Melbourne is a bowl and the Dandenong Ranges sit on its the eastern rim. From where I grew up, you could see the Dandenongs clear and blue and serene above the smoke and dust of Collingwood and Fitzroy.
The Dandenongs were a frequent weekend destination, with fern gullies full of lyrebirds and wombats, quaint cafes full of lace and hot scones and villages hanging off the slopes at every turn. After years of day trips, my parents bought a block of land in then semi-rural Selby. The block, on a steep slope, was covered in blackberry and you strode up the hill almost knee-deep in fallen bark from the gum trees. We never got around to building on the block and eventually my parents sold it to buy an old farmhouse at Birregurra instead.
But I never lost my fascination for the hills at the eastern end of Melbourne. During my supposedly bohemian student years, which were about as bohemian as a weak cappuccino, I knew poets and actors who retreated up to Olinda and Emerald on frozen winter weekends to sit in front of blazing log fires and drink red wine and write verse or rehearse lines for their next play at La Mama or the Playbox while gazing out windows at gently falling snow and the twinkling lights of Melbourne below, a carpet of stars.
I used to visit the hills often. During the 1980s, I took my older two children on day trips to the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Gardens, to the National Rhododendron Gardens, to the narrow gauge railway that runs - whistle shrieking through the eucalypts - out to Emerald; and sometimes, at night, to one high point or other, just to gaze down at that carpet of light. And then home again to the cosy inner suburbs.
Tracy, on the other hand, spent part of her childhood in the Dandenongs. She lived in a house in the hills, beneath a canopy of mountain ash and fern, and hated it. She found it dank, cold and boring. It was incessantly wet. If it wasn’t raining, the fog was heavy enough to soak you anyway. You don’t notice this when you are able to return to your wide-streeted suburb on Sunday night. My romance of winter was her slog of seasonal survival; trudging to school in fog or rain and loaded down with backpack and textbooks and coat and scarf and hat. Later, Tracy moved far away from the mountains, first to buzzing Fitzroy where warm cafes and restaurants line the streets just as gum trees do in the Dandenongs; and then to Brunswick, where we met, and I found myself not visiting the Dandenongs all that much any more.
I suppose it’s all about perception. And how much your house leaks.