Friday, September 25, 2015

Those wide wide open roads: Forbes, NSW September 2015


It took us about nine hours to get there, and about nine hours to get back. But it was worth it. I love trips, no matter how short, and the different perspectives they can throw up. A new perspective, new horizons, a different interpretation.

J, S, M and I left Monday morning and stopped a few times. A town called Narranderra. Just before that Jerilderie, briefly. West Wyalong. Places along the Newell Highway. These were the towns of some note that I sort of found interesting in some way. I pretty soon found that it was the wide, wide streets that I thoroughly enjoyed.  It became a kind of theme of my holiday. The space and wideness of everything in the countryside. And by the time we reached Forbes, it felt like we really were in the countryside.

I have long neglected, in my mind, rural Victoria or NSW. Shamefully, I have been fixated on Europe, and in particular England, for too long. So it was so refreshing, these calm few days, to find fascination and enjoyment in new things much easier to grasp and experience. And I thought also of all those anonymous lives.

We arrived at our friends’ place around dusk. It had been quite a while since I had seen them. We knew small things about each other. They once lived near us in Melbourne, but their stay was short lived. Like many people, they went back to their families, their roots. I noticed straight away how delightful their children were. Three of theirs and two of ours, and our two matched two of theirs in age. They have what seems like a huge house. But I soon came to realise that everything is huge in the country, in Forbes. A walking tour of the garden is enough to wear you out. The rooms in the house all big and square. Two matching levels in size and a chunky double garage. It opened my eyes to the possibilities. In Melbourne, like most cities, by contrast, you have to sweat and toil for space. Here the wind flew through your hair and you strode open chested everywhere, instead of the usual squeezing single file.

We sat in the kitchen, and laughed, and talked of things to come.

Early the next morning we rose and outside I marvelled again at their wide, wide street. All exaggerated sizes. We drove down by the Lachlan River. I thought of the past. Forbes’ gold rush days. And parties and house boats of yesteryear all along the Lachlan. They all went off walking next to the rugby ground, and I went for a run. Down by the rail yard and then north of the town, up a hill and past the hospital. Running along the side of the wide streets and knowing nobody and feeling free in the cool breeze and the blank sunshine.
I arrived back at the rugby ground early, and tried to make friends with several pelicans who, though resting, all had one suspicious eye on me and retreated every time I passively advanced. I wondered about potential maltreatment and bored schoolboys. They weren’t to know I held them in high esteem.
After lunch at the ‘Mezzanine’, N gave us a glorious tour of the town. She knew everyone, which, although hardly surprising, was still interesting to see. ‘Hello’ to the woman in the dress shop, ‘hello’ to the women in the shoe shop, ‘hello’ to the myriad people shopping in the chemist. I quickly scribbled a p.c. to mother and father, and at last we reached Victoria Square. Victoria Square, Forbes. A thoroughly enchanting spot. There are many ‘squares’ around the world that I have yet to see, or know little of- Times Square, Hanover Square, Berkeley Square, Washington Square. I also think of enchanting little places in Europe where, in the middle of the city, you could sit and ponder for hours, and never get bored.

That beautiful fountain in the heart of Perugia. Traipsing along Charles Bridge, Prague. The Spanish Steps, Rome. Looking at the façade of Chartres Cathedral in France. Thinking of Vincent in the public gardens in Arles.

 I wanted to stay in Victoria Square for hours. The pretty façade of the little buildings along the west side of the square and the impressive court house. The charming fountain in the middle and the solemn war memorial monument. The grandiose Town Hall and the pretty Anglican church along the east side of the gardens. Here time stands still and offers the town so much beauty and character. It is always the ‘old part’ of places that are the most rich and intriguing.

More people for N to recognise on the streets. After a while we all have a casual swagger of feeling free and unintimidated by everything around us. M wants to run across the road. We play ‘games’ and take lots of photos in the shops, pretending to be mannequins.

Later, for a complete change of scenery, we venture out to our hosts’ relatives, and drive along partially unmade roads to mysterious places filled with unknown lives and rich tapestries of history. N and T apparently got married in this tiny innocuous Catholic Church in this spot surrounded by empty fields. The relatives live on acres and acres of dusty ground. There are fences to be unlatched and latched, several of them, and people and dogs and sheds at the end of everything. Here, the relatives have hired sheep shearers, who cut away fantastically well at the stiff, mute sheep who surrender their will to these expert workers. After only a few minutes each, the sheep are reduced drastically in size, bundled down a chute to their relative freedom, and their new, white glistening bodies resume their harmless eating.

