I was just thinking…………

………………that it seems only yesterday since I wrote last month’s article. Where on earth have four weeks gone? Where, in fact, has the YEAR gone? Oh well, the busier you are, the quicker the time flies - so if I cancel everything I have to do between now and the end of 2005 would that mean the year won’t come hurtling to an end at quite such an alarming speed? I got the shock of my life today when I went into David Jones and was confronted by a mass of elaborate decorations and fir trees on display! Lucky I’ve nearly finished buying all my Christmas presents, there’s not a moment to lose!

It was forever ago that Chris Marshall invited me to join her and two other artists, Debbie and Dana, for a week’s sojourn at Araluen’s Aspro Cottage during the Yates Spring Festival, to take in the bush and paint Al fresco. I had ages to prepare and look forward to it and now I can hardly believe that week has not only come and gone but it came and went a month ago!

I should have made notes about everything that happened up there, but as usual, I thought my memory would suffice – and as usual, it hasn’t. That whole week seems to have rolled into one long, happy event, and the days have just melded into each other. We laughed, we ate, we laughed, we painted, we laughed, we chatted continually to people who came from near and far to see the spectacular display of tulips, camellias……….and us!

The little house we hired, Aspro Cottage, is nestled amongst the beautiful bushland and botanical gardens of Roleystone’s Araluen and is just a short walk (or train ride) uphill from Chalet Healey and the main park and picnic area. It was the perfect place for our exhibition and painting activities, and the panoramic views from our large picture windows kept us all dripping with enthusiasm and inspiration, whether we were peering through rain or drenched in sunshine.

For me, it couldn’t have been more perfect. All around me were marri trees so heavily laden with great clusters of gum nuts that they were bowed down with the weight of them. They were the main attraction for Twenty Eight’s, Black Cockatoos, and Red-Capped Parrots. I actually sighted several of the latter for the first time ever (outside the zoo!)

Apart from setting up on the Monday morning, my first full day at Araluen was Wednesday and I hadn’t been there more than ten minutes when a scarlet robin alighted on the bush right outside the cottage window. Soon after, we were delighted to see several blue-breasted (or variegated!?) fairy wrens, rich in colours of cobalt blue and burnished chestnut. These exquisite little birds turned out to be a regular sight during the week as they hopped and flitted about the rockery, and frequently checked their tiny, perfect reflections in the side mirrors of my car.

Throughout the rest of the week we saw a variety of exquisite little birds. Each evening when I got home, while the images were still fresh in my mind, I’d haul out all the bird books to identify Golden Whistlers and Western Spinebills, Thornbills and Grey Fantails, Jackie Winters and Gerygones, all of which had flitted about in the trees and shrubs around the cottage. I was thrilled to see such a variety and I looked forward to each day with anticipation. I really wanted to see a Pardelote, but I didn’t hold out a lot of hope. I figured I’d already been extremely lucky.

I got up to Araluen very early on the Thursday morning and snuck in through the service entrance. No-one was about and the bush was unaffected by man-made noise. Not even my mobile got coverage up there. Bliss. Only the birds sang and the tall trees sighed in the morning’s chilly wind. It was very damp and cold so I sat at the window gazing out at the trees across the valley while I warmed my hands on a steaming cup of coffee. It was heaven - until the air was rent by the sound of a motorbike. It roared up the hill and around our corner and stopped outside the cottage. Heavy footsteps clomped up to the door. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. Who on earth could that be at this hour? A Telstra rep from India, likely! Knock Knock! I got up and opened the door and a 6ft 2, red-haired, quite gorgeous looking young man stood smiling down at me. ‘Er – G’day! I’ve….er ….come to …er….light your fire!

I’m not often speechless, but words failed me as I let him in with his box of kindling.

Later on, when the rest of the group arrived and the day began to warm up a little, I took up my binoculars and went for a solitary wander through the sweet-smelling bush. The stream was flowing vigorously over the rocks as I crossed a little wooden bridge on whose paraphet a little brown duck was sound asleep with his head tucked into his wing. I stood quite still watching him as he balanced perfectly on one webbed foot, until the air erupted with a cacophony of twittering and some small bushes ahead of me came alive with movement. Slowly creeping up closer, I found the activity with my binoculars and caught my breath. I was astounded to be peering at a group of tiny darting birds, orange, black and white. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was looking at not just the one little bird I’d hoped to see, but five little Spotted Pardalotes. Well, that made my day – and it was only 9 o’clock in the morning! I was grinning like a Cheshire cat and then to top it all off, I looked up in the direction of some unusual bird sound and that was when I saw my first Red-capped Parrots, high up in a marri tree feasting on a breakfast of gum nuts. Things just couldn’t get better. Well they did! Breakfast was waiting for me when I got back.


Lori Spencer