Blessed to be a witness

Tuesday, 15th August

It's a nice place to live...

...but you wouldn't want to visit. These were my immediate thoughts about Canberra. It's a cliché to slag the place off, as many have done, most memorably Bill Bryson in Down Under. However, despite the drawbacks offered by somewhere that can be more sterile even than Singapore, I can see that it's a very nice place to be if you're a resident. In fact, this could apply to a lot of the very pleasant but mind-numbingly dull places we've visited so far in Australia.

In what is hopefully our last bout of long-distance driving (topping 4,000 kilometres so far - I now have backache and a twisted hip for my troubles) we left Wollongong and headed up a massive escarpment to the north called Macquarie Pass, where we snaked up through a huge cliffside forest of gum and eucalyptus trees, as well as primeval fern trees that wouldn't have looked out of place in a textbook about dinosaurs.

Up on the plateau, with a stunning view down over the plain we'd just come from, we entered a landscape that could have been Sussex or Hampshire - gently rolling pastures and country little towns. The illusion was further enhanced when we saw a church hall jumble sale in a cute little place called Robertson. Since we were underdressed for the cold nights, I suggested we look for second-hand coats there, which we successfully found, and perused the stalls of homemade jams, chutneys, and crocheted doilies, and I felt rather nostalgic. It was so twee that it was almost more English than England.

And then a gigantic rift valley called Lake George, fringed by hills, resembling parts of the Tibetan plateau. Despite its name, Lake George dries out a lot - when we passed it it was just rolling grasslands. Thence to Canberra, where we arrived too late to call my cousin and checked into an outskirts caravan park, where we sat and watched first two black helicopters circle us, then two F-16s. M suggested that it was something to do with counterterrorism, while I accused her of having blown the whistle about the aliens, and it was the Men come to take her away. It was when six spitfires flew overhead in formation that I realised that the next day was the sixtieth anniversary of VJ Day (more politically correctly referred to as Victory in the Pacific, VP Day).

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