We meander inside for some lovely hospitality at the farmhouse, several acres away. To own all this acreage makes my head spin a little. There is a lot I would like to know, but I feel a bit intimidated by everything I don’t know, and everything I didn’t know that I don’t know. There are family stories amidst shearing talk. One relative comes from Coff’s Harbour, but it’s a different world. I don’t really know anything about this place or where it is. Suddenly, living in the northern suburbs of Melbourne for so much of my life, feels somehow ridiculously foolish. It’s a bit like when T talks to me. I haven’t really had conversations like this for years. I suppose it is a bit like rural talk that’s unfamiliar, but it is life talk as well, or life experience, and I get this sense of overwhelming naivety.

That night we drink well and go to bed late. We gorge ourselves on homemade pizza. I am really enjoying the company of the children. They are all unique in some way, somehow refreshingly different. My girls, the city type, are equally entranced. It is great to see M so charmed by D, both of them around 7. And S equally fascinated by the rural S. My S copies a lot of her moves. The rural S is always stretching like ballerinas do.

We take two cars in the morning. I go with T in his car, with a couple of kids engrossed by a film in the back, and J goes with N and another couple of kids. Dubbo seems a long way away. We drive through canola field after canola field, all bright yellow like shorn sunflowers. There is also a gold quarry. Again, T is a fountain of knowledge. I have never had the conversation steered away from my comfort zone so much for a long time, but it is good.

Dubbo Zoo, the sign says, is the premier tourist attraction of Australia. I’m unsure but it’s an interesting place. The animals, mostly African in origin, seem a long way away. But it’s a respectful distance, and for that we should all be glad. At other zoos, you always get the feeling people want to reach out and grab and paw and smear over the animals. Here, we gaze on respectfully and curiously, something you would never do with paintings at an art gallery.
T is very relaxed. Even before we get out of there, after a long day of gazing into distances, he allows the children a final play on the flying fox near the exit. It makes me wonder if I am too impatient at times. The drive back is intriguing for me. I am starting to think about it all ending, like I did at Sarsfield nr Bairnsdale on another recent holiday. Thinking about it ending, regretfully. The wide open vistas are still somehow intriguing.  I am still not tired of the differences, to ordinary life.

For me, then, one of the most moving experiences of the whole holiday occurs. Thankfully, T is in no hurry to get home. We visit Forbes cemetery, and finally find Kate Kelly’s sad little grave. We have S and S running around looking for it too. It is a sad, little forlorn grave, a little headstone all in white. I don’t know much about her, but I can sense her hardship in my bones and seeing the gravestone fills me somehow with curiosity and tenderness for her. She felt it, apparently, quite difficult, being Ned and Dan’s sister. One day, possibly drunk, at the tender age of 36, she was found, drowned, in a Forbes field not far from T and N’s house. Or maybe she was trying to save an aboriginal child. We don’t really know.

This night, our last, we have pasta, and then follows another late night for the children. We are all in the mood for dancing and costumes and concerts. S and T do a nice little duet about fathers and daughters. D and I do a kind of shuffle to Salif Kieta’s ‘Yamore’, Forbes S does some ballet, Melbourne S and M do their respective dances, and it is difficult to get little I off the dance floor. She keeps saying ‘not finished!’, despite each song coming to its natural end.
We leave, fairly early, on the last day, September 24. Appreciative hugs all ‘round. I must be inspired, because all the way home I continue to find each town lovely in its own way, never getting tired of those magical wide, wide streets. I discover that Evonne Goolagong grew up near Narrandera. I see that people along those wide streets are friendly and community minded, like you would expect. There is a huge man-made strawberry out near Finley somewhere where we take a photo next to two nervous caged rams. Tocumwal is charming (I missed it, asleep, the first time). Before this, at Narrandera again, M and I sit on the ground in the cool sunshine on a corner waiting for J and S shopping, me asking her if she likes the wide streets and if she would like to live in the country.

Before too long- well, after nine hours, in fact, we have wended our way towards the city again, in the ever encroaching dusk. It’s all too familiar again- talk of AFL football on the radio, slimmer streets, hurly burly of cars and traffic signs, ambulance, drab buildings and lots of tiny houses, each with their hard earned little allotments that are so, so un-Forbes like in their composition. And it’s not just the wide streets I already miss. Somehow it is also the dusty fields and the wild terrain and the long bitumen roads that can take you to these unknown and anonymous lives who seem down here to live in the middle of nowhere. There are dead kangaroos on the side of the road. Little farms dotted here and there and I’m glad to say that we all ventured to one of these.

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