Having lived in Australia for a long time now, I’m always surprised what my friends overseas imagine my environment to look like.
For better or worse, Australia is often depicted in terms of its most iconic features, such as the Outback-which is actually an immensely complex multitude of ecosystems and landscapes. There’s no simple picture that can be captured to represent that richness, although many have tried.
What’s still harder to grasp is that beyond Australia’s mysterious deserts and famous beaches and seacoast lifestyles, there’s a great deal of texture, topography and cultural history that lies in the interior that hasn’t made it into films and media product for international consumption.
So, these images are offered as a bit of a corrective to common assumption.
I live in the state of Victoria, just about 75 miles north of Melbourne, in what was once the center of a major gold rush and a cultural influx to rival any in the world.
As a native Californian, I of course urge people who haven’t visited before to see the famous wonders like Yosemite, Mono Lake, Big Sur, San Francisco, Mt. Whitney…the list goes on. But I know that the Golden State has hidden secrets that may seem more humble but are no less interesting. So too with Australia.
I’m a big one for sound over vision, in spite of these pictures-and I heard it one early morning in my kayak. I startled a female swamp harrier from her nest in the reeds, and she sluiced down in front of me a literal rain of shit. That’s how they protect their young, before they get serious. She’d have gotten more committed if I hadn’t backed off.
I wasn’t the only one disturbed. When she made her circle, waiting to see what I was going to do…I heard one of the most distinctive sounds I’ve ever heard.
It was a koala, come down to the water’s edge to have a drink. I think it was an older male from the way it moved and behaved. It lapped at the water like a cat. I heard every single slurp of its tongue.
The hawk circled back and there we were-the three of us.
I’m grateful to live in a place where I have such neighbors. For years I had a wombat that lived in an old mineshaft on my property. It began to blunder into my headlights when I came home late from the city. I finally realized it was going blind. It came into my studio one afternoon when I was painting, in a great depression myself and splashing paint to lift my mood. It had a fit.
My neighbor came to me and had a seizure in front me. I gave it some warm milk and nursed it-and when that didn’t suffice-I did what people who live on the land do. No one loves animals more than I do. I can’t see terminal suffering.
I buried my neighbor amongst the lost Chinese miners who came long before me. Before us both. It was a full moon that night. I lit a bonfire for all the ghosts. I believe in keeping on good terms with my neighbors, alive or dead, animal or human.
If you know what a wombat looks like, you may find them rather silly. They aren’t. And no one is silly when they come to you in their last time. They’re honorable and dignified members of the community, and respect in passing is what we all hope for.
From sheep to dogs, to birds and kangaroos-to a blind wombat, I have had some fine neighbors.