Bushwalking, sailing, Ents and dinosaurs: a Great Barrington winter escape Down UnderAUSTRALIA, GUEST BLOGGERS — By Judith Shaw on June 12, 2014 at 23:11
Story by guest blogger Judith Shaw. Photos Copyright © Judith Shaw
THE BEST THING about our arrival in Sydney was the warmth. It was a toasty 27 degrees centigrade, or 81 in Fahrenheit. At home in western Massachusetts it was freezing. We’d had more than a month of the Polar Vortex, and if you counted wind chill, single digits sinking to well below zero had been the norm. It was too cold to snowshoe or ski, way too cold to walk, and even the dog raced back inside after peeing on the porch.
Then there was the ice. In the month before our Australia trip I had fallen three times, fracturing a wrist when I stuck out a hand to break my fall. I’m getting too old for this nonsense.
We landed at Sydney Airport, rented a car and drove southwest to Woolla, a 5,000-acre cattle property out in the whoop-whoop between Canberra and Melbourne.
Woolla is owned by my husband’s oldest friend, a historian whose passion is the period when bushrangers (runaway convicts who took up robbery under arms) were active in the countryside around Braidwood. Woolla is way out in the bush. The nearest town is more than an hour away, and there aren’t even real roads. Just dirt tracks that turn into rivers when the rains come.
Woolla and the surrounding area is in drought, and cattle have to compete with local wildlife—kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots and wombats—for the available vegetation. In this year’s unseasonably hot summer, the bush has been seriously threatened by fire. Ten days before we arrived the ridges around Woolla were burning, and it wasn’t clear if it would be safe to come. The fires were out by the time we got there, but whole swathes of the mountains were burnt black.
The main entertainment is bushwalking—otherwise known as hiking. One day we took a picnic lunch and walked to the river for a visit to the local swimming hole. I hoped to see a platypus, but they are almost never out during the day, and that day was no different. We did see kangaroos. More than we could count.
After three days and lots of walking we left the bush and returned to Sydney. Our first adventure was a sail on Sydney Harbour with our friend Adam. Adam took his responsibility seriously, and spent a whole day getting checked out on the 30-foot sailboat. It was a good thing he did. Wind gusts of 25 knots could have put us in the drink with the sharks.
This strange looking conifer, Wollemi Pine, is a very special brand of tree. It was discovered in 1994 in a deep, narrow canyon of Wollemi National Park. Known as ‘dinosaur tree’ or ‘living fossil,’ the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust calls it one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time.
Moving into the 20th Century, this old tree has bark like elephant hide. Where the branch turns, the bark wrinkles just like skin. Its roots look like feet. Could this be where Tolkien got his idea for Ents?
A day trip out of the city took us to the Royal National Park. The cliff wall was neglected and overgrown, but the view was out of this world. The tide was coming in, and the two people surf-fishing had to move out of reach of the waves. Every year a few rock fishermen are swept away by the surf.
We left Sydney and flew to London. Did you know it’s thirty per cent cheaper to fly around the world than it is to backtrack? Easier on the jetlag, too.
London wasn’t as warm as Sydney, mainly in the fifties, but spring was on its way in. Unfortunately the same could not be said of our home in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. When we got home, it was still in the grip of the Big Chill.
Judith Shaw is a freelance editor who studied Classical Chinese at Yale, lived for many years in Asia and Australia and has a deep and abiding love of dogs and horses. She has been a student of Milli’s Fear of Writing Online Course and the Fear of Writing Grad Course and is now a happy client at Writer’s Muse Coaching. Judith lives in western Massachusetts with her Australian husband and her Jack Russell Terrier but, sadly, no more horses.