The road wound down from the green highlands north of Creswick and back into pockmarked gold country, across the pleasant flat lands in between the Pyrenees and the foothills of the Great Divide, and through the villages of Blampied and Eganstown that are more signpost than town.
The east approach into Daylesford is a rapid ascent, because 350 million years ago Daylesford was a volcano.
It was early afternoon, a cold clear day with the bite of a north-easterly straight from the alps. I drove right into the town and turned left at a roundabout into the main street. It was busy because it was Sunday and the winter weekend tourists were in town for the spas, the markets, the coffee shops and the antiques. I drove out of the town again, south and downhill.
Jubilee Lake is a mile out of Daylesford, reached by a road that winds past Lake House and forks left. This is Daylesford’s second lake, fed by Wombat Creek which leads from Lake Daylesford and further east, where mineral springs line its banks.
The water of Jubilee Lake was a mirror at the base of an escarpment to the north and east, giving it natural protection from the wind. Around the other side of the lake, there was a boat launching ramp at the edge of the water, grassed parkland beyond and a backdrop of enormously tall, straggly eucalypts behind that. Amongst the trees were cabins for hire.
I pointed the car down the narrow gravel road, stopped at the caretaker’s cottage adjacent to the boat ramp, picked up the keys, drove a further two hundred metres and stopped at cabin no. 4. This was near the front of the trees and directly overlooked the parkland and the lake. Two steps led up to a timber verandah. In front of the verandah was a kind of brazier ingeniously constructed from a truck wheel hub and a flared metal barrel.
5pm. The fire crackled and roared in the brazier: eight large pieces of perfectly dry red gum. An hour later, they were hot coals and a pan sat on the grate. In the pan were strips of zucchini, rings of onion and whole garlic cloves. In the fire were potatoes wrapped in foil. Next onto the grate were foil-wrapped chicken fillets with soy, ginger and garlic. Last, a T-bone that looked like it could have come from an elephant. It dripped fat and the fire spat and flared and puffs of smoke appeared and the aroma was the same as it has ever been, for as long as meat has been cooked on an open fire in the darkness under a black sky on a cold night. Which is: irresistible.
By now, the sky was black and ablaze with stars. More red gum on the fire. It lit up the boys' sleepy faces.
Then, to finish, the rest of the French stick - the batard from Avoca - sliced down the middle, toasted on a long fork, buttered heavily and eaten with melting cheese. Have you any idea how good that tastes when accompanied by a glass of Heathcote shiraz? I hadn't either, until then.
The weather turned during the night. The wind got up and roared and howled. Rain set in and thrashed the cabin. It was an angry storm. It felt like the weather was paying me out for daring to barbecue in winter. I lay awake from 3 a.m., terrified. I had broken my golden rule: never camp under gum trees. A broken limb would have crushed the cabin like an egg carton.
After a while the rain stopped but the wind still tore at the sodden trees and the foliage kept dropping water in huge splashes on the roof. I fell asleep at last and dreamed that someone was tipping buckets on the roof. Why would anyone want to do that?