Gosh, Victoria has some pretty country.
There is an expression Terry Pratchett sometimes uses – “gnarly country”. It means land which is all scrunched up, containing more geography per square inch than it has a right to.
It’s not a term I would have applied to Victoria before – I grew up on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, so the hills and valleys that populate most of the state and south eastern New South Wales never really impressed me. But having spent the last 11 months in WA, previously unnoticed inclines now seem mountainous.
It’s a curious shift in perspective – an indication that I am becoming westernised. I had previously thought WA was stretched out. Now I think home is scrunched up. And it is becoming less ‘home’ than ‘my parent’s place’.
Of course, West Australians strongly resist the assumption their state is as flat as Big Brother season eight ratings. Whenever I mentioned it in my first few months, the response inevitably came: “You haven’t been up to Collie, then? There is a hill in Collie.”
I must confess, I still have yet to make the trek up the hill to Collie. Yet I am doubtful it can compare to the journey from Melbourne to Albury, where finding the flat bit presents the greater challenge.
West Australians are very parochial about their hill. We don’t seem to notice ours.
About half of the hills flashing past the window of the XPT train have been cleared. The ratio swings more toward the bulldozer the further north you go. Removing my rose-tinted homesick glasses, it’s bloody ugly. The South West is more objectively aesthetically attractive. But since when has beauty been an objective assessment?
You can keep your karri forests. I’ll take this box-ironbark scrub, dotted along road verges and ridges too steep to graze. I’m not interested in sunsets over long white beaches. I like hollowed-out little towns where half the railway cottages still have remnants of an outhouse and everything feels like it should be shrouded in fog even in the height of summer.
I’ll take frosty mornings and hot, sharp summer air over a climate-controlled year-round Mediterranean forecast. Ridiculous heritage values over booming development. Good coffee over big coffee. Green swings over Liberal heartland.
My mother told me she felt comfortable settling in Everton because the trees felt like those in her childhood home on the western fringe of the Hunter Valley, at the other end of the Dividing Range. I seem to have inherited her craving for familiar county. This connection to place is a peculiar yearning, as both of us wanted nothing more upon graduation than to run far away and never return.
Not that we’re afraid of a change of scene – the Bunbury anniversary is looming next month – but neither career nor family nor a new life can disrupt the connection to country.
My sister is earnestly making preparations to uproot her and fiancée’s life in Sydney and replant it in Perth, where the work is more interesting for a pair of engineers. It will be a permanent move, for a given value of permanent.
I couldn’t do that. There is a clock ticking on WA. The draft townhopping schedule is dictated by work, but I won’t settle until a three hour drive lets me see the mist rolling off the hills.