The Return – A Story of Loss

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The mango tree confused him.  Spreading its dense limbs over the luxuriant growth of the garden, lush with the constant rains of the tropical coast.  Perhaps it was the house he remembered.  He could not be sure because of the growth that had occurred over the years.  If he walked past from one direction, there was something familiar, but walking from the opposite direction did not prompt any memories.  And yet, those steps to the door, the wide verandah,, it all seemed so welcoming.  He could remember sitting with her father on a front verandah.  Was it here?  He was a wonderful man, mild in manner, a man who seemed to know him better than he knew himself then.

He had met his daughter, Alana, at that youth camp.  He had no idea why they had been so attracted to each other, something about her stillness had attracted him.   Or was it her ability to see through his need and provide that quiet comfort that soothed him, made him remember what it was like to share.  They had spent that night together on the beach, just talking and kissing.  Those kisses!  He could still taste the salt, the tangy feel of her tongue, the warmth of her body, the closeness of her, the sharing, the quiet.  The intimacy of the comfort had been enough for him then.

They had spent the next two days in each other’s company.  Such a joy.  They found such common interests, they dreamed of a similar future.  Just sharing closeness and time seemed to satisfy him, brought him a calm he had not felt for some time.  After they left, they wrote long letters to each other, talking of their love, their dreams, their desires for the world that seemed such a challenge.  He found in her a spirit which charged him with the energy he needed to believe in the changes he wanted to make.  At that time he could only think of changing the world, not himself.  It was easier to dream of a world of peace and love and work at ways to make it possible through his life choices than it was to love.  She seemed to understand this, and gave him the platform for his ideas that he needed.  She also knew that he had to change, but only when he was ready.  She was patient, simply expressing her love in the ways he wanted to hear.

When she sent the invitation to come to her house and meet her father, he had hesitated.  This would require a commitment.  He was uncertain what it meant.  Was he ready to be that personal?  Did he trust himself to maintain the distance that was necessary while expressing closeness?  Would her father understand?  After all, he was not like him.  She assured him it was fine, this was the time of openness, and hadn’t they written of how much they shared in belief, how much they had in common, how little difference there really was?

In the end, he had gone willingly and found in her father another kindred spirit.  Talking to him had been like talking to an older, wiser version of Alana.  He wasn’t as attractive, of course, but the physical was not as important to him then.  They spoke of the world and the future, they described their ideals and hopes for change.  They spoke for what seemed hours, even after Alana came out and joined them.  He couldn’t remember what happened after that, he only knows that he never went back to her house again.

It hadn’t been easy.  Others had not understood his need.  They warned him not to keep writing to her, to discourage her from closeness because of his future.  He had gone along with their request, he had discouraged her, he had stopped writing.  Even now, he couldn’t remember what had actually happened, whether she had written last or he had.  It had somehow just stopped.  Time had passed.  Almost a lifetime.

Now here he was in the street again, outside what he thought was the house, as far as he could remember.  Somehow, the thought of her had always been there.  Perhaps it was just the comfort he felt that night on the beach, perhaps it was just the thought of the life they could have shared, the life he might have had.

It had been a lifetime, a lifetime of struggle, of death and despair.  It was supposed to be a life of joy and love, but he had not found it.  The training had been the easy part.  The ideals he carried like a torch for others had been fostered by a succession of worthy men.  The travel and further study in South America, North America, Rome, had reinforced his views that people had to change.  They had to accept the new way for life, for love.  He had always found it easy to discuss these ideals, to believe in the way.

In his last year of study, the death of his mother had started it.  For the first time, doubt entered his mind.  His mother had died the night before his father came out of hospital.  At her funeral his father was drunk again.  Why did good people die in pain, leaving those behind to persist without accepting change?  Where was life and love for his mother?  How could he have made it better for her?  He did not think it was regret he felt, and he certainly denied the anger.  He was good to his father, accepting his faults, comforting him, but it didn’t change him.  He flew back to Rome confused.

