Over the last couple of weeks I've been indulging in my favourite occupation - pottering around. My very ancient and battered Concise Oxford Dictionary defines pottering as trifling away one's time. That's exactly what I've been doing. I've not been engaged in any purposeful, planned or productive activity. I've been following my fancy, and sometimes just doing nothing. This has been major pottering. Championship-level pottering. I did make one initial decision that made the pottering possible - to drive north to Lennox Head, to stay with an old friend.
I took my time on the drive and stayed overnight in Port Macquarie
before arriving in Lennox Head. This part of Australia is beautiful under any conditions - both the sunny winter days of most of my stay and the occasional stormy, windswept days.
I pottered around the area - in particular the heathland that borders the beaches and at this time of the year has early spring flowers. I'm no longer surprised, but I'm always delighted afresh by the contrast between the rather harsh, spikey vegetation of the Australian landscape
and the delicacy and variety of the flowers and fungi that are revealed when you potter and pry...
I attended the annual Byron Bay Writers' festival and pottered my way through the program. The BBWF is very Australian in its focus. There's some recognition of our Asian neighbours, but the writers and topics are mainly of local interest. It has a broad definition of 'writing' - fiction, non-fiction, journalism, poetry, drama. One of the many pleasures of the BBWF is its accessibility. Even though it's very popular with many people attending, its location in four large marquees that are easily accessible makes it ideal for people like me who want to attend sessions as whim and fancy takes them.
Rather surprisingly, given the pattern of my reading, this year my whim and fancy took me mainly, though not solely, to sessions dealing with non-fiction. Some highlights of the festival? A session with George Megalogenis and Ian Lowe debating the pros and cons of a larger population for Australia. Both so well-informed, articulate and polite. Both agreeing on many of the facts, but arriving at different conclusions. This was a wonderful example of a discussion where difference of opinion, properly explored, can illuminate rather than inflame. There was also a splendid interview with fiction writer Alex Miller. He's the kind of interview subject where the interviewer is almost irrelevant. An entertaining and knowledgeable raconteur whose broad life experiences help to explain the sweep of his fiction. Then there was a trio of admirable eminent elders at their generous and entertaining best: ex-Chief Justice Michael Kirby, ex-Greens leader Bob Brown, and Nobel prizewinner Peter Docherty (who has the best title ever for his latest book - 'Sentinel Chickens'!)
I've been pottering with my reading (lots of entertaining crime-fiction including prolific Singaporean writer Shamini Flint, an fun-filled discovery from the BBWF), pottering with my knitting (some arthritis in my fingers limiting my productivity), and lunching out and catching up with old friends.
And to conclude, I did some really major pottering on my way home. I decided to drive back along the inland route of the New England Highway with stops in Armidale and the Hunter Valley. I've written earlier of the splendour of the landscape revealed by this inland route - particularly of the sweeping views disclosed as you climb from the coast to the spine of the Great Dividing Range:
One lovely discovery was the village of Guyra. I stopped here for lunch and pottered around. I'm sure I've been to the village of Guyra before, but had never pottered. This is what I discovered...
The Black Sheep yarn store - possibly the best-stocked yarn store I've ever been to in Australia. A pity it's more than 500kms from Sydney! Maybe Guyra's cold weather has inspired this store, but it has an astounding range of quality commercial yarns - both the number of brands stocked, but also the colour ranges within each of the brands. So tempting - and yes, I did succumb, in a relatively minor way, to temptation.
Guyra also has a surprising landmark beside which I ate my lunch - the Mother of Ducks Lagoon.
This has to be one of the more pleasing names for a lake. Even writing it again makes me smile. And yes, it did have a plentiful duck population - too distant to be clearly seen in my photo.
Finally, pottering home by way of the Hunter Valley and its vineyards.
Maybe by this stage I'd had enough of pottering, but the Hunter Valley and its cultivated landscapes was something of an anti-climax after the unplanned spendour of so much of my time away. It struck me as over-priced and over-organised...the kind of place where pottering has fewer rewards than it does in a less touristed area.
At some stage - soon, I suspect - I will need to take a more responsible attitude to my life. I guess I can't trifle my days away. Duty will call. Bills will need to be paid. Forms will need to be filled in. Obligations of various kinds will intrude. But these days of pottering have been wonderful.