BEFORE APRIL 21……
Although we’d had to cancel last year’s booking with our great house sitters, we had managed to secure them for about four months of this year. So that enabled me to attempt to plan a trip, again, with fervent hopes that circumstances would not wreck plans, as they had last year.
Before last Xmas, son had moved into a flat nearby, and appeared to be well on the way to recovery from the distress of his marriage break up. Friend M had vacated the other back bedroom and was house sitting for friends, in between various trips away. She was all planned up for this year.
So, our house had become our own again, and our lives more under our own control.
We had experienced the horrors of the February Black Saturday bushfires in ways that were a bit too close…..Total Fire Ban hot north wind days were always tense ones, for those of us living in the Dandenong Ranges, and I listened to the drama unfolding on ABC radio, as the fires grew and spread so quickly. Kinglake, then Yarra Glen were impacted, then there were alerts for areas between there and Lilydale – where my grandchildren’s other grandparents were caretaking a property, and where son’s flat was. A plume of smoke and the fire siren indicated a fire started not far down the hill from us, and out went the local brigade. It was extinguished quickly, started by local firebugs.
Around 4pm ABC radio broadcast an alert for the Golden Square area of Bendigo, where daughter lived. I phoned her to check that she was not being impacted by the fire there……”What fire?”. I asked if she had been listening to the emergency radio….”No, don’t have a radio. I’ll just go look through the window……Oh, shit!” The latter in response to a large evident smoke cloud. I left her to watch and prepare. Although Golden Square was not eventually impacted, that fire burnt quite close to the centre of Bendigo. Daughter bought a small, portable radio.
The tenant of our former granny flat spent every weekend at an ashram at Yarra Glen, and they got quite a fright from it all. A former colleague and her husband died at Kinglake.
There was the devastation of so much superb bushland, the animals and birds that lived in it.
It was so much a repetitive cycle, from which necessary lessons did not seem to be learned. As a teenager in 1962, I’d watched from then rural North Bayswater, as the Dandenongs burned: a horseshoe of fire in the night. Ash Wednesday of 1983 in the Dandenongs impacted heavily on the families whose students I taught, and colleagues who lost homes at Cockatoo and Lorne. I was out at night in my bushy backyard at Montrose, extinguishing embers that drifted down the mountain on the wind change. In 1997 parts of the Dandenongs burned again and friends experienced traumatic evacuations. Yet the whole area continued to be more densely settled as Melbourne’s urban sprawl grew unchecked. At our end of the mountains, there were few exit roads and they were one lane each way, and winding – with the population growth, a disaster in the making……
It was, of course, a given that we could not depart for travels before John’s bowls season ended, which could be as late as mid-March if they made finals. Then there were Club championships to be played….
Easter, with its associated school holidays, was in April this year. I really did not want to be sharing roads and caravan parks with the Easter crowds, if avoidable.
A booking that commenced later in April had suited our sitters, so for all those reasons, this year’s trip started a bit later than normal.
John had decided to abandon having Truck serviced by Landrover dealers in Melbourne, given the issues we’d had with work done by same, over recent trips. Plus the logistical challenges of getting Truck to the most recent service centre we’d used – which had been the best. This one was in the inner Melbourne eastern suburbs, so to have Truck there for the requested 8am, each time, meant leaving home well before 7am and battling the heavy commuter traffic all the way. Both of us, because I had to also drive my car, to collect John. The reverse trip, to pick up Truck always put us into the afternoon traffic peak, too, so it was a pain, all round.
The son of a neighbour from a few doors away, ran a local vehicle service centre and, despite being only in his 20’s, was supposed to specialize in Landrovers. Certainly the various family members drove a range of them. So John had committed Truck to his care, in March, with the usual instructions for a thorough check and service, with particular attention to the brakes. Several faults were rectified. A new vacuum pump was fitted, to solve the brake problems John had detected. He was still not happy, however, and a return to the local mechanic saw the – faulty – new vacuum pump replaced with yet another new one, just a few days before our scheduled departure time. All that work had really dragged on, it seemed, and had made a significant dent in the bank account.