Uplift

Outside is looking remarkable. Outside is looking beautiful. An almost pinch-yourself-is-this-actually-real kind of sensation. One bringing delight rather than dread.

I was sat on a random log the other day, pleasant late afternoon sunshine nourishing the world. Rarely do I sit and stop and watch all the things going on around me: the ants milling about productively, transporting their wares in selfless community organisation; the magpie creeping from one spot of grass to the other, surveying for delicacies, a curious sideways look at my presence; the chirrup, somewhere, of two crimson rosellas, partners for life. The world going about its business.

There is an astonishment in this landscape of such verdant abundance. Where so recently it was so barren. The resilience of nature bearing fruit, flourishing again.

As well as sitting on random logs I randomly tried to capture this transition, this journey, this bounce back. Scrolling my phone for past images, dusty and brown. Attempting to line up positions and angles and replicating shots. Not always easy to know exactly where you have gone before. Fiddling about so much that sometimes it’s just far easier, far more satisfying to give up, sit on a log, and just watch the world.

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The Bullen Range and Brindabellas from Cooleman Ridge, 6 weeks apart

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Remember the smoke?!

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Scenes from Red Hill – 1

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Scenes from Red Hill – 2

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Scenes from Red Hill – 3, with random logs

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With age goes wisdom

If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, said like no politician in the history of the world ever. This becomes apparent in the brief snatches of news footage or articles I have intermittently stumbled across in relation to the UK election. So, from what I can make out, some commie wonk stumbled when feeding a shiny-faced posh man a bacon sandwich, who choked upon hearing Scotland are going to build a big high speed rail bridge bypassing England to Europe, but turned up to the NHS only to find it riddled with BBC bias and a wealthy man of the people chuffing a cigar hand-crafted by Romanians he secretly keeps in his shed. Meanwhile, some woman had a baby, which like happens every minute of every day of every year. Oh Britain, how I miss you.

All this leads me to say that I don’t have much to say; not because there is nothing nice to say, but really since things (unlike Election 2015, oh yes!) are fairly mundane. The biggest event was having all four wisdom teeth – intricately shaped at angles in the kind of x-ray you see in medical journals – extracted. Convalescence was aided by frozen peas, warm soup, and gentle walks around the leafy, crunchy, rainbow suburban streets.

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apr07Like Batman getting my powers back, things progressed at a steady pace: work was sadly possible but also happily income-giving; hills could be walked up; soup became mashed potato became fish curry became shepherd’s pie…until finally I could mercifully manage a bacon sandwich. The bike could be pedalled, when the variable weather was having a good day. And wine could be safely drunk, useful when on a charming tour of Lerida Estate two weeks post-wisdom.

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ANZAC day came and went with its usual amalgamation of touching remembrance, freedom- embracing alcoholism, and political posturing. This year, one hundred years after Gallipoli, there were more TV dramatisations and politicians posturing than ever. I spotted in Target the day before that you could buy a ‘Camp Gallipoli’ swag. Yes, you too can sleep out like the ANZACS, though I presume without the cloying mud, stench of death, and general sense of imperial-driven futility.

The dawn service – a genuinely poignant and worthy lamentation for the death and sacrifice of war – was attended by something like 120,000 people. Too late to the party, I stood alone, upon a nearby hill, the sun rising above the early mist of dawn as magpies uttered melodies, and the shadow of gums were given new life. Standing to see the sun, lucky.

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And with that I really can’t think of anything else to be said.

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The climate changes

Little things, sometimes performed unconsciously, indicate a time of change. There is the walk for morning coffee, in which you now seek the sunny section of pavement rather than its shady, covered counterpart. At home you have to reach in the darkest depths of your wardrobe for – god forbid – a sweater; only to discover that they are musty and holey and jaded and faded but at least protect against a cooling evening. Scattered on a nearby chair are the vagaries of climate suitable attire in late March: shorts from two days back (27 degrees), and a hoodie from the night before (2 degrees). Tracksuit pants come back into fashion, at least inside the privacy of your own home. Outside, the basil flourishes, at its most bountiful before frost decimation. And, excitedly, thoughts turn to how it can be used with red meats and red wines, frequently together.

Shorts and salads were still the preferred modus operandi for most of March, and suitable for a reasonably easy-going walk on the Settler’s Track down in the remote southern tip of the ACT. A scattering of huts and pastoral remnants speak of a far challenging time, and one can only recoil in fright at the thought of icy winter winds seeping through the gaps in the wooden planks that made for walls. The comforts of a piddling new town called Canberra lay distant, across brown plains upon which a permafrost lingers, gnarly tangles of stunted gums and dense mounds of wattle lining the mud-racked excuse for a road. Today, we had a bit of a sunny picnic and returned to Canberra in air-conditioned comfort in an hour, with only a little part of the road slightly bumpy.

