I’m a city girl, born and bred, but this year, Barto and I bought a country retreat near Mansfield, the township gateway to the Victorian high country. Our house is two and a half hours from Melbourne and a fifteen-minute drive from Mansfield—secluded, but not isolated. Perched on a hill, it overlooks Lake Eildon and our visitors include kangaroos, rosellas and kookaburras. We love it here.
During the school holidays, we came up for a week, but Barto and the kids had commitments in Melbourne and left me stranded without a car for a night. No problem, I thought, I’ll be fine, as long as I don’t encounter a snake during the day or a masked intruder at night.
This was my experience …
5:00pm: Barto and the kids leave. The peace is immense. A magpie warbles, answered by the raucous calls of a flock of cockatoos resting on the ghost gum beside our house. Barely a wisp of cloud interrupts the clear blue sky.
6:00pm: I pour a gin and tonic with a squeeze of homegrown lemon. Dusk is our favourite time of day up here for the killer sunsets. I put up my feet and watch orange, pink and purple bruise the sky. The lake mirrors the effect, but there aren’t enough clouds for it to be truly spectacular. I’m now a sunset connoisseur.
7:00pm: The last of the colour drains from the sky, so I pull the blinds. Dinner is simply tzatziki dip and crackers—why bother cooking when it’s just me? Time for TV—Suits Season 8. Barto has no interest in Suits because it has no car chases, shootings or punch ups (well rarely), but I’m alone, so I relish the luxury of choice.
8:00pm: Dessert—yoghurt and strawberries—what’s with my yoghurt obsession tonight? And yes, I cut up my strawberries. Needles aren’t stopping me.
9:00pm: Did I mention there’s a sporadic clunk in this house? We haven’t figured out the source, but it sounds like water hammer.
10:00pm: I lock the doors, even though I’m told most country people don’t bother; I’m a city girl. In bed, I read The Trailing Spouse by Jo Furniss, a mystery/thriller about an expat in Singapore whose helper commits suicide. It’s gripping. I read until my eyelids droop.
11:00pm: Once the lights are off, sounds magnify. We have mice in the roof space. So, the scampering sounds are nothing to worry about, right?
My body aches from gardening. The fertilizer, blood and bone, chokes my nostrils and I wish I’d worn a mask when I scattered it around the citrus trees. The idea of fragments of bone, not to mention flakes of blood, lining my nose is a little too sensory for near-midnight, alone in Mansfield.
2:00am: I wake up, thirsty. Damn those salty crackers. The water hammer woke me. Or is it a door banging? But I closed all the doors. Locked them. At regular intervals, a pounding jars me back from sleep. Eventually, I drift back to sleep, wondering whether tonight has given me enough of interest to form a blog.
4:00am: When I next awaken, my dream hovers, clear and crisp like the memory of a movie. In it, I hang out the washing on a Hills Hoist rotary clothesline. A crowd surrounds me. I’m wearing unfamiliar clothes—a long hippy skirt with an intricate design of elephants, their trunks interweaving. Gusts of wind caused a sheet to billow and spin the clothesline. My skirt flares up reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, but there’s nothing there—my legs have disappeared. People guffaw and titter. I clutch the fabric to preserve my modesty.
6:00am: In the morning, light seeps around the edges of the curtains. I survived my first night in Mansfield. Unharmed. As it turns out, the only thing to fear is exposure.
 For my non-Aussie friends, we’ve had a spate of people hiding needles in strawberries, necessitating a huge recall and losing thousands for strawberry farmers.