Then and Now

Here we are again – another weekend has just whizzed by, leaving me whirling. Yesterday, Saturday, saw me trying, more or less unsuccessfully, to sleep in, followed by a load of laundry. Then a friend of mine swung by with a couple of teenage lads in her car, and we took them to the local tender centre where I saw an outrageously appealing fireplace/wood-stove: an antique with beautiful wrought-ironwork and filigree ceramic work with what could have been a cooktop on top of it, an attachment for a chimney at the back, and lovely little monster-feet keeping it up off the floor. I really, really hope whoever ends up with it appreciates its beauty as much as I do.

Then the boys kicked a football around a beach, and we sipped coffee watching them, with my reflecting that I really must do a bombing-run  to a beach soon to collect great hanks of seaweed to add to my fermenting compost heaps for all those valuable minerals and soil conditioners.

More laundry followed, and more of it again today. I didn’t get to collect seaweed – I plumb ran out of time. I did get to drive my daughter around and went on an errand for her, during which I handed out my card quite unexpectedly and asked for a regular reading gig. It’s been a couple of months since I’ve had regular hours somewhere, and I’m finding that although I pull cards out on a regular  basis, I miss having a corner of somewhere all set up and being available and on call.

Over the last few months, I’ve also been getting calls from as far away as a good two-hour drive in assorted directions, from people who have picked up my business card somewhere.  Slowly, slowly, I need to pull my energy inwards: I can do more good in my local community than I can in more far-flung areas. And this will indeed by my community until at least some time next year – I won’t be going back to the red-earth areas of Western Australia just yet because of family needs.

I love red-earth country, specifically the Eucla, stretching inland from the southern coast of Western Australia. I love the distances, the red claypan or yellow schist, the clean, dry air, the thin, wiry trees hardly taller than I am, and with their dehydrated trunks thin and knotted, the “undergrowth” dotted here and there, not blanketing the soil at all, the spare feel, the sense of home, the sense of country.

Before I moved there I was an Eastern NSW girl by circumstance and history though not necessarily by preference, and frequently felt lost. I had no sense of direction. As soon as I hit Western Australia I suddenly had a strong sense of how the world was arranged around me: I never got lost, I always knew where to go and where everything was. I belonged.

Coming back east for the benefit of the people I loved, I was happy to do so. But there was a pang about doing so – I knew I’d miss the space, the driness, the redness, the clay, the people, the slowness, the safety of being able to leave your car unlocked with your wallet on the dashboard for days and knowing it would still be there, and your house unlocked twenty-four hours a day no matter where you were or what you were doing.

And yes, I do miss it. But driving back east and crossing the Great Divide at about the Hunter, I became aware of just how waterlogged the Eastern Coast of Australia was. The trees seemed far too tall and their trunks seemed bloated with water, broad and full and not stringy at all. They were too close together: I was used to landscapes that physically could  not support trees too close together, that simply didn’t have the moisture. And the grass and weeds were so fluorescently green! I was used to yellowish or grey grasses and under-flora.  I was used to warm, dry colours, gentle on the eye and inviting. Driving through the Hunter the greens seemed like an assault on my retinas.

I stayed in my friend Lynn’s granny-flat in the leafy end of Tumbi Umbi for several weeks when I first returned, while I secured a job and looked for a house. A large, sprawling house on acerage arranged around an atrium that housed fantastic plants, sculptures and turtles, it boasted a tennis court, visiting kookaburras who used to breakfast with us, and a well-appointed two-bedroom granny-flat where I stayed until I found a place of my own.

Despite the rural nature of that part of the suburb and the retreat-like nature of the house and its land, it took until months after I moved out to get used to the awful smell of the Central Coast: the smell of car exhaust fumes mingled with hot, rancid cooking-fat. When I first arrived, this smell permeated the whole of the Central Coast, no matter where I went or what I did. I know it still does – it’s just that my  nose has been re-educated not to notice it.

I also miss rural night-skies. There were no street lights in town (why would you need them?), so you could just go outside on  a clear night, and see everything as if you were looking through a fine telescope. The couple of hundred stars you see here, not even in a major city, turned into thousands upon thousands of them, as if the sky were a table covered with black velvet and someone had flung a container of silver glitter across it. Inside every constellation you might see here, there are hundreds of stars that you simply don’t see, that become noticeable in the bush. You can even see the shape of the galaxy itself. I really miss country nights.

And I miss early mornings: spending five minutes walking out of town, then hard-walking for an hour or so, to return just after sunrise, have a cup of tea, and go to work. Often one of the older Aboriginal guys, John, would visit at about the time I came home, and I’d make two mugs of tea and we’d sit in a companionable silence, watching the birds wake up and start their day’s chores. I doubt whether we exchanged more than a hundred words in the whole time I was there, but I still count him amongst my most special friends.

My lifestyle of running errands in the green and waterlogged coastal strip is entirely different to my lifestyle back west and I can’t deny that I’m terribly homesick, but living here has its compensations also. Good friends here as well as there makes me feel as if all is not lost. I am a person of two worlds.

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