Gunning for an Adventure

Harvest Festival
Harvest Festival

In an earlier post titled Weekends in Canberra, I promised to write some articles about some of the things you can do around the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and southern highlands region.

Today we made our way to the Harvest Festival at the Canberra Environment Centre, where there was some great live music, eco community groups and many stalls selling local fare, much of which was organic.

One of my favourite things I love to buy at organic markets aside from fruit and vegetables, is honey, and I was not disappointed. The Harvest Festival had two stalls with honey and beekeeping information, with both offering free samples of a range of eucalyptus and wild flower varieties. We bought a litre of new season honey which is slightly candied and a thickish texture. It won’t last long at our house, I am a fiend for good honey!

Old bath at Cork St Cafe, photo by Tracey Benson
Old bath at Cork St Cafe, photo by Tracey Benson

Seeing that it was such a lovely day, Marty suggested that we take a drive to Gunning, located around halfway between Yass and Goulburn. On the way, we stopped in at Gundaroo Village for a delicious lunch at the The Cork Street Cafe. This cafe has a long standing reputation for excellent pizzas and beautiful homemade bread rolls and focaccia. Marty had a focaccia with local prosciutto, semi sun dried tomatoes and bocconcini and I had a small Fungi pizza (mushrooms and parmesan). We shared both of our dishes as neither of us wanted to miss out. Our lunch was washed down with a nice pot of English Breakfast tea, while we enjoyed the lovely day sitting at one of the outside tables, shaded by a big umbrella.

After lunch we headed off to Gunning, which was well worth the drive (about 1 hour from Canberra). It is a quaint little place, with lots of historic buildings and a population of about 500 people. It is a town and region that is rich in terms of creativity as well, with many artists, performers and writers living in the surrounding area.

Max Cullen's special sign, photo by Tracey Benson
Max Cullen’s special sign, photo by Tracey Benson

We checked out the Picture House in the main street, as I was curious about all the old books and film memorabilia. When we headed inside, we were greeted by none other than Max Cullen, an actor who has has featured in many excellent Australian movies and television shows, including Baz Luhrmanns’s The Great Gatsby and one of my favourite ABC shows Rake.

Max very graciously posed for a photograph, giving me his special signature sign. Picture House also has a gallery, with work by local artists and a performance space. I really loved the old ticket window, complete with the mannequin ticket seller. She does look a bit like she was jettisoned from the 1970s, check out the hair.

Picture House Ticket Window
Picture House Ticket Window

The Picture House website says that “Actor/Artist Max Cullen and artist Margarita Georgiadis, have occupied The Coronation Theatre (circa 1937) in Gunning since 2004. Renamed The Picture House, The Coronation Theatre ceased showing movies in the mid 1960’s and was abandoned, nearly derelict before Max and Margarita set to work renovating it into what is now a shining landmark of cultural and artistic enjoyment.”

"Dervish", photo by Tracey Benson
“Dervish”, photo by Tracey Benson

Max encouraged us to go into the performance space, where there was a local contemporary dance performance, which was really interesting – and free to watch. Talk about great timing! One of the dances was titled “Dervish” and we looked at each other excitedly, thinking it would be like the Sufi Whirling Dervish dance/performance we are familiar with from Turkey. But it was quite different to what we expected, though still very engaging. Something else that stuck me as a bit unusual, were the  people dressed in colonial outfits in the audience. We guessed that we must have missed some sort of colonial recreation event, as Gunning was settled quite early in comparative terms. To provide a condensed history, the broader region was originally home to two Australian Aboriginal language groups, the Gundungurra people in the north and the Ngunnawal people in the south.

Colonial Costumes
Colonial Costumes

The region (specifically Gundaroo) was first explored by Europeans in 1820, and settled the next year by Hamilton Hume. In 1824, Hume and William Hovell left Gunning to discover the overland route to Port Phillip Bay where Melbourne is sited. Gunning was originally a coach stop, and service centre for the surrounding farms mainly growing Merino sheep. It had a police station and court house, post office, and school. For many years it was also a major stop on the Hume Highway, the main highway between Sydney and Mebourne. The highway now bypasses Gunning.

Anyway, we had a fantastic day on our outing. Our spontaneous decision to go on a short trip reminded me that there is so much to see around the region, and to make the most of the glorious weather while it lasts.

There are many little towns all around the southern tablelands of NSW, the region which skirts the ACT. Many of these small towns and villages have very interesting histories and characters. I will leave you with this photograph Marty took, which sums up Gunning beautifully.

Gunning mural, photo by Martin Drury
Gunning mural, photo by Martin Drury

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