15 April 2007

Changes: our trip away

In January, when I visited Swan Hill, I didn't imagine I'd be back so soon. I love the Murray River -- my great-grandfather was a paddlesteamer captain at Echuca, so I guess it's in my blood. We get up to Echuca from time to time, but don't really have much family up there anymore. Anyway, Princess Sleepyhead was going away to Camp Aspire, so it seemed like a good chance to take Sir Talkalot away and not have her feeling like she was missing out because I was away with her brother. Plus I'd enjoyed my time away with her -- we don't have long bursts of one-on-one time together like that gave us.

Bridge over the Murray, looking back at Swan Hill

As with Princess Sleepyhead, most of the time Sir Talkalot and I spent up there was at the Pioneer Settlement Village, a great place to amble around. There's so much to see and do -- including a paddlesteamer to ride, and a sound-and-light show. Both children spent a lot of time in the pottery, painting ceramic figures that we purchased. Both times I've done one as well, so that I'm not sitting around getting impatient. (This time I've done one for a fellow writer who is having a birthday shortly, so that was kind of nice!) Princess Sleepyhead wanted to dress up to have photos done, but Sir Talkalot wasn't as keen to do this. Both wanted to ride in the horse and cart, and vintage car -- both of which were free. Princess Sleepyhead and I were fascinated by the spectroscopic theatre, Sir Talkalot not so much. Both kids participated in the kids' activity -- a treasure hunt for Princess Sleepyhead, which I thought was particularly clever because part of the "treasure" they had to find was three pieces of litter, and a mystery with clues for Sir Talkalot to solve. Both wanted Wanted Posters done at the offset printers, which was run by a Dutchman who came from near where my dad grew up. My only gripe the whole time was that it was hot. Hot, hot, hot. But the beauty is that they have a two-day pass, so when it gets too hot you just go home and chill off by the pool.

Bridge from the Pioneer Settlement to Pental Island

My first visit to Swan Hill and the Pioneer Settlement was when I was in Grade 5 or 6, and we went on a school visit. The only part I remember -- and I remember this vividly -- was going onto the paddlesteamer (non working) they have on display, the Gem, and somehow, with a group of friends, getting locked in a bathroom with a bath filled with a black, foul-smelling liquid that made me feel ill. Very ill. The room was hot and airless and the smell overpowering; soon I was dry-retching. I thought I was going to die. I think we were in there for an hour all up, though this time factor may have been exaggerated by how bad I found the experience. I couldn't quite serve out my nostalgia now, because you can walk onto the Gem, but most of it is roped off while they're doing restorative work.

I'm amazed and yet not at the number of volunteers who give their time to work there. They really add to the experience. And of course much of what they do is not in the public eye.

Typical street view in the Pioneer Settlement

Perhaps the biggest difference between this trip and the one a few months ago was that Princess Sleepyhead wouldn't get up and get going, which is always frustrating. But I was determined not to be frustrated -- we were on holiday after all, so I took a book and read and read and read. I love reading -- what writer doesn't? -- but I find that betweeen reading students' work, reading for Poetrix and reading for work, and just the daily life stuff, I don't get nearly as much time for reading for pleasure as I should. So holidays are a great chance to catch up on some books -- in that case it was finishing off Philip Pullman's Northern Lights series, which I found very interesting. This time, I took a Mary Gentle tome away, but spent my spare time editing the chapters I've recently rewritten on my novel. Working on a novel is such an obsessive thing -- I lie in bed thinking about it, I walk around thinking about it. My characters are my constant companions. I drove Sir Talkalot mad because I bought a souvenir -- a small stuffed frog -- for one of my characters, and he couldn't understand that at all. Writers! We're all a mad lot.

No comments: