I have been back house-sitting for the last month and a half. At Corinda, I'm looking after a big old house and its two cats, whose humans are travelling overseas the next few months. When I came down here in April, I was working full time but that job finished end of last month. I was also busy with stuff to do with the LGBT History Action Group much of my spare time that month too.
But my current unemployment has given me a lot more time, or more correctly, more flexibility in my time, as now that I'm unemployed I've been able to direct my attention back to a variety of projects, including the History Action Group stuff that had been pushed aside by the demands of full time employment. It also means that I've been able to get out and about in the neighbourhood here, at last, and explore it.
By that I mean, in particular, the Oxley Creek Common, which is not far, as the crow flies, from where I'm staying. The Common consists of old Dept of Primary Industries research farmland and includes a long walk alongside the creek ending at a grove of hoop pines, the Secret Forest, which are the remnant of an old commercial forestry that was based here early last century. Another trail branches off to a patch of wetlands known as Pelican Island. The old farmland, too, fenced off from the walk, still has grazing animals, cattle and sheep and horses, even some goats.
I first started coming to the Common when I was housesitting here in 2007. Back then we were still in the drought. The fields were brown and stubby with only small numbers of cattle grazing. The Common was only just established. There had been tree-planting along the path but most were still saplings and many were struggling to get established. Some had died, looking like long dry twigs planted in the ground. The wetlands were there but much diminished, mostly more mudland with pond, and seemed to be the home of the ubiquitous ibis rather than the pelican. But nevertheless I was captivated by the place. The mangroves along the creek were thriving and healthy and home to many birds, which you could hear as you walked along the path. What's more the Common is adjacent to industrial land and a busy link road, as well as the Brisbane Markets at Rocklea. Yet as you walk down the path into the Common, you hear all the noise of traffic and industry become muffled, until you reach a point of near silence, where it becomes distant and is overwhelmed by the sounds of breeze and bird and insect.
I managed to get back to the Common in 2008 when I was housesitting down here and also early last year so I've experienced it in all the seasons. I went there again middle of last year but it was closed because of flood damage. Over the last couple of years, Brisbane and, indeed, eastern Australia, seem to have moved into a cycle of much wetter weather (Bob Hawke jokes that the best way to end a drought is to elect a Labor government). I've been told that as far as Brisbane is concerned, we seem to have returned to a wetter period in a long term pattern of cyclical wet and dry periods each lasting for quite a few years.
So a couple of weeks ago, now that I was unemployed, I made my way to the Common. While close by it's not easy to access as the only way is to go along Sherwood Rd crossing both the railway line and then Oxley Creek itself. But whoever built the bridges only provided a pedestrian footpath on one side and each bridge the path is one the opposite side to the other. That means that pedestrians like myself are forced to cross Sherwood Rd not once but twice and over the last few years the traffic on that road has become much busier. There are no designated pedestrian crossings either. So I was hoping the Common was open, it's not a walk one takes lightly and it was late afternoon heading into peak hour traffic.
Not only was the Common open but I was amazed at the transformation. All the plantings along the path had not only grown but were thriving, tall and dense. I was astonished by how much the path had become a type of woodland walk. The grazing lands alongside in some stretches could only be glimpsed through the foliage and, what's more, there weren't just a handful of cattle grazing there now. Instead there were herds of cattle everywhere in the lush and tall green grassland. Sheep too and some goats could be seen if you looked closely enough. Along the path, there was the sound of birdsong and most surprisingly several times I had the cracking call of the whipbird. I've never heard a whipbird in Brisbane! There were turkeys too - I'd never seen turkeys in the Common before.
Pelican Island was a revelation. The mudlands were now underwater and with manner of waterbirds; the ibis were no longer dominant, ducks were everywhere and there were pelicans and I even saw a black swan! It's hard to describe the impact all this had on me. I was at first elated and then moved to the point of tears. It was all so beautiful - the scents, the sounds, the colours, even the changes in air temperature as the evening advanced and as one moved from densely wooded to open stretches of the oath.
We're also in Autumn now in Brisbane and there's something about that season here, the quality, the clarity of the light. It triggers something in me awakening impossible unconscious memories that strain against the walls of consciousness. I don't know what these 'memories' are, not mine surely, but they come with a yearning a nostalgia for something undefined, for that which never was.
That first time was late afternoon and I hurried, as the evening advanced, to get out again again before it got dark. I was surprised to find I was passing people coming in, mostly dogwalkers, as it grew darker. I've not been in there at night and the path is not, thankfully, lit. I went back twice more, once in the morning on a weekday and then again one afternoon last weekend. And then yesterday I went back again, very late in the afternoon. By the time I arrived, the sun was going down and the western horizon was ablaze. The weather has cooled over the month but this is Brisbane in the sub-tropics and so, while I wore a pullover, I can get around in shorts and sandals.
Once again I was overwhelmed by the power, the beauty, the exuberant life of the place. I heard the whipbird again and everywhere cicadas. And there were turkeys too. I walked down to the Secret Forest by which time the light was really fading fast. I should have brought a camera because the fading light on the western horizon, dull embers really, seemed to have dissolved any sense of a city around this place. I felt as if I was far away with maybe only a small country town somewhere nearby. Walking back along an unwooded stretch of the path and looking east across the pastures, Brisbane seemed to have been turned into a kind of country town. In the distance I could see the hills of Toohey Forest and between them and the Common you could only really see the scattered lights of the Rocklea industrial area and then outlines of some of the buildings. Once again I felt transported and the pangs of unconscious memory pressed against me. If these are my memories, rather than cultural ones created by text and image and shared experience, maybe they come from early childhood in Lithgow? I don't know but I have throughout my life been haunted by this sense of memory, bitter sweet as they say, and most prominently in autumn, but also on those evenings when the sky is clear and the light fades like embers in the west.
It was a half-moon last night and as I made my way along the path could see my shadow cast in the moonlight. I thought I was alone but I could hear some people in the distance coming back from Pelican Island; they had a dog with them too. I quickened my pace because the last thing I wanted was any sort of human contact in that place, at that time. It was an exquisite moment of solitude, rich with an intimacy that could only be shared by invitation.
I will be going back, especially in the evening. I look forward to it in winter. Many native trees go into bloom in July and I look forward to the tangy but musty sweet perfume of wattle especially. I might even dare to make an early rising and explore the Common as the dawn breaks. Maybe.
I found this photo of sunrise at the Common. And here's the site for the Friends of the Oxley Common.