February 14, 2009 – The Ferguson Valley
Valentine’s Day was hot so we got off to a slow start and then took an afternoon drive into the Ferguson Valley, east of where we are staying. Though a map of the region shows sixteen wineries, we would never have thought to visit the area but for the suggestion of Maureen Eaton. We are grateful to her because we might have missed the rolling farm land, Wellington Dam, and a good story.
We set out for Dardenup, gateway to the Ferguson, and were pleased to find the visitor centre open. Housed in an old brick school house and fronted by a rose garden, the centre is staffed by volunteers. The one on duty was friendly and helpful and suggested a circle route around the valley.
We wanted to buy a good bottle of red wine for the Eatons, who had invited us for a barbecue, so we headed straight for the nearest winery, St. Aidan’s. They’ll have a beautiful tasting room when they finish construction. Right now they have a small plastic sign that points to the back yard of a house. We drove up the driveway but could not see a tasting room. No one came out to help us so we hopped in the car and headed for the next winery.
Carlaminda has a gourmet French café set in what looks like an add-on to a shed. The French owner has a quixotic sense of humour so guests are met with a street sign that reads, “Avenue des Champs Elysées”. Inside are more signs for Chemin du Bonheur (Happy Road) and Rue de la Soif (Thirsty Street).
We got more than a bottle of good red wine, an Spanish Tempranillo variety. We got a story. The woman behind the country had a French accent. When I asked how she ended up in rural Australia, she said she had had a couple of strokes. While she was recovering, she got a computer. She was lonely, and her daughter suggested she sign onto one the Internet dating sites.
The entries for men wanting to sit by the fire or walk into the sunset bored her. Then she came across someone who said he had cows and a sailing boat but couldn’t take his cows on the boat. She figured he had a sense of humour so contacted him. Now she is co-proprietor of a Western Australia winery. Until recently she was also the restaurant’s chef, but they have hired a French chef – a sign of the successful niche this small, out-of-the-way winery has managed to carve out for itself.
We stopped at Gnomesville, at the intersection where Willington Mill Road and Ferguson Road meet. I’m not sure how it got started, but a collection of gnomes was placed at the crossroads, accompanied by a sign of some sort. Now there are hundreds, likely even thousands of the whimsical figurines. They are all shapes and sizes. Some have only a family’s name. Others are accompanied by poems, stories, or bits of humour. A few photographs will give you the flavour of this odd, charming bit of whimsy.
From Gnomesville we drove to Collie, Western Australia’s coal-mining centre. We didn’t see any of the mining operations, but we did drive through a community that had the marks of a company town – small wooden houses, with railings and front porches, of a size for mine workers and their families.
On our way to Collie, Robin noticed huge clouds of billowing smoke in the distance and immediately recognized the sign of a bush fire. We haven’t heard how extensive it was, but we awoke this morning to the acrid smell of smoke and learned the fires were near Balingup, a town we’d passed through the day before.
From Collie we circled west and then back down into the Ferguson Valley. Because we’re in a rental car, we wanted to avoid unsealed (aka gravel) roads. So when we got to River Road, we opted to take the longer road, passing by Wellington Dam, because we could see River Road was not paved.
Our intent was to follow a one-way road along the Collie River and then join a more major road that would take us back to Dardenup. When we reached the intersection, I confidently insisted we drive straight ahead rather than turn right. I was absolutely certain of the direction, though Robin thought a right turn was called for. And I was absolutely wrong. So we ended up driving along an unsealed road anyway, and I lost my gold star for navigating.
We still arrived in plenty of time for a quick change of clothes and an on-time arrival for the barbecue, no thanks to me.