Sunday, 3 June 2007

Mallee Born

I have talked before, about being born into “a dry husk in the middle of nowhere” – well, the "dry husk" is actually called Geranium, a town located in an area known as the Murray Mallee, and while this tiny farming community did have its virtues; a great community spirit being among them, relative peace and quiet, and a child’s winter scrubland discovery park out the back of the ole homestead, being others; the isolation (both social and geographical), the drab dry landscape, the searing heat, the flies and the lack of general facilities, were points I remember with just a little disdain.

As a child I had woefully awful looking teeth and compromised hearing. This winning combination of mild impediments meant I had to travel to the city, from time to time, to see specialists. “The city” was a good two hour drive away, but despite the distance, I didn’t mind these trips, because the city was somewhat of a wonder to me.

The first thirty minutes of our city bound journey were the most excruciating. Mile after mile of unchanging bitumen scenery, skirted with creamy limestone rubble, and thickets of scraggly mallee trees lined the road on either side, limiting the journeyman’s view to the road side and straight ahead. The Mallee Highway would easily make my top 5 list of “most boring stretches of road” (The Hay Plains taking top honours, however).

The final 40 minutes of the journey toward the “big city” were my favourite. Parched flat landscapes transformed into rolling hills, as we began the ascent into the Adelaide foot hills. Brown and golden hues were replaced by cool shadows and lush greenery. The road would start to wind, and the higher we ascended the better the view; where we had been eye level with the golden sway of wheat, an expansive vista emerged, revealing yet more green rolling hills and deep valleys. A sense of relief would wash over me at around a place called Stirling in the Adelaide Hills, where the trees appeared taller and more tightly clustered. A couple of grand old homes would peek out from forest-like surroundings; inspiring my imagination of how urbanised folk might live.

Whenever we went to the city to visit a doctor or orthodontist, we got dressed up in our sacred clothes; the ones we kept for special occasions, the pretty things that were seldom enjoyed. After our round of appointments, we would venture into Rundle Mall to stock up on goods unavailable in our neck of the woods. I enjoyed taking in the sights and sounds of the city; the gardens and buildings, the colour of the stores and their merchandise, the clicketty clop sound my good shoes made on the pavement; dodging the crowds as we huddled under the store fronts and eaves to avoid the rain, drifting along; me a speck within a sea of people. I especially enjoyed studying the clothes that city people wore; the business suits, the high heels, the fabrics and how these various fabrics moved and floated. Everything in “The Mall” was a wonder and a delight to me; our visits made especially sweet by Mum, who allowed us to indulge in a variety of treats not usually available to us in the country; such as a fish and chip lunch in a department store cafeteria, and a chocolate donut for dessert; an ice cream in a cone, a bag of sweets to take home, from Darrell Lea, and usually something else; a book, piece of clothing or a toy. Even when Mum and Dad went to the city alone for the day, they never failed to bring us back a special surprise – it was like receiving a souvenir from their “holiday”!

In reality though, I never got a really good glimpse of city life. Mum would drive into the centre of the city, along the same streets every time; parking in the same car park across from the University of Adelaide, with its Gothic halls looming in the foreground, a place where the grand iron gates set my mind going on yet another fantastical journey. Nevertheless, my impressions of the city were fairly limited, and seemed to leave me ever the more curious and wanting.

I was aware that the city was well populated compared to my little town, which boasted a district of just 80 people when I lived there, but since we always drove along the busy commercial streets, I never really witnessed suburban life, and I remember one day asking my mother where all the city people lived. “In the houses behind all the shops”, was her reply. I took this literally of course, and tried to peer down the narrow alleyways and side roads as we motored past, never really catching a glimpse of those illusive city folk playing in their front yards or doing at-home-city-people-things. Over the years, my curiosity built to a point where I could only see my life and my future there, in the city.

