Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A giant connection

There’s a forest full of enormous old Tingle trees down in the south west of Western Australia called the ‘Valley of the Giants’. Now I have to admit that I’m not big on trees – even the big ones. I mean, yes, trees are great and we need them and I am very happy the planet has trees…but I wouldn’t usually pay to see them as a tourist attraction.

But according to all the travel brochures, this valley was a ‘must’ and given my beloved B’friend was rather enthusiastic about it - we decided to take a pause on our two week campervan adventure to walk in the ancient forest.

To give the giants credit – they were giant. But I am ashamed to say that after five minutes I became rather bored with the big sticks and was thankful for a family of Korean tourists who amused me for the rest of the forest walk (Note: I would probably have given the giants more of my time had they not come with complimentary swarms of ridiculously large March Flies that packed a terrible punch of a bite when one stood still)

The Koreans must have taken one hundred photos in the space of 10 minutes – all of them including Karate Kid poses by the eldest son (in his late twenties) and involving the daughter (in her early twenties) shouting ‘1, 2, 3 COOL!’ as she clicked her camera (she varied that with: ‘1, 2, 3 YOU’RE GREAT!’ and ‘1, 2, 3 ALRIGHT!)

This happy chappy, in his thigh hugging black shorts and red t-shirt, managed to come up with a new martial arts position for each snap: crouching tiger pose inside decaying tree trunk, flying star jump off broken branch, leg in the air like you just don’t care on viewing platform… COOOOL!

My favourite photo-moment took place at the end of the forest walk, back at the visitor’s centre where our Jackie Chan wanna-be managed to have both legs and arms in the air, whilst seated behind a wooden cut-out of an old FJ Holden (what this had to do with ancient trees, I am unsure).

Thankfully we left the fly infested forest for the sea and spent the rest of our time bumping along red gravel roads, towards isolated beaches where the sand was so glaringly white and the water so luminously turquoise that it almost seemed like God had set up fluorescent lights over each bay.

In these little earthly pockets of heaven, without mobile phone or radio reception, we lapped up life in the slow lane. We scrambled across granite boulders to deserted bays, swam in the glow, ate simple meals, played a card game of Shithead or two and bunkered down early each night in our Britz mobile, with dirt-caked feet and salty skin.

When we did manage to spot a local and strike up a chat about the awesome beauty and peacefulness of a place – they’d say the same thing: “Just don’t go telling anyone. We want to keep things quiet around here”.

Many of the people we spoke to had moved from the east coast to escape the human chaos… ‘This place is like Byron Bay used to be, before they spoiled it’, one guy said about the town of Denmark near Albany.

It made me wonder how long locals could keep these precious nooks a ‘secret’ and how long it would take before someone from Denmark was moving somewhere else for serenity, once word had gotten out.

After two weeks marvelling at the untouched beauty of Western Australia we pulled up under a massive Moreton Bay Fig Tree in the opulent beachside Perth suburb of Cottesloe, just in time to witness its destruction by council workers.

One woman stood by its trunk, protesting over the 100 year old tree’s removal, and explaining to us that the decision had been made after one of the nearby homeowners complained about the tree’s roots causing damage to their plumbing.

Around the corner, right on the water, there’s a crumbling old mansion that sits in a decaying state – its strict heritage listing protecting it from ever being torn down.

As the sap bled from the Fig Tree’s trunk and as her limps, elephant like in their colour and texture, hit the sandy earth with massive thuds between the screeching of chainsaws. As the wood chipper machine turned magnificence into mulch…. I found myself shedding tears for a giant.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tao and the Willy Willy

Tao and the Willy Willy

Well it all started with a Willy Willy… or was it a Whirly Whirly? I would have loved to give you a first hand account of the spectacular funnel of ferocious wind that whizzed through the quaint country town of Newstead in Victoria on January 22 – but I arrived approximately ten minutes after it departed.

