Driving eastwards towards Marburg yesterday, I was struck at how with the light striking the smoky hills, the d’Aguilar Ranges looked to be immediately behind the Little Liverpool Range. If I had not known better, I would have thought that I was driving towards a land of hills and mountains and not flat plains intersected twice by mountains, bracketed by the sea on the horizon. Can you imagine what a surprise the valleys and floodplains were to the early explorers? Cunningham and his colleagues must have been continually astonished as they pressed westwards. And then, finally cresting the steep escarpment to discover the surprise of the rolling lands of the Darling Downs. Even today, driving at night, it is amazing to climb so sharply and steeply through the darkness to the bright clusters of light all along the escarpment and to find a town waiting there, perched and solid.
I was thinking about the explorers again today when we had no power for seven hours. The quietness was amazing. You learn to ignore the background noises of electrical equipment – the refrigerator, freezer, computer, even the pressure pump. Without these familiar sounds, the wind was dominant. It’s Ekka time (the Brisbane Exhibition, our equivalent of a state fair) and it means that the westerlies have started. August is often the windiest month – dry and windy with grass and trees crisping even further.
I thought that the sound of today was what the explorers and early settlers would have experience with the exception of the hum of the highway in the distance. I thought about living here without electricity, telephone or water. I wondered what it would be like if you had been used to the closeness of neighbours, the higher density living that is Europe and many other part of the world.
A friend of my parents bought a four-bedroom house in suburban Sydney when he and his family migrated here from Taiwan. For many months, the whole family slept in one room, terrified by the quarter acre of space around their house. Imagine having forty or eighty or more acres of space. Owning land, a long time dream for many, could have been very frightening in reality. No wonder every town, no matter how small, has its pubs and cluster of buildings. No wonder neighbours often built their houses on the corner of land closest to each other. If all you could hear were the wind and the crows, loneliness would crowd close to the windows.