What can you say about a life-changing experience to give others the flavour of it? Mere facts can at times be deceiving.
After what could be described as an extended stay in Brisbane, I’ve decided to move some 10 degrees south into the cooler, historical goldfields of Victoria. I’d been feeling for some time—years, actually—that I’d come to the end of something in Queensland. After some torrid “weather” when first I moved there, things settled down, but then the halcyon days had become the doldrums, and I found myself becalmed in them.
You probably know it is in my character to stick things out—sometimes even when it is not in my best interests to do so. Some might describe it as being over-adapted to a fixed position, like an oyster. And anybody with a taste for oysters and a knife, knows what happens to them. Some kind of gut feeling had told me it was time to unfasten myself from that rock and seek the unknown—if not an actual adventure or two—which at this time of life can be more of an inconvenience than a pleasure.
The initial stages of my move were pretty horrible: I had to rationally assess the real estate that had been my comfortable, beloved home, to see if I could engineer a swap with another such abode. Money, or rather its lack, is always the spectre of such a proposition. There was also the accumulation of much junk in a life which had encouraged stockpiling. So for six months I culled: thousands of books, literally, but other stuff as well.
Here I will digress. There was a brush turkey. You know, one of those big, presumptuous things with red head and neck, a yellow, crinkled wattle, a glazed but determined eye, and a body black as pitch. He took up residence in my backyard the year before last, destroying, in his insatiable urge to build his empire there, my herbs and spices garden, my vegetable and flower gardens, even my bromeliads—which he often kicked onto his pile with the sang-froid of a serial killer. This arrogant cove possessed an air of entitlement, because he knew, absolutely knew, that as a law-abiding citizen, I couldn’t do a damn thing about him. Clearly he’d sussed me out.
He built his mound about 1.5 metres high with a circumference of 15 metres, and waited for the love of his life to turn up. She never did. So after about 5 destructive months, he seemed to give up and move back to from whence he came—Hades, I presumed. 1.5 metres by 15 metres of compacted leaf litter is a hell of a lot of green bins. It took me six months to finally get my backyard back to its usual topography and to restore and replace my gardens. Six months of hard yakka. And guess what! The day I had finally decided that the beast had returned to its underworld forever, it returned instead to my place.
This time I put a few obstacles in the way of its megalomania: wire mesh, garbage bins, shade cloth, rocks, rubber snakes, etc. It persisted. But so did I. For months, every day I raked up all the junk the hellish, feathered automaton had kicked into my place with its weird, backwards-scraping shuffle. Every day for months! There was a kind of a truce. It decided to take up residence in my deceased next-door neighbour’s yard that had become an overgrown wilderness to delight the heart of any natural creature. (It was here it attacked someone from the office of the Public Trustee, giving him a nasty bite on the nose.) But it still had its baleful eye on my place. Once when I went to Victoria for a few days, I came back to find all of my side gate and fence piled high with leaf litter. A trail from houses on the other side of my street indicated the sources of its new attack. I was put in mind of Kokoda.
Other residents in my street were getting pissed off by this turkey. There were meetings about how we should deal with it. One helpful chap told us that he believed the same turkey had come back to his family farm annually for 30 years! When asked how he had finally quitted himself of the beast and its ever-increasing progeny, he said his mother did a tolerable bush turkey roast. Apparently during the Great Depression in the 1930s, people cooked and ate the turkeys. He told us you cook a brush turkey with a rock in the same pot. When the rock has considerably softened, the turkey is almost ready to eat.
The strange thing about Brisbane at this time was that it was literally being overrun by bush—or brush—turkeys, while other, more comely animals and birds seemed to be being edged into extinction. Coal seam gas mines were on the increase in the Sunshine State and so were brush turkeys. Perhaps there was a connection? Once when I visited a sick friend at the Wesley Hospital I almost stepped on one as I got out of my car. In the short walk to the wards—approximately 150 metres—I counted 3 turkeys in this high-rise belt of the inner city: something of a de-inducement to staying in Brisbane.
Now I have never, before now, lived in Victoria. So when I saw the extremely dilapidated house described as “a miner’s cottage” with its beautiful, if unkempt, extensive gardens and not a brush turkey in sight, I decided I had found my new home. A cynic amongst my new friends suggested that everybody wants a miner’s cottage on the goldfields these days, so that my real estate agent may have been a little cavalier with the truth. However, a couple of hours of researching titles and rates notices at the local Historical Society archives, proved he was wrong in his suspicions. The house is at least 150 years old and was indeed built by a gold miner, a Mr Phillip Ball. Okay, I have a huge job ahead of me in restoring it, but this house has a story which I have no doubt is worth telling.
For instance, when I was re-stumping the house, a secret passage was discovered under it. This was accessed by a cleverly disguised trapdoor in the bottom of a dreadful old cupboard in the bathroom. The tunnel was reached by a flight of stairs underneath the trapdoor opening. There are several explanations for this tunnel—the most romantic being that it was a place to hide from the “traps”, the goldfields police who were themselves often recruited from the criminal classes and inclined to be bullies. Secondly, the tunnel could have been the place to hide any gold found by the miner. . . Or it may have just served as a cellar to keep the milk, butter, and other perishables cool in the hot weather. But if this was so, why the hidden trapdoor?
The re-stumpers, against my wishes, filled in the tunnel with rubble, but my daughter had the foresight to remove the very heavy wooden stairs and place them out of their reach in my shed. I managed to find and keep the corroded metal ring by which the trapdoor (which they also destroyed) was lifted.
The other remarkable find when the re-stumpers were around, was the still-elegant, mummified remains of an enormous cat with golden striped fur. The slightly unsettling thing about this was that there was an old broom by the exotic feline’s body and a rotted rubber ball. Was the cat lured into the narrow space under the kitchen with the ball? If not, surely the animal’s demise would have been apparent to the occupants of the house. Was this evidence of a pagan rite pointing to witchcraft with the cat as sacrificial witch’s familiar? This idea is not as outlandish as it sounds in the early days of European settlement. Unfortunately the age of the cat and the things around it could not be ascertained; they all disappeared on the day they were found, with the tunnel.
Of course I miss my lovely friends from Brisbane, but once I have a guest room ready, some of you will come down to visit. Kayleen and Laurie have already done so, leaping intrepidly from joist to joist before the new floors were put down.
Cheers for now. Watch this space, for here I intend to keep you all posted.