And then that déjà vu feeling again when the sound of a soft rumbling like a distant earthquake that seemed to come from the sky but was low on the radio; one of those dreamlike trance tracks that run for seventeen minutes and involve a synthesiser recorded in a wheat silo with two overdubbed voice tracks mixed way down low. It is almost music and almost astral dust.
The freeway out of Melbourne pointed east; an arrow on the map quivering around bypassed towns and heading for the mountains. We coasted along it easily, like a laden three-master under a stiff breeze. There were three teenagers on board and enough camping gear for three days.
An hour and twenty minutes later we turned north at a town familiar to me from childhood days when I would get off the lazy ex-Melbourne train and be met on the platform by an aunt, my mother's younger brother's wife, who was a dumpy, non-nonsense farmer, and who would drive me in a gearbox-whining old Holden up this same road curving around northwest to a small farmlet where a timber house nestled happily into a square of land on which were a few cows, goats, chickens and a red dog. The once-familiar, unseen for decades, draws instant memory recall. We pressed on, me rejoining the unknowing teenagers in the present, past the Willow Grove Road, and the way into the mountains narrowed.
It was an overcast morning. They had kept an eye on the forecast but you can never tell with central Gippsland where rain can come out of anywhere. A small green hump of a village, Erica, population 324, appeared and drew closer and then receded into the rear vision mirror, its sparse houses and a hotel and a general store falling behind as if floating on a green sea.
Then the end of the road: Walhalla is a goldmine relic town that lives on as a kind of museum piece with a working mine (not for digging, just for tourists to go down into) and a tourist railway that trundles a few miles down the line and rumbles back again, pointlessly but determinedly. Many decades ago in another century Chinese gold diggers found it more profitable to grow vegetables and sell them to the prospectors, and their farms such as they were were carved out of the rocky ground along the watercourse two kilometres beyond the town. That nineteenth-century once-farmland was the campground to which we were heading. Our allocated site was a thin strip of patchy grass right next to the creek, down a hill past a toilet block and a small hut fitted with electric barbecues. We pitched two tents, one large enough for three teenagers; the other large enough for three teenagers' possessions such as they would need for three days, mainly food. They had not brought water, but they could boil it from the creek on the single burner camp stove one of them had brought. The campground manager had told us the creek had flooded the previous week. The ground was still very wet. More rain and the trip could be washed out, a tent-bound waterlogged misery. But I had been a teenager once and I knew even that would not make it a disaster but an adventure.
I left them early afternoon and commenced the return trip to Melbourne. I broke it with a stop in that old train-destination town, where a walk around yielded a very good second-hand bookshop in which I found an original 1960s hardback Hugh Lofting for Alex, 11. I was given the entire set in Puffins for Christmas when I was her age and I can still smell that new paperback smell.