03 March, 2013

Country Towns 7: Healesville

From 25 February to 1 March 2013 we enjoyed our third visit to Healesville. The main feature of our mini-holiday was the celebration of Patsy’s birthday.

As a variation to our drive to Healesville, we decided to by-pass the turn off into Dorcas Road and to continue along Mountain Highway until we linked up with the road which leads to Montrose. Well we did get to Montrose but not the short way as anticipated for we ended up at the village of Sassafras in the Dandenong Ranges where we decided to have lunch. The mistake in direction was countered by being rewarded with a scenic drive along a winding ascending and descending road through a forest of magnificent mountain ash eucalyptus trees.

Our accommodation at Healesville was at Montepellier Petite, a compact modern cottage located on a ridge from which we had a view of the hills opposite, and two prominent mountains in the background.

 The cottage and street are named after a Frenchman who came from the town of Montepellier. The cottage is on the site of what used to be large guesthouse with the same French name. The cottage, formerly the maids’ quarters, is located on the right hand end of the large guesthouse which was burnt down in 1955. 

After settling in we relaxed with coffee and cake, and then Pat did some light reading and started organizing herself for responding to a pile of correspondence from her friends (Patsy prefers snail mail for she believes it is more personal than emails).

During our stay I intended to read some poetry (T S Eliot’s Four Quartets and an anthology of love poems), and to enjoy a selection of chapters extracted from novels by P G Wodehouse; his humourous novels are a delight to read, and, what is more, they are very British ole chap!

For entertainment on each of our four nights I had organized a mini-festival of French Films: The Intouchables, The Well Digger’s Daughter, Madam Bovary, and Amour. The first two films were shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival that we attended in 2012, and the film Amour has received accolades from critics and many awards as best foreign film for 2012.

Late in the afternoon we had some visitors – 4 yellow crested cockatoos.

The first cockatoo to arrive introduced itself by strutting back and forth along the top of the front section of the small fence bordering the porch. Now and again it would pause to cast its eye at me, and then proceed to nod its head and to issue a short timid squawk. I interpreted the cockatoo’s performance as “Hi there. Having caught your eye, it would be appreciated if you would stop reading and come outside and top-up the seed bowl for my mates and I”. My response prompted the arrival of three more birds, one of which was a young bird that patiently waited its turn to peck away at the seed. For the rest of our stay, this ritual was repeated daily in the early part of the morning and late in the afternoon.

Click on image for larger vesion

On a hill on the other side of the valley a pattern of white dots on a large tree identified
where the cockatoos congregated. Occasionally, a few cockatoos would take flight and squawk as they flew over the valley.

From time to time the dominance of the cockatoos was relieved by the plaintive call of  currawongs. To our surprise a flock of sparrows flew pass the front of the cottage. I say surprised for one hardly sights nowadays a sparrow let alone a flock.

As the cockatoos were enjoying their seed, the sound of thunder and flashes of lightning indicated that the warmth of the day was to be soon replaced by refreshing rain (February was noted for its hot days and precious little rain. Melbourne had experienced the highest number of days over 30 C since 1997)

The change in the weather was not unexpected for, prior to leaving for Healesville, we were aware that there would be significant rainfalls during our stay.

After dinner we noted that the hills and mountains beyond the valley were being quickly enveloped by a light mist, which then became a dull shade of grey. The wind swept in a heavy downpour of rain. Our attention was drawn to the porch where the force of the rain created an irregular pattern of rain droplets which rebounded with tiny splashes off the surface of the porch’s boards.


Misty hills and light rain welcomed us on our first morning. After some shopping and  lunch at the RSL Club, we set off for a visit to the art gallery at the TarraWarra Winery: Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart paintings 1940-2011 is an Anne &Gordon Samstag Museum of Art at Carrick Hill exhibition in partnership with TarraWarra Museum of Art.

“Smart is Australia’s iconic master of the urban vision – his works feature industrial wastelands and concrete streetscapes with precise attention to clean lines, composition and geometry.

Internationally acclaimed expatriate South Australian artist Jeffrey Smart is one of Australia’s most important living painters. This major exhibition gives due recognition to Smart’s exceptional achievements over a long life in art, and his exemplary contribution to Australian painting.”

