Playwright Hannie Rayson had a unique view of Victoria when she travelled the state with her one-woman show.
You might expect that regional touring involves showing up at a draughty hall where the dressing-room doubles as a storage area for mops and brooms. You might imagine doing your make-up in front of a cracked mirror. Or having to run out across a paddock to use the toilet before your five-minute call.
Well those days are gone. Except at one theatre. The Lake Charm Hall in north-western Victoria.
My stage manager Suze Smith and I arrived on Saturday afternoon. The paddocks were shimmering with emptiness. There was a shop and petrol pump, but they were closed. And yes, it did occur to me that we might have driven from Melbourne to the NSW border for the edification of three men and a kelpie.
But OH YE OF LITTLE FAITH.
Before long, an army of farmers’ wives arrived at the Lake Charm Hall. The jolliest, friendliest women on the planet, who laid out a fabulous spread of asparagus rolls, cream puffs, club sangers and every type of slice you can imagine.
And, as everyone knows, when you’ve got a job to be done, ask a farmer’s wife.
And when the curtain rolled up on the hall’s perfect little stage, the auditorium was bursting at the seams.
If you want a meal after the show bumps out at 10pm, forget it. Regional Victoria is shut.
Driving long distances, you dream that you will find a country bakery that sells homemade cakes from your childhood. You dream of freshly baked bread and Cornish pasties hot from the oven. And you know you are deluded.
But then you arrive at the Giddy Goat cafe in Yarck. And your dreams come true.
My Mum who is 91 has never tasted Coca Cola. I have a similar confession. I had never eaten a dim sim. Until I went to Yarck. I would go back to Yarck just to have another one.
In Portland, Suze and I decide to go for an early-morning swim. The lady at the theatre suggests Nun’s Beach. But we decide to drive to Cape Bridgewater. It has the most freezing water I have ever subjected my body to – straight from Antarctica. We thrash about in the surf and then run to the changing sheds. I feel like Xena Warrior Princess.
When we get back to the motel, the woman at reception says, “You didn’t swim at Nun’s Beach, did you? A woman swimming there this morning was attacked by a shark.”
I later discovered this was a wobbegong shark. And the wound was not too serious. Apologies to my entire family, to whom I believe I used the word “eaten”.
The five-hour trip from Hamilton to Wangaratta was spectacular.
If you turn in from Glenthompson and take the Pyrenees Highway (B180), you get dazzling views of the Southern Grampians. You wind through beautiful country with charming townships along the route like Avoca, Dunolly, Tarnagulla, Barnadown, Colbinabbin and Rushworth, which gets my vote as the town with the best main street. Suze awarded the Rushworth Bakery first prize in the take-away coffee category.
Archie Roach’s Let Love Rule. We travelled the whole way with Archie. Some days Suze would start the car and say, “Are you done yet?” And I’d look across sheepishly, “Nah. Put him on.”
Our top choice is the grand old lady, The Healesville Hotel. Nothing comes close for homely worn grandeur and charm. Runner-Up: the luxurious Royal Mail in Dunkeld. We also stayed in an olive grove in Drysdale which was pretty spiffy too: Manzanillo Grove.
Arrive in the dark and open your blinds next morning to a gleaming Mount Sturgeon, at Dunkeld’s Royal Mail.
Mango Thai in Colac. There was no cutlery in the motel, so I had to eat with a plastic teaspoon. Still, that curry was right up there with the great curries of all time. When Suze asked the bloke at the drive-in bottleshop if he had any coconut water, I saw a flicker of a smile: “Not from round here, girls?”