(ca­noe­ing)

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Jane Leadley Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

A short drive and a walk through the rain­for­est takes me to a creek trib­u­tary, my ac­cess path­way to the lake. It will be a nearly 20km pad­dle to my own pri­vate re­treat — un­reach­able by road and lo­cated on the far edge of beau­ti­ful Lake Ti­na­roo on the Ather­ton Table­lands in far north Queens­land.

I load up my small, old-style fi­bre­glass ca­noe with camp gear, which now in­cludes a small tent. My first camps used to be just a swag un­der a tarp but now, af­ter zip­ping the mos­quito net door, I know there will be noth­ing crawl­ing over or un­der me dur­ing the night.

Fi­nally the ca­noe turns into the bank close to the lit­tle camp­site in the rain­for­est al­most au­to­mat­i­cally, the same jour­ney it has made for the past 20 years or more.

Awe-in­spir­ing kauri pines stand sen­tinel; other older trees have fallen; and the vi­cious wait-a-while vine takes up space where light has been let through the canopy. As al­ways, this spe­cial space wel­comes me with soft sun­light fil­ter­ing through the trees.

At other times of the year, dur­ing the wet sea­son, I’ve been a spec­ta­tor to the most in­cred- ible light shows as thun­der­storms light up the night sky out­lin­ing the vol­canic hills of the Seven Sis­ters near Yungaburra, sev­eral kilo­me­tres away across the ex­panse of the lake.

But now an azure blue king­fisher and I hang out to­gether on sep­a­rate ends of a fallen tree that reaches out to the water’s edge. He per­forms aer­o­bat­ics in the last light of the day for his meal of in­sects, while I swing my legs and watch the sun go down as it turns the water red and gold.

Later, as dark­ness falls, I hear a group of brol­gas land­ing fur­ther out on the water’s edge on one side of my tent; and on the other side, deeper in the for­est, a fam­ily of feral pigs are mak­ing their way through the trees be­fore set­tling for the night. Nei­ther party re­alises an in­truder is in their midst.

I get up at dawn to watch the brol­gas’ an­tics be­fore they take flight, like pre­his­toric for­ma­tion fly­ers up into the morn­ing mists ris­ing from the water. At this time of day it is so still that launch­ing my ca­noe into the water to go ex­plor­ing is like slid­ing it out onto a pane of glass.

The next day, leav­ing no trace ex­cept re­newed paths, I’m on the way home and pass­ing me fly­ing over­head is one of the res­i­dent pair of sea ea­gles car­ry­ing a fish in its talons back to their nest in the next bay.

At day’s end, and as I fi­nally come into the back­wa­ters of the lake closer to home, a cou­ple of pel­i­cans glides away from the ca­noe.

I pass a platy­pus hav­ing a last float on top of the water, look­ing just as re­laxed as this jour­ney has left me feel­ing.

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