Trains, Planes, and Utes

by Anna Blanch on September 18, 2009

I’ve always been slightly romantic about the notion of train travel. Many long train trips from Tamworth in the north of New South Wales to Australia’s capital, Canberra, which took the better part of twelve hours, jaded me for a number of years. Lately though I’ve been remembering why I enjoy it. Like the art of slow food, slow travel (though not much slower than other forms) has always made me feel more connected to place and more aware of the journey itself having a destination. As I write this I am passing a river bordered by tall pine trees. The smooth river rocks broken only by barbed wire fencing denoting the change of land ownership from property to property. Then there are cattle – angus and poll Herefords by the look of them. The mountains of the northern hunter and the beginnings of the slopes and plains surround me as we climb and then descend hill and dale.

Earlier this year I wrote about the train whistle that accompanied my late nights of reading and writing about Irish poetry. Trains needed redeeming in my life after that one. You know I was never entirely convinced that the train wasn’t mocking me…for all my rationalisations.

Next week I will take another train – from London to Leuchars. Though essentially a pragmatic decision I think a train ride to the north will serve as an appropriate entree into my new world. Since the railway tracks were laid to St Andrews in the nineteenth century and even since the 1960’s when the train ceased going beyond Leuchars many of St Andrews students have travelled by train to commence or continue their studies at the ancient university on the Scottish coast. Maybe it would be even more poetic to travel by horse and carriage – but I am not really sure how I would begin to attempt that one, as lovely as it sounds! It is somewhat daunting to know that I will witness the 600th anniversary of the University during my time in the “auld grey toon.” Australia is both a young country and an ancient land all at the same time. The tensions ever apparent in her landscape if not her man-made architecture.

The connection between the source of food and the community is pervasive in the rural landscape. Farmers and their utes and cattle dogs abound.

Rex, the border collie, has settled into his new role of mudflap biter and cattle attendant after his mate Holly was found dead one morning recently. Holly had had a hard life and her rescue from abuse meant she was never much good around cattle – it wasn’t her fault. Rex has to be a little careful though as the big old cows don’t take kindly to him when they have calves at their sides – he’s liable to get himself cornered and trodden on. In the metropolitan areas food is still the centre but it is disconnected from it source and provides, instead, a connection to community. Seaweed salad, Corned beef and white sauce, tikka masali and aloo paratha, pad thai, meat pies, dim sum, baklava, sushi, roast lamb and mint jelly speak to the diversity of Australia’s citizens and the extraordinary array of produce available.

I have read comparatively little in the last month and though Goannatree is usually about literature of the hard copy variety, i’ve been reading and absorbing a text of a different kind. Arguably I am sure not even a text, but for me it has read like a book in a fabulously post modern sense – abstract, non-linear, tangential, and inherently linked to my personal history and self. I speak of the Australian landscape. My predominant text has offered a multitude of characters. The Sublime in its true, non romantic sense, has become real again to me. The beauty of the flora and fauna (and the colour of the sky) struck me with full force again as I witnessed the eastern states of Australia during Spring. My words and description don’t do it justice. The rolling hills of the Peel Valley and the rhythmic comfort of rain on the roof made me wish it would rain ceaselessly. Sublime Point in the blue mountains and her stinging rain and gale force winds also offered a view of the ancient Three Sisters (rock formation) and, through dissipating fog, the most visually spectacular rainbow I have ever witnessed. I visited Pacific Ocean often, from the side most familiar to me (there was something peculiar about the pacific ocean from the LA coast – though only in my head I am sure), and walked the sand at Nobby’s Beach where the Pasha Bulka stood so incongruously. I wondered again at my grandparent’s gardens with their flowers and tubs full of strawberry plants of which successful raids yielded sweet fruit eaten pot-side. Oh, and the orange juice – drunk freshly squeezed (nothing better) shortly after they were picked from the trees in the garden. Then there’s the glimpses of geckos, lorikeets, flocks of galahs, cockatoos, and kookaburras. Old man Goanna seems to be doing fine for water and thus didn’t make an appearance while i was around. I hugged my family close – especially my adorable neice who makes leaving this time especially difficult.

I watched Rugby League (my brother) and Rugby Union (my cousin) from the stands cheering loudly and smiling inwardly and outwardly as the Australian accents and colloquialisms swirled around me.

I marvelled again the ritual of the Saturday afternoon rugby and Sunday afternoon footy watching viewed with religious fervour.

As incongruous as it may sound the most appropriate sign-off for this post is a catchcry of a television series that seeks to capture a Texan tradition, that of highschool football. But, after feeling like I’ve been renewed and reminded of where I am from and what is important to me, I don’t think I can go wrong. So, until next time:

Clear eyes, Full heart, can’t lose.

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