Reminiscences and memories

A day trip to Kallista

By 29 March 2024No Comments

A day trip to Kallista

Gillian Bell

With thanks to Rob Youl and friends for advice on Victorian flora in the 1960s

It was a bright cool day in April 1961, and the green Zephyr stood ready in our Surrey Hills driveway. In the kitchen Mum was preparing a picnic, packing homemade biscuits and fruit cake.

We were about to set off to Kallista in the Dandenongs for our grandparents’ 45th wedding anniversary. They had recently moved into a little house nestled amongst the mountain ash. Grandma called their block ‘Tiptrees’.

Traffic was light along the Burwood Road, which still had the feel of a country lane. We drove through a landscape of farmlets, with occasional clumps of bush and dark mahogany trees. Near Springvale Rd Dad pointed out Tally Ho, where he and his friend Curly had gone rabbiting during the Depression. Across the road, orchards stretched down the slope in neat rows of peach and cherry trees, while in the distance dreamed the misty blue Dandenongs.

The land became more rural.  At Ferntree Gully (a beautiful evocative name) we started climbing. We drove through Belgrave where shops jostled for space in the narrow main street and entered Sherbrooke Forest.

Mum wound down the window. ‘Smell the bush!’ she exclaimed.  The fragrant air smelt of peaty soil and eucalyptus leaves. In the understorey, tree ferns stretched out luxuriant green fronds. Through the open window echoed birdsong.

A small crowd was clustered around a tourist bus outside a roadside shop. Traffic stopped expectantly.  Bill Onus was about to demonstrate throwing a boomerang. We joined the crowd as Bill himself appeared carrying several boomerangs. He took a step, and with a powerful sweep of his arm sent a boomerang spinning across the road, skimming the treetops and returning obediently to his hand. The crowd applauded.

It was only ten minutes to the Kallista picnic ground where the aunts, uncles and cousins were gathering for the celebrations. The family had bought a surprise gift: a cane picnic basket with blue plates and cups strapped in place and two thermoses.

We children jumped out of the car and ran about, intoxicated by the delicious air of the forest. At Dad’s command we began collecting twigs for his billy, enclosed in a metal jacket. Dad was proud of this invention, which could easily boil water using only twigs, and would not spark a fire. The scent of woodsmoke drifted in the air, and the voices of the children were lost in the treetops.

A country bakery nearby sent out delicious aromas, but Mum and the aunts had brought sandwiches. Sliced bread was a rarity, and Mum still cut slices from the white loaves which were delivered daily. Dad poured the billy tea and I inhaled the delicious smoky aroma.

Uncle Eddie, as the eldest son, made a little speech and the presentation was made. Grandpa cut the cake with a flourish.

Picnic over, the women gathered up the scraps of greaseproof paper and the picnic plates. They chatted while the men sat watching the children at play. One of the boys produced a football, and the thud of the leather echoed in the forest. The afternoon drifted by. Finally Grandma and Grandpa said their farewells and drove off to Tiptrees in their little green Fiat.

We said goodbye to our cousins and climbed into the Zephyr. I yawned. I was tired after the fresh air and the excitement of the day. Behind us the calls of children and a tendril of woodsmoke lingered amongst the trees as they linger in my memory six decades on.


Photo: Craig family on roadside picnic late 50s

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