16 February 2009

Australia: 'Catskills' destroyed by fire

Burned to the ground on February 7 during the terrible Australian fires, the once-upon-a-time gold mining center of Marysville was known as the Australian "Catskills."

Many Melbourne Jewish families and groups went there for Passover and other holidays, traveling the 100 kilometers northeast of Melbourne (Victoria's state capital) in about 90 minutes.

The town was established in the 1850s after gold was discovered and, by 1861, some 6,000 miners had living there.

Before the fire, the population was 518. At least 15, and possibly up to 100 residents, may have lost their lives in what officials believe was an act of arson, according to this Jerusalem Post article.

By the 1920s, Marysville had become a popular tourist resort, largely due to its proximity to the Yarra Valley, dozens of wineries and Stevenson's Falls, Victoria's highest waterfall. The Cumberland opened in 1917, and was always booked out during school vacations, often 12 months in advance.

For the local Jewish community, Marysville was the equivalent of the Catskills for east coast Americans. Over the last 21 years, on Pessah and other holidays, dozens of Jewish families, primarily from Melbourne, would drive up to the scenic resort for a week of eating, schmoozing, bush walks and horse riding.

Sydney's Rabbi Chaim Ingram summed up the uniqueness of the experience in a letter to the Australian Jewish News last year.

"One hundred and sixty men and women of all ages and varying native languages, prayer rites, synagogue affiliations and shades of observance bonded together as one havura - the very opposite of the old joke about a man who builds two shuls on a desert island, one of which he would not be seen dead in," he wrote.
Read the complete story at the link above.

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