My Country in Monochrome

384 (4)Australia is a harsh country.

I was reminded of this on a recent road trip from Sydney out into the western plains of New South Wales. No one is exactly sure why Captain James Cook named this State as he did — though many suspect it was because it reminded him of South Wales — but anyone who has ventured west of the Great Dividing Range will know that the country there is very different from the verdant fields and hedgerows of Cymru.

The Australian landscape is fierce, and often flat. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving.

And yet, for those of us who have grown up here, that same landscape, in its inhospitable and almost hostile glory, is always — absolutely and instantly — recognisable as home.

The person who perhaps discerned the differences between Australia and…well, just about everywhere else, was a woman named Dorothea Mackellar (1 July 1885 – 14 January 1968), who spent part of her life living on a property not far from Gunnedah, where she witnessed the overnight transformation of a desperate and drought-stricken country into a green haven. Later, as a nineteen year old travelling through Europe with her father, Mackellar wrote a poem originally (and romantically) entitled Core of My Heart that summed up Australians’ relationship with the land.

Quite obviously, the original inhabitants of our country, as members of the oldest continuous culture in the world, have had a much longer and far deeper relationship with the land than those of us who have been here since the end of the 18th century. Equally obviously, as a white woman who is only third-generation Australian, I cannot speak for them (nor for anyone else, for that matter). But I do think that Mackellar’s poem, which is now better known as My Country, captures a sense of Australia that most of us recognise and understand.

It’s dry again, out west —  in Kamilaroi Country and Wiradjuri Country, too.

But the rains will come eventually, as they always seem to do.

And in the meantime, I thought I’d share some images from that recent road trip, interspersed with the words of Dorothea Mackellar.

395 (2)This is my country, in monochrome.

The love of field and coppice 
Of green and shaded lanes, 
Of ordered woods and gardens 
Is running in your veins. 
Strong love of grey-blue distance, 
Brown streams and soft, dim skies 
I know, but cannot share it, 
My love is otherwise. 

415 (2)I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me! 

356 (3)The stark white ring-barked forests, 
All tragic to the moon, 
The sapphire-misted mountains, 
The hot gold hush of noon, 
Green tangle of the brushes 
Where lithe lianas coil, 
And orchids deck the tree-tops, 
And ferns the warm dark soil. 

409 (2)Core of my heart, my country! 
Her pitiless blue sky, 
When, sick at heart, around us 
We see the cattle die 
But then the grey clouds gather, 
And we can bless again 
The drumming of an army, 
The steady soaking rain. 

343 (3)Core of my heart, my country! 
Land of the rainbow gold, 
For flood and fire and famine 
She pays us back threefold. 
Over the thirsty paddocks, 
Watch, after many days, 
The filmy veil of greenness 
That thickens as we gaze … 

360 (3)An opal-hearted country, 
A wilful, lavish land 
All you who have not loved her, 
You will not understand 
though Earth holds many splendours, 
Wherever I may die, 
I know to what brown country 
My homing thoughts will fly. 

Dorothea Mackellar, 1908

A Sort of String Theory

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, as the great Robbie Burns wrote, gang aft agley.

How ironic that my post on my Word of the Month — INTENTION — should come at the end of April instead of at the beginning, as I had originally planned.  Then again, given that the word intention derives from the Old French word entencion, which translates as both stretching as well as purpose, perhaps it is fitting that I have somehow managed to stretch out my time sufficiently to squeeze this post in before April bids us farewell — and while I’m sure there’s some witty astrophysical reference I could be making here, my knowledge of string theory is woefully inadequate to make an appropriate cosmic joke.

stress

Intention is a very powerful tool.

Strangely enough, the reasons why this post is so late also relate to intention. A valued client, who over several months had carefully planned and then (seemingly) successfully executed a handover from one administrative support person to another, was let down suddenly and unexpectedly when the new staff member got cold feet and left without notice or warning. This outcome was, quite obviously, not intended.  And having seen the lengths that my client had gone to to ensure a smooth and stress-free transition, stepping into the breach to provide them with on-site administrative support was a no-brainer for me — even if it meant my own plans, including writing this post, were delayed.

Now, I’m not one to sugarcoat things: the situation was stressful for everyone involved. But what impressed me most was that my client, despite being sincerely disappointed, maintained a positive outlook in the face of such a massive setback. And when I asked my client how he had managed to continue being so upbeat — which went, genuinely, beyond putting on a brave face — he gave me this response:

I’m not going to let one person’s quitting stop me from doing what I set out to.

And there it was: intention in action.

Life is full of unexpected twists and snarls, where the strings we attempt to smooth and straighten and follow along their slender lengths sometimes slip out of our grasp or snap altogether. When confronting such circumstances, however, it is worth returning to your original intentions: recalling your original purpose and remembering the reasons behind your actions can provide sufficient impetus to keep you moving ahead, even when it feels like everything around you is turning into a twisted, tangled mess.

I know my client will go on to hire someone new, and will probably end up with a better, more functional business because of it. In the meantime, it has been a privilege to work with someone who fixes their mind firmly, with intention, on their goals and who sustains their business by working deliberately towards achieving those outcomes, even in the face of unexpected setbacks.

stress 3

Suspended Stone Circle II, by Ken Unsworth.

There is great strength to be found in such an approach — in setting your intention and sticking to it. And for some reason, my experiences in April reminded me of an installation by Ken Unsworth at the Art Gallery of NSW that I have visited time and time again. It is called Suspended Stone Circle II, and for me it sums up visually what it’s like to successfully manage a business, or a family, or even the thoughts in your own head.

This is the power of intention.