Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.

 

 

 

 

 

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Big Red Bash #6: Finally – the BRB

View from Big Red

Finally, after travelling the Adventure Way, reflecting on the Burke and Wills Saga, and hanging out in Birdsville, it was time to head out to the Big Bash campsite. To ease congestion and prevent long delays, Roll In to the campsite had been extended over three days. We didn’t take up the offer of early entry but there were still plenty of  vehicles heading out with us on Tuesday morning.  At times it did seem a bit like a free for all on the road, as at one point there seemed to be almost four lanes of vehicles, all travelling in the same direction, all jostling to get further ahead in the pack. We just took it easy – after all, we’re all going to the same place.

Arrival at the Big Bash was well organised with plenty of guides to point us in the right direction and help us find a spot. It was quite a unique experience camping among a crowd numbering in the thousands and there was plenty of dust floating in the air as campers walked back and forth from their campsites to the stage and Big Bash Plaza. Definitely not a place for wearing white.

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The View from Big Red

One of the top things to do at the Bash is climb Big Red. The sand dune is quite deceiving. You don’t realise how tall or steep it is until you start climbing. Luckily, I had Dan to tow me up the side, although I do think he picked the steepest route possible. It is only from the top of Big Red that you really get a sense of the size of the crowd.  It was also the only place where you could get a signal, so everybody had their phones out, taking selfies and sending messages. If you wanted to make a call, you had to climb Big Red.

Beach Volley Ball on Big Red – Version 2

Big Red was a fantastic playground for the kids who spent all day and some of the night climbing up and sliding down, over and over again. There was also a beach volley ball court on top. You probably couldn’t get a court that was further from the ocean than the one on top of Big Red.

One of the most interesting features of the Big Bash Campsite were the self-composting toilets. I thought they were really cool. Port-a-loos are standard fare at any festival these days, but these worked more like long-drops, except that the drop was into a wheelie bin parked underneath, rather than a pit in the ground. The loos were located all around the campsite, mostly in sets of about eight, and a sprinkle of sawdust was used to facilitate the  composting process. By the time we got out to the Bash we were quite used to lining up, but the line up first thing in the morning was always especially long. The thing I liked the most, though, was the unique artwork on the doors. No two doors were alike.

Big Red Bash Toilets – Version 2

The Big Red Bash provides a lot of opportunities for campers from across Australia to get to know each other. People socialise with the campers next-door and give a hand with a flat tyre or leaking water tank. On Wednesday morning the crowd came together to cheer on the participants in the Bashville Drags Race. Competitors, dressed in drag, climbed to the top of Big Red and then raced down the dune and into the campsite. I was impressed with the array of glitter, feathers, sparkling tiaras, flowing wigs and gorgeous gowns on the mostly male field. It was hugely entertaining and raised money for a very good cause – The Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Then on Thursday morning, there was the Guinness World Record attempt for the Biggest Nutbush Dance. Aiming to beat 522, practice sessions were held so participants could perfect their technique and then they nervously lined up in place, hoping they wouldn’t be the one tapped on the shoulder for being out of time. With about 2000 participants, I think the record was well and truly achieved.

The crowd

Of course, the real reason we had all gathered at the base of Big Red in the dust was for three days of classic Australian music entertainment which kicked off on Tuesday afternoon. Campers trekked down to the stage area loaded with rugs, folding chairs and eskies packed with refreshments. Hats and sunscreen were a must for the afternoon and coats and scarves for the evening, because as soon as the sun slipped below the horizon, the chill of the desert could be felt.

It was so good to see big name artists willing to endure a little discomfit, the dust and the desert to put on a show at an iconic landmark like Big Red. Not only does it raise essential funds for the Flying Doctor Service but it brings tourists into small rural towns feeling the bite of the drought. We enjoyed all the acts. Adam Brand got the crowd on its feet for a tribute to the soldiers who fought and died for their country. Dan really enjoyed The Angels and Hoodoo Gurus rocking out the desert. And on Thursday night we sang our hearts out with John Farnham and his classic “You’re the Voice”.

Camel Rides – Version 2

Camel Rides Were A Popular Activity

And then it was time to pack up and go home. There were about 7,000 people and over 2,000 vehicles camping out at the Big Bash and most of them wanted to leave first thing Friday morning. Getting 2,000 vehicles out of the gate in an orderly fashion was going to be no mean feat. We had already heard stories about the long delays of previous years, so we got up early, before 6am, when it was still only -3.5 degrees, packed up and joined the line. We were in the line up by 6.45am and that’s where we sat for the next hour until they opened the gates at about 8am. Tempers were getting little testy when some campers, who thought they could just sleep into 8am, tried to push into the line. We didn’t have a radio in our car but apparently there were some choice words being said over the airwaves!

