This is a guest post by Bruna Costa.
Clive and Joan prepare for an evening under the stars in Kings Domain. Racing along the freeway towards the city at peak hour, they gradually approach their destination: the first of a series of summer concerts at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl featuring the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. On the opposite side of the median strip, queues of cars crawl out of the city at a snail’s pace. Clive and Joan share feelings of empathy for commuters trying to make their way home.
The couple reaches their destination and Clive is relieved to find a parking space beside the Royal Botanic Gardens. From there, it’s a short walk to the Bowl. He and Joan empty the boot of their paraphernalia. Joan carries a bag with the thermos, two cups and some nibbles. Clive carries the small esky filled with cold drinks and tucks the picnic rug under his arm. They wear their rain jackets. After all, this is Melbourne and threatening clouds hang in the sky – best to be safe on an evening like this.
Clive and Joan hurry towards the Yarra River and turn left into the Tan along Alexandra Avenue. Small groups of two or three people, also carrying their picnic bits and pieces, stroll along in the same direction.
Joggers, wired up and clad in lycra shorts, race along the Tan going the opposite way to the couple. With brows covered in beads of sweat, the fitness fanatics pant in rhythm to their running feet in pursuit of an entirely different agenda for their evening.
Clive walks briskly. He wants to claim a spot on the hilltop, directly in front of centre stage. But Joan lags behind. She dallies, blissfully embracing the richness of the ambiance surrounding her. Like the Yarra. She likens it to a moat framing the south side of the city. It not only reflects the skyscrapers on its rippling water, but also the tranquility that comes at the end of a hectic day.
Oaks, elms and plane trees - their branches intertwine to form an archway over the road and the path on which drivers and pedestrians commute, offering dappling shade and oxygenated air throughout the day.
A sequence of succulents in shades of bottle green, light green, grey-green and silvery green, with a smattering of deep burgundy, line this section of the Tan. Joan marvels at their glossy colours and contrasting shapes. Round leaves, narrow leaves, and some thorny leaves, all line up in front of the wrought iron fence. The plants reach out, trying to connect with the passing parade.
In her absent-mindedness, Joan extends the gap between her and Clive. She needs to catch up to him and alternates her jogging with brisk walking until she’s by his side. Gasping for breath, she questions why he has to walk so fast.
‘We’re almost there! Can’t we slow down now?’
But Clive is on a mission, visualising his preferred spot on the lawn at the venue. They turn off the Tan onto the pathway into Kings Domain and cut across the grass to save time.
‘We have to reach the gates of the Music Bowl before the queues get too long,’ says Clive, dashing ahead as he speaks.
But once again, Joan is mesmerised by the flowering shrubs that border the lawns, their lush foliage, wet and shiny from an earlier rainfall. After enduring weeks of hot, dry weather, the revived garden emanates a rich, earthy aroma. It rouses childhood memories of mushroom-picking days on foggy mornings in Werribee, where mushrooms that sprouted beside cow pats on fertile fields emitted that scent of fresh fungi. She glances down at the damp lawn, not looking for mushrooms, but instead noticing that the wet blades of grass have left dark smudges on her leather shoes.
Unperturbed, Joan walks on beneath tall trees, some hundreds of years old. She marvels at the array of trunks in various girths and contrasting textures. She gazes in wonder at the mighty magnolia, at its trunk and exposed roots. She slows, and admires their snake-like forms, curving and slithering beneath the grassy surface, anchoring the towering trunk to the ground.
She recalls the words of the famous artist, Sir Hans Heysen, who once said that trees were much like humans, each one bearing its own uniqueness. Joan had never looked at trees with such fascination before reading the artist’s sentiment. She thought Heysen an admirable artist who recognised the beauty and individualism of these stately natural monuments. She had read how he spent hours observing the trunks of eucalyptus trees at various stages of the day; how he recorded the hues and shifting shadows that played on a tree trunk as the sun altered its position in the sky; how he captured those colour variances in his artwork. Joan pictures the artist, seated away from his chosen tree, applying bold strokes to his canvas to create his masterpiece.
Again, she hurries through the park to catch up to Clive who has arrived at the gates of the Bowl’s entrance. She lines up beside him. They wait to be counted and for their bags to be checked, a necessary routine.
Already, the crowd is larger than they expected. Although rain threatens to spoil the evening, free concerts are becoming more popular. The couple makes their way through the crowd, reaching the top of the hill to find a patch of grass big enough for their rug. Making themselves comfortable, Clive adjusts his hat. Joan checks her watch. There’s plenty of time before the concert begins so she takes her binoculars and casually spies on the multitude to see if anyone she knows is out there. The nibbles, the dip, the water bottles can wait.
The sun slowly drifts towards the west, smudging the amassing clouds with shades of purple and orange. One by one, the musicians clad in black cross the stage and take their seat. They tinker with their instruments. A cacophony of discord arises from beneath the canopy of the Bowl as the fine tuning begins. Spectators continue to file in, meeting and greeting friends, squeezing into dwindling spaces on the lawn.
People continue their friendly chatter while the presenter thanks the sponsors for making these concerts possible. Joan mumbles to Clive about how rude some people can be. Then the presenter proudly introduces the conductor who is of international calibre. He marches onto the stage. The spectators applaud. He bows to the audience, turns to face the orchestra and raises his baton. A hushed silence descends over the crowd. The musicians are poised, ready to strike, strum, or blow their instruments.
In the distance, lightning slashes across the sky. Thunder rumbles through a dark grey cloud mass. The audience gasps - but the clouds are too distant to dampen the enthusiasm of spectators and conductor. He turns to face the crowd and their applause is encouraging. Like Clive and Joan, most have come prepared with umbrellas and rain jackets. A spot of Melbourne rain won’t last and definitely will not deter the audience. They sit back and wait for the conductor to lead the orchestra into the first piece of the evening.
And so the concert begins.
By interval, lights from tall city buildings speckle the darkening sky. Clouds drifting overhead have dispersed, leaving a semblance of tatty cotton balls that temporarily conceal the stars. One by one, flying foxes take to the air and fly east, away from the setting sun.
After the finale, the orchestra is rewarded with loud applause, cheers and whistles until they submit to an encore. Joan applauds enthusiastically after the finale. Clive collects their paraphernalia. The audience leaves satisfied, relaxed and reinvigorated with the fresh night air. The couple strolls back along the Tan, grateful to have been able to attend a pleasant evening in their beautiful city.
Bruna Costa has worked in kindergartens for 26 years, and currently works with a 3-year-old group. She is a member of Write Track Writers' Group in Box Hill, and enjoys bird-spotting in bushland and her local area.