I completed my Thesis, finished the accompanying work of Creative Nonfiction, graduated from the University of Queensland, moved house, oh, and welcomed a tiny Jamey Fellow into the world. Despite having the best of intentions, I’ve not been able to write my own words for quite a while, walk my hills, in fact, not do that much other than marvel and wonder at the endlessly happy, endlessly exhausting little chap in our lives. But now, with Jamey fast approaching a year old, my writing fingers and walking legs are itching furiously. The walking may have to wait a little longer due to current issues, but I reckon it’s time to start draining the story brain.
The first draft of my book on Tasmania, hiking and wilderness, Over Land, is done, but it is only a first draft. After some fantastic feedback from other nonfiction writers and my agent Merrilee, I’m pulling in a bunch of other threads to turn the work of nonfiction into a story, a book. This is going to be really tricky for me, as all along I knew that I would need to put myself into the story a lot more than I had -this is a linear work in a very true sense of the word; me following a path. Literally. From the outset I just didn’t want to make it about me. Through my studies on Landscape at UQ, I knew I didn’t want to write a grief memoir (which is a slightly melodramatic-sounding genre classification for the books that have appeared over the last few years that use nature as a means of exploration for loss, or a dramatic change in in circumstance. These kind of stories date back centuries -millennia- and have seen a remarkable resurgence recently, and I imagine after the events of 2020 and enforced isolations, will continue to be a literal escape for many). But I also knew what I needed was some sort of story arc. This is a particularly difficult proposition because of the very nature of my source material -two seperate trips with different outcomes though the same agenda, is almost itself more circular than linear.
So I guess we’ll see. As I mentioned earlier, with our Jamey-inclusive life a little more settled now (and, let’s face it, the distinct lack of any music work other than our weekly broadcasts), I think I can finally get myself back into gear. I’ve got a couple of fiction ideas bubbling away next to the coffee pot at the moment, but I really need to finish this tale of walking, snow and mountains that very nearly killed me!
I’m just back from my second winter ramble across the Overland Track in Tasmania. It was as equally fantastic as last year’s, and although this time I walked it the ‘proper’ way (as in north to south), I did most of the trip solo in very wintery conditions. At the moment I’m going through many hundreds of photos, and catching up on my thesis (of which a book about the Overland is the major part).
I’ll eventually get around to writing a blog post about the trip, although most of it will end up in the book, which is coming along very nicely. I also have another Lamington post to write when I get a minute. So much writing to be done…
Oh, and I’ll be doing a reading from the new book next Tuesday, the 18th July here in Brisbane at the Wild Readings get together at the Mu-ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End (54 Mollison Street, just along from the Three Monkeys). It’s a great little monthly reading session.
Until then, here are a few photos I twiddled with on the iPad. I’ll post the full set to my 500px account when I get time. Always time….
It’s been a couple of months since I lasted walked Lamington. Mostly, I’ve been absent simply because of the hot summer. It’s been a stinker this year, and even in the shelter of the rainforest, it still gets very hot and humid; not exactly the best conditions for my poor English temperament. But now Autumn has broken (albeit slightly) so it’s time to hitch on the boots and pack and get back in there.
Half way up the mountains, I was reminded quite suddenly of cyclone Debbie that stomped its way through here a month or so ago. By the time Debbie came slowly down past Brisbane and the Hinterland, it was more a severe low pressure system, rather than a cyclone, but over the course of a couple of days, it dumped a phenomenal amount of rain on the area. Something in the region of 800mm in 24 hours. So the road up is scarred with the red soil gashes of landslides, the debris of fallen trees and a few boulders the size of small cars. It’s about then I start to wonder if any of the paths will be closed. I’m heading up to Binna Burra again; like the last trip, because I think there’ll still be a lot of people around the Green Mountains, as the holidays are only just a few days over. My thoughts were confirmed when I reached the ranger station, about 2km shy of the end of the road in. Initially, I was planning on doing a couple of short routes, but my first choice of the Cave Circuit, was barricaded with a tangle of bright orange temporary fencing, forbidding trespass and warning of on the spot fines. The closure of the Caves also shuts me off from the Illinbah Circuit as they share a common start. I assume it’s to do with the steep descent at the beginning of the walks. Landslides tend to knock out a lot of the paths. Fallen trees can be chainsawed quite easily, but if the path has actually been turned to slurry, that takes a lot more work. In the car park at the end of the road in I have another momentary flash of concern; there looks like there’s a warning barrier stretched across the actual park entrance, but it’s not the same yellow mesh, it’s simply a No Parking warning.
