It is February, and late summer on the south coast of Western Australia. This is a wild and lovely coastline of heathland, granite and high cliffs above the Southern Ocean – next landfall is Antarctica.
One of Australia’s classic long-distance walks, the almost-1000km stretch of the Bibbulumun Track, meanders along its edges and through its fringing forests of musically-named marri, jarrah, karri, tingle. These are native eucalypts and now, mostly, protected from logging after hard-fought environmental battles of the 1980s.
Today I walk a section near my home. There is a specific brightness and clarity about the morning sky and air that is, to me, unmistakeably Western Australian. It is hot and windy after a cool night, with heady resinous smells. Small scuttling noises emanate from the bush; these are reassuring as they indicate an animal with legs and feet rather than without, though generally the common (and venomous) tiger snakes seem as keen to avoid me as I am them.
Denmark, the township where I live, saw an early wave of alternative lifestylers – ‘sea- and tree-changers’, they’re known as here – in the 1970s, to the initial consternation of long-established farming and logging families. But the community survived and thrived, and this afternoon the usual eclectic mix of locals – farmers, craftspeople, green activists, retirees, surfers and dreadlocked neo-hippies – are doing the rounds of the high street together.
Many of us grow food and are presently engaged in seasonal stand-offs with ringneck parrots for the rights to ripening stonefruit and tomatoes. Above the fenceline in my garden their bigger relatives, gorgeous black cockatoos with checkerboard tails that splay in flight, are feeding way up in the marri trees, too high to see. Their creaking voices, and an accompanying shower of half-eaten gum nuts, give them away.
My neighbour is a wildlife carer, and her recently-released marsupial charges often provide evening entertainment. A baby bandicoot snuffles past, unperturbed by sunset cocktails on the verandah. Later, a series of thuds vibrates through the bedroom wall – kangaroos out leading a wild night life, country-style.