Working in South America had sealed it.  He seemed to be surrounded with death.  The old, the young, the fighters, the weak, even the just, all seemed to die without reason, without love.  He did what he could to comfort the living, but the words started to sound hollow even to him.  The ritual had comfort in its familiarity, the people still came, but something was missing.  The fiery bitterness of the white rum became his solace, until his superiors stepped in and sent him back for rehabilitation.

The front gate stood open.  It seemed to beckon him.  He could imagine her looking out the window at his approaching figure and running joyfully to open the front door.  He just wanted to see her again, he wondered why his eyes suddenly felt full, as though he was looking at the moon off that beach, that night…….

“Can I help you?”

“Does Alana King live here?”


“Alana King.  She lived here with her father.  She was a youth worker.”

“Oh!  The Kings!  They owned this house before we came.  Tragic story.  She was killed in South America on a holiday and her father never got over it.  They said he used to just sit on this front verandah, waiting for her to return, I guess.  I’m sorry, did you know them well? … Are you all right? … Father……?”

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(Stock image)

That Gum Tree

Dedicated to tree-climbers of all ages

Eucalyptus ViminalisThe tree near the front gate grew as I did

Slowly, steadily, relentlessly up

Until the day it stood taller than I could

And threw out the challenge to all in its strength


I loved the scent of its peeling bark

Those long and crackling strips of skin

That left the naked white trunk stark

And soft in its soothing, smooth embrace


The smell of eucalypt from the leaves

Lingered pungently on my hands

As I checked the strength of the lolling limbs

Hanging encouragingly within my reach


So at last I climbed it just to see

If the challenge could be met by such as me –

The tree welcomed me as though to say

It was waiting for the chance to let me stay


I sat enfolded in its arms of wood

And dreamed of the possible in a world of good

The wind in the leaves whispered the truth

That the possible is only what we have today



Run to the Front Gate and Back

The front gate at Gundawanna was one mile from our house. That’s 1.6 kilometres today, but when I was growing up it was precisely 1.1 miles, as measured by my Father on the car odometer. That made the run there and back a two mile run if you stopped at the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill, .2 of a mile on the same car odometer from our house gate.  When I was 17 I was playing Rugby for the school and the athletics season was about to begin. For training I would run to the front gate and back when I got home, because I couldn’t always get to training at school which was 20 miles away (about 32 kilometres). At that age you love to compete and I would compete against myself, timing the run each day on my wristwatch. I would start when the minute hand reached one of the lines and keep an eye on it as I went. No “fitbits” then!

The road leads away from the gate as shown here in the photo I took fourteen years ago:


It flows past the Shearing Shed and the dam next to it on the left where the trees in the photo stand, across three ramps separating four paddocks until it rises up the hill to the water trough at the top of Guanna Hill where you first see our house and the land falling gently away in the distance to the clear blue line of the Caleula Hills beyond the Bell River valley. That’s how it appears as you drive in, but the run I remember from fifty years ago went something like this:

I felt fit and strong. I knew athletics season this year would be a good one and I felt confident I could beat the other sprinter who had just got there ahead of me in the 100 yards last year. I’d won the 220 yards, but I was always a slow starter. My warm-up consisted of a few stretches of the legs, open the garden gate, check that the minute hand on my watch was lying along one of the number markers, and set off. The road was gravel with heaped stones pushed up the side and centre from the wheel tracks made by passing cars where the ground was smoother, but in some sections loose dirt and larger rocks could make even that surface slippery. I had done this run so many times I knew the best places to go and could concentrate on just running hard.

I had never been a good distance runner. Perhaps it was all the bouts of bronchitis I had as a child, perhaps it was just that I had never run very far when younger, spending most of my time on horseback. I was a reasonably successful sprinter but I had never run a fast time on this front gate run. Today I felt confident; I decided 10 minutes for the two miles could be my goal, something I’d never done before.

As you run down Guanna Hill away from our house you come up to the ramp where magpies swoop you in nesting season when you try to open the gate that always stands next to it on fences. No magpies today and no need for the gate either as the ramps offer no obstacle to me. They are meant to keep stock from crossing into other paddocks and are officially known as a “cattle grid”. It was always a “ramp” to us, and looked like this:

pa6OPvistock image

I have seen some sheep jump across the gap, not always successfully, and I don’t jump, I just need momentum. It’s all in the timing, plant your leading foot where the underlying support is and you have no chance of falling because the bar won’t move and in one stride you’re over.

