Marieke Hardy’s postcode: Hepburn Springs 3461
Marieke Hardy is at her most calm and creative in the Wombat State Forest.
The Wombat State Forest gets right into your blood, all silent and cool and full of secrets. It encircles Hepburn Springs – Dja Dja Wurrung land – in a wide maternal embrace; regal eucalypts looming guard while the rich, rude smell of mushroom permeates beneath.
If you brave a bushwalk on one of the region’s bite-cold winter days, pine needles a fragrant spiky carpet beneath your feet, you might catch a rare flurry of snow (an excitable Facebook group I happen to be a member of titled HEPBURN SNOW WATCH!!! documents these things closely).
I was first lured to Hepburn in the early 1990s by a loosely spiritual friend with a wild streak. He always stayed at the old Continental guesthouse – a permanently ramshackle bohemian homestead that once hosted Scout camps and Catholic youth gatherings but had since been subsumed by free-living, organic permaculture types and boasted a dress-ups room and a giant disco ball, as well as Friday-night vegan feasts.
Locarno Springs at Hepburn.
I stole away to the Conti regularly, to write, and rest, and recover from the absurdly messy breakups one suffers in their late teens, and later celebrated every birthday from the age of 21 to 30 there.
On my 25th birthday I got married in the forest.
Hepburn is the sweeter, less-sophisticated cousin to neighbouring weekender town Daylesford and is embedded with a connected and warm community who together love art, and music, and watching the Hepburn Burras kick the footy around down at the local oval.
Years ago I saw Gillian Welch play at fading art-deco beauty The Palais (before a tag-team of new owners kept trying to rip the guts out of it – it’s recently been restored, to great celebration), later moving to a house on Main Road, crying when the post office inevitably got turned into a homewares shop.
Fire rippled down that dear Wombat Hill earlier this year and Hepburn was evacuated. That same community held their breath, and each other, until the smoky heroes of the CFA triumphed.
Part of my heart lives in that forest. When I’m trying to re-anchor to the world, and some meditation guru suggests closing my eyes and imagining a space of connection, there it is – clear and cold in my head, thrumming with the symphony of its vibrant animal community, arms holding you in place like home.
Marieke Hardy is a writer, broadcaster, television producer and artistic director of the Melbourne Writers Festival, which runs from 30 August to 8 September. mwf.com.au.