There are beak down ducks in a pack patrolling the mowed lawn, picking out breakfast. I can hear magpies, kookaburras, and the gentle warm call of distant chooks. As I listen, other birds are calling further up the gully. Near me, the mowed grass is fringed by ferns, maybe a half a metre high. I hear crows. Now there are black cockatoos, out of sight.
The park is a fusion of European passions for lawn and maples – hence the name Maple Grove – and an untamed, but profoundly gentle, bushland. It is a place of utter peace and inspiration for me. Silent magpies have taken over the breakfast patrol.
It’s just gone 0700 and the sun is high enough set a soft light into the gully, caressing the treetops. It’s quiet enough that I can hear the magpies fly off. Breakfast patrol is over. The buffet closed.
The bird song has composed itself into a symphony of peace, with a gentle beat that has so eased my spirit that writing is a struggle. I stop struggling for awhile, and just bask. Even though the city sounds are in the background they do not intrude. But then the performance is over. A plane drones overhead. The first human in near 40 minutes passes with an ancient brown dog. A car has arrived. Doors slam shut. My audience with the spirit of this wonderful place is over – for today.
Brain kicks in. To the hard eyed this is a nice place. On weekends and holidays, it is packed with folk from Sydney. For a time, it is the host of a compact cosmopolitan al fresco community.
Just for a moment, large drops fall, but not from rain. I surmise that maybe dew on the leaves of the nearby trees has been loosened by the sun. The mowed grass glistens as the sun rays get closer to me. The black cockatoos depart noisily, but I cannot see them.
This is not just any gully. It has a mother’s peace to it. I do not know if it was special to indigenous people. I won’t ask. If it was, it is none of my business. It would have been a women’s place, I imagine.
It is feminine and ancient and peaceful and patient.
One evening in early 1997, I sat on a pile of stones beside Tullyganardy Road as it snaked out of Newtownards, and let my spirit flow into the earth beneath me. I had gone to Northern Ireland as the last act of my stay in the UK because having travelled that far from Australian and not going to my birthplace didn’t seem right.
As my spirit sought into my birth land it encountered a cavern with three sleeping dragons. One stirred and said “What are you doing here? Go home. There is nothing here for you.” Then in respond to a half-formed thought from me said “Our time will come again.” I went home to Australia. There, beside the road, on a pile of stones I knew this was no longer my home. It took going back to stop saying I was Irish. I was born there, but nothing else about me remained Irish.
This gully seems home to an ancient spirit. It doesn’t have a form like the dragons. When I try to imagine what it is I am warned off in a gentle but firm manner. I sense a mature very black woman. By black I do not mean Aboriginal – just black. She says I should not want to know more. I am instantly reminded of Emma Restall Orr’s remarkable book Kissing the Hag: The Dark Goddess and the Unacceptable Nature of Women. I learned enough to know that I didn’t understand. Now I must be content with the outer mystery. Going beyond is not my business, and not my need.
It’s gone quiet again. Just for a moment there is only the sound of bird song. I am still, entranced by colour, shape, light.
When we moved to Casterton in western Victoria, just outside the town in Noss Retreat Road, I remember the mowed lawn out the back. It was a kind of moat around the house. My parents brought from Northern Ireland an innocence of snakes which was magnified into a terror by the locals. These were days of laborious mechanical push mowers. The moat, diligently maintained, provided protected access to the dunny and the washing line. Beyond the mowed area was long grass that led to a neglected orchard where apricots grew, and there was a creek. That was my playground when I was 5. It was safe from my parents. They would not enter the long grass. It was where I could dream.
The gully reminds me of this time. The mowed lawn creates a safe place for leisure. What lies beyond is wild and sacred; and is protected by the ring-pass-not made by the mower.
Is the charm of the place the lawn and maple trees with the 8 picnic tables and BBQ area? Or is it the radiance of a gentle sacred place – the nourisher of spirit?