Three Cheers For Chiltern

Chiltern is a beautiful Victorian town, as Tim Smith discovered when concert tickets took the place of a conventional Christmas present.


I know that feeling. You’ve heaped a sizeable chunk of your hard-earned cash onto an RV, you’ve got all the gear, you’ve poured over the road atlas, the dog is in the carport sitting by the caravan door and your wife is raising her eyebrows. You’re all set to smash out a big trip but, sadly, your holidays are more than six months away. Maybe it’s time for a weekend away? Hitching up and heading off for a couple of days can be a true joy. But, nowadays, you don’t even need a van, you can take the cabin option — all the fun of a van but someone else does the cleaning and washes the sheets.


This story starts last Christmas day, over a backyard pina colada (a Smith family tradition). My very cool daughter, Ali, exploded onto the scene with hugs and kisses and a fresh bottle of Kraken rum, announcing that she has got her mum “the best Christmas present ever”! A big statement as my wife has a general dislike of almost everything.

So I was eager to hear what this new disappointment would be. “Is it that bottle of Kraken that you’ve already opened”? I ask.

“No, better than that,” cried Ali proudly. “I’ve got us all tickets to The Hoodoo Gurus’ concert at a winery.”

“Fantastic!” I shout, leaping to my feet. “When is it?”

“I’m not sure,” she replied.

“Which winery?” I ask excitedly.

“I don’t know,” she laughed back. “It’s going to be awesome. Merry Christmas, Mum”.

As the daughter hugged her mum, I snatched a glance at my wife’s face. It was clearly telling me that she felt this concert would be anything but awesome. Ali had clearly forgotten my wife’s fear of portaloos and crowds.

Aerial view of Lake Anderson Caravan Park, the Smiths’ home for the weekend.

“Thanks, dear. That sounds… great,” she muttered through clenched teeth. But it was Christmas, so my wife sucked it up and got back to the business of trying to kill us all through the overfeeding of turkey and trifle.

Time passed and the promise of loud, crowded, wine-soaked fun soon faded. Until the wife got that fateful text message, “Hey Miss Freelove of 69, two weeks to go, dust off your dancing shoes.”

The excrement hit the air extractor. Her angry online search revealed the details of the upcoming expedition. “It’s the Day on the Green, it’s the Hoodoo Gurus, the Models, the Whitlams, Tim Rogers, and the Violent Femmes at a winery just outside Rutherglen.”

“Woo-hoo!” I shouted, dancing around the lounge room.

“Are you nuts? This is a nightmare,” shouted my wife. Reading the mood in the room I instantly changed tack. “Boo!” I cried. “This is terrible, I’m not dancing, I’m jumping around in anger. Death to all fun.”

“You are an idiot,” stated the love of my life.


She was right, I am an idiot, her idiot. She took me on as a project years ago, she hunted out a faulty unit and spent years restoring it, me. Unfortunately, she still hasn’t finished. I think she has had trouble getting parts. Anyway, I operate well enough to know when to shut up.

She went on to express her anger about daughters, Christmas presents, and how she would have much preferred a ‘spurtle’ (which turns out to be a porridge spoon and not a Pokémon, an argument I won’t get into here). She went on to curse the invention of music, wine, days in general and anything on a green. I immediately went into cheer-up mode.

“Well, it’s all booked so you have to go, and I’ll be there. I wonder if Ali has booked any accommodation.”

Wow, I am so bad at cheering up. This started a text frenzy between wife and daughter that revealed nothing had been organised other than tickets.

So I’m waiting for the explosion, but it never came. My wife started organising instead. She worked out our travel distance, as she pointed out that this would affect our departure time. Did we want to leave Friday night or first thing Saturday morning? She got online and looked at different spots around the All Saints winery. She finally decided on Chiltern, Vic (, and went on to explain that this is a great little town, just a few minutes off the Hume Highway, snuggled up to the Mt Pilot National Park, nestled in the wine growing region of central northern Victoria, about 20 minutes out of Rutherglen and, most importantly, the bird-watching capital of Victoria.

