Road to Kyneton, 1977
Jo-Anne and I met in our first year of high school but it was in year 11 that we cemented our friendship. By then, we were sharing parental complaints, school worries, boy worries, secrets, and dreams. We were in only one subject together – English – and much to the chagrin of our teacher, we spent most of the lesson catching up. Since then, Joie and I have never ceased ‘catching up’.
Triggered by a recent personal crisis through which Joie had offered me support, I reflected on our fifty-year friendship. I was overcome by sadness and gratitude in equal part. My sadness came from the fact that we’d both reached that stage in life where things can start to go horribly wrong – illnesses, struggles with ageing parents, deaths of those we love.
For me, it’s also occasionally the age of regret for all those things I thought would happen in my life but didn’t; the failed plans, the things I never tried; the grief that I’ve carried for unrelenting loss. But my gratitude for Joie’s presence throughout these times tempers it all. It’s difficult to articulate the depth of such a friendship. The capacity to be with someone and not have to speak. The sense that even in silence, I’m understood. The complete lack of judgement, and the kindness of being told when I’m wrong. Joie’s been by my side for every shed tear and every celebrated event.
Of all our adventures, one is nestled firmly in my heart. Back in 1977, we set off on a road trip along the Calder Highway, headed to Kyneton in Victoria’s Macedon Ranges. Our mission was to collect a Labrador pup, a gift from Joie to her grandmother, a way of partially filling the void left after her grandfather’s death a few months earlier.
It was summer and we’d just finished out last year of university. We had a heady sense of optimism as our futures and the road stretched before us. We slammed a tape into the tape deck and turned it up as loud as we could, letting The Beach Boys sing us down the highway while we talked about life and the step to full adulthood that we’d take soon after graduation. We engaged Joie’s Mazda 818’s unofficial air conditioning—two windows down and 80 kilometres an hour—and raised our voices in chat and song over the wind streaming into the car.
At the time, I was in love with a boy and all I wanted was a life together, but our circumstances didn’t immediately allow for it. I was bemoaning this to Joie when Wouldn’t It Be Nice filled the car’s interior. Arguably, another anthem in a long line of ‘we’re too young’ songs, it was ripe for the girl I was at that moment. Yet it didn’t feel like a lament. Instead, it was a joyous, boppy, earworm of a song. It made me believe that everything would turn out the way I wanted. We sang along with hope and confidence, our underlying harmonies over The Beach Boys’ glorious ones. We played the tape repeatedly, Wouldn’t It Be Nice featuring heavily.
On the return journey, I wrangled the squirming puppy, while Joie, as she would often do, steered me towards home. Sometimes I think of that trip to Kyneton as a metaphor for our relationship—she ever constant, reminding me of the right course. Remarkably, in half a century, we’ve never had a cross word. We’ve gone from talking about hot boys to talking about hot flushes. We still share secrets. We still confide our remnant dreams. When I was writing this piece, I contacted her, and the exchange as we both tried to pin down some of the finer details, caused the kind of laughter we’d shared that day. It made me realise that somewhere inside, we were still those young girls.
The boy and I ended badly. Joie was there holding together the pieces of my broken heart, a task she’s undertaken many times. Her friendship is one of the joys of my life.