LOST! – Workman’s Beach, A Model Low Cost Camp

I wrote this post a long time ago while we were travelling, but it ended up sitting in my draft folder and was never posted. I’m posting now because I became aware that this fantastic low cost camp in a prime tourist area was closed permanently in January this year. The advice from the Gladstone Regional Council states “Gladstone Regional Council has made the decision to close the campgrounds following multiple safety and security concerns and continued incidences of non-compliance with conditions for camping. So, once again, the few grubs ruin it for the many. 🤬

It saddens me that such a great facility is no longer available to the travelling public, because some travellers can’t/won’t abide by simple rules. This camp didn’t have a full time caretaker, but the rangers visited frequently and worked hard to ensure everyone complied with the usual camp etiquette. The losers are us regular, law abiding, caring free campers who just want to enjoy the natural environment in peace and quiet and “leave no trace”.

A fierce debate rages on caravanning internet forums regarding caravan parks: Zealous free campers hate them with a passion and go out of their way to badmouth every caravan park they see. Many other travellers are very happy to use them exclusively. Caravan park owners get blamed by the zealots for the closure of free camps and increasing restrictions on free camping in popular tourist areas. I personally don’t buy it. Most free camps get closed because they get abused by campers who leave mess and rubbish and even set up permanent campsites. Councils get sick of the constant maintenance so end up closing the camps. I’m sure there are some cases where local caravan parks actively complain about the establishment of free camps by shires (hardly surprising really if the local shire purposely undercuts the parks and evades local by-laws) but I’m not convinced there is an organised conspiracy by park owners to shut down every free camp in the country as is frequently claimed by the zealots. There are still thousands of free or low cost camping areas avaialble if you take the time to look, just dont expect to find them in prime tourist areas. There are also plenty of great caravan parks around that offer great facilites at reasonable cost, its just a matter of researching and finding them.

Now one camp that we found seems to break all the normal standards for low cost camps in high volume tourist areas. Workman’s Beach at Agnes Waters is a brilliant camp. It’s located just 1 kilometer from town, and competes with 4 caravan parks in the immediate , high volume tourist area of Agnes Waters and 1770. What’s more, its run by the local shire and run brilliantly.

20171107_0937381316221866.jpg
Workman’s Beach

For starters, this camp is not just set up on some useless spare land with no facilites, this camp has been well planned and has excellent facilites installed. Camp sites, there are around 30 of them pushed into the bushland,  are clearly marked out and delineated by timber borders. There is an excellent amenities block with composting long drops, hand basins and adjacent picnic tables. There is also a cold shower located in a screeend, paved area next to the amenities. There are no other facilites, but the camp is only a 1km walk from the shops in town, a very short walk to a gorgeous beach and access to a number of walking trails through the adjacent coastal dunes and headlands.

20171108_101127
Campsite amongst the palms
20171108_101953
Camps laid out in the bush
20171108_140038
Shower facility
20171108_1021552023164063.jpg
Amenities block
20171108_102212366718898.jpg
Picnic area 

All this is supplied for a nominal cost of $9.20 per person, per night. The two council rangers patrol the camp frequently, at least twice per day. They collect fees, monitor maintenance and keep an eye on any behaviour issues that might arise. The day we arrived, they had just kicked out a backpacker who was disturbing other campers and generally flouting the rules. The presence of these rangers ensures that everyone can enjoy a peaceful and relaxing time at the camp. The shire has picked their rangers very well, both guys are fantastic ambasadors for the local area, very knowedgable and very relaxed, but also happy to put their foot down if the rules are disobeyed.

The campers we saw were a mix of families, nomads and backpackers. The camp is naturally popular with backpackers, but we expereinced no issues at all with them and, as we usually do, found them great to camp alongside. There were a few campers who looked “permanent”, but again they were friendly and  caused no problems.

As far as we could see, there is no backlash from the local caravan parks, they were all very well patronised and each had their own point of difference to market to campers. All in all, a fantastic initiative by the local shire and a great example of how private parks and low cost camps can co-exist and together, benefit the local busineses.

Missives From Margs – Aussie Backpackers

While I was grape picking earlier this year, I met up with a lovely young Aussie couple who were travelling around Australia in their van. It’s rare to find backpackers travelling the country at the moment due to Covid. No new ones arriving and last seasons travellers have mostly returned home now. Even Aussie backpackers are few and far between as crossing borders can be challenging at times.

Holly and Tom were in Margaret River during grape picking season so decided to top up their bank accounts by picking for a few days. They are from the Geelong area and have taken 6-9 months off to travel around Australia, catching up with some friends on the way. I overheard them telling another picker that they had to pay $40 for a caravan park the previous night as they desperately needed a hot shower to remove all the sticky grape juice after a long day picking! They had been staying with friends for a few nights, but didn’t want to outstay their welcome, so a caravan park it was. As our caravan is parked at Boyanup for Deb to use while she is studying at TAFE, I offered them our back yard for the night with access to a hot shower and facilities. They jumped at the opportunity!

