Sunday 2nd April 2017

Portland

We've had a wonderful day in Portland!

It started with a bit of confusion. We thought that 'Sirena' had been an hour late arriving in port until we got to the Tourist Information Office and found that it was 10.30am and not 11.30am. Everybody else had the right time, and then we realised that last night we must have mis-read the instructions to change our clocks again – we should have put them back half an hour instead of forward!

Portland was running a special coach service twice today that went out as far as the Gannet colony and the Aluminium smelting works and then covered the city in detail. I say 'city' but it has a population of less than 10,000 – West Wickham's population is over 14,000 :o) It's a lovely place, though, with lots of schools, a well-run hospital and lots of medical facilities in the community. There are also more heritage buildings here than in the other places we've visited, i.e. going back to the 19th century. At that time there was a brief expectation that Portland would be made the state capital of Victoria, but that honour eventually fell to Adelaide.

The tour started in the docks area, and was surprisingly interesting. There were huge piles of logs stacked up as far as the eye could see, and these were being loaded on to (mainly Chinese) ships. The softer wood would eventually be stripped into thin pieces to make plywood and the harder wood would be used in construction. There were also enormous heaps of wood chips, again for export and again of two qualities, the lower grade for toilet, facial and kitchen paper and the higher grade for office paper and printing.

Recently, modern buffers had been installed along the quayside against which ships dock, replacing ancient, well-preserved timbers. These timbers proved to be a small goldmine as they were higher desirable for re-use. One timber was used to make a dining table for the port authority, but the rest were of such high quality and so well-preserved that they were sold off, with the revenue exceeding the cost of the new buffers along the quay!

Bauxite is imported here and transported on a conveyor belt inside a enormous pipe over 3 kilometres to the smelter along the coast. Its conversion to aluminium ingots consumes huge amount of power, for which Portland charges at a rate that is linked to the market price for aluminium. This is still a fraction of what local residents pay, though. There are lots of wind turbines along the coast that generate plenty of energy for Portland, but power for the smelter is supplied from the other side of Melbourne.

Near the smelter and just off-shore are the Lawrence Rocks, where there's a large gannet colony. Getting a little over-crowded there an overspill community established itself on the nearby mainland and has since been protected by fencing to keep away cats and dogs. However, gannets are such large, pugnacious birds that the thinking now is that cats and dogs wouldn't stand a chance ;o)

The driver of our coach had a key to the fence, and he drove us up the track to the mainland-based gannets, who themselves were protected by another fence. One of the volunteers who works there had found a young gannet trapped in the fencing at the water's edge and had rescued it. He was wearing very thick protective gloves and the gannet was angrily trying to bite his fingers. We were really lucky to see one of these birds up close, and it was very clear that humans have to treat them with enormous respect. After this it was back into town to see the shopping centre and residential areas.

Back in February, Gill had discovered that a local church was putting on a performance of Pergolesi's 'Stabat Mater' at 1.30pm today, so she bought tickets on-line. This is a much-loved piece from my earlier life and I knew that Gill would like it too. It's a Baroque piece that was written in 1735 about Mary standing at the foot of the cross, so it has strong associations with the Easter period. It was very enjoyable, even though the performers were less skilled than the string quartet that we've been listening to several times a day for the last month.

A craft market had been put on today by Portland to coincide with 'Sirena's' arrival, and we had a quick look around (and bought a few things!) before returning to the ship to see 'our' string quartet at Afternoon Tea, yet again. A thoroughly interesting and very satisfying day!

Tomorrow we're in Melbourne, and we've arranged to meet an old friend, Dave Gall and his wife Marti. Dave was a concierge at Sainsbury's new offices at Holborn. I discovered that he was a fellow Charlton supporter and introduced him to the Rose of Denmark crowd, who also know him well. He and Marti returned to Melbourne ten years ago, and it'll be really good to meet up again, Interestingly, my friend Geoff, another Charlton supporter who's going all around the world on his motorbike, and who also knows Dave well, is also in Melbourne at the moment, so he's meeting us too.





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