Grime and pun­ish­ment

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - RICKY FRENCH RANT OR RAVE

KINGS PARK, VIC­TO­RIA HAZEL­WOOD power sta­tion in Vic­to­ria’s La­trobe Val­ley lays claim to be­ing the world’s dirt­i­est brown-coal fac­tory, and I can at­test the walls could cer­tainly do with a scrub. There we were, prac­tis­ing the art of ‘‘spon­ta­neous travel’’ or, to be hon­est, turn­ing up late one af­ter­noon, some­where un­ex­pected, due to bad plan­ning.

We­camped on the shores of the cool­ing pond, an ar­ti­fi­cial lake that keeps the power plant at a low tem­per­a­ture while the plant keeps the pond warm: na­ture in har­mony. ‘‘The wa­ter’s good at the mo­ment,’’ said a woman wear­ing gum­boots. ‘‘They check it for al­gae ev­ery Wed­nes­day morn­ing. Good read­ing this week.’’

Two young boys sat on the rim of the pond, dan­gling their feet in the wa­ter and watch­ing a pair of gold­fish trapped in a small, con­crete hold­ing area. Across the far side of the pond, power lines were strung upon mus­cu­lar py­lons, loaded up with mean, brazen, un­apolo­getic coal­fired elec­tric­ity.

Hazel­wood it­self was stern, fore­bod­ing, an im­pen- etra­ble fortress, sur­rounded by barbed wire: the name even sounds like a prison, or at the very least a lu­natic asy­lum. An in­dus­trial em­i­nence in dull coun­try­side, in its lighter moods it could be taken for an eastern Euro­pean choco­late fac­tory.

The faded sten­cilled sign gave it some charm, the red brick was warm and the chim­neys were in or­derly rows, like obe­di­ent soldiers.

In the evening, we pitched a tent, stalked shags in the reeds and took pho­tos of the flocks as they mooched around, honk­ing up the last of the De­cem­ber light.

And all the while the cool­ing pond steamed and spat bel­liger­ently, smok­ing up a storm. The wa­ter’s tem­per­a­ture was roughly that of a tepid spa pool as we plunged in that still De­cem­ber evening, and the shags took flight, drag­ging their pointed toes across the rip­ples.

An over­weight cou­ple sat and cast their fish­ing lines through the steam into the pond, took a swig from a VB long­neck and put their arms around each other. This flurry of ac­tiv­ity was watched over by the im­mov­able power sta­tion: dirty, bleak, of an­other time, spew­ing soot and cough­ing its lungs out.

Need I add there were no other campers? Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn: travel@ theaus­tralian.com.au. Pub­lished columnists re­ceive an Ev­ery­day Cash­mere Univer­sal Rib Scarf ($85). The uni­sex scarves are 140cm long and 25cm wide and avail­able in a wide range of colours. More: ev­ery­day­cash­mere.com.

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