After the first ramp the road flattens out and runs through a stand of gum trees – Yellow Box, the best wood for the fire, my Father would say, because it generates good heat and burns slowly. The limbs shed regularly by the trees provide a steady supply of winter warmth after they dried. Today my thoughts were more of the coolness you feel as you run through the stand, and the way the light changes subtly to that slighter darker, softer hue you get under a group of gum trees growing tall and strong.

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I still felt strong, over the next ramp, down the slight incline to the last one then across the creek that carries the overflow out of the dam near the Shearing Shed. In this paddock a mob of sheep do what they always do when something startles them. They race together across the road in front of the oncoming object which is no problem to me as I run, but always causes my Father to curse them as he drives out in the car. He often claimed sheep were dumb, but as a child I thought chooks were dumber! That’s another story!

The Shearing Shed, or as we called it, the Woolshed, is always recognisable by the smell. Two decades of mobs of sheep all gathered in tight enclosures, all kept there for several days ensure a considerable depth of manure. Inside the shed that aroma mixes delightfully with the smell of lanolin from the wool and whenever I smell wool today, it takes me back to that place of magic and excitement for a growing boy. No magic today, just strong steady breathing and my heart pounding in time with my feet as I reach the half-way point, the gate and glance at my watch as I turn to head home. Just on five minutes! I think I can do this! Let’s go!

The run back goes well, the feet gliding, the heart thumping, the breath steady. As I run up Guanna Hill I realise I am right on my goal of ten minutes. I push it hard and race up there easier than I ever had. I breast the “tape” at the water trough and look down at my watch. Yes! I did it!

I stand soaking up the elation and breathing in the joy. Alone, without assistance or coaching I had achieved a significant personal milestone. As I walk down the hill towards home with head high, breathing deeply of the clear air, I look out towards the Caleula Hills in the distance and think to myself:

Joy … at one with self and scenery … the hills … the road … the run

IMG_3716Jim Higgins 2018

Thursday Thought – “Cultural Appropriation” or “Yindyamarra”?

This post is inspired by Suzanne, “Moving On” Part 1 & 2.

The issue of “cultural appropriation” is very difficult to discuss in simple terms, especially in Australia where the First Nation people have suffered large scale “appropriation” that would be better termed theft. I have no Indigenous heritage being a 4th generation Australian descendant from Anglo/Celtic families so when I knew I wanted to use some words from the Wiradjuri language on this blog site, I contacted Mark Saddler who runs Bundyi School and Cultural Programs and the Facebook site:

We spoke and we discussed using Wiradjuri Language and I purchased from him “A New Wiradjuri Dictionary”, compiled by Stan Grant (Snr.) and Dr John Rudder.

During our conversation he told me about the word: “Yindyamarra”, which the Wiradjuri Dictionary states is “respect, be gentle, polite, honour, do slowly”.

This is what Mark wrote about yindyamarra in The Daily Advertiser in 2016:

Mark Saddler’s Wiradjuri Mabun, October 15, 2016

Yindyamarra is one Wiradjuri word that means so much. Yindyamarra means respect; learn slowly and respect yourself and those about you.

It is very important to make sure that we as Aboriginal mayiny (people) educate ourselves as well as others about our culture, language and heritage. Education is the key to being able to move forward in life. But education is not always about learning in a classroom or office. It is about being involved in connection to ngurambang (country) it is being involved in your dabaa malang (mob) your family and mudyi (friends).

Another part of what I try to do in my life is to impart knowledge, language and cultural awareness to people who are prepared to mabinya (stop), wudhagarbinya (listen), and yalbilinya (learn) about what Wiradjuri mayiny (people). We as Wiradjuri mayiny (people) have always been very open to sharing what we know and have learnt from our mudyigaang (elders) bearing mind what we can and can’t share.