Considering the large number of campers lined up, the Roll Out did proceed pretty smoothly and we were out the gate by about 8.30am and heading back towards Birdsville. Again, it felt like travelling in a long convoy, although by this time, we weren’t strangers so much anymore, but fellow bashers. As we all headed down the highway, I don’t think we expected to be pulled up in a drive-thru random breath test, west of Windorah, in the middle of nowhere.  I guess the police thought they might catch some campers who had had a heavy night, but it did slow the traffic down a little coming into Windorah, where, of course, everybody wanted to fuel up.

Incoming!

Fortunately, the Windorah locals were ready for the onslaught. No doubt they probably saw the cloud of dust drifting in from the West and yelled “Incoming!” They had a detour all set up to divert the campers away from the main street and through the fuel stations in a steady but orderly fashion. From Windorah we went on to Quilpie for the night, where, in the middle of town, we hit our only kangaroo for the entire trip. Fortunately, it was only just a little stunned.

We were now approaching the end of our outback adventure, and needing to be back home for Monday, we took the most direct route along the Warrego Highway through Roma, Miles and Chinchilla. We had a really great trip and enjoyed our time at the Bash. We’d like to go again some time in the future, but perhaps next time we’ll bring some friends too. Throughout the trip I had a little project going on, which will all be revealed in the next and final post about our Big Red Bash adventure.

Big Red Bash #4:Betoota – Ghost Town

 

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The word “outback” brings to mind visions of an open barren landscape, sparsely populated, dotted with the ruins of abandoned homes and towns. Yet the journey into western Queensland has been anything but solitary. All along the way, we have been part of a long convoy of caravans and trailers, many heading to the same location – the Big Red Bash.

Whenever or wherever we stop, one of the first questions to be asked of a fellow traveller is, “Heading to the Bash?”, followed by, “Where are you from?”. From all over Australia, music lovers have hooked up their vans and trailers and headed for the Bash. Some are travelling in groups, while others, like us, are travelling on their own. But it doesn’t matter where you stop, or who you meet, the friendliness of strangers is always the same. There is a sense of camaraderie. We are all heading into a remote and harsh landscape, and you never know when you will need to depend on the kindness of strangers.

As we headed north from the Dig Tree along the Arrabury Road, we could see the direction of the road by the long dust cloud that preceded us. We could even count the number of vehicles in front of us by the number of dust clouds. Sometimes we would pass a group of caravans that had pulled off onto the side of the road for morning tea or smoko, as it is often called in regional QLD. With a friendly wave, we would move up a few places in the convoy.

The landscape was indeed quite barren but possessed a stark beauty. You might wonder what could survive out here – but then, we are currently in the middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory. It would be interesting to travel out this way after a wet winter and see the difference.

Haddon Corner

 

We took a little detour off the main road out to Haddon Corner, the point where the borders of Queensland and South Australia meet. It wasn’t until we actually got almost to the end of the road, that we discovered you had to cross two sand dunes. We made it over the first sand dune, but decided to ditch the trailer to cross the second, and pick it up on the way back. I must admit, after all that, Haddon Corner was a little disappointing. I was at least expecting a sign, but there was a monument.

And finally we arrived at Betoota, a ghost town, with a population of zero.

 

Betoota Sign 2

So, why go to Betoota?

In Australian culture, the song “A Pub with no Beer” has achieved iconic status. Immortalised by Australian country singer, Slim Dusty, the words go like this…

But there’s nothing so lonesome, so morbid or drear                                                    Than to stand in a bar, of a pub with no beer…

The story of a pub with no beer actually dates back to 1943, when a farmer called Dan Sheahan wrote a poem about a pub with no beer. His poem became the inspiration for  Slim Dusty’s song. You can read more about Dan’s story and poem here.

 

Betoota Hotel

For the last 20 years, the Betoota Pub has been a pub with no beer. Like Noccundra, the Betoota Pub is the last standing building in what was once the town of Betoota. But not for much longer. The Betoota Pub is currently under renovation, with the aim of reopening in August, in time for the Betoota Races. The new owner happened to be there and was quite happy for all the tourists to have a wander through the pub and see the progress so far. The idea is that the pub will be open during the peak tourist season and perhaps for private functions. So, if you’re thinking of getting married in outback QLD, you might like to keep Betoota in mind!

