Thursday, September 11, 2003

Home, home on the range

It’s been funny, being at home before heading off to England – I’ve spent most of the last three years living away from Canberra and this is the longest I’ve been back in the parents’ house.

They have a slow combustion stove and slate flooring, which makes the whole place toasty warm this time of year (if very dry and de-humidified). My mother’s favourite kindling is pinecones, and I’ve often gone out to collect them. The last owners of my parents’ two paddocks (they live on 40 acres just outside Canberra, near Lake George) planted the boundary lines with pines. The drought has not been good, and the alien pines seem perversely green in paddocks stained the sepia, tea-bag brown.

Foraging in the russet needles for pinecones, filling my mother’s cloth bag, reminds me of when I used to play under or among these trees with my sister. They seemed a private world then, one that whispered when it got windy. Once at uni, when similarly scouting for kindling, or just for a stroll – I found a few of my childhood Smurfs lying patiently among the needles.

No hidden treasure this time though.

My parents have been getting their driveway resurfaced. It’s been an undertaking of Roman proportions. Neglected for several years, their two hundred meter gravel driveway had washed out to a rutted track that endangered the undercarriage of everything but the four-wheel drive they don’t own. (My parents live in the country and don’t own one; wake up you city-dwellers driving your utterly unsafe, top-heavy, roll-prone personal tanks bristling with cyclist-slaying bull bars!)

First a load of rocks had to be dropped on the drive, turning it from dangerous to pretty much impassable. Then a huge grader (imagine a construction vehicle crossed with the biggest damn butterknife you’ve ever seen) had to scrape even a couple of truck-loads of earth. (At this stage in proceedings, Dad cut a cross-country track through the paddocks so we could drive out around the driveway, which now looked like trench construction on the Somme.)

The last stage was a graded gravel topcoat. The drive’s now a white ribbon running through the front paddock. My sister thinks they should bitumen-coat it, so it doesn’t erode over the next few years. It’s a good idea, but I’m not sure one of those bitumen-surfacing roadwork machines would get up our drive. If it could be done by spray-truck, that might just about work.

My parents have often hired earth-working vehicles, installing three further dams since arriving here in an effort to drought-proof the house’s garden, and to allow them to agist neighbours’ animals during droughts. (They have no livestock of their own.) I’m used to seeing the layered prints of giant tyres in muddy, churned earth – like a freshly excavated giant trilobite, or the ribs of some ancient thing pushing their way out through the soil.

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