In Albury, the Murray Art Museum (MAMA) presented an animated film work by artist Bernard Sullivan, narrated by Uncle Stan Grant in 2016 entitled “Yindyamarra: Respect, go slow, take responsibility”. 

Yindyamarra is at the heart of Wiradjuri culture and lifestyle. It is sometimes translated as respect, but it is difficult to translate a word that encapsulates a whole way of life. This film seeks to share an understanding of different aspects of Yindyamarra including the qualities of respect, going slow, honouring, and of taking responsibility. Each of the twenty sections of the film reveals a different aspect.,-go-slow,-take-responsibility

On the Charles Sturt University Home page, you find:

Yindyamarra Winhanganha

‘Yindyamarra Winhanganha’ is a Wiradjuri phrase meaning, ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’. It’s a sentiment at the heart of CSU’s approach to education, and reflects the University’s ethos ‘for the public good’. So, welcome to CSU – learn to live well and make this world worth living in.


I wrote in my first post ( about the Native American belief of the Red Road, which I have referred to as my theme:

David A Patterson Silver Wolf, the first American Indian professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote on his blog in 2011 that:

‘Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.’

Is what I am doing “cultural appropriation”? I was born in Molong Hospital almost 67 years ago. Today outside the Hospital is this sign:


On it we read: “Gawaymbanha – dhu”, which Wiradjuri Dictionary has as: “Welcome, Tell to come”. The suffix “dhu” denotes the action and calls to the individual.

I believe we can learn from our First Nation people how to truly live. “Yindyamarra” is the central component of that life and I walk the red road with humility “in search of self-discovery and instructions”, as David A. Patterson, Silver Wolf says. I honour people such as him and Mark Saddler and thank them for permitting me to learn from them. As Mark says so eloquently, we need to stop (mabinya), listen (wudhagarbinya) and learn (yalbilinya). Too many of us are in too much of a hurry to “achieve” whatever it is we desire to be able to understand that. We need yindyamarra to know what living is, and we need to live with yindyamarra to know who we are. Our goal as humans should be as Charles Sturt University says:  “the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in”.

Let Mark Saddler have the last word, with my gratitude. Yesterday on his Facebook page he posted:

Mandaang guwu biyambul ngadhi mudyi
(thank you all my friends) 
who follow ngadhi murru (my journey) thru this page 

This page takes many hours to put together story and photos so that I can share with you and the world how deadly Wiradjuri and all the other nations of koorie mobs in our ngurambang (country) are.

Also to those who are not Aboriginal you are also a massive part of our lives, we are all in this place together, we are all just visitors to this place we call gunyah (home)


Monday Memory

Pony Club NSW copyPony Club was an important part of my childhood. My Father encouraged and supported us, having learnt his skills as a horseman working on properties in South West Queensland and the Snowy Mountains. He had also learnt the essential bush skill of leather working and we, along with many other members of Molong Pony Club had bridles and harness repaired or made by Joe Higgins. Molong was 10 kilometres from the property of Gundawanna where we lived, and we would ride in each month on Pony Club day with the other children along Belgravia Road. If we walked the horses, it would take about two hours. If we went a bit quicker, it meant our horses were fitter or we had less to talk about on the way.

We learnt how to ride and care for a horse and the equipment at Pony Club. The Pony Club Association of New South Wales still has the list of proficiency certificates that could be gained on their website, For the “C Certificate”, the one I achieved in 1966, they state:


Independent seat required, with correct aids and a degree of competence in other aspects of riding. General knowledge of horse care and parts of the horse.


I was never an outstanding rider, either of the rough variety or the show. My Father was a great rough-rider, having successfully ridden a horse in his youth that no other Snowy River Horseman on the property at that time could ride. He only acknowledged me as a rider the day I rode a horse who did his best to buck me off, without success. We would compete at all the local country shows in Central West New South Wales, with my sister riding Prince and I would ride Goldie. This is us at Pony Club with two impatient horses that are clearly not happy with posing for photos!Prince & Goldie

