The older woman watched the younger woman in black hooded top. She in turn was seated, guitar against her legs, looking over the valley at the range called Gariwerd later called the Grampians by white folk. An ancient memory stirred in the older woman. She couldn’t quite capture it but she knew that many lifetimes ago her skin was dark as was the skin of this young woman in front of her. No not so dark was the skin of the other woman. She could almost remember. There was a lightness to the other’s skin in that time that set her apart. The tribe decided she was a spirit person, the spirit of the mountain.
She ate with the others chanted with them but sometimes went away on her own and sat looking over the valley just as this young woman was doing now. If one walked close to her they would hear her quietly chanting words they could not understand.
This mountain was a mysterious place. If one listened, ear close to the ground, a sound of churning liquid could be heard. A sense of warmth coming from deep within the earth could be felt. It seemed natural that spirits would guard this place even spirits who lived amongst the other aboriginal people all of whom felt they belonged to this place.
The older woman let her thoughts and flashes of memory pass like fleeting clouds. She quickly sketched the dark clad young woman whose image silhouetted with guitar against blue sky and dramatic mountain range was a poetic one.
Janice shook herself out of her reverie. The young woman had stood up and was approaching, the word ‘Nirvana’ now visible on her jacket. The women greeted each other and smiled. The accent of the younger one had a ring of familiarity.
‘Where are you from?’ asked Janice.
‘Switzerland,’ answered Marianne.
‘You sound almost Irish,’ said Janice.
‘Ah,’ exclaimed Janice, ‘when you say “ja” I know you are not Irish.’
Soon Frank drove back up the mountain with the camera Janice had asked him to fetch.
‘Too late, she’s moved,’ said Janice, ‘Where do you think she comes from?’
Frank listened to the conversation then thought for a moment, ‘Ireland?’
‘There you are,’ said Janice, ‘You even fooled an Irishman!’
It was time for Janice and Frank to leave the mountain which somehow seemed to belong more to this beautiful young woman.
‘Do you mind sitting over there again so I can take the photo I wanted before?’
‘Of course not,’ laughed Marianne and quickly obliged.
Photos taken, Janice and Frank turned to leave.
‘I’m sure we will see you again. ‘Bye for now.’
Later Janice wondered if they would see Marianne again. She seemed almost like a dream that they would wake from. In the early evening she and Frank drove back up the mountain to make sure Marianne was safe if indeed she was still there. Janice would have been sad if the car park was empty. She did not want Marianne to disappear without giving them her email address. They need not have worried. There was the midnight blue van, blending subtly with the darkening sky. They waited quietly, not wanting to frighten Marianne. Soon she appeared assuring them she had eaten, was unafraid and would be still there tomorrow.
Nearby was another van complete with family. The mother had told Marianne in no uncertain detail about the ‘Backpacker Murders’ which Janice had hesitantly and slightly alluded to, not wanting to create fear. The older couple said goodbye with a sense of relief that the young backpacker was not alone, saying they would be back tomorrow.
In fact Marianne knocked on their door late next morning. She had been too shy and independent to accept any invitation to dine or sleep, but once in their house shyness seemed to evaporate. Or at least a nervous energy took over and Marianne enjoyed herself checking and sending emails. After that she conversed at length about her life in Switzerland, fascinating stories as tales about other countries usually are. A black cat in Australia probably resembles a black cat in Switzerland. Marianne hugged the resident cat, Shadow, with an emotion close to homesickness. More photos were taken.
Janice felt there was not much they could do to protect Marianne but she did feel she had to act as some sort of trip organizer at least in her own state, even if her advice would not be required. So she printed up much information about the Dandenong Ranges with a list of potential contacts there. She chose friends, long time residents of the Dandenongs, who would give an insight into that special place that no outsider could. To the list she added the names of family members in Melbourne, Castlemaine, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Cairns. This was an interesting task for Janice although she suspected her lists would not be needed. She explained to Marianne that it would be a privilege for her family to meet her, knowing that the shy, diffident young woman would not believe this.
Pulling into the car park on the mountain that evening, Janice and Frank were surprised to hear several laughing voices. They discovered that on the mountain Marianne had met a Swiss family who lived on the other side of Hamilton. They were all conversing happily in their native tongue. There must have been some English spoken though because another member of the group was Michael, a young man from Penshurst.
At lunchtime the next day Marianne was barely awake. She and Michael had talked all night she confessed. As well she had lent the young man $100 to be repaid on Wednesday. So she was to be on the mountain two more nights!
As it turned out Marianne’s last night in Penshurst was spent at Michael’s house. Out of concern for her welfare the police had questioned Marianne, having somehow discovered she had been staying on the mountain. She was then too afraid to spend another night up there, could have stayed in her van in Janice and Frank’s yard, or at the old church across the road rented by Pene. She decided however to stay at Michael’s house, although she reported next morning how cold it had been.. But at least her faith in the young man was rewarded, his debt repaid.
Now Marianne was ready to leave although she chatted away in the old shop housing Janice and Frank as if she had all the time in the world. But farewells were finally said and the young backpacker drove towards the beautiful Grampians taking with her some of the sunshine she had seemed to bring into life around Mount Rouse. She took with her a gift of a book of the Aboriginal history of the area, having eaten another gift of an Easter egg which satisfied her love of chocolate and Janice’s need to make a symbolic gesture. She had politely refused a gift of Australian ugg boots which would have been so much warmer than the thongs she was wearing over socks.
Marianne and her time on the mountain seemed like a dream although several lovely photos and emails exchanged afterwards proved it was indeed real.
As time went on Janice was to realise the friendship with Marianne was one of the two most enduring friendships enjoyed while living in Penshurst.
And it was to continue after that with Marianne back in Switzerland and Janice and Frank living in Warrnambool then Koroit, thanks to email and Facebook. Marianne came back to Australia and made yet another whirlwind trip around our vast country, finding time to visit them in Warrnambool.
She will be back again at Christmas time 2013 and they feel sure their paths will cross yet again. Each time they make one of their regular visits to Penshurst and drive up Mt Rouse they think of Marianne. And they have a feeling she will make yet another pilgrimage there on this next trip to their country.