Doing so much travelling around lately, I have found it a great pleasure to go to unique little places where people’s passions are on display for any wayward visitor to share in. Lots of these places may be small, under-recognized, and out of the way of the main tourist haunts. Sometimes you just happen to stumble upon them, like a nugget of treasure. But wherever you have passionate, dedicated people, you’ll find the special places they have created to share. In addition to the individuality of the sights to see, it is the enthusiasm given by the creators of such places that makes visiting truly a momentous occasion.
Traveling between Sydney and Melbourne, I stopped at a few places off the beaten path and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. The places I visited stuck in my mind mainly because of the passionate and dedicated people that stood behind the projects. It was a joy to get to see the talents of others on display. Here is a sampling of some of these places I went:
- Rusconi’s Masterpiece, on display in Gundagai, New South Wales. Frank Rusconi was an Australian-born and European-trained sculptor, who dedicated his life to marble craft. Rusconi carved many magnificent sculptures and monuments throughout Australia, but perhaps he is most well-known for his marble masterpiece. Not just a sculptor by trade, Rusconi was a sculptor by hobby as well. Every day for 28 years, Rusconi would spend three hours at night working on his masterpiece castle of 20,948 individual pieces of Australian marble, meant to showcase the fine quality of marble on the Australian continent. Rusconi’s masterpiece was later donated to the public for all to see his craft.
- The Ned Kelly Animatronic Show in Glenrowan, Victoria. In Glenrowan, the location of infamous Australian bushranger Ned Kelly’s last stand, there is an animatronic re-enactment museum of the Kelly gang’s famous gun battle with colonial police. With a kind of dark Disneyland-ish aura, the experience takes visitors through a half-dozen rooms all depicting various stages of the Ned Kelly siege. In each room scenes were set up using mannequins and animatronics that tell the story; so involved is the realism that smoke will pour out of the burning hotel and Ned Kelly will make a surprise drop from the ceiling as he is hung by the police. With how well the show is put together, it might very well seem that the animatronic museum is new and uses advanced technology. But no, the 80-year old purveyor explained, he’s been working on the display over the last forty years. Though the old purveyor himself was slowing down due to age, he eagerly explained how his 20-year old grandson was keen on taking over the operation in the future.
- Cactus Country gardens in Strathmerton, Victoria. The cactus is not native to Australia, but it thrives very well in the arid climate nonetheless. Australia’s largest cacti garden, Cactus Country, is a testament to that fact, as well as a testament to owners Jim and Julie’s dedication. The seeds of Cactus Country were started in 1979, when Jim purchased his father’s cacti collection shortly before marrying Julie. Together they set upon creating the largest cacti display Australia has ever seen, and Jim and Julie continue to expand their 10-acre garden to this very day. I was very pleased to have run into Jim in the garden. After all, it’s not every day you can have a long conversation about cacti with a stranger.
Marble sculptures, animatronic bushrangers, and cacti gardens may not have a lot to do with each other intrinsically, but in this case they are all interests undertaken by passionate people. Some very talented people hide their talents and skills from the world. However, there is a passionate lot who put their skills on display for all to see, thus creating these places worth visiting. It isn’t always intentional either—passions pursued for their own ends will often become compelling enough to attract visitors. Meeting the people behind the work and experiencing their contributions is a real treat for the tourist-trap weary traveller. It makes travelling the backroads even more special.