As I got older and taller, I also rode Prince at Shows. He worked during the week as the Stock Horse at Gundawanna, an equine multi-talented creature. Here I am on Prince on the right waiting for my turn to show my skills to the judge with his back to us on the left, who is watching another rider on his work-out. Prince seems unhappy to be asked to keep so still, dropping his head in impatience.Prince (1)

In riding events at shows, the “Ring Events”, all competitors ride in a circle around the Judge who chooses people to come into the centre and line up so they can be assessed on an individual work-out ride called a “Figure of Eight”. To complete that work-out you must walk your horse directly away from the judge, begin a trot, then a canter, then complete two circles in the pattern of a figure 8 at the canter. As a rider, you are judged on your riding position, control of your horse, and the ability to complete the task preferably without breaking out of the canter. The hardest part is controlling the horse, because that is the real judge of horsemanship, the ability to have your horse trust you sufficiently to do exactly what you ask. They are independent creatures and you have to build trust with them as a rider. Only my Father, my Sister and I could successfully ride Prince. He just took over and played up with everyone else, a very intelligent horse.

My memory today is of the last competitive ride I had on Prince, a ride that has stayed in my memory for fifty years. It was at Cumnock Show, a small town near Molong and I knew it would be my last riding event at a local Show because I was not going to continue with Pony Club the next year. I was called in by the Judge and waited with the other riders for my turn to complete my “Figure Eight”. Being an independent spirit, Prince had never really responded perfectly to my commands on work-outs. In particular he had never done what is called a “flying change” at the canter at the crossover point of the two circles of the 8. That is where the front leg of the horse leads on the inside of the circle you are on, and as you change direction, so should the leading leg change. Prince used to always break into a trot for a few paces, then lead off again on the correct leg, if he really felt like obeying your signal of the pressure from your inside leg. A “flying change” is where the horse changes his lead foreleg in mid-stride at the canter. I was relaxed this day of my last ride and felt I just had to make it the best I could. I remember thinking:

Come on Prince, one last time!

I wrote a poem about what happened that day and called it simply:


He knew – he lifted under me,

Head bowed, rocking gait,

This was special.

Was it the subtle changes in pressure

From my thighs, my legs, my hands?

Was it that he sensed the occasion,

This last ride?

A flying change at the crossover!

He’d never done that before!

This was glorious – an uplifting experience!

Time slowed, everything was clear, everything was sharp,

There was nothing else, just the two of us.

Reserve Champion!

Something to remember for my last competitive ride,

On that beautiful black horse, Prince!

The horse totem symbolizes freedom. People with this spirit animal will consistently find themselves on a new journey. This totem will teach you to ride in new directions and discover your power and liberty. (

Set me Free

Thank you Prince.

Friday Reflection

Sunset looking towards the Central West from the Blue Mountains.

Symbols we receive in life are often ignored simply because we are too busy to notice, too involved to see, too active to reflect. At other times, they are so obvious we have to stop and receive the message we are being sent. This is what happened to me as I was driving recently along the highway leading to Orange where my parents had lived until their passing more than ten years ago. Hovering above the road, precisely centred over the lane I was driving on, was what we used to call growing up a “hover-bird”. It was a Hawk, or Kestrel, which we often saw motionless above the ground in many areas of the property we grew up on, looking for any movement of potential prey in the grass or crops below. It was unusual to me to see it hovering above a perfectly sealed bitumen road. The first thought that came to me was, “I am being blessed”, and that puzzled me as I drove on.

A short distance along the road I glanced over to my right to see the numerals 333 emblazoned on a mailbox standing clear on the side of the road as I passed. I know that numbers carry energy that, “give us a better understanding of one’s pathway, and the circumstances which surround our life”, as Joanne Walmsley says in her introduction to numerology on her site: So I decided when I returned home to find out what 333 was saying to me. Three has always been a special number to me, the number of cards I draw in oracle readings, the number of crystals I carry with me, the number of the Trinity in the Christian tradition which was so much a part of my life. Little did I know I was to receive a third symbolic message as I visited the gravesite of my parents in Orange, where three magpies came to me, one of which stayed with me as I moved around, this one:


The Hawk, as the animal spirit intuitive Scott Alexander King writes, is the messenger, putting us on alert for signs that may fruitfully guide us to the next phase of life. According to legends from the First Nation people, the Kestrel is the protector of the warrior spirit, bringing good tidings, healthy change and victory.

