at every end is a new beginning.
Now and then I like to post about something personal in my life – be it the hassles, the laughter or the downright bewildering.
This post, however, is one of the most meaningful and close to my heart pieces that I will ever put forth to the public. Mainly, it is just to get a sense of what is happening around me, and for myself to cope with understanding that change is inevitable. Either way, life is not absolute; there will be twists, turns, obstacles and boundaries. How you avoid, challenge or follow these is what truly matters in the final stages.
Dedicated to my beloved Pappy, Ray John McBlane, who passed in April 2011, this post observes the major turn in my life, which I am currently having to endure and accept. To my past, present and future, this change in my life signifies the ability to see the memories for what they are – a special stage that will always remain unforgotten.
To the town of Numurkah, my dearest grandfather and my inspiringly strong grandmother, this is for you.
The town of Numurkah resides in Northern Victoria, some few kilometres outside of
Shepparton. Mostly, the place is unknown to anyone I happen to have a conversation about it with, but to me, it is a place I know better than my own hometown in Melbourne, Victoria. Perhaps it is because it is tranquil; so close to nothingness that it is almost everything. There are paddocks beyond paddocks, fencing that collides with more and more fencing. There is nothing to it but land, but it speaks of a million memories. No side-by-side street in suburban Melbourne has the same effect; the rustle and hustle of the city-life does not play so peaceful to my own mind.
As I sit here writing this, a kookaburra calls from somewhere beyond the front driveway. It sing
s momentarily, and does not offer much more. I bring this up because of its significant call; a call perhaps only the country can truly offer. Somewhere, the bird is hollering for a feed – perhaps a passing Black Snake in the weeds by the Dairy shed – or ordering for its family to rejoice and unite. What is so obvious in this land, is that human-life is not overwhelming; the land has been kept as Outback Australia, or something of the liking. The wildlife and flora are more of the foreground, rather than something that lurks beyond the everyday human errands. Nothing is more apparent than the life that is other than human, in the little town of Numurkah.
Travelling from Melbourne to Numurkah, perhaps once or twice a year, became a tradition; once at easter, once toward summer. Sometimes, we’d be lucky enough to visit more often, but mostly, the three and a half hour trip was plain gruelling to a young child like myself, at the time. Often, my parents would attempt to play White Horses in the car, forcing my sister and I to battle it out in who could find 10 white horse before anyone else in the family. The prize was mutual for all; a 50c cone from McDonalds when we stopped for lunch. But childhood innocence doesn’t last, and eventually the game became an annoyance in the backseat. We balanced this by spotting other animals on our charts, which our mother had given us to cross off as we went. Later on, this turned to mobile phones and the ongoing battle for reception.
The trip, as the years went on, became more of a time to reflect and catch up on my life. Often caught up with stress and anxiety in Melbourne, travelling in the car became less of a chore, and more of an opportunity to understand what my life was/is coming to at that given moment. Other times, the trip was just merely to enjoy the moment of driving through rapidly changing scenery, and appreciating nature as it is.
So vivid in my mind, are the ranges that we pass to head into Yea. This abundance of beautiful, tall trees and leafy-green flora is known as Kinglake, and once had our car stopped in the middle road (amongst the towering gumtrees) to welcome falling snow from the heavens above. Having never seen it before, our family was awestruck, and we stopped to admire the white beauty. Ten years later, the Kinglake and Toolangi forest was on fire, and is now known as the victim of Black Saturday – a disaster that killed over 200 people, due to colliding arsonist bush fires in the region. Driving into Yea, a burnt-down pub now a vacant land of rubble, singes my mind; a single sitting chair sits by its lonesome on the tiny block, signifying what use to be there.
With the property here in Numurkah now on the market, my grandmother is bustling around the house, attempting to get organised for her big move down to Melbourne in two weeks time. My grandfather’s photograph, picked by myself for his memorial, sits on the dinner table. He hasn’t moved in six months. I catch my nana telling him she’s about to raid his wallet once again, an object she still keeps in her bedroom drawer, as has always been.
But as I look around, things are no longer the same. The carpet is brown, and the walls are no longer yellow. The place is not the same.
I cannot blame this on my family, and their knack for keeping things intact, but can instead curse Mother Nature for changing one of the loves in my life. In 2010, a furious storm ripped through the town, shredding the house to pieces, and tearing the roof off into the paddock next door. They lost everything, apart from tiny items that were barely salvageable. In an interview with my grandfather for a university assignment, after the disaster, I realised my grandparents’ potential and skill to be content with still having their own lives. My grandfather especially.
Living in a motel, and then a resort unit, in the township of Numurkah, became my grandparents’ fortune. They were not longer able to have the freedom of their own house, but were instead forced to worry about what they could save from the wreckage. In trips to the property in the next few months, my own immediate family began to see the effect it was having on my already-sick and struggling grandfather. The stress was great.
Battling with cancer and a crippling heart disease for most of my life, my grandfather was able to bring life to my own, without showing his weakness and constant pain. In my early years, he doubled over with a heart attack, and my sister and I watched from the bedroom window as he glanced back at us, seemingly to say goodbye. The red and blue lights of the ambulance did not have us in a worry; we were young and innocent. And he was a survivor.
He lived more than a decade more after that, playing the role of one of my best friends, and the person that pushed me the hardest. He was the one to tell me to put my anxiety aside, and face my fears in my beginning years of high school. He was the one that asked after my writing, and my constant passion for reading. His jokes were the sunshine in my life, especially when escaping my Melbourne stresses.
Learning to live without him has been horribly hard, and I cannot begin to understand the pain and loneliness that my grandmother is going through. Visiting his grave today, for his 77th birthday, she joked about the flowers, and talked to her husband in a casual manner. Nothing was different; today he was alive. Unfortunately for myself, I cannot help but notice what has changed in the last six months. Besides his photo on the table, there is nothing I can identify him with, though his shoe-horn and flyswat still sits by the front door. I recall his cliche cork hat, as we use to take walks down to the channel next door. Swearing and muttering under his breath about the low levels of the water, he fiddled with the pipe in the channel to assure their property was in no danger of losing their beloved water. I now think of the sign I saw in town today, “Water is liquid gold”, a phrase that the town and its people definitely hold close to their hearts.
Walking down the lane way next to the channel today, my mother and I do not talk directly of what is happening in this moment, or the changes we are both having to endure. She is the saviour of my grandmother and the property, organising everything from the move to the financial matters that are still rolling around from Pappy’s death. Instead, we watch for snakes in the grass, and she holds the shovel close by her side.
As we walk, we take a glimpse at the Dairy shed of our neighbours’ property; a rundown building with overgrown grass, haunts my mind. The tiny ladder on the barbed wire fence makes me reminisce about countless walks down through the paddocks; a certain one where my grandfather left me as a five year old to find my way home, out of curiosity.
These memories are just a part of saying farewell to the place. Unfortunately, people in my life do not understand the difficulty that I feel I am facing. To me, this place is another home, and an escape from everything that is bringing me down in my mind. I am able to sit peacefully and appreciate what I am able to do, and what needs to be done when I return to my hometown. Sometimes, it is just a reminder that other things in my life exist, other than my routine back home. Leaving this behind makes me feel empty, something in my mind is unable to tick over and accept that tomorrow I will leave this land for good.
So much has changed in the span of my young life, and so much is still yet to change. Tomorrow I leave Numurkah for the last time, and I will probably struggle to do so. Knowing in my heart that the town will always exist, and my grandfather will always reside there, will remind myself that although the world alters constantly, memories and spirit can always be found in the most special places.
Rest in peace and Happy Birthday, Ray John McBlane – My Pappy.