February 2016

Thank goodness summer is officially over – I know after February the weather can come back and hit us, but the end of summer does give me hope that the worst of the heat and humidity is over.

I am longing for some invigorating weather – to perk me up and energise me into doing more writing. This Sunny Coast book is the hardest thing I have done yet and I keep finding things to prevent me from settling down and doing the actual writing. Stories are so much easier – they take on a life of their own and I just follow where they lead. Every word in this non-fiction book is an effort but I am determined to get there! I have a mental image of a stack of published books with gleaming covers enticing people to pick me up and read me!

With the end of the holiday period it was time for a dedicated return to work - to knuckle down, forget the uncomfortable weather and just get on with it. This month it was time to move the focus away from the beaches and discover those little known places on the coastal plains before climbing up to the more tourist oriented towns on the Blackall Ranges.

Getting out of the car in the tiny town of Beerburrum the first thing I noticed was the heady scent of the gum trees. The atmosphere immediately carried me back to 1952 when we arrived fresh from England and were taken to our new home. To huts once used by the army in the middle of the Australian bush at Frenchs Forest. Overwhelming was the shrilling of cicadas, overpowering was the smell of the gum trees that surrounded us on all sides. Would we ever adapt to this foreign environment? We did, and grew to love it. Sixty-four years later, there in Beerburrum carpark, the scent of the fallen gum leaves underfoot immediately brought it all back. I do wish I was a more skilful writer – for the life of me I cannot do justice to that fresh, sharp aromatic scent that is uniquely Australian. What I can offer is a poem I wrote a few years ago inspired by a painting by Australian artist Frederick McCubbin in 1904.

The Pioneer

Weak sunlight filters through the early morning mist,

low cloud silently enveloping the tall Blue Gums.

In the distance, through the clearing at the edge of the ridge,

can be seen a valley. Green, fertile and promising.

Fallen leaves and bark cover the ground, crunching underfoot.

The unique eucalypt fragrance of the bush fills the air,

unlike anything this small gathering of settlers has known.

Everything is extraordinary for these who have travelled so far.

Here even the sun illuminates the day differently.

Harsh, scorching and incessantly high in the sky.

Rains drum loudly, soak deeply, flood frequently.

Electric storms resound deafeningly, at times striking and splintering the tall trees.

The man pauses from his toil, the ring of the axe finally ceases.

The clearing is eerily silent. Birds taking some time to recover

from this unfamiliar, reverberating pollution of their world.

After a time their chorus begins once more; cautiously at first.

The undergrowth again rustles with insects and small animals exploring.

King Parrots now forage amongst debris, constantly searching.

Warily, wallabies appear at the edge of the clearing

until this weapon is wielded yet again, destroying part of their world.

The man selects another tree – fine, strong of limb, straight and tall.

He begins once more with his axe; this tool which will provide them with shelter.

Will create a home in this clearing in the dense bushland.

Will give new hope to what had been a bleak future with no promise.

He looks to the sky. Touches two fingers to his lips,

sends a kiss of thanks to his maker.

Sadly for the birds, he is just the first of many.

The start of a migration that will ultimately denude much of their precious habitat.

I mentioned last month I was joining a new book group – that happened on Monday and I had forgotten what a sociable way of passing a hour or two book groups are. Five ladies, all about the same age so we had a lot in common, and a good book to talk about - The Harp in the South by Ruth Park. This book is only seven years younger than I am and to my shame I delayed reading it for years because I was certain it would depress me. The slums of Sydney –the tough post war years – a drunken father. It was all there. And I wasn’t ready to take that on.

But, having committed if I wanted to be in this book group I began. Within a few pages I was hooked. Yes everything I had feared was there and more, the slatternly housekeeping of Mumma, the uncaring, unambitious, drunken father. What I hadn’t counted on was Ruth Park’s ability to create wonderful and memorable characters. Each and every one stayed in my memory – not once did I have to turn back and wonder ‘Now who is this one?” And I found myself caring for each one, despite their failings.

I cringed at the hold the Catholic Church had over them – the guilt they all felt for any human failing that they committed. Where was the forgiveness? It wasn’t until I read the second book Poor Man’s Orange that I found any understanding at all.

It was a long book by today’s standards, by which I mean overly descriptive. Compared to modern novels which are sharply written and move forward quickly, this travels at a slower pace, but despite that I found myself not wanting to skip passages. The pace was part of its charm. The images of life in Sydney were beautifully created and although it leaves one with a sense of despair for the family’s situation, you have to admire their inner strength and dedication to each other and their ability to make do and be grateful for the simple things of life. Could anyone these days imagine the total thrill and pleasure of Charlie and Roie at going on honeymoon just to the other side of Sydney to Narrabeen? The love of Mumma packing them some basic food items in Roie’s suitcase?

Ruth Park is, to me, a writer to be admired. For a book to be in print since 1948 is testament to her story-telling ability, her sense of geography and her ability to create believable characters. My final comment – why did I wait so long to read it?

Have a pleasant March and we’ll catch up again in April.

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