Saturday 8 December
Today we travelled to Wellington to stay with Jaimee’s parents, Mark and Liz. (Jaimee, their daughter, is currently in South Africa with Suzi and Laura.) They were tremendously kind and took us on tours of the surrounding area. Apparently, we are very lucky to see the Australian countryside so green and lush looking as they have had a seven-year drought, which has only been relieved by the recent rains. We spent a very happy two days and nights there, experiencing the life of a typical Australian farming family. Mark grows lucerne for fodder and Liz works with troubled teens in Wellington. We were also delighted to meet their other two children, Nick and Courtney. Nick has just left school and is going to work on a shrimp boat during his gap year before going to university; while Courtney is planning to become a world famous author.
Monday 10 December
Sue came to collect us and drive us to Ellerston in the Hunter valley near Scone. On the way we stopped at Merriwa and bought freshly-baked pies for lunch, which we ate in the local rest stop. The pies were delicious and we managed to avoid adding extra protein by practicing our ‘Aussie wave’ to keep the flies at bay. We have been amused by some of the names of places we have seen on our travels – such as Broken Axle Creek – and have wondered about their provenance, so you can imagine our thoughts when we passed through Murdering Hut Gulley on our way to Scone! Before reaching Ellerston, we stopped off at Sue’s sister’s house for a coffee. Sue’s sister, Jill and her family, live on a 10 000 acre property called Tinagroo. They rear horses, cattle and sheep in an idyllic spot, surrounded by mountains.
From Scone we followed the Hunter River, up the Hunter Valley, to Ellerston – the Mecca of the polo-playing elite! Ellerston’s 2 500 acres comprises the best polo fields in the world, two golf courses, a fully-equipped state-of-the art veterinary centre, a workers’ village, a club house and restaurant, a fully-equipped gymnasium, a swimming pool, a cinema, the most amazing barns for the horses and all the facilities for breeding and rearing the Ellerston polo pony; plus, of course, the Packers’ homestead. But even they are no match for the force of nature. On the previous Friday, Ellerston had been hit by a gale-force storm that had ripped up some of the trees by their roots and sent them crashing to the ground, creating devastation everywhere. However, gangs of workers were already at work clearing up the mess.
At Ellerston, we stayed with Mandy and Jeff, their children, Cassie and Joe, and Mandy’s amazing mother, Lee – who at 83 worked tirelessly in the kitchen while we were there. Australia certainly breeds some extraordinary women! We were welcomed with a splendid dinner that evening and the next day, Mandy took us on a tour of the property; the facilities at Ellerston really are amazing.