Russell Torrance and family #classicroadtrip
This story starts with a dog. That’s her in the picture. She’s tiny, isn’t she? She’s called Wolfy and – well – we think she’s a Chihuahua mixed with something else. Could be anything. She’s about 9 years old and is the sweetest, most eccentric little thing you’ll meet.
My wife Lauren came up to Darwin with work a couple of months ago and brought Wolfy with her on the plane. We don’t think Wolfy enjoyed the trip. In fact we took one look at her and decided that that would be her last time travelling by air.
So it’s time to get back to Sydney. Which means – a road trip! Not any old road trip either. We’ve had this idea that I’ll do my breakfast show on ABC Classic FM from different places along the way. A…. let me think for a minute…. Classic Road Trip!
We’ve just figured out the route – Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs, Coober Pedy, Port Pirie, Clare Valley, Horsham, Bowral and then Sydney.
Do you live along the way? If so, we hope to see you! (You can send me a message below.) If not, you’re coming along anyway – I’ll bringing you plenty of photos, videos and thoughts over the next few weeks. Get packing!
- Distance from Darwin – see photo
I can’t believe it – we came SO close to 5,000km since Darwin:
It did cross our minds to go, you know, around the block a few times to make it up to the big 5k but by the time we got home, we were done for!
It’s been a truly memorable day. I broadcast this morning from Sir Donald Bradman’s childhood home in Bowral, New South Wales.
I really felt that, when Greta opened the front door after 8am news, I was being invited into a family home. The kettle was one (a whistling kettle no less!), there were scones and muffins, and – best of all – some familiar faces: Greta herself, and some ABC Classic FM colleagues I hadn’t seen in what seemed like an eternity.
Wolfy didn’t take long to settle in either…
It was so special to be in this space this morning. We did the broadcast around the kitchen table, with mugs of tea, and it was a warm and cosy way to finish the Classic Road Trip. It was so good, too, to meet so many Classic FM listeners – thanks very much if you came along.
After an unexpected success hitting a golf ball against Sir Don’s water tank in the garden, it was time to make the short trip home. If you know the area, it’s very hilly around Bowral. We took the Macquarie Pass, over the Illawarra Escarpment, and the Pacific Ocean was soon in view. Quite a sight after the drive from the Northern Territory.
And, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting on my own lounge, in my own home, ABC Classic FM on the radio, Wolfy in a little curled up ball on the couch. Lauren has put the kettle on. It’s good to be home. Thanks for everything!
Actually, before I go, a special thanks to you if you suggested music for us to listen to in the car on the Classic Road Trip. The ideas were very welcome indeed.
David near Ipswich, and Dale and Glen, you all suggested we take the ideas and made a CD. So we did! More information about it here.
- Distance from Darwin: 4,842.3km
- Price of scones: priceless
That’s a picture of the hillside near where we stayed, just south of Gundagai. Compare with this:
… a photo which I took just before we left Darwin and, well, the enormity of the distance travelled on the Classic Road Trip is brought home to you, isn’t it?
Gundagai was blustery with a capital ‘brrr’. Luckily we were staying in beautifully heated chalet on a farm and Wolfy was cosy in a little cot.
I could tell you that we hit the town of Gundagai, going in all the pubs, talking to fella called Geoff about his grandkids. But we didn’t. This was a night for staying in with some chips and dips, and block of cheese and some crackers. I think we went to bed about 8pm.
Now we’ve made the shortish drive up the Hume Highway to Mittagong, near Bowral. I’m not going to lie to you – it’ll be an other early night. Gotta get up in the morning to go meet Greta at Sir Don Bradman’s childhood home. Can’t wait!
- Bendigo-Tumblong (near Gundagai)
- Distance from Darwin: 4467.6km
Well we’re back in New South Wales! The day started with a great breakfast in one of the laneways in Bendigo. Brrrr it was chilly! We had to wrap Wolfy in a blanket at the cafe.Wolfy had a good back scratch on the grass…… then it was time to hit the roads. A clean sweep across the rolling countryside of Victoria – through Shepperton – and before we knew it we were among the trucks and caravans on the Hume Highway.
And now we’re in a farmstay on a hill just south of Gundagai. It’s cold but we’ve got the heater on and feeling very relaxed! Only a short jaunt tomorrow to Bowral to meet up with Greta Bradman.
I forgot to tell you yesterday: we met up last night in Bendigo with Lauren’s friend. Her little daughter drew us a picture of the Classic Road Trip.
