All the way with JJJ

As usual the kids were staying with their mum for the weekend, so yesterday I went for a drive out into the country. I wasn’t really sure exactly where I would go, but I wanted to get out of the concrete jungle, to see some wilderness, even if only from the comfort of my car.

I looked at the map, and decided to head south east for starters. Nar Nar Goon, with its wacky name (and not much else) would be a good spot to aim for. So I headed out on The Freeway Formerly Known As The South Eastern. Soon the wilds of suburbia and the (IMHO) deservedly crumbling edifice of Waverley Park were long behind me.

[Nar Nar Goon sign]
Welcome to sunny Nar Nar Goon

[Cheese factory, Cora Lynn]
Anybody want to buy a disused cheese factory?

[Free horse poo sign, Longwarry]
Free horse poo in Longwarry… Uhhh… just the Coke and the Wagon Wheel thanks

[Daniel in the forest]
Just another quick stop to breathe in the country air.

Out in the middle of nowhere… but still able to listen to Triple J.

I knew I was getting out of the city when I saw the biggest road kill I’ve ever seen: an intact but alas, very dead, kangaroo by the side of the highway. Reaching Nar Nar Goon, and realising that there really was nothing there, I kept on driving, and on a whim took a road descriptively named Nine Mile Road. It had obviously been missed in the switch to metric, which is probably just as well, because the Fourteen Point Four Eight Kilometre Road just doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it, and would also require a rather impractically large street sign.

Cora Lynn looked like a nice place to stop. There wasn’t anything very much there either, apart from a few houses, a General Store (closed) and a disused cheese factory and some cows in a nearby field. But I knew from looking around, and from listening and failing to hear anything other than the wind, that I really was out in the middle of nowhere. Oh, and it had a war memorial, even though it was a tiny place – in fact my memory of geography lessons long past tells me it was most probably a hamlet.

I stopped, breathed in the country air, while trying not to arouse any glares from any locals, who if they saw me might be thinking "huh… look at that, another one down from the city, come to breathe in our air…"

Carrying on down the road, I took a left turn at Bayles, and headed north east, back towards Longwarry. Because most of the land around there is cleared and settled, the roads around that area are all very straight, following the farm boundaries. On a long, straight, clear section of road, I was rather intrigued to see just how fast the car could go. But of course, I’m a sensible P-Plater, not one of those hoons you see doing doughnuts in empty car parks. So I didn’t do anything silly, and if anybody claims they saw me reach 130Km/h, well, it must be just a figment of their imagination and I’m sure they don’t have any proof whatsoever.

At Longwarry a small supermarket beckoned me in, took my money, and in turn provided a refreshing Coke and a Wagon Wheel. I decided to skip the "free horse poo" that was on offer nearby. Looking at the map, I decided that my next target was to take an off-the-beaten-track road up to Gembrook in the Dandenong Ranges. The Bessie Creek Road seemed to be the ticket, and after an hour or two of driving on freeways and almost dead straight roads it was certainly a more interesting drive.

The road twisted and turned up and around the mountains, and soon I was surrounded by thick forest. There were hardly any other cars on the road, and it reminded me of forest section of the Great Ocean Road, until I reached the end of the sealed section, and it became just a narrow dirt and gravel road, which made things even more interesting. 

I found a wide bit of the road where I could stop, and got out of the car to breathe in more of that country air, and to listen to the sounds of the trees blowing in the wind. Until I realised there wasn’t any wind, probably because I and the trees were in a valley. It was very peaceful, very relaxing, and it would have been a nice place to sit and relax for a while, except it was a bit muddy.

After getting most (but not all) the mud off my shoes, I got back in the car and drove on, until I reached a T-junction, with no indication whatsoever of which direction to go to get to Gembrook. I stopped, got out the map, looked confused for a minute or two, then decided that turning right was probably going in the right direction. Sure enough after a few minutes I was in the sleepy town of Gembrook, slightly less sleepy than it was since it is now the terminus for the Puffing Billy Railway.

It was after 4pm by now, and Puffing Billy had gone for the day, so I looked around for the road back to Belgrave, to see if I could beat the train to the trestle bridge, the one in all the postcards. It’s in all the postcards because it’s damn picturesque, and having seen the train there once before, I knew it was even better in real life. When computer-generated virtual reality can stimulate the senses with the sound, smell, vibrations and of course the super smooth visuals provided by seeing a 100 year old steam train rumbling across a wooden trestle bridge high above you in real life, then they might be onto something.

And, I thought, you never know, it might even be my mate Steve driving the train that day.

The drive along more twisting, turning roads was certainly interesting enough, but by the time I reached the bridge the train had gone – I could hear it steaming off towards Belgrave. Not to matter. It was raining, and starting to get dark, so I headed for home, not wanting particularly to tackle unlit country roads in the dark. I got back to home around 6pm, marvelling that on the entire drive, no matter how far into the wilderness I had got, my car radio had still been able to pick up Triple J.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.