My jaunt north

I haven’t really commented on my trip away. It was just what I needed. It had a great combination of activity and restfulness. I was nurtured and made very welcome by my old mate and his family. And all of this in one of the more beautiful parts of the world.

There are plenty of highlights. A week ago today, I was at the Byron Writers Festival. Strange as it seems, I’d never been to one of these events before. It was a sunny day, and the large crowd in attendance was progressive by nature, as were most – if not all – of the sessions, barring one occasion when an anti-vax loon from the audience got up to say his piece. He was quickly shut down.

It was reassuring to witness and absorb so much intelligent commentary. So much was thought-provoking, and there were some very impressive speakers. I came away from it feeling intellectually invigorated.

The day before, we’d gone to Byron Bay and did the lighthouse walk. That’s a walk along the beach and then up a steep and winding path along the clifftop and through the bush to the peak of Cape Byron, where the old white lighthouse sits.

It was a beautiful, sunny day as we drove into Byron. Casuarina pines lined the road giving the place a festive feel. The main strip was bustling, and we drove through it towards the beach.

The beaches all along the coastline here are spectacular. They’re long and deep, the sand is pale white, and the surf can be pretty good. Watego Beach is particularly beautiful. It’s fringed in green and is one of the smaller beaches, a gentle arc framed by rocky headlands. Facing the sea are beautiful homes well beyond the reach of most of us.

I’ve done the lighthouse walk before, about 15 years ago. I don’t remember it being so difficult, but then I was fit and well then. This time, I had to pause several times on the way up. Though I’m a lot fitter than I was, I’m still well short of the norm. I’m slowly gaining fitness and strength, and it shows. Exercise like this is great for me.

On the way up, we stopped a couple of times to watch dolphins frolic about a kilometre offshore and then, very fortunately, watched a whale breach the surface. It’s out of season, though it’s a renowned whale watching spot. Up the top, we paused at the kiosk to have a drink and take in the vista. Then we made the return trip.

One curious and amusing sidelight was the reaction I got to the t-shirt I was wearing. I had on a black t-shirt with the retro Essendon logo on it. We’ve had troubled times lately, but we’re a famous club with supporters all over the world. I got about half a dozen people commenting, from go Bombers to people shaking their heads at the recent shenanigans and commenting that things can only get better. Surprisingly, I wasn’t heckled once.

Back on the beach, the sun was so warm I took my shirt off – the first time in many months, and unthinkable considering it was still winter in Melbourne. In Byron, the season was different, and there were plenty of others taking in the sun – including a good number of topless bathers.

Byron Bay is wildly popular these days, but you can see why.

On Saturday, we drove to Nimbin for a soccer game. The route took us through some very pretty towns and beautiful landscapes. We went through hills and thick forests and plantations of Macadamia trees. I was particularly taken with Bangalow and Clunes.

We drove through Lismore, recently the scene of terrible floods. The locals explained how high the floodwaters had come, which was barely comprehensible. Not until you’re there do you realise the unbelievable scale of the event – strange, I write that as Pakistan is suffering from catastrophic, unprecedented flooding. In Lismore, the water reached higher than you could ever imagine.

It’s beautiful countryside beyond that. I love the Australia land. Something about it moves me. I feel both possessive and blessed. It’s a rugged country that contains almost poignant beauty. We’re a land of such contrasts and variety. I doubt there’s another country in the world, with the possible exception of America, with such a geographic range. I have a great attachment to the land, in a different way from the attachment I have to our nation. Though I’ve only seen a fraction of what is a vast land, I feel I know it so well inside me. I know the nature and character of it. I’m moved and feel as if we who live here have won the jackpot.

Nimbin is a different place altogether. While they played soccer, I went for a walk. Within two minutes of walking down the main street, I had characters sidling up to me to check if I might be interested in a purchase. Nimbin is well known as the weed capital of Australia, and the lifestyle there generally reflects an alternative, environmentally conscious type. Though I knocked back the offers, on reflection, I wish I’d at least inquired – just for the experience (marijuana doesn’t do much for me).

I sat down and had a good brunch, then browsed the stores selling hemp products, alternative clothing, etc. I think I was pretty clearly an out-of-towner, but then there were a few tourists who had made the journey.

The only other time I’d been in Nimbin was around 2005 when I visited the market, which was great.

I saw the end of the soccer match, and then we drove back to Mullum. That night, I took my hosts out for dinner to thank them for their great hospitality. They’re a great lot. They have a couple of daughters, the youngest of which took to me, and the other very welcoming. A set of parents lived nearby and were very kind, too.

I stayed in a comfy cabin amid the trees. One day, I walked out the back door to find a couple of wallabies grazing there.

It was great, but I was glad to get home. It made me reflect a little. I have aspirations for a big European trip next year, but perhaps I’m not ready for it yet. It’s likely not something I’ll be comfortable doing until I feel my life has settled into some sort of groove. The reality is, I remain unsettled by health and circumstance.

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