12th April 2019.
It was the closing of a chapter. An Aussie adventure that had lasted five years. The botch-mended front door locked behind us I returned the key in a crumpled envelope to landlord Tobes. Whom I’d forgiven for the banjax. My potted mandarin tree the victim split asunder. Mere clumsy accident the hammer dropped during leaky roof DIY. A paltry thing I’d soon twig compared to what followed.
Indeed, indeed. Although at glance seemingly serene, Guernsey’s farmhouse, the pretty, old rental property had met catastrophe. Best policy: expunge all memory.
Leyla the diminutive Turkish mopper and scrubber worked Domestos magic. Her bored-eyed Bangladeshi sidekick not so much. The bathroom ant colony lay doggo, ecstatic. A final carpet cleanse was left to a steam clean duo, aged Italians wrinkled as walnuts. They had me sign a disclaimer for their hundred buck noisy ten minutes.
Hobnails the brushy performed a last hurrah. The pink nosed sniffer mustered his sheila and bairn for a 4 a.m. display of back yard bounce and jacaranda shinnying. As if such a threesome of possum cuteness might dissuade my missus and me from our weary resolve. But to no avail.
Taking a shufti in the following dawn the black bird with beady yellow eyes began its onomatopoeic song: ‘Currawong-currawong’. Plangent. A lament.
For the missus and me suffering a ruinous burglary had consequences: the ever present thought: shit, they might come back; fanning our swelter-stressed selves with a cheap plastic plate decorated with colourful fish; and removals.
Once we’d resolved to quit behaving akin to distrustful tortoises, our few remaining life essentials carried in backpacks 24/7, sightings of us in Oz have become on a par with the wee Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat lately declared extinct.
Albeit inconvenient, our bulkier worldly belongings knock about risking mildew in a rusting shipping container aboard the MOL Genesis. Fingers crossed, this has rounded the Cape of Good Hope as we, after five years that have turned my stubble salt and pepper, suck in Euro-air with a shortage of underwear and unbridled relief. Add for me mega disbelief, what with Somerset CCC sitting proudly top of the early doors County Championship.
In a rush we’d garnered Melburnian keepsakes: the girl in a striking salmon pink petticoat dress braving the Nepean highway’s widest, busiest junction; a Lilliputian view of Flinders station from atop the Eureka Tower where sits Australia’s highest post box.
A salmagundi of cloud nines then floated our way as grass crisped beige in Straya summer’s swansong. Our swansong.
What Ricky Ponting rudely commented “an old man’s game”, Cricket’s Big Bash concluded as a local derby in front of the crammed bucket heads and air guitar flaying ankle-biters jostling to be seen on the big screens. Sod humanity interested in the actual score. Rare glimpses only of that. Which was a pity because losing track was simples.
I began counting the wickets on my digits. A deplorably early clatter had former Somerset stalwart Tom Cooper upping the anti. Swotting and tonking in a hark back to Taunton salad days he clawed the hosts in red pyjamas to a barely defendable total. The chasing green-garbed Stars, the fierce rivals, choked. Suffocated of runs their kamikaze demise was truly frightful to behold. The tannoy belted rough-macho into the Marvel Stadium’s high rising concrete tiers. MEL-BOURNE! REN-NE-GADES! Repeat upon repeat of it. Up in the gods for a meagre twenty bucks I stifled my ‘yays’. And spilled diluted cider on my bucks-a-plenty souvenir cap. The winners colour. But alas one surrounded by a grumbling emerald sea, air guitar free.
Libation and headwear though varied, thankfully, with venue. Straw hats de rigueur, rural Rochford Winery offered a no-brainer. Our own car sold, our dearest Russian friend, she a part of our best Antipodean adventures, whooshed us there. For a star-dripped ‘Day on the Green’ concert. Fuelled by moreish Yarra Valley Pinot rosé I hoyed many a “More-more!”. First at gorgeous khaki jumpsuited songstress Kate Ceberano and her reassembled band I’m Talking who sprung my emotion well with ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ and secondly, as the sun set, into light moods and theatrical fog. From within septuagenarian Bryan Ferry, his face plough furrow etched, warbled. Oh yeah. His timeless hits carried off on the saxophone wings of Aussie wowza-wow Jorja Chalmers.
A couple of sunrises after me and the missus got carried away too. In a swish hire car. The best left to last. A road trip. An over-nighter. My twenty-something Melbourne adoring, CBD-slicking son drove. His fiancée rode shotgun. Along the Great Ocean Road. Cher crooned ‘Fernando’ ad infinitum. The borrowed Mia Mia 2 soundtrack CD proper track-stuck. A cuddled box of Vegemite and cheese Aussie shaped Shapes took the edge off appetites. So yes, tackling the eat or climb options of an Apollo Bay’s fish and chip mountain was disquieting.
Our end goal was Port Campbell. But not before a pot-luck bum-wiggle koala hunt. The fat run led down a back road fringed by eerie white skeletal gums leading to Cape Otway lighthouse. Great patience earned two whoops. Both for high branch huggers. A bow-legged Chinese gent dressed in a safari jacket and a camouflage cap stopped beside me and admitted to his disappointment. Last time time he was here there was abundance. Koalas even dozed on the road, he said. But that was before the recent bush fires.
Booked for our stay over was the Hideaway, an Airbnb en route to Timboon but a safely tucked away and evocative. Outside, in the mellow fading light an ornamental crud gatherer – a wooden row boat rotting high and dry – and flocks of raucous big-bugger black cockatoos. Inside, a perfection of pasta and candlelight topped by joyously unruly hours of Cards Against Humanity – a so-said game for horrible people – and bloody expensive champers and Shiraz. How the damned burglars missed the bottles defeats me. My dear pickled son horrified family members with “Guess what Dad’s playing!” snapchats. Worry and jaw drops returned from halfway across the globe.
Waiting until next morning to be ticked hungover off the bucket list, the exalted Twelve Apostles limestone sea stacks. Well, actually there’s only eight but such is exaggeration. Until 1922 they were the less biblically known as the ‘Sow and Piglets’ but a pious renaming supposedly benefitted grockledom. The ploy worked. Oh, the crowds! Warnings of unstable cliffs and snakes were in Pom and, for the majority, in Chinese. Nowt being in local Dhauwurd Wurrung or any other Aboriginal lingo had my missus tut. “If this was Kiwi Land…” she mused before turning her attention to an Apostle pair, the Razorback and peeping behind a stack sporting an apparent face.
The return to Melbourne was speedy, through ugly Colac, brightened only by its cockatoo multitudes, the sulphur crested sort. A notable trio of silo murals apart, the dusty hinterland – the third largest volcanic plain on the planet of which I wasn’t appreciative – offered thin sheep dotted about mind-numbing nothingness. Spying a solitary farmer type tug open a lonely, distant field gate I pondered why he felt the need to bother. I really did.
Since when it’s been down to earth with a bump. Literally. Onto Heathrow asphalt. Deep in my backpack lie a consolation sprinkling of Shapes crumbs. Another memory of sorts. Tough thinking the missus and I were already missed. For a few perhaps more than a mosaic-tailed rat.
Illustration & text © 2019 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.