Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Shack - a sketch for "Into the Blue: walks in Gundungurra country"

Kowmung river

In the middle of winter 2011 Tara and I visited The Shack, a property on Scotts Main Range in the southern Blue Mountains, owned by the Catholic Bushwalkers. Maureen and Bob Anderson were my hosts. This is a rough sketch of that trip for my forthcoming book.

The property has an interesting history. In 1875 aboriginal man John Jingery bought it on conditional purchase - this term is the same as ‘selection’, the conditions of purchase being that he had to show that he was living on it and had made 'improvements'. There was a time limit of three years to show fences, house, clearing. 

It was a bit wild when Maureen and Bob took us for a walk. All of this country  is bisected by what used to be the Cox's river, but is now Lake Burragorang ( Sydney's main dam and water supply). 

the lake full
like a satisfied diner - 
black ruffle of wind

On the ridge where you can see the lake in the distance, ( covering what used to be the Burragorang valley) there are axe-grinding grooves in the loose stones.

Lake Burragorang -photo DW Noble

traces on the road
of an ancient river - 
round smooth stones

At a junction there are a very few remains of what used to be Robert O'Reilly's selection. Much later on, he leased his land out to Bert Reiner.  

Bert's ancient fence
wire slackened and curling out
cannot hold the wind

We walked on. John Jingery lost hold of his stony ridgetop in 1877. 

Maureen and Bob took us to Kowmung lookout, where the river, undammed and untamed, is far below. 

And then they took us to a cave where people may have sheltered in times long past. 

It was quite a long walk out to the Mt. Cookem lookout. On the way, we saw glossy black cockatoos  - as they took flight, they looked like stained glass windows with their red streaks of feather. At the end of the road, you can look out to the northeast, and see Black Dog ridge. 

It was the best route out of the Burragorang valley to the Megalong valley.

from Cookem - Black Dog ridge 2nd from left or 3rd from right

We had walked quite a long way, and turned back towards home and warmth and shelter. My daughter strode out in front. Winter - it is lyrebird breeding season, when the male sings his heart out. 

if I could
I would be your lover
lyrebird on the left

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Autumn in New Zealand

northern rata flower - a relative of pohtakawa

I went across ‘the ditch’  for a visit to my homeland - just came back last week. Here is a rough sketch, in haiku, of my time with family and friends. From Auckland, where I’m from, we went up north to a place on the coast below the Bay of Islands.

the sound of waves
slapping the land
lipping the sand

my brother snoring
in the room next door
tuned to the sea

One of the best things about this part of the world is the pohutakawa trees. 

They love the coast, have masses of red flowers in summer, and are great to climb in. We had a large old tree in our garden when I was a child. My sister tells me that I used to climb into it with my dolls and read to them from the Bible.

I went down to Kawhia, south of Auckland. It being autumn, we thought we might go mushroom-picking in the paddocks behind the sandhills.

no mushrooms today
the sheep watch curiously
in the fading light

Mt. Pirongia beyond Kawhia harbour
While New South Wales was being slugged by torrential rains and hailstones, the weather in this west coast village was fine most of the time (unusually so). We decided to go for a walk on Mt. Pirongia, which rises a little inland of the harbour at Kawhia and is a volcanic mountain, like Mt. Taranaki down near New Plymouth ( called Mt. Egmont when I was young). You can see Pirongia from a long way off.  Our friend L. remembered seeing it from the army base at Ngaruawahia where he lived as a child.

There were some really wild blue fungi growing beside the track - and others less gaudy - white ones. The blue ones are hallucinogenic - don't try this at home, kids!
the epiphytic northern rata - vines climb the host

But the tawa forest we walked through, on a very good track, was rather quiet. We heard bellbirds - the odd tui - and a whirr of wings.

kereru sits through
the peak of our interest -
what a snowy breast!

Possums, stoats, rats and humans have had a huge impact on the native birdlife of New Zealand.  There is a major conservation effort in removing or excluding these pests. We think possums are cute - not so in New Zealand. They are also responsible for the ‘silent forest’ as it is called. The Acclimatisation Societies in the nineteenth century, which thought it would be cute to have bunny rabbits and other foreigners hopping about in Australasia, did a lot of damage to biodiversity. This forest has been peppered with bait traps, and we were thrilled to see the northern rata flowering. Normally the flowers are just what the possum had in mind for its meal. We were there just at the right time to see it - autumn.

As we climbed the last bit to Wharauroa lookout, another pest manifested.

goats hurtle down
the rocky hillside
goat smell follows

The rock hillside they descended was almost vertical - no problemo! They were so fast.

At Wharauroa lookout, Raglan in the northwest behind us
For the first time ever, I attended the Anzac ceremony at Kawhia to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by many, in times of war. I marched for my grandfather, Percy Levy, who went to World War One. It was very moving, without making any statement about the rightness or wrongness of war, any war. In this tiny town, there was a huge turnout, people had gathered from all around. 

A pipe band from Te Awamutu played and gave dignity and emotion to proceedings.   

something so lovely
from something so ugly -
wreaths on Anzac Day

We marched to a cenotaph outside the library, where I was standing next to a man, and a friend came up to greet him. They rubbed noses: so intimate, to hear their breaths mingling like that. What is this form of greeting called? I don’t know. But I always come away from New Zealand / Aotearoa having learned a new Maori word or concept. This time, I learned “tangata whenua” which means, “people of the land”.