The voices from the branches of the wind, the sudden plover through these cold spring nights, the swan-honk on the river and the frog-plonk from its squelching banks … all welcome respites from the suffocating hubris of humanity.
There’s a sign at the entrance of the town that says: ASK BEFORE STARTING YOUR CHAINSAW. Christina was behind it. She was horrified when she moved from Melbourne at the sheer willingness of people on the coast to rev up their whippersnippers, chainsaws, slashers, mowers, etc, whenever they felt like it.
It’s all relative you see. In the innercity she could mark essays with a leaf-blower three feet from her study window, but this was different. Out on her freshly built baltic pine verandah with the king parrots, an Orange Pekoe and a nice bowl of Richmond Hill muesli, hauling her way through the weekend papers so that she’d be free for Louis De Bernieres by midday, all around her in the saltshimmer of the newly blue day the idiotic monotone of machinery just wouldn’t let up.
Had nothing changed in Australia? she wondered. Was everyone still vainly trying to beat nature back with their fervent implements of fear? Why the hell couldn’t people just relax and let the wild things grow. She was new in the area but quite obviously she already had an affinity with the place that far surpassed those who’d lived there for decades.
When she went to the beach she could lie quite still listening to the gloshing of the rockpools and the hissing hem of the tide for hours. But no-one else could.
Everyone was always running madly about, with dogs barking and constantly sniffing at her Nokia & hummus, there always seemed to be the same two Greek guys on whining jetskis just past the breakers, and a damn infernal homemade glider that insisted on buzzing over everyone’s head like a giant blowfly.
The glider was a ridiculously asymmetrical contraption that seemed always on the verge of spluttering to a halt, so that on top of the racket it made, a compassionate person like her was always made to feel quite anxious that someone might get hurt.
But she knew the type, she’d met them before. Frustrated Tim Bowden-style blokes who always hitched their pants too high and took out their life’s screensaving weekday boredom with two-yearly trips to the Antarctic and heroic DIY tinkering in between.
Sure she thought, we all like our extreme sports but excuse me! This glider-music was extreme alright, extremely insensitive. What’s wrong with flying a kite for god’s sake?
She wasn’t used to sitting on her hands about important social issues and so she decided to do something about it. She asked around the town and by an uncanny coincidence became aware that a Neighbourhood Watch group had only recently been formed. She turned up at a meeting and quite casually introduced them all to the concept of Acoustic Privacy.
Happily they caught on straight away, obviously impressed with her linguistic savvy and her strategic appeals to the public liability issues, ie: hearing loss, stress etc … and with an admirable efficiency somehow synonymous with Presbyterian retirees, they immediately set about lobbying the shire.
Six weeks later, driving home from the Man Ray show at the NGV she was chuffed to see two guys packing their tools back into a Shire van with a brand new piece of Very Progressive Signage on the roadside behind them.
Aah, that was better, but now she had a different problem. The bushblock she had bought was a remnant scramble of messmate, rife with epacris, prickly moses, banksia, and a sticky, insectivorous native called drosera – but unfortunately all she’d seen when she’d inspected it with the young guy from Portofino Real Estate was the golden winter wattle and the view.
It was priceless, on that she and the agent wholeheartedly agreed. In another country, say, i don’t know, Italy for instance, she just wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Or would she? Anyway, pretty soon she realised that the scratchy & parsimonious nature of the ground around her faux-Murcutt, as she laughingly called her cyclone-resistant tin & glass cottage to friends back in the city, pretty much left her housebound on her own land.
She’d worked so hard for this dream of a simple life with a kitchen garden by the sea but in the glee of changing her life she hadn’t stopped to notice that under the subtle khaki and russet tinctures of the native foilage, under the sepias and blacks and pale violets that reminded her so much of Arthur Boyd paintings, her topsoil was long gone and the hard grey clay that was left behind seemed to be nothing short of a kind of Federation Square for bullants.
Sitting up on her verandah again she put aside her almonds & tabouli, gazed out at the moody hills across the ocean, and sighed. She realised that to get the block into shape she might have to get a man in, as her Suffolk grandmother used to say.
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