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Melbourne May 26 1988 - Stay at Australian farm home is trip highlight

By Bob Van Leer

NewspaperOffice  (MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA, May 26, 1988) - Our party arrived in Melbourne this evening. This is the last stop in our Australian tour, nearly 1000 miles from our starting point at Brisbane.

  Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia with a population of about 3.5 million and is the financial capital of the country. It is the southernmost mainland Australian city. South about 200 miles across Bass Strait is the island state of Tasmania, the last land mass north of the Antarctic continent.

  We left Canberra May 25 after a tour of the Australian mint and a look at an imposing monument put up by Australia in appreciation of U.S. help in World War II. It is getting close to 50 years ago when Darwin in northern Australia was being bombed by the Japanese and U.S. troops landing in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea probably saved Australia from invasion. But the people here haven't forgotten that, including people who weren't even born at the time. This has been volunteered to us a number of times in our visit here.

  Our bus took us southwest through rolling sheep country. It is pretty country. Recent fall rains have greened it up and in a lot of places all it needs to look like a golf course is a green. Our overnight stop was the small farming community of Holbrook, similar in size to Gold Beach. There our group was broken up into groups of four and we were picked up by Australian hosts to spend the night at nearby ranches. This is a program that started out as an exchange of farm families but has branched out. We all found it to be a pleasant experience, giving us an insight into the community we couldn't have gotten any other way.

  The hosts for Betty and me and two others were Ian and Judy Wettenhall, a young couple with a 2-year old daughter, Annabelle. They farm 1500 acres with about 1500 head of sheep, plus cattle and some crops. The land is leased from Ian's father, who also farms another 1500 acres. The Wettenhalls live in a spacious, comfortable house on the ranch with no neighbors within a couple of miles.

  These are not marginal ranches. Wettenhall's home includes a swimming pool and tennis court. Ian is a good steward of the land. Fences are tight and everything on the ranch is well maintained. He took us on a tour of the place in a 4x4 truck. The land is only gently rolling and the only real problem appears to be poor drainage. Low areas have a lot of tussocks.

  In one "paddock" (not pasture) he had several hundred ewes with new lambs. The weather here is mild and they lamb just before winter to have the new lambs ready to take advantage of the spring grass. Circling around the band of sheep we saw three wedge-tailed eagles, about the size of bald eagles, and on the ground a red fox.

  Ian is not sure whether the eagles kill lambs and suspects they only eat dead or dying lambs. Cockatoos and galahs, a pink and gray parrot, were numerous around the paddocks and we saw a lone quail.

  The eucalyptus trees on the ranch, and neighboring ranches, are not healthy and many are dying. Judy said there are three theories as to why. One is disease, a second is use of chemicals and a third is that the trees are just getting old and the way the land is being used there are no replacements being grown.

  For dinner, of course, we had leg of lamb. Ian tells us that the woolgrowers pay seven percent of the receipts from wool sales to the Australian Wool Board, a program of wool marketing only a few years old, but he says this is one of the best investments woolgrowers make. Times are good for woolgrowers in Australia now.

  The next day, reluctantly, we reboarded our bus for the final leg of our journey to Melbourne. We continued on our way southwest through similar sheep country. This is a mild climate. The Wettenhalls had a number of producing citrus trees around their home. The road we are being driven on is the Hume Highway and not far away is the town of Wedderburn. This seems to be too much to be a coincidence. Howard Newhouse has made quite a study of R. D. Hume, the founder of Wedderburn on the Rogue, and perhaps he has an explanation.

  Our bus crossed the Murray River, the boundary between the states of New South Wales, capital Sydney; and Victoria, capital Melbourne. New South Wales allows gambling but Victoria does not. Our bus driver said that gambling clubs on the north side of the Murray subsidize buses that make the 400 mile round trip from Melbourne by the dozens daily. The 400 miles bus ride costs from $5.00 to $10.00 and includes lunch.

  Random notes - gasoline - 59.5 cents per liter; bed and breakfast - $16.00 single, $28.00 double; motel - $37.00 double; new tract homes in Melbourne suburb - $75,000 to $80,000, considerably cheaper than Sydney.

  Tomorrow's schedule calls for a tour of Melbourne and a drive to an outlying beach at dusk to watch a parade of Fairy Penguins returning to their burrows after a day's fishing in the Tasman Sea.

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