Friday, 3 July 2015

Bluff Knoll

I said no to birthday parties this year. I needed a break from the food preparation, the planning, and the entertaining of small boys in a small house on a wet winter's day. Lewis asked to climb a mountain instead, the tallest he could find, which seemed a good way to mark 10 years. Setting off from the carpark with backpacks full of cookies and sandwiches, juice and water and lollies and dried fruit, raincoats, fleeces and a restocked first aid kit, it struck me that the planning had been no less. And we had somehow acquired an extra two children, which brought the total to six we were leading up that steep mountain path. But we were all doing something we loved, and I think that made all the difference.

The weather can change quickly on the peaks, and we were well prepared. But it was entertaining to watch the motley crew of hikers passing us on the path.  The girls in shorts and tank tops, shivering in the arctic winds that blow in off the Southern Ocean and sweep up the range to gather in billowing clouds that pour down the cliff face like a slowly breaking wave. The bearded backpackers carrying folding chairs roped to their backs, stopping for a cigarette and a can of bourbon at the top. The family walking in their everyday clothes, carrying nothing with them but their mum's leather handbag. Perhaps she had some water tucked inside, or maybe they lapped at the waterfall trickling over the rocks halfway up.

Grant carried Thea on his back and she complained bitterly, wanting to get down and walk with the rest of us. But she settled down after a while and he walked on ahead while I hung back with the boys and ate birthday cake in the sunshine on the scree covered slopes. The older boys wiped off the crumbs and bolted, jumping from step to step in their race to the top. I brought up the rear with Quinn, holding his hand as his little legs took step after step up into the sky. He wanted to touch it, and I think he almost felt like he had when he stood on the topmost boulder and gazed down at the ocean and farmland stretched out below us, the clouds casting a patchwork of sunlight and shadow across the chequered fields.

Coming down was the hard part. My back, still tender from a jarring half-marathon I ran a few weeks' before, was sending searing ribbons of pain down my legs. Each step had to be negotiated sideways, and my legs were quivering with fatigue. Quinn held tight to my hand the whole way down, taking back his backpack, which I had been carrying for him on my chest, and then offering to carry my water bottle and beanie too to get me back to the car.

We ate hot salty chips from the cafe at the base of the range, and I washed down a handful of painkillers with an enamel mug of lukewarm chai from our thermos, then sunk gratefully back into the passenger seat for the long drive home. The next morning we woke early, muscles still aching, to watch Lewis rip open his birthday presents on the coldest day of the year. There was ice on our car windows when he stepped out onto the balcony to find a new mountain bike swathed beneath an old bed sheet. He has ridden to school and back everyday this week; the gears letting him conquer the hill we live on at last. It is the start of a new found independence for him, which we are all celebrating together.

Sunday, 21 June 2015


A day home from school. A new knitted hat. Puddles to jump in. A lizard in the palm of your hand. Dinosaur bones and snakes and kangaroos. A drum to beat. Lunch by the lake. Freddo Frogs and honey and chocolate cake. An afternoon nap snuggled in bed with your little sister, rain drumming down on the roof. LEGO and Star Wars. A wooden bush knife to rub sticks with and Aesops' Fables to read at night. My baby boy at five.

apples and winter rain

We picked the apples a month or so ago. Three big basketfuls this year, including a wicker washing basket full of Granny Smiths I neglected to photograph. We have been slowly munching our way through the harvest, baking many an apple crumble along the way. I abandoned the idea of storing our crop in the cellar after it proved too damp for last year's harvest and I lost a fair few to rot. I toyed with the idea of wrapping them in newspaper or burying them in straw or sawdust, but it all seemed too hard, and I worry about the rats finding them and moving on in. Sitting on the laundry bench, out of reach of hungry toddlers except when she is feeling particularly adventurous, seems to have worked just fine.