They pulled up and into our yard, and were excited at how private and flat their park was! It almost felt like we were on the road again, chatting over a drink in the late afternoon, sharing stories of our travels and helping them plan their next stops. They had both left their jobs after banking their savings, to enjoy a long holiday. They were travelling in a Hyundai Iload that Tom had modified for their trip. He proudly showed me his modifications and their set up for free camping. Their joy at the freedom of travelling the country in their van reminded me of how much I loved our trip and how it would be great to be travelling again. Their enthusiasm was infectious and reminded me of why I enjoyed chatting to the younger travellers so much on our journey.

Of course Sid was very excited to have some company in the backyard and he enjoyed playing with them while they did their washing (they were very excited to have access to a clean, free washing machine!) and prepared a meal. The next morning, after a solid sleep in, they headed off towards Perth to continue their adventure.

They were not heavily into social media, unlike most young travellers these days, but we exchanged phone numbers before they left. We have kept in contact occasionally, last I heard they were heading up Cape York, having spent a great time cruising up the WA coast and across to Darwin. Chance meetings like this are one of the things I love about travelling. The common bond of travelling into new regions provides the opportunity for meeting and talking to new people and the sense of shared community that brings. And it also reminds me of how wonderful most of the younger generation are, and how spending time with them helps to keep me young!

Holly and Tom set up the the backyard with Sid checking them out

Missives From Margs – Grape Picking

Food production and manufacture is in my blood. It’s not just that it has been my career for over 45 years, but I’ve also enjoyed growing it, cooking it and devouring it. Of course, food includes wine! Living here in Margaret River has given me a great opportunity to explore these interests further, whether it be engaging with local food producers at the local markets or getting out enjoying chatting to local winemakers and enjoying the fruits of their labour. This year, Covid presented me with a great opportunity to get involved in the making of fine wine at the ground level, by joining the grape picking workforce.

Here in Margaret River, as is common around most of Australia, grape picking is traditionally done by backpackers. The Government provides an incentive: in return for their labour, they can extend their holiday in Australia by another year. All they have to do is work in agriculture or remote areas for a defined period of time and they will qualify for their 2nd year visa. Unfortunatley, 2021 was a very different year: there were no new backpackers in the country due to Covid travel restrictions. Most of last years backpackers were still in the country, but as they no longer needed to qualify for a visa extension, many were not avaialble for working in the vineyards. This dilemma played out across the country, there was a severe shortage of fruit pickers and it had a huge impact on growers. Here in Margaret River, word went out via social media that pickers were needed urgently and locals were encouraged to apply, even offering flexible working hours to attract Mums during school hours! Even with locals help, a lot more grapes than usual were machine picked this year because not enough pickers could be found.

My consulting work was pretty quiet at the time, and as autumn is a beautiful time to be outside in the fresh air, I decided to sign up and experience a new side to the wine industry. I answered a post from an acquaintance who works in one of the cellar doors and was directed to a small, local labour hire business who services the wine industry with labour for picking, pruning and general vineyard maintenance.

Picking starts early with the aim of getting the fruit off the vines before it gets too hot and the fruit quality deteriorates. So early starts were in order so that I could get to the vineyards, often 30 minutes from home, by 6am. My first impression was that there were not many of us! I was used to seeing big groups of pickers, 20 or so, descending on a vineyard like locusts, removing all the fruit and heading home by 10am to while away the rest of the day. At least that was what I saw the backpackers doing when we camped with them during our visits to Margaret River prior to moving here permanently. But with only 8 or so pickers fronting up each day, picking was going to take a long time. A very long time! Some days I didn’t finish until 3pm and I was pretty well exhausted by then. Picking itself isn’t particularly hard work. You have to find the bunches, cut them off and drop them into a bucket. You work in pairs, one each side of the vine and move along together, trying not to cut each others fingers off as you go. The buckets held 10kg grapes and had to be filled to the top. Draging the bucket along wth you was the most physical part of the job. When the bucket was filled, you placed your ID number in the bucket, placed it under the vines and started your next bucket. Pretty simple job really, but there were a few complications. Some vineyard managers keep their vines nice and tidy and prune excess leaves and canes away from the bunches to keep them exposed to sunlight and air. Others didn’t bother with that and at times I found myself crawling on all fours under long vine canes trying to find the grapes. Then there was the rot! This vintage we experienced some unseasonal summer rain. When combined with hot days, this lead to botrytis rot (mould) developing on the bunches, a very undesirable situation for table wine grapes. There was much panic amongst the winemakers as they rushed to get their grapes off before the mould did too much damage. As a result, as the vintage progressed, we had to cut more amd more grapes out of the bunches so that mouldy grapes didn’t get into the fermentation process. We also had to remove mouldy bunches and drop them on the ground. Another issue was unripe grapes. Not all bunches ripen at the same time, but vines are normally only picked once, so any unripe bunches had to be dropped to the gound as well. But apart from those complications, it was pretty easy work, but the days ended up being very long due to the picker shortage.

