Spotted by locals: Ella Hooper’s High Country

Ella Hooper: singer, songwriter, musician.
“I seem to do more cultural stuff in the country.
In the city, it’s overwhelming.”
 Pop-rock
chanteuse Ella Hooper returns to her High Country heartland for a
girls’ weekend exploring the villages and towns of the Strathbogie
Ranges and beyond.

VIOLET
TOWN, about a two-hour drive north of Melbourne, is home turf for Ella
Hooper, who hit the limelight heading the rock band Killing Heidi with
her guitarist brother, Jesse, before going acoustic as The Verses. She
says Winter, her favourite song from the Verses album Seasons, is an ode
to going home. “It’s about healing there when you don’t know quite
where life is taking you.”

Now
a solo artist with a just-released single, Haxan, Ella says she usually
takes the train to Violet Town. “I’m a public transport girl. I read,
veg out, listen to music. I get a lot of writing done.

There’s
inspiration in motion.” Ella’s recent weekend visit with friends also
took in Euroa, Benalla, Swanpool and Dookie. About 1000 people live in
Violet Town and it’s a quiet place, except on the second Saturday of
each month. That’s market day.

“There’s the bushies and the
artists from up in the hills, the pseudo-hippies who wear a lot of
purple and do a lot of yoga, and the townies. The market’s really all
about seeing who’s in town,” Ella says.

“I usually stock up on
Wallygrubb Soaps. This time I bought honey, vanilla and goat’s milk,
lemongrass and green clay, and “Jungle Jim” soap, which has patchouli,
clove and cedarwood in it. I also bought a bottle of riesling from Falls
Vineyard & Longwood Wines
, a winery in the Strathbogie Ranges, and
some sweet candied walnuts from The Honeysuckle Produce Store, which is
my mum’s nut company.”

Between Benalla and Shepparton is the
village of Dookie, home to about 250 people and the famed Dookie
Emporium & Cafe
. “I’m a bit of a vintage tragic,” confesses Ella. “I
love old clothes and I’m a fan of kitsch. I love the Benalla op-shops,
but Dookie Emporium is the creme de la creme. Everything is handpicked
by the couple who own it, both of whom have worked in film and theatre.
On this visit, I can’t believe I didn’t come out of the emporium with a
hat: I love pillboxes and bonnets. But I bought a beautiful, moth-eaten
silk blouse which is full of holes, but I had to have it. And a pair of
antique sailor pants, which I can’t stop wearing. The cafe also serves
the best coffee in the north-east.”

Another Dookie drawcard among
the region’s rich red volcanic soils is Tallis Wines. “It’s not a
well-known wine region, but the viognier is amazing and I bought a
really complex dessert wine, which I don’t usually drink. They’re so
passionate at Tallis, they’re really into their dirt and the vista’s
gorgeous.” Ella and her girlfriends shared a Tallis Wines’ cellardoor
tasting platter of local produce including caperberries, walnut bread
and olives.

Euroa Butter Factory

Benalla Art Gallery, housed in a modernist building,
and Swanpool’s historic arthouse cinema are also must-visits, Ella says.
“I seem to do more cultural stuff in the country. In the city, it’s
overwhelming. Swanpool Cinema is one of my favourites. People dress up
to go there, wearing bowties and black-and-white suits, which is kitschy
and cute. I used to dress up as a kid. The film selection is really,
really good, and there’s always a double feature. I dream of having a
party in full ’50s gear there one day.”

Summer visits to the High
Country include taking cool dips in local waterfalls. Polly McQuinn’s
weir
, about a 30-minute drive south of Violet Town, is a favourite.
“It’s haunted,” says Ella, matterof-factly. Polly McQuinn was a settler
who fell in the water one night and was never seen again.
“They
say the waterhole is bottomless. No one I know has ever touched the
bottom, and I’ve been swimming here since I was a little kid.”

WHERE TO STAY
Ella stayed at Ain Garth (”our home”), a self-contained cottage in Violet Town. (www.violettown.org.au).
Built in 1910, the cottage has pretty period features, including
pressed metal ceilings and polished baltic pine flooring, along with
modern finishes. Ain Garth has four bedrooms, several living spaces and a
large garden and is perfect for a group of friends or families who want
to stay within walking distance of Violet Town’s shops.

