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Thursday, January 15, 2004
Harry Powers

During my first trip to Australia, I followed my nose and found some interesting things. Among them was Powers Lookout ('Lookout' is an appropriate Australian term implying 'Panorama', 'View', and 'Vantage Point' or any combination of the three). It was interesting to discover, when I was later given a copy of Bill Bryson's book Down Under, that our paths had often crossed. Later during this current visit, I shall be amplifying or disputing some of Bryson's assessments but for the moment I can throw a bit more light on one of his ‘discoveries'.

Before Bryson had even thought of his book, I would guess, I came across Powers Lookout, high in the hills above King Valley, Victoria. It has all of the essence of a ‘lookout'. Harry Powers was a bushranger (crook/highwayman) who, allegedly, taught Ned Kelly his craft. Bryson tells part of the story of Harry Powers (p. 176) but he leaves out some interesting detail: after his capture and imprisonment, Harry Powers mended his ways and became a tour guide. He died when, after a surfeit of hard liquor, he fell from a boat on the Murray River and was drowned.

When I first visited the lookout, it was to interrupt a busy day of wine-tasting and I came across the lookout sign while driving round looking for another winery. The lookout is conveniently situated down a long dirt track. I was the only visitor in the hour or so I spent there and I passed no-one else, either way, on the trail. I came to a similar conclusion to Bryson that, ‘…if you [were to] put this place in Virginia or Vermont, …there would be scores of people here…’. In Australia, it is possible to come across many treasures of this type: something pleasant, noteworthy, yet apparently completely overlooked by the expected hordes of tourists. Indeed, while meandering aimlessly off the beaten track elsewhere in Victoria, I came across signs to a waterfall. Having followed the signs for several kilometres, I found a most delightful spot to have a picnic lunch. Needless to say, I had the waterfall all to myself for nearly two hours, save for a collection of bright and noisy birds. And, having had his lookout all to myself several years ago, I wondered if the place would be any busier on a public holiday.

Finding myself nearby on New Year's Day, I turned off the road to renew my acquaintanceship; this time, I was not alone. I passed several returning vehicles on the track and there were four other small groups of people at the viewpoint, admiring the view and soaking up the local history. Perhaps there were ten people there altogether. Hardly ‘tourist hordes’, even then.

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