There was something really beautiful about being out in the vineyard as the sun rose, mist rising off the damp vines. It was calm and peaceful as we pickers quietly moved along the rows harvesting the precious grapes. Sometimes we would have black cockatoos wheel over the top of us, screeching a greeting or perhaps warning us off. There was an air of purpose as we quietly worked along the rows. Sometimes we’d chat to our picking buddy through the vines, and it was a great opportunity to meet different people and share our stories. I picked with artists, backpackers, tilers, unemployed and housewives, and each had a different story to tell. Later in the morning, the tractors arrived to start collecting the buckets and the air became filled with diesel fumes and growling engines. As the day wore on, the number of pickers reduced, making our day longer and longer. People had other work to go to, kids to collect and some just decided they’d had enough.

It was intersting to me to experience the difference in the grape varieties. We started off picking the chardonay, a premium variety here in Margaret River. The predominant clone here is the Gin Gin clone and it produces small to meduim sized bunches of grapes with widely varying grape sizes, quite unsusal. But the taste was intriguing, apple, citrus and tropical fruits and very sweet. The picking was generally easy as long as they vines were not too overgrown. My favourite picking was the Sauvignon Blanc. Big, fat bunches of grapes, 750g bunches were common, and easy to find on the open vines. We were lucky to be able to pick some of Cullens organically grown grapes from their Mangan vineyard, the most perfect vines and bunches I have seen. Later we moved into the red grapes, merlot, malbec and even some pinot noir. Cabernet Sauvignon was the last to be picked, and tasting these premium grapes was a joy. Deep red in colour and rich in dark berry fruit flavours, its no wonder this grape variety has made Margaret River famous. I also experienced leaf plucking. Because of the damp conditions and some rapid mould growth, some vineyards had to remove excessive leaf growth to allow sun and air to circulate around the bunches and hopefully prevent any further mould growth. This is a cost winemakers prefer not to incur, but sometimes the seasonal conditions make it imperative.

Peefect Sauvignon Blanc bunches heading to the winery

I picked for the labour hire group most of the time, but also managed to get some work directly for the vineyard. The difference was significant and a lesson well learnt. Labour hire work was mostly paid on bucket rates. That is a set rate per 10kg bucket picked, using your ID number and card to tally your buckets when they arrive in the winery. Rates started out at $4.00 a bucket for the premium chardonnay grapes, but pretty quickly dropped to $3.10 then finally $2.80 a bucket. To put that into perspective, my last day picking I worked over 9 hours for $95.00 dollars. Around $10.00 per hour! Now I wasn’t the fastest picker, but I was far from the slowest. I paced myself against an experienced picker and was probably only 10% slower. In addition that day, I had to drop mouldy and unripe bunches onto the ground. Every one of those bunches picked and thrown on the ground was not paid for! So I’m not surprised that pay rates are such a contentious issue amongst the seasonal workers. Quite a few pickers walked off at lunchtime when they calculated they were only getting paid $10 an hour. The supervisors and vineyard managers try to justify the rates by claiming if you pick quickly you can make good money but thats just a gross exaggeration in my opinion. At $2.80 a bucket, you’d need to pick 9 buckets an hour, or one every 6.5 minutes to earn $25.00 an hour. If you were picking nice big clean bunches of Sauvignon Blanc it would be possible, but small bunches of merlot, full of rot and unripe grapes its just not possible. Picking directly for the vineyard however was so much better. I picked at Glenarty Road, a small family owned and run vineyard and farm south of Margaret River, near Karridale. Fixed rate of $25.00 per hour, very friendly staff to work with, morning coffee, morning tea (freshly baked croissants) and lunch (fresh rolls with farm produce) provided. And the chance to pick grapes alongside the winemaker and learn more about the craft. Talking to some smaller wineries since then I have discovered that they always try to get their pickers directly and always pay an hourly rate. If I pick grapes again next year, I’ll be going direct to the wineries and avoiding the labour hire operations for sure.

Did I enjoy the experience? I sure did. There is something very primal about harvesting natural produce from the earth. Being outside in nature, breathing fresh air and enjoying the natural environment is so much nice than working inside a factory. I loved being able to meet and chat to new and diverse people too. Again, very different from my professional role in manufacturing.

The pay? I understand the logic behind bucket rates, incentivising fast pickers and penalising slow workers, but the system is too open to exploitation. $10 an hour is exploiting workers, specially backpackers who have little choice but to accept what is on offer. A fairer system should incorporate a minimum rate as well as the potential for faster workers to earn more. I was happy to work for $25 / hour for the experience, but $10 / hour is stretching the friendship!

Would I do it again? Yes, definitely, but I’d only work directly for vineyards instead of through a labour hire company. So much nicer being directly in contact with the owners, grape growers and winemakers. I really enjoyed my experience and have a better understanding of some of the challenges and joys, faced by our local wine industry.

Missives From Margs – It’s Been a While!

