What it was like for me, and why I’ll be going back first chance I get.
I lived in the heart of “town” – two-to-five minutes’ walk from every business and every home. A good brisk ten-minute walk will take you right out into the wilderness. There is one pub (centre of social life, sells alcohol), two petrol stations, one caravan park, only one grocery shop who are acutely aware of the power of their monopoly, one hardware/building supply/general oddments shop, one pharmacy that serves three towns. We have half a doctor – he comes in from his home town a couple of times a week. We have no government employees of any kind other than two supposed full-time policemen (they open up shop at around ten or 10.30am depending on how they feel, and are generally gone again by lunchtime), and no crime for them to police. Hell, we can even leave our keys in the ignition of our cars, the door wide open, and our wallets on the dashboard in full view of the street, and be comfortable in the knowledge that things will be the same when we
return three days later. We have no counsellors, no mental health professionals, no need for them either.
The earth is red, courtesy of iron oxides, liberally sprinkled with pure bauxite pebbles. Rainfall is -er- valued. Highly. There is a Noongar (local indigenous people) myth that in the dreaming when there was nothing but void, one of the sky-woman (“sky” and “spirit” seem to be almost interchangeable words) menstruated, and where her blood fell, it congealed into earth and created this land. We are just inland enough not to have the buffering effect of ocean currents moderating temperatures, so we are always far too hot or far too cold for human comfort.
The continent is speckled with towns like this, but this is one of the best of ’em. In small towns like this with only a couple of hundred residents, people’s attitudes to newcomers like me can only go two ways. One is acceptance, open hearts and open arms. The other is suspicions about the newcomer and refusing to welcome them or communicate with them. It is a measure of how this town chooses to go, that I was completely happy here.
There is no need to be in the closet here. At “Halloween” last (actually, Beltaine), I made up lolly-bags for all the kids, but I included a small typed statement as to why they were six months away from the correct date, and what the celebration actually means. I’ve had no feedback, and certainly no negative feedback. The school principal is fairly friendly with me, so when I can, I’ll ask if I can make a speech at the school assembly a week or so before.
This is my dreaming, my country. The first forty-something years of my life in NSW, I was always a bit lost, although I am a happy person by nature: I had no sense of direction, and had problems laying down new maps in my mind. In Western Australia on good red earth, I suddenly knew exactly where I was at all times, how the landscape shaped itself around my body, where I was, where everything and everywhere and everyone was.
The driness is my driness. The sticky red mud when it finally does rain is my sticky red mud. The spare trees, stringy and spaced judiciously, are far friendlier and just more right than the bloated, over-tall, water-swollen trees of coastal NSW. The granite, basalt, schist and quartz of an ancient, eroding landscape are my rocks. The greys and yellows of grass there, both native grasses and imported grasses, are the colours that grass really should be in a vibrantly coloured, vitally alive landscape. The flatness of many millions of years of erosion with occasional outcrops punctuating it like Wave Rock or the Ravensthorpe Range (which wouldn’t be as high as NSW foothills, and wouldn’t even be graced with a name in NSW), are my flatnesses and my hills.
And probably the happiest moments of my life were first thing in the morning, before sunrise, when an elder of the local people, John, used to drop by my place. He would never knock. If I heard the chair on the front porch squeak, I knew to make two early morning cups of weak tea with soymilk instead of one, and go out and sit with him. I never asked him how he preferred his tea, and he never told me or complained. I’d hand him his cup in silence and we’d sit together and sip, watching the light slowly start to spill across the landscape, and listen to the small birds start to stir and go in search of dew to drink.
This was my country, and those were my mornings.