This is the world’s most liveable city. I don’t think it’s achieved such an accolade on so many occasions because people love to stay indoors and keep their tiny white box of an apartment clean. The theory is that having already spent the best part of twelve months here, I should know when the big, unmissable events are. For example, the Great Australasian Beer Spectapular, missed last year due to the regional work requirements, will absolutely not be missed this year. White Night, on the other hand, will be as I’ll be across the ditch when this takes place early next year. What I need to focus on now, is branching out, looking into the smaller, less known, largely unheard of happenings in and around the city. Should be pretty easy, don’t you think? Just a couple of weeks ago Elena and I went out to Brunswick to watch the superb Domini Foster do her thing at the Retreat hotel.
We arrived about halfway through her set but what we did see was still enough to blow us away. We both realised that live music was something that had been missing from our lives for far too long. This revelations was just the first of many, since arriving back from the country I’ve done close to nothing that really inspires me, nothing that really gives me that opportunity to recharge, to simply enjoy my continued existence in the world.
For a while now, I’ve had this slowly snowballing idea of just going for a really long walk. Not with any real purpose, just to walk for the way in which time washes over you. The way it feels like you’re doing something without actually doing anything of any real substance. I realise that this is how I spent the vast majority of my time in both Europe and North America and it’s something that I really get a kick out of. Up in the Yarra Ranges in this disused, abandoned and for the most part dismantled railway line.
It runs between Lilydale and Warburton for about 30km or so, walking and cycling are highly encouraged in the area. Seeing as I haven’t been on a bike in anywhere from seven to ten years, I figure that, after completing a full risk assessment of course, for my own health and safety I should keep at least one of my feet on solid ground at all times. Sure, they say that you never forget, but I am just the kind of person who is likely to be the exception of that rule. 30km is a long way to walk, and while the train runs from the city to Lilydale, I had no idea how I could get back from Warburton, if at all.
Along came the weekend, with it’s promise of sunshine and sunburn, I packed myself a little lunch, plenty of water and some light entertainment for the train. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how something as mundane as catching the train can bring you such a great amount of appreciation for everything. Wheels clink-clunk over the rusted rails. Mis-shapen steel gently rocks the carriage. Groans and squeaks rattle through the windows. Beyond the glass, the spring sun beats down on a confused mix of palms and pines. Houses rise and fall as they roll over hills towards the horizon. There comes a point where all of this is new. Each station the furthest I’ve journeyed in this particular direction. Every platform a new frontier from which to launch fresh new adventures. The names of places unrecognisable, some unpronounceable, a few named after places from home already littered with strings of memories. I physically feel my awareness increase, my senses sharpen, time slows down. Shades of grey in concrete cuttings, the sudden, subtle drop in temperature on approaching an underground station, the accents and languages of my fellow passengers drifting towards me. I already know it matters not where I end up. The journey itself has done more to repair the damage occurred over weeks of neglect. Towards the front of the train, I see the hills begin to rise higher, by no means mountains, but they come with the promise of certain perspectives.
This is what has been missing for so long. I’ve become disconnected with the world. Disillusioned with my place in it. I need this tiny slice of the vast expanse of the planet to remind me that I am still one of the millions of fleshy organisms that cling to the crust of a spinning ball of molten matter, flying through the vast expanse of space. Strange as it may sound, but that’s what I need sometimes to remind myself that there’s no reason to do anything but enjoy yourself. One day it will all be over, compared to the existence of everything else, it will be a flash in the pan so I might as well make the most of it while it lasts. I step off the train, find the trail, worry that I’ve lost the trail if I ever found it to begin with and then with the appearance of an unmistakable sign, I’m relieved to find myself definitely back on the trail.
To being with I had my doubts that there had ever been a railway line here but I don’t believe any local government agency is ever going to make cuttings, build embankments or raise platforms just for the leisure of the locals. Here at the end of the Melbourne’s far ranging sprawl, a valley of Victoria’s finest bushland weaves through the final outposts before the farms and vineyards begin. It was an effortless process to slip in the surrounding nature. The banks were lined with the white hanging bells of what, based on the light fragrance in the air, I can only assume to have been wild garlic. The ground was blocked from view by a carpet of bright green ivy. Standing tall between the trees where these large white cupped flowers. I’m not a botanist, I’m not even going to pretend that I know what they were.
Every so often, between the trees I’d catch glimpses of dull grey. The corrugated rooftops of the surrounding homes. Occasionally the smell would change, freshly cut grass, wood smoke, slowly charing chicken, the slow decay of pine needles. The trail turns a corner. There’s a distant humming behind me, followed by the constant crunch of rubber on gravel as a cyclist closes down and passes me by. Voices rise from the gardens beyond, somewhere a children’s party, somewhere else the high-speed chatter of a sports commentator bubbling through a radio, nearby the disruptive thump-thump-thump of somebody’s questionable music taste, then silence. The vacuum gradually fills with the whistles, chirps and whirs of the local birds breached once by the pained screams of a cockatoo, twice by the hyena-like cackle of the kookaburra. On either side, life rustles in the undergrowth, a sparrow darts in front of me, rabbits run further from the path.
Milestones count me down to Mount Evelyn, the first station of the trail, a distance far enough away for me to deem it half away. The raised, abandoned platform. The once elegant, country station now a trendy restaurant. I realise that small townships like this litter the Victorian countryside. Flat roofed, single storey shop fronts line the one main road through the settlement. I stop, just long enough to watch the signs of life slowly tumble through. Then, with the worry of going to far and not making it back for the last train, I return the way I’d come.
The way home is always faster. I’ve already taken note of these shades of green, I know they’re not new. I know what’s coming up around the next corner, roughly how long it’s going to take to get back. I took a detour when I was almost in Lilydale to swing past the large lake that I guess forms the focal point of the town. It was then time to get back on the train, go back to the city, return to reality but with a feeling of refreshement that had long been absent.