Away in the hills

I’m out of Melbourne this week and staying with friends in Mullumbimby.

I flew out on Saturday. For the first time ever, I caught a plane from Avalon airport. I caught a bus, a train, and another bus to get there. The airport is not much more than a large shed with a tarmac out front. There’s a kiosk, a bar and a small newsagency. None of this would have mattered to me except soon after I checked in, the announcement came that my 4 o’clock flight was delayed by two hours. So I had to sit in that place for over two hours with only my iPad and the VFL football on the big screen to keep me occupied.

It was a different crowd than usual. Lots of young families and kids running rampant everywhere. A few seemed unfamiliar with the niceties of air travel. Once the plane finally arrived, and we boarded, people ignored the seatbelt sign even before we’d left the ground to chat with a mate a few seats back. Once we were in the air, there were kids running up and down the aisle until they were stopped. It was pretty feral but to be expected, I guess, on a flight to the Gold Coast.

One small consolation was that I scored an exit row seat. I sat there with my headphones on and dialled out.

We touched down at Coolangatta airport at about 8pm, and my mate picked me up and took me back to his home in Mullumbimby.

It’s a grand home in the hills, overlooking the valley below. It’s a big place with a broad deck all around it. I got out of the car and looked up at the sky, sprinkled with livid stars like I hadn’t seen for years. Out the back, they had a big, comfortable apartment just for me.

It’s good to be away. I had a week in Sydney and the Blue Mountains in December, but I was far from fit, and it doesn’t seem to count. It does now, and being in such a different environment only emphasises the distance I’ve come.

It’s a wonderful part of the world. It seems to be more trees and hills than habitation. The sky is clear. In the distance, there are more hills, and as you go deeper into the hinterland, the bush seems endless. In the evening, bats fly overhead, heading inland.

There’s a relaxed vibe, generally. Driving through the township, the streets are broad and lined with trees. There are old pubs and grand buildings built in an earlier era, but there seems to be enough of everything. Walking the foreshore, you’ll come across bush turkeys idling their time and in the scrub, there’ll be the occasional Moreton Bay Fig, gnarled and grandiose, my favourite tree in the whole wide world.

Yesterday, we went to Brighton Heads and walked down the beach. It’s a long expanse of white sand that stretches into the distance while the surf crashes in, one wave after another without end. Through the haze, Brunswick Heads could be seen, and further yet, the white lighthouse of Byron was dimly visible. We stopped at a cafe afterwards and had a low-key lunch served by laid-back locals keen to get to the beach.

Today we went to Brunswick Heads. We took the wooden footbridge over the tidal river and crossed to the surf beach. The beach was sprinkled with people. Some were walking, and others had their dogs. A middle-aged man came down as I watched with his surfboard and plunged into the surf. Another stripped off his t-shirt and ran into the ocean.

This last guy caught my eye as he seemed to epitomise much of what people imagine when they picture Australians.

He was a trim, muscular six-footer, tanned and fit as a trout. He had an easy, masculine handsomeness, open and uncomplicated. He was the type to nod or give you a wink in place of any formal greeting. His hair reached to his shoulders, like a surfie, a sun-tipped, salt-washed blonde. There’s a lot like him up these ways, and perhaps it is a distinct Australian type. He had a quick swim and came out of the water, nodding as he went by. It’s a language we natives understand.

Later in the week, I’ll attend the Byron Writers Festival, which just happens to be on while I’m up here. I’ll do the lighthouse walk one day and hope to have a beer at the pub there. There’s a pub trivia thing tomorrow night, for which I’m the star recruit, and a card night later in the week. Hoping to make it to Chris’ place for a barbie as well – Matt might be there.

You can see why people come up here to settle. The rest of the world seems far away. It’s very mellow, and the beauty is a reminder of how good it can be.

For me, it’s an opportunity to clear my head and detox a little. It seemed all I saw of the world for a long time was my home, the hospital, and the parts in between. I plan to begin sorting a few things out while I’m here. I’ve got some thinking to do and have already started on it. And yesterday began building a spreadsheet that will tell me how long I can afford to live well and identify what I have to do to live better and longer.

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