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December 1, 2002
Out of Fitzroy and into the flowers
After a bit of time in Fitzroy I'm now back in Yackandandah. I'm planning to spend as much time as I can here over the next few months. I'll do the best I can to bring you all the urgent, late-breaking news from this neck of the woods.
And here's an urgent, late-breaking example. Earlier on today a local child threw flowers at my feet. Initially, I reacted poorly. I was confused and hesitant and didn't know what to do. For this I blame many years of living in Fitzroy, and an eclectic taste in reading.
I've always had a high regard for Richard Neville's book Play Power. Published in 1970, it's an interesting, well-written, flamboyant account of the Sixties. Neville does a good job of evoking the era, as he describes protest rallies and acid freaks and discontented young people searching for new ways to live. One of his themes is media coverage of the hippies, and how badly the mainstream media got things wrong. He says that at one point a right-wing German newspaper reported a crime with this headline:
FURNITURE STORE IN FLAMES: IS THIS DEMONSTRATION? IS THIS DISCUSSION?
As it turned out, it was neither. The fire had been accidentally started by a burglar. Neville pounces on the headline as an example of the media's willingness to massively over-react in the wrong direction.
With that in mind, let's go back to the small, armed-with-flowers, child.
When she started her aerial bombardment of flora, my first reaction was to think like a right-wing German newspaper:
SMALL CHILD THROWS FLOWERS: IS THIS REBELLION? IS THIS RESENTMENT?
So. I've learnt a couple of things today. One is that it's surprisingly easy to react to unfamiliar situations like a right-wing German newspaper. And the second is that I'm no longer in Fitzroy. What really helped me make the transition was the "hee hee hee" of the child in question, as she fled out the door to gather more ammunition.
I'm out of the inner city, and flowers are being thrown at my feet. It's early days yet, but I think I could get used to this. Life in Yackandandah.
December 7, 2002
The lonely road from Beechworth to Yackandandah
No real news to report, so here's an exercise in style. A little nod to the ever evocative Sniffles.
Yesterday afternoon was spent walking around Beechworth, appeasing my inner historian. One old house had a verandah seamlessly blending into a beautiful garden. It was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. I stood looking at it for a long time, suddenly conscious of a long ignored desire.
As I withdrew money from a cash machine I remembered that I was in Kelly Country. I wondered what the bushrangers of old would make of ATMs. As the money came out I leant forward and whispered "stick 'em up."
The Beechworth Golf Course was established in 1899. No one was there. After a history touching on three centuries, the course still doesn't have grass on the greens. Just sand, and dirt. Nearby is the enormous cemetery, which probably holds more people than the town does now.
Around Beechworth are lots of properties with "For Sale" signs. Around Yackandandah the signs advertise small building companies. Yackandandah is a tiny town, steadily growing into something else.
The only farms with shiny equipment grow grapes. Wherever there are cows and sheep you also see clumps of incomprehensible machinery, slowly rusting into the earth. One field had camels, and no machinery at all. Nothing shiny, nothing rusted. Just camels. Ships of the desert, watching the road.
A few minutes before dusk I caught sight of the hills nestled around Yackandandah. I'd driven from Beechworth without seeing another car. Fading sunlight on a lonely road.
March 30, 2003
How to buy petrol in Yackandandah
I'm in Yackandandah for the weekend, and being here is a reminder that I'm a complete coward.
Two months ago the town was threatened by bushfire, and the moment I realised the danger was the moment I packed up and left. In the event of an emergency, I'm the kind of person who runs around in a circle, flapping and squawking. As an emergency seemed imminent, it seemed better for all concerned if I wasn't there.
There's a walk around the back of the town where, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Bogong, the highest mountain in Victoria, 60 kilometres away. Two months ago, I stood at the highest point on the walk and looked out. The township of Yackandandah was still visible, as was a small stretch of farmland beyond it. The view was then abruptly curtailed by a huge, rolling cloud of smoke. Bogong had utterly disappeared. Yackandandah stood in the flight path of an oncoming cloud of smoke.
Not long after that, on a Sunday morning, I woke up in a sea of smoke. I couldn't see the trees on the other side of the valley. The place was deathly quiet. I was scared. A sea of smoke is nature's way of saying "go somewhere else. Go there now."
So I did that. I drove into town and went to the petrol station. It's the old fashioned kind, with the bowsers right on the street. A couple of cars had got there before me, and in a moment of rashness, I decided I'd come back later. It was a stupid decision.
I parked the car and decided that I probably had a little bit of time to do some writing before I left town. I'm not sure how much I got done, but I do know that I got distracted by the computer. Time passed. Eventually I looked outside, and noticed that visibility had dropped substantially. I was alarmed to discover that it was just after 5pm. I'd been there for six hours longer than planned, and the petrol station had closed. The sky outside looked as if night had fallen, but sunset was still three or four hours away.
I suddenly realised that the fires might well be very close, and that I might not have enough petrol to get to Beechworth, the next closest town.
So I did what I always do. I panicked. Luckily, I was doing that while standing on the main street of Yackandandah.
A teenage boy rode past on his bicycle, and I asked him if he knew about petrol stations in Beechworth: where they were and if one might still be open.
He asked me the time, and then he said: "no, they'll have all closed."
There was a pause, and then he asked: "how desperate are you for petrol?"
I looked at the blackened sky and the deserted street. I had visions of running out of petrol halfway to Beechworth, and being helpless to flee a wall of flame engulfing the car. I gave him an honest answer: "I'm very desperate."
And he said the last thing I expected: "well, if you can hang on about ten minutes, I'll go and get the key to the petrol station."
I looked at him more closely and realised why he looked familiar. He was the same kid I saw working at the petrol station a few weeks before.
A few minutes later he was filling my tank up. As my fear of being burnt to a crisp approached maximum intensity, he remained calm and courteous and happy to help.
Yackandandah is a beautiful town, and it has all kinds of tourist attractions. There's a fascinating museum, an underground goldmine, and a streetscape classified by the National Trust. I'd add the petrol station to that list. It's in the middle of the main street, a few shops away from the bakery. The petrol is a little more expensive than what you'd pay in bigger towns, but there are reasons for that, related to Yackandandah's small size and distant location. More to the point, the people who run it are keeping it open as a service to the town. As I discovered, it's an essential service, and that speaks volumes for the people who run it.
If you're in the area, I'd appreciate it if you could buy some petrol here. I want that petrol station to stay open and stay alive. There's a young bloke who works there who deserves to have a job.
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