I grew up in rural Australia surrounded by stories of the bush! Always with a mix of myth, legend, and tall stories all rolled into one.
So many stories… many of them gleaned from my dad during my childhood.
Interestingly, the one story, or in this case poem that is stuck in my head to this day, is “My Country” was written by Dorothea Mackellar in 1907.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
I remember the distinct feeling of isolation growing up. In a land of seemingly endless, shimmering horizons that disappeared in a heat mirage in every direction.
However, not everything was bleak, there were also some amazing moments that few get to experience growing up.
One memory in particular sticks with me clearly…
Walking in the “bush” in the early morning light. With the smell of Eucalyptus thick in the air as the sunlight began to steam the dew off the leaves has left a lasting impression…
Hard forget the sensory overload!
Another of my other favorite memories as a kid was with dad was when we got our “block” and made our first trip to both find it deep in the bush and then check out the quality of the wood.
In those days the Forestry Commission needed to clear a certain amount of bush to help lower the risk of bushfires, and generally thin out the low-lying scrub.
They’d also mark the tallest and straightest trees which they would monitor and keep for potential telephone poles, but the majority of the remaining trees could be chopped down for firewood.
A total DIY type approach which worked well for everyone concerned.
Each year, Dad would apply for a new block to clear. Once you registered and paid the small fee they’d give you the general location and you’d have to go find it for yourself.
Locating your block was always a little tricky. However, this is where the fun now began.
You only had a certain number of weeks to clear the land, stack all of the timber it into 6’ long x 6’ wide x 3’ high stacks.
The forestry inspector would then come and assess your final tally of wood and then charge you on the tonnage that you’d stacked and were going to cart away.
Every year until I was a teenager dad would clear his one acre block by hand with an axe, felling the trees. He’d, trim them, cutting them into 6 feet lengths before my brother James and I would drag them and stack them to dad’s specifications.
It was all systems go when we got the block confirmed.
All three of us worked every weekend until the task was complete. If dad felt that he was behind he’d even go out after work for a couple of hours at night after his full day labouring.
This reminded me of two terrific stories he told me before he died:
I was only about five years old or so and he took me out to work on the block. He was hard at work felling a rather large Eucalypt, and had asked me to stay in one place as the tree he’d been chopping was getting close to it falling.
So following his directions I’d sat down, but unbeknownst to me I’d sat on the edge of a large bull-ant nest. Now, these ants are no ordinary ants as they’re big (up to half an inch long) and very aggressive.
Apparently they had taken to me like a dog with a bone.
As the tree starts to crack and tip he hears me scream and sees me running toward him. I’m covered in bull-ants but directly in the path of the now heavily tilting tree.
With no time to grab me out of the way, he leaps into the path of the tree and pushes it sideways with all his might just enough so that it missed hitting me.
But then the fun begins as he now has to catch a screaming child who’s charging into the thick surrounding bush…
Finally catching up with me he literally ripped off my clothes. Swatting off the remaining ants as he went only to find that I have a mass of bites all over my body, with the worst of it being my bum and legs.
Another time, my brother James and I, and although quite young were apparently “helping him” trim the branches from the felled trees.
James using a small tomahawk and was trimming a nearby sapling when he swung the axe at the thin tree, but the blade glanced off the bark and smashed deep into his knee.
The shock of seeing the small axe logged in his kneecap with blood pouring from the wound was too much for James and he screamed in pain.
Dad was working on another tree about 100 yards away and covered the distance in what felt like only a couple of seconds, grabbing the small handle and wrenched the axe from his knee.
Yep, a lot of blood and tears.
There was probably more swearing from dad than anything else as we were isolated and miles from the closest hospital. Dad used a rag from the back of the car, wrapped tightly around his wound and set off for the hospital.
I can’t remember how many stitches James got, but has the scar to prove it.
I still wonder how he was ever able to actually finish a block given our constant “help” as he was trying to work.
Dad laughed out loud as he told me these two stories during his final months… Clearly they were very fond memories for him.
Thanks dad – awesome stories.
Until next week
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