It was a deliciously hot summer’s day some years back and I was sitting in the shade of the camphor tree, birdsong all around, a gentle breeze cooling my brow. And I thought: this would be so much better if there was the sound of a distant bell chiming.
No wonder Australians call us whinging Poms. We’re never bloody satisfied. So it’s been quite a revelation to discover that I seem to have dropped the whinging part of my Pommyness since we moved here fulltime. I am, in fact, uncommonly contented. Much of this is down to the excitement of being in a new place and maybe it’s also a time-of-life thing but I think there are other things at play, too. Things that have an unexpectedly powerful effect.
In most places I’ve lived, including Sydney, there was rarely a view. Often I would look out at the wall of the neighbours’ house. I’ve never lived in a high-rise building with an expansive panorama out of my windows; instead, I was lucky if there was a glimpse into the garden or over the street. A dominant view can often suck the energy out of a home, drawing our eyes to it too much, but there are benefits, too. It’s more restful looking into the distance. We know that it’s good to take breaks from staring at screens, to look up and give the retinas a breather. It’s why we go on holidays, to enjoy broad landscapes and big skies, from mountain tops or over oceans, to rest our weary eyes. Here, my eyes are constantly drawn to long views and distant things. Like the cows dotted on the hillside opposite or much further, to the outline of the Nightcap Range which changes all the time, depending on the weather. My vision is rarely blocked. I didn’t really understand how good it would feel to experience this every day.
Just as many tourists commit the social faux pas of not saying bonjour when they enter a shop in France, I have learned that you must have a chat whenever anyone comes to your house. I don’t mean friends, I mean the person who’s come to read the electricity meter or deliver a parcel or fix your electrics. You must always have a chat. I made that mistake when we first arrived, thinking that time is money and the bloke who had arrived to fix a broken window would want to be out of here as quickly as possible. He seemed rather taken aback when I launched straight into why we’d called him and then hurried him along to where the work was needed. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We made up for it with a good long chat at the end but ever since, I make sure to greet any visitor with something more fulsome than a quick hello. We sometimes chat for ages before getting to why they’re here so it does mean that you have to set aside a bit of time but that’s okay, now I know. The conversations I’ve had have ranged from a history of the old houses, the timetabling of trains, and why the poo of the tree frog is so enormous. I learn something all the time. Even better, it feels as though you’ve had friends round.
The birdlife of Australia is simply incredible but when I first moved to this country, the Whinging Pom in me would complain about the lack of songbirds. There was all manner of scratchy, screeching sounds outside my window, and birds that would sing just one note, on and on, as though the record had got stuck. What I craved were the gentle melodies of something like a blackbird. Well here, along with the whipcrack sound of the Whipbird and the beautiful if sometimes comically off-key song of the Butcher bird, there’s a positive chorale of melodious singing. Even the tiny Thornbill gives a glorious full-throated warble at the window. Some birdsong is so beautiful I have to stop what I’m doing and just listen. It’s a beautiful soundscape and, despite the birds being different, it’s like being in an idealised Britain. Which leads me to the next point.
This is an unusual area for Australia, laced as it is with a network of little lanes and tiny hamlets. The lush, green, rolling hills often remind me of South Wales. A soft, damp day conjures up memories of summers in Scotland. It feels familiar. Of course the sun is hotter and much, much brighter, even on a winter’s day, but there’s an absurd beauty to the area that hits me in the heart. Bowling along the little laneways I pass avocado orchards and coffee plantations and there are fields of cattle and horses, too. It may not have the ancient stone buildings or medieval barns of Britain but it’s such a green and pleasant land that I feel very much at home.
And yet the Whinger was always whinging about wanting to live in France. The lovely surprise was how much life here resembles a certain kind of life in France, too. I don’t mean the linen-clad folk wafting about in their vintage Citroen DS’s or shops selling furniture given a slap of whitewash and called French Provincial (now that’s whitewash), I mean the food. Our local butcher has a wonderful array of cured meats, duck pate, pork rillettes, as well as home-grown Bangalow pork which is as melting as any I ate in porkcentric Corsica. The local cheeses are excellent. And there are numerous stalls at people’s gates selling homemade jams, fruit, vegetables, even vases of garden flowers. Just today I picked up organic eggs and boxes of mulberries and wild raspberries that will really make breakfast sing. Some people share their abundance freely and it’s common to see boxes of mandarins, lemons and limes left at the roadside with a ‘Free, help yourself’ sign on them. It’s what I thought life in la France profonde might be like. Except it’s here, in Australia.
We may not be able to get any work started on the house for a while, given that most builders are swamped with work in this area, but it means we’ve had time to really consider what we want and hopefully it will be worth the wait. In the meantime, I’m living in a place that gives back so much more than I expected. It’s as though I’ve been looking elsewhere for so long that I didn’t notice what was right in front of my eyes. Living here continues to be a revelation.
And who could possibly whinge about that?
What have you begun to appreciate recently?