It's been an educational week or so. We arrived in Melbourne after another thankfully smooth crossing on the ferry from Tasmania. We were now heading north to Sydney where the truck has an appointment for its annual service which would allow us time to enjoy the city. On the way however we had a lot to see that would give us an insight into both Australian history and culture. Whilst Alisha and Lucy had been studying this during their schooling for the last few months, they would now get to see some of it close up. First up was Sovereign Hill in Ballarat on the site of one of the big gold rushes in Victoria in the middle of the nineteenth century. Here an old gold town had been built showing life in the nineteenth century. I was a bit worried that it would be a gold town Disneyland and whilst there were aspects of that, it set out to explain how life was like in the old gold towns and was done very well. Alisha and Lucy absolutely loved it. They got to see how boiled sweets and candles were made. They saw real gold been poured into an ingot and they wondered around all the old buildings. We even went down an old recreated mining area. Well I did. Alisha and Lucy got about one minute in and decided they weren't going any further into the dark. Whilst there the girls thoroughly enjoyed he whole experience there were three things in particular they loved. The first was going back to school. They attended a short lesson at school recreating how a school would be in the nineteenth century in the gold town. They especially loved having to write with an ink pen dipped in ink. The teacher explained that this was how people wrote back then. Hang on a minute I thought. When I was 9 or 10 I had an ink well on my desk and we were given ink pens to dip into the ink wells just like Alisha and Lucy had been shown. I know I am getting on a bit but I thought, hey I am not that old! Gilly says she never had this so it must have all changed by the time she was at school (but that was a good few years later). The second thing they loved was getting dressed up in old costumes to have their photo taken in Sepia print. Alisha had been saving up her pocket money for weeks so they could look like proper little Victorian girls. Lastly they loved panning for their own gold. It was a hot day so it was the perfect end to the day looking for gold in the river. And they did find some very fine specks. Certainly not enough to get rich on or to spark another gold rush though. From Ballarat we headed to the banks of the Murray River and spent a pleasant evening camped by its side. We were here to visit Echuca which at one time was the third biggest port in Australia and the centre of the paddle steamer shipping trade. Wool, timber and other things were transported down the river to Echuca from where they were sent by rail to Melbourne and then shipped across the world. For about 30 years in the late nineteenth century the port was a key part of getting goods from the interior of Australia to England. Then the railways were expanded and in no time at all the port fell into disuse. Part of the port has now been restored and we went on a tour around it. With it been a port it was a lively place in the nineteenth century with lots going on and plenty of pubs to service the dock workers. The best part of the tour was going through the underground tunnel at one of the pubs that was used by patrons to escape through when the police raided after closing time. A number of the paddle steamers have been lovingly restored so we also took a short ride down the river on one. It was a longish drive to our next spot so we first spent a night at a lovely spot near a small river before camping on the edge of Wagga Wagga for a night. From there it was a shortish drive to the capital of Australia, Canberra. Canberra is a city that was designed to be the capital so there is lots of green spaces and wide avenues. Whilst it is a pleasant enough looking city the main reason we were here is that it has some of the best museums in Australia. As it was a holiday weekend it was easy to drive into the city and on the first day we were able to park almost right outside the Parliament Building. Here we took a tour to see the Australian Parliament. Whilst it is in a very modern building many of the trappings are very similar to the British Parliament even down to the colours of the seats where the House of Representatives are green like the English House of Commons and the Senate seats are red like the House of Lords. After that we headed to the museums and art galleries. We visited the National Gallery to see some wonderful aboriginal art as well as the National Portrait Galley. Whilst we have been studying a lot of Australian history I have to admit I had not heard of a lot of the people in the pictures in the Portrait Gallery, although Nicole Kidman seemed familiar. We also took the kids to the science museum which they loved as they could press lots of buttons, do experiments and lots of other things. They even had a 6m drop where you hung from a bar and just let go. The curvature of the slide softened the blow and you quickly slid to a stop. On seeing this Lucy decided she had to have a go. Whilst lots of kids were pausing at the top it did not take long for Lucy to grab the bar, hang down and then let herself go. Unfortunately the picture does not do it justice. One museum deserves a special mention, The National War Memorial. It was excellent with fantastic exhibits on both the First and Second World Wars as well as Afghanistan and other recent conflicts. As with most of the museums we visited there was an area for kids to interact in. So Alisha and Lucy donned costumes and sat in a helicopter and a submarine. But this museum had a very serious side too. It really brought home the horrors of war as well as the individual stories of some of the participants. The courtyard of remembrance was particularly powerful as it contained the name of each person who has died in the many conflicts in which Australian troops have fought. Also there was nowhere we could effectively camp and all the formal campgrounds were full. So for the first time in Australia we had to make do stopping in a rest area at the side of the road. Not the best place but we weren't the only ones. Whilst the road was busy it quietened down after dark. We were awoken though about 1am by some idiot driving around the parking area in what looked like a motorised chair! It made a hell of a racket but not as much at the thunderstorm that struck shortly afterwards! It had all cleared by the next morning so we went on a rather damp hike along the cliffs before heading to a camping area by a river. This was much better, a lovely spot and with lots of wombats for company. In hindsight it would have been better to spend a couple of days here. Still it's now time to head into Sydney. We are due a rest after all that history and culture.