Like a convalescent invalid, the sun made brief appearances on our last day in Margaret River, sunshine in a watery sky. We’d checked out local art galleries and admired the technique and individuality in a wide range of art forms. In one gallery, the manager quietly worked on the books while the more overt security (a large poodle) was tethered to a sculpture nearby.
The view from our hotel room overlooked a few heritage buildings nestled into a wooded area, so naturally we had to check those out. Sadly, they were closed but a wander around the outside told us a great deal about how the local historic society has been working to preserve and teach about the early development of Margaret River.
When we’d first arrived in Margaret River, we’d noticed the rather curious-looking town of Cowaramup just to the north, so we went back to explore. On the way we stopped in to the Margaret River Dairy Factory to indulge, and stock up on local gourmet cheese.
The small village of Cowaramup is about the same size as our own home village, with a population of less than 2,500. Originally it was a siding on the Busselton to Augusta railway, no longer operational. However, the highway runs through Cowaramup, which is in the centre of the Margaret River wine region. Like our home village, the main business precinct is small but essential — a pharmacy, post office, bakery, various cafés, a farm supplies store and a specialty store with local artifacts. We saw the inside of a number of these shops when we took shelter with each brief dump of rain and/or hail.
The Margaret River area is famous for dairy and wine. Cowaramup is actually named for the local Noongar word cowara, for the purple-crowned lorikeet. However, the local dairy farming has now given the place the local colloquial name of “Cowtown”. We heard another local refer to it as “Mootown”. The nearby surf spot, Cowaramup Bombora (which has been the location of some giant surf rides) is locally known as “Cow Bombie”.
So what’s a small town to do, to bring in the tourists trade?
They ‘planted’ cows. Forty-two statues of them, meandering down the main street, chewing their cud beside the post office, settled near the bakery. And it worked, at least for us. I’d seen them several days earlier when we’d first arrived, driving through to the Margaret River township itself. And it was those cow statues that I’d glimpsed that had me wanting to go back and find out more.
And, of course, get a coffee.
Australia does good coffee, as a rule. We’re famous for it. Wherever you go, even a tiny roadhouse in the middle of nowhere in a place with a population you could count on the fingers of one hand (often a hand that’s had a nasty accident with an axe) you can get a great cup of coffee.
Cowaramup was no different. While we sheltered from yet another dump of grapeshot hail, we enjoyed great coffee and a snack, and explored the shops we could safely reach while staying dry. Meanwhile the local people of Cowaramup went about their daily business stepping over and around gawping tourists like us (with a smile — very friendly people).
“All this rain must be helping things grow,” I remarked. We’d seen how lush the forests were. A hedge maze had looked interesting on the brochures, but was, unfortunately, closed while we were there.
We bought a couple of crusty bread rolls in the bakery to enjoy with our cheese, and headed back to Margaret River, exploring along a few more side roads.
Heading back into Margaret River in the mid-afternoon, we saw a colourful street library and, of course, I had to stop to check it out.
The street library was on the fence of a garden, hand-painted signs referring to Margaret River Organic Garden.
As a self-confessed garden junkie, I surged right in. The garden was organic in many senses — bits of improvised or more detailed garden sculpture were immersed in foliage and flowers spilling over borders.
With all the rain, there was a lot of muddy, boggy areas but the plants clearly were enjoying the attention.
As we rounded a corner on the path, we came upon a woman up a ladder, pruning. A wayward branch was tangled, we jumped forward to grab it and help pull it down into the wheelbarrow. Thus ensued a fascinating exploration into the people, the history and the plants of this amazing, colourful space. It’s a communal space, an education space and simply a place to be.
We wandered with our new friend and pulled weeds together until the sun (what there was of it) was low in the sky. Before we left, our friend gave us a book about the Organic Garden, a beautiful book with contributions from some of the many gardeners who have spent time working on this community initiative.
We spent our last evening in Margaret River at a tapas bar we’d discovered and loved, enjoying local food and wines and listening to the local people enjoying a pleasant evening at the end of their working day.
Truly a wonderful space to be.