In No Way a Little Bush Maid
As I write, I am sitting at a rustically hewn wooden table in a kitchen overlooking a paddock. Across the way, I can see the waters of Adventure Bay, on the eastern side of the south half of Bruny Island. This morning, there were wallabies on the lawn in front of the patio, including one of the island’s 200-odd white wallabies. Birds were calling, including one that sounded like a squeaky bed being put to energetic use.
Yesterday, I was on a cruise around Bruny Island, heading far enough south to cross into the Southern Ocean (a new ocean for me!) to see seals, albatrosses, mutton birds, jellyfish and several kinds of gull. The little boat sped through the Monument formation at speed, throwing spray into the air and banking steeply past the rocks. (Do they call it ‘banking’ in boats?) It was a hoot.
Tasmania is tinder-dry at the moment, but even with the yellow grass and thirsty-looking plants, and signs of bushfires from both last year and the fire that devastated the island in 1967, there’s something magnificent about the Australian bush. A kind of austerity and hardiness about it. The skeletons of dead gum trees poke above the canopy of the regrowth like a signpost to tenacity. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but I can’t help but think of Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, My Country. I do love a sunburnt country. This wide brown land is definitely for me.
When I was a young girl (some time in the 17th century, it sometimes feels like) I used to read the Billabong books by Mary Grant Bruce (including The Little Bush Maid, of course). I also read a lot of Australian horse books, including the Silver Brumby series and books by Mary Elwyn Patchett). I loved Dot and the Kangaroo. I ate up Snugglepot and Cuddlepie with a spoon. ON TV I watched Skippy and Cash and Co and Luke’s Kingdom. In short, I devoured any and all stories set in the Australian bush.
Of course, I didn’t actually grow up in the bush. I grew up on air force bases and in suburbia. As an adult, my homes crept closer and closer to city centres until now I live diagonally opposite Melbourne’s former GPO – as close to the centre of the city and the 0 mile marker as I can get without actually living in the post office.
You see, here’s the thing. I appreciate that nature exists. I am glad that it’s out there, and that there are people who love living in it and are competent in that environment.
I am not one of those people.
As much as I like the idea of nature, I generally don’t much enjoy being right in the middle of the fact of nature. It’s itchy and hot and uncomfortable, or wet and miserable and uncomfortable. The paths, when there are paths, are uneven, and I have twisted my ankle or slipped onto my arse more than once. Scuttling things live in nature. Being Australia, they can be scuttling venomous things.
And please note, I do not have an irrational fear or phobia of spiders. I have twice been hospitalised with venomous spider bite, on both occasions in suburban homes. If that’s what they can do to me when surrounded by concrete and breeze blocks, what could they manage in their natural environment if they spat on their way-too-many hands and really got down to business? My fear of those little bastards is perfectly rational and based on painful personal experience.
Perhaps I’m just a living example of that whole dichotomy of the European relationship with this land, drawn to and terrified of it in equal measure.
The gorgeous lodge where I’m staying, at the Adventure Bay Retreat, is giving me a wonderfully safe way to prod at the fringes of the Australian landscape. I’ve watched the sun climb into the sky, listened to the kookaburras and that squeaky-mattress bird from the comfort of this beautiful wooden kitchen, sipping on an espresso coffee and eating toast and marmalade.
Last night, after the aircon cooled the house down from the very hot day, Tim and I sat on the patio with a glass of wine and watched a white wallaby and its brown herd-mates bounce down to the road. I read on my Kindle for a while and just before we climbed into a king-sized bed with fluffy soft pillows we went out to look at the stars and the wisps of white that give the Milky Way its name – something we never see from our city abode.
So yes, I’m a soft city girl. I need a buffer between me and Nature. I like a view of the sunburnt country that does not require that I, too, must be sunburnt, or bitten by mosquitoes (or spiders) (or snakes). I love the other parts of this beautiful planet, too: the deserts and forests I’ve seen, the farmlands and the mountains, the tamed suburbs and the untamed wilds.
But I always come home. Whatever the world has to offer, it’s still her beauty and her terror, her pitiless blue sky, this wilful lavish land for me.
Well, as long as a decent café latte isn’t too far away.
Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.