A beautifully scenic drive from Melbourne’s CBD, the township of Marysville boasts enviable views of Victoria’s temperate forest landscape and is a prime location for discovering what it truly means to get in touch with nature. Nestled amongst the surrounding Great Dividing Range, the town could be described as quintessentially country, but with a unique take on its interaction with Victoria’s native wildlife.
Simply by walking down the main street, it is obvious to residents and visitors alike how seamlessly local flora and fauna fit into the picture of this country town. Cockatoos, wood ducks, king parrots and currawongs are just some of the native birdlife that can be easily spotted from your table at the central Marysville Bakery, whilst the encompassing hills provide a rich backdrop of native temperate flora.
Although Marysville’s connection with the nearby and often inescapable native wildlife is not unusual for many country towns of the area, this town’s connection with the sublime power of nature cannot be underestimated.
The township’s unfortunate and devastating confrontation with the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires has since portrayed its history as one that will forever be ingrained by the unforgiving power of nature.
Driving through the surrounding forests of Marysville on the well-known Lady Talbot Drive, it is impossible not to recognise the sublimely black and charred trees and eerily-absent canopy that speak volumes about what occurred here just four years ago.
Although a tragic event in Marysville and indeed Victoria’s history, it is clear that out of the Black Saturday bushfires has come re-birth, as well as an acceptance and heightened awareness of the influence of nature. The fact that many have rebuilt (and are still rebuilding) both residential and business properties tells visitors that the beauty and serenity of nature makes it worth the possible dangers that this town has already known.
This is not a difficult thing to understand, as it is made obvious from only a short stay in Marysville that the beauty and exceptionality of its natural setting would make living here a completely unique and awe-inspiring experience. Despite past tragedies and the subsequent lack of current economic benefits, many still inhabit the tranquil and picturesque Marysville in an attempt to appreciate the vast splendour of Victoria’s natural world.
The local art aficionado, Bruno Torfs, gives visitors just one incredible example of how the beauty and culture of a country town can be revived following such a terrible natural disaster. His Art and Sculpture Garden, situated off the picturesque Falls Road within Marysville, presents artwork that has survived, been destroyed by, and even created out of the bushfires.
One particular painting, produced days before the disaster, portrays a woman holding a lighted candle walking calmly through a world of fire and destruction. Its significance can only now be remarked upon, as it managed to survive the actual fires almost unharmed (a grateful dog unceremoniously having kicked a hole in it when scrambling into Bruno’s truck amidst the panic of the fires).
Other standouts of the gallery include a slightly unconventional reproduction of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and several exotic works depicting Bruno’s extensive travels to Africa and the Middle East. A slightly charred and twisted French Horn is also displayed, along with paintings turned black by the fires – all artwork in themselves, again born out of the tragic circumstances that forever altered the originals.
Many of the sculptures on display in the charmingly wild garden also blend together these elements of human culture, nature and rebirth. On entering, a sign informs visitors that following the bushfires, ‘there was not a single glimpse of green to be seen’, and that only through ‘the magic of nature’ has this garden managed to bloom again.
Not far along the first path of the garden is a sculpture of a man and woman emerging from a seed pod – an image that could not be more symbolic of the rebuilding of the gallery, garden and town itself. Such a theme continues throughout, with indigenous, culturally iconic, and humorous sculptures also included.
The famous Lady of Shalott sculpture is one of many that have been remade based on the original. Other sculptures further resonate the integration of nature into Marysville culture; a man with a face made of mice, a naked woman lying asleep next to a fox, and another coming out of a snail shell are but a few examples of the artwork that reflects this human relationship with wildlife.
Marysville’s close association with its surrounding natural aspects is also nothing short of historical. Originally established as a stop-off point for passing gold enthusiasts en route to goldfields further on, Marysville would have been a small and humble mark of civilisation amongst the serene forests of the surrounding mountains. In many ways, the town remains such a place, and as early as the 1920s, was already being promoted as a tourist destination based on the many natural wonders the town had to offer (including the stunning and still-popular Steavenson Falls). The importance of such a connection with the natural world is therefore only strengthened by the reliance many residents had, and still have, on the tourist appeal of so much natural beauty.
However, even in the absence of tourism, Marysville’s emotional link with nature is one that appears deeply rooted in the minds of many of its citizens - Bruno’s gallery being a strong testament to such an idea. The town’s ability to blend aspects of human settlement with the calm and almost utopian feel of Victoria’s natural environment is both a triumph of the town, and a gift to visitors not accustomed to such a close relationship with wildlife. It is again not difficult to comprehend how the town has managed to establish this connection with nature, and I believe it is with great appreciation and envy that visitors leave Marysville, many unable to forget the great significance and vitality that comes with understanding our state’s beautiful yet sublime natural surroundings.