Sometime towards the end of the 1980s Lud and Lexie, both painters, moved out of Sydney to a place called Tinda Creek. It was about a third of the way along the Putty Road, the old inland route to the Hunter Valley; and runs between two wildernesses, the Wollemi and the Yengo National Parks. They rented a demountable which stood above a dam in the bush about a kilometre in from the main drag on the Yengo, the eastern, side. Tinda Creek ran south from Mellong Swamp, in which ancient plants persisted, along with amphibians and water dragons and fowl; it was a dark and mysterious place; white bones of trees rose from the black water. Lud and Lexie were good gardeners and they had a vegetable patch and a herb garden going, enclosed with wire netting against the possums and other night critters of that place. They’d haul water up the hill from the dam every day. A stand of sensimilla marijuana too because they were keen dope smokers. It was a remote and beautiful place but not untenanted; at various stations in the bush around about feral humans had made camps for themselves on land that was part of the National Park; but actually belonged to the Darkinjung Nation. They were Yengo fringe-dwellers; not the kind of people you took lightly. All the blokes carried guns, usually .22 rifles and, over the years, intractable feuds had developed between them; which were as much a part of the socius as more conventional interactions. So one of the demands of living there was avoiding becoming implicated in any of the local vendetta. Which Lud and Lexie mostly succeeded in doing; although there was one fellow, the Dingo, a near neighbour, who developed an animus towards them. Because there was no basis for this, so long as they didn’t cross him, he didn’t feel able to act upon his anger; no matter how much he may have wanted to. He used to gather bush rock, illegally, and sell it to landscape gardeners in the city. One time he overloaded his ute, it stalled on the hill, and he got caught. His place was car wrecks, junk, fetid piles of rubbish—an emaciated pony penned up in a desolate yard, so starved you could count the ribs protruding through its sides. We used to wonder how we could set it free; and give it food to eat: exactly what would have have got the Dingo coming after you if he knew. At one point, not long before Lud and Lexie returned to the city to live – their landlord, a music union guy, tendered them a bill they did not owe and could not pay – the Dingo teamed up with a couple of petty crims on the run from WA and terrorized the neighbourhood for a few weeks, uttering cheques and menacing shop keepers and pub owners and the general population. Their spree ended in a siege (no police involved) at the house that stood at the head of the drive that led to Lud and Lexie’s place, during which the woman of the couple who lived there went into labour. Fortunately the matter was resolved, without gunfire, before the birth took place. Another time, late at night, about ten pm, someone knocked on their door; a guy dressed as Rambo: headband and all. He was looking for his girl friend who had taken off with his car at a gas station with their kid in the back. They gave him a cup of tea and he went on his way. Sometimes after they’d visited town for art supplies I’d drive them back out in the Honda Civic I had in those days. On one of those trips, at dusk, just before we got to the turn-off, an eastern grey kangaroo bounded into the path of the car and we hit her; she had a joey in her pouch; both mother and joey had their right back legs broken by the impact. Lud dragged the doe into the bush at the side of the road and killed her with a mattock; a fellow who pulled up behind us, a local, took the joey; he said he’d hand raise it and then release it into the wild again. During these visits Lud and I, without Lexie but with other friends who were there, like Glackin, would set off on long treks into Yengo; which wasn’t hard to do because of the fire trails bulldozed along the ridges. We would find wonders: a woody pear tree, like something out of a fairy tale, with its rubicund and dusky silver seedcases hanging down; geebung bushes, another protea, with fruit called snotty-gobbles you can eat; quandong trees, native peaches, also edible, a member of the sandalwood family. People think of Australian bush as dry and featureless; it is often the first but never the second. Past the grey-green, you see lavender blue, orange and pink; crimson and yellow in wild flower season in Yengo, like the detail you see in a Fred Williams painting. Then there was the insect life: ubiquitous and outlandish in equal degrees. I remember lifting up a log and below was a family of scorpions; of the marbled kind and quiescent though very ancient looking. I replaced the log. The only other downside at Tinda Creek was the sand mining going on at the property next door, the daily grind of diggers on week days, the trucks taking away loads of sand to use in cement in houses being built in Sydney. Years later I learned the mining company had been prosecuted for dumping chemicals into the Mellong Swamp, exterminating the delicate and unusual creatures who lived there. It’s on my mind today for another reason: the fires that are sending smoke down over the city are Wollemi and Yengo burning. Tinda Creek has been incinerated, along with what was left of the Mellong Swamp; the fragrant wilderness beyond is turning to ash. Who knows what is happening to the feral humans? People say 85% of bushfires in Australia are deliberately lit; but these fires mostly began in lightning strikes. It’s incandescently dry. Thunderstorm season but the storms are no longer accompanied by downpours; my son, who’s twenty, talks about the days when it used to rain. There are other things that don’t happen anymore: the bogong moths, which used to fly into Sydney from the south west at this time of year in their hundreds and thousands, no longer come. The Christmas beetles neither. And the little moths with black and orange chequered wings. But I’m an optimist; I think nature will survive us. Others will take our place. The bush will grow back. As to what we can do to help, I’m torn between the rapturists, who want to leave everything behind; and the activists who want to protest and also leave everything behind. Alternatively we could embark upon a quest to return to giving the kind of care the bush enjoyed before we came. I still have the six quandong seeds Desmond gave me; they’re hard, spiky, durable. They’ll germinate even without a fire going over them. Or not. I’ll plant them anyway.
images : Woody Pears; a Quandong Tree