From the Plonkermaker


I’ve just seen a Google Earth image of a place in which I spent my childhood at Rossarden in the Fingal Valley. I am so devastated at how it’s been clear-felled, much like we felt when the little church we were married in, was pulled down in the name of progress. This extract from my memoirs, ‘The Plonkermaker’, is written as a family keepsake. The valley that it describes (circ. 1958) has been destroyed. Even the crystal creeks that ran from the mountain now are clogged with debris and silt. This extract will keep it alive for my sons, even though its integrity is gone. I’d like a politician to read it. If they loved the ordinary non-wilderness bush as me, they would have never permitted the soulless to have access to it.

“There were three horses in the pack that moved about the edges of Rossarden, that belonged to anybody who caught them for the day. Just who owned Eileen a black half-draught, gentle and ageing horse, or the old mare or the black mare, nobody knew, but they were ours at weekends and school holidays.

We were bridle-boys. Saddles never existed. If there were five kids, then we’d double-up bareback on the three ‘community’ nags, to explore and hunt in our far-ranging territory. They were our friends, Eileen, the old mare, and the black mare. Jock was their boss, even though he had been gelded, and he’d get pretty annoyed when we took his virtual harem from him for the day. Jock would even hang about, following us though the bush, and when we needed to catch him for Gary, we would lure him into a trap.

Franky King, Wayne Clark and me, sometimes Steve, perhaps another boy would use the horses to escape the drudgery of chores if seen idle, and to hunt and explore the many hidden valleys and groves about the place. To the right of the town an old track that started from near the mine, led to great ravines, and a distant sandstone outcrop where it was said a Tasmanian Tiger inhabited…but more exciting to me, a vantage point, a huge cliff face, from where the big boys said you could see beyond the wilderness in which we lived our lives; the green distant valley that linked Avoca, Fingal and St Marys.

Like Storeys Creek below the mountain, I longed to see the place where the train had whistled into my infantile memory. Only to be heard on the crispiest, frozen mornings, mainly on Sundays when the mine was closed; that haunting, faraway whistle and its accompanying, more imagined than real, hardly discernible puffing.

That sound was locked into my earliest of days, and old Eileen carried me through that eternal forest to that high place as though she had been there before; as though she knew its importance. So far below, the canopy of the bush, like a manicured garden of green cauliflowers, matted and proud with massive ivory trunks; the entire valley smoked by distance and alive with vomiting wattle birds flitting to and fro and the chatter of every feathered animal of the dry schlerophyl imaginable; and yet the silence and the stirring and the sighing; the murmur of the bush. You are a stranger here. Come and go quietly.

This is a hallowed place. In the far distance, a ribbon, stained with every shade and hue of glorious green fluttering in light and shade and stretching in a great arc before us, the valley.

From our horses we slid and sat, legs dangling into the precipice,  in silence and in awe of the clarity of distance and seeing it for the first time, a miniature farm with hedgerows and fences; where the privileged lived in luxury, sat at silver-donned tables; people from another world; Ormley on the banks of the river, which sometimes flooded and kept we bush rats bush-bound. And then, as though the arcane hand of fate had decreed that our destinies at last should meet, we heard it; that shrill whistle and the distant shuffling; giving us notice; insisting that we remain still and breathless for its grand appearance; that train.

It appeared from out of the far left shadows, a millipede, jet black and gliding above the silver river, sometimes lost in shadowed trees;  grim with intention and duty, a long white mane, clipped and flowing, dissipating; the magic train of my past and in my dreamworld; now in my immediate present; soon, too soon to engulf me in my reality, my future…”

Ben Lomond from Rossarden

Rossarden, Google Image

Ben Lomond from Evandale

The tin miners neveer scarred the land