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The climatic downshift has produced more amenable conditions for burning some of this land, doing so in a controlled and measured manner. The intention of this – previously practiced by the original inhabitants of this continent to great success – is to reduce the fuel load for more intensive and damaging fires in the summer months. Thus it is an act of destruction that protects and regenerates, with any luck clearing out tangles of invasive weeds to open the way for more friendly natives.

The controlled burns were noticeable this year in their seeming proximity to Canberra. Partly this an illusion, a foreshortening of distance created by the lines of ranges to the west and the hidden deciduous streets of Canberra in between. It is heightened by the smell of smoke in the air but at no point was the largest ugly concrete building in Woden facing any threat, even as plumes of smoke spiralled in the hills behind like some kind of Jurassic Rotorua. Alas, while the ugly tower survives the smoke, the light, the angle of the sun upon its equinox, the time and day and place and year produce some memorable, cherished Redhillian sunsets.

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With the fiery skies appearing earlier each eve, and the increasing need for arm and leg coverings, panic can start to grip the citizens of the national capital. There is alarm that it may get down to fifteen degrees, a temperature in Australia requiring scarves and beanies and carbon intensive wood fires. Concern too that the Australian right to enter the ocean and brag about its perfection to the rest of the world is on the wane. Easter escapes may (though things seem to be changing) herald the last chance to wade in the water of the South Coast. So I thought about going down there over Easter too.

In the end, I changed my mind, and went a few days earlier because the weather was perfect, ideal for a spur of the moment day trip that is only possible with self-employment. Old favourites of Mollymook and Depot Beach, with some fish and chips in between. Shorts and sandals and, yes, gentle wading in the ocean. Something surely to brag about.

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My pre-emptive conniving worked wonders because, in the main, the long Easter weekend was one of those in which Canberra (and the region) did its best to imitate Britain. Two days of cool greyness without a break, then two days of heavy downpours, possibly followed by a debate between seven charm-filled politicians arguing about HIV-laden Europhiles stealing our tax money jobs and murdering badgers with Clarkson or something. Ideal conditions for some reading and lounging and DVD watching and baking and napping. In this context, in this climate, it seemed right that the clocks changed, and – at least from the perspective of time-fixing – winter commenced.

easter05The first morning on winter time turned out to be delightful. For a few hours the clouds went away, and the sun delivered enough radiance for a comfortable period of shorts-wearing. The morning light and air contributed to a Red Hill glow, projecting upon the grass and gum trees and ranging hills in the distance. Rather than signalling a decline, the change of clocks appeared to induce a spurt of wild industriousness. Cockatoos plentiful, screeching from tree to tree; pairs of rosellas flitting amongst branches; galahs flaming; and of course the kangaroos, forever grazing and looking all rather nonplussed about it.

Giving Red Hill the hill a run for its money was Red Hill the suburb. easter06From what seemed to be shaping up to be a relatively mundane autumn – with lots of early browns and leaf losses noticeable – a week which turned from warmth and sunniness to a condition of damp mildness appeared to have fashioned a more elaborate state of affairs. And amongst this fading technicolour the birds lingered too. Foraging and flirting and feasting, the fruitful trees bedecked with gang-gangs.

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easter09This Easter Sunday suburban sunshine was relatively short-lived. What followed, I guess you could say, were April showers. Thus a planned escapade into escarpment wilderness on Easter Monday became sedated somewhat and, instead, transformed into reasonably gentle ambles within nearby Tidbinbilla. Like suburbia, the wildlife was out in force here too. A few koalas and wallabies sheltered amongst the Peppermint Gums. Swans and pelicans and magpie geese and the duck-billed platypus and platypus-billed duck confirmed that it was nice weather for ducks. Weather that was – well – cold. Cloaked in long trousers, T-shirt, hoodie and raincoat it must have been fifteen degrees or something. And as the sun surprisingly filtered through the rising mist of cloud lifting from the mountains, there was joy in rushing out from the shade of trees and bursting towards its friendly warmth once again.

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The twelve themes of Christmas

On twelve days after Christmas, my true love gave to me, another serve of leftover Christmas pudding with valiant Tasmanian attempts at clotted cream. By then it was 2015, and I was thinking that this indulgence really needed to come to an end. But the Australian Christmas seems a more elongated affair, blending as it does with summer holidays which creep all the way to Australia Day at the end of January. I say this every year, but Christmas in Australia is still somewhat bizarre and while I adore the lazy holiday feel and the addition of fine seafood to the agenda, a large part of me craves a good windy winter storm and a good windy dose of roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts.

