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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

More Observations from the Western Australian Bush

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

More Observations from the Western Australian Bush

Andrew Ryan

About two hours drive from the hills of Perth is a property that I occasionally dream about, in both sleep and waking life. I’m back, after too many years away, with a dear old friend. The last time I was here with him, we were in high school. We are adults now. It is nice.

The roof of the house breathes with the sun. We sit under the veranda facing the paddock, which is surrounded by bush that goes on forever. This was a logging site in the 50’s, the old house still stands near the property gate, but the wood is rotting, and the sheds will be totally collapsed within a year, my friend reckons. I suggest restoration; he says it’s too far-gone. This house is liveable though, built by his father in the 70s; quiet, clever, possibly self-sustaining once the orchard is planted.

We take turns shooting the .22 rifle at the rock in the middle of the paddock. We were hoping to see a rabbit or two, he was going to teach me how to skin it and prepare it for eating, but they don’t show. I wanted to tan the skin, find some local ingredients to use, and make a hat to keep in the house that I will wear only while I’m here. Chadoora Hat, rabbit fur hat, a costume to mark the person I become in these surrounds: shooting as a zen activity, recording bird sounds for music I don’t make, wondering how I can explore native food without poisoning myself (too badly).

Don Maclean in the evening with beer and whisky and reading, Louis Armstrong in the morning with the eggs and bacon and coffee. Talking about the history of war, the way that some birds and most mammals have sentries in the wild, talking about the course of life taken by our old school friends, and the attitudes of the wild boar that roam the property: the fuckers trot around like they own the damn place, he said. Colonial pricks, the lot of ‘em, I said.

I fell asleep with the whisky next to me, and I was in three places at once when he woke me. He said he could hear me moaning and yelping in the night, from the other room, 6 hours after he asked me if I still spoke in my sleep. I said, when he asked me, that I didn’t think I did; no one I have slept next to recently has mentioned it, though, I thought to myself, I have woken up laughing lately, and I have woken up crying lately.

He took me for a walk up to the nearest Bibbulmun Track rest hut. He and his father look after it, look after that portion of the track, restock toilet paper, check the rainwater tank. Despite the almost complete lack of rain over this last summer, the water level wasn’t too low. Someone had left pistachio shells and a big ol’ loogy in the camp-fire drum.

The aesthetic of the bush changes quickly. There is a lot of water out here, compared to the last area of outback I spent time in, and the trees are beautiful, adolescent things growing slowly, I hope they live to be old and strong. Nearest to the property, they stand like guards over their dead brethren; young fern fronds emerge from the corpses, non-fruiting green and black snotty-gobble burst through the gaps between the blackboys.

Closer to the rest-hut, banksia take over. They like it near the water, and there is a creek nearby that runs in the winter, a creek that feeds in to the dam on the property. I thought I could hear the creek, but it must have been the leaves. There has not been enough rain for a creek to run, and the leaf-litter clogs the undergrowth like shoes in the collected wardrobes of suburbia.

There is a small plastic tub in the hut, home to notebooks that chronicle the comings and goings of hikers through that Bush. They write their names, their age, and their gender. They write where they started their trek, where they plan to finish their trek, and how long they planned for their trek to take. They write any points of interest: “MY FIRST ECHIDNA, BEAUTIFUL!”, or that the lack of phone/internet reception is more rewarding than they ever expected, or that the ground was nice and flat to walk on.

When I checked the book, I saw that we just missed Uggy. That loogy in the campfire was still fresh, so it must have been his. Uggy wrote in the book that he was 48 years old, that he still couldn’t read his own hand writing, just like when he was there last. I wish we had met Uggy.

When we were back on the veranda, shooting the .22 and laughing about zombies, I wondered if Uggy was still in hearing distance of the gun. He wouldn’t be, he would be long gone, but I wonder what he would think if he heard that gun. I wonder what the young couple from Fremantle who thought that an Echidna was a Porcupine would think if they heard that gun. It’s loud, but we humans make no sounds, unless I hit the mark and it ricochets, and then I squeal in excitement and satisfaction, and my friend laughs in enjoyment at my enjoyment. I imagine the couple from Fremantle would stop and stare at each other, wide eyed. I imagine Uggy would smile to himself, and keep walking. I wonder what I would do in their situation.