Tradition, like an old person, is a dying thing. But just like an old person, that thing can be really great and involve ice cream. This week I passed on a large tradition from my childhood. I packed up Wifey and the Kid and headed for Halls Gap on our first holiday as a proper family unit. It scares me just how much I now become my own father whenever packing the car. It's a stress, sport, calling and chore all rolled into one muttering bubble. We had 4 nights booked in at a holiday house in the village of Halls Gap, the central community of the Grampians region in southern Australia. Halls Gap is a small town of probably less than 500 full-time residents, not counting the Kangaroos. If Kangaroos were to be included in the official population then the town would instantly become the 4th largest regional metropolis in Australia. The town's Mayor is a Kangaroo along with one of its Police officers, and they can also be found enrolled at the local School. I have been coming to this spectacular place (amazingly picturesque in any weather) since I was a young kid. It has always been my favorite place and full of many great memories and past adventures. It was for that reason that I was quite keen to get my own little man up there and indoctrinated to its charms.
We arrived to above average weather and settled into our accommodation, only to open the living room blinds to a wrinkle of Pensioners (is that the collective noun?) doing Tai Chi. At least most of them had pants on. We then strolled into town past a couple of hundred Kangaroos, consuming more grass than a Queens of the Stone Age tour. It was here I introduced A-man to the first and most important tradition- the Ice Creamery. For years, this has been a place weary bushwalkers would stop and reward themselves for a days active output, instantly undoing that work. As a Kid, the 'Coolas Special' was the Nike of ice creams and I would Just Do It, anytime, anyday I could. Despite this particular day being only an hour off dinner, we needed to indulge. The 'Special' involves whipped cream and nuts atop of 2 generous scoops of you choice of ice cream, served in a homemade waffle cone drizzled in hot fudge. It is like a Sigur Ros song on your taste-buds.
On the way back, we also introduce the Kid to the Kangaroos. I had been talking them up for a month prior to the trip so he was well briefed on the pocketed marsupials. He loved them so much he wanted to hug them, and despite them being very tame, what probably would have eventuated would have been a kickboxing match that would make child fighters in Thailand look soft. These Kangaroos can be killer. When I was little, I was hand feeding them white bread (which is obviously a naturally occurring food easily in the wild), when one lashed out at me with sharp left hook nearly taking my eye. Not again. Their type may now be good enough for our Police force, but are still not going to be trusted with my kids. On the way home we passed the police station and Sgt. Hops was in the front yard. My wife remarked that he didn't look like a Policeman, just a normal Kangaroo. I pointed out he was most likely undercover at the time.
One of the charms of Halls Gap is that open fires are very much accepted. Nearly every backyard has a firepit, the place constantly is perfumed with campfire smoke and firewood seems to just grow on trees. A person could literally walk down the main street on fire, and no-one would flinch such is the acceptance of the naked flame. Except from Holiday House owners...
There we were, enjoying a cheeky late afternoon roarer, when we get a call from the rental company telling us "You can't have a fire. It needs to go out." How did they know? Did they have surveillance on the place? The Bush Telegraph had recently upgraded to the Bush Optic Fibre Wireless Network, and they were tipped off by fellow rental owner nearby. We then retreated inside to the mock gas log fire with our real middle class whiteousness.
A long Australian tradition is to make large, fibreglass replicas of local icons or representative inanimate objects to attract tourists.The Giant Koala is on the outskirts of town near the Highway. The Koala is one of the better ones, if only for its lame appearance. How can you not love a 30ft sculptured Koala with painted white twigs for ear fur?!
We tried to walk everyday on a different trek. Most of these ended at waterfalls. At one we met an overly friendly Kookaburra, with a penchant for bananas and not making the noise I have been telling my child all of his kind make. We also indulged in the great tourist tradition of driving to a Lookout. Once there, we got out of our car and enjoyed some good old fashion finger pointing. The views themselves were brilliant. From that context, it made me realise how small scale my world, perspective and issues are. I imagine this impression would only be amplified for jockeys, midgets and men named Terry.
If you ever pass through, the local service station sells a local Beekeeper's Honey (his Bees, not 'his' honey...that would be weird) and it is phenomenal! As kids, we always bought a tub for the family every time we were in town. I took the little man and we stocked up, finding out that the same guy still supplies. That's the thing about Halls Gap. Nothing really changes. Maybe a bush fire or flood will force a change here. Sometime Government funded projects will introduce a new building there. But I reckon 80% of the shops are still run by the same people from 25years ago.
Tradition. It just doesn't die. Either do these Halls Gap types (Must be all the honey and ice cream). My love for the place wont ever die either.