After wandering through the pub, we headed down to the creek to find a peaceful little spot to camp. Plenty of other travellers had the same idea too. It was nice to enjoy the quietness before joining the throng of the gathering masses in Birdsville – our next stop.

 

Betoota

Big Red Bash #3: Burke, Wills and the Dig Tree

Coopers Creek

Cooper Creek

The Dig Tree is an important site in Australian history and in the sorry saga of the Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition. Set on the bank of Cooper Creek, it is a popular camping spot for Australian tourists and the place where we stopped for our second night on our way to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash. It is a peaceful spot. It is almost 160 years since the ill-fated expedition and the landscape has changed little since Burke and Wills first clapped eyes on it and yet, it is a stark reminder of the need to respect the outback.

Dig Tree Campsite – Version 2

The Burke and Wills Story 

Robert O’Hara Burke was the leader of a Victorian expedition to cross the Australian continent from Melbourne, on the south coast of Victoria, to the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the north coast of Australia. Leaving Melbourne in August 1860, the team experienced a series of calamities, including broken wagons, torrential rain, rat plagues, starvation and disease.

Three months after leaving Melbourne, Burke established a Depot Camp on the bank of Cooper Creek, where the Dig Tree is now located. From the Depot Camp, Burke set out with three men (William John Wills, Charley Gray and John King) to continue on to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The men left at the Camp were instructed to wait for four months.

Burke and Wills did make it to the Gulf, although they didn’t quite get to the open ocean. However, the journey had taken two months and 2/3 of their rations. Gray died on their way back to the Depot Camp and when they finally staggered into the camp, it was deserted. Finding a coolibah tree emblazoned with the words: DIG (the Dig Tree), they discovered buried provisions and a note explaining that the rest of the team had left – just that morning. 

Dig Tree

The Dig Blaze

By this time, King and Wills were so weak they could barely crawl, so instead of following the departed team, Burke, Wills and King followed the Cooper Creek and this is where Wills, and then Burke, eventually died. Of the four men who set out from the Depot Camp, John King was the only one to make it back to Melbourne. He only survived because he was taken in by an Indigenous tribe, who cared for him until he was found by a Relief team in September 1861.

The bodies of Burke and Wills were eventually recovered and buried in Melbourne where they received a state funeral – the first for Victoria – and in their honour, the expedition was renamed The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition.

The Dig Tree is believed to be about 200-250 years old and is now protected by a board walk and guard rail. On a tree nearby, there is an image of Burke’s face, carved by John Dick in 1898.

 Brave or Foolhardy?

Seven men died.

Three men, Burke, Wills and King, walked a total of 5,000 km from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria and back to the Depot Camp at Cooper Creek.

But… Relief teams mounted by Victoria, South Australia and Queensland did succeed in surveying and mapping areas of the interior, which up to that point, were unknown to the white community.

This is just a brief summary of a story that is both fascinating and tragic and you can discover more about Burke and Wills here. From the Dig Tree we head north to a small town called Betoota, with a population of …0. But that’s next time.

 

Source: http://www.burkeandwills.net.au

Big Red Bash #1: Camping in the Outback

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I love camping. There’s something restorative about getting away from the rat race and heading for the great outdoors. Camping is a family tradition. I have many happy childhood memories of family camping trips. Our family first started out in a caravan, and then, when we outgrew the caravan, we graduated to a tent. At first we explored the popular scenic and historic tourist routes of Australia, but then we started to venture out into the National Parks and the Outback. Away from the city you can actually see the stars, toast marshmallows over a campfire and observe the native fauna in their natural habitat. It’s certainly an experience I wanted my own children to have too.

Dan and Bec love camping as well. Our first camping trips were in a purple and green dome tent, and when we outgrew that, we graduated to a camper trailer. Every year while visiting family in QLD, we would take a few days out to go camping in one of the National Parks close by. Before Dan started school we took a few weeks exploring the south-west corner of Western Australia. We tended to gravitate to the natural settings – the beach, the mountains or the bush, but we had never gone into the real outback. A few weeks ago, that all changed.

the world’s most remote music festival

In early July, Paul, Dan and I hooked up the camper trailer and started out on a trip to the 2018 Big Red Bash. The Big Red Bash, also called the Bash or the BRB, is the world’s most remote music festival. It is held at Big Red, a 40 metre sand dune west of Birdsville, QLD. The Bash began in 2013 and has continued to grow each year. It’s a really great celebration of Australian country and rock music and raises money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. When we saw this year’s line up – The Angels, Hoodoo Gurus, John Farnham (just to name a few) – we knew we just had to go.