While there are obvious differences between the Australian and European Christmas experiences, both are obsessed with a crazy excess of food. And so a day or so prior to Christmas I had acquired an esky full of crisps and nuts, chocolates and puddings. A fridge full to capacity with ham and sausage rolls and cream and cheese and (just for a touch of balance) fruit and salad. Longevity was the name of the game for the ham, and the hidden orange Christmas pudding (serves 10), took me alone a whole week to devour. In some way I was glad to see them go, but also a little wistful that they were no longer a part of my life.

Christmas Day itself was a suitably multifarious affair, bringing together the Australian, the Anglo, and the Italian. The day commenced with what any good day should – a walk up Red Hill in preparation for calorific overload – before a relaxing hour of reading and an early shandy with nibbles at home. jan01From then on the eating proceeded with a mostly seafood lunch involving the largest prawns ever created, sweets, desserts, nibbles, barbecue, sweets, snacks, more nibbles, etc. Presents were unwrapped, outdoor chairs were reclined, family discussions were robust. And to cap the day, I came home for a touch more nourishment and a little drink to lubricate the Skype calls to Europe.

By New Year’s Eve, some food stocks were depleting and I needed to buy more provisions from the supermarket to prepare salads and desserts for an excellent few hours of outdoor pool soaking, meaty barbecuing, and, well, dessert-eating. It was here that the tiramisu I made delivered everything I wanted and more; better than the Italians’ creation (soaking time was important after all) and more satisfying than watching the Sydney fireworks on the TV. Is it me, or was someone just shuffling through their iTunes playlist and skipping tracks they didn’t like that much while some crackers went off to fill the night sky with smoke? There was some discussion on the news the next day (post 11am) that London may be giving Sydney a run for its money in the New Year firework stakes. Again, the natural advantage that is that beautiful harbour may well be a cause of complacency.

jan02There have been some natural and arguably more spectacular fireworks anyway. The hot dry summer which occurred in November has now been usurped by a north Queensland period of sunny, sultry mornings building to climatic storms and downpours later in the day. The pattern has been so recurrent that the days are becoming almost entirely tediously predictable, and so activities (unless they involve storm-chasing) are almost best undertaken in the mornings.

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Fortunately, for the prospect of my cholesterol and obesity levels, I have been able to engage in decent amounts of exercise over the holiday period. In part, this is merely an extension of my normal life and having lots of time to do things in, rather than some hyped-up resolve to get fit. Local walks are a normative feature of the days. Most frequently of course this has involved trips to Red Hill reserve, where all is well with just about everything and everyone. But such has been the excess of free time that I have even sought out walks elsewhere!

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One such place was Cooleman Ridge, which obviously is not as good as Red Hill but – being on the western edge of Canberra – has a more pastoral aspect. Hobby horses and scattered cows dot the fields, still relatively golden despite the stormy interludes. Somewhere yonder the brown waters of the Murrumbidgee laze, splitting the tamed grassland with the bush-tangled upward thrust of the Bullen Range. Further west and the larger mountains of the Brindabellas hit the sky, ever-present and ever-enticing.

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It was up into these hills that a more substantial adventure transpired in between serves of Christmas pudding and tiramisu. A mountain walk along the high borders of the ACT and NSW, taking in the summit of Mount Gingejan07ra (1,855m), offered the perfect antidote to Christmas torpor. And it wasn’t even too difficult – the first six kilometres along a fire trail with interruptions for forest views, bird sightings, flower-filled glades, blue-tongued lizards and lunch beside a rickety mountain hut.

The remaining kilometre to the rocky outcrop capping the mountain was a more steadfastly uphill affair, the trees giving way to grasses and sphagnum moss and more flowery glades and the odd snow gum. The views increasingly opened out to reveal vast wilderness stretching west and south, and even east, at least until you could see the tack-like tower atop Black Mountain, looking diminutive in comparison to the ridges of bushland lain out before it.

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Being in the interlude between Christmas and New Year, the feats of energy required to climb a mountain were intrinsically counterbalanced with a delightful stop on the journey home. Emerging from the car fridge three cool beers, trophies of conquest to accompany crackers, cheese, ham, nuts, dips, vegetables and pickles. Extra weight to provide extra grip as the car wound back down the gravel of Brindabella Road.