Time travels fast when you’re having a good time! Not that the last 12 months has been all that easy for many people with the Covid disaster turning our world upside down. But even with all the Covid disruption, the last 12 months has still been pretty busy for us here in Margaret River. Here is a quick update and I hope to produce a few more posts over coming weeks.

We were very lucky in WA to have only minimal impact from Covid with restrictions and lockdowns. In fact, by winter most of our life was back to normal, venues were open , cafes operating normally and Covid was mostly something that affected our families over east. We did have a small lockdown again early ths year, but otherwise its been relatively trouble free. The joys of living in the most isolated part of the country! The chaos occuring elsewhere in the world seemed to be a long way away, but we still felt saddend by the enormous toll it was taking in Europe, USA, Brasil and India in particular.

The biggest impact Covid had on us was the cancellation of our planned trip to Africa in June. Deb had spent countless hours researching, planning and scheduling a dream trip: A 28 day custom planned Safari to see as many of Africa’s wild animals as was possible at that time of the year. We were devastated to have to eventually cancel the trip. We kept hoping that we would be able to travel in 2021, but as it became clear that was not going to happen we reluctantly cancelled. We really hope that sometime in the future we will be able to make the trip.

My work was affected quite considerably as my clients grappled with how best to plan for their business futures. They stopped spending money on new projects which meant my work dried up for the short term. Luckily, they have started planning new projects again and work is starting to build up again, albeit slowly. A bonus was my old employer in Melbourne was suddenly overloaded with work from their food clients and they have reached out to me to give them a hand. Interstingly, much of this new work is for smaller, locally owned food businesses that are preparing to expand: maybe a result of Australians looking more closely at buying Australian Made food products again!

One unexpected affect of Covid for us was that it inititated a big change in Deb’s career. After many, many years of caring for peoples pets, Deb needed a change and decided to re-train as a nurse. She had started volunteering at the local St John’s Ambulane Service and really enjoyed the training and interaction with patients. Here in WA, St Johns are contracted to provide the full emergency ambulance service to all regional areas, so this is the real deal. Whilst much of the work involved patient transport, there were also plenty of interesting call outs to accidents and mishaps which made the work very interesting. This obviously whet Deb’s appetite for nursing and when the calls for more nurses were made during Covid, she decided to step up and apply. She was finally accepted (one of only 15 trainees) into the Diploma course at Bunbury TAFE and has been attending there since June last year. The course is full time and the duration is 18 months, so she is nearly two thirds of the way through. Whilst much of the study is almost identical to the skills she already has from her Vet qualification, there are no exemptions and she has to pass every asessment just like all the other students. She is loving learning again and applying her new skills in the practical placements. Once she qualifies at the end of 2021, we are hoping she can get work in regional WA, maybe eventually in remote communities where we can both travel and experience more of this great state.

As the TAFE course is full time, and Bunbury is too far away for a daily commute, we have set the caravan up at a friends place in Boyanup, just out of Bunbury. Deb stays there midweek, while I look after the pups at home and do my mostly online work. Its tough being apart for so long each week, but after the course is complete we are looking forward to starting travel again.

So that’s a quick summary of our last 12 months here in Margaret River. Of course, so much more has happened in this ever changing world. We both had some major surgeries to hopefully keep our bodies working relatively pain free (Deb had shoulder surgery and I had back surgery), there were more family visits, lots of swimming, Cape to Cape hikes, coffees, grape picking and of course, plenty of wine tasting and exploring the beautiful SW of WA.

Missives From Margs: Setting Up My Veggie Garden

I’ve always wanted to have my own veggie garden but I never seem to have had the time to do it properly. I remember putting one in on our property at Pakenham when the children were young, probably 20 years ago now. I didn’t have time to look after it properly and it became overgrown after one season. I recall harvesting a few snow peas and beans from it but it was a only half hearted attempt. My next effort was at our property at Nar Nar Goon. As you do in Melbourne, I planted some cherry tomatoes in a large pot on Cup Day. A couple of months later some lovely fruit appeared, but as they turned red they mysteriously disappeared! I soon found the culprit: our Doberman, Gemma, took a liking to them when they turned red and plucked them off for a snack!

Settling in Margaret River, and with a bit more time on my hands, I decided it was time to get more serious about vegetable growing. Our new house had a raised garden bed along the back of the house, about 9m x 1m in size, and facing north east. Perfect location for a small veggie plot. There was nothing really growing in it when we moved in so when we had the retic installed the landscaper added an extra station and underground pipework to the future veggie bed.

Before I could use it I needed to clean it up and prepare it. The original garden bed had the dreaded black plastic weedmat under it and up the house wall to provide some waterproofing to the wall. I had to dig all that up and remove it, then apply a waterproof coating to the wall. I then added some compost, fresh garden soil and plenty of sheep manure, which is plentiful down here. After digging all that goodness into the soil I was ready to plant! Oh, and of course, I needed to add some mesh fencing because Sidney thoroughly enjoyed helping me set up the garden and thought it was a great place to dig and play.

