Friday 8 January 2016

Notes From a Small Patch of Bush

[A preface to an occasional series about my local bush]

How do I – how does anyone – put words around a landscape? First I’d probably want to narrow down my definition of landscape. I would start with a “small patch of bush”, a walkable chunk of my local landscape.

[A grassy paddock marks one boundary of "the patch"] 
That “small patch” would be roughly framed by a few South Hobart roads; a vagrant bit of bush that has avoided being developed. I could add that the Hobart Rivulet runs through most of it; that the Cascade Brewery owns or leases the bulk of it; that it falls some 200m – steeply at times – from the lower foothills of the mountain, and towards the Rivulet and the Derwent.

I could go on to talk about its particular shape and dimensions. Picture it as a misshapen rectangle roughly 3km long by 500m wide, giving it an area of around 150 hectares or 370 acres. But to my mind such measures, and all of the descriptors above, are like IQ scores: they give only the roughest idea of one measure of something-that-might-mean-nothing-at-all. Once I lived on a flattish 1300 acre rural property. Describing its relatively featureless terrain wouldn’t have troubled anyone’s vocabulary. It certainly didn’t fire my imagination.

[Hobart city beneath the wintry summit of kunanyi/Mt Wellington] 
Not so these 370 acres. Here imagination bursts out of any arbitrary frame I might try to put around the “patch”. Because beyond our bush there is more bush, serious bush. It’s possible to walk through that bush – as I have done in the past – all the way from my home to the 1270m summit of kunanyi/Mt Wellington. And I needn’t stop there. I could go on over the mountain and keep walking into the remote south-west wilderness. I would need to cross only a handful of roads, most of them dirt tracks or fire-trails.

From where I write I look out on that bush and that mountain, and can plot just such a walk. It’s imagination, and not just personal history, that powers our sense of a place. And this place, this patch, with its actual connection into the wild, is one that has held my imagination, and given me a strong sense of place, for the 30 years I’ve lived here.

[A dragonfly: the bush is home to numerous such invertebrates] 
Still, so far I’ve said nothing that actually paints a picture of this bush: its plants, animals, history, geology, geomorphology. And all those “-ologies” do seriously contribute to our understanding of a place, a landscape. I have written, and will write more, about those aspects of the patch. But for this preface to further writings from my small patch of bush, I want to enter it imaginatively via one recent episode, and ask: what does the bush mean to my 20 month old granddaughter?

[Two of my granddaughters on the Christmas tree hunt: photo by Sally Oakley] 
A few of us are on a pre-Christmas excursion, hunting for some Christmas trees. It’s been raining, so our small granddaughter has her rain suit and gumboots on. They give her an added degree of determination, as if she had any need of that. Before long she shakes off any guiding hands, stomps along the track – straight through any puddles – and stops only when there’s something interesting to pick up and examine. That means about every 10 metres or so. It is a long excursion.

Only for the steepest bit of track does her aunty hoist her up for a while. When we reach the feral Pinus radiata trees, she’s down again, watching while we select a few. Things like land tenure, weed trees, Christmas, bow saws, even time itself are probably lost on her. 

[Our 20 month old granddaughter carries her Christmas prize: photo by Sally Oakley] 
But she carries one of the smaller prizes for a while, and I wonder. Will she remember the whiff of freshly cut pine; the soft swish of needles on her face; the feel of warm hands; the laughter and sense of occasion; the raucous cockatoos? And will she associate that with the bush, our bush, any bush? I suspect that’s how our imaginations start to be fired. And why we want to put words around our place.

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