If anyone can get along to the Watermark Literary Muster at lovely Port Macquarie later this month, it’s a great festival celebrating Australian nature writing. This year’s theme is The Nature of Place and Childhood, and guests include Bruce Pascoe, Tony Woodford, Mark Tredinnick and Tony Taylor.
I’ll be reading from my essay ‘Triangulation’ – about my childhood of ironbark and stone – on the Friday, and am on a panel with Tony Taylor and Pat White, talking about our sense of wonder in relation to the natural world, on the Saturday.
I’m fiddling about trying to chose which bits of the essay to read at the moment, so an extract below ….
Ironbarks are my heartwood. They cling to the hilltops and paddock edges in the dry land of my childhood, in Central West New South Wales. Much of my family’s property is flat or gently rolling: wheat, cattle and sheep country. Most winters, the paddocks still run soft and green. Ghosts of big old yellowbox linger in the paddocks, dropping limbs.
The countryside was once covered with dense scrub and tall trees. By the 1890s, tree cover had receded to the hills, a part of the property we have always called ‘Up the Back’. It is stony and steep, which makes for poor farming, but thick with ironbarks, cyprus pine, wildflowers and wildlife. It was to these hills I was drawn as a child.
From twelve or thirteen, I camped out alone with the rocks, trees and stars. I would carry in everything I needed – at first on foot and, later, on my motorbike. To reach my campsite, I had to cross the main road and the neighbour’s paddocks, negotiating three difficult gates. The final leg was a tough climb over logs and rocks.
There was a flattish site for a tent and a large stone fireplace, overlooking crop and grazing land; straight boundary fences and lanes transecting the curves of tree-lined creekbeds and ridgelines. After sundown, my ironbark sentinels faded into the dark. The sky was bright and vast, sounds carried from far off, and I could just make out the glow of the next town.
By day I wandered, collecting itchy seedpod boats from beneath kurrajongs to sail on the dam, interrupting mistletoe-infected trees admiring their own reflections. Or sketching the delicate bluebells that appeared, as if from nowhere, in spring and summer. Below my campsite, on the cool side of the hill, there were a handful of boulders. They lay as if scattered by a giant. No matter how carefully I climbed down, the black wallabies thumped away at the first snap of a twig or scrape of my boot, leaving me to explore the ferns and mosses and orchids: a secret world of green.