Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: HIDEAWAY
HOW we came to follow the winding, narrow gravel road up into the ranges I don’t know. Maybe it was that one of the three of us driving to the North Coast that day knew the family. Maybe someone referred us to them. I know of no other explanation that would account for us deviating from Highway 1, the Pacific Highway, and heading into the hills.
Anyway, deviating is what we did. Through the farming country westward of the highway, then the climb into the hill country. Forested country. I didn’t know if it was forestry land destined for logging or whether it was some kind of nature reserve in which the plants and the animals, the mobile parts of the forest, could continue their own evolution.
Around here, the drier forest of the lowlands merges into the moister forest of the uplands. It’s still eucalypt forest but in the sheltered, shaded gullies through which clean-water streams flow, a type of warm temperate rainforest takes hold. Trees grow closer together. Smaller trees grow in the shade of the taller. Ferns and that dark-coloured vegetation with shiny leaves covers the ground. Here, it is cooler, quieter, the flowing of the streams the dominant sound.
The dominant sound as we approached the house that day was less that of flowing water and more the sound of our twin-cab ute rounding the last of the bends. We stopped, parked and walked over to the man who came out of the house. He was in his thirties, I guess, hair bushy but not long, dressed in those earthy cotton clothes favoured by the people who sought a new beginning in the hills. His partner came out onto the verandah, young child by her side. She was somewhat younger than he, similarly dressed and with long, dark brown hair that fell below her shoulders.
In appearance, they were a representative couple of the largely youthful milieu who came up north here seeking a more independent life in the country. They were representative, too, in having bult their home.
Their home. It was modest in size and made of timber. They had used log offcuts to clad it. Those are the rounded sides of logs for which the sawmills have no use. Thus they are free or cheap for the taking, and take them is what those building their own homes in the bush did. Homes so-clad had that rough appearance given by the bark remaining on the rounded offcuts.
I never flound out whether there was electricity connected up here on the edge of the hills overlooking the coastal plain. I saw no poles and wires. Water connection? No. The household’s water came from a large rainwater tank that stored the rain that drained off the galvanised iron roof.
There was much I would have liked to find out had our visit been longer. How did the family make a living? How supportive of each other was their social network? How reliant were they for supplies on the neartest town and what staples did they buy? How much food came from their vegetable garden? What were their aspirations?
Later, I would think about the lifestyle of this cohort. Here they were breaking away from mainstream social norms. That was brave, of course, as making the break required courage and confidence. Yet, at the same time, they epitomised some of the values of the society they would break from. Values like the centrality of the family, and older values like personal independence, even if that was only partial, and the partial self-reliance of providing some of your own basic needs.
I could see that in their seeking to walk their own road they combined the contradictory elements of rebellion-through-attitude-and-lifestyle and a type of conservatism that manifested as the drive to take personal responsibility for their lives and in family as the basic social unit. They were a mashup of traditional Australian values and the values of a youthful cohort that sought to break away from the traditional past.
Recluses in their hideaway?
This was no family of recluses in their rural hideaway, nor was their modest, self-built house a hideaway from society and the world. They might have to follow that gravel road through the forest to come and go, but I knew enough of the lifestyle to safely assume the family would be nodes in a local network of friends and acquaintances.
But… what a hideaway the property would be. Independent of the energy and utility grids, accessible only by those who knew the family lived up here and overlooking the coastal plain, the place had the feel of an aerie, it had a sense of separation yet of connection to the landscape it overlooked through gaps in the trees.
But separation — a hideaway — was not what the type of people who had built this house wanted. That’s an assumption, of course, because we were not with the family long enough to get into any kind of philosophical conversation, but it is representative of people living this lifestyle at that time. A degree of separation from mainstream society, independence and a sense of freedom, I think that might sum of the ethos. Self-building was part of that, as was growing some of what they ate in their home garden and eating what their chooks provided with their daily lay — and, up here, keeping those chooks and their eggs safe from the big pythons that knew where to find a good meal.
Ours was a brief visit that day and after talking awhile we boarded the ute and followed that winding gravel road down to the coastal plain below. There we would rejoin Highway 1 and turn north again. We would follow its long grey ribbon of asphalt to the town on the coast that was out destination that day.