by Tilly Smith Dix

Flights of fancy – and piggery

“It will be fun,” he said. “The food is good, I hear,” he said. “The weather is perfect,” he said.

These are some of the sales pitches my pilot presents when he wants me to join him on a flight. I’m usually content with a scenic drive in this magnificent region of the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, trying to get lost, dining and quaffing vino at a back-road vineyard. Meandering has always been a favourite pastime, especially when the terrain is this panoramic.

Dutiful wife that I am, I capitulated, having buried that recent visit to Shepparton in the recesses of my selective memory-loss app…

So, on a chilly July morning, we set off for Coldstream Airport to uncover numero uno wife for a lunch flight in Deniliquin, NSW. Yes, we hop the Victorian border within an hour and 20 minutes with a healthy tailwind in the Sling 4.

Flying over the thick meringue-stacked cloud, offering sublime vistas of hilltop farmhouses, is captivating and we landed at Deniliquin Airport sooner than I expected. Serving as an RAAF Station back in the day, the superb runway makes for a smooth landing. A taxi arrived in five minutes to transport us to town, where we were told the best spot to have lunch was the Crossing Café.

This little gem is located on the Edward River, which gently flows near the restaurant. Not expecting fine dining but hoping for something that borders on aesthetically pleasing and delicious, the Crossing Café delivered with gentle aplomb. Homely and spacious, the service proved friendly and efficient and the menu choices comforting.

The seafood chowder and garlic pita looked scrumptious and my pilot attested to it indeed tasting as good as it looked. My menu choice of sticky ginger pork belly with Vietnamese peanut slaw was everything it should be. Crispy crackling, deliciously sticky and succulent meat, with the slaw complementing the dish with an exotic twist.

A trio of ice-creams, including orange, berry and salted caramel, proved a perfect finale for us to share.

After a leisurely stroll around the town, which has a delightful park and duck pond at its centre, it was time to meet our taxi driver for our return trip to the airport.

The mantra of most recreational pilots, “time to spare, go by air,” became reality as ominous weather unfurled rapidly more than halfway through our flight home as we were about to soar over the Great Dividing Range, or Eastern Highlands, resulting in my safety-first captain diverting to Mangalore.

Another superbly appointed small airport, this is a bustling pilot training centre during weekdays. Lucky for us, a gentleman pilot spotted us landing and offered us a ride into town. Turns out this nice man from Melbourne was spending the weekend here to play with his plane and visit his daughter.

We spent the night at the Comfort Inn, which proved better than expected. To show appreciation for taking pity on us, as pilots often do for each other wherever they happen to be in the world, we took our friend to dinner at the best show in town, which was not much but we were not hungry and our kind Samaritan was. I’m not going to name and shame as it was one of those club-type dining joints with pokies but no dancing girls, praise be.

I’m not going to tell you I was miffed, worried about the cat back home without food for the night, no toothbrush and the usual cosmetics women require for a night away…

Himself checked the weather online and we managed to get a taxi and grumpy driver to the airfield early on Sunday morning after a light breakfast, when fine weather ensured a smooth flight home.

Suffice to say our feline was overjoyed at our arrival back home and after about 3.6 seconds of showing her love and gratitude, she tucked into a late breakfast with her usual gusto. Luckily I always leave enough water and pellets for her, so she was not at death’s door.

Himself says our diva could have gone without grub for another week without perishing as she is a pudding.  I believe he is being crass about her cuddly middle-age spread and I may just use the same line next time he squeals about lunch being late, remind me, will you?

Having enjoyed the pork belly in Deniliquin, I headed off to Paperbark Café on Mt Evelyn, a ten minute drive from our home, where I met up with some girlfriends for lunch a few days later. Their pork belly spinach roll with sweet potato proved an unpretentious triumph, and my friends declared their calamari with fries equally delectable. The bubbles, as always, were delicious. The girls decided to linger to buy plants, shrubs and rummage through an impressive selection of homeware choices in the nursery and gift shop but I resisted and went home to meet work deadlines instead. Funny how my brain improves after a glass of elixir …

Heavenly sounds

Melbourne Town Hall is home to an organ built in 1929, producing anything from a delicate whistle to a deafening thunder. At four storeys high, the celestial sounds cascading from that magnificent instrument brought a tear to my eye and the audience applauded thunderously in appreciation of the young music students’ performances at a free recital some weeks ago.

The impressive Melbourne Town Hall was designed by architects Reed & Barnes and the foundation stone was laid in 1867.

I am forever grateful to a Facebook friend, who alerted us about this All Stops Out concert, featuring students of the classical organ in Australia and New Zealand.

The hall was packed, proving the strains of evergreen classics appealed to folks of all ages, not just us ‘silver is the new blond or brunette’ brigade!

As a former student of classical piano, music has always affected me profoundly, especially when performed on such a grand scale. If there is a heaven, I had a delightful whiff of it that day. I can hardly wait for the next concert to be announced for 2019 as I’ll be back to be further enthralled!

What made this outing into the now second most liveable city in the world – Vienna stole the erstwhile Melbourne title this year – even more delightful, was meeting up with a Facebook friend, another former South African, with her gang of Aussie girlfriends for lunch on Federation Square before the concert.

The world was a fine place on that day and strolling along Swanston Street to that glorious town hall, looking at city folks and tourists all seemingly joyful on a perfect day, made me feel lucky to be living in such a wonderful city. I’m certain one of those lovingly maintained horses carting visitors around the CBD in their romantic buggies winked at me – probably the bubbles …

I hear spring is on the way but more about that next time as I’m still enjoying this cosy winter and the predictions of more snow in the alpine region this week thrills me to bits. Our neighbour, whose chooks I look after when they travel, has a small vineyard in Mansfield and he has kindly presented us with a bottle of his mulled wine. Time for a hearty evening of gluhwein, I’d say.

Woolly tails

Alpacas are some of my favourite animals and enjoying a day out at Omaru Alpaca Stud in nearby Cottles Bridge proved a captivating experience.

Sian Rickards has turned the stud into a sustainable tourist and photographic attraction, offering tours of her pristine bijou alpaca wool-processing factory. The piece de resistance is a chance to handfeed these woolly beauties residing in rolling hills, complete with their own natural pond.

One of the females recently gave birth to a creamy kid, which stole my heart. Sian explains this was too early for a birth as spring would have been ideal but the daddy committed a peccadillo by managing to break free of his generously proportioned enclosure to go make a lovechild with a willing blonde.

Because of the sins of the father, the poor kid is now named Jailbreak. I think Daddy should be renamed Jailbreak and the gorgeous offspring should be baptised Bambolina. Comfortable being handled by Sian and her visitors by now, the pampered mother and child seem to welcome a cuddle and a chat. Go meet them, tell them I sent you.

Nature works in mysterious ways. I was fascinated to see how the pretty galah was feeding on alpaca poop! Sian, for whom this stud is certainly a labour of love, explained how clean the alpaca waste was and the galah pick the nutritional bits to snack on. Recycling in its purest form and certainly the most spectacular pooper scoopers I’ve ever seen.

Cheers to the good life, no need to wonder about the other side of the rainbow, the pot of gold is right in front of us. We just have to open our eyes and engage with nature, life’s unexpected intersections and the good folks of the world.

4 thoughts on “A (late) winter’s tale

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