Australians have some funny sayings. We call anywhere 100 kilometres outside our Capital Cities “the bush” when most of it is open plainlands. Of course it wasn’t always that way. I was born in the Queensland bush and for most of my formative years lived in Queensland bush towns. Driving anywhere in the Queensland bush when I was a kid meant just that – driving through the bush – wall to wall trees. Occasionally you’d see small clearings with cattle or sheep in silent competition for grazing rights with kangaroos and emus. Occasionally we’d see a few acres under agricultural before again being swallowed by the endless scrub.
All roads were dirt – poorly maintained, corrugated, pot-holed, dusty, rough and dangerous. In an attempt to seek smoother driving conditions for both passenger and vehicle, side tracks were simply ‘bush-bashed’ by bush drivers. Mirroring the road, these side tracks snaked through the Queensland bush for miles at a stretch, demanding vigilance.
Average rainfall and soil type dictated the tree types. Most common were Brigalow, Belah, Cypress Pine, Wattle, Iron Bark, Yellow Box and the ubiquitous Eucalyptus, or Gumtrees as they are colloquially called. In the drier areas further west, Gidgee or Stinking Acacia, Pine and Mulga crowded the paddocks and road verges. Stinking Acacia is aptly named – its gaseous flatulence smells like a sewer. Wiping a crushed Gidgee Beetle on a kids clothes was funny.
The only bitumen roads were the town’s main street and occasionally the main road out of town as far as the Shire Chairman’s boundary gate! The primary car colour was cream or brown and nobody in the Queensland bush wasted precious tank water washing them.
Sadly, as their relevance receded, all the Queensland bush towns I lived in have been in decline for the past forty years. Yet it is these very towns that I have chosen to write about in my books. Characters you see in the streets come alive. In many instances I describe the towns and properties as they were in my youth. Of course, when required to sustain my story line and keep it relevant, I do change a few things. I call it poetic licence.
Joyce Davidson, a dear friend of mine in her nineties said to me in Miles a few months ago when I presented her with a signed Author’s Manuscript of ‘I’ll be Six Next Birthday’ my latest book. “You know Peter, the Miles Stock Yards in your first book have been gone for many years.” I said by way of apology, “Sorry Joyce. Adam Mann, my protagonist, needed them back.”
And in that same town, David Mundell said to me at the launch of my first book, ‘The Condamine Bell’. “Majalin Downs, in here,” tapping his signed copy of my book “it’s the place next door to me, isn’t it?” I nodded, he continued. “That’s how it was 60 years ago Pete, when we were kids. Not anymore – all under agriculture now.” Poetic licence at work again.
Ah, memories of the Queensland bush – so poignant – so pertinent – yet so electric.