Home is…

“I read within a poet’s book
A word that starred the page:
‘Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage!’

Yes, that is true; and something more
You’ll find, where’er you roam
That marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.

But every house where Love abides,
And Friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home-sweet-home:
For there the heart can rest.”

– Henry Van Dyke, ‘A Home Song’


With much of the two-person jobs completed and after two very busy months working on Blue Heeler, I took the opportunity to fly 17,000kms to Australia for a fleeting visit. I hadn’t been home for two years and although Skype and FaceTime are convenient for a long-distance traveller to keep in touch, it’s not quite the same as a visit. My disappearance gave Wayne quiet time to fine-tune the engine repower and finish off some of the projects. The engine had to wait until my return for its official start.

Two days of train and plane, once again I was back in the great rugged land down under. The photo above shows just how big this vast continent is compared to the UK.

Out from Tullamarine airport along the country roads, decaying remains of slow kangaroos, or even slower wombats, are strewn along the roadside. A big roo would certainly wipe out the front end of my rental car so my tired eyes scan the road for wildlife. The parched countryside shows little evidence of winter rains with barely a green tinge to the thirsty paddocks. Summer is just around the corner and it was already hot and dry in Victoria. Terrible bushfires up north in New South Wales and Queensland are a deadly reminder of how harsh this country is.

It’s good to see Mick again after two years. He looks the same as always and once I’ve slept off some of the jetlag we venture across the McIvor Highway to the Axedale Tavern where a ‘chicken parma’ is high on my list to devour. Mick introduces me to the friendly folks of Axedale, some whom I’ve met before, and we enjoy a few drinks too. They are good people at Axedale and regularly support amazing fund-raising efforts for the Australian NPC Disease Foundation. 

A couple of hundred kilometres in the northeast of Victoria is the town of Benalla where Mick’s sons live; my nephews Matthew and Tim. While I notice the town hasn’t changed much in the almost 40 years since I went to school there, I do detect changes in Matthew and Tim and the deteriorating effects of the terrible NPCD. From beneath Tim’s waist-long dreadlocks, he is frail. Still, I am received with big grins from both which delights me no end. I give them both big hugs, thankful to see their smiles again. While Tim spends much of his time quietly plucking one of his eight or so guitars or new banjo, older brother Matthew mows his mum’s lawn to within an inch of its life while his fur-friend Buddy looks on. I hug them once more and say farewell as I hold onto the tears that fill my eyes. I’m not as brave as they are.

Lakes Entrance

In Gippsland in the east of Victoria I spend time with my mum and dad, both octogenarians. One day we visited Lakes Entrance stopping for a pub lunch after wheeling dad along the waterfront. Their current house is filled with memories of my youth – a familiar rug I crocheted forty years ago; familiar Tupperware in the cupboards; perched in the pine hutch a simple polystyrene can holder with a poorly stitched ‘DAD’ on black vinyl; and a set of World Book Encyclopedia from the late 1960s which is now a historic relic and amusing to flick through after all these years.

We talked, laughed, napped and enjoyed the mild but windy spring weather. Before long it was time to say farewell and once more I depart.  From the coastal plains of Gippsland to the leafy outer suburb of Healesville the familiar road is windy and scenic. Along the Healesville/Koo Wee Rup Road the tall trees and flourishing green undergrowth is so different from the flat land to the east. Overlooking the town of Healesville is the adorably cheery home of my brother Dave and Judi and the Squeaky Door Artspace. Such incredible talent between the two of them and their property is a canvas for complex mosaics and incredibly expressive paintings. It’s good to see them again as we sit on their back verandah sipping a cuppa and admiring the surrounding hills.

Soon enough it was time for me to return to the UK. I drop my rental car off and fly 20 hours, stopping halfway in Abu Dhabi. A ride on the London Underground, then a few hours north and I’m back at Whitehaven in time for a beer with skipper before a much-desired sleep. I’m so happy to see him so he gets a big hug too!

Whitehaven, our winter home

The next day I was given the momentous task of pressing the start button for the new Volvo engine. I press the ON/OFF button then START. A slight cough as coolant and oil began their journey around the engine, then it settled into a regular hum. Hooray! With relief Wayne let out his breath and I smile at him – my husband of 37 years has many talents!

Three months of long hours and finally we launch

We spend the subsequent few days finishing off the work – reinstalling the cockpit floor/engine room lid; fitting the new toilet/holding tank; replacing a broken bearing flange for the Windpilot and painting it up; plus some minor plumbing jobs and getting in some walks before the weather turns colder and the days darker.

Soon after on a cold, calm day the guys in the boatyard, Alan and Ritchie, launch our little Blue Heeler into the chilly water. Before the travel-lift slings are removed though, we scurry about the bilge and engine room checking the many newly installed skin-fittings and hoses for leaks – luckily no drips or alarms going off. Wayne checks the rudder and engine room – all good.

The engine purrs with seawater gushing out of the exhaust as it should. The new Flexifold prop and refurbished rudder feel smooth as we motor towards our winter berth. By the end of that day, tools are stowed and Blue Heeler is tidied up and reverted to its former glory. We are both tired but manage to clean ourselves up and go out for dinner at the local pub. It was time to relax.

For those interested in the more technical side of the work we did, I’ll follow up soon with some notes on the engine repower. Until then…wherever you are and whoever you’re with, there’s no place like home.

There’s no place like “Blue Heeler”

About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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2 Responses to Home is…

  1. Alan and Kathy says:

    Beautifully written Ally!
    We are minding grandson Ben for the next 4 days as parents attend Meredith music festival, he’s a gem!
    And best wishes to the talented ships engineer Wayne!


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