Holiday-makers
seeking a chic retreat should head to Beechworth’s newest
accommodation, the Stone Tryst Spa Villas. Three luxury self-contained
villas, each featuring hand-built drystone walls, polished eucalypt
floors, log gas fire and a spa bath built for two, are built on a hill
overlooking the town’s stunning gorge. Floor-to-ceiling windows in
villas showcase the views, and guests have free use of bikes and helmets
– a perfect way to explore Beechworth’s historic sites and lively
dining scene (www.stonetryst.com.au).

FOOD & WINE
Built in 1901 on the banks of Sevens Creek, the Euroa Butter Factory (www.euroabutterfactory.com.au)
now houses a boutique B&B, restaurant, cafe and store. Ella and her
friends stocked up on cheesecake, muesli slices, corn fritters and
coffee from the cafe. The butter factory’s Delivery Room Restaurant has
built a reputation using ingredients from its own gardens and from
artisan producers in north-eastern Victoria.

“I’m a white-wine
girl. It’s less harsh on my throat than reds. I love pinot gris and
grigio. Oh, and riesling,” Ella says. One of her favourite locals
vineyards is Tallis Wines, in Dookie (www.talliswine.com.au), between Benalla and Shepparton.

Beechworth’s Bridge Road Brewery (www.bridgeroadbrewers.com.au)
serves hand-crafted beers and has a pizza kitchen turning out great
combinations, especially when matched with a tasting plate of beers.
Housed in an old coach house behind Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel on
Beechworth’s Ford Street, the brewery has a beer garden and children’s
play area.

Ruffy Produce Store and Cafe on Nolans Road (www.ruffy.com.au
in the Strathbogies, is famed for its lunches. It’s open Friday to
Sunday, so on this visit home, Ella and her friends dropped in, ordering
smoked lamb and horseradish sandwiches, zucchini fritters with haloumi
and poached egg, and a Japanese pancake – okonomiyaki. Ella recommends
the store’s pantry, too. “You can buy jams, preserves and pickles.
Ruffy’s got a real general store vibe, and its home-made stuff is
great.”

Where to picnic with produce from Ruffys? On the rocks at
nearby Polly McQuinns Weir, of course. The weir is on Seven Creeks
between Euroa-Mansfield Road and Merton-Strathbogie Road, where McQuinns
Road and Galls Gap Road meet.

EXPERIENCES
The
Violet Town market has been running for 35 years on a ”make, bake or
grow it” basis. It is held on the second Saturday of each month from
8.30 am to 1 pm. Local produce, including regional wines, are a
favourite buy.

Benalla Art Gallery’s collection includes
paintings, prints, works on paper, textiles, ceramics and sculpture. The
gallery is open from 10am to 5pm daily. (www.benallaartgallery.com)

Swanpool
Cinema
, on the Midland Highway at Swanpool, is a not-for-profit
community theatre, operated by volunteers. You can catch foreign and
arthouse flicks, from silent movies to new releases. Get in the mood and
don your best coat-tails and 1950s-style fashion, then settle in for a
double feature. (www.swanpoolcinema.com.au)

Ella
Hooper says Gooram Falls, on the road between Euroa and Mansfield, is
another waterhole popular with the locals. It’s faster flowing than
nearby Polly McQuinns Weir. “If you’re feeling brave, you can go behind
the waterfall, but it still freaks me out when there’s a lot of water,”
she says.
At Beechworth, the brave and ghoulish can check out a
site considered one of the most haunted in Australia – the former Mayday
Hills Lunatic Asylum
. The brave tour the site at night, but day tours
are available, too (www.beechworthghosttours.com).

Spotted by Locals is brought to you in association with Tourism Victoria. See more content from around Victoria on Twitter via #spottedbylocals

Belinda Jackson 

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travelsponsor1/spotted-by-locals-ella-hoopers-high-country-20130531-2ngif.html#ixzz2WAIP7SsV

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad, and occasionally I chat on radio, too, from Essentials Magazine to 3AW or the Irish Times.

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