Barring a couple of the bigger walks like Aracaria and Mt Hobwee, I’ve done most of ones heading out from here, so I settle on the Upper Ballunjui Falls walk, which is a pleasant 12km with a few side trips to waterfalls. I figure with the weather we’ve been having lately, there’s a good chance they’ll be flowing. The forecast is for possible showers. As I was only planning on doing short walks today, I only have a light fleece and a rainjacket, just in case. It’s a very pleasant 17c, so it’s probably overkill, but as I’m walking solo it’s best to have a bit of security. I think there’s still a person missing in here somewhere from the time of the cyclone; more proof that despite a lot of these tracks being graded, they’re not to be underestimated.
As usual, the Border Track is a gentle, familiar descent. Past the twisted vine at head height that I’m always surprised hasn’t been ripped down by the sheer number of people that swing on it.
I’m not far in before the extent of the winds and rain become evident. Trees are down, and in the green elbows of the ridges, where the creeks run, great strips of brush have been flattened, the soil around their roots softened by water and making them susceptible to the huge winds that were channeled through. But it’s not all doom. The soil is damp, and the forest smells greener than usual. Pademelons torpedo off into the brush from where they’d been feeding, and I’m lucky enough to spot Noisy Pitta in the undergrowth. These beautifully coloured ground-feeding birds remind me of the Green Woodpeckers from the UK. Alas it was too far in the undergrowth for me to get a decent photo. Whip Birds battle each other away in the bushes, and the finches are just little flecks of movement surrounded by continuous joyful song. The fungi are out in force too, not so much the brilliant sprays of red and orange of a couple of months ago, but more of the larger, paler ones, feeding on the deadfalls.
I stop to take a photo of the fungi, twisting myself into a strange shape so I could catch the light through the gills (the ant was a bonus!). I’m concentrating so hard I almost miss the rustle of dry leaves off to my right. As I look, I get one of those frights that sets the heart hammering and the adrenaline coursing almost instantly. Nothing quite wakes up a walker like a one metre Red-bellied Black Snake casually gliding over his boot. I think I let out a tiny ‘oh’, but I didn’t move, didn’t even think to lower the camera and take a shot, and within moments it’s gone. I stay for a bit to calm myself (and hope it might reappear), but I’m alone again. A few moments later, I walk on. The falls are flowing nicely, though some are pretty chocked with debris.
More than usual, there’s junk around the base of the falls. Packaging, bottles, and of course the obligatory white mush of used toilet paper. In one spot, the smell of urine is really strong. It gets me thinking on the walk. People are obviously reluctant to carry out their used toilet paper —and I’m not talking about the heavily soiled stuff that needs to be buried properly, that’s a whole other problem—more the stuff that is used to wipe up after peeing. It’s the revulsion of packing away and carrying your own waste rather than the ease of just ditching it. Perhaps we could take an idea from the way we managed to remove most of the dog shit from our urban parks.
We need a big sign at the entrance, and a zip-lock bag dispenser. The sign simply requests people to carry everything out (and I reckon some silhouette ‘human’ versions of the dog pooping and peeing signs would be nice and visual, along with some crossed out bottles, apple cores, chip packets etc) then give them the bag, the same way there are little black dog poop bag dispensers all around parks these days. The sign could provide some detail about the problems, for those that want to educate themselves, but they should be places right at the entrance to the track, and be lurid and unmissable. If people can bend down and pick up a warm dog turd in an inverted bag, surely they can learn to put a used tissue (or a stinking nappy) in a clean bag. Of course there’d need to be a bin at the exit too…
Enough ranting. The track zigzags down through the bush, steeply in sections, but nothing too hard. There are little side trips to the numerous falls along the way, and some interesting-looking climbs down to what look like fantastic swimming holes. Once again, I wish I had the courage of Roger Deakin to wild swim at a moment’s notice. There are patches of mud in the sheltered areas of the path, and some of the creek crossings are a bit slippery with moss, but the waters are running clear and quick, and I spot a few crayfish in the creeks. I always wonder how many are washed away during the big storms.
