The Road to Kinglake

June 11th, 2009

We went to the St Andrews’ Community Market for our long weekend excursion last Saturday, early in the morning, driving through the rolling hills of Eltham, Research (I should live in a place called Research) and Kangaroo Ground.

I remember now the thrill I felt on seeing place names on the green road signs familiar to me from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books on a conference trip to Gaborone, Botswana in 2005 – tantalising confirmations of the reality of being in a different place.

Before we reached St Andrews last Saturday the green road signs started including the distance to Kinglake and I felt sad.

The market was enjoyable, higgledy-piggledy amongst the forest in the town. It has a hippy feel. There are handmade soaps, the ubiquitous South American knitted items, true handmade knits and children’s clothing, African baskets, pony rides for purchase and gas bottles, recycled into mesmerising marimba-like instruments. I bought a McCalls Afghan book for a dollar and a prim little century-old tome, Homely Words for Mother, along with some very nice tasting French-style candied nuts and chai from the Chai Tent.

We were done by ten, so extended our morning by driving from St Andrews to Yarra Glen via Kinglake.

The road is extremely windy and narrow. The signs advise large vehicles not to enter. Not long after leaving St Andrews signs of the bushfires became evident, and very soon, signs of the inferno. We stopped talking in the car. I don’t know how the people who live in this area cope with driving this desolate road on a daily basis. As far as the eye can see – and that was a long way because the way was clear – miles upon miles of matchsticks. I’ve seen burnt trees before, and they have burnt brown leaves. These trees had no leaves. All that remain are charred trunks, hence the incredible clarity of the view and the grimness.

People are still living in caravans and tents. People are out rebuilding fences and lives. They are also remembering lost loved ones, harrowing mementoes strapped to trees. I wept.