THURSDAY FEB 27TH....
We had to visit the post office first thing as we'd been expecting a parcel from Sarah, so naturally it was going to become a sightseeing trip as well. We'd had an excellent night, finding that the water in the river is so still (despite it being tidal), the boat didn't even wiggle, let alone lurch. I hadn't felt the boat be so still since it was up on a dry stand, and even then it rocked when it was windy.
Before I go much further though, allow me to give you some insight into the history of the place with the best name ever....
The Fairy Bay was named by the crew of the whaling ship The Fairy in 1828. In 1835, a whaling station was built, followed by a store in 1839. In 1843, James Atkinson, a Sydney solicitor, purchased land in the town by special survey. He drained the surrounding swamps, subdivided and leased the land, and built a harbour on the Moyne River. He named the town Belfast after his hometown in Ireland but the post office opened on 1 July 1843 as "Port Fairy". The town was re-renamed "Belfast" on 1 January 1854.
By 1857, due to the success of agriculture, the town of Belfast had become an important transport hub and had a population of 2,190. By the mid-to-late 19th century, Belfast was one of Australia's largest ports, catering to the whaling industry. until an Act of Parliament permanently reverted the town to the original name of Port Fairy on 20 July 1887.
Photo: Original Irish mile marker to Belfast and to Dublin.
Our first day in Port Fairy was a discovery one. So many people had told us what a lovely town it was, we had high hopes of finding some good stuff to ogle at and do the touristy thing with. We decided against taking the bikes, instead opting for a leisurely stroll across the river and into the town centre just to see how far it was, how easy it might be to take the bikes, and why not? Though not my knees and ankles favourite mode of transport, it was at least level and easy to walk, which would make it even easier to ride. Yay!!
We came across the Information Centre fairly quickly and figured that whatever we needed to know, we'd find there. Perusing rack after rack of information about everywhere in Victoria, we came to realise that from a purely touristy point of view, and if you didn't have a car, Port Fairy really had very little to offer within the town, though there was loads to see miles beyond the outskirts. The best we found that was even slightly suitable for us was a biking trail that would take us on a roundabout trip to Warrnambool and even then we'd only end up going halfway as, for the second half, mountain bikes were recommended as there was a lot of 'up'.
One thing we did discover though, was that Port Fairy, apart from being a really pretty little town (if deficient in the general stuff-for-the-holidaymaker side of things), is renowned for its festivals and in just over a week was going to be their biggest of the year, the Port Fairy Folk Festival (the 38th) which, according to the Info lady was probably going to far exceed last year, in that an estimated 30,000 people were expected to attend and in fact tickets had all sold out for the music venues. Interesting!
We left the Information Centre one the one hand, a little disappointed and on the other hand, with a plan hatching. We found the post office, collected our parcel and found a coffee shop where we could sit outside and open it. The parcel, apart from spewing out a couple of bills (yuck) also yielded my super cool soft laptop covers and the most pleasant surprise of a gorgeous drawing from our grandson Reilley (helped by his mum just a little). It made our day.
Photo: A little bit of love from home.
Savouring the caffeine and the cakes (which somehow deliciously materialised on the table... gosh, can't think how that happened), my brain was ticking over as an opportunity presented itself on a tie-dyed macramé platter. Unforeseen folk festival + loads of people + $ka-ching$ = possible chance to sell some artwork. Excellent! Of course that would mean staying in Port Fairy much longer than we'd anticipated but it might be worth it.
After wandering about the town a bit more, finding the all important bakery, supermarket and hardware shops and doing a little shopping in each, it was back to the boat to plan my strategies for joining the festival.
But first, there was movement a little way along the pier/walkway to which we were tied and when we looked out, a seal was slowly turning somersaults in the middle of the river. This was my very first close-up glimpse of an actual seal during our journey so far (rather than Dave yelling "Seal!" and me responding "Where, where, where?" as I aggravate my whiplash with frenzied head snapping in the vain hope of spying it before Dave says "Ah....It's gone now.", leaving me to wonder whether there actually was a seal of if he's just screwing with my head.)
Photo: The local identity. Let's hear it for SEAL! (and the crowd goes wild!!)
This time however, the seal was very real and very friendly and put on quite a show as it lazily spun its slinky body in circles and waved its fins at us. Then no sooner had we finished looking at the seal when I heard movement behind me along the cemented angle of the river wall 6 feet below us. It was a huge stingray slapping its fin against the wall, which I thought was awesome until another joined it in its sinuous dance. Apparently the seal and rays are regulars that turn up when fishing boats come in. The fisher-folk usually clean their catches on large slate tables that stand at the river's edge and toss the detritus (guts, backbones, heads etc) into the water. I also now understood why the seagulls never seemed hungry. They got all they needed from the fish feasts.
