…Well, my immediate family at least. In doing so, I pass through some pretty unremarkable country. That is, until you realise the nature of the countryside you happen to be passing through. I have done this journey, many MANY times over the past 37 years of my life, and I often slip into BORINGGGGG! mode, simply because the trip – as a drive – takes over 4 and a half hours to complete.
Farmers have done their damage for well over a third of the trip, be it cattle sheep or wheat, and whilst I understand how bloody lucky we are having such high quality primary produce available to us as consumers – this hasn’t come without it’s costs. Our fragile environment, has copped a complete flogging from farming. If you think I’m joking look at an aerial view of South Western Australia now, and notice the complete lack of GREEN. This region once extended – uninterrupted – up into the now outskirts of Perth and beyond. Tall timber was once so plentiful, you once couldn’t see the ‘woods for the trees’.
However, that’s not what I’m really here to make ‘e-noise’ about… although our farming practices have had a huge impact on our ecosystem over here – much like any other place on earth – it really doesn’t come into perspective till you understand the nature of the botany found in the south-west and mid-west region’s of Western Australia, as the other ‘two thirds’ of my drive north is covered by what’s simply known as the banksia (bank-see-a) heathland. I simple stubble of scrub cover, that appears quite untidy to most, and barely tops heights over 15 feet. In fact most of the banksia heathland sits anywhere from waist to head height, and it appears to stretch for miles.
Take some basil, Parmesan cheese and pine nut pesto, roughly smear it onto a dry water cracker, and place it on the table in front of you. This might give you an idea of what this countryside looks like from the air. Well, if you had MANY water crackers and had the table top covered with the little bugger I guess – but I’m hoping you get what I mean, it’s simply not an overly remarkable landscape, from a distance. Table tops covered with water crackers smeared with fresh basil pesto for example, might strike a little more interest from the average person on the street then the dirty dry green blur, whizzing past your car window.
The Grass Trees; once known as ‘Black Boys’ (or Balga – by the South-West Aboriginal peoples), flowering stems stand out starkly over the top of most of this untidy scrub. Their ‘straight’ black lines from a distance, making it appear that perhaps a landscape artist had gone crazy with a 2B pencil, and was forever stuck with a bold up and down motion – definitely no side to side. Crazily this appears to offer an orderly illusion of symmetry to what often looks like a die-casters jumble – such is the nature of this countryside. A handful of seeds thrown haphazardly into the wind, couldn’t possible replicate the jumble that appears to dominate this landscape.
It rolls over this harsh sandy ‘desert’, following it’s undulations and land-breaks in what was once an unbroken line. ‘Till’ farming that is! If you’ve toured much of WA, you’ll know that it’s mostly flat. Mostly. Even the hills here really – rarely – make actual ‘hill’ status. We have ‘bumps’ in the landscape (Since I’ve left the state and traveled a ‘little’, I’m qualified to know this now – my Victorian t’other half still rolls around the floor laughing when she remembers me pointing a Western Australian ‘hill’ in the distance.), and these bumps hide a myriad of plants you’ll never find in any other place in Australia. Or the world for that matter.
Half the plants and wild flowers of South and Mid West Australia are found nowhere else on this planet. 80 known species of Banksia are found in Australia, two-thirds of these are found in our South West. We have a very specific eco-system that supports these little green ‘critters’. The Swan Coastal Plain supports similar plants and ‘scrubbery’ in and around the Perth Area, but such is the variety of these ecosystems that two major nature parks only seven kilometres apart (and complete islands of green now – isolated in suburbia) have about half of their plant species being different in each area. (Thank you Len Findlay and Steven Hopper, for reminding me of the unique ‘scrub’ we have surrounding us. – Saturday’s ‘West Australian’ 10th June 2006.) The Amazon Basin be buggered – we have are own little slice of ‘paradise’ right here, if only we can have the sense to recognise it.
However, we to busy getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’. We’ve got our heads down and bums up – so to speak – when it comes to being able to notice the scenery zipping by. We simply don’t stop to ‘smell the roses’ anymore and whilst I know this is such a sad cliche, it’s saddest still – simply because it’s true! How many of you Aussies out there really know just how unique that bit of country is that you’ve got you feet on – well… couch then – that you’ve probably got your feet on! It’s seen the age of Dinosaurs come and go, it’s shuddered and rumbled when Wolf Creek had it’s meteor moment – and the earth moved… this country is old beyond our understanding (and I don’t care WHAT those ‘scientific types’ say!), and we’re not even a mere ‘blip’ on the radar screen of life that shaped this scrappy bit of dirt.
It brought about the plants we know now, they’ve adapted to this harsh landscape – and survived! The saddest thing about all of this, is that you’ll never know this, unless you get OUT of your car. That is of course pre-supposing you stop the car first, and even – open the door. Get out and have a ‘gawk’ at what is – uniquely – yours! That bit of green, most times prickly and even unfriendly, vegetation is probably only found in that bit of country your standing in, if it’s native to that area at least.
After all this time, given all the pressure and cultivation, farming and clearing – our unique botany is still hanging on – if only by it’s ‘fingernails’. Again, if you ‘Blink’ you just might miss it. I keep forgetting just how unique the bit of scrub is between Perth and Geraldton. I forget how old this country is. I never stop to think of how amazing a bunch of people must be to survive and prosper in this harsh ‘neck of the woods’. This feat and our amazing countryside can never be appreciated from the driver’s or passenger’s seat of a car. You have to stop, get out and have a look around. Walk out amongst it some, and try to forget the discomfort for a moment… it mightn’t ‘float your boat’ so to speak, but it’s an amazing continent we live on.
One day – metaphorically speaking of course – something far off in the universe will ‘Blink’ and they’ll miss it… and that’ll be us sliding off our planet, our moment over and done with. Our time – finished! Don’t let the scenery just slide on by people… it’s your heritage, it’s your legacy. Enjoy it – appreciate it – because one day we’ll have a grandchild look up at us and say: “Grandad – what’s a Banksia?”
And to me – that’d be a real shame!