Story telling from Australia
I was in Nyngan this week when I received news of Jane Lambert’s death. The call came just as wide bands of colour flared in the sky, marking sunset over Nyngan’s slow moving river. Nyngan is the mid way point on the almost twelve hundred-kilometre drive from Broken Hill to Sydney, and for the remainder of the journey Jane was never far from my thoughts.
Driving gave Jane independence and freedom, two things she craved after nearly a decade in hospital and rehabilitation centres. When she moved to France Jane loved nothing more than getting in her car to explore, not knowing where she was heading or where she might end up. The journey mattered more than the destination.
“I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains…”
Dorothea McKellar’s “wide brown land” couldn’t be more different to the “green and pleasant land” of William Blake where Jane grew up, or the rich French countryside she grew to love, but I’d like to think Jane would have enjoyed driving in Australia.
The parched landscape of central New South Wales is locked into a fearsome drought right now, paddocks full of dry brittle grass, but Jane would have found beauty in it. She had a knack of finding beauty wherever she looked, so I looked for it as we drove from Dubbo to Orange, sweeping past distant hills crowned with thorn bushes and pale eucalyptus trees, shimmering in the heat. Were it not for the blue sky above we could have been driving through a sepia toned photograph from long ago – great slabs of landscape in muted hues of brown and ochre, straw coloured fields slowly fading to burnt orange.
We stopped near Bathurst to buy peaches, nectarines, cherries and apricots ready for Christmas and I remembered with joy the last trip we took to see Jane in France a few short months ago. She was on top form, relishing our three-hour lunch and insisting we stay for afternoon tea, which somehow slipped into a six o’clock aperitif.
The road bucked and climbed towards Lithgow, where the glorious sight of mountain ranges in smoky blue stepped into the distance, then it was hard fierce driving through the Blue Mountains, concentrating all the way, until finally, two days after we set off, we reached Sydney and our new home.
Twenty years ago Jane embarked on an adventure to make a new home for herself in France. It needed far more work than our new home will require and Jane did it alone, at the age of sixty-four, in a wheelchair. Her story is the subject of Dream Wheeler.
When Jane left London she left behind people and places that were dear to her and she battled the odds to create a new life for herself, not knowing how it would turn out. She embarked on her adventure with grace, guts and a remarkably good spirit. I hope we can do the same with our new life in Sydney.
We all have to take the journey from life to death, some of us tragically far too soon. Jane’s passing reminds me to enjoy that journey.
RIP Jane Lambert 17 Aug 1929 – 17 Dec 2013