I should warn you, that if you were to amble along the walking track that follows the winding banks of Penny Creek in Mooroolbark, take care to avoid my hideaway that sits beside the bushy banks beneath the old English oak tree – as time is not of the essence there.
Folklore has it that the tree was planted among the many eucalypts there in the late nineteenth century by the blacksmith’s wife, whose cottage had once faced the creek. Penelope had grown it as a visible reminder of her distant Yorkshire home, to which she could never return.
It’s trunk measured over three metres in circumference, and growing out from that girth rose eleven thick boughs twelve metres skyward, bearing hundreds of branches of large green leaves, directed by gravity to bend to the ground.
I had claimed this marquee of leaves as my refuge, my place of contemplation, between the ancient Lucombe Oak and the calming waters of the flowing creek.
And it was here, contemplating the present upon my camp chair, I was startled from my reverie to hear the puff-puff–puffing of a steam train. My hideaway was not 400 metres from the Metro train tracks, and therefore I was very familiar with the frequent passing of electric trains.
I sat up like a shot at the sounding of it’s olde time whistle, as it had probably been some 60 years since a steam locomotive had chuffed upon those tracks.
I could see it through the trees, laden with logs from the Warburton forests, slowly panting it’s way up the long hill to Melbourne, belching blackened smoke from it’s sooted stack. A burst of it rose into the air, and formed into a darkened cumulus cloud that headed my way.
It enveloped me, and drew me aloft in a mystical drift above the treetops. Looking down, I could see that the creek still lay below, and although it followed the same winding course, it’s entire surrounds had undergone an overwhelming change.
My eyes were met by a forested terrain of no bounds, an undulating vista of green that continued ever onwards to all curved horizons. It was bereft of grids detailing roads and houses, poles and wires, steeples or towers, and the like.
There was no modern day noise of traffic or machines to be heard, just the gurgling creek trickling around a toppled tree, nature’s music of birdsong, the croaking of frogs, the rustling of wind, and such.
I seemed to have been granted a visitation upon my suburb in a time of before, somehow present in an ecology that had never been tampered with, where all living things simply fitted together, in a timeless belonging to the land.
I saw women gathering plants close to the waters edge, and two men carrying a speared kangaroo towards the fire that burned within their camp. I saw children playing, a group of elders talking in a circle, and a younger couple adding bark to the sides of their shelter.
I recognized them to be a nomadic community, belonging to the land as much as the grass and trees, for generation following hundred generation. I could swear that they looked up at my passing, met my gaze, and forlornly bid me goodbye as if they had an inkling of their coming fate; the clashing of cultures bound their way on sailing ships.
I felt tremendous sadness for them, but my mystical link to the past was rudely cut off by the raucous noise of a chainsaw that dragged me back to the present. Calming myself, I sat in awe of my extraordinary experience, and in the wondering of why I had been shown that past world.
Was the answer in my tree? I stood and gazed at it anew; it’s enormous trunk rooted so deep in the earth, nurtured by the waters of the passing creek.
I understood now that the oak was a living link between the newly arrived white settlers, and the forced departure of the Wurundjeri people, bringing to a close the tens of thousands of years of their passing through here at Mooroolbik.
And as sad as that was, I realized that such is the inevitable passage of time, that all things shall pass – as it had with the blacksmith’s wife. Upon Penelope’s death, her aggrieved husband Tom buried her close to him behind their cottage.
Although she still lay in the same grave today, suburban development had placed it between the stumps, beneath the lounge room floorboards, of what became a brick veneer house on Bellara Road.
This well positioned property, close to public transport, private schools, and shopping, has recently been marked for demolition to be replaced by five townhouses.