THIS ( WAN­DER­ING) LIFE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints - MAR­GARET VER­NON

IHAVE al­ways liked to wan­der. There I stand, my hair all wild and woolly, my stocky arms jut­ting out of the hand- knit­ted red jumper, one grey panty leg hang­ing be­low the pleated skirt, and no shoes.

My par­ents owned 40ha of bush around their home and I knew ev­ery path and pud­dle, ev­ery cliff and creek bed. There’s an old road made for car­riages on the wrong side of the or­chard to be an ac­cess road. It takes a gen­tle slope in a zigzag fash­ion, with the sides squared up with rock walls and all over­grown with weeds. At the bot­tom of the road a path leads through a thicket of privet grown wild. The privet is tight and dark and damp, and there in the midst is a cold, black, seem­ingly bot­tom­less well. When you first see the well it makes you hold your breath. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing, that well, with the cover all rot­ting.

I have al­ways liked to wan­der. Gal­lop­ing bare­back on my black mare, Sue, in the frosty morn­ing. Down an­other dirt road and just around the cor­ner there’s an­other hill. I want to see what’s over the next rise. Is it just more bush?

One day there was a sur­prise: an aban­doned house on the Kings Table­land. It was all boarded up with cor­ru­gated iron, the tank was leak­ing and the out­house was stripped of fi­bro. I heard it was a ra­dio out­post in World War II. Next time I came back it had been ran­sacked.

I have al­ways liked to wan­der. Ris­ing early while the ba­bies sleep, I would wan­der up the dry creek bed where the mist gath­ers be­fore the dawn and col­lect the fallen eu­ca­lyp­tus logs and wat­tle branches.

Back in the gar­dener’s cot­tage, I’d set a fire in the open hearth. Soon the flames were roar­ing up the chim­ney and one by one the chil­dren’s rosy faces gath­ered around the blaze.

I have al­ways liked to wan­der. Just be­fore Christ­mas I took off in my car, drag­ging my hus­band with me for com­pany. Through the Kan­ga­roo Val­ley plains and down the south coast of NSW.

We en­tered Vic­to­ria and started our wan­der down the Great Ocean Road. By this time Lind­say was close to break­ing point. He liked his hol­i­days planned, but I was do­ing my wan­der­ing and would not be held down.

We stopped a while in War­rnam­bool, then car­ried on to Port Camp­bell and up to Mil­dura.

We ar­rived at Lake Mungo and had time to eat our air­line salad. Then we took a short stroll over the hill and through the salt­bush to the an­cient lake bed of pink sand dunes.

Look­ing up the rib­bons of sand, the ridge stood stark against the sky. I poked around, look­ing for fos­sils and bones. As the sun rested on the hori­zon, we drank cham­pagne out of a plas­tic cup, watch­ing the blood- red sun­set.

Sit­ting there on the pink sands, a peace gen­tly set­tled in my heart and it was time to go home.

Next year I’m go­ing wan­der­ing again.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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