…………..about the ‘smell’ of our country. The ‘scents’ of Australia. No, really! Were you aware that Oz has its own unique, identifying scents? Well they’re almost flavours, I suppose, and each state and area has its own. Take our North for example. Hot and dry and dusty and then hot and damp and mouldering and then simply wet, and all those seasons have their own unique smell. The interior of our country smells completely different again, and so does the area we live in here in Perth. But when we’re born into a place and we’ve grown up with its scent in our nostrils it is so much the norm we never even notice it.
My husband did, though. He arrived in Perth from Ireland on a very hot November afternoon in ’81 and as soon as he alighted from the ’plane he was assailed by a most unusual but not unpleasant scent, which he later was able to identify. It’s eucalyptus, of course. I smelt it myself when I returned home after living overseas for some time. I filled my lungs with its clean, astringent ‘essence’ and smiled to experience for myself what Spence had described.
I smelt it afresh last weekend when we drove up to John Forrest National Park. By Monday afternoon of the Easter weekend I was in need of a ‘fix’ so we headed for the bush. Opening the car door on arrival, there it was! That bush bouquet. And there’s just nothing else like it, and I smiled.
The kids hit the gravel running. Off to explore their ‘delicious’ surroundings……and it was literally seconds before they came thundering back on tiptoe, yelling at us to ‘shush’ as they hauled us down to the dry creek bed to watch a gathering of wallabies serenely nibble their evening meal.
As I stood captivated, I tried to imagine how utterly gobsmacked the earliest explorers would have been at first setting eyes on a kangaroo. They must surely have been looking sideways at their comrades, trying to figure out who’d spiked the tobacco!
A flash of movement caught my eye then, and I turned to see an exquisite grey fantail flitting about in the bushes, his gorgeous tail feathers fanning out as he hopped about the branches.
When we clambered back up to our barbeque, the trees around us were alive with ringnecks, galahs and several kookaburras, the latter all lined up and eyeing our sizzling sausages with an air of expectancy which made us think we weren’t the first picnickers on the block! Almost at our feet, various shelducks and black ducks fossicked noisily for insects, completely unperturbed by our presence.
After our meal everyone dispersed to take in the bush. The kids climbed around the rocks, Spence found some high ground from which to take in the scenery, Myrle and Steve wandered up the track and I……..I was like a kid in Willie Wonka’s factory. I smiled. Alone! And in my element, my Nirvana, my place. The bush. I can breath it, smell it, touch and examine it, not only up close and personal but more than that. It’s not an easy thing to explain but this is my heaven and I haven’t ever heard or read of anyone explaining that place.
After we’d moved to the city when I was a kid, we used to go up into the hills for picnics every Sunday and Dad would quietly take himself off, find a stump in the middle of the bush and just sit there, listening. I’ve taken to doing the same and so I wandered into the scrub, sat on a log and relaxed, listening. No I’m really not eccentric, honest. You should try it. Very meditative. Good for the soul.
I sat there. Deep breaths. Smell that eucalyptus. Close eyes – but not for long – I might miss something. Late afternoon, sun will soon be gone. Listen. The evening chorus has begun. Bird symphony. Close eyes, properly this time. Breath in more of that gorgeous smell. Leaves crackling, seeds popping, the muffled slow crunching of dry undergrowth as kangaroos move languidly around their vast buffet. Kookaburras laughing - crows complaining about them, magpies calling across the gum trees. And you really have to concentrate to hear the sounds of the smaller birds over the larger, rowdier ones. God this is good. This is my heaven. Thank you. And I smile.
Suddenly my leg begins to vibrate uncontrollably. A series of ear splitting bleeps rend the air and I almost fall backwards off my log. Then my brain begins to register and I grapple for the studs on the leg of my cargo pants and fish out the mobile from amongst my collection of honky nuts in the leg pocket.
It’s a text message from my daughter Jaz in Sydney, and I read it with sweating upper lip and heart still pounding..
‘Hi Ma! Guess where I am – in Canberra! And we’re just about to go and see Parliament House!’
I smile again – this time at the incongruity of it all.
The spell is broken, but it’s time to go back anyway. Time to head back to civilization and mobile phones and all the other in-your-face intrusions and I leave my heaven for another time.