I figured something was up given there were trees and power lines down… and as I made my way to the dark festival office I was informed that the power was out and not likely to be back for many hours. The windstorm had been so fierce that it actually picked up the Troubadour Tent – the main venue for this lovely little festival – and moved it across the Newstead cricket oval – ripping it along the way. The up side to this Willy Whirly story is that a makeshift stage was set up under a magnificent old Oak Tree in the corner of the oval and it proved to be a shady and splendid alternative. The Gods also allowed for the power to come back on that evening – just ten minutes into the first festival performance (and in true ‘show must go on’ fashion – the opening act began their set unplugged with an attentive audience gathered around them).

I spent those first few power-less-hours of the festival getting to know my billet family. Jenny was volunteering in the festival office so she gave me directions to the house where I met her husband Barry (yep, I was B-delighted as you can imagine) who was busy picking up pot plants that had been blown over in their yard by the storm.

We chatted as I ventured along the mosaic tiled stepping stones and into the wonderland that is Jenny and Barry’s garden… full of succulents, cacti, bonsai trees, fish ponds and wind chimes which clinked and clanged in the post-stormy weather under an eerie purple sky.

Our garden conversation was interrupted every now and then by a young lad on his bike who would skid up to the fence line and shout, in his husky boyish voice, storm updates to Barry before riding off again.

“Pop, there’s another tree down ‘round the corner!!”

“Pop, looks like there’s a power line down!!”

“Pop, have you called the power company!?”

“Pop, when’s the power coming back on!?”

“Pop, when are we going down to the festival!?”

Each time Baz would shout back something that would set the boy off on another mission of discovery… “That’s my grandson Blade,” he smiled at me.

Blade and his sister Indianna live just around the corner from Barry and Jenny and I think the country life and quality time with their grandparents has a lot to do with the fact that they’re two very lovable and well behaved kids.

As Indianna sat with her drink bottle and colouring pencils on the patio later that afternoon, sketching pictures of dresses (otherwise known as “fashion stuff”), Blade enthusiastically told me about life in Newstead and in particular – life as a rabbit catcher. I almost got to meet the pet ferrets that he periodically sends down holes to chase rabbits into traps but I had to settle for photos instead.

“Pop, pop, can I show her the scrapbook? Can I? I know which one it is – it’s scrapbook five. Can I show her pop?!”

“Her? She has a name,” Barry said as I whispered my name to Blade.

“Ange, can I show Ange the ferret photos Pop? Please?”

Of course the ferret photos weren’t in scrapbook five… or scrapbook six or seven, but I learnt all about the birthday parties, weddings and other special family occasions that had occurred over the generations.

Turns out Jenny is a talented scrapbooker which meant each page was themed, with colourful backgrounds, pretty headings and handwritten dates and notes … topped off by beautiful running commentary from Blade:

“Oh Pop – look at Unlce Chris – ha ha ha – look at his hair in this photo! When was that? Says 1975 – ha ha ha!”

“Pop, look how funny dad was when he was a kid. Pop can I take that photo to show dad? He’d laugh ha!”

“Yeah, that was the day Nan Nan’s lost her eye. Remember that Pop? Ha ha ha! She found it in her bed after the party though,” (Barry interrupted - “Blade, you can’t tell Ange that story without explaining about Nan Nans”)

“Oh yeah, Nan Nans has a fake eye and she lost it and we all looked for it but it turned out it was in her bed!” Blade, Indie and Barry all cracked up and I felt compelled to join them, despite poor Nan Nan’s past predicament.

As the three of us flicked through the pages, I had a feeling that this was the kind of family that shared moments like these …whether the power was on or off.

I’ve just read a chapter from a Taoist book about the importance of being present when you interact with people - the simple and precious gift of giving someone your undivided attention.

In this day and age of fractured families, materialism and technologies that allow us to communicate in twitter-sized-soundbites whilst doing ten things at once – I wonder just how many children get the chance to prune a Bonsai tree with their grandpa or paste a photo in a scrapbook with their grandmother…