The Dreaded Black Plastic
Preparing the bed – removing the black plastic and waterproofing the wall
Sidney helping prepare the soil
The finished garden bed

All that remained was to set up the drip irrigation system on the retic. A few meters of dripper hose, some valves and fittings and it was ready to go. As we were heading into cooler autumn/winter weather I didn’t bother setting up any automatic watering and was content to manually turn on the drippers when required.

Drip lines set up and a few winter plantings in place

So my vegetable garden adventures were about to start. I’ll tell you all about my successes and failures in the next couple of posts.

Missives From Margs – Winter

I’m sitting at home, self isolating because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, so I thought I’d reflect on our first winter in Margaret River.

During our 4 years of travel, we hadn’t really experienced much winter weather. So it was with some trepidation that we prepared for our first proper winter in our new home. We hadn’t really spent much time in Margaret River in colder weather, as we were mostly here in Summer and Autumn before heading north, so we didnt really know what to expect. We had done some house sits in June, which we found cool but pleasant, but we were keen to see what a full Margaret River winter would like. We’d been warned by locals that it was going to be cold and unpleasant, which I guess explains why so many of them head to north to the Kimberly or Bali in winter.

Well, to summarise it in three words…Wet, Temperate and Short.

Winters in Margs are wet. Very wet! When it rains here, it pours. Margaret River gets an annual total rainfall of 1050mm, which is a bit more than Melbourne and a bit less than Sydney. But here in Margs, we get most of our rain in winter, 80% of it in fact. In Sydney and Melbourne the rain falls pretty steadily all year round, varying only slightly month to month. Here, from May to August we average nearly 160mm rain per month! In the old scale, that’s a couple of inches of rain a week. So we experience plenty of heavy rain, specially at night. But we also have some very pleasant sunny days.

Temperatures in winter are pretty mild. We are close to the coast, and the Capes area is surrounded on 3 sides by sea: Southern Ocean to the south, Indian Ocean to the west and Geographe Bay to the north. This tempers the cold southerly winds. Daytime temps rarely drop below 15C. It’s certainly cold enough to warrant good heating and we made very good use of our wood heater every night, but heading outside for a walk was never really a problem as long as it wasn’t pouring rain. In fact, we often walked in sunny conditions.

Because our rainfall is heavily skewed to winter, so we get most of it over and done with in a few months. This has some great advantages, because it means much of the rest of the year is dry. June, July and August are very wet, but by September the rains are easing and by November its warm and dry again. Our summers are really dry. Last summer , for example, only 18mm of rain fell in December, 6mm in January and 14mm in February.

There are some real advantages with this weather pattern. It means we only have to hibernate for a short time, and even then we can still get out and about. We enjoy fantastic dry summers and rarely have to change plans for outdoor activites because of rain. But perhaps the best advantage is wet winters and dry summers are perfect weather for growing summer crops, like wine grapes! The rain over winter helps the vines recover from the effort of producing big, fat juicy grapes over summer. The warm spring with moderate but reliable rain helps the vines to flourish and produce buds. Then the dry, but not too hot, summer ripens the grapes to perfection. The perfect climate for making great wines!

We managed to continue with most of our outdoor activites throughout winter. Bushwalks and beach walks were only called off if it was raining heavily or very windy. We still visited our usual cafes and often enjoyed sitting outside in the sun. At night we always had the wood heater roaring, but rarely during the day. After years of strugging through Melbourne’s long and dreary winters it was such a joy to be able to experience the cold season in a much more friendly way.

Life around the region continues pretty much as normal, but with fewer vistors. There are still festivals and events, and plenty of Perth locals still come down to visit. The wineries are all busy releasing their new wines and the cafes and restaurants are still busy. The hardy bacpackers hang around to earn money in the vine pruning season and surfers still head south to catch the big winter swells. It’s certainly quieter than summer, but just about everything remains open for business.

Winter rains force the Margaret River to spill out into the Indian Ocean
Big winter swells are not for the faint hearted!
Warm nights by the fire
Hot sourdough from the oven
Bonfire at the Beer Farm

So ,even though it gets cold and wet at times, we found winter much more bearable than Melbourne. I guess its all relative. Perth locals think its far too wet and cold down here in winter, but then perhaps they are spolit by Perth’s hot and sunny summers!

Missives From Margs – Entertaining our Visitors from over East

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to update my blog, but now Covid-19 self isolation is in full swing I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to catch up and update everyone on how our new life in Margaret River is going.

The last few months have been our busiest since settling in here in February 2019. My work started getting much busier last November as two of my projects at the Margaret River Dairy swung into action and kept me busy right up to Christmas. In mid January, Manassen asked me get involved with a new project in Perth so I have been driving up and back nearly every week since February. It’s been pretty tiring but good to still have some work.

Christmas heralded the start of a run of visitors that continued until the end of February. We were very lucky to have all our family visit, as well as my brother and good friends Cheryl and Steve. These visitors kept us very busy over summer and it we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves showing them around the beautiful Margaret River region.It also made us realise that you need way more than a week to really see the region and explore the best it has to offer.

