Driving those few hours to our new property, to finally move in, I was anxious to check the reality of my new home and country life against the preconceptions I’d developed. Will I feel safe in the country? Will I miss city cafes, bootcamps, walking to the shops and other conveniences? Will I be overwhelmed by the renovations required and the reality of looking after country acres? Will I still love this house or will this all be a terrible mistake?
I’d thought of various ways to introduce myself to our new home with more ceremony than simply walking through the door. I could light a sage smudge stick and waft pungent cleansing smoke through the rooms and into every corner, clearing old energy to make way for new beginnings. I could rub some soil from the bank of the dam under my armpits and sprinkling it into the water, to announce my arrival. (An idea inspired by ABC TV’s Back to Nature, https://www.screenaustralia.gov.au/the-screen-guide/t/back-to-nature-2021/39240/ ) I could say hello to the spirits of the traditional owners and let them know my intention is to care for land and wildlife, to be respectful.
I drive along those final few undulating kilometres of gravel road, skirting the national park, threading between huge gum trees in an area listed as critical koala habitat. As I round the last bend and glimpse the rusty A-frame roof and views down the valley, the house greets me like a sigh of relief. I know this is where I’m meant to be.
I also know my convoluted plans to announce my arrival are not necessary. My smudge stick will stay in my suitcase, the soil at the dam, the traditional owners undisturbed.
This cottage, on its ten acres, has witnessed floods, drought, and the terrible bushfires of 2019-2020 when almost the entire East Coast of Australia was on fire. Who am I to land here from the big city with my big ideas, to come in as the new owner and start pushing things around? I’ll move slowly, get to know the land over time. The patterns, the seasons. I have much to learn.
Getting to know the property began simply that first day. Cleaning. My husband and I rolled up the ancient, filthy carpet and scrubbed the concrete slab beneath. I started cleaning high inside the house and worked my way lower. Vacuuming what I could reach of the vaulted ceiling, squeegee mopping the walls, then the windows and floors.
We unpacked the sound system and learned of the beautiful acoustics provided by the solid walls and soaring ceilings.
My husband had arrived at our new home yesterday, while I packed up the last of our city belongings. I asked him how he’d slept last night on a mattress on the floor. He hadn’t slept well. Kept awake by rustlings in the cupboards, scurryings in the attic, and scamperings along the gutters and over the corrugated iron roof. I was glad our furniture had been delivered. Although the bed was one of the few items unpacked, at least tonight we will be sleeping up off the floor. After vacuuming droppings from cupboards and corners today, I knew we were not the only occupants of the house.
Exhausted we flopped onto the bed. So far there’s no scamperings or scurryings. We chat about how different the night sounds in the country. No sirens. No drunk people stumbling home from the pub, post COVID lockdown. There’s no hoons in loud cars. No neighbours dragging their Thursday night bins out.
So what can we hear? Frogs. An owl. Crickets. Our heartbeats. And nothing at all.