I have lunch at the end of the track, at Ballunjui Falls. The path finishes here in a rather abrupt cliff, and though the Ship Stern Circuit is only a few hundred metres away, there’s no way down, something I had to explain to the rather odd Frenchman I met on my way out. He was wearing shorts, thongs (flip flops for those of you from outside Aus) and had a sleeping bag in his hands. An old pole tent stuck out of a tiny daypack that looked to contain little else. He seemed rather insistent on trying to get through. I explained as best I could, stressing the cliff is pretty steep, but I received a shrug and we parted ways. I wondered about him the whole way back out.
The walk out was much warmer. The sun heated up the trees, releasing that summery tea tree smell that is so familiar to me now. It got warm enough that by the time I reached the top of the Ballunjui Falls Track and was back on the Border, I was sweating quite a bit. Autumn has not so much broken, as just found a small crack to look in through.
Walking back, I met quite a few people heading in. I stopped to chat with a lovely couple about the Daves Creek Circuit (which was still open) and a photographer with a lens the size of a bazooka. We watched a pair of massive Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos feeding in a gum not far from the track, and I exchanged nods with groups walking in thongs, shorts and sleeveless tops drinking from beer bottles. It’s hard not to feel like an old fart sometimes.
Oh and while I was sipping my flask of coffee, I saw the Frenchman come back out. He looked a little frustrated, but at least he’d not tried climbing in thongs.
So. Walk 1 of about 24. Originally, I’d planned to hike the Ships Stern Circuit, which is one of my favourites, but I was a bit late in getting down the coast so I settled for a half-dayer. Turns out the Ship’s Stern was closed because of back burning anyway (a process here in Australia where sections of nationals parks are stripped of potentially dangerous underbrush by the process of burning it back. It helps to protect houses from bushfires in the dry months, but it’s a pretty horrible for people like me with asthma and air pollution in general. There are a lot of pros and cons). It was the tail end of the school holidays so there were quite a few cars up at Binna Burra. That was pretty much why I’d stayed away from the Green Mountains this time. It just gets too busy up there. As it was I encountered one group on the trip at a breath-taking lookout, standing around playing Pokemon Go. I just don’t get that.
The Lower Bellbird actually shares the first few kilometres with Ship’s Stern. It’s an easy walk, following the ridgeline mostly, and passing the beautiful Yangahla Lookout (there’s a photo from there in the previous post) before finally beginning to descend. The path draws a wavy down through the elbow of the valley then out away to the north. I find myself crossing the same trickle of a creek a number of times. It’s been dry, but sometimes I can clearly hear water running somewhere under the debris of the dead, moss-sprayed trees and rockfalls. It’s a lovely temperature, but I’m sweating, mostly because this is my first big walk since the Overland Track in June, and I’m quite unfit (the perils of sitting behind a desk writing). I’m also slightly nervous about my boots. Well, not my boots as such, my ankles that are in the boots. During the last couple of days on the Overland, my ankles took a beating, mostly from my boots being frozen solid each night (the story of my Overland adventures will be in a series of stories and a book next year) but also from the continual dropping down large sofa-sized slabs of quartzite whilst carrying a 25kg backpack (we walked the track in reverse, so we ending up in the mountains). Oh, and also I’m much older than I used to be. Anyway, I’ve not worn my Scarpas since, and because they’re heavy leather Deltas, there’s not much call for them up here in Queensland, short of a very wet, muddy Lamington. But not today. It’s dry and hard, but the boots feel fine. I’m still going to look into a lighter pair though. I really don’t need the Deltas here.
I was trying to recall if I’d walked this track before, but I remembered I had as soon as I hit Wojigumai Cave. Not so much a cave as an eroded fault line, it’s still really impressive. The texture of the contrasting rocks is wonderful, and with the rock face rising above, it acts as a scoop for the breeze. I’ve always loved the hiss of the wind through the canopy. It sounds like something is alive up there, restless. It’s the quality of breath, the way the forest inhales and exhales on a scale far grander than us. Occasionally, as I walk, the wind will pick up fragments of other walkers talking, or a bark of laughter, on the ridge opposite and carry them across the valley like leaves so that is sounds like they are right behind me. Other times the sound of the leaves is like distant traffic, but never it is silent.
There are a few open patches of damaged forest, and I seem to recall hearing about a very big and isolated storm out this way maybe a year ago. Where the trees have fallen it hasn’t taken long for the understory to erupt into the new light, and the small cluttered clearing is dotted with flowers and the low, gentle hum of insects.
