The day dawned overcast but didn’t dampen our post breakfast perambulation around the excitements of the Wightman garden which included an old Rover car, a mini International Harvester tractor of ancient lineage and an immaculate old Land Rover perfectly restored and driveable. It was an Aladdin’s cave for the motor enthusiast! Add to this old farm machinery and a collection of oil cans together with a full sized old petrol pump and you get the drift of the collection. Fruit trees, his and her work shops and the most incredible orchids were further evidence of two very interesting and skilled people. We were in awe!
Eventually we wrenched ourselves away – we could have stayed for days – with parcels for the Sydney Wightman’s and two ‘skinless’ bottles of white (unlabelled bottles of wine – our knowledge of Australian vocabulary is coming on in leaps a bounds!) we packed the car and we were off to take the ferry across the river to head to Robe our intended lunch stop. The little ferry glided serenely across the narrow waterway and delivered its cargo of four cars safe,y to the other side the area had the look of the Camargue – spent bulrushes swaying in the breeze and a flat landscape as far as the eye could see……
We were soon out unto what is referred to as the ‘ limestone coast’, first driving along the Princes Highway, initially passing Lake Alexandrina and then Lake Albert and then along the long coast road of the Coorong National Park. There was very little traffic and we rumbled along with the water to our right and, what I guess we would call heathland, to our left. We came across the occasional settlement – there was a lovely old store at Salt Creek where Keith made the man’s day by buying a beanie hat. We probably drove over 100 kilometres along the coast before losing the water to a promontory and turning off to Robe where many settlers, particularly the Chinese, made land to start their long walk to the Victorian goldfields. Robe is apparently an all year round holiday destination, but there was little evidence of this from our walk along the Main Street. Nevertheless we found s nice pit stop for a fish burger for lunch and after a short drive around we set off inland for Penola where we were to spend the night.
The road was pretty empty and the usual ramrod straight. The landscape was very flat – which was a good job for those who had taken the route many years before – it was 400 kilometres in this direction for those gold fields.
Penola is just south of Coonawarra, a big wine growing area but was an interesting little settlement. We found our accommodation very quickly and the were very efficient. In no time we had established ourselves and were heading up the road into town, despite the dark clouds gathering over head. We visited the Information Centre (housed in the old Mechanics Institute) and came away armed with the map for the Walk with History tour. It provided an excellent meander around the old town. A leading light in the town’s development was Mary Mackillop who, having started out as a governess, established the first school, became a nun and was to eventually become the first (and I think only) Australian Saint! It all got a bit sticky, I felt, around her involvement with Father Julien Tenison Woods. The guide book referred to their ‘endeavours’ ……..!
Anyway, whatever, they established the town school 1866 and the first in Australia for any child. There is now a memorial park to our Mary on the site of the stable she turned into a school and we saw the church and the site of her later purpose built school. This is on the edge of Petticoat Lane, apparently so called because of the number of women who lived there, now a preservation area. Here there were a number of original houses. We were particular taken with Sharam’s cottages. Apparently the first one was built in 1850 and the second in c. 1864 when the family outgrew the first. The second building served as more or less a dormitory from what we could see. Mr Sharam was a boot maker and Mrs Sharman, half his age when she married him, went on to have 11 children. Most of them lived to a ripe old age except one who fell off his penny farthing bicycle and died of his injuries.
As it was by now getting dark and we had been getting wet for some time ( the photograph was taken next morning for completeness) we adjourned for supper and a very good glass of the local wine and then our hostelry….,