Con­ver­sa­tions about trees and trav­ellers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

THERE is some­thing so ma­jes­tic about an­gophora trees, es­pe­cially at dusk when they are bathed in light and glow all rough and rosy. “Ge­orge John­ston said they were as pink as Petra and twice as beau­ti­ful,” Maisie Drys­dale, widow of artist Rus­sell, told me one evening as we looked out at her gar­den in Kill­care.

Maisie and I were neigh­bours then, and she had been great friends with au­thors John­ston and Charmian Clift, who used to stay with her at her house, de­signed by Guil­ford Bell, who had it built in the 1960s as pavil­ions con­nected by court­yards and gallery halls.

Maisie was never boast­ful about such rar­efied con­nec­tions and you got the im­pres­sion that she imag­ined Ge­orge and Charmian could just as eas­ily have stayed at your house and chat­ted long into the night about their lives on the Greek is­land of Hy­dra.

Maisie was a re­tired li­brar­ian then, al­most 15 years ago, and the sort of per­son who ex­pected you to have vis­ited Petra, at last once, and some­one you could turn to if you wanted to know about trees. Up she’d get and walk slowly with her cane to her home li­brary, or­dered ac­cord­ing to the Dewey sys­tem, and find you a book about the veg­e­ta­tion of the NSW cen­tral coast and the ex­act pic­ture you had hoped for.

I was en­thralled to learn that the rest­less travel writer Bruce Chatwin had stayed with the Drys­dales. “An odd chap,” Maisie said of him. “He walked about here with­out his trousers and gen­er­ally showed off.”

I can’t look at an an­gophora now and not think of Petra, in Jor­dan, and its pink sand­stone col­umns that re­minded Ge­orge of the Aus­tralian bush. It makes me re­mem­ber Maisie, too, who died in 2001 but shortly be­fore had tele­phoned and asked me to de­liver her a book the next day. She was in the mood for a Ja­panese novel. “Any­thing, re­ally, a Kawa­bata or a Mishima?”

Maisie had known poet Harold Ste­wart, too, whose trans­la­tions of Ja­panese haiku, A Net of Fire­flies and A Chime of Wind­bells, are the most pre­cious books I own. “Never lend those un­less you are pre­pared to let them go,” she said. Then, af­ter a stroke, she was gone and so too the chats of trees and trav­ellers.

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