Discovering Australia's hidden gems

Archive for November, 2013

The Allure of Alstonville

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The Allure of Alstonville

Tourist Drive Route 28 promised picturesque rural villages and country pubs, yet it delivered so much more!

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A planned exploration of the outer regions of Ballina (located on the far north coast of NSW, Australia), uncovered some true gems, and turned into a delightful day of discoveries!

First stop en route was the town of Alstonville. As we entered the town I had a feeling that this place was about to exceed my expectations.

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The main street was a showcase of stunning federation style buildings, interspersed with new, modern shopfronts. Unlike many towns I’ve seen with historic architecture, all of these buildings were in immaculate condition. In fact even the public areas and private residences of Alstonville looked very neat, clean, and picturesque, giving the town a strong aesthetic appeal.

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The Quattro Country Cafe/Restaurant

I was also surprised by the quality of the food in town. I’d not been there more than five minutes before I found myself sitting in a quaint little café which used to be the old Post Office building, established in 1902. It’s now the Quattro Country restaurant, with a menu boasting delicious and exotic sounding fare that would rival the cafes of my beloved Byron Bay.

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Over coffee and scones we consulted our tourist brochure and made a plan of attack for discovering this unique little town.

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I only got about 100 metres further before I discovered my next fabulous foodie establishment – the Federal Hotel!

I’ve got to say, “The Feddy”, as it is affectionately known by Alstonville locals, now ranks as one of my favourite pubs of all time. (Sans the ocean views of many of my other favourite pubs, yes there are a few. Note to self – write blog on best pubs!)

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The Federal Hotel is a beautifully maintained federation style building with a lovely wide front veranda overlooking the main street, where you can relax with a cool drink and soak in the vibe of Alstonville.

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There is another large, covered outdoor area to the side, as well as a back beer garden with a grassy patch for those who need a bit of green in their vista (present company included).

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But the food!!  As soon as I saw the menu I knew I would be saving my packed picnic lunch for another occasion and scheduling the rest of our day around returning to The Feddy for lunch.  With this happy thought in mind I continued my explorations.

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We walked the pretty streets following the Alstonville Heritage Trail and came across St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, one of the most divine looking churches I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few impressive churches during my travels).

Small but stunning, this splendid piece of architecture was completely captivating.

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The morning communion was in progress so I spent time photographing the outside structure from every angle. The rough-hewn sandstone gave it a texture pleasingly distinct to the usual sandstone structures, and I loved the shapes, lines, and other interesting features of the building.

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Showing the hand movement for “Grace” in sign language.

Then over the sound of my camera shutter I heard the strains of Amazing Grace floating out from within. Spontaneously I broke into sign language, and standing outside the church accompanied them with my own private rendition of Amazing Grace using Key Word signing. This is one of the many uplifting songs that I perform with The Singing Hands Choir, a wonderful group of volunteers based on the Central Coast of NSW who combine the joy of music with the visual beauty of sign language for the pleasure and entertainment of local and surrounding communities.

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The inside of the church was even more beautiful than the outside. Eyes were drawn Heavenward to fall upon a strange combination of classic sandstone merging into high, Tudor design ceilings.

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I’m always overwhelmed by the beauty of stained glass windows and this was no exception.

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The feature window depicted a famous artwork from the pre-Raphaelites, titled The Light of the World.

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Showing the hand movement for “God” in sign language.

We spent some time chatting with young Pastor Trent and I taught him the first verse of Amazing Grace in sign language. In return, he taught me the history of the song written by John Newton, an English slave trader in the late 1700’s who, upon facing near death during a severe storm at sea, turned to God and renounced his previous life to become a Christian minister and support the cause to abolish slavery.

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Continuing along our Alstonville trail I was again pleasantly surprised by the quality of the produce available here. The Alstonville butcher proudly advertised free-range, organic and Paleo friendly meat products, as well as award winning Sausage King Competition snags! They also provide a range of gourmet deli products. The butcher store with more! For the health and ethically conscious consumer. 🙂

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The next gem to be unearthed came in the form of the Crawford House Museum.

We were given a personal guided tour through this heritage listed building which was once the home of well-known resident William Ambrose Crawford and his family. The building is now owned by Ballina Shire Council and has been restored by the Alstonville Plateau Historical Society to operate as a Heritage Museum.

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The occupation of the Crawford family spanned many decades, which are reflected in the various themed rooms ranging from the early 1900’s to the 1970’s era.

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I always get nostalgic when I recognise items that my grandparents used to use, or even my own parents during my early childhood.

This museum is distinct in having regular changing exhibitions to complement its permanent collection, much like an art gallery.

And the exhibition of today … The History of Underwear!

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The exhibits and museum guide took us on an interesting journey through the evolution of underwear – much more fascinating than you might imagine.

Fads, fashions and social attitudes, all changing with the times. The style of underwear was the hidden foundation for the fashions of outer wear – sculpting and shaping the body for the desired look of the era. As somebody who can’t even bear to wear a bra, I was horrified by some of the torturous devices of the past.

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A diagram showing the displacement of internal organs when wearing a corset was particularly shocking. The things we do in the name of fashion! I’ve no doubt we’ll look back on the towering stiletto heels of today with the same horrified amazement.

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The backdrop to the underwear exhibition was historic life in this Alstonville farmhouse, with an interesting array of household furniture and appliances spanning the early to mid-1900’s.

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A true highlight was meeting Dorothy – the last surviving daughter of the founding family. She recounted stories of her childhood in the house and some of the changes the building has undergone. At 95 years old she was bright as a button, and we enjoyed her bubbly enthusiasm and the opportunity to interact with a living part of this history.

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After a very lengthy and comprehensive tour, I desperately needed a sit down and recovery period before taking photos of the museum so we took a lunch break and headed back to – THE PUB!

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The perfect place to refuel and recharge. After getting excited about the menu all over again, I decided on the daily special – Goldband Snapper fillet with chat potatoes, brocollini, and sweet chilli aioli, topped with 3 delicious coconut crumbed prawns. Sound good? It was. Although hard to pass over the burgers that I could see being served. Gigantic towering creations filled with multi-layered goodness, truly a sight to behold.  Here’s a link to their menu – go on, get excited! http://www.thefedhotel.com.au/food.php?loadSectionName=food

I recently had some like-minded food fiend friends staying with me who wanted to explore the region’s local produce. If only I’d known about the Alstonville Foodie Trail then!

With every activity during the day turning out to be a much richer experience than expected, we found ourselves running out of time. Our next stop was a far too brief visit to Summerland House Farm, an organisation run by The House With No Steps which provides employment and training opportunities for people with a disability.

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The centre hosts a general store which stocks an impressive range of the region’s best gourmet produce. I was in Heaven.

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I spent my limited amount of time in the grocery store so will have to come back to explore their nursery, café, gift shop, museum, mini-golf course, and of course their farm. I’m especially looking forward to doing the $5 tractor tour to learn more about the agricultural focus and practices of the region. I’ve got a feeling I could dedicate an entire blog just to this return visit.

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Again I find myself overwhelmed with the richness and diversity of this North Coast region – its food, its people and culture, and its stunning natural beauty.

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There is a special something about this area, an X-factor that has bewitched me and is begging me to stay longer …

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