Marysville is dwarfed by the hillsides which wrap around the tiny town. It seems everywhere you turn there are cockatoos or lorikeets watching you. You never feel alone. It’s like you’re being keenly observed, by the birds and the souls which drift in the sun-lit wind.
The town is brand new. The police station, tourist information centre, retail shops, accommodation, houses, school and football clubrooms. Modern, creative architecture line the quiet streets. The serene surroundings sit at ease with the sounds of construction, regeneration, new life.
In 2009, fire ravaged Marysville. Fire balls shot down on the quiet town, which this year celebrates its 150th. To look around you, you’d never know it. When the fire came it took the history with it, wiping out 0ver 90 per cent of its buildings. The lives of 34 people in the town also taken so cruelly on that Black Saturday.
The residents which chose to stay and rebuild have a strength in their eyes, only those who have faced death could truly understand. Those who have fought for their lives have much conviction to fight for their livelihoods – to build something for their children and their children’s children. For them, to give up would mean the past had won and they want to look to the future now. However, half the town’s population left after the fire. For them, they had to put down new roots somewhere far from the constant reminders. And it is only with compassion and understanding that those who chose to leave are spoken about. No-one knows how the fires can change your soul, except those who lived there. And for those who did stay, and those who have since moved into the town, to help grow Marysville, their positivity and determination to live on is fierce.
As you walk the streets past all the new buildings, your eyes can’t help but notice the hills. Mountains covered with dead, whitish grey trees and black charred branches, sit beside lush green hillsides; a constant reminder of the haphazardness of bush fires. It’s like a teenage boy’s chin – long whiskers grow alongside bare patches of skin, prickles stick out of the face’s crevasses. New growth in parts, but large patches where nothing will ever emerge. When you drive up into the mountain-side and step out into the forest of dead trees, you can hear them groan and creak in the wind. It’s eery, yet beautiful. It’s like the voices of those who have ever lived there are talking to you, quietly muttering of the past and the way ahead.
Marysville is full of surprises – the food is divine (Marysville Patisserie is a stand-out, so too is the Black Spur Inn and you can grab a great pizza from the Lazy River Cafe), local produce exceptional (namely the Buxton Trout and Salmon Farm and Buxton Ridge Winery) and the accommodation choices suit all price points (we stayed at the beautiful Marysville Garden Cottages and the Tower Motel). As for things to do – it’s varied. Lake Mountain offers stunning vistas, mountain bike riding, flying fox action, bushwalking and in winter the snow is great for families. The bush walks to and around Steavenson Falls are fab, the trip through the Black Spur one of the best drives in the country. I got an amazing massage from Katie, the owner of Moondani accommodation and spa. I sat looking out over vineyards. I caught a trout and ate it. I screamed faaaaaaaarrrkk as I whooshed down the hill on a rubber tube. I enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of Kim at the Saladin Lodge. I relaxed in my hotel room reading magazines, I walked, I ate, I lived. I had a few days rediscovering why I’ve always loved Marysville. It might be a different place to look at now. It might have a way to go until the rebuilding process is complete. It might, as a town, have much healing ahead of it, but the essence of the place hasn’t changed.
It’s the calmness and beauty of its surroundings which will grab hold of you, it’s the people who will keep you wanting to come back for more.
From renowned sculpture Bruno Torfs’ stories of the generosity shown to him from strangers to rebuild his wonderland-like sculpture garden and gallery. To Deborah from the Buxton Winery’s account of her family’s terrifying survival. From Kim, the owner of the magnificently stylish, welcoming Saladin Lodge (the place I long to stay and if I could marry my husband again would choose as our destination) who told of the echidna cooling its burnt paw pads in the water from her makeshift bush shower beside her burned home. To the owners of the Marysville Garden Cottages who dug up the bulbs from the charred site to replant as a symbol of regrowth. Every place has a story, a photo board or an album documenting their recovery, like the one at the delightfully quirky Fraga’s Cafe which shows them trading out of a makeshift site in the burnt out main street. And you could see the journey taken to recovery in the eyes of David and Leanne, the wonderful owners of the Tower Motel (and giftware shop Lit and Beyond) – they have done so much to support the community, their kindness is overwhelming.
Marysville is a place that if you’ve been before the fires you will be hit in the heart once you drive down the main street, but that feeling of sadness and sudden understanding of the fear they faced that day will quickly shift to one of hope. And if you’ve never visited, you will be pleasantly surprised. My time there getting to know the people was one I’ll cherish. When you surround yourself with people filled with immeasurable strength, who have lived through such pain, you know everything will be ok. You know that if they can move forward with steadfast assuredness, then so can you.
I am already planning my next visit back.
* My holiday at Marysville and travel to and from Melbourne was paid for by Marysville Tourism.