then have to ride all the way back. The total trip would be close to 45km, rather more than we had planned. But I was quietly confident we could do it, especially given we were riding our e-bikes. We’d learned that Rosewood had a café, encouragingly called “Gone Barmy”. With the offer of another coffee there, this time from an actual cup, I convinced Lynne we could do the full return trip.

[We got there - and rested at Rosewood Station.]


And so we did, the return ride being just as delightful as the outward journey. Even the feared uphill to the Tumbarumba station proved a toothless tiger, and we were soon back with “Shorty” ready for a shower and rest before heading to the pub for a well-earned dinner. Our little life in Tumbarumba had been short but surprisingly sweet.

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