The track is easy, nothing even remotely tricky, which is kind of nice as it frees me up to look for opportunities to test the new camera. Problem with shooting in a rainforest though is that unless you focus on something specific like a bird, a snake or flower, it’s really hard to convey the sense of depth through the lens.
It’s also tricky to capture the quality of the light with a snapshot of a moment in time when it’s so fluid and alive.
A couple of hours in and I clear the rainforest, out into an area of cut brush that I assume is for a helicopter. Perfect spot for a cup of tea. Clear of the forest it’s surprisingly blowy. Probably too windy for the back burning, which would explain why I’ve not smelled any burning. The final 3 or so miles are a bit dull -following the road back past the ranger station to where I left the car, but I come across a sullen-looking bowerbird sitting on the verge (I actually saw it sitting there driving in). I can almost hear its bothered sigh as it lifts off into the trees. For a moment I consider following it, so see if I can find its bower, but the day is getting on and its a very scrubby drop.
One last treat awaits me at the car. The bush I’m next to must be giving off some sort of aroma, as its dusted in confetti of little butterflies.
Right, coffee at Beechmont, then time to hit the traffic home.
Well, that’s not true, I’ve not been writing that much down. I’ve been concerned but not too worried. I’ve always figured that as long as I have several books backlogged up in my head, I’m still there (and at the moment I have six I can think of). But of course it’s all about getting the words down. In reality that’s all it’s about. Last year I finished a story for a new anthology by my editor and dear friend Jack Dann (more info about that as I get it), and this year, well, this year I’m going to attempt two novels.
Possibly three. But I realise how daft that might be.
I’m taking a bit of a step back from the music (as my wonderful partner Sarah is about to take big step forwards) and I’ve been given a substantial gift of time to work. I might go into more detail about that in another blog post.
I’m working on a two-book story with the over-arching title of Lovekin & Fable. It’s unlike anything I’ve written before, and will involve a lot of world-building, inventing, darkness, eccentricity, horror, wonder, noir and coffee.
I started the bones of this novel quite a few years ago, and it has nagged at me ever since. I think if I don’t get it down now I’ll go mad.
And I’m going to try blogging about my journey. I’m pretty active on social media, but this is different. This will be the most personal I’ve gotten with my work. Until now, I’ve been superstitious with it, hiding it away in a dank cave, brewing, until it’s done, and woe betide anyone that tried to break the spell. I’m not going to be posting paragraphs or word counts, but rather writing about the journey of writing. Habits, stumbles, tiny victories, mental collapse…
I’m still playing music, in fact it’s shaping up to be a very important year, but I’m doing this too.
Cracker of a storm today. In true Brisbane style with moments of the rain stopping, the sun was out and the streets were steaming. One thing that struck me was the noise of the birds. I was up in the gardens surrounding the University at St Lucia and the parrots, ducks, crows miners and all the other were going insane. It was as if they were all telling each other they were still alive. With the beautiful pre-sunset light, it was just magic.
I’ve been making a lot of notes for this new novel, and I think I’m about ready to start. It’s been occupying a large chunk of my mind (the vacuous bit not consumed with all the upcoming music projects, gadgets or my next meal). Of course, now that I’m ready to start, I have to go away for ten days up to the Woodford festival. Still, I have Evernote on my iPhone, and I might even take my Mac up as this year we’re not performing as Súnas, only as session players. The idea of sitting somewhere shady writing is very appealing!
Those are the intentions anyway. The reality when I’m surrounded my musician friends, fiery tunes and Guinness may be somewhat different.
I have an odd little ritual when I start a new book. I have to find just the right notebook (I have a small carton full of ones that have taken my fancy over the years, or I’ve been given). For a little while now, I’ve been using Moleskines, mainly because they’re just so nice to work in, but this time, it was an old green velvet notebook that I think I found in Borders many years ago that got the nod. I’m still undecided on the right pen though…
I’m not going to reveal much about the new novel, just to say that it’s a bit of a departure for me (though it could loosely be categorised as fantasy) and the format is possibly going to be very important too. I’m not sure if I can pull this off, but then I guess everyone thinks that when starting a new story.
Not sure how fast this will progress. I’m planning on blogging pretty frequently, more perhaps as a journal for myself than general entertainment. The music side of life is quietening down for a little bit (in regards to Sunas gigs) but I have a couple of new projects forming there too.