As a ten year old, my family moved from the dry husk in the middle of nowhere, to Murray Bridge; a large rural town straddling the Murray River, approximately located one hour east of Adelaide, but the big city still beckoned, and at seventeen I moved there, seeking employment. I enjoyed my life there. The ocean was close. The energy of my seaside suburb hummed. It was exciting, but as I grew older, I realised that the hustle and bustle, the noise and the concrete claustrophobic jungle were not really for me. I enjoy the various conveniences of the city, but I prefer more lush tranquil environments and expansive horizons. Today, I am happiest where there is opportunity to visit nature on a regular basis, and be blessed with the sounds of birds chattering and the wind whistling as it darts through the leaves of trees. I need to have green colours around me; dry landscapes fill me with a bit of a sense of suffocating panic, like I too might evaporate and shrivel. I enjoy the city, but the country is in my blood and my soul, and if I had to choose, it would be in these, more peaceful havens that you would find me.

14 comments:

jeanie said...

That was very beautiful Strauss - and made me remember very similar feelings, too.

I have driven across that way once, but it was about 3-4am when we went across your "most boring bits of road" - the most boring stretch of road to my mind is on the Bruce (now Pacific) Highway between Maryborough and Childers.

Oh - and lunch at the department stores - you got that image right.

jeanie said...

lol - just clicked on Geranium thinking you were answering a blogger by that name - what a cute name for a town!!

strauss said...

Thanks for that Jeanie. I re-read that passage and changed it so it made mroe sense.
I usually get laughter when I say I am from "Geranium". People say they immediately think "pot plants". Apparently it was named after the native Geranium that grows there, which was a tiny purple flower - but I think "dry husk" is probably more a more relevant name for the place!

Brissiemum2 said...

Well, I was always a burb kid, but your post reminds me of our weekly 'big city trips' when I was younger. Nothing like that now...in fact, don't think I've ventured into the city for years even though it's only a half hour drive.

And you are right....there is nothing like the peace of nature to help clear the clutter from life!

Pendullum said...

I grew up in a city and would find adventurein the country and your dry husk Geranium looks beautiful...I do not think it looks drab at all...
Your trip to the city, well,sounds like a great adventure even to a city slicker...Thank ou for taking me along for the ride!

gautami tripathy said...

Thats sounds like good solid adventure to me! I enjoyed this very much. Thanks!

Living in Delhi too is a great adventure each day!

Tammy said...

I spent a lovely time with my coffee this morning reading your entry. Your links gave me a real good look at your "country" journey and I loved it!

Chelle said...

This brought to mind my first visit to New York City, which though only a few hours from where my family lived might as well have been continents away. I was 5 and we were visiting friends of my parents. Once of the days my mother dressed us up - white petticoats, fancy shoes and the like. The most memorable parts of the visit were the Automat - where all sorts of food was available behind little doors and the subway. According to my mother while we were waiting for the subway I said "Wait till I tell the kids at school about this." I still remember standing on that subway platform.

Thanks for bringing that memory back.

Tracey said...

I must have been past Geranium once - back about 20 years ago we headed to Adelaide from Swan Hill, and I remember going through Pinnaroo. Mind you, having grown up in Sydney, Adelaide seemed like a country town to me rather than a city. Everything is relative isn't it. Mind you, having managed to move out of the city, I don't miss it at all - I can't say I have such fond memories of growing up in suburbia!! I am happier close to nature. The last part of your last paragraph could apply to me, except that I wonder where I got it from?!!

Scotty said...

Aaaah, the Hay Plain; I've driven on that a few times and yes, I'd probably rate it as the most boring section of road anywhere in Australia. Mind you, some sections of the Nullarbor rate pretty highly too, as well as a few stretches between Alice Springs and Katherine in the NT.

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with...

suzanabrams said...

Hi Strauss,
I'm sorry this comment has nothing to do with your present post. Just wanted to say thank you for dropping by the other day. I'm sorry I couldn't read you earlier but still feeling somewhat poorly. I'll come to read you shortly when I'm well. I have missed your thoughts and stories.
hugs.

strauss said...

Ahhh, Pinnaroo LOL!
After Sydney, I can understand Adelaide feeling like a country town, but after living in a town of 80 people, Adelaide seemed HUGE.
Never crossed the Nullarbor, but can imagine it might score high on the "most boring roads" list. The road to Broken Hill is among my top 5 as well and the road to Woomera.
Hello Susan, I hope you are feeling much better now :(

Molly said...

Lovely post! Nice sense of place.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Beautifully written and interesting with all those links!