Jackie Ash has a smile as wide as the old veranda that wraps around the sides of the Alexandra Hotel.
"Hi guys!" she calls out, and shows us to a table in a shady courtyard behind the main building, where a couple of Lycra-clad guys are already tucking into some food and another family is sitting down for lunch.
Jackie is country hospitality personified. She's friendly, she's happy, she flutters around our table pouring water and setting up a high chair and making sure everyone is comfortable.
There's a slightly cynical part of me that thinks this treatment might have something to do with the fact I'm a visiting travel writer, but out of the corner of my eye I can see the other family here being dealt with in the same fashion, and the Lycra-clad blokes as well. That's the sort of place this is. It's the sort of person Jackie is.
And she's not exactly alone. I'm on a road trip through the High Country of Victoria, and honestly there are Jackies everywhere. Hank and Carrie, who make gin at Swiftcrest near Mansfield. Vickie and Ed, who run A View to a Hill, a farm stay nearby. David Ritchie at Delatite Wines. Mitch at Buxton Trout Farm. Everyone who works the front desk at De Bortoli in Rutherglen.
All of these people are, without fail, friendly and charming, easy to chat to, fun to be around. They help out with my lunatic kids. They bring gin or wine or someone else who can facilitate gin or wine whenever we need it. We all understand each other. We all get on.
And it occurs to me on this trip around country Victoria that this is one of the things that Australia can boast that no other country can right now: Australians. Australian people. Australian attitudes. Australian hospitality. We might miss so much of the world at the moment, but we have that.
I get accused of being a bit down on Australia sometimes, which is probably fair enough. I tend to assume readers will intuit from the fact I've chosen to live in this country and bring up my children in this country that there's a lot I love about it, a lot to recommend it.
I don't often say those things out loud or commit them to print because I feel like I don't have to. They're obvious.
But I guess sometimes they aren't. Sometimes if I complain about Australia's slavish devotion to rules and its insular attitudes and its horrific treatment of refugees and its casual racism – OK, I see a pattern here – people assume I hate this place.
But that's not true. There's much to like about Australia, and one of those things is the people you run into on a road trip in this wide, brown land.
Of course, here you miss the cross-cultural misunderstandings and the vital education of meeting people from around the world. Or at least, I miss that stuff. I love struggling my way through a foreign country, not being able to talk to anyone, not being able to relate to anyone in a way that feels easy and natural.
But then what a pleasure it is to suddenly have that stuff, to have an instant understanding of the people you meet, of the places you go.
A few months ago I was in White Cliffs, NSW – pretty much the back of beyond, the middle of nowhere – eating a bacon and egg roll outside the old general store, when a couple of grey nomads pulled in to buy finger buns and soft drink. I ended up chatting to them for an hour. Where have you been, where are you going, etcetera etcetera. Lovely people.
And that just happens here, all the time. If you've been travelling around Australia these last 18 months or so you know the people I'm talking about. You've met them too. You've met them in service stations and picnic areas, on tours and in cafes, in cities and in the country.
Nice, genuine, friendly people. That may sound like a small thing but you don't get it everywhere you go. Other places are different. Other people in other countries might be a bit more stand-offish with strangers. There might be cultural norms to random meetings that you don't understand and can't obey.
In Australia though, it's simple. A smile, a G'day. Some basic small talk.
And that's just the fellow travellers you meet along the way. Go back to the people who actually work in tourism, in hospitality, the ones who take your excited two-year-old's hand and show him all the trout swimming in the stream, or who plonk him on their tractor and pretend to turn it on, or who hand out pencils and pieces of paper while everyone else sips glasses of wine in peace.
Go back to Jackie Ash, who serves the best damned chips you've ever tasted in your life, twice-cooked and shatter-crisp, soft and fluffy on the inside, served with mayonnaise as all good chips should be (don't @ me). We mention to her how good the chips are, how they might be the best in all the land, and she smiles and points to that family sitting near us having their own lunch.
"Those are the farmers right there," she says. "The Dobsons. You should go and tell them!"
We do. They're lovely people.
Have you been travelling in Australia recently? Have you noticed the friendliness of fellow Australians? Or do you think we could do better? Where are people the friendliest? Post a comment below.
The writer travelled in northern Victoria with assistance from Victoria's High Country