It’s the ambient simplicity here that’s so icy-fingeredly disconcerting. Such a pretty, wholesome tableaux for a marriage ceremony in the Australian wilderness. So eerily untouched by time and weather… even the stark white of the benches seems pristine. It feels as though there are row upon row of transparent guests waiting for a bride who’s dress is tattered and stained, her bouquet dried and desiccated, smiling a skeleton grin at a motionless scarecrow ahead… her groom waiting at a timeless altar prickled with seeded plants grown to horrendous sizes, tangled and brown, bloated and knotted through one another.
There is an expectant air of waiting here. Of things left behind sitting just so; paused as perfectly as a music box in a dusty room, a sad ballerina poised for the moment the tinkling, pregnant music is restarted. It feels bizarrely like the infamous Grand Central TimeFreeze– at the appointed moment, the synchronized second the Gods have decided on, this quiet place where the stillness is broken only by the occasional low call and snap of a whipbird will be rushing with people and laughter and music and dancing all over again, bouquets trailing through the air and bridesmaids getting drunk and great aunties plumed in their wedding best fanning themselves against the sticky, humid eucalyptus heat.
This place is just… sad. It’s the simplest of words- we learn it as a polar basic. But it’s incorrectly labelled, a word so overused for the rarest of emotions. Once upon a time, it was beautiful here. Many, many people were happy here. There is the decaying, rotting smell of desperation mixed with optimistic commercialism. How long did someone keep pouring solid dollars into this property for, when it’s death knell had been sounded in the last low buzz of one summer’s cicadas?
And then leaving it, just as it was, in the hope someone else would come along with enough funds to rescue a dream left stranded on the hard banks of a stream… somehow, that seems sadder still.
Perhaps this is the answer to the question that tugs at me very time I find an abandoned shell of a building– how did this happen? How does this happen? At what point do people just walk awsy from properties worth millions of dollars, allow the structure and even the chattels inside to become so overgrown, to rot and sag and bear themselves wide open to the destructive public?
But this… maybe this is the missing piece in my urban exploring puzzle. It’s the strangest feeling of inertia, of being held in some vortex of time… this is the era in it’s existence where a property becomes too overrun with scrub and rats, too infested with mold and grot.
This is a place on the very precipice, the edge…. this is where land goes from being unkempt to unruly, unoccupied to unlivable.
I venture further, away from the eerie Halloween wedding. It’s no surprise, not now, to find a reception hall set back into the bushland. Someone has made a half arsed effort to remove a cash register, then obviously thought better of it and dumped it at the edge of the reception courtyard. Again, I’m struck by someone else’s memory of how richly pleasant this venue must have been. This is a place for warm summer nights with simple happy dancing music spreading underneath the rolled-up awnings of the reception hall, nights with starlight and laughter and feeling dressed up and in love and bubbling with champagne as a breeze blows cigarette smoke and cheap perfume and the scent of native lilacs aloft in the warm evening atmosphere…
And that seems only to make the desolation all the more distasteful. A dining room full of chairs with no guests. Decorations still hanging on walls, sagging with the dust and disuse. A deserted disco ball lolling in a corner.
And covering all of it the dense, un-lived in smell of rats. Rats that make tiny shuffling noises occasionally, pinging my nervous system to make the skin on my shoulders spasm in revulsion. Not that I mind rats at all- I kept one as a pet years ago, his name was Pig and I adored him. But the rustling I’m hearing from the spaces in this place where light doesn’t go are bush rats; responsible for the fetid smell, twice the size of my domestic pet and feral. This place is theirs, and has been for some time now. A first generation of settler bush rats reveling in their run of what humans have left behind for them
|Boo!! In the reception hall. Low res.. flash off.|
|Cropped and zoomed. Dr Zaus, is that you….?|
There’s more, deserted accessories of this business courting the leaf litter of the scrub, slowly losing their strangling seduction to the innate patience of time. A menu board, a tiny birdhouse. What was once an ornate bridg
e. The requisite pine playground, stripped of anything really useful. Round lights like giant lollipops on sticks and ornate lamp posts standing sentry along the leaf covered paths, and as the sun sets that ethereal sense of waiting is in them as well– the soft light they shed would have created an exquisite ambiance on eucalyptus scented nights.