We have been camping before, but this trip was going to pose a few challenges. First of all, it would be the longest camping trip we had taken for quite some time. After 10 days together in a car and camper trailer, would we still like each other? Would we all make it back in one piece?

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Big Red Bash Campsite

 

Secondly, camping in the outback means: no power, no running water, no supermarkets. Camping without power and running water isn’t really an issue. We’ve done it before – just not for 10 days. We were also going to an area that was kind of remote and an environment known for its harsh conditions. It would require careful planning and carrying certain items in case of emergency. On the bright side, however; we were not going to be alone. Approximately 9,000 other people from all around Australia would also be heading to the same location.

Thirdly, we were going to be covering some big distances. By the time we would get back home we would have travelled over 3,000 km. However, as you travel west, the towns get fewer and much further apart. Apart from our first night and the days out at Big Red, our itinerary in between was a little hazy. A reasonable part of our trip would be on unsealed roads and road conditions can change quite quickly if the weather turns wet. So we would have to be flexible and play it a bit by ear. We were on holiday, after all.

Needless to say, we made it back safely, still all in one piece and still liking each other. We had no major incidents, met some great people along the way and had a fantastic time. Camping in the Australian outback is not something to be embarked on without due care and thought, but the stark beauty and harshness of the landscape inspires awe and respect. 

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As you can probably tell from the title, this is just the first part of a series on our Big Red Bash experience. It’s the first time I have done a series so I hope you enjoy reading about our adventure in the outback and be encouraged to explore the great outdoors in your own part of the world.   

A Walk in the Park

 

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We’re pretty spoiled for parks here in Toowoomba. There are the Japanese Gardens at USQ, the waterfall and walking track up at Picnic Point and Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge where Dan goes everyday. Right in the centre of town there is Queen’s Park where many events and festivals are held. And then there are the numerous small parks and playgrounds dotted around the suburbs.

Just a few minutes walk from our place is the West Creek Corridor, a stretch of parkland that follows the creek into the centre of town. It not only provides a recreational area for locals but also a wetland sanctuary for birdlife. One of the main features, though, is a walking and cycling track that follows the creek. On any given day, weather permitting, you will see any number of walkers, joggers, cyclists, mums with prams and dog-walkers out for a spot of exercise or just a bit of fresh country air.

Most days I try to find time for a walk along the path too. I like the way the path meanders through different environments – under a canopy of tall palm trees, over open grassland and through a patch of tall, dark forest. The path criss-crosses the creek, so even if you go for a walk everyday, you can still take a slightly different route each time. And if you follow the path far enough, you will pass thousands of bats hanging from the trees.

The bats are a story in themselves. There used to be a miniature railway under those trees. Until the bats moved in. After fruitless and expensive attempts to move the bats on, it turned out to be cheaper to move the railway across the road to a different spot in the corridor. Once a month the Toowoomba Live Steamers run miniature steam trains along the railway and for the cost of a two dollar gold coin, anybody, even adults, can have a ride.

There are other fun things to do along the West Creek Corridor. You can rest for a while on a bench and watch the ducks and ibis on the lake. Or, if you’re more the energetic type, you can make use of the free fitness equipment scattered along the walkway. You can bring a picnic lunch or cook some snags on the BBQ while the kids explore the playground.

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When I wander along the walkway and see the birdlife, the leaves changing colour or the trees beginning to flower,  I find it hard to believe that Toowoomba was once known as The Swamp.  Sadly, I see that the magpies are starting to gather. Magpie season is just around the corner, which means we might soon need to give the walkway a miss for a while.

Lucky for us, though, we have lots of other places we can go for a walk in the park.

The Curse of the Green Ant

Bluebottles, redbacks, green ants – funny how some of the nasty stingers of Australia are known for their colour. We are the country of the great outdoors, the wide open spaces, the bush and the beach, but we also have some of the most poisonous wildlife. You don’t need to venture into the bush or frolic in the surf to be assaulted by a native stinger. Danger lurks within the safety of the suburban backyard. Yes, I’m talking about the green ant.

