194. The Southern Highlands & Illawarra

The Richmond Club caravan park had a 4-day stay limit so we were soon off again, heading for the NSW South Coast (Illawarra) via Campbelltown where I hoped to pay my respects to great-great-great-grandfather Hugh Vesty Byrne, a political convict who was freed on arrival,  in the historic cemetery next to St. John’s Roman Catholic church, one of the oldest churches in Australia. But I did not have the address of the church, and the Information Centre, when we finally found it, was closed. As we were towing a large caravan Dave was not at all inclined to drive around the town streets and we couldn’t just unhook and leave the caravan somewhere. So reluctantly we decided to press on. I had been to the cemetery in 2006 on the 200th anniversary of Hugh Vesty Byrne’s arrival in Australia, so it was not a huge disappointment to have to miss a second visit.

We had very foolishly neglected to book well ahead, it being the Thursday before Good Friday. The traffic on the Hume Highway was incredible, not helped by an accident some way ahead, four lanes inching along a metre or so a minute in a 110 km/hr zone.

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We soon discovered via several helpful Apps that all the camping grounds around Kiama were fully booked up, and even many well away from the coast, eg at Berry. There was one which was near the highway but was not answering the phone; hopefully we left the congested highway and went there only to discover the campsite was closed. So on again as far as Mittagong where there WAS a campsite available.

As a footnote, when we arrived I could not find my glasses. After a quick search of jeep and caravan it was concluded that they had fallen out when we were inspecting the closed campground  earlier and trying to find another place … so we drove the 60 or so km back, did a thorough search of the roadside, found not a thing, so back to Mittagong and there were the glasses coyly hiding on the kitchen bench behind a curtain, where we had both searched previously. Just as well too as it seemed I had left my spare pair of glasses beind in NZ.  At least we did not have to drive quite as far back as we did when Dave dropped the caravan keys north of Mackay and we had to retrace our steps from near Eungella.

Spotted somewhere – “…plant a shade tree and then do something about it…” Errr – water it?

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Once settled in camp, we began to explore the Southern Highlands area. Autumn colours were everywhere. This is an old church near Berrima. The little township was full to bursting with tourists so we did not linger that day but visited several days later.

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We did however inspect Harpers Mansion, high on the hill overlooking Berrima and at first sight not particularly imposing. “The circa 1835 house is a fine example of a colonial Georgian residence and is furnished in period style”. Once derelict, it has been lovingly restored by the National Trust and was full of interesting things. What delighted me was that every room had a written description of all the room’s contents and their history, the sort of stuff that guides reel off effortlessly but which is usually quite lost on me. For example, the four-poster bed may have been comfortable with its multitude of mattresses, but was also probably full of fleas; a thinner mattress may have actually been more desirable.

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Outside was a maze full of screaming children… and us! Eventually we managed to escape. There was also an extensive garden with many very old roses including several examples of the lovely white climber ‘Souvenir de la Malmaison’, first exhibited in 1893. Being late autumn of course the roses were well past their best. At the time the National Trust took over the house and grounds, the ‘garden’ was a paddock; the Trust employed a landscape gardener who lived in the house with his family for several years and gradually created the lovely garden there today. Lucky family.

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We had a quick look at the famed Berrima courthouse and gaol but did not linger. I was hoping to see inside the courthouse but it has been taken over by a sort of continuous Son et Lumiere-style performance with, of course, an inflated entrance fee.

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Another day we drove down the mountain range via the Kangaroo Valley to Nowra, going over the Hampden Bridge on the way. Almost identical to the bridge at Ophir in NZ. “Hampden Bridge is not only a remarkable example of Victoria engineering, but is also a unique demonstration to create an architecturally romanticised structure in a beautiful remote rural location.”  It was an important factor for the district’s development – “… Cobb & Co. coaches ran frequently, mail deliveries were easier, an Annual Show was organised…”  “…. It is still considered a vital link to facilitate the continued viability of the entire valley.”

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Dave had long wanted to see the Naval Fleet Air Arm Museum outside Nowra. It did not disappoint, although the news that the cafe had closed and only vending machines were available was not welcome, and “…would we like to sign this petition asking for the cafe to be reopened…?“ We would and did.

Dave wants to add some photos so …… next blog!

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