MelbourneMelbourne was to complete my quick tour of the cities of the south-east, and it lived up to expectations (to forestall any questions or mockery, I didn’t visit the Neighbours set). I based myself in a pleasant suburb north of the centre with some excellent botany students, and was quickly told about CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies) – a community eco-site (a lot like the Centre for Alternative Technology) built on a former landfill. I did the usual tour of galleries (including the independence-inspiring National Gallery of Victoria), visited the JFK Memorial and ended up at the Masonic-looking Shrine of Remembrance. I entered through the crypts, and so accidentally stumbled in on a service for USA ex-servicemen (which seemed to consist of Civil War veterans judging by all the Confederate flags). Finally, I took in a haven from the concrete streets in the Royal Botanic Gardens, a park with dense and lush vegetation and short-finned eels (Anguilla australis) in the ponds.

CERESShrine of Remembrance

With my cosmopolitan tour essentially complete, I headed inland to the tiny village of Bullarto and the only Australian WWOOF establishment to be graced by my presence. The site was a 130-year-old family farm, in the process of being restored to habitable and profitable condition (a project that takes more or less time depending on how many WWOOFers are around). With winter on the way, the top priority was weatherproofing the main house and I soon found myself up on the roof with an angle grinder and some sealant. In a few days, we’d replaced a valley gutter and sealed some gaps (stopping the leaks), drilled a power cable hole and fixed the hall ceiling – the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting, though, which means we have to wait for an enormous rainstorm. Other ongoing projects are restoring an old commercial oven, doing some plumbing in the bathroom (so we can replace the floorboards) and making a vegetable garden (I’ve already put in the rammed earth fence posts). I made a bit of a name for myself almost as soon as I arrived by showing an uncanny eagerness to work (which may go some way to explaining the pace of improvements we’ve managed to do in less than a week), and secured my position by installing a digital set-top box which had previously confounded everyone else.

Today we took the once-weekly tourist train (an old diesel engine running along a forest track) into Daylesford for some delectable cinnamon donuts and second-hand bookshop browsing. A few weeks of farm maintenance and delicious food await.