Beyond the walks, the bike continues to receive attention and while the category 4 climbs have been a bit absent of late (attempted once in the midst of the Christmas pudding / tiramisu jan09period with less than impressive results), it has been nice to venture lakeside and use a bicycle as a functional means of attaining coffee and shopping. A day spent re-visiting some of the national attractions was ideal by bike, and trips to town are scenic and satisfying, despite the fact that this means entering stores glistening and red-faced.

And if all that wasn’t sporty enough, golf has become a feature on the agenda of late, aided by the light evenings and cheaper twilight rates. Surprisingly, my game has been passable and there have even been a few shots to remember. Alas, such is golf that it seems the more you play, the more the bad habits return, and the memory of why this is such an utterly infuriating but addictive endeavour becomes real again.

So it seems that the holidays have been reasonably active, but for every climb up Red Hill there is an afternoon nap. For every pedal along the lake, a stretch out on the settee, reading and infrequently observing cricket in the background. I enjoy this time but also feel sometimes like I should be using it more productively. This is when writing may kick in, whether something inarticulate about my boring life over the Christmas holidays, recollections of trips of the past, or deliberations on the month of January. I’ve found some of the writing to be particularly pleasurable in an old-fashioned pencil and notepad kind of way, from a blanket in the Botanic Gardens to a bench down by the Cotter River. However, the scale of my endeavours has been, at best, average. Prolificacy bears no correlation to time availability.

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Part of the problem has been other distractions. Distractions that are entirely self-created and – if you were to analyse it – may symbolise a deliberate intent to enhance procrastination and delay doing something that sounds like it could entail hard work.  Morning coffee is a distraction, particularly when it has involved trying to find an alternative venue while your regular favourites are closed over the holidays. Visits to the Westfield shopping mall are a distraction, though I feel only I am partly to blame here, having been kindly provided with vouchers to spend. And technology, always a distraction. More so when you spill a whole cup of tea over your iphone and unfortunately have to upgrade, and then spend several days visiting the Westfield shopping mall to get a protective, tea-resistant cover (picking up a takeaway coffee whilst there).

Alas, the interference from technology and its associated expense may mean that time availability will have to decrease at some point reasonably soon. Living off my pre-Christmas earnings will not last forever, as much as I want it to. This is not helped too with the purchase of a new body (for my camera) and an almost slavish desperation to travel to some places sometime in 2015. But still, I have a day at the cricket, a trip to Sydney, and it is Australia Day weekend soon enough. No need to do anything too drastic just yet, the year is still but a baby.

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Horsing around

As the Chinese year of the horse arrives it has brought with it a combination of solidly earnest work, galloping around, and figuring out which stable to call home. January holidays lingered and lingered and lingered much like the hot air that became trapped over Canberra; there was only a gradual easing of chilled out pottering about barbecue infested feb03pavlova stoked swimming pool days. To be honest, after several days of not doing that much at all, things were crying out for a cool change – a change of scenery, and a re-acquaintance with the Kings Highway to the coast.

It was but a day trip, but the cloudy coastal skies parted just briefly at Depot Beach and the temperature was just about pleasantly perfect for that shoreline walk around to the sands of Pebbly Beach and back. They are no WA sands, but for being just a couple of hours away, they are a reminder of the good fortune of a capital location.

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In the capital, February arrived and as predictably as floods in a flood plain people returned back to work and wanted some things doing. This is good, for the downward trend in my current account was keen for some reversal. It was a trend heightened by the cost of moving house, of finding a little flat to rent and paying a deposit and needing to populate it with some furnishings and trinkets and things to eat off, and using up petrol for trips to the shopping mall to buy these things, along with the odd frozen yogurt with lots of cookie dough bits. But I am now mostly there, with just a few further acquisitions to make it feel like home.

feb04While it is pool-less and a hefty stroll to decent coffee, the blessing of this place is that it isn’t very far from where I have lived for all of my Canberra life. Nestled amongst the oaks and gums of the suburb of Red Hill, it is a place anticipating awesome autumn wondrousness, a spot from which to navigate a higgle-piggle of crescents and spill out into the foot of the hill itself. The hill that has been there for me for quite some time and continues to offer a concentrated release of nature.

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And of course, the best thing to do when moving house is to coincide furniture-moving and setting up in 38 degrees with a few work meetings and presentations. Being busy is something I need to re-learn, and while I feel comfortable with the way things are heading, the alarming proposition of ironing a shirt (with the new iron from Kmart) for the first time in eight months can be a little much to bear.

