My life is about landscape. It’s always been so, but as I continue to age at a rate of knots, it becomes more and more so, as if I’m only just realising, or I’m trying to hold on. It’s an odd conclusion. How can a life be about landscape, especially my life, which has always been such an urban life, suburban at least? Farmers are allowed to have landscape lives, national-park rangers too, even shooters. Not me, who dresses and walks and speaks so city.
Perhaps it’s because I’m lucky to have grown up beside Sydney’s Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and spent countless weekends building cubby-houses there, or just being in that scrappy peripheral place, getting views from rocky outcrops to the wild landscape beyond.
Maybe it’s because when not in that scrappy peripheral place I was down at the beach with my brothers. The beach is as much about landscape as it is about ocean, a landscape of edges, of bodies, of light and depth and danger.
As a boy and as a teenager I had books about landscape. Somewhere on my bookshelves even today is Landscapes of Britain (1984), which I loved – and still love – for all the photographs of rolling misty hills. There’s Australia’s National Parks (1978); as a ten-year-old I wasn’t so much interested in the pictures of bowerbirds or rare quolls or spiders and snakes, not stalactites in caves (because caves are evil), but the pictures of thickly treed valleys, of canyons and waterfalls and waterholes.
It’s no surprise, then, that my first foray into university education was to study landscape architecture – I wanted to be an architect of the landscape, as if a man could ever be such a thing.
I’m a writer these days; it’s no easier a task.
Early last Sunday, not much beyond dawn, on the way to drop off a heater for my father in Braidwood, I spent an hour driving through this south-east tableland landscape of mine, a landscape I’ve been trying to know for twenty-five years. Tractors motionless in fields, as if the farmer has quite simply had enough. Sheep grazing thoughtlessly. An old homestead, only the chimney remaining. The melancholic blue of the ranges beyond. Driving alongside pine-tree windbreaks, spider webs revealed by the dew, the webs catching the whispers of the landscape, or the prayers, or the dreams.
I just can’t see an end to loving this.
(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 9 April 2011.)