Our first visitors were our daughter Nic and her husband Trent, who come over to spend Christmas with us. It was lovely to share Christmas dinner with them and we all enjoyed some beautiful local food together. The highlight was some beautiful Exmouth Prawns in Garlic Butter sauce, sourced from our local fishmonger.

We enjoyed perfect weather during their visit and managed some beach time, plenty of coffees and picnics, glorious WA sunsets, a visit to the Chocolate Factory and the Margaret River Distillery and a few wineries. We even managed a short hike along the Cape To Cape Track and introduced Nic to a couple of local Dugites! After a busy week it was time to return them to Perth and await our next visitor.

 

Alex arrived a few days later and we continued to enjoy great weather as we relaxed and visited our favourite spots. Alex had visited us back in June so we could take him to a few new places. More hot sunny days meant we could get him down to Contos Beach and Hamelin Bay as well as Yallingup for a surf. We also ttok the opportunity to visit another of the local caves, this time Jewell Cave which was beautifully preserved and quite spectacular. More prawns and local wines were also devoured, as well as a visit to the Miller Ice Cream factory in Cowaramup. Alex even enjoyed chasing some marron in the Margaret River, a bit out of the strictly controlled marron season, so the idea of a $5,000 fine stopped him bringing one home!

Next up was my brother John, who lives in the Hunter Valley in NSW. He managed to get a chance to take a short break from his accomodation business and was keen to see what all the fuss was about Margaret River wines. Of course, we visited a few wineries so he could sample the local product and a few of the local eateries. Vasse Felix, Voyager, Redgate, Clariault Streiker and Cullens were all visited and wines tasted, as well as Cheeky Monkey Brewery and the divine Gabriell’s Chocolates for some delicious ice cream. A delicious Espresso Martini at Sea Garden while we enjoyed a WA sunset was essential too. We saw Canal Rocks on a perfect sunny day, hiked to the top of Willyabrup Cliffs on a very windy day, and swam at Contos and Gnarabup. We even made a visit to Instagram-famous Indijup Natural Spa, a natural rock formation near Idjup Beach that allows the ocean waves to spill perpendicularly into a beautiful little rock pool.

Our daughter Michelle and Deb’s Mum were our next visitors and it was nice to have plenty of time with them. Deb’s mum is not as mobile as she once was so Michelle kindly offered to fly to Sydney and escort her over here. We decided to book a few days in and AirBnb in Perth as soon as they arrived so we could show them our favourite places in town. We found a small flat in Mosman Park, close to Cottesloe Beach and it was perfect for our short stay. The weather was perfect, if a bit hot, and we all enjoyed outings to Kings Park, Cottesloe Beach and Fremantle. The staff at Kings Park were very helpful and organised a wheelchair for Deb’s Mum so we could take her for an extended stroll around the gardens. Michelle enjoyed a couple of swims at Nth Cottesloe Beach and we also discovered a great new cafe/bakery at Cottsloe that made the best cinnamon scrolls!

When we returned to Margaret River we spent our time lazily showing them around. Boranup Forest, Surfers Point, Yallingup, Canal Rocks were all visited and enjoyed. Their visit also coincided with peak tomato season so Michelle and Nanny were enlisted to help out with “tomato day”, passata making! Michelle also enjoyed some wine tastings and a few swims at Gnarabup. Nanny loves her ice cream so a visit to Gabrielle’s was essential and she also loved the gardens at Voyager Estate.

 After a fabulous two and a half weeks we sadly took Shelly and Nanny back to Perth for their return trips home. After a short break we hosted out final visitors, Steve and Cheryl from Melbourne. Steve works as a FIFO in the Pilbara so decided to take his work break in Perth and Cheryl flew over to join him. They had a busy schedule, but were able to come down to Margaret River for a night to catch up. We managed to fiti n a visit to Vasse Felix Winery and the Margaret River Distillery before enjoying a BBQ dinner at home. It was great to see some of our Melbourne friends again after so long away.

It was a very busy period, but we loved having so many people over to show them our new home and share some of this beautiful regions attractions with. we look forward to many more visitors in the months and years to come.

Over coming weeks, while self isolating, I hope to bring you more updates from Margaret River and share some of our experiences in our new home with you.

Missives From Margs – Our Garden 12 months on

I’m amazed at how much our garden has developed in the last 12 months. The beautiful, consistent winter rains followed by plenty of sunny days has really helped our garden along.

When we bought the house in 2015, the garden was basic, but in fair condition, specially for a rental. Here are a couple of photos from that time.

The backyard was pretty bare, there were a few agapanthus in the built up garden behind the house and a mix of natives and agapanthus in the front gardens.

By the time we were ready to move in, and our last tennants had moved out in October 2018, it was looking a little the worse for wear. Unless you can find gardeners as tennants, rental gardens are usually left to look after themselves and that is exactly how it was. Run down and neglected.