So I’m still really just settling in, in many ways. Over the past week I have only spent one night in my flat – in between a work trip to Sydney and another, longer visit to that South Coast. It was a coast that offered little in the way of sun, but the temperature was ambient and the company was fine and there was plenty of opportunity to indulge in food and marginally walk it off on the sands of Malua Bay. And if these lazy days all became a bit too much, you could always pop into Batemans Bay to potter around Kmart again and grab a coffee.

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Of course, as is tradition, the sun returned the day of leaving the coast. Luckily I was able to linger just slightly, and return once more to Broulee in the morning. feb07The first place I ended up when coming down this way in September 2006, a place name plucked out of the air and a glance at the map. A spot in which you are always thanking your good fortune to be in. And wondering, um, should I have rented somewhere here instead?

Yet, not for the first time in my life, I ended up back in Canberra and returned to my new home and did some washing and started writing these words with a cup of tea and twirl and put on the radio and felt quite content. I think I will be quite happy here.

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Kangaroo country

Nothing can be quintessentially more Australian than the sight of a man in a cork hat and grubby white singlet riding a kangaroo to work. Apart from a man on a kangaroo in a cork hat and grubby white singlet hopping over lethal spiders and snakes while fleeing a bushfire with a rescued koala, only to get to the safety of the beach and discovering a shark infested bay peppered with box jellyfish, causing a bunch of boofheads to gingerly enter the water in thongs to retrieve their cricket ball with one hand because the other is grasping onto a stubby of VB like it is the last bottle of insipid but undoubtedly cold beer in the world.

Of course, all of that is nonsense [1], lest I be sued by VB which is a popular and well-loved beer in certain areas and so well-loved it appears on the shirts of the Australian cricket team, which perhaps speaks for itself in so many ways. What is undeniable is that the kangaroo is an icon, so much so that it appears on the national airline and encourages you to buy home grown products. If you ask someone overseas to mention the three things that come to mind when they think of Australia, they will most likely say beaches, kangaroos, and punitive policies for people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum, dressed up as a concern for their safety and not really about winning votes from a cluster of the population who have an underlying xenophobia stemming from their own challenges in paying the mortgage on a home which is unnecessarily big for their needs and encountering traffic on the way to Kmart, thus displacing the blame for this onto others who are widely vilified and helpless to stand up for themselves [2]. Still, we have nice beaches and lots of open space for kangaroos, so it’s worth defending right?

The kangaroo was here long before the first boat people arrived to overrun the country and its culture. A popular myth is that ‘kangaroo’ meant something like ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand’ when Cook, Banks et al enquired of local Aboriginals what on earth this peculiar creature was. Like all good myths it has subsequently been debunked [3] but you can understand why it still does the rounds. It’s a convenient story that encapsulates the sense of the bizarre, the other-worldly, the weirdness of the flora and fauna that was encountered by the first boat people. A befuddlement that continues to this day as more people spill, primarily, out of international airport terminals and come face to face with Australia.

Initially you could be forgiven for thinking that Australia is a sunnier, newer, even happier [4] version of the UK, with a US touch of the gargantuan about it. But what sets it apart as wholly unique, exquisitely exotic is its flora and fauna. The kangaroo, perhaps in conjunction with wily white Eucalypt trees and shrieking cockatoos, is the readily available, easily accessible face of the Australian bush, and a long, long way from distant, familiar lands. Perhaps that is why, even after seven years, the sight of a kangaroo bounding out of the trees and across golden grasslands brings a smile to my face and, still, a sense of wonder.

I cannot write about these experiences and this topic without covering time on Red Hill, Canberra. I may have written about this place before. I came across it three days into arrival in Australia, fighting a fight against deep afternoon jetlag driven sleep. Determined not to fall into a coma and then awake all night, I set out along charming suburban streets on one of those beautiful, clear, warming late winter afternoons. It could have almost been an old English summer. Gradually climbing in altitude and property price, the streets ended abruptly as the very richest backed their way onto the grassland and steeply rising bush of Red Hill Reserve. Without intricate knowledge of paths and trails I headed straight up, short and steep to the lookout cafe. Here I viewed Canberra from high for the first time, had a coffee and saw a handful of Eastern Grey Kangaroos milling about without much of a care in the world (much like myself really).

Since that day I almost always saw kangaroos at Red Hill, particularly as I was wont to wander there of an evening. Huge mobs would gather in the grassier patches at the bottom while others would linger along the ridge up high. Mothers and their kids would eye me with suspicion or, perhaps, familiarity. A stand-off ensued, one waiting for the other to move on. But I often emerged the victor in these early days, because I would have my camera with me, and everyone knows that as soon as you bring your camera up to your eye to take a picture of some wildlife, the wildlife flees.

