I’m really leading up to writing about Bruno’s Sculpture Garden, because it’s been one of the highlights of my visits. However I have to set the scene first – in Marysville, famous for burning up on Black Saturday.
In a few days time, it will be the sixth anniversary of Black Saturday, a terrible series of fires in the rural areas around Melbourne (at least 400 fires) that caused at least $4 billion worth of damage and killed 173 people. It’s estimated that 1 million animals died too. Marysville was practically wiped out, and was closed to surviving residents for five weeks.
This is how it unfolded. On 7 February 2009, Melbourne recorded its hottest temperature ever, 46.4 ^ C. January had already been extremely hot with many days over 40 degrees, and the humidity was down to 6%. 100 kph winds were gusting and the state was under a total fire ban. Unluckily several mishaps occurred to start fires, including arson – sad but true.
In the high winds, a rusted stay for one of the powerlines at Kinglake snapped, and the falling power cables set a eucalyptus tree alight. Someone using a power tool caused a spark that set another area alight, and lightning played its part elsewhere too. By lunchtime, the ABC had abandoned its normal radio programming to focus on the fires. Hospitals in Melbourne were alerted to be ready for burn victims, and they were kept busy as over 400 people were injured as well as the 173 fatalities.
Now the weirdest thing is that Australians build their houses out of wood with a small brick veneer… and we saw yet another house going up in Marysville with a wooden frame. A wooden house in a fire-prone eucalypt forest – why not?
Apparently many of the houses that burnt down on Black Saturday were set alight by exploding gas from the houses next door, in a domino effect. I find this a mind boggling situation. Around the rest of Australia, there seems to be an inordinate number of reports of houses burning down in urban areas, but still wooden houses go up. However since bush fires can reach well over 1000 degrees, maybe even 1600 degrees, I guess anything would burn at that rate.
A TV programme we saw this month talked about how Marysville is now struggling financially, since only about a third of the residents moved back and so the ratepayer base is greatly reduced. Also the generous outpouring of rebuilding help from all over the country (in time and materials) might not have been entirely what the residents wanted – eg they have a brand new indoor basketball court which has never once been used, but which now has to be maintained. There was also a mention that few tourists come any more, so we decided that now was the time to visit.
Premier Daniel Andrews must have seen the same TV show, as he was there too, talking to two big cameras and about 10 people.
We watched TV that evening to see what he spoke about, but the only quote to come from that interview appeared to be about a proposed (or disproposed; I’m losing track now) Melbourne highway. Weird to go all that way away from Melbourne to talk about that, because it is quite a drive. It takes an hour to get past the outskirts of Melbourne, and then it’s a lovely scenic drive through the Yarra Valley wine farms covered in hectares of bird netting. Ye olde rural niceties.
We went past the old family home of opera singer Dame Nellie Melba. The home is still run as a boutique wine estate by her descendants, open daily. This is a poor photo as we didn’t stop, but it seems worth its own expedition another day.
Then through the tall eucalyptus forests, which must be really scary to traverse on extreme fire danger days, as the roads are narrow and winding – little chance to race away from the flames.
The buildings on the main road of Marysville looked fresh and new, which I guess they were. There was the odd scorched tree trunk, but little indication that a fire had passed through 6 years ago. If we had known the town beforehand, it would have been more apparent where there were buildings missing, I’m sure.
Something really odd – there are two shops selling ski equipment, in a town with one coffee shop and about 25 houses (and the basketball court). Fire and ice alternating, evidently.
We decided to spread our money around and have coffee at one place and lunch elsewhere, but as it turned out, we shot our bolt by choosing the only lunch place for coffee (the other place was closed that day). So our lunch option was back towards Melbourne in Narbethong at the Black Spur Inn (sorry, that name tickles my black humour funny bone). Narbethong was also decimated during the Black Friday fires of 1939 that left only the hotel standing, so evidently it’s safer to eat there during the week.
The coffee shop was lovely – organic coffee in the small garden outside with melodic magpies who were anxiously waiting to see if any crumbs were dropped.
It looked peaceful and safe, and one man who seemed to be using the cafe as an office away from the office wandered off leaving his laptop/tablet unattended. Decisions, decisions: dodging Aussie bushfires vs South African tsotsis – hard choice, isn’t it?
After coffee, we walked up and down Murchison Street to say we’d done it, and then headed for the real goal: Bruno. Easy to find as his sculptures start outside already.
His quirky sense of humour was apparent at once, and I’ll focus on his garden next time, because that illustrates more than anything how the residents of Marysville have rebuilt.