We’ve headed west from Perth and are enjoying the ever increasing remoteness of the country. In the hill ranges near the city we took a cycle route which followed an old disused railway through the John Forest National Park to the town of Mundaring where we continued to York, one of the first towns to be settled, beyond the hills that surround the city.
The country here is described as the ‘open wheat belt’ and stretches far west with our map marking both the first and second lines of the Rabbit Proof Fences. The latter we followed on the way to Corrigin and large parts of the original construction are still intact. Despite having a bicycle mechanical problem, a rear gear cable which snapped, we’ve chosen to continue to ride with limited gears as the terrain is less hilly.
Western Australia, we’re discovering, is very different from other parts of the country. The land has opened up from hilly scrublands into huge wheat fields and grazing pastures with the road following old disused railway lines which once served the remote town grain silos to transfer wheat to the coast. In the Shire of Quairading alone they produce annually around 250,000 tons of wheat which is now all sadly transferred by roads never designed for the 5,000 lorry journeys now necessary to get the grain to market.
The green fields contrast with the red hill top escarpments appearing like manicured golf courses against the wildness of the coloured rockiness of the low summits surrounded by tall Gum Trees. Their amber and ochre earth is covered in tangled fallen branches, grey leaf fall and granite boulders silvered and weathered. The topography shifts the further inland we travel, becoming flatter with the hill tops marked by massive granite curved boulder stones, kilometres long, sloping gently upward from the surrounding farmland. The rocks are a dull orange, glowing in the spring sunshine, weathered to a silver grey and copper green from the growing lichen and mosses, appearing monumental on the horizon.
These hills remind me incongruously of British Neolithic earthworks surrounded by dense oak trees and carrying some kind of ancient spiritual narrative about the land. These Australian equivalents are so much older but are the same, ringed by dense Gum and Acacia woodlands and communicating immediately a sense of location and specialness that is hard to define. The backs of the huge slabs of sloping rock spread upwards out of the earth like massive ancient buried carapaces, acting as reminders of the oldness of the land through which we now ride. Bruce Chatwin’s book “The Songlines” describes Aboriginal way finding through the singing of mythical stories of the creation to both navigate, rationalise and describe the country through which indigenous people travelled. These rocky hill tops we are now seeing, were important Aboriginal markers as well as rich places to hunt, forage and to find water.
As I look at these hills the land carries meanings and narratives, not always so obvious when passing at speed in a vehicle. I can see that a granite hill top that once provided food and water can also come to symbolise ideas about home, family, and security, elevated from the dense scrubland around them.
We stopped at Anderson Rock, north of Hyden, and ate our sandwiches. We had to detour off the road a few kilometres down a dirt track and then off again along another to find it. The rock, long and low lying, sat marking the horizon line surrounded by flowering woodland which we could look down on as we climbed up its huge gentle pitted surface to find somewhere to sit out of the wind. We stepped across a small stream with frog spawn swimming and could feel the sun starting to warm the spring day. We sat and ate. There was no need to talk as we passed the water bottle between us. The wind blew and the sky’s clouds looked bigger and different from any other. There had probably been many other days like this for the rock but we felt just so very lucky to have shared this particular one with it.