The town of Penola and Majella Wines were the two key destinations on our itinerary for today as we drove from Mount Gambier to Bordertown where we are staying tonight. Both are in the Coonawarra wine region and close together.
The total distance today was not great so we had decided on a slightly later start but were still ready to go by 9:00 am. Michael drove us around the city for 15 minutes or so and then parked near the sunken garden in the city centre. We moved past it quickly because the morning was overcast and the cool breeze was making 16ºC feel like 7ºC.
We had parked just a block away from the Metro Bakery and Cafe which had been recommended yesterday by the woman at the Robe information centre as a ‘must visit’ in Mount Gambier. Her recommendation was so insistently enthusiastic that those who heard it had decided that we should have coffee there before leaving Mount Gambier. We were not disappointed. The coffee was excellent, as were the various muffins and slices that we tried.
Caffeinated and fortified we set off north toward Penola. We knew of it from the story of Mary MacKillop as the site where the Sisters of St Joseph originated but we were expecting to learn more details of her story. Majella had found some information about what there might be to see but our plan was to visit the tourist information centre for details of where to go in Penola.
As we drove down the main street in Penola we spotted a sign indicating the information centre was 300 m ahead. Soon after we spotted a parking area and walked from there to the John Riddoch Centre which had information about local attractions, including wineries and Mary MacKillop history.
It also had a local history display and art works collected by an acquisitive competition. Other names highlighted in the exhibition included poets Adam Lindsay Gordon, who served as a police officer at Penola, and John Shaw Neilson, who was born in Penola. The art prize was named for him. Majella and I recalled his name and that we had both learned at least one of his poems but could not recall it until I searched and found To a Blue Flower. By the time we left we had spent considerably more time than we expected and had learned much more about Penola.
Armed with information about where to go we walked to the nearby Mary MacKillop Centre. Ten of us made enough to qualify for the group discount. The purpose-built centre building has two major sections devoted to telling the overlapping and separate stories of Mary MacKillop and Father Julian Tenison Woods. It took us more than an hour to work our way through those displays, visit the church with its shrine to Mary, and inspect the first school built for Mary on the site.
Before moving on in search of lunch we walked up Petticoat Lane to look at the cottages preserved and maintained by the National Trust. The two cottages where the Sharams raised 15 children were open and we were able to walk through those and imagine how life might have been. Mrs Sharam lived in the cottage until she died, aged 77, in 1910.
Our plan had been to have lunch at a winery. We had already confirmed that Majella Winery did not have food but we were considering others as we walked back toward the car. Along the way we rounded the corner where Haywards’ Royal Oak Hotel stands and saw their lunch specials board. Recalling that Mary MacKillop had stayed once in a local hotel and thinking this was it we decided that was good enough for us and ate lunch there. The dining room was very stylish and the food was good.
After lunch we headed north out of town to find Majella Winery. I had seen it mentioned in a newspaper sometime in 2002 or 2003. Naturally the name caught my eye and we acquired a bottle of Majella red which we enjoyed. Since then we have enjoyed occasional gifts of Majella wine from friends and have bought various styles ourselves. It has all been very enjoyable. They were another of the wineries that generously supported the Cri du Chat group fundraiser that Majella and Hannah ran in 2015. Thus there were many reasons to visit and those of us who tasted enjoyed the range of reds up to The Malleea. Jim bought a couple of bottles from the group fund to enjoy along the way and I sent a case of The Musician home.
Majella had originally thought we might visit the caves at Naracoorte on our way to Bordertown but we had spent more time than expected in Penola and the cool grey weather made caves seem uninviting. We drove straight through to Bordertown. On the way in we deviated to the wildlife park to look through the fence at the white kangaroos. Then it was on to our motel, 105 on the Park, where the rooms are large and comfortable.
There was a quick trip to the supermarket for essential supplies. We had all eaten a substantial lunch so dinner was a simple matter of sandwiches for those who wanted them. Then we settled into our rooms for a restful evening. Tomorrow we head further north to the Riverland.