I can feel a tribal drumbeat begin somewhere in the grey matter of my mind as the sun drops lower and a chill creeps into the air. ‘Leave, leave, leave, leave…’ It thrums in time with my footfalls, faster and faster as I reach the spot from whence I came, almost a full hour ago now. I’m not sure what that panicked mantra means, whether it’s some primal instinct warning me of danger or just that (damned) PTSD tricking me. It’s quite possible it’s even basic common sense. Night is falling in the bush and growing up where I did, I know that’s never a good thing when you’re not prepared for it.
And, again, what I’m doing right now teeters judiciously between ‘exploring’ and ‘trespass’.
I’m almost at the spot I first came in when something catches the very edge of my peripheral vision. The close relative of my mate Conscience (who has, by this time, retreated for a Bex and a good lie down) is named Caution. She’s bitter and twisted, used to being ignored in these situations. From her corner of my mind, the back alley where she’s chain smoking cigarettes and feigning indifference’ she shrugs.
And, as per the status quo, Curiosity runs pell mell to find out what on earth that flash of solid black is, the only stark element to be spotted amongst the lush green.
It’s a bridge, sturdy thick timber that won’t show any serious signs of age or core rot for decades yet. It spans high above a man-made moat that curves through the greenery. Halfway across the bridge, looking back to the mainland, a small jetty is set into the concrete that forms the banks of the man-made moat.
The entire thing is dry, devoid of water. The bore water pump, either siphoning directly from a spring underground or gulping great swallows from the trickle of a creek nearby, has been switched off for years. The electricity required to run it is no longer connected. Those dark, waiting street lamps attest to that.
The bridge connects to a tiny island, as overrun with foliage as the rest of this massive botanical wilderness. I work out the geography roughly in my mind. The moat becomes the trickle of water that flows alongside most of the paths, serving to irrigate the gardens as well as add to the atmosphere. The tiny creek runs circular, scouting just inside the main attractions of the pergola and the reception hall. The decimated ornamental bridge crosses over it and, just behind the hall, it empties into a lake that my mind’s vivid brushstrokes paint brimming with ornamental carp, fat and happy on their diet of sliced white bread fed to them by flower girls in fussy dresses.
The lake was empty, the last of it’s sturdy water reeds still standing but bleached and dried from the sun.
There’s a certain finality that seems to suck what’s left of the day’s warmth from the air when I see the cream white smack of a barge, an actual boat, a few metres ahead of me. It hasn’t been dry docked, no one has pulled it up onto the bank via a boat ramp that must be around somewhere, probably hidden behind a huge curtain of trees in the same place as the unattractive bore pumping station must be. The barge has been left moored in the moat, just gliding strides from the bridge where well-wishers once gathered to watch brides and grooms float underneath them, slideshow slices of happy couples kaleidoscoping through the tiny spaces between the bridge’s thick oil black planks . Much more than a simple tinnie, this is a wedding barge– lined with seats on either side, flat and open. A red carpet is just visible in its aisle, rotted and clumped.
The water has simply dried up beneath it. The barge rests uncomfortably across the span of the moat, suspended in mid air, it’s stern scraping the dappled concrete until it clung tight, wedged across phantom body of water.
No one meant to leave this place so long, surely, I think to myself, while at the same time corroborating evidence asks exactly what on earth would a boat like that be worth? This property was meant to sell years ago, in all it’s perfect matrimonial glory. And the maintenance, the labour and the electricity and the materials and the water and the security all gradually added up, the expenses piling one atop of the other…
Until it was best just not to think too much about this beautiful, peaceful, joyful, expensive place that was growing and rotting and the rats where making their homes here and the whole task was just too massive. The human mind is an amazing thing– watch it shelve this one at the very back, where the biggest regrets are kept, the only reminder of the whole sordid thing a frustration stuck like a bitter clove at the very back of your tongue should someone inquire as to how things might be going, or you happen to touch on it by accident, putting pressure on a nerve that just wants to be ignored until it dies.
It’s just on twilight when I leave the Secret Garden, marveling even as I start my car over the exquisite creepiness of that ceremonial still–life. I love the bushland with an intensity that comes from growing up with the scrub as my playground, and the view from the deserted wedding pergola is as beautiful as any I’ve ever seen. But the breathtaking, soul-sunning scenery here seems tainted, whispering dirty jokes with no punchline in the middle of the night. It feels as though the tattered, rotting souls of a hundred failed marriages are tickling dessicated flowers and wilted bouquets along the bumps of my spine as I hurry back out through the entrance. This whole place feels akin to heartless rejection, to
brides jilted and left the alter… it feels like promises, broken.
It feels like an understanding, of sorts. A pause in the timeline, a hitch in the fresco. A perfect specimen of developing urban decay, laid open bare for examination.