We are in Landsborough, a little town at the base of the Pyrenees ranges, in country Victoria, not France. The house we are staying in belongs to Hugh and Caroline, old friends of Rosie’s who now live in London. It used to be the bootmaker’s cottage. I know this because there is a plaque attached to the front fence telling me so. We’ve noticed quite a few of these plaques during our walks around the town, sometimes in front of patches of land with nothing on them any more apart from a lemon tree and a sheep.
It turns out that Gary, who lives over the road and makes one half of Gary and Janeane (the couple who keep an eye on this place while Hugh and Caroline are gallivanting around), is responsible for the plaques in his official capacity as president of the Landsborough historical society. ‘Last year was our sesquicentenary,’ he said with some difficulty last night, after I’d pushed the wheelbarrow around to the back of his house to pick up some more firewood (I had to go past the pub, where bikie types were drinking out the front and laughing at my wheelbarrowing. ‘Anyone call a taxi?’ I joked as I trundled past. I was quite happy with that one. They were laughing with me, not at me, I’m pretty sure) and we were standing around talking about stuff.
‘What is a sesquicentenary?’ I asked, trying my hand at the tongue twister. It’s hard to say sesquicentenary without sounding like you have a lisp. ‘It’s 150 years,’ said Gary. ‘We all got dressed up in historical gear and did all the things they used to do in the old days.’ I tried to imagine what those things they did were, but Gary was already onto something else, explaining how they wanted to buy the house from the next door neighbour, and how there was a selection of plaques out the front of the town hall, and how in bushfire season they had a clear plan of action. ‘As soon as we smell smoke, we’re gone,’ he said, staring at me straight. ‘All this, you can rebuild.’
He gestured expansively to his property with its multiple clotheslines, Jack Russells and luxurious passionfruit vines. I agreed with him, while secretly feeling envious that he had already lived in the city for decades upon decades, long enough to have careers and change course several times before moving out here and focusing his bristly friendliness on this little town. I walked the wood-laden barrow back, taking a shortcut through the bowling club so as to avoid the pub.
There’s a great collection of records in the front room of the house, which I suppose is where the bootmaker used to make and sell his boots. I’ve been going out there a few times a day to make selections and bring them back to the warm room (it’s freezing here) – Roy Orbison, Burt Bacharach, the Bee Gees, Sergio Mendes, Shirley Bassey. Now we’re listening to Outkast, which is a bit out of left field.
Yesterday was Rosie’s birthday. After presents, breakfast and a walk, we went for a drive around the Pyrenees. We were the only visitors at both of the wineries we stopped at so it was a bit awkward, but I still managed to get pretty soused and sucked in by the schtick of the winemaker at the second place, which was comically named Warrenmang. It was a fantastically understated performance, rustic as hell, only betrayed by his insistence on showing off all the awards he had won. Then we each ate a meat pie in Avoca, which was a big mistake. Then we drove back slowly through the countryside, on a knife’s edge, terrified of hitting a kangaroo after Janeane's warnings. Then I made a birthday banana cake soaked in caramel sauce – definitely the best cake I have ever baked, even if it did look like a giant crumpet. We played a few hands of cards and went to bed.
There are kangaroos everywhere here. They hang out in people’s backyards. We walked to the football oval on the first night we arrived and there were at least 30 of them standing there staring at us, like we had interrupted their team practice. Tess gave chase and they bounded off, jumping with ease over the big boundary fence and off into the grapevines. Tess loves it here – she has started behaving like a hardened little warrior as opposed to her usual domestic cat vibes. In the house, she’s either asleep or chasing a ghost mouse, and when we’re outside, she’s constantly chasing rabbits and kangaroos, or rolling in shit.
On Friday night we got take-away pizza from the pub over the road for dinner. We sat and had a drink at the bar while we waited for our food, and listened to people talking. It is a nice old pub, with a friendly resident dog and lots of signs hanging everywhere talking about how terrible it is to be married. Some men had gathered by the fire, making each other laugh by saying quiet remarks while keeping a straight face and sipping their cokes. They reminded me of meeting up with my friends on Friday nights for dinner and beers. One of the men asked us if we had seen the ghost of the old bootmaker. He said he had thought it was him who had lit the fire when he saw smoke coming out of the chimney. Another one of the men asked us if we had chased the possums out of the chimney before we lit the fire. Then the first man asked us what we did with ourselves and said he used to be the principal of the primary school, but now he was retired. As soon as he said that I could picture him as the principal, with his broom head moustache.
We’re only here for the weekend but I wish we could stay longer. I’m quite aware of the stereotype I’m playing into, even down to my bushman’s shirt, but the relief of being away from the internet and being worried and cynical about everything is just lovely. I know it would be different if we were here more permanently, like Janine and Gary. I’d get bored, wouldn’t I? I’d miss doing a lot of things at once, I’d miss being a part of things as they happen, I’d miss Raph burgers and Uniqlo and cinemas in furniture warehouses and meeting up with the boys for our Friday night debriefings. I’d miss skating and bumping into people on the street. I don’t know, would I? Anyway, we’ve had a nice weekend. Many thanks to Hugh and Caroline for letting us stay!