By Nick Keukenmeester
For a real sense of what is to be Australian, pull on your boots and go for a walk in the bush.
For those used to North American or European landscapes the Australian environment can seem a little weird and wonderful. This was certainly the case for the first white settlers and this strangeness or ‘otherness’ was summarized in two words; ‘The bush’.
The Australian bush is varied and multifaceted, but its defining features are poor soils and dry scrubby land. The words ‘lush’ and ‘green’ do not apply here. The eucalyptus trees offer the only respite from the summer’s sun. These ‘gum trees’ cannot be trusted as they tend to drop entire limbs when under stress. People are advised not to camp under them as the branches are heavy and if they fall on you, you may not get up again.
The Blue Mountains in New South Wales are named for the eucalyptus oil haze that rises above the gum trees on warm days. This gives the whole landscape a blue tint when viewed from afar. The distinctive, spicy aroma permeates the air. This oil is also the reason most Australians have cause to fear bush fires. Bush fires occur to some degree almost every summer and can spread with frightening speed as the oil filled air accelerates the flames from tree to tree.
Stick to the paths! Snakes are not looking for people to bite, but if you step right on one, you aren’t giving them a lot of choice. It is best to know where your feet are falling, as Australia is home to most of the world’s seriously poisonous serpents.
If I haven’t managed to scare you off yet, then you are in for a treat.
You don’t need to get to the outback for a bush walk as most Australian cities have nature reserves near or within their borders. The sights and sounds of the bush are unique and iconic to most Australians. The air is filled with the laughter of kookaburras, the crackle of bark under foot and the chatter of galahs. Galahs are a type of cockatoo with a distinctive pink breast found throughout the country. They are noisy and tend to travel in large groups. [A ‘galah’ is also an old slang term for a fool or buffoon.]
It is always worth looking up every now and then. Along with the birds, you could spot a possum or even a koala. To the right and left you might happen upon wallabies and kangaroos, as skittish as any deer. Although the nature reserves are great, there is nothing better than seeing animals in the wild. Besides anything else, it is a great way to work off all that good Australian wine!
Images courtesy of David Ireland/Tourism Australia