Just what is it with the village of Collector and unexpected animal encounters?
Last time this column explored the village, located just 30 minutes up the Federal Highway from Canberra, I had to jostle past a horse to order a drink at the Bushranger Hotel.
And now this week, while attempting to order a latte at Some Café, I find myself queueing behind two llamas, resplendent in colourful ribbons.
Sure, I know it's a rural area, but heck, this is really pushing the envelope, isn't it? And what's more, llamas don't drink coffee. Or do they?
"No, they prefer water," deadpans Brett Byron, in response to my quizzical glances at the curious camelids.
It turns out Brett and his wife Tracy, who live just out of town, often bring their llamas into the café on weekends.
"They are very sociable creatures, they like the attention," says Tracy, who introduces me to the three-year-old half-brothers Durango and Darius (he's the smaller one).
Darius greets me with a sloppy llama smooch. Oh, how sweet, guess I won't need to be adding any sugar to my coffee.
"Well, you've got to dress up when coming into town, don't you," muses Tracy, who explains the reason for the ribbons adorning her two llamas.
Apart from asking the difference between llamas and alpacas (it's complex - see the Fact File) according to Tracy the most common question she is asked is how often their fleece is cut
"We shear them once a year, usually early November, so their coat stays thick for winter and those cold late spring days," she explains.
"I spin some of the wool and hopefully in a few more years we will have enough wool to make a rug."
Fashionable llamas aside, to say Collector has changed since this column's last visit almost a decade ago would be an understatement.
Comments in this column back then about the village's (then) drab appearance and lack of prosperity at the time drew the ire of several locals.
But at that stage the pub had barely re-opened after a long closure, and despite being in striking distance for Canberra day-trippers, there was a dearth of businesses in the village.
However, today it's clear that Collector has since awoken from its slumber. Sure, record breaking annual pumpkin festivals have helped raise awareness of the village's charm to growing hordes of Y-platers, but along with the pub, it's been the opening of Some Café (a bit of Lonsdale Street in the bush) five years ago leading the charge, attracting a new generation to the 150-year-old village.
Other eclectic enterprises - including Collector Wines (yes, the llamas do visit there, too) and Collector Fresh, a tin shed tucked down a laneway peddling a range of fresh produce and opened by Naomi Robertson in May last year - are also contributing to the revitalisation of the village.
"When we moved here about five years ago, it was too far to get to supermarket all the time, so we decided to grow most of our fruit and veg on our property," Naomi explains.
"In summer we got a glut, so I decided to open the shop.
"Everyone has embraced it, not just the locals, people now travel from Goulburn and Canberra to get their weekly fix of fresh produce."
Naomi says she has also had all manner of animals pop into her shop - from pet chickens, to lambs and, of course, two llamas.
Apart from Darius and Durango, the most photographed attraction in Collector continues to be Dreamer's Gate, a giant gothic-style sculpture created by former Canberra sculptor Tony Phantastes between 1994 and 1997 as a homage to his father and the changing landscape. At the time of construction, the garish concrete and mesh structure divided the town, and it still does. Half like it and half can't stand it.
But there's another issue that has split the village - the proliferation of shipping containers.
In fact, if you drive into just about any rural area in Australia you'll see them up-cycled for all sorts of purposes, from affordable sheds to eclectic hilltop homes.
However, in Collector, once the sole domain of the white picket fence brigade, it's such a controversial topic that your columnist is unable to find anyone willing to be quoted about them for fear they will be ostracised by those of differing views.
"Some people say Collector comes from an Aboriginal word meaning Colegdar or place of many pelicans, but these days we call it place of many shipping containers," one latte sipping local, demanding anonymity, whispers to me.
However, on the flip side, it seems their spread is also a sign of prosperity, with at one stage last year 17 new homes under construction," reports another local, adding "that's a lot for a village with a population of only a few hundred people". Indeed it is.
And they're definitely not all drab either, just five minutes drive out of town a couple of shipping pods have been lovingly transformed into luxury bespoke accommodation at the Greysen Estate Artists' Retreat. The brainchild of Canberra musician Geoff Grey, one of the bush cabins is called Bernstein (as in Leonard) and Grainger (as in Percy) to acknowledge two great contemporary composers.
Whatever your take on the spread of shipping containers, Collector is a village that after a long hiatus seems to have found its mojo again. And that should be music to the ears of locals and visitors alike.
If you haven't been to Collector for a few years, maybe it's time to visit again. Just don't forget to wear your Sunday-best, for I'd hate you to be out-done by a couple of llamas.
Collector: a snapshot
Some Café: Open 9am-3pm, Thursday-Monday in the historic 1841 General Store building at 7 Murray Street. Simple, but irresistible menu.
Collector Fresh: A farm shop just behind the Some Café offering fresh produce. Open weekends 10am-3pm.
Collector Wines: Cellar door in circa 1829 digs next to Some Café, Open weekends 10am-4pm.
Bushranger Hotel: Positioned in the centre of the village, this iconic watering hole was so-named following the murder of Constable Samuel Nelson at the hands of John Dunn of the Ben Hall gang on January 26, 1865. Open from 11am every day.
Dreamer's Gate: Located opposite the Bushranger Hotel. You can't miss it. The structure is on private land, so view from afar.
Greysen Estate Artists' Retreat: Bespoke accommodation in shipping pods among the wildlife just five minutes from Collector Village. From $125pn. Details via airbnb.com.au Search for "Collector".
Don't Miss: Helen Stephens Gallery. Regular curated exhibitions of local and regional artists covering various media including paintings, ceramics and prints. Friday-Sunday, 11am-4pm or by appointment. 39 Murray Street.
Did You Know? Until the Federal Highway bypassed Collector in 1988, accidents on the narrow bridge at the southern end of the village were frequent. After one particular accident in December 1980 in which a semitrailer carrying biscuits overturned, townsfolk raced to the crash site to "salvage" the lost load. Some collected a bit more than they could eat and pantries overflowed with biscuits for months, prompting a localised mice plague. Really!
Llamas or Alpacas: According to Brett and Tracy Byron, there are four main differences between the two animals:
- The fleece. Llamas have two layers - their guard hair is longer and coarser so it's not great for garments close to your skin as it will make you itch.
- Alpacas have stumpier noses and shorter ears.
- Llamas will grow much taller than alpacas.
- Due to their sturdier body structure, llamas are able to carry loads, but alpacas cannot.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Stairway to ... fun!
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to David Osmond, of Dickson, who was the first reader to correctly identify last week's photo (below), as the Fellows Bar at University House on ANU campus. It is folklore that the late Bob Hawke once swam in the nearby giant fish pond. David just beat Lexa Hains, of Canberra City, Christine Morris, of Gowrie, and Anna Browne, of Wanniassa, to the prize.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday, November 2, 2019 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.
The mystery of the piano spotted by microlight pilot Andrew Luton, seemingly stranded in the middle of a dry Lake George has been solved, but not before many readers offered their own theories about the peculiarly-placed piano.
"Perhaps the rest of the old west saloon has sunk on the mud leaving only the piano sticking out," suggested John Zeller, while Mark Dawson noted "well it certainly provides an adequate safety zone for anyone learning to play".
My neighbours probably wish my eight year old daughter who is learning to play the violin had a similar remote place to practise.
However, it turns out the piano is actually a prop for a series of astro-photos by Canberra photographer Alex Johnston.
"I did it for a little bit of fun; it's hard to find it here in Canberra, you gotta make your own," says Alex who bought the piano for $100 on Gumtree and took it onto the lake "about a month ago".