Photo: And Seal's entourage... the Stingrays!
THEN FOR THE NEXT WEEK OR SO....
I worked on some artworks for the upcoming festival (that ran from March 7th - 10th) and spent an equal amount of time just doing not a lot although we did go into town a few times on the bikes. During one of these trips we dropped into the hardware store and asked about refilling gas bottles, one of which was empty. Yep they could do it no problem they said, so Dave jumped on my bike which has a rack, and went back to the boat to get the bottle. I was dubious because it was a fairly big bottle and a very little rack but with the aid of many octopus straps he actually managed not only to bring the empty in, but take the full one back without it either falling off the bike or causing the bike to topple. Good job Cap'n Smartarse.
Dave organised to have some work done on the bimini and came across a wonderful young woman who came and collected what we needed done, came back, measured a bit more, came back and took other parts with her and fixed those too... she was truly awesome. Her name, for anyone who is in Port Fairy and needs stitching or repairs done on their biminis or fabric work, is Tracy Riddle and she's just terrific.
We did go for a cycle around the town, along the river front and up and down side streets and tried to find things to do but very little took our fancy which, compared to other places we'd been, was a little disappointing.
Photo: Just a dorky bird to look at.
By FRIDAY MARCH 7th, Port Fairy's main thoroughfare was blocked off and large tents had sprung up all over town and several stalls appeared in grassed areas. On a large grassed area next to the Information Centre a large marquee and stage was in place. This was the venue for the free musical part of the festival. The atmosphere seemed to be building as all manner of people were seen busily occupying their time getting things ready for the bigger day tomorrow. As for me, I'd completed several works and had also put together all of the other artwork I already had on the boat, and was organising my art gear and easel. Now all we needed was a place to prop.
Saturday morning we rode back into town to scope out the scene and try and find a good place to set up. So many portable pergolas, tents and food trucks had popped up overnight it was amazing. The main street had stalls along its whole length, buskers of every type, from pan pipes to singers and magicians scattered along the footpaths under the shade of the shop verandahs. And quite seriously, I had never seen so many hippie types in one place at one time, with long plaited or dread-locked hair, flowers and ankle bells, baggy drop crotch Aladdin pants and that's just the guys!! And the amazing part was, the majority of them would have been under the age of 35. The sixties would have been proud and I loved it. Plus, many of the stalls were also selling 'hippie' accoutrements, from tie-dyed clothing, loads of cheesecloth stuff, bells and incense, wind chimes and hand made soaps, there were fortune tellers and street performers, oils and natural remedies. Mind you, there was heaps of other things as well..... toys and bubbles, crochet, sculptures and artwork and prints and photos, jams and pickles, food, umbrellas, hats, hats and more hats and lots of hand made items. Plus, there was a couple walking their pet ferrets on leads. HOW CUTE IS THAT?! The place was abuzz with activity and the glorious weather added to the ambience by seemingly making everyone happy. Thousands upon thousands of people of all ages filled the streets. We didn't even get to see the main events or arena as they were the paid ones but judging by the size of the tents and marquees and the crowds inside the fences, it was HUGE.
Photo: The cutest ferret.
Photo: The Port Fairy Folk Fair... or PFFF for short.
We hung around for a couple of hours, me perusing the stalls and drooling over the things I couldn't buy, Dave patiently standing in the wings and reading the book he had on his phone. We vaguely decided where I'd set up and went back to the boat to make sure everything was organised for tomorrow. Lunch, a Nana nap, making sure I had all of my gear ready, dinner and then bed.
SUNDAY MARCH 9th and we loaded ourselves up with the easel, huge portfolio folders, my handbag and the backpack with water and my pencils inside. We walked... my knee goblins cackling and jack-hammering my kneecaps and I swore vengeance the whole way there. I found a great little spot in front of a shop named Mangowood (OMG the boots they sold were to die for!) where the manager, a lovely woman named Jennifer, allowed me to use a chair (the one thing I didn't have) that was out the front of her shop and I couldn't have been more grateful.
Photo: Lots of attention.
