1. EATING OUT AT THE MILL
Only about a kilometre way from our home, right down the hill, is this fabulous building, The Mill about 150 years old. For 90 of these years it lay abandoned and unloved, till some enterprising locals decided to restore and renovate it, and use it for wine tasting. It has continued to evolve, and it now has enclosed verandahs and restaurant too. The food is yummy scrummy, huge servings, and my kids LOVE the big chips. The whole place is made of stone, rough hewn timbers, and aches with history. We went for brunch there last week, and my Miss 8 took a camera along to take photos, and was fascinated with the old pictures of Cowra on the walls and the artefacts on display. At the end of the meal, we waddled out full as googs, appetite well and truly sated. With a family that contains 2 vegetarians, a carnivore and fussy teenager, this is no mean feat. Thanks kids, you chose well!
Just up the hill from us, is this really extraordinary 5 hectare manicured, sprawling, beautiful garden, with lakes and waterfalls,a Japanese tea house, exhibition space, cafe and shop. It's not what you would expect to find in a little country town, but this little pice of loveliness has sadder roots.
In August 1944, the largest breakout in modern military history occurred in Cowra, when Japanese soldiers, shamed by their capture, and despite almost certain death and failure, attempted to escape the POW camp here. Hundreds did die, including 4 Australians. The POW camp is now a place of quiet reflection and we walk our dogs there often. The sunsets are unbelievable. As part of the healing process, and a sign of immense courage and maturity, a deep and abiding friendship now exists between Cowra and Japan and the gardens are just one example of this bond.
My kids know all about this history, and are fascinated by it... but they also just love going to 'the gardens' because they love the cafe, they love feeding the Koi carp, chasing the ducks, having picnics there, exploring and climbing the granite tors dotted about, and even hiring a golf buggy to get around. We are so lucky to have this unique and brilliant place, I have always felt like it is the quiet beating heart of the town. This place is part of the story that enriches our life here, and as a family we all value that.
5. WYANGALA DAM
It seems that this is a good time to introduce you to another of our fave places - because the Lachlan River is of course irrevocably the reason why this dam exists. 'The Dam' is visited by over 80,000 visors a year, so I read, and is the place lots of locals (as well as tourists from further afield) go to cool down in summer, holiday next to, fish in, water-ski on, go boating, canoeing, hire houseboats, swim in, camp next to, go hiking around... it is Cowra's playground I suppose.
We do not own a boat or a caravan, but we are lucky enough to have generous friends that have allowed us the exhilaration of being towed behind their boat at high speeds on 'biscuits' and 'bananas', try kneeboarding (with hilarious results and the largest bruise I have ever had), and share with them wicked laughs and magic moments.
Our family has also had more sedate times out there, just having picnics and enjoying the scenery. Recently I took my girls out there, and we picnicked under the immense stone wall of the dam, and did sketching and painting in the winter sun. They were keen to swim, but common sense and winter chill ( and a nagging mother ) meant we stayed firmly on terra firma, and admired the dam from lookouts instead.
This is another place firmly woven into the psyche of my children, a place that is only half an hours beautiful drive away, but still promises fun, and makes them excited and happy.
9. COWRA FUN / WAR MUSEUM
WOW! Just WOW! I am not quite sure how to describe this place. It almost defies definition! To help me, I went onto trip advisor, to see what others had said, and most people were flabbergasted at the extent of the collections, but also a bit bemused, bewildered, staggered at just how much STUFF is in this museum.
We have been going here for years, on and off, as a family,and because as my now hairy and moody (but brilliant) teenager, when he was little was a total train freak. This museum has a tonne of train related exhibits, old train carriages, train signs, steam engines, railway memorabilia... so it was bloody fantastically fortuitous that this place was just a few km away in the same little place we lived in. What are the chances! (there is also the LVR, Lachlan Valley Railway Museum... but that's another post...)
It has changed a bit since then, with more of a focus on war memorabilia and artefacts, many to do with the Cowra Breakout, but it also has lots of tanks, armoured vehicles and other "war stuff"(as Miss 12 calls it).
Completely randomly, it also has a vast spoon collection, model cars, flags, farming equipment, radios, dolls.... toys....Seriously, this is a lifetime (or several ) of collections. It is totally trippy! But it is pretty obvious that there is a hoarding instinct at play here too. It is lacking in editing, professional presentation, safe displaying, archival storage, museum quality labelling, information.... You used to be able to buy stuff too, but it seems these days nothing is for sale, and it is just gathering dust.
My heart aches a little when we go here... it is obvious there is passion and love behind al this stuff, and my husband and son just adore it, because it is so extensive and quirky. My girls loved the train carriages with their "Harry Potter Hogwarts Express" looking compartments. (Oh! and Hercule Poirot too! pipes up Miss 8.) I wish there was some funding and some heavy investment for this place, because it is unique and extraordinary in the truest sense of the word. You have to se it for yourself!