A right turn off the Pacific Highway just south of Byron leads through farmland into the bush. The way dips and winds; white crosses nailed to camphalorals mark the sharpest corners. These roads aren’t for the tired, drunk, or unfamiliar. Though they try.
I first had the idea to come back after a taxi driver scolded me for choosing to live in Melbourne. The burden of home felt heavy in the face of his incredulity and I found myself booking a flight. Five years since I left. Everything, it must belong somewhere. I used to love that I could fit all my possessions in the back of my Ford Festiva.
Melbourne is full of people who’ve come from somewhere else. At least, it’s hard to meet anyone who hasn’t. Stories are currency on the sharehouse circuit and there’s therapy in the telling. I’ve probably manifested nostalgia but I’m not the only one driving to Daylesford for a little sanity. The city’s pushing me but I’m not ready to leave.
Dad expertly speeds further inland. Four generations guiding him but I hold on to my seat. We argue about whether the turn off to The Channon is before or after Dunoon. I am right. A familiar house passes my window and I wonder who lives there now; hard to imagine this town existing post 2008. I thought I’d die after high school.
A little further and the scenery changes. Macadamia Farms turn into rainforest. Nightcap National Park: another slice saved from the chipper. Dad’s not so optimistic. There’s less money in timber than urbanization and the city will come for them too, he reckons.
We arrive at Protestors Falls, the car park. It’s empty except for a van. Dad says G’day to its owners and a naked child yells something at me while I put on my sneakers. It’s hotter than I remember and I curse myself for wearing jeans. We read the signs and traipse up the dry riverbed.
Fifteen minutes and we’re lost, hacking into thick scrub. I imagine this place 200 years ago. The Northern Rivers, in Blackletter font. Oh the possibility. Chop it, burn it, fence off your patch. Spit out a seed and watch it grow. Somewhere between mourning and guilt I picture a tree house. They should teach more local history in schools.
It’s hard to pinpoint the moment I stopped hating this place, when the frames widened on my memories. Waking up next to a waterfall is nice, no matter what you did the night before.
Dad stops, caught in a wait-a-while vine. Only a second before they come for me too, lucky I wore jeans. Funny how you don’t think of plants as alive. Once we untangle ourselves we’ll have to think more deeply about how to get back to the car.