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 I had to wade barefoot through knee- to thigh-deep water that covered the lower parts of our track and the road to the bus stop, half a mile away. My school shoes and stockings and a little towel were in my Globite school case, balanced on my head with one hand, the other keeping my tunic tucked up into my navy bloomers.

There was first the hurdle of our rickety wooden bridge, which lost at least one of its round logs each flood, the gap hidden beneath milky brown rushing water. It was a matter of inching forward, feeling with my toes for the gap that might drop me through to certain drowning, as the creek was full of bobbing and whirling branches and logs — more than a match for my feeble dogpaddle.

The farmer’s wife at the house next to the bus stop always let me get dressed on her verandah. I’d dry my cold legs and red feet, still tingling from walking on the sharp gravel of the road, and put on my black cotton stockings. Later in this particular flood school morning, I was commanded to the blackboard by the formidable Sister Augustine. I had passed up the aisle between the desks and was halfway across the open space of lino before the blackboard, when Sister’s sharp Irish voice rang out in the slow-rising-then-fast-falling rhythm she used for my name when I was about to get into trouble: ‘Sha-a-a…ryn Munro! What on earth is that?’ pointing at the floor near my feet.

Everybody stared at a trail of dark red spots that led from my desk to where I stood and where the spots were forming a small pool of what appeared to be blood. This blood was coming from somewhere up under my tunic, and given that menstruation was in the offing for all of us, she could have been more tactful. I was so ignorant it didn’t occur to me, or I’d have been even more embarrassed.

I was publicly commanded to go and find out what the trouble was. As I slunk out the door, she called, ‘Well at least there’s nothing the matter with your blood; it’s a lovely rich red!’ (She also taught biology — and geography, as it was a very small school.) In the toilets I rushed to unclip my suspenders and pull down my stockings. Out rolled a fat, gorged leech, its puncture mark on my thigh, just above where the stockings ended, still steadily oozing blood. It must have been there for hours, as it was now nearly eleven o’clock.

On my return I explained what the cause was, which drew not much more than a general ‘Ugh!’ from the class and a ‘Really!’ from my teacher, who gave me a bandaid and sent me to fetch a mop and bucket to clean up the blood. I had the distinct feeling that I had displayed something too basic, peasant-like, for my superior town classmates.

And I still shudder at leeches!

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

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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 does not seem cold enough for them to really glow.

Instead the Maples, not even as tall as me yet, are showing off vivid vermillion stems flushing into their buttery leaves.

And most welcome of all in winter are my citrus fruit trees, especially the perfect miniature, ornamentally shaped and coloured and deliciously sweet (skin) and tart (flesh) all at once, my Nagami cumquat.

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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 tent than from the grand complex that locals simply called ‘the old jail’. Built in the late nineteenth century, it encompassed courthouse, police station, three-cell jail and exercise courtyard, plus the residence, with accommodation for a special constable tacked on later. Not to forget the back-to-back outdoor double toilet — the most imposing proverbial ‘brick shithouse’ imaginable.

‘Grand.

‘There was a separate kitchen/dining room building, as was the safety custom in the days of wood-fuelled cooking, linked to the main house by a breezeway. The latter also led to the heavy iron door, complete with spy hatch and massive iron bolt, accessing the jail courtyard, open to the sky except for iron bars, and thence to the cells. These had similar iron doors — creak of rust, clang of finality — no getting out of there.

‘Atmospheric.

‘… A few pot plants and hanging baskets turned the exercise yard into a pleasantly sunny, protected courtyard, accessible also from the lounge room via an iron-barred door.

‘I’d had to promise not to get pregnant until we’d repaid the loan for the total purchase amount of $6000 (truly!) and even that loan was only possible through personal string-pulling by my in-laws. In the 1960s a wife’s income was not taken into account and women could not borrow. The Pill had arrived, but if bank managers knew about it, they weren’t letting on.’

That antique cane pram in which my babies basked in the exercise yard was a family heirloom that I desecrated by painting bright orange. 

‘Here I feel obliged also to confess that I painted a beautiful, borrowed, antique cane bassinet and stand with gloss enamel ‘Aquarius Green’, a rather acidic lime. It was the era of the musical Hair, ‘the dawning of the age of Aquarius’, plus that’s my star sign — but neither seems a worthy excuse in retrospect.’

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

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One of the benefits of wintry mornings is that the sun rises later according to the clock, so I need not bolt out of bed at 5.30 a.m. to catch the event.

In fact I can catch it from my bed now, being the end of autumn.

On this particular morning the light flooding my room was so glowingly golden that I knew a beauty was occurring. Bolt out of bed I did, and scurry for the camera. 

It was chilly, but I didn’t wait to throw on more layers, knowing how very ephemeral the sight would be.

Pure gold … and not even a cheap thrill, but free!

As I write this and look over at the shades of grey and white that fill the sky where that glory had so recently been, I don’t like to say it’s banal by comparison, but it is!

At least it is changing constantly, being composed of clouds. Plain blue sky is but a background wash awaiting clouds to give it life.

If you have doubts about that, do check out The Cloud Appreciation Society site.

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When I wrote my first book, The Woman on the Mountain, I originally intended to illustrate it. After all, if Gerald Durrell could have illustrations in books for adults, why couldn’t I? In the end, the book having grown longer, we decided not to use the pen and ink drawings.

I still have scans of them, and as I hate waste, I’ve decided to share some of them with my blog readers, accompanied by relevant extracts from their chapters.

This one was meant for Chapter 3 – ‘Close to the elements’, as we certainly were, living as we did for fifteen months in a small secondhand tent. Except for wet weather, we really only slept there; all the real living space was outside. 

