Bush Kids

Children and Nature

Category Archives: Bush Life

In the Tropics

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An extremely hot ‘wet season’ has accompanied us as we adjusted to our stint back in the Tropics. During what is reported to be the hottest wet season on record, Darwin has experienced negative rainfall — more atmospheric evaporation than downpour due to the exceptionally hot conditions. The daily temperatures are mostly around 36 degrees, with a heat index (factoring in the intense humidity) of around 42 degrees. Whilst we have had some impressive wet season cloud build up and sweltering humidity, the monsoon – which brings such cooling welcome relief and respite – was no where to be seen. It’s been a Wet without a wet.

Staying cool in these conditions is a challenge. For my mountain kids, adjusting to the relentless heat has made for plenty of red raced irritability and exhaustion. Nights are only a degree or two cooler than the day time temperatures, and this has added another excuse to the kids’ repertoire of why they can’t get to sleep at bedtime….’it’s too hot to sleep’. It’s true, even a sheet feels hot.

Cold showers, icy water, and many many swims in the pool are essential to lower core body temperatures. We go from the pool to underneath the ceiling fans and back to the pool, then repeat, repeat, repeat. Then another swim or cool shower before bedtime. Nightswims in the dark are one of our very favourite things.

But there are also spectacular coloured sunsets, and lime and papaya and pineapple and rambutan. Skies lit by lightning, the smell of jasmine and frangipani, and the plaintiff sound of curlews calling at night. Living close to the equator is sticky and sweaty, specially when the rains don’t come. But different places always have new sights sounds and smells to offer, and this tropical town is a sensory feast.

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new year, new adventures

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Our New Year tradition is to camp, very simply, on our own place. We load the ute with kids and food, swags and champagne and head down to our creek. At sunset by the fire, one by one, we share and write down our highlights of the passing year, as well as something we are looking forward to and something we would like to do better. Most of all the kids love hearing what their mum and dad would like to improve on.

This new year is bringing with it some big changes for our family. We are leaving our home in the mountains for a year to head north to work on a project there. My youngest babies will be starting school, and I will be working full time. John is combining bits of work with some study and taking over more of the domestic stuff/kid wrangling while I am at work. We are going to be living in an urban environment (even the Darwin is hardly your usual city), and I have all sorts of concerns about how we are going to compress our unruly spread-out country ways into a smaller, denser, more structured life.

But we have consciously chosen to live in an area which has easy access to natural spaces, to make the transition easier on us all. We are looking forward to enjoying the conveniences of town life for a while, especially being close to school and extra-curricular activities (instead of the usual 100km round trip). We are also excited about opportunities to explore the bush of the tropical north, and to keep alive our connections to people and places there. Our eldest two boys were born here, so instead of it being just a part of their history, they will now have the chance to make it an active part of their lives.

Still, there will be lots of challenges, not least missing our home and the land our children have grown up on for most or all of their lives. Even though we are currently on the road, en route to our new life, I already feel a deep yearning for what we have left behind. It will be a year of plenty of challenges as we adjust to a very different life, but also, I hope, one which will enable us to continue adventuring, as we always have.

Light on the River

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The lead up to Christmas in our part of the world is busy and full, just like anywhere else. But year after year, I am thankful that our experience of Christmas is made up of a round of meaningful celebrations and community gatherings, and that we are able to avoid getting caught up in a commercial Christmas frenzy.

At home, much-loved seasonal traditions continue to generate much excitement. The kitchen table is constantly  covered in scraps from various Christmas crafting, baking and making, and behind closed doors there are numerous secret little projects going on.

At our local Christmas party, held in an old timber hall in the middle of a paddock, Santa arrived this year on horseback and families sit down to a shared dinner while the kids climb the water tank and play in the shallows of the river.

I steal out for early runs while little people are still asleep, and drink in the scent of eucalyptus in the brief cool and quiet of morning, before the heat of a summer’s day arrives. At the end of another day of Christmas preparations we all pile into the back of the ute, and head to the dam for a swim to cool off.

At this time of year I am profoundly thankful for the abundance of our lives. I am thankful for the generosity and kindnesses of neighbours and friends. I am thankful for the joyous wild life my children lead, and for the great love within our home and our family. I am thankful for this place we live and for its beauty. I am thankful, too, that amidst all this I can stop for a moment, and watch the last of the evening light fade on the river.

Peace and love to you this Christmas!

Far away islands and life in far away places

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A stint of fieldwork recently took me up north for a short stay on Mornington Island, the largest of the Wellesley islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is a long trip to reach the islands, the last leg of which involves hopping from community to community aboard the mail plane from Mt Isa. The small plane shudders and bumps its way through the thermals above a landscape of ocean, islands, and rivers snaking their way over expansive coastal mudflats. The intricate topographical patterns of land and water seen from above are never more impressive than in the Gulf, yet flying in small planes is not something I relish and I am always glad to set foot on the runway.

The journey was familiar – many years ago I lived in one of those communities and worked with the Indigenous groups of the Gulf on their claims to land and sea. In the wet season we were cut off from the rest of the world for months, and the only way in and out for people and supplies was by air (or boat).

Living in exceedingly remote parts of the world suits me. I have always been attracted to wild places, to small scatterings of human presence amongst the vastness of nature, or to frontier settlements with larger than life characters and a life vastly different from the mainstream. In these places the needs, forms and rhythms of daily life are determined by something much larger than the individual, and the usual concerns of material life seem insignificant. The vastness seems to open you up, to strip away the trimmings and lay things bare. It makes the senses come alive in a way that is simply not possible in the city. It forces a reliance on your own personal resources, and on the small community around you.

