Archives for category: nature

I’ve fallen in love with Australia again. Like someone you don’t want to/can’t marry but can’t walk away from. Lucky me, I don’t have to.

So yesterday I headed further in, to the big empty west. From the train (perfect transport), I watched the rainy green fields round Bathurst give way to scrubbier bush under thin clouds until everything gave way to dirt and sky. Look:

At Ivanhoe and beyond we saw emus prancing prehistorically (refraining here from posting blobs in mid distance). Small bouncing animals turned out to be goats and there were unfamiliar roo breeds in all directions.

Then further into desert, until sunset over Menindee lake, full of water this year, after many dry.

Bliss.

(well not only bliss: no cabs at Broken Hill meant walking for 40 minutes uphill through strange dark streets till I found my allotted bed).

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Started this two weeks ago, feels inadequate already, as deeper feelings about leaving Oz surface, but, for the record (and with more pix to come) …….

 

Sitting in Dubai airport cum space station, digesting the fact that, after four and half years, I no longer live in Australia. Fewer than five years, but this time has had such an impact. Will take me more time, more words to understand how much it has changed me, but here’s a first stab at what I will miss, in no particular order

Coffee – flat white here is quite different from its pale, late imitations. On a trip to New Zealand recently, I learned that NZ is home of the FW – or so they claim. The cafe at Sydney airport where I would gasp for real coffee after 30 hours of airline chemicals….  Luckily, I plan to spend time in Spain whose café con leche rules supreme.

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Sydney festivals – I didn’t make Mardi Gras, but went to Sydney Vivid several times – the best illuminated buiildings I’ve ever seen. The exuberance and playfulness seemed to sum up something very Sydney-ish. Loved the Writers Festival too, great setting on the harbour, interesting speakers, large literary crowds. Talking of harbour faves – Grilled


Barra and chips sitting looking out  at the sun setting across the Harbour. Watching La Traviata performed on a pontoon on the Harbour, with fireworks and flying foxes accompanying the arias in the dusk

 

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Australian journalism – the ABC broadcasts current affairs, investigations, media analysis and Any Questions discussion panel across prime time Monday nights. Puts BBC shoving journalism out of the way in favour of Come dancing or whatever to shame. SBS broadcasts a range of shows to engage and reflect the range of cultures in contemporary Australia – reminds me a little of early channel 4. Both channels are largely in public ownership.

Public ownership – as are the trains (about a fiver for 200 kms from regional NSW to Sydney); utilities (not all), roads, and much more. This leads to a mix of low costs and irritating obstacles (imposisble to access outside working hours). Trade unions still determine conditions for most workers. Pensions funds are obligatory and employers make substantial contributions (17% in my own experience!!)

Language – finally realised that Australians speak Tabloidese – fitting as Murdoch’s birthplace. – love the Rego/servo/arvo/doco compressions. Also everyday use of more arcane language, so that rort is a common verb for scam or fraud, as in ‘pollies rorting expenses’.

Now the big ones: living quite differently in and on the land, and making friends far from home.

I want to write something substantial about how the Australian land has changed me, so will not say much here, except that the wildness of this continent generates an inner freedom to which I have responded deeply. Two years in the Blue Mountains have given me audio memories of the Kookaburra dawn chorus. Night skies that reach down to the rooftops in regional cities. The unfamiliar language of trees, not symmetrical, not shapely, the magnificent scruffy gum trees that scent the world. The light, shooting everything in HD, each leaf visible across distances.

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People

Nothing is impossible but it seems unlikely I will work again with such a creative bunch of colleagues – the location of my discipline (public or organisational communication) in a creative rather than business school meant I shared corridors with performers, writers and directors. People interested in bodies as well as brains, like the lovely Dan Aubin,  handstanding past my office door, an image that sums up SCCI at its best (pic to follow).

 

Last night in my Blue Mountains home – the owners want to sell so there’s a rather brutal 90-day notice routine. I hereby vow to talk to my tenants in Leeds before issuing any eviction orders. As a result, I’m moving at the end of a killing teaching session, completely exhausted by the technical and administrative demands of a 250-student subject with complex teaching arrangements, on campus and online, multiple staff and loads of new technology.  Too old for this lark.

Feels like a series of endings heading my way: having to leave has thrown ‘what am I doing here?’ back into sharp relief. A few weeks ago, a really nasty crash into leaping kangaroos on a mountain bend in the dark killed the roo, did nearly $10k of damage to the car and disrupted the well being I had enjoyed here until then. Impossible not to reflect that the kangaroo was just being itself; it’s the road that’s the intrusion. So the move closer to work will at least leave roos one car freer to roam at peace.

And while I already feel the loss of the dawn across the ridge, watching the sun, moon and stars from my beautiful brass bed, it was very helpful to learn from a friend that Aboriginal people never lived in the mountains: you go there to heal not stay. Time to move on.

Naturally, I’m writing this instead of packing. I tend to rely on magic – or my sister – to complete a move. After days and days of putting things in boxes, the removal van always arrives to a place that shows no sign of departure. Just a bit messier than usual. So heartfelt thanks to friends who came to the rescue in the week and just got on with the tasks that paralysed me.

