It is true that this post has nothing to do with Abbotsford, except that while I was sitting in Horsham’s Cafe Bagdad a suspected Canadian climber was extolling the virtues of our suburb to his mate, but I went for a drive to Jeparit via Nhill, Dimboola, Mt Arapiles and Horsham. Sadly, our energy flagged before we got to Antwerp or Rainbow. The idea was to get beyond the trappings of suburbia which in my book ends around Avoca and into the “real country” which I was sure was out there, back in the comforting world of plump bakery girls making up white bread salad sandwiches and willingly buttering your coffee scroll, with butter (tick), monuments to the Great War (tick), corellas (tick), proper gum trees (tick), quaint botanical gardens (tick), characterful country pubs with genial cockies propping up the bar (see below) serving up pots of Carlton Draught for $1.65 (nope, $3) and, most importantly in this crazy world of $100 a night motel rooms, charming simple clean upstairs accommodation for $35 a night (see below). The photos of many details of countrytownness are here.
It has to be said that though the front bar of the Union Hotel in Nhill provided the most wonderfully characterful couple of country folk, it has what I suspect may be one of Victoria’s most regressive dining rooms and its accommodation was dirty and spooky. A man who kind of belonged in the attic-like gloom of the upper level, the sole permanent resident of the hotel, loped around in the darkness disconcertingly. The breakfast was a tub of weetbix, milk, bread, and butter. Do not suppose I have left out the extras as too obvious to enumerate; there was no jam. I chatted with the previous owner who almost choked to hear they were charging $50 for accommodation; he used to charge $35 a night with a “proper breakfast” thrown in. But a more welcoming welcome from Peter the publican could not have been hoped for which went some small way to making up for the very obvious shortcomings of the place.
In the bar, there was a fallen woman, a ready made character in a novel, and a local crumple faced farmer archetype crowned by a beanie. The woman had had to live for too long in Adelaide, which she “loathed” (and she lingered like an actress on it, and paused for effect after enunciating the word carefully) on account of the town’s “filthy, ignorant” people, and manufactured a whole sequined drama of the surely-not-just-a-coincidence that I used to live in the Hawthorn street in which she went to primary school. How fondly she clung to the glory days when she was a saleswoman in a fashion boutique; how obliquely and with what ever-so-slightly-slurred melancholy she referred to certain health problems, sipping steadily on her beer at noon, and losing bets she’d gone halvies on with the publican on a gee-gee racing in the above-bar tee-vee.
The Royal in Horsham was a grand old country pub with a properly functioning accommodation ($50 a night for a double), but it was only after I got there that I understood the invasion of pokies had slipped past my radar. A black and white photo inside showed the hotel sporting a beautiful verandah. A pity that got rationalised.
I continue to cling to the dream, and reckon I have found two country pubs at which it will be realised, next trip: Dimboola’s perfect Victoria (above), and Jeparit‘s much talked-up Hindmarsh Hotel, where the chef is “international award-winning”, and which is more or less a perfect country pub, though sadly this perfection to my eyes is probably the product of two Melbourners running it: Matt and Maryanne Kippin. I didn’t see the Hindmarsh’s $50 a double rooms, but I’m betting they’re just what I was looking for. Jeparit is truly a wonderful country town, the birthplace of Menzies, and home of some really classic front garden art. As at 2004, a constituent of this blog from Richmond was living there in a three bedroom Victorian house he snapped up for $30,000.