Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pokolbin Village playground

I did my first trip over to Hunter Valley recently, and between wineries and hotels I managed to find an incredibly cheesy fake tourist village. Full of faux homey restaurants (which always seem to have large realistic cow statues) and village shops selling Hunter Valley chocolates (as well as flavored liqueurs available in man shaped bottles) this little tacky respite from grape ferment was surprisingly enjoyable.

There was a bright cheery family orientated feel to the place where previously we'd only come across tittering groups of twenty something’s often vibrating with either a single chicks vibe or pre-marriage hen's night excitement, that and couples.

The fresh squeaky clean attraction left me wondering however who would plan a family outing to an area famous for its booze, let alone plan and build the architectural duet to Disneyland in the Hunter. Leading from assumptions, Pokolbin Village might have been built to accompany the nearby heftily priced Hunter Valley Gardens.

Some entrepreneurial spirit might have noticed many visitors such as myself pause at the $25 entry fee for landscaped gardens and back away without turning, comfortable with trying to peer over the garden’s walls and content with posing for photos in front of their entrance sign and flower display. Understandably the gardens were a thing of beauty, left for weddings and corporate functions. While the village was for people who enjoyed picnic facilities, small town layouts and playgrounds: the complimentary things in life.

During the day the eager bustle of young families in this convenient stop over was infectious, the entire place was made for eating, playing and buying edible gifts. At night however, the sterile timelessness of this kitsch counterfeit community reminded me somehow of Melbourne suburbs. The nice ones that had gone up maybe a little too fast near distant train stops, sudden suburbia of large homes and preened front gardens still awkwardly sitting next to un-cleared land. After sunset and without the neon diffuse of surrounding urban development you felt like you were walking in an empty movie set. Where at any moment the cardboard facades could pitch in the wind, leaving the land to move back in.

There were spots of what I imagine to be forests left in the Pokolbin area. They might've simply been scraps of the original landscape or windbreakers for the wineries and picnic spots for tourist locations. Whatever they were, though unnoticeable during the day, at dusk they gained a solidity. Something we noticed when we accidentally stumbled across the Pokolbin village at around 4:30pm. As one of the awkward late visitors wandering in the deserted tourist village I think we were struck by the lack of lamps and the disparity of the theme park image and its location. Time in the Hunter still runs by sunlight and with all the shops closed and an hour or so left of manageable light I managed to make a brief drawing of the enjoyable and eerie juxtaposition of the empty playground backgrounded with sparse woods.

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