Tuesday, 1 September 2015

whale hunting




We went whale hunting last weekend, way out east, where the waters are thick with mothers and their calves at the end of each winter. The last storms of the season chased us down the road and dumped torrents of rain across the dunes and the wildflower decked hinterland. We ploughed through puddles deep as rivers as we drove out to the national park, but found our way barred. The risk of dieback spreading through the fragile and rich ecosystem, the Fitzgerald River Biosphere, was too great. So we turned back to the bay, where the whales obliged us by breeching spectacularly from the foam tossed sea.

We dropped a line into the calmer waters of the boat harbour. Lewis and Darcy both hooked a silvery fish on their lines, that dropped back into the sea as they pulled them in to the jetty. Boys and fish were both happy with the result.

We sat by the fire and drank red wine with some very dear old friends who now also call the south coast home, while our kids trooped around together in one big, happy mob; pushing balls around the pool table and building hideouts under the bunks.  It was cold, and wet and windy, but still rather glorious.











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

five


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.


Monday, 30 March 2015

Feathered friends


We have two new little chickens scratching around our backyard, and making sneaky visits into the house under the arm of our resident chook whisperer. I promised Darcy a little Pekin pullet for his birthday back in January, to replace his old pet Lemony, who was killed by a fox.

Lemony was a special chook. We bought her as a young bird and Darcy raised her so that she really seemed to think he was his mother. She would sit on his lap and watch cartoons with him, tucking her head under her wing for a snooze. She helped him to settle into school life when she visited kindy with him for the morning. She would jog to meet him whenever he wandered into the yard. I cried when I found her lifeless body lying in the chook run, and expected the same from Darcy, who was much more pragmatic.

"Can I get a new one?"
"Why don't we wait a little while, until we stop feeling sad about Lemony?"
"Can I get a new one tomorrow?"

There were no golden Pekin pullets to be found in the Great Southern when Darcy turned seven, but his birthday card promised him a visit to the first poultry auction of the year to select his bird. And waiting for him in a cage was the golden feathered bird of his dreams. She is called Lemony (of course) and she promises to be just as sweet as her namesake.

I picked up a little Araucana for myself while we were there. I have missed having blue eggs and am looking forward to her reaching the point of lay, and perhaps inspiring the rest of our flock to lay the odd egg or two. We have had nothing but duck eggs for weeks.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Our lonely beach


The booming surf had resonated through the river valley all night, so I knew the breakers would be crashing on to the shore. But the sun was shining and we had nowhere else to be, so we jumped into the car and headed west. It is a bit of drive, but the reward is usually an empty expanse of sand and waves rolling in from eternity. Except the carpark was strangely crowded. We followed the boardwalk through the dunes and around the fresh water spring which spills across the sand, pulling off our sandals to wade through the cold, clear water. And there was not a soul to be seen on the beach. Black suited surfers bobbed in the waves in the bay's eastern corner and grey nomads clustered at the lookout high above the sand. Thea pulled off her clothes, grabbed her bucket and spade and ran into the water while I eyed off the surf, trying to decide whether getting wet was going to be a possibility.

The surfers made their way back around the bay in pairs, stopping to wash their boards and take a drink from the spring. One greying board rider wandered down to say hello.
"Is she about two?" he asked.
"In a few weeks."
"There used to be a little girl who played in the water there. She would be three now - her family moved back to the Czech Republic a year ago today. I got the hugest sense of deju vu seeing your little girl on the beach. She is even wearing the same pink hat."

I tried to picture that little girl and what her life must look like in Central Europe. Perhaps she has a stream to play in; cold water rushing over the pebbles as she steps over the slippery rocks. Her mother would read her fairy tales from old Europe when she tucked her in to bed each night. I wonder if she remembers the smell of the sea, the crash of the waves and the cry of the gulls on her lonely beach on the other side of the world. I wonder if her mama is homesick for the sand and the sun and the empty horizons.

I hoisted Thea onto my hip and we walked around the shoreline, stopping to dig in the sand and let the waves wash over our feet. She snuggled in to my chest while sea lice crawled around in the coarse sand, tickling my bare legs as the waves dug hollows around them. We wandered back to the stream and I left Thea with her bucket and a clear line of sight to the waves and walked backwards into the breakers, ducking my head and body under the whitewash. One day, perhaps, I will be able to walk around to the headland and take my place on the waves with a board beneath me. But for now I am mama first and foremost to that little girl in the pink hat, playing on the shore.

She slept in the car on the way home, beach sand clinging to her bare brown legs. I wonder how long they will have grown by next summer?


Thursday, 12 March 2015

the end of summer



Warm days and cool nights. Crisp mornings with mist in the valleys as I head down the hill to the gym before the kids wake up. An orange sun hanging low in the sky. Smoke and rainbows and thunderstorms and dry, dry earth. A desiccated vegetable garden. The smell of the water hitting the dry straw as I hand water each bed with a kinky length of green garden hose. Stolen hours at the beach each weekend, a surfboard and a novel tucked into the car as I wave goodbye to the kids. Tired children roaming around the garden, finding themselves again after long days at school. Knitting on the front verandah after a long summer hiatus. Full nights of sleep soaking into my soul after a decade of broken dreams rousing for the baby. The end of summer.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Him


He turned 38 yesterday. We met when we were 18. Twenty years have slipped by so quickly, but we have used them well, to make the life we always dreamed of living together. If someone had come and whispered in my ear that I would have four beautiful children with this boy, as we stood shyly talking in that university carpark, I would have laughed at the absurdity of the idea.

Sometimes I dream myself back into the body of that shy, bookish girl and panic that I will not find my way through the labyrinth of choices I made to become the woman I now am and the family which is my world. But I always wake to find him by my side, a baby snuggled in beside me and three more slumbering in their rooms down the hallway.

Together we are growing older and wrinkled, our hair touched with grey (although I have to hunt hard through his beard to find the errant white hair that sprouts with abandon across my own scalp). Our children already think us old, as all children should think their parents. But my love for him just seems to keep growing. Each year strips away another layer of onion skin, and the soul I find beneath is shiny and new and smiling back at me with excitement at the thought of all the years ahead of us we have yet to fill with love and adventure.


Camping 'round the corner


When you are camping just around the corner from home you can strip it back to the basics. A tent, some sleeping mats and bags, a few folding chairs and an esky full of food. We were able to leave the trailer at home for once and still strap a couple of surfboards to the roof. With the Statewide fire ban in place we even left our camping stove behind, planning to cook a few sausages on the barbecues at Cosy Corner. We were a little over zealous in our precautions, but fortunately our friends didn't mind sharing their pan. And we were all queuing like bleary eyed addicts for our morning coffee in the carpark of the local cafe when it opened after the inevitable broken night's sleep in the tent.

But the memories we took home were little snippets of pure adventure. Hours spent playing in the stream as it cut an icy track through the sand to the sea. Walking on the beach while the grey sea surged beside us at sunrise. Surfing in the breakers with my boy, and digging a trench while the summer sea breeze blustered around us and whipped our hair into our eyes. Then those few moments of silence once the kids had all climbed into their sleeping bags, listening to the waves crashing behind the dunes beneath the gently shivering blanket of peppermint trees, before we followed them into our green cocoon of a tent. All this a twenty minute drive from our front door. This is why we live here.