Photo: The local laws! LOL
I was drawing live on the easel with my portfolio opened in front of me and immediately I had several people watching me and flipping through the work. It was a little difficult as any breeze that wafted though toppled the folders over, so half my time was spent trying to prop them up. Dave, in the meantime, had gone back to the boat or so I thought until suddenly ... Daaaaaaave was here to save the daaaaaaaaay!! He had bought a card table... what a guy! From then on it was much easier and I was more visible. Dave went back to the boat and I spent so much time chatting to people, I didn't get a lot of the drawing done, but I didn't mind one little bit. He came back in the early afternoon with lunch and lollies, some fruit and white Tim Tams... again I say... what a guy!! I was lucky enough to make a little money on the day and when I finally packed it in for the day I had decided to come back again tomorrow.
MONDAY MARCH 10th. This time we tied all of my art gear, except for the easel, onto the push bikes to take it into town and again, the occy straps worked a treat. Today I had planned to just do my drawing leaning on the table and see how it went but the decision to set up again was not a good one. The whole event was winding down at a rapid rate of knots and people were scant on the ground. Many of the stall holders were already packing up and moving on to the next town to have a festival. They'd be back next year no doubt. I sat in my spot for a couple of hours and chatted to one or two people but in the end rang Dave to come and help me get it packed up and taken home. If I ever do it again it'll be the weekend days, not the beginning and end.
Back on the boat we relaxed for a while. Not long afterwards a few fishing boats came in and the friendly neighbourhood seal and his flappy stinging buddies were back and waiting for their handouts so we wandered over to have a look. The seal was thrashing about in the water, seemingly having a great time flinging something about. It would toss and shake whatever it was like a baton twirler tossing her club (I'm going to say that it was a fish even though I'm kind of sure it may have been one very luckless seagull, mainly because fish don't usually have feet. There wasn't an awful lot left to identify it further :( ),. Then it would be spinning in circles and thrusting itself out of the water, playing with its treasure with all the enthusiasm of a young child tossing a ball at a playground. It was fun to watch (if you tactfully ignored the somewhat mentally fabricated fish it was doing it with.) In the meantime the stingrays and gulls were getting a gutful of offal and bits as one fisherman cleaned his haul of small sharks and washed the debris into the river. It was icky and fascinating all at the same time.
Photo: Seal and it's slightly icky gymnastics show.
TUESDAY MARCH 11th . Today was our last day in the enchanting hamlet of Port Fairy. One more ride was in order before we packed the bikes into their bags and stuffed them into the lazarette again. It wasn't going to be a long or too strenuous a journey as the plan was to leave on another overnight sail (*sob*) to Apollo Bay. A journey of approximately 16 hours, leaving Port Fairy at about 5pm after a petrol and water top up. No need to think of that yet. Think of nice things, like rainbows, butterflies, kittens .....anything but the prospect of another overnighter. *sigh*
We took a ride out to Griffiths Island, a small island near the mouth of the Moyne river and one side of the channel leading into the river proper. It was a little chilly and a little windy but we tried to make the most of the exercise as we pedalled out to see what we could see. It's been a little while so here today's history lesson...'
Griffiths Island (sometimes called Griffith) was named after John Griffiths, an entrepreneur and merchant from Launceston in northern Tasmania, who figures prominently in the early history of the area. From the mid 1830s until 1843 this small island served as a base for a bay whaling station for Southern Right Whales until the supply of whales was exhausted and the industry went into permanent decline.
The Griffiths Island Lighthouse was built in 1859 by Scottish stonemasons out of bluestone. The unique stairway is cut with each step being inserted in the next course of stone in the outside wall. The lighthouse was initially manned by two keepers. The last keeper to live on the island was there from 1929 to 1954, when the light was automated; the two stone keepers' cottages were subsequently demolished in about 1956.
Some 80-90 bird species have been recorded from the island, especially seabirds and waders. There is a large breeding colony of Short Tailed Shearwaters also known as 'muttonbirds', with an estimated 100,000 nesting burrows. Other animals resident on the island include swamp wallabies short beaked echidnas, blue tongued lizards and tiger snakes.
Photo: Short Tailed Shearwater breeding grounds.
Photo: Lighthouse on Griffiths Island.
Photo: Birds On Griffiths Island
Riding around the island, we saw none of the above wildlife, but we did see the lighthouse, five swans-a-sleeping and an oyster catcher so that was something. We pedalled slowly back to the boat (mainly because there was a head wind) and readied it and ourselves for the journey ahead. A little nap in the early afternoon and then we were once again slipping the ropes , filling up with petrol and water before we left at 4.30pm, hitting the ocean for the long trip ahead in the dark.
Photos: And just some other birds. :)
There were no boats leaving with us this time. No fanfare, no farewells by an odd friendly sea creature. Just us and the waves. Goodbye Port Fairy.... hello Apollo Bay.