Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Bush Fires and Marysville

It is shocking to learn the sad news of bush fires raging in hills around Melbourne these days. Death tolls rose to the levels Aussies have never seen before; the Ash Wednesday looks pale against this. Luckily no one I know or my son Bob knows in the city has been reported missing or gone in flames. Even if not being there, I can feel the sorrow and horror of seeing the fires right a front of you and having one's properties completed up in the smokes.
We have particular sentiments regarding the areas this terrible fire has affected. When we were students in Melbourne, we lived in the north of the city and not far from the Kinglake area being burned by fire this past week. The road to this hilly area, with some expansive national park and woods, is a straight one at one section, you don't need to adjust your steering wheel a tiny little bit for several minutes in a high speed drive. It is an ideal road to learn driving, not me, some other guys I know, because the first thing to do in driving is to gain confidence in handling the monster, and a cheap way to get that confidence is drive at high speed, to have that feel that driving is not bad, and is simple, just put your foot down. So that straight road for miles did help.
The Kinglake area can be reached by winding and sloping up roads, not a problem for good cars, but troublesome for our second hand, manual car at the time. A trip up there demanded concentration in driving and managing sharp turns. It was a pleasant place to be, country, bush, and hills all at once. The disappointment was the tiny falls in the national park, as water came down in small streams, rather than big falls we had expected. The sceneries were wonderful, green and woody in the national park, and brown fields of farms along the roads. The first impression was the wide open space, and you wonder what kinds of people live here, far from each other and far behind the shabby, wobbly gates along the roads. It is in fact hard to see anyone around and out there. One of my uni. tutors lived somewhere in these woods, in a mud-brick house, miles from anyone, good for thorough and deep thinking of how people and societies have evolved. An old lady we knew also from the uni. had a ground, not farm, and house there, it covered several footy grounds, and tall, dark trees formed a forest at the far end of her estate. She said just that woods, if chopped down for timber, would return handsome money. Those were the outings for immersing in nature and fruit-picking we did to the north of Melbourne (Bob has great photos there labouring in strawberry picking with his kid friend), and Kinglake is a name we remember well, a little mysterious really, imagine we had a farm there and kept away from people, just like Brian Nylor did. One unfortunately thing was that a friend of mine was fined there after finishing strawberry picking, because he did not fully stop at the line before turning to the left, and a police car happened to be right behind him. Two things followed, he vowed never to go to Kinglake again, and we have seriously obeyed the rule of stop at the solid line before turning ever since.

Marysville is another matter. That is a place I always wanted to go and look around when we had time. It looked great and sensational in tourist brochures, for a holiday place for just a couple days. I am not sure we have been there or passed it before. During numerous trips up the hills in the north and east, partly for enhancing my driving skills, in particular dealing with winding and uphill roads, we passed a lot of small towns and were impressed by how pretty they were, and then wanted to come back there again. But driving in the hills were very confusing, even with the Melway, so not long after we forgot what towns we had been to and never traced the tracks exactly again. But the name Marysville stuck and had been a place name on my schedules for later outer Melbourne trips. I have never had that chance again after leaving Melbourne. What a shame! This God’s own garden is no longer there any more. Even if it was rebuilt, it would not be the same, and the scars of heavy losses remain. I sadly take it off my list of traveling in later years.

A familiar face emerged in the list of the deceased in the fire, and I never would have thought that he would be on the list. I did not know Brian Nylor had a house in Kinglake; he was not a farmer or academic intellectual, those guys like to reside in those areas, and his residence could be in any of the blue ribbon areas of the southeast. We benefited so much from him, not financially, of course. In our earlier years at uni. we basically learned and improved our English language from him and David Johnston of Channel Ten. These two newsreaders showed us the perfect way of speaking the language, clear and formal, easy for us to understand and follow. That tone sounded official Australian, with residual of BBC English, but better and livelier than ABC English. Although theirs are a little far from everyday Aussie and British talking, we felt much better at least having someone speaking something we understood, without much difficulty. That was a very long time ago, and we heard little of Brian Nylor after we left, until this terrible news of him, a person in our neighbourhood (a far off neighbourhood from our first home in Bundoora) and a language tutor-like man giving you most of the news in life. His image has not been tainted by that kind of celebrity scandals, and few newsreaders in Australia today would be able to catch up with him in the ways people’s life are influenced.

A bad feeling about this horrendous fire and huge losses is that we probably have to forsake the idea of living in a country residence, especially a bushy one. The lovely hilly towns in the north and east of Melbourne now look less safe and attractive. But we will visit them in our holidays; only wished we saw Marysville more before this tragedy happened.

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