Rhytidoponera metallica is their official title, but we just call them green ants. I was always a little puzzled by the nickname of green ant as they always looked somewhat black to me. However, up close they are a metallic green colour. I’ve never really taken the opportunity to have a close look at a green ant. Usually I’m just jumping around, swearing and grabbing an icepack as fast as I can. You don’t usually feel the bite, but you know when you’ve been bitten. They hurt. They really really hurt. Enough to make you cry. It’s the worst sting I’ve ever experienced.

In the last few weeks I’ve had two close encounters with green ants. The first time I was wearing thongs, hanging up the washing, and then… Ow! You little ****! I finish hanging up the washing, all the while my toe is throbbing and I can’t wait to get inside. I spent the next four hours with an icepack on my toe. Yes. You read that right. Four hours. They hurt for a very long time and the only thing that I have found to give some relief is an icepack.

The second time, I thought I was prepared for the outdoors, but the little varmint crawled up my shoe and inside my sock to attack my ankle. Apparently they only bite when they get lost. Well, if they stayed in the grass and didn’t go wandering all over my feet, they wouldn’t get lost! Another morning spent with an icepack wrapped around my ankle. This time I figured out a way of holding the icepack in place so I could get some work done.

Today I bought a large container of ant sand and sprinkled it liberally under the clothesline and around the edge of the patio. I usually have a live and let live approach to wildlife, except for spiders that invade the house. I don’t necessarily want to kill the green ants, I just want to keep them away from the areas we use the most. I guess green ants are just one of those things we have to learn to live with.

Queensland– beautiful one day; stinging the next.

 

Just Too Cold!

The rain splatters across my windscreen, as the wipersrain-275314_1920 track back and forth, left to right. The road is littered with debris; broken branches, leaves and bits of rubbish that circle and flutter across the road. As we sit in our car, parked temporarily at the traffic lights, I watch a group of pedestrians cross the road, umbrellas held tightly in their hands. As they make a 90° turn and head down Herries Street, their umbrellas suddenly lurch into inside-out mode.

Over the past few days, some parts of South-East Queensland have received the equivalent of a month of rain. Apparently, it is even flooding further up north. It looks and feels like the middle of winter, yet my calendar tells me it is the middle of October. Spring. Where has the sunny weather gone?

This sudden burst of cold, wet weather has sent us digging out the winter woollies we had packed away until next year. We are scrounging through the pantry and freezer for hot soup, pies and hearty stews to warm us up from the inside. We have even had to turn the heater on.

Despite the cold weather, the rain is certainly welcome. After a dry winter, the grass was looking rather brown and bare and the water tank had been empty for some time. When I look out the window now, I can see that the weeds are growing beautifully. They are tall, green and lush. Hopefully the grass will catch up soon.

After living in Queensland for almost 16 years, I have had a recent reminder of what I have been missing from down south. Just a few weeks ago, prior to this cold snap, we packed our suitcases, boarded the plane in Brisbane and flew down to Adelaide for a week’s holiday with family. My Dad has just turned 80. The day that we left Brisbane, it was expected to be about 35°C. A little warmer than usual for this time of year, but quite enjoyable. When we arrived in Adelaide, the pilot announced it was currently 14°C. Are you kidding!

Adelaide is always a little cooler than Queensland, so we had checked the forecast and packed accordingly. But we forgot. We forgot that even though the numbers look the same, they don’t feel the same. 17°C in Queensland is different to 17°C in Adelaide. In Queensland it would be OK, maybe a little cool, but all right. In Adelaide – it is freezing. We froze.

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I grew up in Adelaide and I can remember the long, cold, wet, windy winters. I remember putting my school uniform inside my bed, so that it would be warmed up by the electric blanket while I was having breakfast. I remember huddling in front of the gas heater and wearing so many layers that I felt like a penguin. I remember all of this, and yet I was still unprepared for the cold.

Neither of my siblings live in Adelaide anymore either. My brother lives in Perth and my sister lives near Sydney. My brother and his family were able to come to Adelaide for my Dad’s birthday too, and they froze as well. I didn’t feel so bad then. We were all wearing at least three layers of clothing, while my mother was only wearing one and seemed to take great delight in telling us that it wasn’t cold. My mother never feels the cold.

It’s funny though, how we have acclimatised to a different environment. After years of us all living interstate, we all agree. We could never go back to living in Adelaide. It’s just too cold!

