The Road to Cygnet

Driving the Midlands Highway is just a lurch between 40, 60, 80, 40, 80, 60, 110 kms in any combo. You get to see lots of graders, rollers, trucks, water spreaders, men and women of all shapes and sizes with lollipop signs, and instructions to obey. You can’t fight it really, so with no ETA to fret about, a gorgeous day and Cygnet in my sights it was a fabulous drive today with lots of thinking time and singing time and a meal at the pancake and crepe place at Oatlands. 

Well may you say, bring back the PWD, because nothing will bring back all my buried forebears along this highway.  I hope none of them get dug up with all this work going on. All their stories flit in and out of the brain, from here to there – Launceston, Evandale, Cleveland (and the Baldfaced Stag Inn), Campbell Town, Ross, Oatlands, Kempton, Hobart just to name a few towns where they struggled. On Friday night Claire Anne Taylor in a different but similar context, said after all, she is probably related to most of us. It is a Tasmanian thing. 

There’s a lot of early memories and flashes of landscape driving into the Huon Valley. I figured that the way in must have been the winding leafy road through Fern Tree – the first image is sitting on the bus with Dad entertaining me, and Mum asleep as we wound around hairpins, catching glimpses down the valley, and that was confirmed by the hairdresser who took a walk in job, and tidied me up in Huonville this afternoon. Local hairdressers are a font of knowledge. 

It’s a long way from Queenstown to Huonville on a bus when the time machine is lodged at about 1961. All bypassed now of course, but I’ll take the old road driving back. 

We came into this beautiful valley then to visit Dad’s family who lived for a while in various houses along the Glen Huon Road.

Afternoon light from the Glen Huon Road

Naturally I took a spin along there this afternoon, to see what else joined the story. I remembered the sawmill, which is still there, and kept thinking any moment now it’s time to hang a left and drive a little way up into the bush. We made the trip at least three times, two weddings and the early bus one that just flashes in a series of landscape images. My grandfather moved the family a lot, but it was a bit of a journey to get to Huonville so it’s stuck in my mind. The weddings were memorable, big families, church halls, tiny coloured cocktail onions with little cubes of cheese, screwed onto oranges with tooth picks,  posh, the old house where my grandparents lived for a time – that house exploded in the ‘67 fires so this valley and the wooded hills were violently ablaze – the front verandah, my aunt, just 4 years older than me, introducing me to the wonders of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and the Famous Five. My sister was bitten by an inch man and her screams were insane. We all looked for young, tender ferns to break and bleed, to tend the bite site, but she wasn’t having any of it. 

Quite a few years back ,but in much more recent history, on an equally beautiful day, Karin Kaz and I drove through and continued on to Dover for a music festival that started out well with a great party full of scenes, and a lot of promise at the pub on a Friday night. When the nut bush went off, with a bunch of strangers bonding spontaneously it felt promising 😂.  Unfortunately the event bombed and a lot of people were scurrying around to get back home, a lot of musicians from interstate abandoned a long way from an airport after everything shut with a bang in the middle of Saturday night. There were more volunteers than there were ticket sales. The pub burned to the ground a few years later, just like that weekend. It really was over Dover. The giant windrow at the back of the long paddock where our tent was pitched was ignited by a pyromaniac and went up in a huge blaze on that night. I remember people standing back silhouetted in the firelight and fretting about our flimsy tent. The local constabulary gave chase through an orchard by the festival site earlier in the day, and the whole thing felt madder as the day progressed. The Black Sorrows played, Pete Cornelius, Debra Conway, The Choir Boys, a few Brisbane bands, and some Sydney DJ’s, it was ambitious. That’s why I’ve come this weekend, for music and poetry too.

Chris Okumbar at the Red Velvet Lounge
Words United Yvonne Gluyas, Joy Elizabeth, Kim Nielsen-Creeley, hosting Poets Breakfast Saturday and Sunday morning at The Red Velvet Lounge

Fortunately, the Cygnet Folk Festival is well established and recovering from the last few years. 

In between all these musings I dashed over to Cygnet twice, once to sign in for the festival and then to sit down and touch base and have a cuppa with Yvonne and Joy who got in today as well. I’m staying at Franklin – accommodation is thin on the ground in Cygnet and camping has lost any appeal while I limbo up and get more active after hunkering in so much lately.  The Huon River seems to be assuming a gentle convex attitude, like it will spill over, it’s the afternoon light, the fullness of it. Franklin is perfect, the drive along the river, the wooden boats secured along the way. Tomorrow morning early, I’m heading back along the Glen Huon Road on a circuit back to Huonville, then over to Cygnet via a roadside cherry stop, to indulge my favourite stone fruit. What a stunning road obsessed day today, and the armband is on – admit one.

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