‘Yet despite the extremes dealt by the elements, that first year here, living mainly outdoors, remains the happiest of my life.’

My three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son loved it… and so did I.

‘For dining, under the spreading arms of a white mahogany tree we had set up a card table and canvas director’s chairs, with holes dug in the ground for the uphill chair legs so diners didn’t roll down the slope when eating, as several unwary visitors had done. As they were a little tipsy at the time, they rolled easily and didn’t hurt themselves, although the sight was so funny that the sides of the callous and equally tipsy spectators ached for some time.

‘Our chosen clearing had appeared to be a gentle slope but actually was relentlessly unflat, as each small area that needed to be level soon proved. Everywhere involved walking uphill, to or from, and we got very fit, especially carrying buckets of water up the steep incline from the spring. That was excellent for deportment too; only my straightest back would keep the buckets from bumping into the slope ahead and spilling.

‘My cooktop was an old fridge rack balanced on four rocks, my cooking equipment was disposal store cast iron — camp oven, frying pan and saucepan — and one heavy soup pot. From our Merriwa camping weekends I’d developed quite a collection of recipes for one-pot or one-pan dishes. For those weekends I used to cheat a little to compensate for the absence of bench space, like making the dough and rolling the balls for chapatis at home, in which form they’d happily sit until I was ready to flatten them and cook over the fire to accompany the Saturday night curry. Now I had the luxury of the card table as a bench.

‘The camp oven, buried in hot ashes and coals, worked well, but I could only bake one thing at a time in it. We bought a rusty fuel stove for $10 and set it up close to the big tree above the ‘kitchen’.

‘The first time I used it I wrote (in my diary): 

Took a long time for oven to heat up but finally cooked pitta, pumpkin pie and two veg. strudels in it. Flue melted its joins and blew off.

‘Here’s another baking morning.

Lit fuel stove — baked cookies first, then two loaves bread, then prune loaf, then Rieska [quick rye bread for lunch]. Used top to warm yoghurt, de-candy honey, cook chickpeas, etc. All done by 12.30. We got sand and rocks for last trench. Finished that by evening.

‘Was that me, that so-organised, energetic young woman? Where did she go?’

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

It’s Autumn, so many locals are burning off their grasslands, or setting fire to their stacked bonfires of fallen branches and creek logjam clearings.

Being Autumn, it’s also a time of misty mornings and low-angled sunray surprises in this valley.

This particular morning I was treated to a combination of them both, as the sun’s warmth rekindled the night-dampened bonfire into smoke and released the paddock’s dew into rising mist. Only the smoke’s more blue colouring gave it away.

Autumn evenings bring early dark to the valley, while the far escarpment holds the last of the setting sun’s light.  It also often holds the gathered moisture of the day in a long rolling breath along the ridgeline, hugging the last of the land before becoming sky clouds.

There are lots of kookaburras around here, and lots of good vantage points for them. This one chose a particularly photogenic spot, bedecked as it is with lichen.

Quite high off the ground, yet the bird can see the slightest movement down there, punk head cocked, poised ready to swoop and put that ferociously strong beak to work.

Much less common here — a visitor, not a resident — is another basically brown and white bird, but oh, so different.  I spotted this this Straw-necked Ibis all by itself in the paddock; it was so big that at a distance I first thought it might be a wallaby.

That long rapier beak is perfect for poking about in marshes or shallow waters, so I was surprised to see it, alone and on my hillside, not down by the creek.

It clearly has two legs but seems to prefer standing on one. I admire the balance required to do this total twist for a thorough clean-up.

My Glory Vine is wearing its Autumn garb; when the leaves turn red, right? They look red, as I come out to the verandah, with the morning light behind it.

But then I step outside and look back at it and the shade of the main leaves externally is so different that I have no name for it: but no ‘red’ I can think of will fit. I mentally go through my old paintbox tubes with all the evocative names of colours. As for the small ones, well, ‘salmon’ perhaps?

And yet, a few metres further along, they choose more burnished shades, with only red herringbone veins.

On the eastern side they are opting to hold on to green, to refuse to give in to one red shade, choose reds only in blotches, or restricted to edges.

Twining through the Glory Vine on this side is the Mandevilla Laxa, (right) whose slender pendulous leaves are showing gold and red shades for the first time, with clearly defined stages and veins. How odd that they are donning Autumn garb more here nearer the coast than they did not at 3,000 feet?

I miss the Wisteria’s golden contribution from those days so I am welcoming this… and all the subtle shades to infinity that Autumn can offer, even here in subtropical Australia.

Autumn visitor

April 24, 2017
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The ornamental grapevine leaves are now red, so the little green tree snake who visited it in its summer green is no longer camouflaged. The best it can do is mimic stems. Here it looks as if it has green frog fingers as well. Although its head is teeny, thumbnail size, as you can see, […]

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Morning benediction

April 17, 2017
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Most times I am awake and risen early. Some days it’s more worth it than others. Like today, as the sun rose in just the right spot over the escarpment to be split into morning glory rays of benediction by a perfectly placed tall tree. Within minutes the sideways rays grew longer, the view brighter. […]

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Watery wins

April 10, 2017
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The delicately feathered lilac curls of the native Melaleuca thymifolia are a relief as well as a delight to see, as these swamp-loving small shrubs have only been in for about six months. They will only grow to about 2 metres and will hide my shed from view for verandah sitters. Willows love water and […]

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Moving mountains again

April 2, 2017
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The time has come for me to leave another beautiful mountain area. After only two and a half years here, I am not embedded in the country as I was at my Mountain, which owned me for 36 years. I still grieve for the loss of the Mountain. I had thought four acres would be […]

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