I have a favourite poem written by an Australian woman named Dorothea Mackeller, called ‘My Country’. She wrote the poem at the age of 22, while living in England and homesick for her country, Australia. It was first published in 1908.
It’s one of the best known poems and probably most Aussies would know a verse or two of it, especially the second verse which is widely used on its own.
I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains
Of rugged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains
I love her far horizons, I love her jewel sea
Her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me.
These words and the rest of the poem run through my mind every time I travel in this country and I’ve never heard anyone describe this country and everything we love about it, better. I will include the whole poem at the end of this blog for you to read in full. This is a kind of long winded introduction to today’s blog which again brought this poem front and centre to my mind when we found ourselves stranded.
On a recent trip to an outback region of South Australia we had at first endured spring temperatures in the 30+ degrees and red dust blowing at a gale force into every nook and cranny of not only the caravan but ourselves too! Then keeping an eye on weather forecasts, as you must do when travelling in Australia, a huge amount of rain was predicted to possibly dump down in the region where we were camped.
Considering the terrain and knowing that it could all very quickly turn to a clay type mud which wouldn’t make towing a caravan too easy, we decided to head to the town of Leigh Creek. This once busy coal mining town is now gradually closing down since the mine stopped operating in 2016, (hooray!) but it does still have a caravan park, grocery store and services needed, should we be stranded for a while.First to the caravan park, well it’s a space to put your van and there are toilets and showers in transportable huts – that’s about all I can say about it really. Still it was a safe haven for a night or longer and while in town we took the opportunity to go for a scenic drive to the Aroona Dam. This dam was built to service the town and surrounding coal mine but now the town water is sourced from underground and the dam can be accessed by people for recreational use in canoes, kayaks and other small non-motorised boats. The dam is surrounded by a sanctuary of 40 square kilometres, which was proclaimed to protect and conserve local native plants and animals including the vulnerable yellow footed rock wallabies. The day we visited was still dry and dusty but ominous clouds were building.
Safely tucked up that night in our caravan we listened to the rain pelting down all night and thunder and lightning flashing and crashing overhead. A booming clap of thunder woke everyone up around midnight.
So the next day it’s surprising when we awake to a blue sky and barely a sign of the previous night’s storm. That was until we decided to drive to the first river crossing on the main highway heading south out of town for a look. Just like that, we have gone ‘from drought to flooding rains’ and the road was impassible. Windy Creek had become a raging torrent and no matter what size rig you were in – you weren’t going anywhere. Travellers, workers and locals alike were in awe of this force of nature and we all stood around just taking it all in and grateful to have seen this event, something the locals said they hadn’t seen in about four years.
The best vantage point was found by scaling a muddy bank up to the disused rail line where you could see the powerful river of muddy water flowing rapidly. The locals told us that sometimes it can take hours for the water to recede enough for larger transport to pass through – such as the waiting sheep trucks. Other times it can take days depending on how much more rain is received further up so we had to stay another night and hope for the best the next day. The road trains got through late in the afternoon and some 4WDs decided to give it a go too.
Luckily by the next morning the raging river was now back to a trickle again so our convoy of caravans could move on. It was hard to believe that this is a major highway seeing it coated in thick mud with some washouts and rocks strewn across the road. Debris from trees was scattered all over the place and flood markers became collection points for twigs, bark and whole tree branches. Safely negotiating our caravans along the highway meant travelling on whichever part of the road had less rubble and debris on it, weaving over both sides of the road.
This is when UHF radios come in handy and the lead car can warn the following vehicles of oncoming traffic or hazards to avoid. A little over 24 hours from the flood event we were driving on mostly dry roads and even the mud was quickly turning back to red dust.
What a country! And now I’ll leave it to Dorothea Mackeller…
The love of field and coppice, of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance, brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know but cannot share it, my love is otherwise.
I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror, the wide brown land for me
The stark white ring-barked forests, all tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains, the hot gold hush of noon,
Green tangle of the brushes where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops, and ferns the warm dark soil.
Core of my heart, my country Her pitiless blue sky,
When, sick at heart, around us we see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather, and we can bless again
The drumming of an army, the steady soaking rain.
Core of my heart, my country Land of the rainbow gold,
For flood and fire and famine she pays us back threefold.
Over the thirsty paddocks, watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness that thickens as we gaze.
An opal-hearted country, a wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her, you will not understand
Though earth holds many splendours, wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country my homing thoughts will fly.
Happy and safe travels