In the midst of becoming totally engrossed in the roller coaster ride of The Burns family, it was, of course, necessary for me now and again to research some facts and dates here and there. I am truly grateful for Mick Woiwod’s amazing factual book, Kangaroo Ground .. The Highland Taken. I would sincerely ask Mr. Woiwod to forgive me for not sticking to the truth, and literally going off the rails into my love of fictional characters. Along with the wonderful collection of memorabilia at the Andrew Ross Museum, ‘The Highland Taken’ will be cherished by generations of K.G. folk for many centuries to come.
Lynn Richards, 2015
By Lynn Richards
They stand frozen like sentinels, silent and still
As the morning frost melts into dew
Large brown eyes glisten in the winter sunlight
Each eye, watching me ... reading me.
The powerful sires ... tall, protective, proud
Like giants anchored to the earth by their steady, robust tails
Cautious mothers, their baggy pouches bulging
Inquisitive ‘Joey’ heads, sweet and perky
Whilst independent youngsters sense uncertainty.
I count thirty five in number
Doing my best to ease the car gently down the pathway
Making the least amount of ripples in the space
Attempting not to scare them
Not to frighten the mob
Ears prick, noses twitch ... One shifts, then another
Suddenly they bound, they hop, they leap,
Easily scaling the post and rail
Young ones dart ... Mothers stay close
An urgent need for some to dive back into the baggy pouch
Where bony legs and twisting tails stick out this way and that
From here, from there
The mob regroups as one
And the choreography is complete
Rhythmic music of pounding tails upon earth
A joyous dance of bounding, hopping, leaping
Across a stage of green pastures to the bushland beyond.
Kangaroos ... My roos ... My mob!
What drew me to enter such a ramshackle old store in the first place is still a mystery. Even though we had chosen to live on the semi-rural fringe of Melbourne, and everything that went with that choice, I was still a modern city girl at heart. If the truth be known, if I wanted a coffee I would gravitate to a flash, stylish bistro or somewhere trendy like Lygon Street, for instance. The only reason I would need to frequent the Kangaroo Ground Store in the early days was when it was also the local post office. It was necessary for me to tread carefully along the termite-ridden, unstable verandah to collect our mail from the rather large number of heavy metal post boxes allocated to the residents scattered far and wide in the local area.
It was nearing the close of the millennium, the year 2000, when Australia Post moved the boxes and the post office business around the corner to King’s vineyard. It took us all a while to get used to the transition. I guess this made a lot more floor space available within the dilapidated old weatherboard building for the Store to expand. I heard on the grapevine, as you do, that there were new proprietors, and that not only would there be more goods and produce available in the Store, but tables and chairs had also been set up for light meals, drinks and snacks. I remember silently snubbing any idea of ever frequenting such a place, new proprietors or not. I mean what on earth could it be, but a stop off place for people who had forgotten their milk and paper on the way home? Maybe it would attract the ‘tradies’ and truck drivers for a pie and sauce with chips, to be swilled down with a coke. Their heavy muddy boots could pound over the tired floorboards of the verandah, and they certainly wouldn’t feel as if they were out of place as far as the ambience was concerned.
So in my innate snobby way I just kept on driving past the old store as if it didn’t exist.
However, one day my husband and I were invited to the wedding of our farming neighbour’s daughter. The bride had chosen to have her wedding photos taken in front of the Store, and for the first time I noticed that the dear old weatherboard building was in fact charming and beautiful. Balanced on top of the rusty galvanised iron awning over the verandah was a sign which simply said ‘THE KANGAROO GROUND STORE, Est. 1891’.
‘Wow!’ I thought to myself. ‘Eighteen hundred and ninety one!’ If only the walls of this dear old ‘lady’ in the almost non-existent hamlet of Kangaroo Ground could talk. The wonderful stories that she could tell. Next time I passed I decided to stop, park the car, and go inside under the pretence of purchasing a paper. Even the car park had a charm. It was fenced by large tin panels, each portraying an exquisite old sepia photograph from a bygone era. Each picture had its own story.
Inside the Store, it was what I expected. The floor, which creaked when you entered, was covered with worn linoleum, large black and white squares. It would have been fashionable in the 1950s I guess. There were shelves stacked with all sorts of goods from stationery to small hardware items, as you would expect in a General Store. The large refrigerated cabinets contained a full range of soft drinks, and an even larger freezer was well stocked with every kind of ice cream and icy pole available. There were four simple wooden tables with lino on the top, each table with its own set of four farmhouse wooden chairs, painted cream. Also there was a large wine barrel used as an occasional table with three black comfortable vinyl lounge chairs around it. Admittedly two of the black chairs had their stuffing poking out here and there.
As I approached the counter I was surprised to say the least. The glass cabinet was stocked generously with wonderful gourmet pastries. All sorts of pies, pasties, sausage rolls, plus really good cakes, like vanilla slices, carrot cakes, lemon tarts, fruit muffins and flourless orange cakes. It passed through my mind that the people who had chosen to transform this dear old K. G. Store really knew what they were doing. I realised that there were quite a few customers asking for cappuccinos. Yes, they had a large coffee machine, and two attractive young ladies were run off their feet keeping up with the demand. So I was tempted to have my first cappuccino at the K. G. Store.
That was three years ago and my life changed from that moment on. Let me tell you, since then there has hardly been a day gone by when I haven’t bought my daily coffee from the Store.
What I discovered was that Bill, which is the nickname of the delightful young Lebanese man who runs the store, had learned a lot about coffee whilst working in Lygon Street, and it was his specialty to have good coffee. Now that I am retired and have more time to reflect, I often choose to sit in one of the worn old chairs at the Store and read a good book, whilst savouring my coffee out of a large white porcelain mug. Sitting there absorbing the ambience, often I feel as if I have been transported back in time to the rustic cosiness of a farmhouse kitchen many years ago. When I look around me I see how Bill and his family have appreciated all the old sepia photographs that must have come with the Store. A selected few have been somehow embossed onto the original old sash-style windows to further enhance its charm.
Nancy makes the best coffee. Old Harry is busy making sandwiches and wraps. Georgia and Mel are there at the weekends, and sometimes Bill’s lovely young wife Garda helps out behind the counter. They have a cheerful greeting for everyone who enters, and it is a joy to feel as if you are part of what makes their family business work. Locals, tradies, truck drivers, mothers dropping off kids to school, everyone becomes a regular customer and feels a sense of belonging. When I was a little girl growing up in the 1950s, I remember the shopkeepers really knowing who you were, and life was just like one big extended family.
As I sat there again today enjoying my caffeine boost, I felt that there were many stories that this humble old General Store could tell. Perhaps I will let her walls and windows and floorboards enter into my imagination and see what unfolds.
This is just the beginning.
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