I can hear kookaburras. God I’ve missed that sound.
I said goodbye to Jeanne eight days ago, on the 2nd of March. She stayed with me right until the very end, boarding the airport bus at Melbourne South Central. We hugged until the bus driver told us to knock it off. Jeanne shed a tear, one last kiss, walk away, turn and wave goodbye… goodbye. Next time I see her face it will be in Chiang Mai, in five weeks’ time. I can’t wait.
I watched Melbourne’s gleaming skyscrapers shrink away as the bus wound out of the city, and I felt numb. I had some good times in the city, and I had some bad times. Overall, I was just relieved to be on my way again. Another adventure was well overdue. The flight to Hobart was easy, and Tasmania from above is beautiful. After two months apart, I met up with Seth in the airport carpark. He was leaning against the great white estate Matilda, rolling two cigarettes.
“Alright man?” he said, popping one cig in his mouth and handing me the other, then coming in for a hug.
We drove out into nature and caught up on the past eight weeks. Blanche, Seth’s girlfriend from Nice, is now in India, and Seth is working to save money so he can meet up with her in Sri Lanka in a couple of months’ time. It was good to be out of the city. Hobart looks like a village compared to Melbourne, and within a few minutes we were in the middle of nowhere once again – back to tranquillity and lazy freedom of those glory days at Toku Iwi.
There was a lot of roadkill as we wound through the Tasmanian countryside into the Huon valley; dozens of miscellaneous marsupials. Possums, wallabies, pademelon, quoll – Seth told me that this island is the roadkill capital of the world per capita. I counted 12 before I got bored of it. We stopped off at a pub that Seth wanted to show me. It was large and quiet, sitting all alone along a tree-lined road somewhere in the hillside. It was a grand old stone building with no visible indication that it was open. There was a giant axe slammed into an enormous tree trunk beside the front door.
“Welcome to the Longley International Hotel,” Seth grinned, as he pushed open the door.
Inside was just as silent as out, the whole place deserted save for a couple of grizzled farmers in Stetson hats sitting on barstools, paws wrapped around half-drunk ales. We ordered a couple of ciders, our English accents drawing vaguely interested glances from the locals. With two pints and packet of crisps we sat outside, in a large and peaceful beer garden decorated with old farming equipment. Seth told me the tables were crafted from Huon pine, famous for its fine grain and high quality. I’ve no idea how he knows these things.
We drove on to Huonville, a small town of a few thousand people in the heart of the valley. It’s quaint and rural but compared to what I was expeciting – something akin to the absolute arse-end-of-nowhere that was Casino, Tabulam and Bonalbo in New South Wales – it felt positively metropolitan. The town has a couple of pubs, a few supermarkets, a smattering of takeaway restaurants, two op shops and a petrol station – what more do you need? We went south-west from Huonville and turned onto Pelvereta Road, little more than a dirt track.
“You’ll like the place we’re staying, man,” Seth told me. “I won’t say too much because I want you to see it for yourself but… it’s interesting.”
At Upper Woodstock we pulled off the dusty road and Matilda rumbled down a wooded driveway. We passed a large boat held up on wooden props, a lopsided treehouse, a mountainous log pile, a rusting Volkswagen campervan, and several stripped-down cars from the 1950’s. We pulled up beside the VW and got out of the car.
“This is our place?” I asked. “Seriously?”
It was a two storey wooden cabin, joined onto an old auto-shop in the woods. The base of the building was made of large, sandy coloured stones, all mismatched sizes, and the upper floor was timber. There was a small area to sit and chat and drink outside, with comfy old armchairs and a hammock. The grill was outside, too. Inside, the cabin was one large open plan room; kitchen, dining table, sofas and armchairs positioned lovingly around a stovepipe fireplace. No television in sight.
The walls were decorated with old motorway signs and ancient quirky antiques, and a wooden staircase on the western side of the room leads up to the sleeping area, with a mezzanine balcony looking down onto the living room. The bedrooms are tiny and basic – I had a bed and a shelf, one foot away from Seth’s bed and shelf, and a small window that caught the morning light. Also upstairs, on the eastern side of the house, was an extra wing that had seemingly been tacked on as an afterthought, held aloft by brown metal stilts outside.
“That’s where the girls sleep,” Seth told me. “They must be napping.”
I dropped my bags on the sofa and we wondered around the grounds. The owner of the place is called Justin – Seth told me he owns the autoshop and spends his days in there tinkering with old hot rods he buys – but he was nowhere to be seen. Justin built our cabin ten years ago for his family, and they lived here while he built them a large home just down the hill. We wondered over to it – a palatial home of stone, with slanting rooftops like castle turrets, surrounded by a pristine garden.
We passed through the garden and saw chickens and cockerels and little baby chicks pecking about for grain. Further down the hill we came to the creek. It hadn’t rained in a while and the waters were low, but Seth said that Justin had told him of a good spot for swimming further down. We climbed through bushes and over rocks and hopped to and fro across the river, searching for the place. A hundred metres downstream we saw two people clambering up the creek, wrapped in towels.
“Ah, it’s the girls!” said Seth.
They’d spent the morning swimming; it was 36 degrees that day. I said hello to my new housemates for the next month. Their names are Chloe and Jemima; Chloe is from Boston, USA (doesn’t have the accent) and Jemima is from somewhere in Oxfordshire called Chipping-Norton, which I found hilarious. She assured me it’s not as posh as it sounds.
The swimming spot was perfect; a deep pool of almost-clear water just down the creek. We’re planning on taking a swim the next time it’s hot. Back at the cabin, I spent my first evening drinking beers Seth had bought for us, sitting outside long into the night as the heat of the day lasted until the small hours. I think the girls were a little apprehensive about us to begin with – they’d already been at the cabin for a week and were unsure of who they’d be living with – but after the third or fourth beer the atmosphere was relaxed and jovial.
That was the first day, and the eight days since have been similarly lovely. I’ll write about it more when I have the time and the energy – work began last Monday picking apples at the William Smith and Sons Orchard down the road, and I’m always too tired to write after a long day picking. But I’m very happy here. My luck is turning, and life is good.