Why I live ‘way out here’

This post is extracted from Chapter 1 of The Woman on the Mountain, with the kind permission of my publisher, Exisle.

Wherever you live you need to feel safe, and in tune with your surroundings. I do.

Yet my place is a 90-minute drive from a post box, police station, shop or mechanic, let alone a Big M or a Big W or whatever other letter is considered crucial to modern survival.

Half of that drive is over a dirt road, partly through a national park which verges on wilderness. I have no neighbours within sight, sound or coo-ee, or not in the accepted sense. My neighbours are the wild creatures who live in the national park.

…if I were forced to live again in a city, town or suburb, I certainly wouldn’t feel safe, or in tune with my surroundings. I’d be nervous, draw my curtains at night, lock my doors, lower my voice — and I’d feel like a fish out of water.

I’d pine for the tree-clad mountains stretching forever into the distance, the blue gums and stringybarks and sheoaks just beyond my house fence, the hundreds of infant rainforest trees I’ve planted in the gullies, the wild creatures that are my neighbours — the wallabies and birds, the quolls and koalas, the snakes and lizards — I’d even include the leeches.

I’d miss the sounds of cicada, mad wattlebird and bleating frog chorus, or me yelling ‘Feedo!’ at the top of my voice for the horses to come. When could I yell anything at the top of my voice again?…

In the city I’d be hemmed in by a sea of roofs, hard footpaths and roads, fences too close, traffic too loud, other people’s dramas or plaintive dogs too present and unstoppable.

I’d avoid the front verandah or balcony like everybody else, skulk in private places of the garden if I was lucky enough to have one, and long for a vast canvas of sunset skies unbroken by blank-faced office towers, for vistas of green and blue with not a red-brick wall or red-tile roof in sight.

According to the census, I live alone. If a spy were to slink over the ridge and watch me as I go about my daily outdoor business — emptying the compost bucket, sipping coffee on the verandah, heading up the hill to the loo, pegging out washing, shovelling up horse manure, splitting firewood — he’d probably agree.

In reality, I share my mountain with many others, none of whom wear clothes or comment on mine; none of whom have ever invited me to any of their social events, or even to tea, despite helping themselves to my tucker when they please; and none of whom seem to have any awareness of the respect due to me as a superior being by way of my only having two legs when they have four.

They have obviously read the sign on my property gate, ‘Wildlife Refuge’. They know that means they take precedence here, but it’s supposed to be within reason.

They do let me occupy a small fenced-in spot in the middle of these 164 acres. They treat this as we do a cage at the zoo, except that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. They are very involved in their own societies. I am not invited to join; I’m merely an oddity that is tolerated — in my place.

So far as I am concerned, I am an observer of the world in which I live, just like Jane Austen.

And if most of my neighbours are wallabies, well, better Wallaby World than Wally World. I feel about the latter as people often do about here — it’s all right for a visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

People often ask me, ‘Why do you live way out there, so far away from everything?’

I usually simply answer, ‘Because I can.’

I might continue, ‘And it all depends on what you mean by “everything”, doesn’t it?’

I have email and phone contact (lightning strikes and floods permitting) if I want it, ABC Radio National to keep my brain ticking, and plenty of wood, water and sunshine. I can enjoy my home-grown vegetables, home-baked bread and home-brewed beer, great views, privacy and solitude interspersed with visits from family and friends.

I am able to live in a natural environment, to take my proper place in what I consider the real world, the whole wild rich world around me — and I can always drive to that other ‘everything’ if I should need it.

So my final answer to their ‘Why?’ is ‘Why not?’

10 thoughts on “Why I live ‘way out here’”

  1. Hi Lesley,
    I’m always very pleased to hear from fellow travellers to whom my book ‘spoke’. I know your lush green area a little as a friend moved from the Hunter to the Promised Land, also looking up at that wonderful range, so I have visited her, and I have done a few Owner Builder stories in the area.
    And welcome to the ongoing saga of bush life on the web site!

