I left Perth a bit later than I would have liked. It is already late afternoon when I get to the Perth Hills. I climb higher to hush. For a few moments I enjoy the deprivation of sound and the glide of the car. I try not to swallow for as long as I can. When I do, my ears pop and I can hear again. Fighting against time, I focus steadily on my destination. Soon the city is far behind.
The Golden Pipeline, a 560 km of water pipe that runs from Perth to Kalgoorlie, keeps me constant company. I know when I am entering wheat country. The road sign “Wheat Bin Road” is a dead giveaway. I see glowing lights in the paddocks where farmers are putting in a 17 hour day. Just past Kellerberrin my favourite lone gum tree is standing still against a soft persimmon sky. The salt lakes of Baandee are dark and quiet with floating ducks. I am still 30 km away from my destination.
Next morning the horn is short and sharp. The rumble of the freight train is longer and wakes me at 5.05 am. I open my eyes to darkness. There is a chill in the air as I slide off the bed. I slide back faster and deeper into the covers and wished I had brought socks with me. I plan my day while waiting for warmth. It creeps in through the window in the palest of light. I dress hurriedly and rush to a farmhouse. I know it to be beautiful silhouetted against the rising sun. Much to my surprise, outdoors, the world is ethereal grey. There is fog beyond me. In some places, the visibility is less than 50 metres so I switch on my lights and head off to where I know I’m going.
At this hour, other than the occasional family car, there are only road trains and school buses on the road. The road trains are lit up bright. I spot “Tuff Terminatur” as it whumpfs past me. Correct spelling is not a priority I’ve noted in country areas. I once saw a shop sign that advertised “Awsome Signs”. More surprising, it had customers! The school buses are picking up children from farms in the surrounding areas. I know some children ride their bike or walk two kms on gravel road just to get to the bus stop on the highway and then travel over 100 km to get to school. Their trip is always longer due to the bus circuit. This is country living, as they know it. I admire their resilience.
The fog hangs low in the lap of the highway. When clear, the undulating road is a thrill of a roller coaster ride. But blinded by fog, there is only apprehension of the unknown. The effort of bursting through cloud makes the sun appear bigger and brighter. In the misty morning, it has the magnificence of a Host over the Tabernacle. This morning, it is my chapel.
I hear the black cockatoos from nearly a kilometre away so I head to the ruins of the Military Hospital. I know they are high in the gum trees in a grove there. They are raucous as always. The white corellas and pink galahs, the black crows and green honeyeaters are there too, but silent. Nearby I hear the sudden staccato call of the brown Western wattlebird. It sounds like nervous laughter. I hear it before I see it. It comes as a surprise. It is on ground level and not high up the tree with body bent with song. Once the black cockatoos leave, the other birds find their place in the pale sunlight, as do their call. Like I said before, nature likes order.
The spiders have yet to catch their meal, for now, rainbows will do. Among the towering gum trees, delicate acacia bloom. They are splashes of yellow and gold across the countryside. They hint winter.
In the small town of Merredin knitted poppies curl around the iron frames that support street trees. They are a symbol of the 100th anniversary of World War I, commemorated late last year. Lest we forget. In the meantime, life goes on. It is seeding time in the Wheatbelt. Where it is not green, the lambs snooze among strands of blonde grass or the land is furrowed rust.
In the morning, the small café across the railway line is buzzing with men, salesmen in the farming industry. Their cars, trucks and utes, streaked red. They have travelled some distance for a hearty breakfast. The talk is all about the viability of the paddocks. The coastal rains have reached far into the eastern plains where they are so needed, for farmers and salesmen alike, it would seem.
I return home to a familiar landscape. At the roundabout the birdlife has new company. The elegant white faced heron strikes a pose. The little cormorant is nowhere to be seen. In the garden, a rose blooms the colours of the Wheatbelt.
I have travelled through the air of optimism, so I brought home some with me. As I wait in anticipation of the new financial year, I know all is well.
Until next time …
a dawn bird
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