Tim and his daughter, Ali, at the concert.

Chiltern was an old mining town but, luckily for us, the locals have seen fit to preserve its heritage — my wife doesn’t mind a bit of preserved heritage. So what you get now is a nice, old, tree-lined town featuring old brick buildings with big verandas. All that heritage can give you a thirst, but don’t worry, they boast a cracking pub, The Telegraph Hotel, which originally opened in 1859 and is one of the oldest pubs operating in the north-eastern district of Victoria.

I love an old pub, in fact I love any pub, so this trip was looking better and better. Plans were drawn up, emails were sent, lodgings were booked, people were organised. The weekend arrived in a flurry of weather checking, clothing choices, bag packing and husband bossing. “You have one job, get us there,” clarified the wife.

“No problems, the old Chrysler loves a road trip, so no pressure,” I said truthfully, because in the right rear tyre of my car there was no pressure at all. I had been pumping it up every couple of days so this was the perfect excuse to have it fixed. The head tyre guy claimed that everyone had had a look and couldn’t find a problem but they’d slung a new tube in anyway. As I drove off, I had a distinct lack of trust in the right rear tyre, no matter how many tyre guys promised “she’ll be right”.


I’m up at sparrows the next morning. I load the wife, too many bags, and check the rear tyre. Looking good. The wife is not happy, she hates a road trip. She’s sitting with crossed arms and an even crosser expression. She complains about the music, the fact that you sit so low in my car, I’m in the wrong lane, I’m going the long way, I’m too close to the car in front and I could check my mirrors more often. I point out that I’m a trained racing car driver and pilot and driving a car, any car, is well within my skill set.

The camp kitchen at Lake Anderson CP.

She points out that I am also a moron, which negates any other skill set I may believe I possess. I point out that she is a bad person, she points out that I am a slack-jawed buffoon. We hit the freeway sitting in silence, her hating the world and me exploring my jaw movement trying to decide if it could do with some tightening.

‘BANNG THUKA THUKA THUKA!’ The right rear tyre goes flat and we haven’t even made it to Seymour. “Well done, racing car pilot boy,” sneers my wife as I pull over.

“Death to all tyre guys,” I’m thinking as I check the damage. It is minimal, except for the flattest tyre I have ever seen. I swing into action, I would have made the Holden Race Team proud. I unpacked, loosened, jacked, swapped, lowered, tightened and repacked in under five minutes. It was a thing of beauty to behold, and so it should have been as I’d been running the procedure in my mind since yesterday.

“You’re amazing,” said my wife, smiling, as she happily took her seat, wound down the window and sat back. Things were looking up. We had faced disaster and overcome it. But more importantly, I had been useful in front of the wife.

The rest of the drive was a blur of laughter and hair blowing in the wind. When we finally pulled off the Hume and motored into Chilton, her smile only grew bigger, it was more than she had hoped. The town was stunning. But the Anderson Lake Caravan Park where we were staying was even better. It’s a tree-lined, bird-chirping, lake-hugging slice of paradise right in the centre of town. (Here, have a look for yourself:

She had picked a winner. As we pulled up next to our lake view cabin, we were greeted by our daughter and her boyfriend on the veranda offering us misty, chilled glasses of wine.

“Merry Christmas, Mum,” laughed Ali. “Did you pack your dancing shoes?”

As it turned out, she did. She really, really did.

Oh, by the way, it was the best Christmas present ever! The concert was wild, the Aussie bands were all incredible and the Violent Femmes went on, like a blister in the sun. But as good as it was, the concert wasn’t the highlight. For me, that goes to Chiltern. By day, its sky is full of birds and by night brimming with stars.  A top spot. My wife had a great weekend, but next Christmas she’d like a spurtle. Preferably given to her at Cable Beach.