We always wanted to have a beautiful native garden, so we took the opportunity before we moved in to have it professionally landscaped. Sure, that is going to cost some more, but we really wanted it done straight away so we could enjoy it. We chose a local landscaper, Backyard Creations, and set him to work on a major makeover. Steve designed our gardens and helped us plan what plants we would plant, and his local knowledge was very helpful. We wanted mostly natives and we wanted a garden that we could leave for extended periods while we travelled. So “easy care” was a key feature we needed. We included a hardstand area for the caravan and new access gate, and the whole garden and lawn is irrigated, or as they say over here “we have retic”. The work was done last October/November while we were away house sitting in Albany.

We were thrilled with the results. Steve planted over 140 new plants. One of the advantages of using a landscaper is that they can get bigger plants cheaper than we can buy retail. And Steve offered a three month guarantee, replacing any plant that died in that time. Every plant was planted with dripper irrigation to each one, all controlled by a master controller. The lawn areas were also set up with spray watering so our lawn can be automatically watered twice a week, as per local water regulations.

As our garden has grown over the last 12 months, we have been watching it take shape as the plants grow and spread. The flowering this spring has been spectacular , impressive for a garden that is less than 12 months old.

Here are a few photos showing the changes in the last 12 months. The white lines across the lawn is where the irrigation system was run. Molly used to use these as little paths when she inspected the boundaries every morning.

Deb wanted a few roses to remind us of the beautiful roses we grew in Victoria. We chose Just Joey standards, and they have produced dozens of blooms in both late Summer/Autumn and Spring. Our favourite rose with a gorgeous perfume.

We planted three birch trees in front of the bedroom window to give us some late afternoon shade in summer. They are slow growing compared to the natives, but are progressing well.

All the agapanthus were dug up and transplanted down the side to cover a messy dirt bank next to the footpath. They are flowering beautifully this year.

I love having the retic on the lawns. Once our dry summers hit, its great to turn the system back on again and keep the green grass until Autumn. There is a cost of course, automated watering systems tend to use a lot more water than hand watering, but its a price we are prepared to pay to have a lovely cool garden to relax in over summer. I have been giving it a fair bit of attention this spring, getting the weeds out and providing nutrition to the grass and soil, which are mostly sand over clay. I’m hoping to keep it looking like this over summer!

Finally, here is some of the colour we have been enjoying from our natives so far this spring.

Missives From Margs – WA Car Registration

Following on from the saga of getting our drivers licences changed over to WA, https://bobdebmol.wordpress.com/2019/05/16/missives-from-margs-national-licencing/ , it is now time to get the car registration transfered. Once again I brace myself to take on the process of dealing with the WA Department of Transport beauracracy.

The first step is to get the vehicle inspected. Now coming from NSW originally, where annual “roadworthy” inspections are required, I understand that this is a process that is stacked in the mechanics favour. They hold your cars future in their hands, and the “mechanic shopping” that we used to engage in as teenagers with our first cars, is a thing of the past now as all inspections, even failed ones, are recorded. Thankfully, I only need to get one inspection here. I had a crack in a rear light, so I replaced the lens ready for the inspection. My two front tyres were getting low on tread, so I thought I’d give it a go, and if they failed I’d just get them replaced at the tyre place next door to the mechanics.

Almost as expected, the car failed its inspection due to the tyres, so I got a quote from Tyrepower and ordered the tyres. No problem said the mechanic, just book your car in for a re-inspection when the tyres are done. The only catch is, the first inspection cost $136 and a reinspection costs $100! Yes, another $100 to check that the two tyres have been replaced! The mechanic was at pains to point out that this was not their idea, but the DoT who write the rules and regulate the fees. What can you do but accept the fees and just carry on, its only money I guess.

So, with two new tyres fitted I froint back up for the re-inspection and duly passed. Now for the feared step, taking the paperwork to the Shire Offices to get the transfer completed. A quick look at the DoT requirements and it seems I have to prove the car is mine before they will transfer the rego. Fearing the worst, and armed with my original purchase receipt from Mazda, Nar Nar Goon, I front up to the offices. I breathed a sigh of relief when they only asked for my previous regsitration renewal form from Vic roads, which I luckily had, and I was able to complete the transaction. Well, apart from the little matter of the $971 Licence Fee (over here they call car registration a licence). Admittedly, $30 of that is for the new licence plates, but I can see now why some people reckon WA is an expensive state to live in. My annual rego renewal in Vic was only $569 , but here in WA its $941!

So, we are now very much West Australians. Our new licence plates even start with the letters AU to indicate the “Augusta Margaret River Shire”. I could have purchased special “Margaret River” plates for only an extra $400, but I decided I’d already spent enough! Two inspections, two new tyres and the licence fee have already cost me over $2,000! I just have the van registration to transfer now, so I’ll have to go through the same process again in a few months time. I’m already dreading having to get it out and negotiating the mechanics driveway……..

Missives From Margs – The Farmers Market From The Other Side

It was 6:30am and pitch black outside. I had just arrived at the Farmers Market to set up my stall, and despite having a map to guide me, it was too dark to find my allocated spot. The early birds were there, headlamps ablaze, scurrying about erecting their gazebos and preparing their produce. I found Kat, the Market Coordinator, and together we identified my stall area and I was able to start this new adventure.

