I celebrated my 46th birthday last week. Oh my goodness – 46 seems to be a lot of years and as I made our bed that morning, I felt a little worried that I was probably half way through my life and there is still so much I need to do and share.
Made me think of Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development … I remember laughing when I studied the Generativity vs. Stagnation stage, thinking “oh I’ll never feel fretful that I’m running out of my precious time and that I might not have used it as wisely as I could!” Ah the confidence of youth! And yet here I am, fretting away.
Perhaps it is important to feel a little worried – it will provide me with that extra push to make the most of what I have, find plenty to enjoy, seek opportunities to share and give to my community … and realise that even if I may not be here to stand in the shade of a beautiful avenue of strong tall oaks, someone else will be utterly delighted that I used my time and energy so well.
But back to the birthday … it was celebrated with adventure! As you know, I do love turning down the road less travelled and there was an old gold mining village I was especially excited to explore, so off we set.
First north to Narooma – we wanted to show Julian the bar and rock wall – such wonderful views of the striking rocky coastline and exquisitely coloured ocean. And there were seals! We were all excited about seeing one gliding through the water … then, as we rounded a corner, there were so many more lazing about on the sunwarmed rocks.
Such wonderful animals – so utterly unconcerned with us – even with Julian who continued to clamber further and further down the rocks to get the best photo. So sleek. So shiny. So totally absorbed in their own comfort. Must be a good life.
Then, after a quick lunch, we headed into the mountains to find Nerrigundah – a 19th century gold mining village that different sources claim had a population from 1200 to 7000 – named after the local Aboriginal word for “where edible berries grow”.
History says there were hotels and boarding houses, a post office and police station, a foundry, churches, even a Joss House for the many Chinese workers, and by the 1920s the little town was well known for its tennis team and marvellous dance hall – apparently the condition of its wooden floor was unparalleled. I was sure it was going to be a marvellous adventure.
It’s most remembered now for it’s association with a marauding gang of bushrangers who attacked the town one afternoon in April 1866, knowing that the police commander was away and the remaining trooper unwell in bed with cholera.
However, that trooper – Miles O’Grady – was a brave soul and he leapt from his sickbed and took on those bushrangers. Trooper O’Grady was shot and killed – as were some bushrangers – the ringleaders later captured and hanged in Sydney. But the people of Nerrigundah and the government of NSW were so grateful for his service they erected a memorial to him in the village centre which still stands today.
Alas, this memorial is pretty much all that still stands in what was once a busy and well populated valley. We drove through the rural hinterland of Bodalla, up a steep and windy mountain range, then onto a rough and rocky track and back down through a heavily forested and even more diabolical series of sharp corners and steep drops. The first route we took was closed because of a washed out bridge. So back up and back down we went until we finally found Nerrigundah.
According to the GPS, the whole area was a neat grid of named roads – in reality most of these roads have long been eroded away by long grass and trees and we only spotted one street sign. There were a couple of much more recently built private homes – including a fabulous permaculture establishment – a small wooden house which photos suggest was once the post office and a church that I daresay will have fallen off its stumps and rotted away to nothing before the decade is out … and of course the memorial. But everything else was gone.
It was quite eerie. We were so close to the serene coast with its numerous small towns and thriving farming communities, but down in this valley – completely still and hot, with smothering humidity and the whirring of insects, it was as if we had stumbled into a different world. One where we were lost and cut off from all that we knew.
Reminded me of that book a few years back – about a young couple that married, then set off west to find the promised land and build their homestead and they walked for weeks, suffered terrible hardships for many years, and after all that the woman discovers her husband had walked her in circles and they were only over the mountain from her family. Did you read that book? It infuriated me!
Well that’s what Nerrigundah felt like :-) and for the historian in me, it was so disappointing to find there was so little left of what once was.
Julian reckons it’s the termites. We have FEROCIOUS termites here in Australia and he could see holes in the ground where building stumps and fence posts had been and guesses that as the gold dried up and people moved on, the termites just munched their way through everything.
We headed back east – back through the loveliest farm I have ever seen. Oh how I dream that our little farm will one day look like this.
Their fences were immaculate (I am obsessed with fencing), they had a proper old style Australian windmill (they are SOOOOO expensive), rows and rows of beautifully aligned deciduous trees – and not just one species but prettily arranged so that smaller trees with different coloured and shaped leaves made patterns amongst the tall stately ones.
Their cows were pretty nice too – I’d like some of them as well! It refired our imaginations and made us plan even more for our little Wombat Hill!
Then, because Nerrigundah had been a bit of a fizzer, we decided to check out another village whose name tickled Noah’s and my fancy – Potato Point.
Oh and there was a troll bridge! So funny – made us all laugh – first time we’ve ever seen a troll bridge in real life. Noah had a wonderful book when he was little “The Toll Bridge Troll” that we loved reading – the artwork is so lovely and the ending such a delight.
I feel sorry for the troll. She’s lived under the bridge for so long that she’s angry, bitter and judgemental. There’s so much beauty and joy to be found in the world that lies above her – a world filled with good and generosity and so many opportunities to seek happiness and share in delight.
Even better, it’s filled with a huge rainbow of people who make a point of looking for this goodness and celebrating the adventures that lay before all of them.
But all the troll can see is the ugliness that in fact oozes out of her own pores. She is blinded by her own spiteful choices and her shrill, vicious voice tries so hard to drown out the happiness of those who cross her path. But it never will. It never ever has and it never ever will. We folks who choose life and love will keep dancing across that bridge for ever more.
Good will always win out over ugliness and hate. The troll is doomed to squat there in the stinky mud, missing out on the sun and the fresh breeze and the laughter of those who are making the most of life – and more importantly, making sure that they contribute to the lives of those around them in a generous and positive way.
And secretly she knows, this troll – in the wee small hours of the morning – that she is the one who behaves so badly, and it is her life that is lacking, not those that she screams at.
Yep, the troll is the one that has it tough. Poor troll. And this bridge was very low and noisy – the troll must have a permanent and painful crick in her neck, her ears ringing from all that cheerful noise above her.
Finally it was home to birthday cake – mum made my favourite Nigella Lawson cake – Chocolate Gingerbread with Lemon Icing. And I had found these dear little candle holders when we were packing – which I had bought at an opshop so many years ago and never ever used because I could never ever find them. Well now they live in a little Bonne Maman jar on the pantry shelf waiting for our celebrations.
It was a lovely, adventurous birthday indeed. With my lovely Julian, delightful Noah and dear Mum by my side.
Oh 46 – you’re not so bad after all.