Our summer holiday by the beach came to its natural close and one morning we had to stuff the car full – including an extra child and her luggage – and trek back across the scorching hot Gippsland to a melting Melbourne. Within hours of us leaving, Mum received word that dear old Grandad had had a heart attack and was in hospital. She didn’t mention it whilst we were on route (isn’t she strong! I’d have blabbed it as soon as I heard) but the minute we called to say we were safely home, she told us – and added that if I could, she would love me to drive to Brisbane with her, the day after the next, so that we could be there when he came home from hospital and help care for him and Nanny. Of course I said yes.
So Mum trundled across the scorching hot Gippsland to a melting Melbourne to collect me – I’ve never been so hot in my life – it was 46 celsius 4 days running with barely a breath of respite over night. And on the Saturday morning, we packed the car, yet again, and headed up the long, dry Hume highway towards Brisbane. Now it is a long drive – over 1,700km. Three days of driving. But she wanted to drive so that she would have her car in Brisbane and be able to choof the oldies around when she needed to. And I don’t mind a drive. Especially when we can turn left. Or right. Whatever looks interesting.
So with several of the quilts I made last year piled on the back seat for Nanny and Auntie Anne, the crochet tucked into the corner, and an esky full of chilled tuna, we set off on our adventure. First stop – Benalla, Victoria – one of the many small rural towns Nanny and Grandad moved to with their tribe of children – Grandad was a Postmaster with Australia Post. I’d never been so it was especially lovely to visit with Mum and see where all their stories were set.
This was their first home in Benalla – a short walk to school for Mum and her siblings – and around the corner from a family who were to become lifetime friends.
And here’s school. Faithful Companions of Jesus. Where the nuns taught Mum exquisite embroidery. Where Mum rode her bike each day.
And the beautiful church – St. Joseph’s – she attended every week. It was so lovely, standing in this beautiful building – quiet, cool and full of light – imaging my Mum here as a young woman. Making sure the nuns saw her, so she wouldn’t be in strife at school at Monday. Singing along with the choir in the loft. Meeting the Pope’s representative – she says they felt ever so holy after that! Bringing the youngest babe of the family here to be christened.
This here corner is the infamous spot where Mum crashed her bike. She remembers being dazed and staggering home with a whopping headache. Then, years later when she was pregnant with me and experiencing some neurological disturbances, they x-rayed her head then asked how long ago she had fractured her skull!! Yes it was a mighty bike crash.
Here’s the other family home in Benalla – Grandad remembers it being the old Ambulance station. No sign of that now but very sweet.
Mum graduated from high school in Benalla – and this here municipal chambers is where the town dances were held on the weekends – an outing she looked forward to all week. Apparently they were especially good if the local football team won that afternoon. Mum remembers going along to hear all the coolest acts of the 1960s, dancing the night away in shoes that were one size too small but she had to have them because they were so pointy … and then Grandad waiting in the street for her to make it safely home no more than 10 minutes after the dance finished.
Now Grandad – this photo’s for you. Sadly, the Benalla post office was torn down just a few years after you left – the new one is a horrible modern shop front – total non-event. But here’s the post office in nearby Wangaratta – somewhere I’m sure you spent many a day listening to the bigwigs from Melbourne drone on and on about what you should and shouldn’t be doing :-) Unfortunately, it’s now a tacky coffee shop. At least it’s still standing. Australia Post, if you’re listening – what you’ve done to the heritage of your organisation is disgraceful! I’m constantly annoyed by the cavalier manner with which you have disposed of the incredible history of your beautiful post offices – gracious buildings that were built when people sought to inpsire and celebrate – and the people and families who gave their all.
Soon after leaving these sweet towns, further along the highway, we were confronted with this! It seems obvious now, but we initially thought we were driving into a dreadful storm – the sky became so dark. Then the red glow became obvious and we realised those “clouds” were floating up to the sky, not down. Eeeek! It was a huge bush fire, sparked by a lightning strike that hit a pine plantation – which of course went up like a bomb. For almost a hundred kilometres, this image filled the sky to our right. It burnt for several days – taking several farms and homes with it, not to mention the horrible cost to the environment and the animals who live there. A very potent reminder of how terribly hot and dry Australia has become – just in case we hadn’t noticed from the 46 celsius days and toasted to a crisp grass.