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Certainly it was hard to restrain myself from taking a picture every time I saw a kangaroo. It was a natural reaction because back then it was all so extraordinary and therefore entirely warranted. Increasing familiarity has restrained my picture-taking compulsion since. In fact, I don’t tend to take my camera up Red Hill anymore…hell…I don’t even go up Red Hill anymore, since I am presently 3,000 kilometres west and it is a trifle inconvenient. However, frequently armed with camera elsewhere a kangaroo or dozen have popped into view. They emerge within the context of a wider landscape, as natural as, well, a man in a cork hat and grubby white singlet. They undoubtedly add something to the mood, grounding the scene in something that is so very obviously Australian. And thus, still, so very exciting.

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Kosciuszko National Park is one of Australia’s great national parks, taking in vast swathes of upland country and river valleys in New South Wales. In winter the highest parts are caked in snow, in summer all parts are swathed in flies. It’s a fairly unique environment for Australia, which is mostly dry, brown and flat. Termed alpine, it is not so in the sense of being blessed with gigantic peaks and glaciers; instead ridges and clumpy mounts offer a scene more akin to the rounded peaks of northern and western Britain [5]. It is an ecosystem that is all-encompassing, from rare possums and miniature toads in the boggy bare stretches high up, to common wombats and kangaroos and all of their derivatives [6] in the bush and plains further down. 

Kosciuszko is not so far from Canberra but on one occasion, having spent some time working in the town of Albury, I approached it from the west. It was a long weekend of high country meandering, through the northeast of Victoria and into New South Wales before crossing the Main Range and ploughing on more familiar roads back to Canberra. Approaching the end of March the landscape was in a state of transition, from the dry, warm summer to freezing cold winter nights and winds and rains and occasional snows. The hairpin drive up Mount Buffalo – the closest thing Australia has to an Alpe d’Huez – came with freezing fog that cleared to warm sunshine. The valley town of Bright was commencing its ascent into blushing autumn saturation and wood-fired air. And the trudge along an endless ridge towards Mount Feathertop was blanketed in cloud, a stark contrast to the clear fresh vale below.

Crossing into New South Wales and finally into Kosciuszko National Park, there is eventually a sense that these are proper mountains and not big hills, as the highest points of the Main Range, glowing in the sun above the tree line, rise up more dramatically from this western vantage. The road on this side twists and turns along a narrowing river valley, the dense green bushland plummeting down the hillsides occasionally broken by huge pipes belonging to the mammoth Snowy River Hydro scheme. At some point the road rises and crosses the range at the evocatively named Dead Horse Gap, but before this tortuous ascent, there is respite at Geehi Flats.

Geehi Flats appears like some hidden valley idyll, where the opaque water of the Swampy Plains River broadens and a swathe of grassland punctures the dark green tangle of gum trees. A spacious area along the river offers rustic camp spots and opportunity to amble. At the northern end a couple of old wooden huts testify to exploration and discovery and, now abandoned, the harsh realities of surviving in the high country [7]. Within this clearing the afternoon sunshine illuminates the rise up to the Main Range and onwards to the white cotton wool clouds hovering above. And as I stare at the serenity, a large Eastern Grey kangaroo stares back. Suddenly I feel like the intruder.

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On the face of it, it is nothing remarkable…a sighting of an animal that I have seen hundreds of times before and so common in an area where it is protected to thrive. But in the landscape, in the setting, in the primitive high country context it feels very special, like I am the first white man to see it and it is the first kangaroo to see a white man. It is so amazed that it even lingers while I take a photo. It’s a chunky unit, but it is meagre within the scale of the whole, minor against the vast wildness of the scene. Yet here it sits entirely natural, a perfect foreground marker within the larger composition of my vista. What lies before me is Australia and I am reminded at how fortunate I am to be a part of it. Still a land of untapped discovery, of boundless space and unknown potential, it is something to cherish, to protect, and to share. And while the kangaroo is perhaps the pinnacle of the adaptive powers of evolution, as Australians we can still be much, much better than this.


[1] Clearly we only ride kangaroos around on the weekends for leisure, duh. Else the ute wouldn’t get much use.

[2] See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/22/captain-rudd-australia-depths-shame for just one well-written, reasoned commentary on Australian Government approaches to ‘boat people’.

[3] Not by the team at Mythbusters I hasten to add, but by (and I quote Wikipedia) linguist John B. Haviland in his research with the Guugu Yimithirr people.

