This drawing was meant for Chapter 5, ‘Living for Weekends’, of The Woman on the Mountain.

We’d moved there into the still very basic cabin, and I’d taken the writing work from my old design firm…

In a way it’s as if I remained part of the company even after I’d left and moved back here for good. They used to call me ‘our woman on the mountain’, as one says ‘our man in New York’, although the connotations of gumleaves and gumboots were probably less impressive.

They had to tolerate a long and turbulent teething period in those pre-email communication days. We were using a program called Carbon Copy (I think) where my computer linked to theirs via a primitive modem. I’d try to get the modem to work on my dreadful phone line, waiting for that magic sound, the electronic gargle of a successful connection. Someone had to sit at a computer at their end to receive it, and stay there to respond, even if it was unbelievably slow. I’d be sitting here trying to get it through, never sure if the person down there had given up, or wandered off to make a coffee or take a phone call. To find out, I’d have to disconnect and ring them, as I only had one line. Then we’d have to start all over again. Hair-tearingly not ideal.

I think that was when I first discovered the release to be derived from screaming Charlie Brown one-liners — ‘A-a-a-a-rgh!’ — from the verandah.

… But at least I was living and working here, even if conditions weren’t ideal. … I’d be shivering at my desk at the other end of the cabin from the combustion stove. Working on the computer, I’d be wearing fingerless gloves, beanie, thick socks and boots, tights, leggings, long woollen skirt, singlet, skivvy, woollen jumper, vest, cardigan and shawl, with a rug over my knees. Dead elegant — and cold. I cursed again the uninsulated roof.’

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

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In the Nymboida-Binderay National Park, the water’s power is strong; visitors are warned of it. White-water kayakers take off from here at Platypus Flat. I stay on shore — deal with a flat tyre — and simply enjoy the sound of the water.

The current-combed trees show the force of the Nymboida at times, but not now, as the whole area is in drought, even the Dorrigo Plateau where these waters arise. The rocks bear witness, with the white line showing where the water level used to be for so long.

In the Cathedral Rocks National Park, at about 1200–1500 metres, there is no rushing water, the rocks are still and quiet… and awe-inspiring. I stay at Native Dog Camp.

On the nearby short walk to Warrigal (aka Dingo/Native Dog) Rocks I see enough rocks to lift my spirits. Balanced or brooding, they are always decorated with their dependent lichens and mosses, varied according to degree of shelter and sun exposure.

It can snow here — there are snow gums and snow grass. Rocks rule more than trees.

They lead to an upland swamp and tiny creek… where the dingoes come to drink … before circling back through more mighty boulders (tors) stacked or slumbering.

Dare I walk between these two? Might it decide to back up just a wee bit more as I do?

Next day I choose to walk to the more distant and far higher pile called Woolpack Rocks, an 8 kilometre round trip.

Again I cross a totally different world of swamp and low vegetation. In this climate plants protect their precious moisture with thin, spiky or leathery leaves. The occasional flash of gold from a tall skinny wattle or the threaded circles of juvenile leaves on a eucalypt are almost a lush surprise.

Then the path leads uphill, past the prehistoric shapes and wonders of banksias short and tall, and bushes of the rare and threatened Styphelia perileuca, unique to a small area here in the Cathedral Rocks National Park.

I pass even more fantastically and seemingly precariously arranged rocks. I am quiet; what might wake this mother whale and her baby?

The track winds up through taller trees and around to a deep green southern gully of tree ferns and rock orchids before reaching the dizzy heights of the destination rock pile.

Whoever named the collection up here had no imagination. Very few look like wool packs… and I am truly not even sure if they are inanimate. I have probably read too many Patricia Wrightson’s magical children’s books, like ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, which have strong affiliations with Aboriginal stories.

As at Hanging Rock, one could lose the narrow sandy path between these monsters. It is not our world up here.

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I love rocks. I can admire the grandeur of large scale features like this Natural Arch on the Headland Walk at Crowdy Bay National Park, but it’s the close-up details that attract me most.

That small group of rocks was closest to my camp. It is amazingly varied, as I’ll show you.

They are sharp and savage rocks, spelling shipwreck. But beyond the wild sea edge barrier there is smoothness and sensuality and small havens of seawater and life.

They remind me of certain Aboriginal paintings, with the subtle pink and ochre colours and the swirling and linking around central features.

