The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Rob Ben­son

SEVEN years ago we bought a few acres an hour north of Melbourne. Hill coun­try. Gran­ite and old, gnarled gums. The land came with two horses. There was noth­ing much else on it, ex­cept a car­a­van and a dam. We would drive up and the horses would come and greet us. One quick, young and white. The other an an­cient and sway­backed ch­est­nut dun. She would poke her head through the car­a­van door and watch us. Even­tu­ally she died and was buried un­der a huge yel­low box with a cas­ing of bark like a feathered cloak. We gave the young one away.

It was dif­fer­ent with­out the horses, but since they left the flies have gone, the grass has grown and saplings are sprout­ing. Black­woods and pep­per­mints. Can­dle­barks. And the kan­ga­roos have come back.

Ev­ery­thing about the land is hard. Ex­tremes of weather, trees fall­ing across the track or flat­ten­ing a fence. I cut the grass with my city mower, feel­ing ridicu­lous. I should have a rideon but that means power and a shed, and a 4m road of crushed rock that will scar the land.

We’ve thought of sell­ing the land. But we can’t. When we go up there, we both change. Back in the city, we talk about it. A few years ago we agreed we no longer own the land. It owns us. It has us in its thrall.

When we go up to the land, some­thing strange hap­pens. You might say noth­ing hap­pens. Noth­ing one could eas­ily ob­serve.

We walk over its sur­face and no­tice lit­tle things. A branch snapped on a sapling. By what? An­i­mal tracks, scats, feath­ers. That area of flat­tened golden grass above the dam. The kan­ga­roos have been rest­ing there. Eastern greys. See­ing us they freeze, still as stat­ues. And then bound off. Yes­ter­day there were about 30, all sizes, fly­ing down the ridge. How mag­nif­i­cent!

Later we light a camp­fire and sit in the gath­er­ing dusk. Do­ing noth­ing. Watch­ing the glow­ing coals. Be­ing quiet and at­ten­tive. We can’t help it. The land de­mands our at­ten­tion.

Pas­sen­ger jets pass over­head so high they make no sound. No dis­trac­tion. We start to no­tice lit­tle things. A kook­aburra wait­ing in a bough. Small treecreep­ers with their pretty bel­l­like calls as they hop ath­let­i­cally, ver­ti­cally up the gums. How do they cling so eas­ily? Blue wrens and fan­tails. A flash of red sig­nalling tiny pardalotes. A flock of even smaller thorn­bills that seem no big­ger than but­ter­flies.

The stars come out and then mi­cro bats. Soon it will be the time for hon­eyglid­ers and phasco­gales. Frogs and foxes.

We don’t say much but of­ten share a glance. ‘‘Look! Did you see that?’’ Point­ing. As­tounded yet again. As­ton­ished. What is this strange feel­ing? To be as­tounded. It’s like a sud­den awak­en­ing. It goes as quickly as it comes, leav­ing a residue of won­der.

The land talks to us. Sur­pris­ing us in lit­tle ways. The land is alive. Won­der­fully alive. And we drive home some­how more alive. Ready to im­merse our­selves in the noise and de­mands of city liv­ing, but car­ry­ing some­thing spe­cial.

Those kan­ga­roos. How un­likely they are. That echidna. How amaz­ing. And all those stars. You hardly see any stars in the city. We head home car­ry­ing with us that sense of won­der. That such ex­tra­or­di­nary things should ex­ist and flour­ish in our world. A sense of the magic of it all. That’s what the land gives us. Again and again.

Back home in the city, we are of­ten blind. So busy, we lose sight of the most im­por­tant thing. To see life, the world, re­ally is a mir­a­cle.

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