Don obit

 

Picture if you can a curving creek shallow enough to have frequent rapids through which water ripples and cascades on its gentle fall.  Between the rapids are deeper pools in which live trout, perch, blackfish and the nocturnal platypus; pendulous willow trees line the bank, spreading generous shade keeping the deeper pools cool on hot days.  Cows graze along the stream so its banks are lawns, and there are no low bushes to block the way to the water.  There is a grand blue-stone bridge bearing the road in a proud sweeping arch over the creek some fifty feet below. 

 

The stream is in a steep valley here, formed as the water carved its way across the basalt.  From the bridge you can look both upstream and down: upstream the creek bends and twists through groves of willows, this is where the swimming pool was.  Downstream is the way to the good trout fishing.  Here still, prolific pools provide safe harbour for the fish as they lie quietly waiting for food to wash down from upstream.

 

On fine sunny days the light catches the flowing stream in lively diamond flashes; only listen, and you will hear ancient mellifluous voices as the water wends it way through the rocks.  There are the sounds of boys talking too. This is an old place and there have been people here before you.  They are here now watching with the careful watch of ancestors.  This is their place as well as ours.

 

Country people rested here on days away from the hard physical work which was their living.  Stern men from two centuries ago unbuttoned their waist-coats and spread themselves on the creek bank while women hitched their skirts and paddled in the shallows.  They would have walked down from the town carrying their picnic and bottled beer which even now is cooling in the stream.  The boys often sat at the feet of their grandfather in his small house in the town whilst he spoke to them of his days spent at the creek as a boy, swimming and picking the berries which grew along the bank.  He speaks in gentle cadences, like the sounds of the flowing stream. 

 

Follow upstream from the bridge and you will find children playing in the water.  Today, though, we hear only boys, two, perhaps three.  The boys are here most days in the summer.  Like those who went before them they have walked from the town; down the gravel road with its moderate hill and hawthorn hedges, and its gentle turning curve which falls in with the valley of the creek. 

 

At the swimming place there is a carefully made rock wall across the stream which slows the water to make depth.  The water is smooth and dark and on the left bank it is surprisingly deep; on the right bank foam swirls in gentle circles perhaps concealing a blackfish.  The right bank has the lawns, one where the bodily mud is washed off, the other, more pristine and level, where the boys lie about and warm themselves in the sun after the cool waters of the swim.

 

The is enough length in the pool for half a dozen strong overarm strokes before the end is reached but mostly the boys skylark or dive to feel along the rocky bottom.  Much of the time at the creek is spent out of the water.  The talk is of boys’ matters or plans are made for the days when the sun doesn’t shine and some other way of spending time must be found.  For no time is wasted in this outdoor boyhood.  This is not a conscious decision. The country has a call of its own of which the creek calls strongest.  The boys are rarely home, they are one with the land and like the aboriginal people who were here much earlier they move freely about it as their right. 

 

The creek, though, is holy ground.  Here the boys and those who went before them enter a pastoral world free from adults, free from the rush of life, a place where they are separate from the world of the road above and where quiet intimacies come naturally.  The steep sides of the valley serve to shut the world out and make a separate space where not just the speed of life changes but also its accent and meaning.  There is a deep quietness here, not silence for the place bustles with nature, but peace to stop and pause and rest and play.

 

The bridge dominates this part of the stream.  It has stood for a hundred and fifty years: measured and solid a metaphor in stone for the durable people who have lived here and live here now.  Built of basalt or bluestone quarried nearby its arc measures the valley.  From the creek bank looking up, the great curve frames the water.  From the road you can look over the parapet to the stream below. There is a story of a fearless aunt who would run across the top of the parapet regardless of the fatal fall which would be the result of a misstep.

 

Much time has passed since the boys swam and played on the creek.  Life has moved them on, and through its experiences they have grown to be men.  But this place has never left them; this retreat. It has always been for them a place of mental rest, a place to which the adult mind returns because the creek is free from the press of ordinary life.  Here earthly life paused, but paradoxically here, too, powerful ideas took root: the sense of continuity, sense of communion with the past, the bounty of friendship, and the sense of nature as the antithesis of a busy world. 

 

And so today we return one of the boys to a place where he found true happiness.  We will spread his ashes and he will be here again as he was in boyhood; free from the imposts and strictures of worldly life.  When he crosses the bridge to head home, now it is to an eternal home; a home where all the good things of his childhood and adult life are to be found.  Only the best things are kept at the end and he is now at perfect rest with them forever. 

 

The living here today will take strength from knowing they have faithfully carried out his wishes in leaving him with his ancestors and his childhood memories.  They too can take from this place the peace, strength and fulfilment he found here as a boy and which stayed in his memory throughout his life.

 

JRT