Tag Archives: Bendigo

A moving story

5am, Bendigo.  The alarm jolts me awake and I leap into action.  There’s no time to spare.  The removal van arrives in an hour and though Mum, her husband and I have been packing for weeks, the final part of the process requires absolute focus.  It’s been pouring rain all night and, aside from our furniture getting wet, the roads on the long journey are bound to be dangerously saturated.  Without saying a word we know that things aren’t going to go smoothly for our three vehicle convoy to New South Wales.  We’re all quietly uneasy.     

After thirteen years in Bendigo my mother’s moving interstate to be close to her daughter and grandchildren (my sister and nieces) in Albury. It’s taken a year to orchestrate and today is finally D-Day.  Though the sun is yet to rise, we’re all up and scurrying around the house with nervous adrenalin.  We each execute our last-minute tasks with military precision; beds are stripped, mats are rolled and the kitchen’s cleared.  The phone rings and from the bathroom I hear my mother answer.

Driving through the flood

Driving through the flood

Mum:  Which route am I taking?  Well I’m going to go via Violet Town, you think via Shepparton’s better?  I’m sure the connecting road to Benalla’s already under water but I’ll check the road traffic report.  I’m hoping the Violet Town route will still be okay. 

I can’t hear the caller’s response, though it’s clear she’s talking to the removalist.

Mum:  Do you have any plastic sheeting we could use to protect the carpets?

Again, I can’t hear anything.

Mum (irritated):  No, I don’t mean sheeting for when we arrive, I mean for here!  Otherwise we’re going to leave the place covered in mud!

The conversation goes back and forth in this manner for almost ten minutes until I hear my mother bark.

Mum:  Oh bloody hell, Steve – I thought you were the removalist!  I’ve got to go and get on with things!

The flood ahead

The water ahead

My father (my mother’s ex-husband) had phoned to check if we were ready for the move.  It was when he let her know that he’d been up all night with diarrhea that the penny finally dropped and she realised he wasn’t the removalist.  I can’t stop laughing (at both of my parents), to my mother’s exasperation.

No, today isn’t going to go smoothly.  After loading our belongings into the van and two cars, we head off in the ceaseless rain.  Roads will be cut off due to flooding, but we can’t be sure which.  For three hours we head through roads gushing with water, getting diverted when it’s two feet or more.  We breathe a sigh of relief when we make it to the Hume Highway.  It’s a major four-lane highway and has never flooded.  Until now.

An hour from our destination, police cars signal us off the road.  Lorries and four-wheel-drives may proceed but cars are told to turn back unless they must travel north.  We stop, while ahead we see the removal van continue to our new home – with no house keys to enable them to unload.

Welcome from my nieces!

Welcome from my nieces! (That's me in the top right-hand corner with green hair and blue eyelashes ...)

The pounding rain reflects my mood.  With water increasing around us, we wait for a diversion to be put in place – we may be here overnight.  After three hours, my bladder can wait no longer.  Between two open car doors I squat with a blanket over my head.  Sigh.  Today has gone from one high to another.  Though now it’s time for my mother to laugh at me, to my exasperation.

In another hour we’re permitted to journey via a massive diversion and we arrive in Albury where we’re greeted by my sister and her family.  My brother-in-law’s offer to help is declined by my mother.  “No, it’s okay, we’ve got Simone for the heavy lifting”.  Everyone laughs as I heave a suitcase from the car.  Giggling with uncontrollable joy, my nieces welcome us with a giant handmade poster.  Their happiness is contagious and, though the sky is grey, it feels like the sun is shining in our new home.

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A creature of habit

8:15am, Tuesday, Bendigo.  Muesli’s eaten, shower’s taken and I’m walking to the gym just like every other Tuesday.  Right on schedule, on the bridge just before the train tracks, I see the mother with the cherry tattoo on her shoulder pushing her baby boy in a buggy.  Her five-year-old daughter, dressed in a blue school uniform, carries a huge (though nearly empty) rucksack that hangs from her shoulders to her knees.  I walk behind them, watching the little girl’s blonde pony-tail bounce from side-to-side.  She trots frantically to keep up with her fast-moving mother and their large grinning dog.  Her small arm looks set to pull out of its socket as she’s yanked along, but she beams with adoration at her pet.  Every day this makes me smile.  As we approach the level crossing, the family manoeuvres to the left, to allow me to stand on their right – my regular position.

The family always turns left after we pass the bedding store while I continue ahead, and today is no exception.  Soon I’ll pass two workmen building an extension to a wood-fire pizza restaurant:  they’ll wave and comment on the weather.  Like clockwork they shout, “Beautiful day!”  I smile and agree.  Dead on time ten minutes later, I enter the gym’s studio where I pause, taken aback at the sight of a Step where I ordinarily put mine.  A girl calls out, “I’ve put your Step in your spot for you”.  I relax and thank her.  Though I do adjust the Step slightly as it’s not in exactly the right position …

It’s a relief that I have my usual location in the room because my clothing is a deviation from my regular attire.  I’m wearing my green sports top which isn’t the one I normally wear for Tuesday’s class.  We had some rain overnight so the washing didn’t dry.  Instead I’m wearing the grey top which is okay.  Yes, it’s okay … of course it’s thicker than the green one, so not ideal for today’s workout, but it’ll do.  It’ll have to do.  Don’t dwell on it, Rainman.