Joanne Walmsley writes that the number 3 symbolises the principle of ‘growth’ and signifies that there is a synthesis present – that imagination and an outpouring of energy is in action. Triple 3 strengthens that energy so that you are encouraged to be creative, social and communicative and use your natural abilities and talents to empower yourself and uplift and enlighten others.

Scott Alexander King writes of the Magpie as the bringer of balance, an agent of awareness. He writes,

“Magpie is a doorkeeper to other realms; a guardian who lets only those willing to honour the sacred balance between the good and bad, light and dark, and feminine and masculine in all things to explore her world. It guides us to a place of awareness, showing us how to better understand the innate marriage between the opposites that are equal and the duality within all things.”

Duality was the issue I wanted to explore in the first blog post I created, one which I have abandoned as I was uncertain and lacked confidence to express myself publicly.

Reflecting today on those symbolic messages which came to me as I travelled through the land I grew up on and the country my parent’s spirit dwells so strongly in, I know what I am being told. My memories and thoughts will continue. My writing will take strength.

“Ghannabulla” (Two Shoulders) Mt Canobolas from my parents resting place.

Names and Naming

It would be self-evident to say that names are important. Everything depends on names and naming from company logos to places on a map. We only know people we meet by their name and the name we are given at birth can often shape our attitudes and sometimes even our life. I was named James Oliver for two people dear to both of my parents. James was my Father’s Brother and also the name of his Grandfather. Oliver was my Mother’s Father and so I carry the names of these men, and more. What I carry is their legacy and their memory.

James my Great-Grandfather was the youngest son of a convict from Norwich in England who was transported for 14 years in 1826. James was born in Queanbeyan in 1847 but grew up in Beechworth where he learnt the coachbuilding trade. He ran a very successful business in Albury and his eldest son named his first born for him.

James my Uncle was born in Albury in 1908 but drowned in the Murray River at the age of 10 in 1918. He was attempting to rescue his younger brother, who was saved, but sadly lost his own life. My Father was born twelve months later and was named Joseph James. I was born in 1951 and when I was eight years old, my Grandmother gave me this portrait of the son she had lost after whom I was named. This photo has stayed with me ever since.

James Uncle (5)

Oliver my Grandfather was born in Crookwell in 1896 and became a successful farmer in that district. I would stay with my Grandparents many times as a child and remember him with warm affection. He was a tall, strong man and I always felt safe in his presence. He loved the land and passed that love on to his daughter, my Mother. In this photo he is sitting on our back step at Gundawanna with his wife, our Grandmother watching over my sister and I.

With Pop & Nana Gundawanna

Perhaps James and Oliver still watch over us, I would like to think so. I feel a strong connection to both and wish to honour them in my writing.

A Monday Memory

Guanna Hill was just above the house I grew up in on Gundawanna. It was like the entry post to home, the point at which you knew you were safe at last. It was the highest point on the property so you could not see my home until you had crested it. The road up was rutted and rocky and always seemed to challenge the driver to find the best way they could each time they drove it. It was one mile from the front gate to the top of the Hill and one mile from the homestead where the owner of Gundawanna lived. Near his homestead were three bores that pumped water to two large tanks on the top of Guanna Hill which provided water for the sheep and the house I lived in. Being bore water it was heavy with metals from the ground and we only used it in the house for washing ourselves and our clothes and flushing our toilet. There were tanks attached to the house and surrounding sheds to collect the rain water we used for drinking and cooking. The tap in the kitchen was connected to the house tanks but the pipe ran alongside the one to the bath where the bore water from the top of Guanna Hill was heated by an electric Zip water heater on the wall.

