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Monday, February 16, 2009

Vale Marysville

The world has watched in shocked horror, the devestation wrought by the terrible bushfires that have burnt through some of the lovliest parts of Victoria over the last week. At times like this it makes us realise that Melbourne is a small town and the rules of six degrees of separation dictate that no one remains completely untouched. Although I know two people who lost their lives defending their home and others who escaped, only to lose everything, in some ways it is the loss of the little town of Marysville that has become emblamatic of the fires. Five hundred people lived in the town - barely a dozen buildings are left standing and it is estimated the death toll may rise to one hundred - a fifth of the town's population.

I am not alone when I say Marysville always held a very special place in my heart. We arrived in Melbourne in 1968 and in July 1969 we took our first holiday - to Marysville. Mum booked us in to a slightly ramshackle old guest house called, at that time, Mt. Kitchener Lodge. We shared a large room with three beds with saggy matresses and chenille bedspreads that had seen better days. Meals were taken in the communal dining room and in the evenings, the hosts organised different sorts of entertainment. I can still recall a game that involved a blindfolded tour of 'Lord Nelson's life' - where a chewed up minty passed for his eye and the child had to insert a finger into an orange for his eye socket. Gruesome but great fun!

It was in Marysville that I met my first Aussie BBQ. On a day of pouring rain (yes, it used to rain in those days, Virginia!) all the guests tramped down to the football ground and we huddled under the shelter, watching the rain, the smell of cooking sausages and onions mingling with the scent of the wet gum trees, eating sausages wrapped in white bread with onions and tomato sauce. I thought I had never tasted anything so wonderful in my life.

We went back every year for the next 4 years. Sometimes in winter (my favourite time of year) and sometimes in summer. The ownership changed and the lodge was rechristened "Mountain Lodge". A swimming pool was built (luxury!), we played croquet, I learned the rules of "21" (played with matches) and I read my way through the entire works of Agatha Christie (the local store had an unending supply!). I rode horses, hired from the hacking stables in those happy days before insurance and compulsory head gear (see photo age 11 - the horse was called 'Cisco'). We walked the ferny gullys and climbed to Keppels lookout and stuffed ourselves on Devonshire teas (another new taste sensation for me) at the Fruit Salad Farm.

Our last holiday to Marysville was in September 1973 when I was fourteen. Who would be 14 again? Gawky, socially inept and terminally embarrassed by my parents. The photo says it all really - the compulsory Saturday evening entertainment - a bunch of equally miserable teenagers entertaining the guests with "Rocky Racoon" (that's me on on the far left). It all belongs to a far off, more innocent time.

I have been back to Marysville many, many times and more recently twice in the last six months. I had forgotten how pretty it was and in a moment of impulse, I grabbed the brochure for the local real estate agent. I had it pinned to my fridge until last week. Ironically my husband and I had walked the firebreak to the north of the town and talked about how this resilient little town had survived Black Friday of 1939 and the Ash Wednesday Fires of 1983. It seems third time unlucky.

I know the strength of the community will rebuild it again but the old guest houses are gone now and it will never be quite the same again.