Almanac Travel: A Warrnambool Winter


Eloise and I love catching the train to Warrnambool. It’s become our thing. I read, catch up on iview, or gaze at the passing countryside. Eloise watches Frozen and Peppa Pig on my laptop until she grows restless and goes for a walk up and down the aisle, sometimes stopping to perform her ballet moves to tolerant, smiling passengers. Eloise, aged four, loves a captive audience. Best of all, she loves the cookies in the cafe car, or train kitchen, as she calls it. We arrive in the ‘bool fresher than we do when we drive the three and a half hour journey.


Last week, we travelled down for Fun for Kids, a council run children’s festival, held this time each year.


Unlike the end of summer when the earth was brown and screaming for relief, south-west Victoria is now bursting with life. Dams and creeks are filling and lazy water lies in hollows. Paddocks are a generous, thick green and tracks to farm houses and dairies have turned to mud.


The scene reminded me of my youth, through the 70s and 80s, when seasons were predictable. When winters were long and grey, and after school footy games with the Marris boys and Paddy McGinnis ended in darkness and mum screaming at me to leave footy boots at the back door and muddy clothes in the laundry.


Eloise and I arrived under leaden skies, so low you could almost touch them. We settled in front of the fire with a bowl of Mum’s soup.


We stayed three nights. Eloise’s cousins were also in town, and the house was full of laughter and cheek, except when the kids were fighting, or Dad was yelling at my sister Rebecca to put Roger the dog, out.


When the weather kept everyone inside, they played Othello and Uno, and Lukey, the biggest boy in the extended family, gave piddy-back rides.


Everyone had to quieten down for Mum and Dad when Eddie and Millionaire came on.


The world’s problems were solved over a few drinks and cheese and biscuits. The kids were lucky to be fed by 7.30.


With all spare beds and floor space taken, Eloise and I huddled in the caravan under layers of prickly, old blankets. The rain fell on the roof and with the town quiet for the night, we could hear the familiar roar of the ocean and the clanking of the cattle yards. The training lights from the Davo, home of Old Collegians, my club, formed a dome in the sky like tribal fires. We were safe in the Warrnambool cocoon.


At Fun for Kids, Eloise and her cousins nursed farm animals, hammered away in the woodwork tent, danced along to children’s performers, and later dissolved into tears in the car on the way home, exhausted.


The weather cleared on our last full day and Eloise and I drove down the beach in dad’s ute, passing my primary school, St Pius X, and the houses we lived in as kids.


We built a sandcastle with moat and ditch that ran all the way to the water’s edge. Eloise took off her shoes and socks and galloped and squealed as the incoming tide chased her up the beach. We laughed and squinted into a gentle sun.


We walked to Middle Island, or Penguin Island, as we called it as kids. Now Eloise has given the craggy chunk of rock her own name – Oddball Island – after the movie.


I told her these are the places where I grew up and it means everything to me she is able to see them.


The rain returned next day on the Melbourne bound train. Drizzle and mist gave the volcanic stony rises of Pomborneit a layer of Baskerville mystery.


With Melbourne’s stepped skyline on the horizon, Eloise and I agreed we couldn’t wait until our next trip to Warrnambool.


Her mother was waiting on the platform at Southern Cross.



  1. Lovely Andrew. I wish my parents still lived there so we could also holiday there without the added issue of fitting it into a tight schedule.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Just waiting for Luke Reynolds to comment on the layer of Baskerville mystery at Pomborneit. I wonder if he realized he played cricket where the hounds did roam. Very good description of the Stoney Rises.
    No wonder the proper winter conditions reminded you of your childhood days. In recent years the farmers would have been looking to the skys hoping for rain.
    The fun for kids festival has been a real winner down here, especially with all the activities under cover.

  3. Cat from the Country's husband says

    Nice story, Andrew.
    I, too, took my senior grandkid to the FUN 4 KIDS Festival again this year (Thank you Sarah for allocating me a Kid. ..a grey beard without a kid at such a gig looks a bit dodgey!)
    We drove the 200 km from Maryborough and stayed at motel (thanks Ian) just like last year Again the Festival was totally engrossing, especially the Shadow Puppets guy….and the Science show.
    Billy made a chainsaw and a jewellery box for his Mum, and paintedthem nicely.
    Last year we both enjoyed the two authors and bought their books, of course! We recon there needs to be some effort to include them next time.
    Billy got excellent value out of the BMX track ( once the Big Kids hqd gone home!) and the photo from the drone was a bonus!
    A couple of dinners out, and a session looking for Dory, and the adventure with Fuffa was complete.
    Next year…can I handle TWO kids!,?

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Great stuff Andrew, spot on analogy about Pomborneit & the Stony Rises. Mysterious and somewhat eerie in the depths of winter. Elementary.

    Love the family aspect and the visit back ‘home’. Fantastic father/daughter bonding.

  5. E.regnans says

    Beautifully done.

  6. Rulebook says

    Well played,Starks a really enjoyable read

  7. Gosh, that made me misty-eyed, i too played for Collegians in the late 70’s & early 80’s, perhaps we were teammates, cheers!

  8. Andrew starkie says

    Gerry, you were before my time. What’s your last name?
    Country cat- 4 kids, not for kids
    Thought you’d like that line about pomb Luke.

    Thanks for comments.

  9. Really enjoyable read, Starkers.
    Sounds like fatherhood suits you –
    enjoy every minute of these years,
    for they pass so quickly.

  10. Andrew starkie says

    Will do thanks smoke. Go roos.

  11. John Butler says

    They say you can never go home ,Starkers.

    Depends on the home.

  12. Andrew starkie says

    Thankfully I can Jb.

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