Millions of barnacles, able to close their ‘mouths’ to avoid dehydration when exposed at low tide like this.

Fragile sea lettuce, sheltering with sea worms (Galeolaria, from schoolhood memory) in their self made ‘shell’casings and more barnacles

As I watch the gentle outflow of tide and the patterns itmakes in sand, I consider the far from gentle shaping of these rocks by the sea over eons. The power of water!

My next two camps are also rock-rich but far different…

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As you know, I love sunrises. This clearly not at my place. Actually, I don’t have a ‘place’ right now. For the next month I am homeless! The Woman is on the move, national park hopping to re-connect with nature, before I have to live in a house… in a town (!) … but with no neighbours except a wooded wetlands reserve, so my treetops will house lots of birds to share with you.

This sunrise is at Crowdy Bay National Park. Wild winds and whipped seas accompanied my first morning but it was worth braving the 6am weather for this golden welcome back to nature.

By contrast, the tea-brown creek outlet on the walk back to camp was calm.

And at my camp, the much-missed wildlife awaited me, with an Eastern Grey Kangaroo grazing close by.

To top it off, next an Eastern Red-necked Wallaby with pouched joey levered her way across the soft grass.

The sun on your knees, a view of birds and bush… who’d want an indoor loo? This sketch and extract is from The Woman on the Mountain, Chapter 14, ‘The Simple Life’.

‘Contrary to popular mythology, the simple life is not found in the country but in the city, where you simply pay your bills and press a button for everything you need, and you don’t have to know how any of it works or be able to fix it yourself.

‘My next self-sufficient system is sanitation. I have what is called a ‘long drop’, a big hole in the ground with my old jail’s lidded seat over it and a shelter shed over that. It was originally a metre-cubed hole, dug into bedrock with pick and crowbar in 1978. I’d assumed it would last a few years, but it’s still going. Beside the seat is a lidded enamel canister which officially says SUGAR, but as nobody takes tea there I think it’s safe from confusion with my Texta-scrawled LIME. A sprinkle of the latter now and then is enough to keep the material breaking down, while an evaporation pipe dries it out and reduces the volume.

I always thought I’d build a dry composting toilet one day, but the only real difference from my current one would be that I’d get to use the resulting compost.

A few overly civilised visitors have had difficulty using my sanitation arrangements. I’ve never asked whether this was from the dark pit yawning beneath them or the idea of communal storage, but the ensuing psychosomatic constipation was real. They couldn’t wait — or rather, they could — to get back to a proper flushing loo. I feel sorry for them, so unable to accept that they’re part of the animal world, with the same basic processes necessary for survival. They were possibly also uncomfortable without a door to shut, but the toilet faces away from the house, and they wouldn’t see the birds and trees otherwise.

Having grown up with a pan toilet — a far-too-short drop — I consider mine quite manageably distant and salubrious. That toilet, complete with harsh and unabsorbent newspaper squares impaled on a large nail, was dark and spider-scary because it wasn’t done to leave the door open; and smelly, often maggoty, because it was never emptied soon enough. When Dad worked away from home for a month once, Mum and I had to do it, and I understood why he’d kept putting it off. But that first row of orange trees, in the burial range, had the glossiest, greenest leaves, and the biggest, juiciest fruit, of all the trees in the orchard.

The disadvantage of my toilet is that it’s a fair hike up the hill when you’re in a hurry or it’s raining. If the pit ever does fill up, I’ll build the new toilet on the flat, still outdoors, perhaps reached by a covered walkway. And I’ll plant an orange tree on the old site.

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

After the White-faced Heron staking a claim on my pond, the word seems to have got out to other water birds that the pond is here and the surrounding lawn is soggy enough to easily poke a long waterbird beak into.

A small troupe of iridescent Straw-necked Ibis were here the other day, strutting and poking happily, until the Magpies sent all but one packing.

Then it too took off, recognising, as do most birds, that maggies rule.

I am keen to see what other waterbirds visit, now the word is out.

This drawing was meant for Chapter 12 of The Woman the Mountain, ‘While the woman’s away…’ which is mainly about the wildlife moving in and taking over when I wasn’t there.

Here’s the relevant extract about one of the ultimately futile attempts to keep them out…

When the rain finally stopped, I began fortifying the fence against the wallabies, slowly and erratically, depending on when I could afford another roll of chickenwire. As I clipped it on to the old hingelock netting, I was forced to get up close and personal to the past.

