History

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I come from an old gold mining town where time is visible everywhere. You feel it passing in the shadows of the trees, can see in the old houses, and watch it accumulate in the older resident’s faces.

None of us in the village are untouched by the past – the history is so strong that it is everywhere.

This might be due to the building restrictions – half the buildings are around 160 years old. My tiny village has just 150 mining cottages, all situated in the middle of a tall forest in Victoria. Walking around you can see, feel and relive time.

I thought I knew rain. In my time, I had experienced its soft greys and pummelling navy – but then I saw real rain. I saw what water could do. Witnessed how it wasn’t just drops that fell from the sky to soak into the earth. I saw how powerfully it could amass in ditches and holes, lakes and rivers. I had read about the intensity of flooding, seen the measurements in the news, but I didn’t think I would ever see or experience it firsthand. Driving up to Canberra, I witnessed a slow unstoppable force of rain that quickly became floodwater. It was constant rain that had fallen for days and filled every crevice to expand and dissolve the old and new.

Flood warnings? I had heard them so often, but they never seemed to eventuate in my path. But now, driving along the road in the downpour, the signs were everywhere. Road closed. Bridge closed. Water on road. Flood conditions. I was scared, and I was excited. The broad Murrumbidgee River had burst its banks. The water was slow moving, but seemingly unstoppable, lapping at the steps of people’s houses. I felt that something timeless and ancient had reared its head. I had thought I knew rain, until this recent trip, that is.

This soggy drive along the river wetlands opened my eyes. Canberra, to me, had always seemed strange. It lacked ‘old’ things. The architecture was ‘Pizza Hut 60’s’ and kind of new-glass-monolith. Even Melbourne is a mixture of gothic wind vines and stained glass banks, sky reaching architecture and brick veneer houses.

Canberra seemed so young, but even Canberra has a history, just one that the town planners and the government of the day evidently saw no value in. To its designers, Canberra was meant to be new, with everything perfect.

I used to think that there was no ‘time’ here. Yet, exploring Canberra over the mid-semester break, I found that hidden within Canberra’s industrial estates are relics of the pioneers. Here, dating back to the same time as the gold mines in my hometown, are stations and settlements. Houses, sheds, cattle runs – I was amazed.

Digging around it seemed to me that in the quest to design the perfect modern capital, history had been abandoned. Why had no one treasured these locations? Now they sit abandoned, forgotten and surrounded by dumps and industrial tyre retailers.

Just like land is buried beneath gushing waters, the old Canberra is concealed.