Evening walk through the village

Walking down the deserted main street one evening with a friend visiting for the first time, ‘In Dreams’ by Roy Orbison comes floating out from the pub… the line between past and present in this village can blur at times like this…

road through the village

gum trees on the outskirts

You’d never know that this had been such a big town; there’s a lot of space between the old miners’ cottages now. The pubs, oyster bars and opium dens have fallen down, been burnt, abandoned. But in a way this allows the town to breath- it’s not all bunched up tight like other country towns. Plenty of grassy spaces for the kangaroos to graze on.

the General Store

There’s always some tourists around, but it doesn’t seem like a ‘ tourist town’. Not everything is signposted – there are still some things you can discover for yourself.

the letterpress/cafe

interior of one of the historic cottages

There is information about; little plaques next to historic mounds of bricks and holes in the ground. And signs with reproductions of paintings of famous Australian artists who came to the village in the 40s and 50s. You can look from the representation to the reality, filtered through the artist’s eye.

Nuns Picnic by Jeffrey Smart

the church from the painting

Opposite the pub is a rusting German machine gun- a reminder of Australia’s very high casualty rate in the first World War. You see these memorials in so many country towns. Reading the list of names of the men who died from the village, there’s sometimes 2 or 3 with the same surname, brothers, listed as among the ‘fallen’. Often killed by the same type of German machine gun, dead before they hit the ground, described by their companions as seeming to fall.

the captured WW1 German machine gun

sweet scented lavender outside of one of the cottages

Heading back to the old schoolmasters house, night coming on quickly – the sudden thump of the kangaroos by the side of the path bringing you straight back to the here and now – & into the magic night!

Road to the Waterholes

I’d heard tell of the waterholes just down from the village but had never been. Read an account in a famous Australian artist’s diary of going there in the 40s. They sounded beautiful; clear water & deep spots for swimming. But the dirt track down to them was the barrier: a dangerous drive, sheer drops one side, accessible only by 4WD.

But on a hot summers day with a few friends, looking for something different to do; the decision was spontaneously made- we’re going down! So in a jeep-like not quite 4WD vehicle and with an intrepid driver (not me!) at the wheel – it was on.

a look out halfway down the track

And you had to hang on for a bumpy ride; one that was tense, spectacular & dusty. 4WDs coming from the other direction laden with camping and fishing gear; an uncertain protocol of passing. In the old days the men would get out of the carriage and walk to relieve the load, often to be met by some bushrangers lying in wait for them round the bends…

looking for rocks to add to collection at naturalists desk

down at the river

But then the road started to level out, become more gentle. Glimpses of the river through the trees, the odd campsite and fisherman silhouette. We chose a random spot and set up our picnic. Out of mobile range, listening to the river rushing over the stones and the throb of cicadas and watching the electric blue dragonflies – time started getting hazy.

caves by the side of the river

magical blue dragonflies coming and going

I can’t remember the last time I swam in a river. You don’t really need to in Australia; there are just so many beaches. But the water was soft and calming, it felt different to seawater. Little fish swimming by, occasionally you’d hit a mossy rock & so only a slow breast stroke possible. After lunch we went and lay in the part where the river was cascading over the stones and got a natural massage.

by the banks

an unexpected picnic guest

Heading back to the village & the old schoolmasters house feeling drowsy and relaxed. The drive didn’t seem as scary on the way back up. Or as long. Another nap and then making and setting up a beautiful dinner in the courtyard. What a memorable day…

after swimming and naps… dinner and flowers from the garden

Midsummer garden

High summer at the old schoolmasters house is kind of hot and luscious. Waves of dry heat that lead to afternoon siestas and river swims. Laziness really. Even the kangaroos don’t do very much. The threat of bushfire is just over the horizon.

I love bringing fresh flowers from the garden inside…

The garden has gone wild and blossomed into hundreds of blue spiky balls – the echinops have finally flowered. There’s something almost space age about them; little planets that butterflies swarm around.

Leigh making a structure for the tomatoes

…the crab apple tree outside my window

In the courtyard, nearly everything that was randomly planted just a few months ago has taken off, protected from the winds and nurtured by the heat of the walls. This is the prime growing spot. So recipes planned in town are augmented by fresh picked tomatoes, herbs and cucumbers.

dinner made from the supermarket and the garden!

…magic hour in the front garden

I’ve always loved English novels set in high summer; The Go- Between, Atonement; all full of heat and insects and secrets. Summer in Australia is usually focused around the beach and water but up here in the high hot hills it’s easier to imagine dressing for an elegant 1930s dinner with Hercule Poirot at the local rectory!

In the late afternoon when it is a bit cooler and easier to move around, the front flower garden exerts its magnetic pull and I slip into the comforting chores of cutting back and pulling weeds. As well as the more urgent one of deep watering to keep the newer, less hardy plants alive.

Rob with a hat of fresh picked apricots

I’ve never seen this type of parrot before

And then to dinner followed by apricots picked fresh from the trees, so beautiful and delicous. A pause in the work to literally savor the fruits of the many, many months of labour at the old schoolmasters house…