We are having fun together in the garden, me and my girl. Digging and planting, weeding and dreaming about next summer as we tuck herbs and flowers and native shrubs amongst the rambling nasturtiums, gradually filling in the gaps. We climb up the rusty old ladder to sit in the treehouse and spot chickens through our binoculars, and lie on the trampoline in the winter sunshine while Thea runs happy rings around my prostrate body.

Another term nearly over, we are in the thick of the birthday season here. There are special friends sleeping over, favourite cakes to bake and presents squirrelled away under the house. Lewis turns ten next week and has asked to climb a mountain to celebrate reaching double figures. So we are heading up the biggest one we can find. The boys are hoping it will snow while we are there, as it is the only place in Western Australia that gets cold enough to have a light dusting on the coldest day of each year. We might pack some apples for the climb.

Monday, 4 May 2015

water babies

They were in the pool everyday we were away, Thea charging in wearing just her underpants if her bathers were still drying on the balcony. They played with their uncle and their great uncle and their grandma, tossing balls and stacking pebbles until they were wrinkled as prunes. All except Quinn; he didn't get wet once.

Where the forest meets the sea

I have been reading the Grimm Brothers' fairytales to my boys this year, in all their original, gruesome splendour. We have dipped into the big, gold-leafed tome every night since I gave Darcy the book for his birthday in January, and are still only just over half way through. The stories are, of course, all set in a Europe that is long gone, but I think that my boys imagine them into the forests that they know, which must by now be peopled with wolves and giants, kings and princesses a plenty.

But if ever there was a fairytale forest closer to home, for us it must be the Daintree Rainforest. As far from the south-west corner of mainland Australia that we call home as it is physically possibly for us to travel, the Daintree has sparked a special longing in our collective imaginations since we first read Jeannie Baker's iconic book Where the Forest Meets the Sea when Lewis was a baby. Richly illustrated with her lush collages using materials from the rainforest, it is one of those books we have read over and over, and never tired of looking at. "One day we will go there," I would promise the children, thinking far into the future.

It was a dream I never imagined would come true quite so soon, but when Grant's very generous mum offered to fly our family to far north Queensland for a family reunion, we couldn't very well refuse. Getting there was a journey of somewhat epic proportions. A night drive to the farm, where we couldn't sleep for the bellowing of the cows, followed by another car trip to the airport and two flights across the centre of this wide brown land. A night in an anonymous hotel room and then a bus further north, until we were surrounded by forest and family once more. Except here the air was thick with humidity, a sheen of sweat moistened our faces, and the warm air clung to our bare limbs in place of winter woollens.

We wandered through rainforests and along tropical beaches and soaked up every sun-drenched, mosquito chewed minute. Thea paid no heed to the signs warning of crocodiles and jellyfish, and charged into the Coral Sea at the edge of the Daintree. I reasoned that my eyes could spot a croc in the cloudy water, and jellyfish were unlikely to inhabit the shallows, and wandered along beside her in the ankle deep waters off Cow Beach.

I passed my hand over my eyes as we drew farther away from our family, thinking the shape I saw ahead must be a rock or a mirage, and not the erect black figure of a fisherman stalking the shallows with his spear. But as we drew nearer he stopped to smile and say hello.

"Been catching anything?" I asked.
"I hit a stingray but it got off. And a shark, but that got away too. I'm after stingray. Are you a local?"
"No, we're from Western Australia."
"WA! That's the only state I've never visited."

We talked about the weather, then waved goodbye and he climbed into his dinghy and headed home. Lewis jogged down to join us and we followed a creek into the rainforest and gathered tiny frogs into our hands for Thea to touch and hold before they hopped away again.

After ten days it is safe to say that the kids had had their fill of rainforests, tropical beaches, boats and coral reefs. Home was calling us all, and we climbed back into our own beds with much gratitude. Winter sneaked across the south coast while we were away and now we find ourselves pulling the quilts around our chins in the storm tossed winter dark and wishing for sunshine and summer once more. My feet cannot seem to remember the heat, and the warm lap of the torpid tropical sea, however hard I try. It could have been a fairytale.