Well this is an inspiring story that needs to be told . . .
Last Saturday, after enjoying a nice drive through the Yarra Ranges and visiting the market at St. Andrews, I was working my way back towards Bendigo hoping to find a few nice vistas for some panoramas. Failing this, I was hoping to make it to Hanging Rock by sunset to capture a nice photo there.
After traveling through King Parrot (just east of the Kinglake National Park), and not finding a single King Parrot to photograph (darn!), I found myself working my way up the Whittlesea-Yea Road on the way to Broadford.
Traveling at a bit of speed to make up some time, I nearly missed it, but all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye flashed this dazzling spectre of colour, so I thought “Whoa! What was that?!”.
After traveling another kilometer or so to find a suitable spot to turn around, I made my way back to the place that had caught my attention. The photos in this post expose the surprise I was to find and the amazing story you are about to read.
Now being an avid photographer, it is always tricky to take photos of someone’s private property and in this case garden. Upon closer inspection from the road I thought, wow this is an amazing garden, maybe I can just get a few quick shots from the roadway and then be on my way.
Well just as soon as I captured a couple of quick photos a gentleman appeared near the house and noticed my unannounced arrival. I quickly pointed to my camera and with a sheepish look, mouthed the words “just wondering if I can take a few photos?”
At this, he waved “Come in, Come in, you can have a closer look. I’ll show you the back.”
Anticipating that there was an even greater surprise awaiting towards the back of the property I became excited at the invitation.
After a quick introduction, I explained that I had been following a group on Red Bubble called “All Glorious Gardens”, and that I was hoping to find some nice gardens in my travels for the photo competitions there. Indicating that the competition was stiff with all the wonderful gardens in Europe and North America, he suggested “yes I know, I am from England myself, but have lived here for more than 30 years now”.
Shortly after our stroll began towards the back of this one acre property, I discovered that the Black Saturday Bushfires of 7 February 2009 had totally destroyed everything which once stood in this present sea of colour. The thought immediately struck me “how on earth could all this regrowth and rejuvination take place in just 5 short years?” Some of the trees were so large, especially the pink Dogwood I spotted from the road.
As we strolled to the back of the property, tree after tree was pointed out as having been burnt to the ground, but that a new shoot had started and over time a full new tree now stood taking its place. Many Gums had burnt to the ground and all that remained were stumps.
Then when we arrived at the back of the property, I saw a beautiful view of King Parrot Creek with the water rushing past. In the creek were a number of fallen gum trees. The gracious host, whom I would by this stage learn was John, quickly pointed out “you know there was a time when I would have gone down there and retrieved those, and that would be firewood for the whole of next year, but now at my age I just can’t take the chance any longer”.
As we turned around to head back towards the house, I learned that on that tragic day in February 2009, three people were nearly crushed just across the road by a large tree limb falling on their vehicle. After managing to escape to the house next door for shelter, it was there that they later perished as the fires overcame them and engulfed that neighbours home, not more than 20 meters from where we stood. John described how he and his wife had decided to abandon their property just 30 minutes earlier, and seek shelter in a safer location. By a quirk of good fortune, and the haphazard nature with which these bushfires seem to leave some homes unscathed while the one only metres away next door is destroyed, their home survived that fateful Saturday over 5 years ago. Well, by this point the number and quality of photos decreased as it struck me just how much John and his Wife had endured these past 5 years, along with all the neighbours up and down this valley.
John went on to describe how every garden bed needed to be dug out to a depth of at least a foot, as the fires had scorched them and the soil was no longer capable of providing nutrients for new plantings. He indicated that after such a tragic loss of property and life so close by, this big project gave he and his wife (at the time 75 and 73) a focus to take their minds off things and something positive to work on, and served as a distraction from the grief all around them. I could not help but marvel at the magnificence of the gardens today and resilience of mind, body and spirit, and the hard work it would have taken to restore everything to its former beauty. Afterall, I am speaking with a man who is now an Octogenarian.
As I sat in my car after bidding John farewell and thanking him for the opportunity to visit and photograph his garden, I thought about what I had just seen and heard. As I glanced at the “For Sale” sign at the front of the property I felt saddened. You see, having recently had a health scare requiring his wife to drive 45 km at 1 AM to a hospital to the south, John and his Wife are now forced to consider selling their lovely home so as to be closer to medical assistance should it be needed.
John’s parting words were that of an invitation, that should I ever pass by again, I should stop in for another visit and perhaps a cuppa. This I will look forward to doing, but this time with a canvas print of the garden (the Featured Image here), for it would be a shame for this couple to not have a lasting reminder of their beautiful garden, which through adversity, they worked so hard to re-create.
I can think of no other song for this post which has more meaning, but the Shannon Noll and Natalie Bassingthwaite song “Don’t Give Up”, which became an inspirational anthem after the bushfires in 2009. John and his Wife certainly never gave up, but instead rebuilt not only a truly amazing garden, but I feel a fitting memorial to those three souls lost in the tragedy of that day on 7 February 2009.