And yet there are aspects of life in remote places that can be tough. Conditions can be harsh, and fitting in in a small place can be a challenge. Living in the bush means the usual myriad of social opportunities, facilities, and conveniences of urban life are simply not available. It is often a long time between a latte or a fresh vegetable or a newspaper. Getting to the nearest town may involve a hard drive of hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.

In these remote places many would expect to feel loneliness or a sense of deprivation because of the lack of all these things. And yet, my experience has been one of abundance – of a landscape filled with with stories, history and so much life, and of connectedness – to people and to country and to community.

Have you lived in a remote place before? Did you enjoy the challenges of being a long way from the rest of the world?
Gulf 5Makeshift poles for fishing nets at low tide

Untangling a drag net
In the late dry season there is a constant wind which rattles the pandanas fronds and makes for pleasant sleeping at night
A flock of red-tailed black cockatoos at sunset
Tracks across the sand dunes

Last month of Winter

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The last month of Winter in the mountains is notoriously windy. The westerly winds howl around us on top of the range and no amount of stoking the fires seems to keep the house warm. We have had some absolutely freezing nights, down to -8 degrees, and the earth is hard and crunchy with frost. The dams are covered with ice, and some snow lingers on the southern slopes. There is no sign yet of any growth is the paddocks, although there are buds on the wattle, waiting for the warmth.

The wind has deterred us from our usual long rambles through the bush, and it has been a while since we had dinner on the fire outside. We still get outside when we can, and especially if there is any snow to play in, but we always have a hot thermos on hand to warm our bodies from the inside out. It is in this last month of Winter that I am more nostalgic than usual for northern Australia, where this time of year the air is mild and gentle, instead of biting like here.

The kids have had several bouts of winter illnesses; we seem to have just got the last one well when someone else comes down with a new sniffle. It’s just that time of year. The extra energy it takes for them to fight these bugs, and to stay warm through these freezing days, mean they are more tired than usual at night. Their lips are cracked, their noses red, and, it seems, when they are worn out like this they are less inclined to be patient with one another.

By the last month of Winter I am looking for new ways to keep them well nourished and warm. We have hot milk with cacao, honey and cinnamon at night on the sheepskin rug in front of the fire, and have abandoned several beds so that we can all  snuggle up together for warmth: three in one bed, three in another. In a bid to bring more still more warmth to our evenings, I have taken to whipping up a quick pudding as I am cooking the dinner, and we have been working our way through the pudding section of ‘The C.W.A (Country Women’s Association) Cookery Book and Household Hints’. Who could resist such treats as ‘roly poly pudding’, ‘apple dumplings’, ‘economical plum pudding’, ‘olney pudding’ or ‘treacle pudding’? Straight out of the pages of an Enid Blyton book! If only the chooks would start laying again – we don’t have enough eggs for all these puddings! But it seems they too, are waiting for the warmth to return.

24 - 63Snow at least brings some compensation for having to endure the cold and never fails to delight
Curled up on the ‘Jack Frost’ rug in front of the fire, a tuckered out little fellow
A full Winter moon rising over brown bare paddocks

Icy water and bright brittle Winter lightA cold morning sky, the tussock bent sideways by the wind.
Hot thermos of tea, hot blueberry and lemon wholewheat scones
When will those chooks start laying again?

Bush Birthday

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We recently celebrated my 40th birthday at one of my favourite spots on our property, a kind of natural amphitheatre on top of a hill with massive boulders and tall gums on all sides.

A midwinter outdoor birthday demands lots of warmth: there were big enamel pots full of soup warming on the cooking fire, to eat with crusty bread.And another bigger fire in the centre of it all.

Kids and dogs were everywhere, climbing and building forts and toasting marshmallows.

Oldest and dearest friends said a few words about old times.

And yet more words were shared by wonderful husbands and fathers..

Although it was tempting to remain beside the glowing coals of the fire long after the sun had set, we still had to get all the vehicles back across a boggy, slippery creek, so with the onset of darkness we relocated back to the house.

Where we shed beanies, multiple layers and muddy boots, and settled in for an evening of wine and cheese and cake around the home fires.

The highlight for me was introducing my oldest friends, many of whom travelled from interstate, to my closest ‘new’ friends. It felt like a joining of the dots of my life; a bringing together of the parts to create a whole. And sharing all this in the place we have made our home, on the land we love.

Thanks to wonderful friend and neighbour Anne Daniel for many of these photos.

Owling

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the approach of winter, and the onset of shorter days and increasingly cool, crisp nights, we have started to go owling again.

In our family the practise of going out at night into the bush with torches to spot wildlife used to be known as ‘spotlighting’. However in Australia, ‘spotlighting’ is most often associated with hunting/shooting aboard vehicles lit up with spotlights and the term just didn’t seem right. After we read the poignant and poetic children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, these night walks have ever-after become known as going ‘owling’.

Just like in the book, going owling is something we do individually with our kids, and only as they are old enough, for the owlers need to walk in silence for an hour or more in the dark over rough terrain.

During these star-lit rambles, the land we know so well takes on different faces in the night, and the forest is full of shadows. We see kangaroos and wallabies, wombats, and different types of possums. We have been searching for gliders as they soar between the treetops. We see sneaky foxes on the prowl and think of our last batch of chickens that went their way.

But the ultimate prize is to see an owl. The general aura of mystery and magic with which owls are associated mean that the children regard them with an instinctive reverence and wonder. Whilst we hear them relatively often, sightings are far more elusive. So far we have seen the Barking Owl, Southern Boobook, and the Tawny Frogmouth.

Returning from an owling walk when the other children are asleep, the owlers are full of stories of what they have seen. Sometimes we review the nocturnal creatures in a guidebook to check up on what we saw or heard. After a drink of hot chocolate it takes only seconds for the weary owlers to nod off to sleep, with visions of wings still hovering in the darkness.

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