Memories are made of this

Published in PRIMOLife Magazine April 2015

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"Anna Hartley - with mum in tow- revisited Albany for a magical weekend exploring her favourite childhood holiday spots, learning about the rich Anzac history and waking up at dawn, much to her mother's surprise"

As a child, summer holidays meant packing up the car and roof rack (and staying clear of Dad while he did it), piling into the back, squished between my two big brothers and munching on huge bags of mints supplied by Mum as we all drove to Albany. For years, my family vacationed at the same farm, and spent endless days on the same beaches, and in my mind’s eye, our holidays lasted for months and months. Life, as it often does, gradually pulled my family in different directions and we no longer even all live in the same country, let alone vacation together. It had been years since I’d visited the great south west, the site of so many of my childhood memories, so when my Mum suggested a girl’s getaway in the region to celebrate her birthday, I couldn’t get ready fast enough.

Driving down from Perth through the inland route, we participate in a time-honoured tradition and stock up on lollies as we list all the places we will try to revisit. The 400km drive flies by, and here we are: Albany. We have planned to make our first stop at the National Anzac Museum, and have no trouble find it high up on Mt Clarence with fantastic views of the sweep of the King George Sound. You could simply come here to enjoy the view, but to do so would be to miss out on a truly moving experience. In November 1914, 41,265 soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (the Anzacs) sailed from Albany, embarking on the long journey to Europe, the Middle East and of course, Gallipoli. Their contribution to WWII would give birth to a legend that shaped Australian cultural identity profoundly, and begin a commemorative tradition which is growing in significance every year. This April marks another, huge anniversary, the centenary of the Gallipoli beach landings. One in three of the Anzacs who left from Albany never saw Australian soil again, but thanks to the National Anzac Centre, we are able to learn and understand a little about their stories. Upon arrival, Mum and I are given a small card with the name of a real-life Anzac, with a QR barcode on the back. We are instructed to place our cards on the interactive stations dotted around the museum and follow the story of ‘our’ Anzac. By diving through archives, letters, medical notes and deployment records, step by step we recreate the journey of one person. I am assigned Bugler Otto Siefken, of 11th Battalion, a 20 year old butcher from Maylands. I shiver to realise that he was significantly younger than I am now, and that he was trained before deployment at Blackboy Hill camp, a place I visited often as a Scout. Moving through displays of equipment and uniforms, images and diagrams of the battles, countless photographs and audio histories played through our individual devices, my mother and I drift apart, each lost in our own world and personal story. I usually find it hard to stay connected in war museums, when conflicts are discussed in terms of battles and weapons and strategy. But here, the human element is front and centre. When the time comes to place my card on the final interactive station, I feel anticipation and nerves. What will become of my soldier? Will he survive and return home? Or perish on a distant battlefield? Regardless of his individual fate (which I will leave to you to discover), the incredible statistics continue to echo in my mind as Mum and I find each other and wander out: one in three never returned.

Back in the car, we navigate our way to the Torbay Seaview Holiday Apartments. After exploring the rooms, opening and shutting every door (as you do), and choosing our beds, we get stuck into the complimentary crackers and local cheese on the decking, watching the kangaroo paws nod in the afternoon breeze. Planning our evening is pretty easy; should we go into town and see what Albany has to offer, or stay in and take advantage of the kitchen? We opt to go out and explore, and don’t regret it.

After a drink or two at The Premier Hotel, a true blue local pub built in 1891 cranking out tunes by Cold Chisel and The Choirboys, we wander down York Street, finding ourselves standing outside Venice Pizza Bar and Restaurant. It’s busy and getting busier, but a friendly smile and two seconds later, we’re being led into the large dining room, and began oohing and aahing over the menu. After much deliberation, I settle on the linguini and chilli prawns, while Mum goes for prawns and scallops on a mouthwatering frittata and a creamy sauce. Seafood dishes can sometimes be stingy with the star attraction, but I was delighted to find that my dish was crammed full of large juicy prawns, very at home with the zingy chilli tomato sauce. We wash it back with a cheeky Capel Vale sparkling shiraz, and feel incredibly smug, congratulating ourselves on finding this gem.  We eat beyond the point of logic or reason, and could have lingered for hours, but seeing how popular the place was, we volunteer up our table so that others can enjoy it too.

