Friday, July 12, 2013

Roadside attractions

I've wound up seeing rather more of Australia than I expected this visit, over a thousand miles across three states (South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales) and the Australian Capital Territory. Not quite in the order visited: Adelaide (A), the Barossa Valley (B), Melbourne (C), Castlemaine (D), Mount Macedon, my hub (E), Wangaratta (F), Holbrook (G), Gundagai (H), Canberra (I). I haven't mentioned charming Castlemaine, to which my friend K took me for a quick visit last week - apologies - or Holbrook, where we stopped on our way back from Canberra.

I should say something about Holbrook, which quite won me over with an almost absurd identity quest. A town on the way from Sydney to Melbourne known as Germanton, after an early settler, decided it needed to change its name in 1915. The name of Captain Cook's childhood being taken, the town wound up with the name of Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, the first submariner to win the Victoria Cross (for an intrepid mission in the Dardanelles in December 1914). The town is 400km from the coast, but built a relationship with submarines which has landed it part of a full-scale 1960s submarine, the HMAS Otway.
This all was made possible in significant part by the relationship of Lieutenant Holbrook and his namesake town - he visited three times over the course of his life. Though he never lived in Australia, his widow Gundula reported that finding out about Holbrook's name choice "was probably the proudest day in Norman's life; to be recognised by a small community on the other side of the world." We heard this from her in person - well, from those of the disturbingly lifelike 30cm hologram which narrates the story in the Submarine Museum (right). We were curious about her, too. An Austrian, Gundula was there for the unveiling of the Holbrook Submariner's Memorial in 1997; how and when did she become Norman's wife? In any case, the derring-do of this landlocked town, successful beyond all imagining in hitching its wagon to a submarine star, quite won me over. And it's pleasing to have this story, complete with landlocked submarine, told with a German accent! (Picture sources)

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