[4] I am unsure about this at the current time of writing, with a UK heatwave and cricket team in the ascendancy.

[5] However, rising above 2000 metres it is far higher than anything in Britain, a boast many Australians like to boast about.

[6] By which I mean the whole raft of hopping marsupial type things like wallabies, wallaroos, euros, jackeroos, jillaroos, brucearoos, kangabies, roosabies, poosaloosaroos etc etc

[7] Like camping overnight, when the warm daytime temperature plummets quite dramatically and uncomfortably

Links

All you ever needed to know: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo

Everyone’s favourite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRQnrY5V-rY

Walk the hill: http://www.tams.act.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/390592/cnpmapredhill.pdf

Kosciuszko National Park:

http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks/parkhome.aspx?id=n0018

Hi, country: http://neiliogb.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/hi-country.html

Stop the votes: http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/24019/

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Golfing

There must be an age in the life of every male in which you suddenly find it desirable to slash a thin stick of metal at a small ball in every which direction over the rambling grounds of manicured parkland. It can happen as a nipper, inspired by fantastical feats of sporting idols. It often hits in the thirties, a way to keep active in an agreeably sedate way and escape from life’s chores, e.g. wife, children, shopping, shopping with the wife and children. And then of course, it goes hand in hand with retirement, like a golden handshake of expensive Big Berthas and disastrous Pringle pullovers.

I quite like the appeal of golf right now, being in my mid thirties with a penchant for early retirement. It’s something that has been around since my teens when, like many teens, I was more active with a naive hopefulness that I may one day be the next champion striding the fairways with a fluorescent green cap and stripy pants. This activity tailed off at university and never really resurrected itself, with only sporadic bursts of wanton destruction around eighteen holes since. But I still have clubs, lots of balls and one of those Michael Jackson type gloves with grubby marks buried away at the bottom of a comedy sized golf bag.

I think I was introduced to the world of golf by my brother, as often happens when one has an older brother. Initially this was via Golfer’s Delight or some other weekly supplement that you collect the parts for and put into one big binder over 684 weeks. You know, the things usually advertised after Christmas like Diesel Tanks and Artillery Transport of Europe and Super Crotchet Life. Anyway, as well as profiles of top golfers and top courses it had tips on how to be a great swinger and expertly control your balls [1].

Other media increased exposure to golf. On the TV there was of course the joy of hearing Peter Alliss rambling on and on about old Bertie Wallopsworth of Surrey Heath Golf Club having his 120th birthday Texas Scramble [2], while somewhere in the background a golf tournament was taking place. Then there was the thrill of getting Sky Sports hooked up in some dodgy arrangement and watching the US tour on a Sunday evening, full of whoops and hollers, fluoro greens and sour old hacks commenting on the state of young people today. It often also included as accompaniment a whole bag of cheap peanuts from the corner shop and / or a genuinely king-sized Mars Bar. Then, when print and TV couldn’t fulfil this exposure there were even computer games – memories of Links 386 where a computerised ‘you’re the man’ or ‘too much club’ was a marker of progress; and some Jack Nicklaus golf course design game with the world’s most disturbing theme music.

G_golf1In the real world my first set (or mini set) of golf clubs came from Argos [3]. This allowed me, post birthday, to escape to Central Park in the long summer evenings to probably annoy my brother and his new found golfing friends, one of whom I’m sure was shaping up to be a first rate psychopath in the quality of his hissy fits and club throwing. Avoiding the ageing course attendant with his black teeth and ever-present eau de cigar, we would sneak on the course, make up our own holes by combining bits of one with the other and generally play until you couldn’t see the drug pushers hanging around the toilets anymore. It was not the fantasy plastic world of golf thrust upon me from the television [4].

Upgrades came when I got to play on a proper grown up course, with proper clubs and something called etiquette, which as far as I could tell generally meant wearing your school trousers and tucking a collared shirt into them. Perched on the southern edge of Dartmoor and more often than not sitting in the clouds, Wrangaton was a sleeping beast of a course, with sheep and rock for fairways and gorse for rough. The wind often howled, meaning while one hole could be reached with a gentle tap of the ball, another took seven days and a team of Sherpa’s to conquer. It had, in between the bogs and bracken, some stupendous views over Devon, lain out below the ninth tee in a typically creamy pattern of green hills and vales.

