Story telling from Australia
I’ve learnt a lot in the past few weeks, from old friends, from new friends and from strangers I might one day call friends.
A visit to Maitland library took me to stay overnight with a friend who used to work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, arguably the most spiritual woman I’ve ever met and a veteran of many retreats on spiritual direction.
Anne’s house was only a few minutes drive out of Maitland, past tiny cottages and lush dairy country so green it that could almost have been England. The view from her kitchen window made me stop and stare, past horses grazing in paddocks that sloped down towards a dam before rising up again in a great swoop towards a distant hill.
The other direction offered a different view – a much closer, seemingly unstoppable march of modern housing development, spreading over the hill in a welter of colorbond roofs crammed together. Anne knows it won’t be long before they reach her rural idyll, so I wondered why she was still planting, still taking cuttings. Why was she putting in so many new understory plants, new ground cover, roses, hibiscus and little gem gardenia – amongst many other plants she pointed out that day. Surely it was pointless if she was planning to sell up and move one day, and one day soon by the look of things?
‘But when will that day arrive?’ she asked, patiently. ‘I don’t know for certain when it will, so until it does I will continue to enjoy this garden, and I will carry on planting.’
She will make provision to move some of those precious plants when the time comes, but for now it’s business as usual. It was a salutary reminder to live in the present, not the past or the future, to enjoy what we have now instead of worrying about the day when it may no longer be there.
The following week I drove to Jerry’s Plains, though the rolling hills of the Hunter Valley, for an AGM of the Country Women’s Association, fittingly on the International Day of Rural Women. I saw the strength and resilience of such rural women that day because it turned out to be a tricky meeting, and they navigated their way through the potential conflict with grace, with patience and with love, the way only generous-hearted women can.
I learnt that their small individual groups had collectively raised many thousands of dollars for drought relief; for educational grants for rural students; for medical research into Crohns disease; for the Blue Mountains bush fire relief; to help victims of a hurricane in the Philippines and, close to my own heart, for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Hunter River Group secretary Glennys Parker offered this wonderful piece of advice. ‘To expect life to treat you fairly because you’re a good person is like expecting a bull not to chase you because you’re a vegetarian.’ As a vegetarian I sat up and took notice.
Then it was on to Goulburn with my dear friend Kate, where winter lows can drop to minus eleven and summer highs can soar to forty degrees, for another library talk and another visit to people I know only slightly but who still invited me to stay with a generosity of spirit that never fails to impress me in this adopted country of mine. Thankfully the Angus bulls in their lush green paddocks were too young to do any chasing – in some cases the soft, deer-like creatures were only a few weeks old and sticking close to their wary mums.
Ed and Jane’s beautiful solar passive home was built on the site of Billy Hughes’ old house – a humble carpenter from North Wales who once lived right here in Balmain and who rose to become prime minister of Australia in 1915. They’ve kept the chimneybreast from the original house as a reminder of his presence.
My travels took me through some stunning country, from the Southern Highlands to the Hunter Valley, and it was dispiriting to come home to a paved backyard after all those rolling hills and majestic gum trees.
But I must not forget that this tiny garden has a beauty of its own. The Heritage rose is blooming and there are miniscule cucumbers, tucked down the side of the house I dismissed as unworkable, waving bright yellow flowers in the hope of attracting passing bees. Tomato plants that sprang up from the compost bin have been uprooted and, miraculously, they survived a long shopping trip shut up in a hot boot, followed by the less than adequate job I did of transplanting them. They’re now thriving on Inga’s balcony, apparently. I might dig up some more and tuck them down the side of the house.
Wherever I look plants are bursting into life, just as we’re about to embark on a long trip to Kenya and the UK, but no matter. Cristian will be here to look after Maggie and Inga has offered to water the plants.
When we get back the cucumbers should have grown, the fig might have fruited and the rocket will be ready to pick. Summer will be just around the corner.
Until then and in case I don’t get the chance to post, I wish you all well, and in the words of that wonderful comedian Dave Allen, who sadly is no longer with us, May your God go with you.
Only don’t expect the bull not to chase you.