I’d erected this house fence ten years ago, when I came back to live here. My dream had included a large garden in the midst of the regenerating bush and its abundant — and voracious — wildlife. That required a netting fence. As my partner was already engrossed in his creative and income-earning pursuits — absolutely single-mindedly, as many men can be — I did most of it myself. I dug the holes and tamped around the wooden posts with the head of the crowbar, which isn’t easy to do on your own and still have the heavy posts end up roughly vertical. A fair bit of boomps-a-daisy balancing was needed.

In between the wooden posts I banged in the steel star posts with my wonderful ‘putter-inner’, a heavy iron cylinder, closed at one end, that a friend had welded up for me. The shop ones, called post-drivers, have handles, and I suppose they are all bought by weak women — Real Men use iron mallets that I can barely lift off the ground, let alone above my head.

And I’m no weakling, despite being small. But some jobs don’t only depend on strength. They’re just bloody impossible without the right tool — like my ‘puller-outer’, a shop-bought manual post-lifter, which makes removing star posts and tomato stakes amazingly easy, and which, I suspect, even Real Men might use.

These are the sort of tools I love: dead simple and very effective, requiring neither mechanical knowledge nor great strength, needing no manual, using no fuel, hiding no spark plugs, able to be forgotten and left out in the rain without damage, enabling little me to do heavy work. In fact they’re the sort of old-fashioned items that are usually discontinued nowadays — too simple, too enduring, a one-off purchase that brings no economic and ongoing joy to anyone but the buyer. What a useless thing to keep manufacturing!

Posts all in, my partner strained up several strands of plain wire for me to attach the hingelock to, as I can’t seem to get into my head how to set the chains and teeth of my fence strainer so it works. Or perhaps I’m just scared of the way it bites and snaps and strains almost to breaking point.

Then I unrolled the old hingelock netting, relic of my first dream of a bush life seventeen years previously. My then husband and I had fenced in several large areas for vegetable gardens, since we thought we’d grow fancy foods like globe artichokes and asparagus — and back in the 1970s these were fancy, rarely seen in shops. After the marriage broke up, so did the fences, only more slowly.

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

I have never had a waterbird on my shed roof, yet a few days ago this solitary White-faced Heron was using it as a lookout post.

A common enough heron apparently, but not here, not yet, to me.

The only water nearby is my rather pathetic pond-cum-drainage attempt. Could that be what had attracted him?

Yes. He floated down with those effortless large wings and began the inspection of possible premises.

As he strutted along the perimeter of the ‘moat’, I had the chance to see what my bird book calls ‘the long grey nuptial plumes’ on the back.

Then he hopped in and I could just see the head bobbing along, disappearing now and then as he poked that long beak into the shallow water. Scoffing tadpoles?

I was so pleased that a waterbird had found my pond, but assumed it was a fleeting visit.

Not so. Each day since, he has appeared somewhere in the yard, then perched on my verandah roof and sailed above my head down to the pond and its surrounds.

Winter blooms

June 28, 2017

Kind of creepily flesh-like, with its pairs of pointy-toed pink ‘legs’ and that gaping orifice;  kind of disgustingly gooey, with those red wet lumps, which yet are almost like the secretions of raw wounds. The pink fleshy stems add to the plant or animal dilemma (hence the ‘phalloid’ species). But the ‘yuck’ factor increases at […]

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Wet school days

June 19, 2017

Few modern parents would allow their children to take the risks that I frequently did to get to school in weather; well, perhaps they still would in the country… From The Woman on the Mountain, Chapter 13: Wet and Wild By the time I was thirteen I was used to our farm creek flooding, when […]

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Winter warmth

June 12, 2017
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I am sorry to see the last of the Glory Vine’s red leaves preparing to drop and join the colourful drifts along the verandah edges. But the little maple trees are taking up the Autumn baton from them. At my last home, the Liquid Ambers were the light sources of dull winter days, but here […]

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Jail baby

June 5, 2017
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This sketch was intended for Chapter two: ‘Getting out of jail’, of The Woman on the Mountain. We lived here, in a village of 200 people, for 10 years before we went bush; both my children were born while here. ‘It would be hard to imagine a more extreme downsizing to a 3 x 4-metre […]

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