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?’