Rewind a few days: Nicci and Bryce run the Margaret River Cracker Company and we met through a mutual friend. They always have a stall at the weekly Farmers Market so I came to know them by my frequent visits. They hate missing the market as their regular customers expect them to be there, but occasionally they have other committments and can’t attend. So last week they approached me to see if I was willing to help them out by setting up and running their stall for them. How could I say no? I attend every market that I can, and love the atmosphere. I go early and meet the stall holders as I buy our weekly meat, fruit and vegetables from superb locally grown produce. The chance to actually be a part of the market, even for one day was exciting, so I enthusiastically agreed.

I had arrived early, wanting to make sure I had plenty of time to set up before the market officially opens at 8:00am. I knew that local shoppers started arriving at 7:30am so gave myself an hour to get organised. Nicci admited to me that even though they are the physically closest stall holder to the markets (they live just round the corner from us, less than a kilometer from the Market!) they often don’t arrive until 7:15am! I decided I needed much more time than that. Setting the Gazebo up was straightforward until I had to lift and lock to roof section. Luckily Neil, the honeyman, was close by and he happily helped me with that tricky assembly. After setting up the tables, I then had to carefully lay out the very light packets of crackers on the tables and arrange the tasting bowls and signs. Presentation is not usually my best skill, but, guided by some internet photos I saved from their website, I reckon I did an admirable job and was happy with the finished product. I’m sure the hot coffees delivered right to the stall by the Yahava Coffee van helped!

Pretty happy with how the stall looked

It was now 7:15, fully light and a hive of activity. The empty row I had set up in was almost full. Beside me Uralba Eco Farm were displaying beautiful fresh produce, olives and preserves, and on the other side The Berry Farm had a truck full of the first of the seasons Avocados, all bright green and delicious looking. The stallholders were rushing around buying produce from each other before the shoppers arrived, and grabbing a last minute breakfast snack from the Community Fundraising Stall, where a different community group runs a breakfast bar every week.

The Margaret River Cracker Company (https://www.margaretrivercrackers.com.au/) was started by Nicci and Bryce three years ago and makes beautiful crackers to go with local wines, cheeses, dips, relishes and vegetables. They bake all their produce from home, and have chosen flavours that reflect the local areas best produce, from organic garlic, herbs and onions to cheese and truffles. They have even developed a fantastic range of gluten free products, blending their own flour mix to make sure they retain their crackers trademark fresh crunch. They sell their product at the weekly Farmers Market, and also in many of the local gourmet shops and wineries, and even the Margaret River IGA. They also have a growing business selling to gourmet shops in Perth. Its a great business and they have done a terrific job with smart, modern packaging and eye catching graphics. And, of course, the products are very, very good.

For the next hour it was mostly locals doing their weekly fresh vegetable shop so business was a little quiet, but as soon as the tourists arrived, I was busy. We’ve been amazed at how many tourists still visit here in winter. Many Perth locals fill up the local accomodation for a gourmet weekend away, and the Farmers Market, which won Delicious Magazine’s 2018 “Best Farmers Market in Australia” Award, is a major destination. And the number of Asian tourists is huge, being so close to Singapore and Malaysia. They are very keen to taste local fresh produce and often buy packaged goods to take home. Although the crowds ebbed and flowed, it was steady all morning and plenty of people tasted and bought crackers. I loved that I was set up between two popular local cheese makers, Cambray and Heidi, so many visitors arrived at the stall with cheeses in hand, wanting recommendations for a matching cracker!

I enjoyed interacting with the visitors, and met so many people from around Australia and WA, as well as overseas. Grey Nomads, Hipsters, Hippies, Farmers and kids, everyone was out enjoying the dry morning and the market vibe. My stall was close to the busker too, so I had some good background vocals to chill too. The crackers were a real hit, Nicci and Bryce have done an amazing job with their flavour combinations and tastes. Nothing you buy in a supermarket will compare: the flavours and aromas jump out at you as you taste. There was a real sense of comerarderie amongst the stall holders too, some friendly rivalry and genuine interest in how everyones morning was going. They even “stall sit” for you if you need to duck away for a break or to buy some more food or coffee!

The view from my stall

All morning I had been tracking a big thunderstorm that was threatening to interupt our day. It appeared that it had bypassed us completely until, with only 15 minutes of market time to go, it hit and dumped heavy rain on us. The visitors scattered, my crackers were blown over and pack ups commenced in earnest. Luckily I got all the produce packed away safely without getting wet, but the tables and gazebo were drenched by the time I was finished. As was I! So I headed home to unload the car and hang everthing out to dry in the garage.

I had a fabulous day and really appreciated the opportunity to take part in one of Margaret River’s iconic attractions. Not only was it fun interacting with all the shoppers, I really enjoyed getting to know more of the local stall holders. I’m really hoping I can help Nicci and Bryce out again!