Digging In

At last I have found my place on Earth. Now I can truly dig in and take responsibility.

At last.  At last I have found my place on Earth, a place to call my own, the place where I can dig in and take responsibility. Myrna and I are now the owners of a 5acre property in the Byron Hinterland. This is the realisation of a dream I have had since high school – to leave the city for good, in order to be living on the land, attuning to the environment, growing plants, farming, gardening, I’m not quite sure exactly what yet. All I know is that this is all I have ever really wanted to do. I am so happy I could dance.

You might ask, “What took you?” The one thing that’s always been more important to me than being on land was simply to be in an intimate relationship. But I was hopeless at initiating new relationships. Ever since puberty every time I’ve fancied someone, I become terrified of making any play to initiate sexual intimacy. And by terrified I mean an absolute paralysing, gibbering, quivering, mind-numbing fear that kills off all attempts at conversation, let alone flirting, honey dripping seduction, or even just voicing my attraction. Only recently have I realised that this awkward disability results from a traumatic experience that took place when I was too young to remember it. Oh, but my body remembers with these crippling symptoms. It took so long to realise that this is classic involuntary post trauma stress response, a flight-fight-freeze reaction that I have no conscious control over. I spent most of my twenties and early thirties alone, lonely, and craving intimacy. So when I hooked up with Myrna, now my wife, all I wanted was to dive deep into the intimacy.

We’d been living together for six years, four of them in the little house we set up in Bronte where I had created a lovely little garden.

But this garden was way too small to meet my gardening needs. I needed more space to grow stuff. And by then my initial infatuation with the glittering waters and rugged sandstone landscape of Sydney had long since faded. It was just another crowded city. I wanted to be out in the country. Myrna and I had just spent three pleasant weeks camping by the Bellinger River.

Back in our beautiful garden with the camping trip fresh in mind, I gave voice to my desire to leave Sydney for a quiet rural location where we could live self sufficiently and I could establish a grand garden for which there was not the space in Bronte.

Well you’d think I was suggesting moving to Mars. “There’s no way I’m moving to some godforsaken hut in the wilderness. If you’re doing that, it’ll be without me.” I knew Sydney was important for Myrna, but I hadn’t expected this stubborn resistance. She wasn’t going to change her mind. My heart sank as the cherished dream slipped through my fingers. After waiting so long for a relationship, I was not going to lose it by moving to the land alone. In deep disappointment, I relinquished my dream. Instead I just carried on with life in Sydney. I threw myself into the existing garden, calling it My Consolation Garden. When it proved too small to satisfy my need to cultivate Earth, I joined a volunteer bush regeneration team rewilding an old tip site at the bottom of my street. These would have to do for my connection to nature.

Fast forward 15 years. Here we were sitting once again in the garden reliving the pleasures of recent trip to a remote location. Out of nowhere Myrna says, “Maybe it’s your turn now.” I said “What?” “Maybe I can come at the idea of leaving Sydney now.” “You’re kidding.” “No. Things have changed. Sydney’s no fun any more. It’s just all become too hard, and to be honest a bit boring. I think I might now be ready to contemplate leaving. Give you a chance to do what you’ve always wanted.” I had lost any hope so long ago. “Are you sure?” ” “No.” Noting this uncertainty I had to convince her. Best chance was to shoot for the Byron area which she already knew well, pointing out ‘It’s warmer there. We already have friends in the area and it’s not an isolated cultural desert,’ all things I knew would make the idea more appealing to her.

“Alright. But you have to drive it. I am not the one to make this happen,” she demanded, well aware that my deep aversion to organising anything outside the garden meant nothing would happen quickly. After all she had always been the one to organise all the dreary details for our overseas trips. I hate that stuff. Our most recent trip to Europe had turned into a rolling cascade of disasters… illness, bad weather, rip-offs, lost passports, stolen wallet and camera, floods, strikes and missed flights. “I’m never coming back to this shit hole again,” I cursed as we boarded our plane to come home to Australia. For both of us, it had killed off all remaining wanderlust. I suspect that disastrous trip also cracked Myrna’s refusal to contemplate a total change to our lifestyle. Whatever the cause, I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip this time. I immediately got moving. After waiting so long, I was in a hurry.

To Myrna’s disbelief next morning I’d already booked our trip to Byron in order to scour the hinterland for a suitable property.

“What the?”

We couldn’t find anything appropriate on the trip, but a few days later a property came up that ticked all boxes. No need to make another trip up to see it. I knew this was it. Myrna wasn’t so sure. She flew back up. Saw it in pouring rain and and it was love at first sight. Yes this was it.

And now this land is ours. I am so happy. We have already been up there doing some early planting even before we’d taken possession. The slowest part of any new garden is getting the trees to size. In such a hurry to get trees growing, I couldn’t wait until the land was legally ours. We’ve already had a couple of working bees with friends planting trees.

I can’t tell you how deeply satisfying it is to plant food trees that you’ll see to maturity to taste the fruits of your labours, literally. This has been my unachievable dream for so long. I never had the chance to grow a garden for the long-term. I was regenerating rainforest in Bronte Gully that might possibly live for hundreds of years. But it was a project I had little control over, and a political shit-show for the bit of influence I did have. And who knows what the future holds for that little bit of regenerated forest. If the council does not decide to bulldoze it, I expect it will be swamped by rising sea levels in the not too distant. And somehow this garden in Bronte, wonderful as it is, has always felt somehow temporary.

I am not a fan of private ownership of land. The entire country is stolen land. Private ownership of land has questionable ethical legitimacy. My preference is that all land was owned by all, and all were free to wander it. But that’s not the world we live in. Ownership gives you control of land. I intend to use such control to provide stewardship of the land. Not sure exactly what this means yet. All I know is I intend to repair and nurture land in the best way I can as a gardener. There’s so many possibilities, permaculture, bush regeneration, reparative agriculture, organic or biodynamic farming, or just pretty flowers. I won’t know exactly what until I’ve spent time here on this land, tuning in, digging in, working out how to best take responsibility. For me ownership is about having the capacity to take responsibility. I’ve seen what happens on public land after tree planting projects when nobody takes the responsibility to follow up. Weeds come. Plants die through lack of water or care. A few years later you are pretty much back where you started – a wilderness of weeds. Only through private ownership can you get enough control to take responsibility rather than having to deal with and the endless blame shifting, political and bureaucratic jockeying, begging and pleading required to get anything meaningful done on publicly owned land. And now we own this beautiful piece of land, I have enough control that I can start to do what I have wanted to do for so long – grow stuff ’til I’m stuffed. I can’t wait.