Anyone will tell you that I’m not a morning person, and for years it was my mother dearest who bore the brunt of my grumpy start to the day, so she was understandably surprised when I suggested getting up at 5am to watch the sunrise over the water at Shelley Beach. One of the few (if not only) beaches in Western Australia which faces east, it was also just a short drive from our apartment. We snuck down to the sand and watched the sun warm up the beach, listening to the sounds of the bush coming to life. I had remembered it as a beach of enormous dumping waves, but that morning all was calm and soft. To our left, a stream ran down to the sea, providing fresh water for the few lucky campers who had managed to find their way to the spot. An assortment of Kombi vans, dome tents and Land Cruisers dotted the tiny site, sheltered to the west by a valley ridge, home to a number of rare plants and animals including the Albany Woolly-Bush, the only known population of the Blue Tinsel Lily, critically endangered Main’s assassin spider and the critically adorable tiny western pygmy possum. Driving back out, we spotted a wagyl, the bright yellow sign with a snake design that indicates the path of the thousand-kilometer Bibbulmun track, and slowing down to peer through the trees, saw the narrow path winding away into the dense copse.

After breakfast, and a detour into Denmark (the town, not the country) for supplies, we open up the map book again to discuss which nostalgic memories we will honour. Conspicuous Cliffs? The Gap? The Whaling Museum? In fact, Greens Pool win out, and we set off driving. To quote the immortal Nick Cave, “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”, but if I did, I could believe he created Greens Pool just for me and my brothers to play in as kids. A sheltered cove of clear green water and satisfyingly raspy sand, it is dotted with huge boulders placed so as to better ones snorkeling experience. Memories quickly piled up in my mind: a tiny, blonde me crouching on the rocks, adjusting my snorkel mask. Shrieking as I find a scuttling crab. My brothers jumping off the biggest rocks. Dad holding our hands as we swam through the rough patches of water, furthest from the beach. Mum slathering us with sunscreen while we wriggled impatiently. As we watched the light ease into the early evening, was surprised to see how small the beach actually was, remembering it as a place of real adventure and feats of great daring and wonder for how many centuries kids have been playing in this very spot.

I insist that on our last day, we try to see The Gap and the Natural Bridge at Torndirrup National Park, despite Mum’s warning that the road had been closed the last time she went by. It’s worth trying for. There, the ocean smashes itself against the natural rock formations, shooting jets of water high into the air and sending salty spray in all directions as the high winds tug at jackets and ponytails. Sadly, the road was indeed closed, a sign indicating that it will soon be opened to give access to an even better lookout. Instead, we made for a different piece of coastline. Called Muttonbird Island by me and Shelter Island by map-makers and nobody else, this tiny island only accessibly by bravely swimming from the beach across the 130m channel, a protected sanctuary for the Little Penguins and flesh-footed shearwaters that make it their home. Mum and I decide to leave them undisturbed, instead finding a sunny nook between two boulders to watch the quiet beach. A large brown lizard watched it with us.

On the way out, we linger in the Albany town centre, walking past the Brig Amity, a full-sized replica of the 1816 sailing ship used in the exploration of much of the east and west coast of Australia in the early 19th Century. No pirates were spotted, but later on we did see an old friend in Dog Rock, a huge granite outcrop near York St that looks eerily like man’s best friend, peering nobly into the distance.

Winding up a holiday is always a sad event, but as Mum and I drove back up to the big smoke I knew that our short break wasn’t just a nostaligic revisit of a place that I’ll never see again. Albany and I are far from done, and if I’m honest, it feels like a tiny version of me has always been there, paddling in the waves and clambering over rocks in a perfect, unending summer holiday.

Best Western Torbay Seaview Holiday Apartments

Rebult in 2008, and a 20 minute drive from Albany, these apartments are perfect for a relaxed getaway, and are especially well suited to families or larger groups. Modern and self-contained, they are enormous and have everything you need for an extended stay, including laundry facilities and a well-equipped kitchen that goes beyond the essentials (Rice cooker? Check! Wok? Check! Cheese knives? Check!). With a master bedroom including a huge spa bath and views overlooking the bay of Cosy Corner beach, it could also easily serve a couple wanting to enjoy a romantic weekend. The apartments share walls but not balconies so privacy is not an issue, however their proximity means they could also suit large parties like wedding groups. To this end, plans are in the works to build a function center on the property to accommodate future such events.