It seems that my day trip to Cooma on Tuesday last week offered up several opportunities for nostalgia.
On the way back, after I’d left Fee and Alice with Mum and Dad and made my way home alone, I did something I’ve never done before but have always thought I should.
I pulled over on the highway to photograph a chimney. It felt sort of brave and impulsive.
To set the scene, the Monaro Highway is a long, bleak stretch of road between Canberra and Cooma. There’s some farming land, a lot of sheep, and not much else. Just an endless vision of dry, brown land with some boulders dotting the otherwise barren landscape. Personally, I love a bleak vista. I love that my eyes can stretch for miles and that you can see where the sky and land meet. I adore that uninterrupted view. And I love that on such a landscape items such as a chimney ruin form an intense point of interest.
And so that’s how, on Tuesday, I found myself finally stopping on a stretch of road I’ve been driving on for years and at last having a look at the chimney I’ve driven past, with longing, many times. I almost didn’t stop. It seemed kind of risky, but there was a small patch of shoulder and I swerved to park. As huge road trains roared past me, I felt stupidly afraid as I dug for my camera and shivered in the breeze. But I got what I wanted. I was close to a chimney for first time in my life and it was thrilling in a way I hadn’t imagined!
One of my earliest childhood memories is of noticing a chimney ruin on the side of the road on a family drive. In Tasmania, there was a chimney on the road somewhere between our home town, Rosebery, and the town where we had a second home, Burnie. We drove there regularly and over the years, that chimney came to be more than just a marker on the journey for me. It was a point of intense fascination.
I can almost taste now that sensation of seeing something ruined, something abandoned, something that seemed chillingly haunted. To this day, an abandoned chimney really gets my historical and literary juices flowing.
An abandoned chimney, more than any other kind of ruin, seems so incredibly lonely and evocative. It’s literally the last man standing when all around it has crumbled to dust or been pilfered. It’s a symbol of a family home like nothing else. A crumbled wall doesn’t say as much to me as a chimney, the point in the home where women stood and stirred pots, dried clothes and warmed their families for generations. We can only imagine what really went on there. I’m not seeing it solely as a symbol of domesticity, although surely that’s part of it. I’m seeing it as a remnant of a whole realm of life. It’s the last remaining sign that there were people there, the final link between us and what went before on that land.
That the chimneys still stand is both incredible and prosaic. Of course they still stand. When the wood that built houses has vanished, it’s naturally the stone and brick that remains. It was built to endure, and endure it does.
What I hadn’t expected, getting as close as I did, was that the chimney would be fenced off. See in the top photo how there’s a small, flimsy wire fence around it? I’m not sure it achieves anything. If I’d been able to cross over the boggy, overgrown grass to get right up close, I’m sure that fence wouldn’t have done anything to prevent me getting close. Sometime, when I get close enough, I want to look inside, to see what secrets the chimney holds. I think realistically I know that there’ll be nothing more than grass, but it’s the hope of secrets revealed that keeps that spark of interest alive.