When winter storms roll over open country lightning will always find the easiest path to ground. Trees are one way, and there were many trees on Gundawanna that were split apart by lightning strikes. But by far the quickest way for lightning to come to ground is to hit the highest point and Guanna Hill always seemed to offer that quick path. The top of the hill was more wooded than the lower slopes because the ground was poorer and more exposed. Over time the topsoil had washed down to the valleys below exposing the rocks that gave the nearby town of Molong its name. Between those rocks threaded the beaten paths taken by the lines of sheep as they regularly came to drink at the troughs. The pipes that carried the water to those troughs were buried underground, but not so far that they provided protection from the more severe winter frosts. Many times my Father and I dug up the ground to repair the pipe that had snapped from the pressure of the ice expanding in it on those freezing winter nights.

On this night I was in the lounge room with my Father playing with my Meccano set. We were building cranes and buildings with my Father having more success than I was manipulating the little metal nuts and bolts that secured the metal strips of meccano. My Mother was in the kitchen just finishing off the dishes after our dinner and filling the kettle at the tap for a cup of tea. It had been cold and wet all day and we didn’t really notice the rain drumming on the tin roof. It was a sound of comfort and warmth that I always found pleasurable because hearing it you knew you were dry and warm inside.

I can still remember seeing the light pass between my Father and I as we sat on the floor no more than three feet away from each other. The almighty clap of thunder was almost instant and we both ducked and looked at each other just as we heard the grunt from the kitchen. Dad raced out where Mum was just leaning on the back of the high chair that still stood next to the stove. It was two metres away from the sink where Mum had just released her hold on the tap when the strike hit. It threw her across the room and stunned her but fortunately did nothing else. The chair had also saved her from hitting the wood stove which was heated after the meal and prepared for the kettle.

It was not until the next day when we were running the bath that we found out where the lightning had come out. There was a neat black hole on the side of the water heater about two inches round where it had found its way to the outside. The lightning had struck the hill above our house, travelled down the underground water pipe and burst out of the side of the heater in the bathroom, a journey of at least 400 yards. I always avoid water taps in storms now!

Traveller on the Red Road: ‘Birraman girri gawala’ (Wiradjuri)

Growing up on the land gives you a connection that you may only recognise later. I was born 66 years ago and grew up near Molong in Central West New South Wales on a property where my Father worked as a Stockman. It was called “Gundawanna”, and I often wondered if the word was from “Gondwana”, the name of the supercontinent Australia was part of 500 million years ago, or from one of Australia’s First Nation languages. The local Historical Society at Molong write that it supposedly means “red road”, but in the language of the Wiradjuri people, who are the custodians and carers of that land, red road is “girri gawala”. It is to the Wiradjuri we owe much for the land that was so productive in that area. They loved the land and cared for it sustainably ensuring a ready supply of fodder and water for the wildlife and the people that the country sustained. The first settlers in the area found rich soil, abundant grass and steady water supplies for their herds of cattle and sheep. Despite the numerous reports in explorers’ diaries about the parkland nature of the country, none seemed to realise that was the result of centuries of land-care by the original inhabitants. They were simply ‘dispersed’, as many of the official letters and documents from the time state, a euphemism for wanton destruction.

Gundawanna (6)

This image of the road leading into my childhood home gives some indication of the beauty and richness of the land. When I was young I was more interested in what was beyond the beauty and saw it as isolated and a place I wanted to get away from and live my life. Now fifty years after I left that place I think back and see the beauty, the richness and the spirit of the land that has helped me become the man I am today. My childhood on this country gave me the opportunity to spend time alone with my thoughts and my dreams in my imaginary world. That time has enabled me to come more easily to a reflective way of living that has helped me understand myself and my place in the world in a deeper way.

Native Americans have a concept known as ‘Walking the Red Road’. David A Patterson Silver Wolf, the first American Indian professor in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote on his blog in 2011 that:

‘Walking the Red Road is a determined act of living within the Creator’s instructions.  Basically, it is living a life of truth, humbleness, respect, friendship, and spiritually. Those on this road are by no means walking a perfect path, but are in search of self-discovery and instructions.’

My search of self-discovery started at ‘Gundawanna’ and if it does indicate ‘red road’, I honour that start to my journey in life and give thanks to the Wiradjuri who cared for that land and continue to care for their land today. In this blog I want to share some of the things I have learned on that road and I hope you enjoy the ride.