How good is this place…

Scroll down the page a bit and you’ll find a pic titled Crittenden Estate. I took this last Saturday week just on sunset. It’s a lovely vista, the glow of the sun on the horizon suffusing the scene as the night waits, a beatific bush scene lit by the last remnants of the day, a small lake, rolling hills, all of it framed by trees in the foreground and on the distant hilltop.

I was there with friends for dinner. They are marrying in that very place a couple of months hence, and we were there to check out the food for the wedding dinner. It was a fine night and the food was grand, and the wine, and we made all the right choices I think.

Crittenden Estate is down Mornington Peninsula way. I’ve often thought what a pretty part of the world it is. In fact it’s been a lingering desire of mine to one day settle down that way. On this night I found myself looking at it differently.

I don’t know what has prompted this, but from that date forward I’ve found myself looking upon my hometown through the eyes of a visitor. Like most Melburnians I love my hometown desperately, but like most have become so familiar with it that I could close my eyes and know where I was. The novelty of the new doesn’t exist for – except for this last little bit, it has, sort of.

I remember sitting in the back seat of the car as we drove down to Dromana that night. I looked out the window and a fleeting thought stuck in my mind: what a marvellous place this is. It was a combination of things that had me thinking that. There were the perfectly obvious things. About 20 minutes before I took the photo below the sun was absolutely ablaze on the horizon sitting atop the bar. It was like liquid, the runny yolk of a sun spreading itself across the sky and lighting everything in its fierce orange glow. All about us the landscape was green, with a multitude of beautiful Australian gum trees in all their lean beauty swaying with the gentle breeze. It was a perfectly composed scene that was also very Australian. Suddenly I thought of this place – a place I have known since I was a boy – as something akin some of the great parts of the world, as if this was our version or the Hampton’s perhaps.

There were less obvious things also. Running through this was the excellent freeway we were travelling on. It had taken us from Melbourne in half the time it did when I was a boy embarking on Christmas holidays down that way. It seemed to me an apt sign of civilisation. I’ve been to many places were simple infrastructure like this is but a dream. Dirt tracks, pot-holed roads, crazy traffic is so much the norm in most parts of the world. Here we travelled in comfort in a lovely car on an excellent road and in a bountiful area of beauty and sophistication. The hills hid valley’s of vineyards, that in the main became excellent wines. There were artisans making cheese and small goods in the nooks and crannies and folds of this lovely area. Alighting from the car we caught the tang of wood smoke in the air from open fires roaring the hearths of the locals. Everything seemed fresh, clean, and alluring. As a local I felt suddenly both lucky and grateful. This I take for granted, yet it is something that perhaps no more than 10% of the world’s population can aspire towards. This is mine, while the lucky visitor comes and goes.

For some reason this sense stayed with me through the week. I had to go into the city one day in my suit. I walked down Little Collins Street from Parliament. It was a pretty Spring day, the sun lighting up the city streets with a yellow light. It was cooler than it looked, warm in the sun but cool out of it. Normally I’d have gone on my way without taking much notice of the passing scenery. On this day I found myself glancing left and right. There were many places I knew which I took in on this occasion in a different way from before. There were new places too. There was a restaurant I thought I must check out, a sophisticated take perhaps on a niche Asian cuisine. I slowed as I spotted a queue snaking out of the door of another place – obviously the latest in trendy lunchtime eating. I went by familiar bars recalling old memories.

The narrow street and the eclectic architecture took my eye. This was different, and full of character. It’s the sort of thing as a traveller I would notice. Till now, as a resident, it barely crossed my mind.

The weekend brought more of it. It was a weekend of near perfect Spring weather – bright, unblemished Australian skies, and warm enough to get about in shorts. On Saturday I was in Hampton. I found myself in Hampton street, an old haunt, where on this day they had stalls set-up on the wide footpaths and on either side of the road vintage cars parked – Mustang’s, Ferrari’s, MG’s, and so on. It was lively as all hell. Later I ended up at a children’s party, then drinking with friends in the backyard talking and laughing and grazing on cheese and home-made dip and this was a lucky life, I knew.

The luck continued yesterday, Father’s Day. I found myself in Middle Park. It’s a beachside suburb of broad, tree-lined streets with grand old terrace houses and modern architectural marvels amid the odd retro, Art Deco apartment block. It has character in spades. The trees are mature and full-grown, grand things, and the roads broad enough that they belong in a city centre, not an old suburb. The shops are similarly classy, and on a day like yesterday people sat about at cafes taking in the sun and nibbling on their breakfast or lunch and reading the day’s news or chewing the languorous fat.

I caught up with Whisky, briefly in town, and we sat in the sun outside the Middle Park Hotel sipping on Little Creatures. Later we bought some fish and chips and sat on the beach looking seaward to eat it. What a life! I thought. How lucky are we?

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