|My half week away was never just about the never before visited Omeo but that turned out to be a fortuitous choice. The real questions to be tackled en route were What do we think we are doing? and What do we want to be doing?
Candidate answers started pouring in even before I boarded the 6:11 towards town and the couple of connections needed to make the 7:10 V/Line up the standard gauge. The mob filling the 6:11 overwhelmingly did not want to be there, at least at some deeper level. Yet the feeling amongst the few on the 7:10 was very different, even more so as we got really moving and unfussed, save the V/Line staff, about having to run slow on the west track between Seymour and Violet Town. I was more intrigued as to why the west and east tracks wandered so far apart for no apparent purpose, but that is another story and already getting ahead of myself. First I needed pics from the flyover of North Melbourne and the RRL preparatory works, of favourite waterway crossings back and forth and of the Sun rising over Sunshine North, one of the latter to illustrate the extra justification of Albury and Shep services for a standard gauge platform at Sunshine. It is now at the point where Brimbank should offer a cost contribution. But even that prospect could not keep ever-close dreamland away between Craigieburn and Seymour.
My idiosyncratic campaign against collective deference to the overly simplistic and at least latently authoritarian devices of numbers/accountants and words/lawyers needs the kind of contextualising that Bill Hall has been trying to do from a perspective that grants more primacy than I am comfortable with to the bigger is better bias of business. My real challenge is to strike a balance between getting the monkeys off the back of those who can constructively self-motivate and retaining the power of more structured occupation to strengthen others' self-identity. The prevailing delusion of white collar triumphalism is laid bare by the urban-rural divide which was in turn laid bare throughout my journey.
The bus from Wang to Bright was overkill, the scenery en route pleasant with the conspicuous accompaniment of a rail trail which added purpose to my lunchtime layover, aided by the willingness of the pub at the bus stop to hold my bags. What was to turn out the travel highlight afternoon leg into Omeo on the modest local O'Connells bus. driven by the proprietor with me as the only passenger, turned into a personal guided tour of the most elevated stretches of the Great Alpine Highway as well as loops around Dinner Plain and Omeo itself. But it was the wind roaring up the face of Hotham at a both sides photo stop that might stick even longer than conversations ranging from Saints and Swans to Kennett's destruction of the worthy Omeo shire.
Ski villages and special coastal towns like Lakes Entrance are orthogonal to the urban-rural divide, valued for their relative isolation yet demanding city service, especially at the one percent level. If you aren't sure where they flaunt their disproportionate takings, these are places to start, even if the over-rewarded are mostly conspicuous in their absence. Despite such assaults, one defining rural characteristic still shines through: the much higher value placed on local history and local environment than in urban areas and especially urban growth areas. While the history difference is ever in your face, the environment appreciation difference needs to factor in the scale differential in population density to get past the distinctive distraction of endless recuperation from and repairs to fire and flood damage. Traces of Europe are accepted as natural around rural settlements while they have become antithetical for most public spaces serving urban settlements.
As the locus of public governance moves with the population from nation states to cities, how to deal with everything outside cities becomes the new challenge to one-vote-one-value and other tired artefacts of our worthy hunger for ever more civil society. At least in places like Australia where the fledgling megacities enjoy more than adequate separation, the notion of city including a reasonable hinterland can be useful. Kyneton isn't Bairnsdale, let alone Omeo. Servicing Omeo via a single shire representative from Bairnsdale is bad enough. Even thinking about it from Melbourne just doesn't happen where nobody at a public desk can have a clue as to why every second business has a for sale sign in the window when the main economic hope is prospecting for a copper mine considerably deeper into the foothills, nor why the town has finally managed to gain bus services in and out both ways (Bright and Bairnsdale) if only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays outside ski season. It was particularly interesting to hear the other end of new PTV chief Dobbs's concerns over the many thousands of contracts he has inherited.
My head was already too full to give more than a moment's thought to the choice between the big motel where I would have dinner both nights and the more homely looking establishment diagonally opposite, both in easy reach of the early bus out 39 hours ahead. The next decision was almost as easy once our hostess had explained that the rooms downstairs were the same as the alternatives with the bonus of a common area shared with three hydrological test drillers from Wang. She and they were sufficiently expert in keeping wood fires burning and her story of their renovation of their properties over many years gave depth to other stories of Omeo's repeated trials by fire, though it was flood damage from as recently as March which had the resident council ranger and her work team's attention.
Omeo became yet another place where my sense of direction suffers a north-south reversal due, I suspect, to the direction of flow of local streams, Sydney CBD being the most persistent other example. Livingstone Creek flows north, as does the busless Omeo Highway, towards Dartmouth, the Mitta Mitta catchment and the Murray, when it felt to me like it should be running south towards the coast. The parklands and swimming pools on the creek are focal points for the town, with the cross road at the motels a quick route in past O'Connell's bus depot. It is also a starting point for a walking track to the historic Oriental Claims extensive alluvial gold workings and various deployments of granitic sand, a walk which was exactly what I needed and long enough for the promised mid afternoon rain to arrive. Having only bothered with still shots on the walk, sheltering a while in the rotunda in the middle of the park gave time to play with the HandyCam: Wet Galah Acrobatics.
Away from well practiced routine and curtailed by rain, it gets ever easier to make poor eating decisions, having become overconfident after finding a cauli cheese pie during the two hour Bright layover, though the consequences were felt much more in my digestive tract than on the scales. On the longish private bus run from Omeo towards Bairnsdale, a predominantly school bus run which also served as public transport, some of the mid teens initiated a long chat with the ageing hippy driver on a quiet leg, seemingly about ordinary town news though I didn't really tune in. Locating the regional secondary school at Swifts Creek rather than Omeo was another setback for the better known town and reason for quite a few of its upper secondary-aged youngsters to commute to Bairnsdale, at least on Mondays and Fridays. It also took me too long to realise that the longer stops at Swifts Creek and Bruthen served as toilet and refreshment stops if needed, so I finished with a need to inspect the minuscule Port of Bairnsdale on the Mitchell where the rural importance of local history was again prominent, as is the rail trail (and trail-free rail bridge skeleton) heading further east, more victims of premature closure. The hour wait for the service back to Lakes and stuck with bags did not leave time for good food choices.
I finished up with about as many waking hours in Lakes across one night as I had in Omeo across two. My first intention was to try to get some good pelican footage but the strengthening wind was never going to make that a given, especially not with a repeat prospect of afternoon rain. While I did finish up with some of up to three pelicans, allowing close ups which a larger flock may have deterred, their scene was totally stolen by a pair of black swans on North Arm which converged with a stunning greeting display and vocalisations right below where I was filming from at the end of a low jetty only otherwise used to support an adjacent launching ramp. Once I finally ended that 15 minute shooting, thoughts of getting it on a computer were never far from the surface through and beyond the journey home. It was another last night of three stay at the same motel in Lakes following my Buchan trip in 2008, that motel also chosen for convenience to the bus stop and willingness to hold bags after check out which gave me time to take more of a look back towards the main bridge into town.
Having managed a couple of days out of earshot of the increasingly shrill commentariat, I soon found I had not missed anything more significant than the end of the East Keilor siege. Yet I'm still going to find it hard to cut down my excessive regime of e-world watching, maintained like an addicted gambler in the hope that something actually interesting might happen. But for most people, critters and even vegetation, for most of the time life goes on regardless of how much we capture into the largely counterproductive world of information work. The journey remains the reward. My half week loop through eastern Victoria proved a most rewarding journey. If only we could divert some bit flows to filter the gems from the grit half as efficiently as Omeo orientals once filtered gold from the hills.