Kinglake, Winter, 2008
It was a cold winter’s morning, a Sunday. The boys were at different stages of a cold that had hung around for what felt like months and after days cooped up at home I knew we all needed to get out. “Let’s go for a drive.”
I bundled them up, clicked them into their car seats, threw in a few snacks and a full box of tissues and headed off, no destination planned. It felt good just to be driving; it was early, the Sunday drivers weren’t out yet and the roads were quiet.
We headed north-east, up towards the hills. I just knew I needed to see trees and bush, and get away from the small brick house in inner Melbourne, away from the dirty snot-smeared pillowcases and the television and the whining. The boys didn’t start their usual line of questioning: “Where are we going? How long will it take? Are we there yet? Can I have something to eat?” They must have sensed I needed a little respite.
We wound our way along, vaguely following the Yarra upstream. Past Viewbank, Eltham, Kangaroo Ground. The road grew less busy, more winding. The youngest fell asleep, the elder happy just to gaze out the window, make an occasional remark. St Andrews, I thought, that sounded like a good place to stop. We pulled over, the mist still heavy in the air, the youngest still asleep. The bigger boy climbed out and stood beside me on the verge, looking into the trees. We couldn’t see far, and it was freezing; painfully cold.
He turned to me: “Can we get back into the car? I’m shivering.” He hopped from foot to foot. I smiled at him, happy we were out and away from home, just us, somewhere new, even just for a little while.
“Sure. I’ll just keep driving.”
And then we were in Kinglake. It was beautiful. The roads followed the hills, through the trees. It was such an achingly typical Australian bush landscape – eucalypts everywhere, dirt tracks leading up towards houses nestled in the hills. I remember thinking it would be a special place to live, with a grand-sounding name.
By now the youngest was awake, and there was restlessness, and the complaints started. By then I’d swung back towards home, promising lunch in Whittlesea and a run around before the last stretch.
We’d discovered The Cat Empire through a friend, and loved their jazzy exuberance and infectious beat and songs with lyrics like And my mother always made me eat broccoli, And now look at me, I’m as strong as can be.
We listened our way through the album So Many Nights, and I was struck by the sadness of the song No Longer There. It played as we left Kinglake behind.
I’ve since discovered it was inspired by the book on climate change, The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery. And of course now whenever it plays, the song gives me chills, such a haunting reminder of the devastating bushfires of Black Saturday, which ravaged the Kinglake and St Andrews areas, in February 2009.
I remember the scorching heat of that week, when it was so hot that the bridge of my guitar simply snapped, the glue cracked and the wood twisted. The city was full of sleep-deprived workers, sagging on trams, wilting at street corners. It truly felt like we were in hell. But we weren’t, it was just hot, and we were lucky not to be in the path of that inferno. The news of the fire affected us all, and our thoughts still remain with those left in its blackened wake, and we remember their loss.
© Sam Lawry.