And once, here, they played

On the road to Hamilton, between Lismore and Cressy, is a little place – so small that it’d be hard to be called a hamlet (it’s so small it doesn’t even get on the local shire’s map). It is known as Berrybank.

There is virtually nothing there, just a crossroads, with the CFA station off the main road a bit, the old shed sitting next to the newer one. Some silos by the railway siding further on. And a hall – that once, forty years ago, was a school.

I’d not been to this place since I was a little kid – I recall driving one night with Mum and Dad and my brothers all the way from Lilydale, through the city, down to Geelong and then west on the Hamilton Highway to Berrybank. The memories are fleeting; of a Golden Fleece truck stop and lots of lights, the trip seeming to go on for ever, as they do when you’re so young to not fully comprehend exactly where you’re going, but knowing you are.

Berrybank was a one-teacher school back then. Back in the days when teachers were ‘bonded’ (I think is the correct term – and apologies if it’s wrong) to country schools when they finished their training. Mum and Dad were teachers. They’d met at Burwood Teachers’ College (now a campus of Deakin University); and in the early 1970s went to the vast, seemingly endless paddocks of the western districts.

This was their country posting, and afterwards they built their home – our home – in Chirnside Park – a new housing estate just out of Lilydale, complete with footpaths on the main roads, and countless, countless mission brown homes on quarter acres. A labrador called Saul – and soon – kids.

And this weekend, on the way back from a work meeting in western Victoria, I stopped at Berrybank and looked, and tried to imagine what it had been like for Dad in that one-teacher school, to have taught there; what it was like for those kids; their families. Were their hopes and aspirations the same as we have today? How did they see their world – miles and miles of paddocks, flat land and what must have been a scorching sun during summer, and a vicious wind in winter. The trees there look harangued even – and to this day I recall my father talking about some terrible bushfires that had occurred when he and Mum were there.

The house my parents had, from my memory, is gone. The farm we visited of a family Dad and Mum had become good friends with was there still. I have rarely coveted anything not mine, but I still feel that guilt of very badly wanting one of the family’s kid’s Matchbox fire engines and then realising it would be some time to I could save my 20 cents a week or whatever it was when I was five pocket money to gleefully take to Toyworld in Lilydale. The fire engine stayed and we came home smelling of straw, manure and mud.

I like just going to places to stop and think and listen. I like just going to places to try and imagine and think and understand what it would’ve been like – chalk, black and white TV, Gorton and then McMahon as PM. 3CS and BTV6. I wanted to stop, and listen, and reflect and wonder what it was like for my parents, only married for a few years, to go and teach there – Dad at Berrybank and Mum in a town near-by. Long socks and shorts.

Today, the former school is a a community hall. The shelter shed still stands, as does the outhouse.

There the kids played. Before the AFL, before colour TV – before Big Ms even (now THAT’s a long time ago!).

I wonder what became of those kids; of those families. Did they move to the bigger towns or the city as my parents did? Where do they go to school now?

The cars flash past. Melbourne, via Geelong; or Hamilton via a straight road.

Time moves forward.

…..And I wonder, whatever happened to Golden Fleece restaurants…?……

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