He lives at the end of an 80 km stretch of dirt rad, tucked away up the north of South Australia and he lives under a rainbow – with a flurry of clucking chooks, two scruffy dogs
and a sleepy cat. Jessie is the owner and operator of the Never Seen service station, providing fuel, refreshments and a welcoming smile to weary travellers, just like me.
He is the survivor of the 2009 bushfire, which wiped out all houses in the area – including his own. Jessie chose to rebuild on the ash and among the chared eucalypts.
” I knew it was coming,” he said about the roaring bushfire, that caught him by surprise, despite his years spent fighting fires: ” I just didn’t expect it to be that bad – the terrible wind, the noise and intenese light were like bombardment,” Jessie added, filling the kettle for a cuppa.
” What a collection you have here,” I tried to change the gloomy subject looking out through the window at the cluttered yard.
” It’s just a bit of mess really,” he smiles shyly: ” It’s all new since the fire. It gives tourists something to think about.”
I walked out cautiously with a hot cup of tea in my hands looking at an eclectic collection of everything from old card to rusty signs and love worn toys. Jessie followed closely behind and picked one of the toy tenderly: ” This belonged to my neihbour’s son. They left straight after. There were balls of fire, our houses were all gone in an hour.”
” It must hard to start again,” I sighed unhappily. I just wanted to enjoy my holiday, I left my own troubles at home, why on earth I had to listen to someone’s else instead. I quickened my pace to come inside to pay for my tea and move on.
” It was hard, for a while, looking at it. But what else do you do?” Jessie caught up with me easily and let me in: ” Others left, I organised to have a new house trucked up from Down Ridge, about 20 km away.” When he moved back around the counter, he eyed me with a twinkle in his eyes: ” You wouldn’t let the blackened bushland muscle you out of your home of 23 years, would you?”
” I don’t know,” I was taken back by his question, although I could see in his eyes that he asked it many tourists before and enjoyed our confused expressions enourmosly. ” It must be lonely, I bet.” I answered finally.
” Not with you travellers stopping by to stretch your legs and wander around my outdoor gallery,” he chuckled and pointed at his thick, grey, dreadlocked ponytail-secured with rubber band: ” Look, what one Englishman taught me, I don’t need to comb or cut my loose hair any more, what an invention for a looner like me.”
I smiled suddenly embarrassed by my previous thought and he was quick to notice my expression as he continued: ” I bet you city folk are often more lonely than me here, you stick to yourself or your own demographic, just tell me, do you have any friends in my age?”
I quickly shook my head and he laughed: ” You see and here you don’t get to choose who you interact with. You don’t necessarily like everybody, but you get along. You simply need anyone, a person like me or you, just passing by, to survive.”
Then he asked me to pick some trinkets from his pre-loved odds and ends collection and I eagerly picked his neighbour’s boy toy. I wanted to pay but he just waved his hand:
” Just leave something you don’t need any more behind, maybe someone else passing by will find use for it.”
On the way back to my car I spotted a couple of wallabies feeding on branches in the distance and Jessie pointed at them: ” The morning after, I went walking around the blackened earth and there were wallabies feeding on new green leaves shooting out quickly after the fire.”
He paused and I was ready to jump into my car when I heard him to continue: ” That was a real lift – just seeing them. From their point of view, the fire was just a glitch, one thing ends so another can start, you know, it is your bloody choice how you look at and live your life.”
I waved from the starting car and he waved back shouting: ” What’s the point to blame someone, something for your misfortunates, just move on and live your bloody life…”
If it wasn’t for Jessie, Never Seen would be just another corner on the road to nowhere…it taught me that you never know what waits for you just behind the corner and one more thing, I know it is time to leave my parents’ ghosts in a closet, where they belong. I can not releave or change the past, the blackened earth are full of new sprouted leaves. Life goes on.