Somehow, by this time tomorrow most of my stuff will be back in Bathurst – including furniture from local antique shops which I’d like to come with me wherever I go. Travelling heavy, as usual. My most loved books and prints, shipped over from UK only a year ago,  now back in boxes for who knows how long.

This was my Australian home and and I thank the trees for their fine company.

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January 26 is Australia Day, the anniversary of the first European settlers arrival. In other words, it commemorates the last five – white –  minutes of Australian history and disregards the rest. Following the universal general degradation of patriotism to nationalism, it has been co-opted to privilege one version of history over all others. I thought this cartoon about the call on the populace to stop what they’re doing and sing the national anthem at noon was satirical. I was wrong.

First Dog cartoon

And then this morning, heard that the top Australian honour has gone to Prince Philip. Honest. Thank God that these things are handled so ineptly they feed the opposition.

BUT, but but. Something is changing in me and this seems as good as any a day to record it. For example, this is the first post in months, because I no longer experience Australia as a visitor; it’s where I live and work. I’m not really Down Under any more, just here.

I also noticed in my recent role as tourist guide and fellow adventurer with my sister, Kate,  on her first visit here over Xmas, I kept saying ‘we do this, we do that, here’. Seeing the now-familiar through her eyes was also instructive, and this post is about some of those observations (pt1).

Kate arrived with a foot infection that worsened over several days, leading to multiple interactions with pharmacists and eventually (successfully) the Emergency Room – every single person was so kind, concerned, helpful and warm. And I felt proud! You can, of course, still find this generosity in the UK, especially in the north of England and outside major cities, but it struggles against the pressures of business and rotten wages and the long years of austerity which have barely touched Australia despite various pleas to tighten belts.

I also had a great time doing touristy things that turned out to not so touristy after all. I assumed Katoomba’s  Scenic World would be some kind of sub-Disney tat, but it was brilliant. The thrill seekers took the funicular down and made their way briskly to the Up transport, abandoning the temperate rainforest of the valley floor for us to explore. The interwoven strands of roots and 19th C mining cables were poignant, like traces of a lost civilisation, which I suppose they are.

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Admittedly the Jenolan Caves did look more like Disneyworld, on the surface at least, with a kind of Tyrolean look that seemed tenuously connected to the site and its Indigenous stories. But once underground, the magic was way beyond Walt’s imagination, with delicate organic structures as mysterious and beautiful – and old – as this land. Like a visit to the body of the Earth, folded and dark. The guide told the origin stories with such feeling our group of gawkers fell silent and let the tale seep into us like the crystal drips we could hear in the background. And then we emerged to the Blue Lake and fell silent again.

Jenolan Caves

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Blue Lake

– 4am, woken by this extraordinary noise, so close thought it was in my room. Couldn’t tell if it was large or small or  if it was killing or dying. Now identified as brushtail possum scaring off competition. Worked for me.

Free from the long slog of finishing my book, I can return to keeping notes on the glorious location I have landed in. Not that I didn’t notice before, just that all writing was to that one endless end. And of course it will carry on for months, revisions, queries, references…. But here, now, I can just record a couple of recent events.

The first is the arrival of black cockatoos to ‘my’ trees; they are rarer than their squawky white cousins and much much larger, the one perched in a nearby branch this morning must have been almost a metre. The black feathers are offset by a delicate pale green underwing, which becomes visible as they lift heavily into the air, like umbrellas in flight. Magnificent.

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The other interesting observation concerns my new friend the household Huntsman spider. Spider sounds such an inadequate word, given its hand-breadth enormity (to UK eyes anyway). But after the first jaw dropping encounters, I have made efforts to appreciate its (no idea of gender) presence, recognise it probably does more housework than I do, tidying up flies, and to think of us as sharing the space. Also it doesn’t scuttle or make sudden movements for which I can forgive it anything. I was trying to remember the Roman idea of household gods (penares??) but my Latin is almost as ancient as the language. Anyway, the other day I noticed that it wasn’t moving much, then that it had aligned all its legs in a straight line. I wondered if it was dying ( they live a couple of years apparently). Later, it took on such a strange shape of complex angles and far too many legs that I reckoned it had got lucky and I was witnessing two of them copulating, though it did look unfeasibly awkward.  Only when I googled moulting was it confirmed that I had watched it climb out of its old self – which lies discarded on top of a bookshelf (not sure how to handle that, might let natural degrading occur) – into a new lithe body. Neat trick.

There is a link showing this evolution for those brave enough to watch  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPybBNWx0fY

Spent a lovely few days at Wiseman’s Ferry on the Hawkesbury River, reading and thinking about next chapter. This is the location for Kate Grenville’s marvellous books, The Secret River, which I read lastyear and Sarah Thornhill, which I finished last night. They tell the wild west stories of settlers who first bought or blagged their way out of the penal camps round Sydney to go up river and strike out alone, a tale of hardship, reinvention and hideous crimes against aboriginal people. The cemetery in the pix is home to early settlers, no memorial for their victims I guess. The pub, the Settler’s Inn, is the oldest pub in continuous use in Australia, since 1836. Lovely place, beautiful spot. The river is wide and peaceful, despite it’s history.

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