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Wet weekend in Yackandandah

You can forget, living in the city, about the importance of rain. You don’t depend on your own tanks and dams – ever-present, visible reminders of how low the water levels are. You’re not as vulnerable to bushfires. You can be almost oblivious to the elements – scurry from a heated or cooled house to train to office and barely realise what the weather is doing.

I spent last weekend happily immersed in awareness of rain in a small cabin a few ks out of Yackandandah in God’s own country – the northeast of the state.

Every time I go to Yack, it rains. Or rather, it pours, torrentially. I visit a bit these days, ever since my oldest daughter and her partner moved there, first to study, then to work.

It’s where she was born – not Yack itself, but close enough. We were living in Mount Beauty at the time and my labour started off there. After thirty hours the pair of us – she still firmly inside – were moved to Wodonga, courtesy of an ambulance in a midnight dash up the highway.

It was raining that night too. My husband followed in our car, trying to keep up with the speeding ambos. He said later that he was crying so hard he didn’t know which were tears and which was slashing rain on the windscreen.

So I know how it can rain in the northeast. How cooped up you can feel, locked in the Kiewa Valley, after days of it, especially if you are at home with a new baby and a toddler. Twenty-five years later, when I visit Mount Beauty, which is one of my favourite places, I still have a faint sense of claustrophobia.

In the last decade, though, everywhere in the state has been dry. Tess and her Will moved to Yack at the beginning of 2009 on the weekend of the February bushfires. It was 42 degrees at three in the morning. They went to all the fire preparation meetings in the town and wondered what they had come to.

It’s a very different story now. On the farm where they rent their cottage, there are billabongs where billabongs haven’t been seen for ten years. Everywhere that can store water in the northeast, from the humblest little tank to the massive Hume Weir, is full to overflowing. The land itself is as saturated as a big, soaking wet sponge. The cows and horses and sheep are fat and happy. Dainty wildflowers stud the bush everywhere you look.

At Tess and Will’s we sleep in their carport/shed – blissfully surrounded by the elements and yet dry. Through the wet night I wake and listen to that most comforting of sounds – rain on a tin roof. I peek out to where the world is a deep grey, punctuated by deeper grey, heavily dripping trees.

When the rain stops briefly, I slip on my clogs and venture out to sniff the sodden air. I swear it looks as though the paddock nearest the cottage is completely flooded. In the morning it’s dry, and I wonder if I imagined the whole thing in the darkness, sleep befuddled as I was. Apparently not. Their neighbour tells us the creek did burst its banks, spreading rapidly over the paddocks towards the house and receding just as quickly before first light.

On our first day there, we had stripped off and splashed in the creek, in waist high water.  After the overnight deluge, Tess and I don jackets and gum boots and slosh over to see a watercourse four times the size it had been – right up to the top of its steep banks, cloudy brown, flowing so fast I wouldn’t have dared venture in.

In the paddocks themselves, the two foot long grass is completely flattened and coated with topsoil in which my little dog rolls happily – turning from white to completely brown.

Growing up in a country that depended on monsoons that sometimes didn’t come, I’ve never assumed the continuing presence of rain. Now I rejoice to see my beloved northeast wallowing in deep, long rains that have filled it up with verdant lushness.

Despite the long drive, travelling back to Melbourne on Sunday afternoon, I feel refreshed, the part of me that needs open air and green things replenished. Like the creeks and the dams, I feel filled up. I feel as though I’ve had a long drink.

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