Morning light on my wall – 7.30am. Sky pale blue … grass white … dog unnaturally enthusiastic (and hungry, he claims). Wooly slippers – fingerless gloves … New Guinea mission beanie. Last night meeting hangover – worse than alcohol. A study to write. Hospital to contact. Meet with my colleagues. Pretend to be not confused. Breakfast. Darjeeling in a cup.
Facebook “Memories” can be annoying, but they can also bring back moments otherwise forgotten. They may not be “memories” in themselves, but they open the door to the place where memories are kept.
The next paragraph is what I typed on this day in 2012. It feels like something experienced by someone else … perhaps I was someone else.
Jan 31st 2012
“Cool relief from the hot weather. I had a call out to the hospital at 3am this morning. The air was so clear and cool that it seemed almost crystalline. No sounds … dark … not even a faint glow in the east. Beautiful. I didn’t want to be up at 3am, and I didn’t want to be visiting a death bed at that time … but the early morning feel makes a fella appreciate what a wonderful world and life we have been given. I wouldn’t miss such experiences for quids!”
It was a good house, sitting on a few acres of steep ground. The front was 1880s dressed stone. The back part was dug into the hill and cool. The clothes line was accessed by climbing stairs to one side and walking onto the flat roof section at the back. Fruit trees surrounded it. The vegetable garden was black aluvial soil above the creek. The chook sheds were concrete cells that were once kennels for dog breeding – while we were there they held nesting boxes for red hens, and some housed the orphaned and injured owls that we fostered. The front door was reached by crossing a footbridge over a permenantly flowing stream, and then climbing more than twenty steep steps that passed through the garden. These steps were a favourite sunning place for red-bellied black snakes and tiger snakes that lived in the creek vegetation. The snakes were no trouble – we just needed to watch where we walked.It was a good house, of fond memory. It wasn’t big, but it was cosy and comfortable. It was the place where our son Huw was conceived, and the first place he lived – born on our tenth wedding anniversary in 1983.
This was the fourth place Joy and I lived as a couple. I came down from Lobethal in the hills in 1972, and Joy and I had a flat in Norwood. We were married in 1973 and lived first in a century old house in Hyde Park just off the now very trendy shopping strip on King William Road.
From there we went to Fullarton to a house with a big garden and orchard out the back. Thence we headed for the hills and dwelt Hobbit-like in the Horsnell Gully cottage, known locally as “The Dogs’ Home” or “The Kennels” … a dog’s home with two Foxes living in it – strange!We lived in that house for quite a while, playing loud, loud music (there were no immediate neighbours to complain), drinking chilled Bolly on the verandah (especially on Saturday and Sunday afternoons). People with musical instruments popped around to relax, and Joy catered lavishly. We hung out with the arty set and spent a lot of times in galleries and dimly lit clubs and bars.
It was a pleasing lifestyle. … the bright front rooms and the cool gloom of the semi underground back rooms … reclining in the bath on Saturday afternoons with the lorikeets hanging in the pear branches outside the open door … the wild fox walking across the back roof to pick the olives … the echidnas walking up the steps by the kitchen window … the possums yelling for jam sandwiches on the verandah … the choruses of frogs … and the constant singing of birds.It was a good house that had seen much in its 100+ years, but wasn’t telling. It held the drama it knew close to its breast, but sometimes there were echoes. No, it wasn’t haunted but some nights it sounded as if it was. Strange beasts dwelt between the ‘new’ ceiling and the original wood ceiling above it. Wraiths squirmed about in the sealed off bedroom chimney. The iron roof moved and creaked in the heat.There were physical threats as well as those imagined spookings. The cottagey rural charm was spared from the Ash Wednesday bushfire horror. Flames skirted around it. The fire, roaring like daemons from Mordor came straight down the valley, dark at 3pm, to within not all too many metres from our door where it changed course and went up the hill and behind the back of the house. Emergency services ordered me and my heavily pregnant Joy to evacuate – it seemed a very wise idea. A week or so later a “rain event” swept black ash down the flooded creek, over our gardens and poultry sheds, and through the two Humber cars I had parked in the lower area.When the baby started to crawl, and looked like toddling wasn’t far away, it became apparent that a house sticking out of a cliffside, infested with snakes and all sorts of bities, with a precipitous stone and concrete stairway access, probably wasn’t the place for us.We reached into our pockets and purchased a house in the ‘nice’ end of Prospect and became almost respectible suburbanites.
But we missed the Gully. Bits of that cottage still circulate in our blood.
Let’s go back to a hot Barossa Valley day in January 2014.
In St John’s manse, Joy and Amelia and I were eating our mutton and drinking our wine.
We sat back and watched French murder on DVD.
We were revelling in the cool change – all the windows wide open and the cool airs wafting in through the screen doors.
Peace and cool
… the women in their light cotton house dresses, I in my shorts and “Yes” concert tour tee shirt (British prog rock never lets you down.)
The sounds of Summer.
The galahs bedding down late in the church trees.
The occasional car.
The hissing of summer lawns as the sprinklers refresh the grass I’d cut that afternoon.
The French talk blending perfectly with the summer evening.
Serenity (with French violence) …
Suddenly the Black Dog strikes!
No, not THAT black dog
… not the black dog that plagued Mr Churchill … that plagued Reverend Fox … that plagued the peace of mind of those two gentlemen as they sat, years and a world apart, in their melancholy struggling to set their minds on the hard, misunderstood tasks ahead of them.
Our Black Dog
… Diesel the Wonder Dog
His nose propelled the sliding back screen door open
and that door yielded to his enthusiastic anxiety to share the wonders of unattended sprinklers in his back yard.
Fun that must be shared, if en passant, with the family.
Suddenly the screams are not confined to the flat screen.
Suddenly the accents of dismay and suffering have an Australian twinge.