Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Driving into spring

It’s officially the third day of spring and for once the calendar and the weather agree. Today is gloriously blue and white and golden. The breeze carries the smell of blossoms and the potential of rain. The birds are chirping and busily preening and the snakes are on the move. Yesterday as I came over the blind crest on our road there was a long almost coppery shape sliding over the gravel that darted back into the grass at the car’s arrival.

I drove over to Forest Hill today ostensibly on a boring errand taking the errant starter motor and battery of our ride-on mower to the auto electrician. Really it was just an excuse for one of my favourite drives. You swoop down the highway to the turnoff, then immediately are in the middle of wide fields garlanded with a band of bare hills along the horizon.

Forest Hill is a tiny town in the middle of the fields anchored by its railway line and two pubs. Every time I go there I wonder what it has that Marburg lacks. Even on a Wednesday morning there are people wandering the streets and stopping for coffee. Well, for starters it has places to get coffee. I wonder though how it manages to sustain these. According to my neighbour, it’s only been in the last five years that the town has crept out of its post-farming somnolence. Perhaps there is hope for Marburg after all. It does have proximity to the university at Gatton and a large hinterland from which to draw, but we have all of Ipswich and surrounding areas. I like the balance they’ve achieved in Forest Hill as it remains small, but charming and obviously successful. People make the five kilometre detour from the highway just to stop, wander and have a short break. The need to exit the highway has been presented as a difficulty for Marburg, but Forest Hill seems to have overcome this over time.

I like to come back home the back way through Laidley, Grandchester, Rosewood then finally home. It makes for a 70 plus kilometre loop, Marburg to Marburg, but it’s a wonderful drive. You head first through the broad fields of the Lockyer Valley then skirt Laidley and start to climb over the Little Liverpool Range. The blacktop winds through red dirt and shallow cuttings ashimmer with shadows cast by the ranks of green, grey and silver trees. You pop out of the trees into tiny valleys carved into a paddock or two with old sheds leaning against the slope. For a moment your throat tightens with the loneliness and isolation that early farmers must have felt, trying to carve a living out of this unsettled and unsettling expanse of forest and dirt. Then it’s back into the trees and hills. There’s the slow S–bend through Grandchester, crossing the railway then watching for wandering chickens from the old house on the left. Then the run into Rosewood and a sharp turn northwards over Tallagalla and onto the home stretch.

Every time I drive this route I think about how easy it is for me. I take the children to school then am home for lunch. Coming along the Rosewood Road I had to slow down and go around a cart pulled by two horses. It’s not a common sight any more. I slowed to 20kph and detoured carefully (horses have right of way in Queensland). By the time I turned into our road, I couldn’t see the horses in the distance. I thought of farmers in their German wagons and was grateful for my sturdy old station wagon.

The motor vehicle really has saved the country in a way that city dwellers can’t quite imagine. I hear people talking about how the future will be increasingly carless – that the idea of driving around will become obsolete. And I wonder if anyone has any thoughts as to how that will be accomplished outside urban areas?

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