After viewing the paintings we watched a video which enhanced our appreciation of Jeffrey Smart and his paintings.

Barry Pearce, Emeritus Curator, Art Gallery of New South Wales, delivered the opening speech at the exhibition:

This video also shows some of Jeffrey Smart's paintings.

On passing from one section of the gallery to another, I noticed on a wall to the side of the entrance a quote from T S Eliot's poem Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

(Four Quartets - Little Gidding - part 5)

I was rather impressed to learn that Jeffrey Smart was inspired by the poetry of T S Eliot, and that he knows this poem off by heart. This is no mean feat for this profound philosophical and spiritual poem draws the reader into meditating on man's relationship with time, the universe, and the divine.In this context, and having read the poem, I appreciate the exhibition's title of Master of Stillness for stillness reflects the essence of T S Eliot's poem.

The impact of Jeffrey Smart’s paintings on us was realized soon after leaving the art gallery for our eyes were drawn to the straight line of several trees bordering the prominent arc of a section of the high sand coloured walls of the art gallery. As we gazed on this scene we pondered on how Jeffrey Smart would have transformed into a painting this contrast of nature and an architectural feature of the art gallery.

Click on collage for full page view

"If a good painting comes off, it has stillness, it has a perfection and that's as great as anything that 
a musician or a poet can do.
                                               Jeffrey Smart

Google will satisfy those who want to view Jeffrey Smarts' paintings.


Wednesday 27 February 2013 - Happy Birthday Patsy.

Patsy had a delightful morning reading her cards, taking phone calls, and exchanging electronic messages with friends and family.

After a relaxing morning we made our way to Bella Vedere, a restaurant located at the Badgers Brook Estate winery (this restaurant was recommended by our daughter Leanne). We were more than pleased with the meal and enjoyed the Badgers Creek Estate pinot noir and pinot gris wine. The Belle Vedere is also well known for its bread. The slices of Olive loaf bread at lunch prompted us to order a fruit and olive loaf to be picked up on our way home on Friday.

During our lunch we noted that the sunny vista in the west had been replaced by a low lying deep grey cloud. This was the prelude for a very heavy downpour of rain which swept across neighbouring wineries towards us. On our return to the village of Healesville, we were rather surprised to find that the roads and gutters were dry.

We topped off the day by watching a DVD of the acclaimed French film Amour.


As is our custom, one day of our mini-holiday is spent relaxing “in-house”.

We celebrated the warm morning by being entertained by the cockatoos having breakfast, listening to music, reading and writing.

Patsy was super relaxed; she got dressed and applied the first layer of lipstick just before midday.

For afternoon tea we drove a short distance to the Badger Creek Blueberry Farm, Winery and Café where we enjoyed apple and blueberry strudel and cream and coffee. After purchasing some jars of relish and jam, we returned to Healesville the long way, via Badgers Creek Weir.

Patsy’s posting of some letters was accompanied with some walking and casual shopping.

At four o’clock I noted that there was no power; 3 ¼ hours later an electrician removed a mouse which had caused a short circuit in the electrical system of the air-conditioner. For this inconvenience the cottage’s owner offered us to a bottle of wine from those for sale. We now look forward to toasting the roasted mouse.

For the evening meal we were content with pear cider, cheese, biscuits, gherkins, salami, and some dips.

The mini-French film festival finished with a viewing of Madam Bovary. Having read this classic, I was rather disappointed with the film for there seemed to be gaps between scenes, and I had no feeling for the tragic demise of Madam Bovary and the impact her life had on her devoted husband. I now look forward to comparing this French version with my BBC version.


Prior to leaving Healesville, we visited the Giant Staircase, the Bakery, and the White Rabbit Brewery where we were most impressed with the food and beverages on offer Thus, we decided to be a bit more active in this part of Healesville when next we visit.

After picking up two pre-ordered loaves of bread at Bella Vedere, we topped off our mini-holiday by visiting the Medhurst winery where we tasted several wines, purchased six bottles, and shared a Fisherman’s Platter for lunch. Patsy enjoyed a glass of rosé and I clinked our toast to a relaxing five days with a glass of chardonnay - bon appétit, and au revoir Healesville.

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