- Distance from Darwin: 3960.3km
- Price of gold: depends where you look
It was an early start to do my show from the ABC in Horsham. But Lauren and Wolfy kept me company in the studio.During the show, I heard on the text line from Tina. She helps out with Riding for the Disabled in Horsham. So we whizzed out there straight after 9am to meet Tina and her horses.Rachael was there too – she’d heard me mention on the radio where we were going and came out to say hi. So nice of her!Then it was back in the car to check out the flat, majestic countryside of this part of Victoria. There was a bit of squally weather around too – nothing unusual at all in these parts, but the first real rain we’ve seen all trip.We also drove through Minyip which turns out to be where they filmed The Flying Doctors. Well I had to get the tuba out…Now we’re in Bendigo with the heater cranked in our room, and thinking about an early night! See ya!
- Since Darwin: 3457km
- Silos sighted: 27 or thereabouts
Grain silos are awesome. They’re dotted throughout the countryside in eastern South Australia and northwest Victoria. They loom ahead like beacons in the almost flat landscape.
(Actually, as an aside, on a family holiday in France once we thought a grain silo was Reims Cathedral)
This is the grain silo in Coonalpyn, SA.Stunning isn’t it? So a bunch of these already magnificent structures have had murals painted on them. Just brilliant.
So we’re into the beautiful farmland of northwest Victoria now and, with the desert well behind us, it feels like we’re on the last leg.
Horsham is great. We arrived and went straight to the ABC to check in before my show tomorrow.
Waiting for us there was Hidi. She’d heard we were in town and had come in on a whim to see if we were there.We checked into our motel and, as any cultured visitor would do, we immediately went to the bottle shop. The one in Horsham has a pot bellied stove burning in the middle of it, next to the wine fridge and piles of cartons. We wondered if we could just move in….
- Distance from Darwin: 3218.6km
- Price of a cream bun: $3.80
This morning we did something I don’t think we’ve done on ABC Classic FM before. We did a normal show from somewhere totally unusual. A bakery! It meant you could come and say g’day – which I loved.
So the day started at 4am. Still dark but the magpies were ‘coralling’. In fact they were so loud that you could hear them on the radio at one point.
So many people made the trip to Sevenhill to meet us. They all brought their dogs to meet Wolfy. It was amazing! A few listeners had even got up early and driven up from Adelaide. I appreciate it so much.
It’s Sunday afternoon now and time for a couple of days’ rest. See you in Horsham on Wednesday!
- Port Pirie-Sevenhill (near Clare)
- Distance from Darwin: 3081km
- Price of Riesling: $40/litre for unleaded
I did my show from Port Pirie this morning which was lovely! Then we had a look around, played tuba in front of smelter, and drove into the hills.
We headed through Germein Gorge which is stunning and, then we got to the uplands near the Clare Valley.
There were great clouds today, weren’t there? This part of the country is beautiful. We could see great distances from the road, the rolling landscape was dotted with gloriously bright fields of canola.
We’re in Clare now and all set up for an outside broadcast, from a bakery! See you in the morning.
If you’re nearby, we’ll be at 148 Main North Road Sevenhill (not Clare!)
- Coober Pedy-Port Pirie
- Revelation of the day: seeing water again and realising we’ve crossed a continent
- Distance from Darwin: 2812 (I’ll need to start using standard index form)
Another long drive. But oh what scenery!
So the leg from Coober Pedy to where we are tonight was by far the most arid and desert-like of the trip so far. I suppose we assumed that that title would go to the area round Alice Springs.
Huge vistas of almost flat salt brush, every now and again undulating to a ridge of flat topped hill.
About 2 hours south of Coober Pedy we drove up quite a steep hill and were suddenly on a totally flat plateau. With the blue skies and high, wispy clouds it was mesmerising.
After a short stop at the stunning Lake Hart – all salt by the way – the Flinders Ranges were soon in view and we swept down to Port Augusta and the Spencer Gulf.
We’re staying in Port Pirie tonight. I’m about to go off and chat about the trip on ABC North and West, grab some dinner and turn in. I’m on your radio in the morning!
- Alice Springs-Coober Pedy
- Distance from Darwin: 2251.9km
- Fact of the day: ‘Coober Pedy’ is derived from ‘white man down a hole’ in local language
It’s been the longest drive so far of the Classic Road Trip. About 7 hours 30 minutes from Alice Springs.
Let’s talk about road house food. I’ve actually been really pleasantly surprised so far. I like my grub and thought it would all be unidentifiable brown objects on the road. But I’ve been wrong so far.
Today was the exception. I think I took on a year’s supply of luke-warm grease at a road house today, advertised as a ‘spring roll’. I’m going on a health kick when I get home.
The landscape between Alice Springs and Coober Pedy is stunning and awe inspiring. Out of Alice, you leave the mountain ranges behind and head into flat pastoral country. Coming into Coober Pedy is some of the most arid land I’ve seen.
