Sometimes you read books of the adventuresome type, I’m thinking Wilbur Smith, Lawrence of Arabia or Hammond Innis, or diaries of early explorers and they describe how the lone adventurer, usually male, is striding across the land. They’re rugged and dusty or injured and dusty or tired and dusty and they’re looking for water. They stride or stagger or crawl over a rise in the ground and they can smell water. I always read that claim with a grain of salt, thinking it some sort of literary (or mass market) license.
Thursday night I found out that it was true. I was coming over the Tallegalla hills, driving though staggering mentally, the car full of groceries and the darkness shifting from twilight to something deeper. It was that time of night in the country where you really need high beam to see properly but you can’t because you can just see someone’s taillights in front of you and you don’t want to blind them. So you’re easing your own way through a small puddle of light and hoping that nothing too big will leap out of the darkness at the sides of the road. Usually it’s only a hare but I can tell you that they make quite a thump.
I wiped my sweaty brow. Well not really, but remember I’m channelling early explorers here – it was actually a beautiful cool evening with pockets of warmth left over from a long dusty day. I downshifted into third to turn right towards Marburg and suddenly all I could smell was water. It was the most intense amazing smell of dampness and life wrapping around me.
I know that it is because the top section of the Marburg-Rosewood Road runs alongside Black Snake Creek at a point where it spreads out into a maze of small ponds and rivulets. But I could imagine Cunningham or Sally Owen or her unnamed husband (if there was one) pushing through the heavy scrub up from the flat plains over a steep embankment, wondering what was going to be on the other side. Pausing on the ridge they would have continued downhill towards a distantly perceived valley running northwards and hit this wall of scent -- the glorious promise of water. And if they were smart they would have seen all the evidence of long-term aboriginal camping.
Me. I’ve learnt that the smell of water is not just literary license and that I’m happy to be driving home even if it’s late and I’m tired, rather than pushing through the scrub or dragging teams of oxen.