STRATFORDS OF THE WORLD – Stratford Victoria 3rd to 12 September 2018
One Wednesday Evening, not so long ago, a small group of intrepid travellers came together to enjoy a Pot Luck Supper and to remember our trip to Australia in September. There was much laughter, and sharing of pictures, videos and special memories, - not just of a cuddly wombat called Jessica, furry little koalas hiding in tree tops and of elusive kangaroos hopping out of sight toward the horizon at a Homestead but of the warm kindred spirits, people we had met and shared our time with.
On our first evening we were hosted at a Civic Reception, and as we mingled, the inevitable question was asked: “Where are you from...?” Quick as a flash, back came the answer, “Stratford” or, “Stritfud”, or “Straahtford upon Ahvun” or “Stratters”. It all came to the same thing: we had gathered from Stratford-upon-Avon, in the U.K., from Connecticut USA , from Canada, (both Ontario, and Prince Edward Island), from New Zealand, and of course our wonderful, generous hosts from Stratford, Victoria, Australia.
This Stratford is quite different from ours: a young and busy community up country from Melbourne, rural and straddling its very own Avon river, -best viewed from the Knob, a hill and country park above the small town, where the Native Australians, the indigenous people hosted a “Smoke” Barbecue for us. We were all impressed by the care for the environment, especially when surrounded by the threat of drought and bushfires. The local shops are small boutiques with an array of hand crafted items, with many of the shop-keepers offering us, the visitors, free gifts as we entered. On Sunday we were invited to gather at the small local Church: Holy Trinity!
Shakespeare wormed in and out of our activities throughout the week. Quotes and stories and references were bandied about. We were treated to a very special rendition of The Tempest, performed by the International youth mime theatre, and rehearsed via the Internet, on Skype! It was magical. In our amateur Catalino Evening, each national group had to produce a “piece” to perform. It was nerve-racking to say the least, but we all managed to bravely produce something reflecting our own different cultures..and Shakespeare..and the evening was enjoyed by all.
Another special event was our Australian evening, where we all had to dress the part, and partake of delicious food and drink with local entertainment, again with Shakespeare invited! The local community worked indefatigably to provide us with a scrumptious funfilled evening. The Youth Theatre, who produced extracts of Shakespeare were so talented and Shakira sang for us- joyous.
Gippsland and the Lakes Entrance were stunning, with vistas of luxury yachts and houses nestling in superb scenery. Following yet another splendid lunch, we went on a koala hunt - not as easy as you might think, since they perch up high blending perfectly with the colours of the Eucalyptus trees.
In Sale, the next nearest large town, we had an emotive international chorus of Waltzing Matilda under the shade of the Coolebah tree, in the Botanical garden where we found the statue of the Swagman. A lazy afternoon followed on a local boat cruising the river looking at the flora and fauna, and spotting the canoe trees...where the shape of the canoes carved whole from the trunks by the Aboriginal First Peoples can still be seen hundreds, if not thousands, of years later.
However, our collective memories settled on Walhalla, the old Gold Rush Mining Town, as the outstanding event, with our Runaway Train episode. An old restored mining train, resembling Thomas the Tank Engine, was valiantly hauling us through the wooded inclines and valleys, when with a huff and a puff and a forlorn whistle and grunt it stopped. The excessive weight caused probably by overindulgence in the banquets, picnics and barbecues was doubtless the source of all the problems. The carriages came to a grinding halt just by a forlorn sign, stating that “it is strictly forbidden to alight this train in this area- don’t even think about walking!”
Nothing could daunt our good spirits, however, as we sang and chatted and watched and waited as the billy boiled, and sure enough a tiny red engine huffed and puffed down the track to rescue, not only his friend Thomas, but us too. “ I think I can, I know I can...”. The tour of the old settlement and defunct mines which followed lunch were judged superb.
We were all hosted by local folks, who shared their homes, their families and pets, their food, their drinks, their indefatigable Australian optimism and their lives with us throughout the week. We felt we had become part of their story. And so our party said their farewells and set off by car, train, or coach or plane on their life’s journey on other paths, ...some in two star accommodation, some in five star hotels, and some sleeping in the Nullabor under nights of a thousand stars.
However, we made a promise. We shall meet again: In Stratford, Ontario, Canada in 2020. Care to join us? “Where there is a WILL, there’s a way....?”