By the way, we nearly hit a camel. Yeah you heard that correctly. It was by the road. Honest.
Coober Pedy itself is extraordinary. Have you been here? I didn’t know what to expect at all.
Coming into town from the north, evidence of the opal mining is the first thing you notice. In the totally flat, dry landscape are piles of brilliant white tailings from mine shafts. There are hundreds of them. You’d think you were on the Planet Zorb.
We took Wolfy for a walk. In town, everywhere seems to be underground, including the church!
We’re getting an early night. Another long drive to Port Pirie tomorrow!
- Alice Springs-Alice Springs
- Distance travelled: approx. 0km
Okay we didn’t do any actual highway driving today. But we’re not cheating… it’s actually been one of the busiest days I’ve had in a long time. And one of the most rewarding.
It started with the alarm going off at 4.30 then I was on your radio from ABC Alice Springs. I saw the sun come up over the mountain ranges through big plate glass windows – awesome.
We visited the School of the Air to find out how members of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra had demonstrated their music to remote kids around the Northern Territory, using modern technology.
Then I drove out west of Alice to a place called Honeymoon Gap to have a chat to one of the most inspirational people walking the planet.
This is Morris Stuart. He’s originally from British Guyana but came to Australia via the UK in the 1970s. He’s a choral conductor and although he lives in Adelaide, he’s spent a lot of time in Alice Springs. Here’s more of his story.
One of his projects is the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir and I went to their rehearsal last night.
Morris is such an intelligent, thoughtful man. And he obviously has huge respect for the women and their innate musicality. In fact he pointed out to me that he’s taken great pains to make sure that his work with them doesn’t obscure their own musical tradition and singing style.
What a sound this choir makes! I took a video you can watch it here. They sing Lutheran hymns, following in the tradition of the missions set up by German settlers. A couple of years ago they did something extraordinary – they did a tour to Germany and took back their take on Lutheran hymnody to its origins. Just amazing.
Before I show you pictures of an incredible sunset, I want to leave you with something tragic but with a powerful message.
The Women’s Choir was depleted last night. Four members, from Hermannsburg, were missing. A young man in their community committed suicide only today. Morris told me this news and pointed out the vital role music and his choir has in reducing such horrible events.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- Tennant Creek-Alice Springs
- Distance from Darwin: 1446km
- Price of coffee: ask me tomorrow
Karlu Karlu, or the Devil’s Marbles to give the site its former name, is astonishing.
What takes your breath away isn’t the extraordinary site of huge boulders balanced precariously, but the context.
To get there you go through an hour or so of empty, straight highway and then – there it is. I can understand why Karlu Karlu has held so much mystique for many tens of thousands of years. It’s like it’s been placed by god or otherworldly beings.
Speaking of which: further down the road is Wycliffe Well – ‘Australia’s UFO Capital’. How does somewhere decide it deserves such a title? It’s really just a servo and breezy caravan park with some alien figures placed around the place. You know, under a tree, next to a bin. Clearly the owners have a sense of humour.
Then on to the magnificent Alice Springs. I had no idea how beautiful the setting was for the capital of the desert. We went up ANZAC Hill near sunset to view the town.
I’m doing my breakfast show from here tomorrow morning then I’m going to meet some truly remarkable local musicians. Can’t wait!
- Daly Waters Pub-Tennant Creek
- Distance from Darwin: 1015.6km
- Price of ULP: $1.62
Before I start on Day 3 – which is a bit boring – let me tell you about the rest of Day 2.
Daly Waters Pub – it goes off like a firecracker. I never thought I’d see such revelry in somewhere so remote.Everyone had a story to tell – mainly about where they’d been and where they were going to.
The beer was flowing and before long, a fella in a stockman hat and a Hawaiian shirt got out the guitar and played covers of songs you’d forgotten you’d forgotten.
We had an early night but we could still hear the music and good cheer. We were woken by a loud knock on our door at around 11 – someone had partaken of a few too many refreshments and forgotten which room they were staying in!
So that’s Daly Waters. Early this morning I took Wolfy for a walk and we saw roos bouncing away in the distance.
We also checked out Daly Waters’ historic airfield. This used to be a refueling stop en route between Australia and anywhere else. At one point in time, passengers would leave the aircraft and spend the night in pub. Beats the drinks trolley you get nowadays – very civilised!We drove the 400kms or so along the Stuart Highway to Tennant Creek. Everyone we’ve spoken to has described this town as if it’s a Mexican border town. ‘Lock up yer valuables’, ‘Barricade yerself in yer room with barbed wire!’
But it’s actually really nice. We’ve taken Wolfy for a walk to the shop and now she’s chasing flies.
Up early in the morning to go to the Devil’s Marbles. Set your alarm!