 

Spring – At Last!

 

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, the sun was shining, and there was just a little breeze. It was the perfect start to a new season. I am so glad to see the back of winter, even though this winter has been unseasonably warm. When we moved to Toowoomba, just over two years ago, it was the middle of winter. That first week was absolutely freezing. One of the first things we did, was go out and buy electric blankets. I haven’t needed an electric blanket since I left Adelaide, twenty-one years ago. Technically, the Australian winter is June to August, but down south, winter can be much longer than that, beginning well before June and lasting well into spring. I can remember wearing so many layers of clothing that I felt like a waddling penguin. Queensland is different though. Winter in Toowoomba can be quite cold but at least it is short.

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When we first moved to Queensland from South Australia, the constancy of the warmer seasons was quite apparent. Down south we could have heat waves with temperatures over 40°C for up to five days straight. But then a cool change would come in from the ocean and the temperature could drop dramatically overnight. It’s not like that here. There are small fluctuations but generally the weather is fairly constant. It is definitely the land of the long hot summer.

The beginning of spring always seems to give a new burst on life. It’s the time to get outside, go for a walk, get active and shake off the winter blues. In Toowoomba it is almost time for the Carnival of Flowers. The city’s parks and gardens are a hive of activity, getting the floral displays ready for the influx of visitors.

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Laurel Bank Park, Toowoomba, QLD

Sadly, we don’t have much of a garden. Living in a rented house, we’re not exactly allowed to dig up the yard and plant stuff, but we do have a lovely little patio at the back which we have been busy filling up with pots of herbs, veggies and flowers. It’s surprising how many plants can grow quite well in a pot. The cherry tomatoes and strawberries are already flowering and I can imagine there will be an argument over who gets to taste the first strawberry.

As the weather warms up, we are looking forward to getting outside, spending warm evenings on the patio, with a cool drink and some nibbles, and watch the sun set in the west. Spring at last. Hooray!

 

Waterfalls

I have a thing for waterfalls. There is something about them that always draws my attention. Perhaps it is the sound of the water as it rushes down the rock face and hits the water below. Perhaps it is the freshness of the spray that lingers in the air. Or maybe it is just the way the sunlight dances on the water as it pours over the escarpment and weaves its way over and around the rocks. It is a symbol of life; quenching thirst, refreshing dry skin, essential for survival.

I grew up in South Australia: the driest state in the driest continent. There are a few waterfalls in South Australia, but like many Australian waterfalls, they can be seasonal. Most of Australia’s waterfalls are found in the Great Dividing Range, which runs from the tip of Queensland down through New South Wales to the Grampians in Victoria. It is over 3,500km long and the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range, or the Range, as it is often called.

One of my favourite places in Toowoomba is a recreation area called Picnic Point. It is actually one of the oldest recreation areas in Toowoomba, established around 1885, and has undergone a lot of changes since then. On a clear day, there is a great view to the east, down the Range, to the Lockyer Valley and beyond. But my favourite place at Picnic Point is the waterfall garden.

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It’s not a real waterfall. It was constructed back in 1965 on the face of a bluestone quarry and over the years they’ve done a lot of work to create a rainforest setting. It’s quiet, shady and secluded. Except for the steady drone of the traffic in the background, you could almost forget that you were in a large regional city. The rock face is about 5m high, so it’s certainly not a big waterfall, but I like the sound of the water as it drops from the top and flows down through a series of pools. On either side of the largest pool at the bottom, there are two old-fashioned lampposts that remind me of The Chronicles of Narnia.

As soon as I step out of the car, I can hear the waterfall. I know that every time I come to Picnic Point, except in times of severe drought, I can expect to hear that sound. Just the idea of a waterfall fills us with expectation. On our recent trip to the Crows Nest National Park I was filled with that same expectation. After walking through the bush, past the water pools, up and down numerous steps, I was expecting to see a waterfall. Sadly, I was disappointed. There was no water. Not even a trickle. It’s been a very dry season. Despite the disappointment, I am determined to go again. No matter how many times you see the same waterfall, it is never the same. Every time is different and that is the beauty of nature.

In the meantime, I know that I can go back time and time again to Picnic Point, wander down the short path to the waterfall garden, sit in the shelter, listen to the kookaburras laugh and watch the water as it tumbles down the rocks. When I have had my fill of serenity and solitude, I can return to the hustle and bustle, refreshed and replenished – until the next time.