December 2012 – January 2013

Essays

Ballarat–Colac Road

By Robyn Annear

After our daughter flew out of the country, we took three weeks’ holiday. We’d thought of going to New Zealand but changed our minds. If, in her early weeks away, she should need money, need something, need us, it’d be better that we were close to home. The habit of abiding: it was hard to shake.

For the first week we pottered, savouring sweet freedom. Our girl, since the age of 14, had taken the kinds of chances with life that are hard for parents to witness, let alone to mend. Now, with her gone, our watchfulness began to ease. Maybe, we permitted ourselves to think – and even to say – it was going to be okay.

In the second week we bought a new car, with a CD player that worked. This was living.

As the third week approached we said, How about the beach? With no firm plan, on the Tuesday morning we packed the car and pointed it at the coast. We dawdled, stopping at op shops and for coffee along the way.

We ate lunch – sandwiches from home – at the hamlet of Corindhap, where an Avenue of Honour ran parallel to the main road. Of the pines planted back in 1917, not many remained. But the dead trunks of some had been left in place and chainsaw-carved to form great raw-boned sculptures commemorating Corindhap’s human contribution to World War I. A wounded light-horseman slumped on his steed, a woman holding a telegram. A memorial plaque listed 76 locals who went to the war, 11 of whom died there.

It’s tempting to write, in that salute-the-flag style of war memorials, 11 of whom never returned. Only you got the impression that few of those who left ever returned to Corindhap, and that the town never recovered from the generational rupture of the Great War. Now, there was the husk of a house fronting the road and, further on, a shanty pub with a straggle of houses and a church. Mainly, though, it was all farmland, where once sprawled (we later learnt) a gold-rush town called Break o’ Day. Hard to believe there were ever enough homes to send 76 souls to a war.

We pulled off the highway at Cressy to inspect an old iron bridge, above and below. We walked its length, admiring the latticework, and clambered down a bank to see its bluestone piers up close, set in hard mud beside a summer-shrunk creek.

At Colac, we were happy just to loll in the park awhile and watch the mainstreet traffic. Then we turned, unhurried, for home. So much for the pull of the sea.

Back well before dark, we unpacked the car with relief, as if we’d sidestepped an irksome obligation – which we had. Over an improvised dinner, one of us said, That’s the best holiday we ever had. And the other one agreed.

Robyn Annear

Robyn Annear is a writer and historian based in Castlemaine, Victoria. Her books include A City Lost and Found: Whelan the Wrecker’s Melbourne and Fly a Rebel Flag: The Eureka Stockade.

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