At the other end of the country, Scotland is reputedly the home of golf, I assume because only such a sport could be devised over several long hard nights of Glenfiddich. My own golfing development continued with a few summer holidays north across the border with my brother and Dad. This included one or two trips to watch The Open Championship, followed by some very unsuccessful attempts to emulate the professionals via ScotGolf , a competition of my brother’s devising which was devised in such a way to make my brother end up the winner every time! To be fair, he was the most accomplished golfer, clearly from his time collecting and scrutinising Golfer’s Delight or whatever it was. And it wasn’t all playing with balls and holes. There were uncharacteristically scorching days to bake on the fine sandy beaches of Ayrshire and swelter on the peaks of Arran. There were tourist days to potter about loveable Edinburgh and eat cakes of great upstanding from Fisher and Donaldson in St Andrews. And there were winding scenic drives to make my brother feel travelsick and Dad and I to feel payback for the drubbing we got in ScotGolf.

Now if I was a golfer of some note I would be able to regale and bore you with tales of my best rounds of golf, finest shots and superb holes. In truth I cannot remember so much of distinction, especially in those younger years. I do recall holing a putt approximately the length of the Great Wall of China on another uncharacteristically scorching day in Edinburgh. On the same trip I remember spraying my ball right, over some bushes and, unbeknown to me, onto the next tee where a couple of old wee lassies were hitting off. I very nearly ended up sending one of those old dears to the fairways in the sky, saved only by the rim of her vivid pink visor deflecting the ball. Back in Devon I also remember hitting a sheep on the arse at Wrangaton and pretty much doing the same on some heifer dawdling at Central Park pitch and putt. As I say, I was not a golfer of some note.

G_golf2

As I have matured and my game has got even more sporadic I like to think I am less bothered about how well I play, content to be outdoors and enjoying the surroundings in the company of others [5]. I have come to realise that, on the whole, golf courses are rather beautiful things. Indeed, it is rare that you get so many acres lovingly dedicated to different types of grass and trees, shrubs and undergrowth, ponds and brooks. And they can be wild and rugged spots, your individual journey plotted purely by how wayward you hit the ball, typically finding untamed jungle with every slice and secret fairy dells with every hook. Plus, when you finally get there, the greens have those stripy patterns that every lawn yearns for, and there are even bits of beach to build sandcastles in, though I’m not sure this is in the Old Thomas Botheringirls-Willynilly handbook of golfing etiquette and manners.

In Australia I have been lucky enough to hit a little ball around a few such charming spots. In the lee of Red Hill, Federal Golf Club is truly archetypal with its graceful white gum trees and kangaroos lining the fairways. Such is the proliferation of native flora and fauna that it is not uncommon to be stared down by a mob of twenty to thirty eastern greys that have set up camp between your ball and the green. It really makes you focus on hitting the next shot in the air. On the positive side, I do have the local wildlife to thank for assistance on one occasion – petulant cockatoos ripping up the greens and nudging my ball just a little closer to the hole for a pleasing par putt.

Red Hill

Elsewhere, down on the NSW coast at Narooma I have had the thrill of playing over the sea and along the very rim of towering cliffs as a whale and its calf splash around a little out to sea. It’s that kind of memory, and a few half-decent shots mixed in with it, that draw me back to wistfully ponder that I should be doing this more often. When you are wistful and ponderous you tend to forget the rubbish, such as horizontal rain and five putt greens, uncomfortable trousers and cap hair, as well as the price you pay for the privilege. Instead you think about the regular exercise, time in the outdoors with nature, a good walk bettered with the focus of getting a little ball into an equally little hole on a not very little stretch of land; and you begin to think that you may just be following your brother to the greens not for the first time in your life.


[1] I’m sorry. Golf is like that isn’t it? You cannot write about swinging and balls and holes and wood and birdies without falling into smutty innuendo.

[2] And that doesn’t involve one old man and six curvy Texan cowgirls.

[3] Good old Argos, I really do miss its omnipresent usefulness.

[4] An early valuable lesson to never trust television. Yes, even Eastenders is make-believe.

[5] That is not to say I will play a round of golf without swearing less than 50 times.

Golfing Links (haha)

What a king sized Mars Bar used to look like: http://imghumour.com/categories/trucks/view/definitely-a-king-size-mars-bar

Pitch and putt and throw clubs in a huff: http://www.visitplymouth.co.uk/things-to-do/pitch-and-putt-central-park-p1417363

Wrangaton Golf Club: http://www.wrangatongolfclub.co.uk/pages.php/index.html

Och aye yum: http://www.fisheranddonaldson.com/Site/Welcome.html

Federal Golf Club: http://www.fgc.com.au/welcome/index.mhtml

Narooma Golf Club: http://www.naroomagolf.com.au/

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