  2. I’ve just finished your book, Woman on the Mountain, and it really resonated with me. Turning 60 next week, I’m fortunate to have a wonderful husband of 26 years to help with those “male” things around the place – something which gave me plenty of empathetic chuckles in your book. I live in the Bellinger Valley, on an acreage, mostly forest, which was once part of a dairy farm but we’ve been regenerating rainforest on it for some years. We’re on a north-facing hill looking at the Dorrigo escarpment, in a passive and active (solar panels) solar house. We used to live in the Hunter area and loved it but were driven away by encroaching “civilisation”. For the first few years here we grew wonderful vegies but now the battle with the wildlife has all but defeated us. No matter what combination of fences or cages we put over our growing produce, something always finds a way in to eat it (wallabies, possums, bush rats, bower birds etc) or dig it up (bandicoots, quails, turkeys). But we love the wildlife so much that we have to put up with it. We chose this place, 15 mins from Bellingen, with the idea that we want to grow old here with reasonable access to services. I couldn’t bear to live in a town again now. I love your website and will become a regular reader. Thankyou.

  3. Hi Christa, yes I love the way life is full of coincidences too! And the Ludwig piece has gone no further yet, as I realised it is too locational for my privacy’s sake.

  4. Dear Sharyn,
    You really bowled me over with your description of ‘seeing’ Ludwig Leichhardt. And that is only the most exceptional moment of recognition and relating to your story.

    Two months ago I found him in the landscape of his childhood. I sat in the church where he had been taught by the pastor. (It must have been 1823-24). For many years I have been enamoured of Ludwig, have read his diaries and letters, more than one biography and have written letters to him; mostly in my mind. Three times I went to his place of birth in Germany.

    What happened to your “Conversations Across Time”? “Intended for radio”, did it ever go to air?

    To find your book was one of those unlikely coincidences. While waiting a minute to see the librarian, I happened to notice it on top of a box in the back room of our library, ready to be sent to another branch. As it was not reserved. I could take it home.

    Soon I realised I had heard your Country Viewpoint about the Welcome Swallows only a couple of days before. For some time I have used a photo of Welcome Swallows on my desk top. I also remember hearing you years ago; you spoke about planting trees. This week, for the first time in many months, I wrote a draft for a Country Viewpoint; one of my occasional contributions.

    Christa Schwoebel

  5. Hi John,
    Thanks for your comments; feedback is always very welcome. Your block sounds lovely – and I guess we can’t have rainforest without leeches! We have both been lucky to have had this experience.
    I am sure that when you can be there it’s good for the spirit, even if it can’t quite heal the body; I sincerely wish you better health if that is possible and more peaceful bush times.

  6. I could relate to all in your book as I have 129 acres with Falbrook Creek (locals call it Main Creek) thru the middle. Lots of huge trees, rainforest, and importantly wildlife including leeches.I purchased my block in 1980,built a stringybark cabin. Up the hill lives Wally Golena and my friends are Ron and Trevor Jurd. Sadly my health doesn’t allow me to enjoy what I have very often. Thanks for reminding me of what I have.

  7. Thanks Val! Good to hear from my northern fellow writer and nature-lover. And the new book is with the editor, expected back with comments in a week or so. I’ve been out in the garden catching up during the breathing space this has allowed.

  8. Loved this piece of writing Sharyn … quite lost myself in it in fact. Hope all going well with the new book

    Cheers Val S

  9. I loved the post of the rainbow in the forest.
    When these beautiful things of nature pop out in my life, and they do everyday, I feel so special that I
    have been chosen to receive them and I thank my Higher Power, whom I choose to call God. You are truly surrounded with an abundance of gifts.
    I do wonder what would happen if you were taken ill and no one knew it. However, if it were me, I would stay there until the last straw broke.
    Sounds great!!!


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