Sunday, June 15, 2008

Diary of a travelling trainer - day two: Grafton, Sydney

Photo: Clarence River, Grafton

This post continues the diary entry begun in Diary of a travelling trainer - day one: Sydney, Tamworth, Grafton.

Friday 13 June

Grafton 7 am. Well, I am awake. What's more, it's the first morning in a week that I have not had to get up early. Better still, I do not have to be at the training venue until 9.30.

Make myself coffee and get the motel tourism material on Grafton. Some interesting stuff there that I had not known, although I know Grafton quite well.

Grafton itself is 614k north of Sydney, 322k south of Brisbane. The city has a population of around 18,000 and is the capital of the Clarence River Valley.

Called the Big River, the Clarence is the largest coastal river in NSW, bigger than the Hawkesbury.

This is a seriously big river. Grafton itself is 60k up stream, yet the river was still deep enough for coastal steamers to berth here. Ulmarra just down stream remains one of the finest examples of a 19th century riverport in Australia. The entire village is classified by the National Trust.

Grafton 8.30am. Packed, I take the opportunity to drive round Grafton, looking for places that I used to know.

Today Grafton is probably known for its trees, including the famous Jacarandas that form a backdrop for the Jacaranda Festival. As early as 1866 Grafton Council resolved to consider by-laws for the planting and preserving of trees and shrubs in the streets and recreation grounds. Some of those trees are now over 100 years old.

While best known now for its trees, the city and valley itself is rich in history. The tourism material I saw does not do a particularly good job in explaining this, even though Grafton has one of Australia's oldest local history societies. Everything is fragmented.

This problem is not unique to Grafton. Part of the reason lies in the standard approach to tourism where everything is classified in terms of attractions and events instead of experiences. Part, too, lies in the localisation of history making it hard to see broader patterns.

Time is limited, so I can do little more than look round briefly before driving back over the famous wacky bendy bridge to South Grafton where the workshop is to be held. The bridge, a double decker, acquired this name because of the bends leading onto the bridge proper. Opened in 1932, this was the first bridge across the Clarence.

I had not driven round South Grafton before, so I took the time to have a look.

The Clarence River is central to Grafton's history. In the early period, it provided transport throughout the Valley and beyond. It also divided Grafton and South Grafton into separate towns.

Initially, the river was crossed by row-boat, then by a hand powered punt and then a steam punt.

In early 1915, the NSW Government decided to remove the free steam ferry, the Helen. This sparked indignant protests. At a protest meeting called to discuss the incident, South Grafton doctor Earl Page moved a motion suggesting that the time had come for the North to consider separation either alone or in connection with the southern portion of Queensland. A committee was formed to investigate the matter.

The Helen matter marks the start of the new state agitation that was to continue in one form or other for more than fifty years and of Earle Page's political rise to prominent national political figure.

South Grafton itself is fascinating because it remains in many ways a faded snap-shot of the past. I did not have a camera with me, but will try to get some shots at a later point. One thing that I did notice was the architectural style. While I have never seen it analysed, there is a very distinct feel to North Coast architecture.

Grafton 9.30 am. I arrive at the venue, a local club, and check out the room. A few people have already arrived, and we stand outside looking across the river to Grafton. I take the opportunity to ask questions, working out where the steamers used to dock. I also gather stories about life in Grafton.

We are again late in getting underway because of travel times. This time those from Tweed Heads (222k, 2hours 50) are delayed because of road works.

Grafton 12.30 pm. We break for lunch. At this stage I am running about twenty minutes behind schedule.

Each workshop is different, affected by both the mix of attendees and the venue. The content involves a mix of knowledge and skills acquisition. I have to be very controlled to get all this across in the available time.

The club venue is good, but lunch is provided in the bistro. This creates a problem. People have to line up to order, wait for the food, then eat. It is 1.20 before I get everybody back, and I have to finish at 3 to get to the airport.

I try to restructure my approach, but I already know that I am not going to achieve all my learning objectives. I am also quite tired.

Anybody who has done much training, or teaching for that matter, will know that it is part performance, using the adrenalin rush to keep going. This can drive through tiredness. However, at a certain point it all becomes very hard.

Grafton 3pm. I leave for Grafton airport -16k away - in a rush. I have got core material across, but I have also left a degree of confusion among some. So, at best, a qualified pass.

As always, I had checked route details, but was still a little nervous since I had not been to the airport before. I need not have worried. I get there in plenty of time to drop the car off and even have a quiet read.

Grafton 3.50 pm. I board the plane. The carrier this time is Rex, Regional Express, an airline formed out of the collapse of Ansett through acquisition of two of its regional carriers, Hazelton and Kendell. Both Hazelton and Kendell were aviation pioneers with histories similar to the New England carriers.

The first leg of the flight is a short hop down the coast to Taree.

I really enjoyed this leg. Flying at 15,000 feet, I had a view across the coastal plains to the sea. While I know the New England coastline very well, I had not flown over it. I wondered if I would be able to work out where we were from the air.

I need not have worried. Once I had oriented myself, I was able to spot most towns and rivers. In fact, this was quite fascinating, because it gave me new insights into the geography.

Landing at Taree, we are told that there will be a forty minute wait. This means getting into Sydney close to seven. I think about a short walk, but decide to wait. Just as well, we actually board on time.

Having boarded, the pilot explains that wind has closed one runway at Sydney, that we are still likely to land late. It is now dark, so I read. We finally land about 7pm, travelling by bus to the terminal. I ring my wife, who comes to pick me up.

Sydney 7.35 pm. I am now home. It is just over thirty six hours since I left. During that time I have flown around 1,000k, driven 307k and spent a bit over 11 hours in face to face training. Next week Queanbeyan, Newcastle and Orange.

No comments: