Habitually I travelled and hiked alone. My boyfriend liked to read books on astronomy in bed, but I was sucked like a balloon towards a blue sky, and tethered by heart strings to our room, roamed on a wide radius. Then we got mobile phones: “Hello little cabbage!” “Where are you, Bibiche?
Then my darling-heart died and some years went by.
Having put my age back by 10 years, I got a casual job with a promotions company, giving colour advice in the paint departments of hardware stores, offering salami samples in supermarkets and so on. I took jobs anywhere, as I like to travel, even in my own town.
One day they got very cheeky and proposed a job in Bendigo, 2 hours away, that no one else wanted to do for $25 an hour. But that was fine; I had lived in the beautiful gold city of Bendigo for three years as a child, walking in the quartz gravel beside the road to One Tree Hill with a Dick Wittington bundle over my shoulder, going with Dad in the Holden to find wax flowers in the Whipstick. I loved Bendigo and the mullock heap and mine shaft studded dry bush that surrounded it. I hadn’t been there for years.
I spoke French right, so I must’ve heard of Mandarin Napoleon? Yeah, special Day of the Dead Margarita promotion with it at the Mexican restaurant Saturday night. Mystery shopper – you have to drink one and check everything – all right?? Actually, I did like Margaritas and Mandarin Napoleon, though there was rarely the opportunity, and also had a Seniors Card free rail pass that would expire in a month, but I kept my jubilation at a beautiful expenses paid Saturday outing to Bendigo to myself.
Waking to a perfect blue sky day, I started to look for bush walks near Bendigo on my phone. There was something called the Goldfields trail. I put fruit, snacks and water in my backpack, with some makeup and a clean shirt for my job later at the Hacienda.
After a nostalgic stroll along historic View St, and an amble through the old grey walled, 60’s decor Myers store, where Sydney Myer had actually started his emporium empire, I called into the tourist office, located in a beautiful gold money public building beside the well-tended gardens.
A volunteer guide gave me a brochure of the trail, with a map of the Bendigo section, and advised me of the bus to catch to Kangaroo Flat. Kangaroo Flat – I did love that old name, but wasn’t a woman murdered there recently? From the service station at Kangaroo Flat I could catch a taxi to the gates of a reservoir where the track passed, and I could then walk back to Bendigo on it. So perfect, so overjoyed!
I suppose I’m a still a thrill seeker, an adventurer with a death wish. Though I relish the excitement of discovering an unknown track somewhere on my own, there is also fear. An ear is cocked for danger: is someone following me? What was that shadow? Could I die of snake bite out here?
The taxi driver took me over hill and dale down a lonely road to the metal mesh north gate of the reservoir. Mid-day already, with hot sun overhead, I turned right at the gate as instructed and followed the weedy wire fence along till a narrow path appeared. Soon afterwards there was a yellow post – “Goldfieds Trail”, and the path widened, in a woven tunnel of shade, till I’d arrived at the water channel shown on the little map.
I crunched along boldly now, to scare monsters but also to keep up the pace, because I had to be back in Bendigo in time to get ready for my job in the evening. Singing and taking photos, listening to the humming bush, with the glistening water of the fast flowing channel beside the track cool and reassuring, its speed accentuated by its opposite direction to my strides. Where was it going to? I had forgotten the towns in this area. Away from Bendigo at least.
How beautiful the colors of the unchanging bush – with small white clouds in the big blue sky, black textured Ironbark trunks with crimson sap, quartz scattered orange gravel veined with the shadows of branches, subtle grey- green foliage, pink and yellow spring wildflowers and graceful seed- laden grasses. An echidna. A blue tongued lizard on the track with its stubby, black-scaled ancient form. Pink mouth snaps open, shhhhaaaa, blue tongue. “Don’t move dear, I love you, I’ll go around.”
It was hot, almost 3 pm and I was feeling a little parched, so I sat on the rim of the water channel to eat my banana and catch my breath. I checked the map again – hadn’t come to the first stage yet, there was supposed to be a kind of clearing and a sign. Had I missed it with all my musings and photos? There was a small hill ahead, maybe I’d see it from there. No, must have missed it, continue on.
The soft sound of cracking branches nearby – I turn around. Two black wallabies, with their rich black and russet fur, hop quickly away and disappear into the bush.
It is now 4.35. I must have missed something and gone too far. The track has diverged from the water channel. Where are the pylons I was supposed to see? Maybe I have already skirted Bendigo, and am on a further section of the track. Feeling a little tired now. No water left in my bottle and finished my snacks. I turned back, looking carefully for the features the map had described, couldn’t spot them, then unsure turned around again and continued onward.
The track had crossed an unmade road a while back, I had heard a car on a highway in the distance, and there was an dusty caravan with a TV antenna and two old cars parked up an overgrown dirt driveway off the track to the left. Would it be dangerous to ask in there? No, better work it out myself. Continue on. Stay on the track. Remember the old mines shafts in the area.
I’d taken so many photos my phone battery was on red. It was now 4.50 and the Bendigo Tourist Office would close soon, so I rang them to ask for help. However the kindly volunteer I had originally spoken to had left, and this person wasn’t sure what I was talking about. She went to find the booklet, but couldn’t help me.
It is getting quite late now, and I am thirsty, very tired and slowing. I must get back soon so I won’t be late for the job at 8. It surely can’t be far. I look up at the fading sky. Why is the sun there, on the wrong side?
Yes, I have walked 19km in the wrong direction and am now – somewhere, more than 30 km from Bendigo! Don’t panic! Stay on the path; remember the mine shafts!
Making my way back for the second time, I finally come to the rough unmade road crossing the track, walk down it in the direction I had heard a car long ago, and come to a sealed road, that I walk along. No car comes by, as the light fades.
Then I see a driveway and a farm house. I walk up the dusty drive. Two cars parked outside the house, and a big dog. The dog approaches. An old labrador with his tail wagging ambles up and snuggles into my side. We walk together to the house, but no-one opens, though I knock and knock, call and call. The old dog accepts my loving pats trustfully, because I have been lonely and scared on the track, and I google Bendigo Police Station on my red-battery phone to call for help. The number plate of one of the cars matches the house on the road to a particular address with the same street number as the number on the front gate post, so I call a taxi as the old dog and I amble back to the road.
Hearing my story the taxi driver only charges $40 and soon I arrive at the Mexican Hacienda. I ask for the Ladies and swish past, emerging minutes later combed and lightly perfumed, with a fresh top and glossy lipstick to match my glowing sunburned nose. I go up to the bar.
Do you have the special Margarita with, what’s it called…Mandarin Napoleon, tonight? Oh you do -great! No, just one; I’ll be sitting over there. But can I just watch as you make it – fascinating! And I love all your decorations for the Day of the Dead!
By Angela 6/2/19