After the class I shower (in the third cubicle, always the third cubicle) and go next door to The Coffee Bean.  The owner greets me brightly before I’ve even spoken, “Double espresso to go!” and winks at me.  I’m startled by his confidence at my order; his certainty enhanced by the obvious pride in his wink.  Jesus, my comforting routine is apparent to complete strangers.  I return his smile and laugh, “No.  Actually a long black to have here”.  (Take that, Café-Owner!  You’ll think twice before aiming your judgemental wink at me again.  Oh yes, you will.   I can be as carefree and spontaneous as the next person).

I wait impatiently for my order; resentful of now having a long black, and having to sit here.  This was not my plan.  My plan was definitely a double espresso to go.  That’s how I always have my morning coffee … clearly.  But I’m being contrary, probably predictably so.

You could set your watch by my afternoon visit to Hudson’s Café.  I’m mildly disappointed that the girl with the nose-ring serves me as I prefer the guy with the beard (he brings my coffee to my table, rather than making me wait for it at the counter – plus he usually serves it with a chocolate).  Miss Nose-Ring looks at me, “Long black to have in?”  Hmm.  I don’t want to be predictable, but it is my afternoon coffee and my favourite seat is vacant.  Altering my regular choice would just be crazy.  Wild, reckless crazy and I can’t justify it.  I’ll walk a different route home – no, I’ve established the best route and I like it.  I’ll walk home on the other side of the road, yes that’s enough of a break from routine for today.  As nose-ring girl hands me my coffee, I turn to walk to my seat and stop.  Someone’s now sitting there.  God damn it.  I don’t drop into the foetal position and start rocking, but I leave.  And, as sure as the sun rises, I walk home on my usual side of the road.

Don’t look up

A hot December day. Kyabram, Australia.  A dark haired, eight-year-old girl dressed in a yellow swimming costume is in her garden, running towards the swimming pool.  From the house, her father yells loudly after her, “Remember …  don’t touch the sides”!!  She knows what this means.  The oval-shaped pool is a cheap design; half submerged in the ground, half above ground.  To enter it she has to climb a ladder and the sides of the pool are infested with spiders – mostly redbacks.  She performs a balancing act on the ladder to enter the water without making contact with the pool’s edge; exiting will be even more acrobatic and at no point during her swim will she go near the border.  The year is 1985.

…. 26 years later. Bendigo, Australia.  In the living room a commercial break interrupts the news.

ME:  Have you got a key I could use while I’m here?

MUM:  Sure!  The spare key’s in the usual spot in the garage. 

ME: Oh, good. 

I remain in my seat.  My mother’s tired and I should leap to get the key myself, but I know the garage and I can’t face it yet.  Only 24 hours ago we had arrived from the airport.  Pulling up to the garage my mother had stopped the car.

MUM:  “I’ll let you out here and then I’ll pull in”.

ME (smiling at our mutual understanding):  “Thanks, there’s no need for me to go in there unless I have to”.

MUM:  “It’s okay if you don’t look up.  They never drop down”.  (Our family mantra for avoiding spiders.  Apparently if you don’t see them, all is well, despite the fact that the ceiling is crawling with them). 

That night I’d slept sporadically, awake from jetlag.  I kept my eyes averted from the window.  The room’s spotless and prepared for my stay; fresh linen, polished mirrors, wardrobe space cleared.  I know that my mother would have used a broom to clear cobwebs from the window frame and all creepy crawlies would have been ruthlessly destroyed.  An unspoken ritual: she knows what must be done. 

My father, on the other hand, was never so competent when hunting arachnids.  We’d spot the creature – by spot I mean scream and run from the room.  We’d hear banging and a few obscenities yelled, and then he’d emerge announcing the spider was dead.  Inevitably it had escaped and would be seen hours later – dancing gleefully and laughing at us.  Our only way around my father’s lie was to demand to see the crumpled corpse; the unity of two sisters fight against the eight-legged is not to be underestimated. 

Two species of spider favour our house: redbacks and huntsmans – huntsmans my greater foe.  Harmless, but the size of a tarantula, a huntsman is spotted monthly, staring defiantly at us from a large blank wall, never even attempting to hide.

In the garage, ostracised by the household, both species (and quite a few more) angrily lurk.  It takes stoicism to enter this space and endure the hatred radiating down from countless eyes.  Currently, sitting in my mother’s living room, I can’t face it.  Of course in a week I’ll have my broom at the ready, the trained child soldier returning, deadened heart and nerves of steel.  Australian mercenaries are cultivated early; I’ve witnessed my then-four-year-old niece voluntarily kill with a shoe – that’s a close up, intimate weapon of choice and earned my full admiration. 

Eventually my mother rises, heading to retrieve the key located in a nook that’s certainly home to Aragog himself.  As she stands, I look at her and smile, ”Need a broom”?  “No, it’s okay, I just won’t look up”.   


Afterword

Since writing this, my mother has informed me that redbacks are far more prevalent in her house than huntsmans – I think this was supposed to be reassuring.  Immediately following this conversation, I saw (and drowned) a daddy-long-legs in the bath (in Australia, daddy-long-legs are spiders not insects).  It’s going to be a long six months.