I'm very much a city person. I love the busyness, the diversity, the unpredictability and the anonymity of big cities. But...I grew up in a small country town - Grenfell, in central west NSW - and I spent the first couple of years of my working life teaching in Narrandera in the Riverina area of NSW. There is something about the landscapes of inland NSW that has entered my soul; I have a sense of belonging when I'm surrounded by the airy spaciousness of the Australian countryside.
So, on my recent trip to Lennox Head on the far north coast of NSW I decided to drive by the longer, inland road. For me, the coast doesn't count as 'country'. It's too green, and too close to the edge of the continent to feel like home. On AliMachenMachen's advice I drove to Armidale (where I spent the night) via Gloucester and Walcha. Wonderful. You emerge from the forests of the slopes of the Great Dividing Range - majestic and enclosing - to the vistas of the highlands.
Judith Wright's poem South of my Days is so apt
South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country
rises that tableland, high delicate outline
of bony slopes wincing under the winter,
low trees, blue-leaved and olive, outcropping granite-
clean, lean, hungry country.
I wasn't too distracted by the landscape to visit the Wool Room in Uralla. The person tending the shop, who I assumed was the owner, was apologetic that her stock had run low at the end of winter. There was wonderful classic-styled clothing made of wool and other woolly fibres, as well as some felted hats and bags in gorgeous colours that had been made by the woman serving me. And yes, I did buy some wool - thick and thin machine-spun DK masquerading as hand-spun, but beautifully hand-dyed in foresty shades of green and brown.
I drove from Armidale to Tenterfield (with the Peter Allen soundtrack echoing in my head) and then plunged down through the forest and the green once-dairy country to the coast. Somehow the lush paddocks that even in my memory were populated by dairy cows seem sad to me. I'm sure it's better for the environment that the cows have gone, but I feel sad for the generations of families who endured the drudgery that was smallhold dairy farming only to have that whole way of life disappear.
My week in Lennox Head passed so quickly. I caught up with old friends, some of whom I have known for all my adult life, talked, read, went out for breakfast (and lunch), visited wonderful farmers' markets and (occasionally) went for walks. Even though it doesn't count as 'country' in my judgment, Lennox Head is undeniably beautiful. There is, of course, the beach which extends for kilometers, and at this time of the year is almost deserted.
On this visit I also discovered the heathland that must have existed before the town was built and is now being monitored and where necessary regenerated by volunteer weeders and land-carers. I had an acute sense of the vulnerability of the heath - not grand enough to be valued by many and seemingly ripe for 'development', and also subject to the rapaciousness of introduced plants and animals, and the capriciousness of fire. We followed the fire paths through the heath,
found a secluded pond, formed within a disused quarry
and wondered at the diversity and curiousness of the plants - the banksias
the flourishing grass trees,
the disintegrating grass trees (perhaps even more wondrous),
and the last of the spring wildflowers.
Did I knit? Well, a bit of progress on both my kimono jacket and flapper scarf, but not as much as I had hoped. I think I might have to face the dreadful truth that when I'm not constrained by time and being busy, I'm lazy - even about something I enjoy as much as my knitting. Perhaps another reason for staying in the city.