Journal of Contemporary Ministry (Christian Research Association) Issue No.8 2023
Living for Shalom: The Story of Ross Langmead, Woods, Jeanette. Eugene, PR: Wipf & Stock, 2021, 283pages.
The city of Melbourne (Australia) is not generally known for its theologians. This biography of Australian missiologist, Rev. Dr Ross Langmead, goes some way to changing that. Living for Shalom is an insightful, well-resourced biography written by Langmead’s sister, Jeanette Woods, during her time in enforced COVID-19 lockdowns. The book, displaying appropriate pathos while being widely informative, includes contributions from many notable figures of Australian theological contexts, along with the rich array of community-based characters who were part of Langmead’s life. Woods narrates the text in third person, creating a sense of professional distance as she surveys her brother’s life with its struggles, victories and complexities. There is a delicate balance here that is managed consistently, whereby Woods has – from her privileged familial position – been able to make the most of sibling intimacy and resources, whilst avoiding the hagiological bias that at times is present when authors write about those they love. The interest of the reader is kept as an ever-present driver of the text.
Langmead’s life is sketched in its own narrative arc, beginning with his arrival into the world, born into a Salvation Army overseas-missionary family. The anecdotes of early life are conveyed with amusement, insight and conjecture as to their ensuing effects on Langmead’s development – a theme of Langmead’s own later reflection, as demonstrated in excerpts of his private journals and public materials. From the get-go, it is clear that Langmead’s intelligence, thirst for wisdom and grounded social ethic drove him in many concurrent directions, and that deciding in which directions to pour his limited time and energy was an ongoing wrestle. Music performance and outreach, practical research, skills teaching, community development, academic writing, theological lecturing, research supervision, church responsibilities and involvement in denominational (Baptist) and wider ecumenical contexts – not to mention overseas and cross-cultural work – Langmead was involved in so much.
My latest publication is the forty-year story of Flinders Christian Community College in Tyabb, Victoria. I was invited to co-author this volume with my long time friend and colleague, Valerie Mason; we both were heads of campus in the college and retired in 2008. It was a wonderful opportunity to research and collaborate to write the history of three campus over four decades.
The college was founded by people with a vision for Christian education for young people on the Mornington Peninsula, and has grown to be a vibrant educational community with nearly 2000 students, a large staff and modern buildings and facilities.
We chose to represent the voices of students, staff and parents by canvassing memories and thoughts about the school. These form a large part of the text and bring immediacy and authenticity to the narrative. Building on the previous history of the college from 1983-1994, written by Mrs Avril Howard and titled Born to Bear Fruit, we first painted a word picture of the school as it is today. Our goal was to show that while the college looks very different now, it still encapsulates the founding values of Christian schooling.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2
Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head. Matthew 8:20
The unseasonal spring rains this year have prevented me from being outside as much as I would like in the growth season. Rain and more rain. Big fat drops and horizontal windy rain. Hard to escape getting wet sort of rain. Can’t even dash to the car without being drenched sort of rain. Shelter becomes more welcoming in such weather.
I love verandahs around a house; they wrap me up and shelter me whilst still being outside in the fresh air. I can sit and look at the dripping garden, foliage bouncing under the weight of drops. The soil is damp – no watering needed – as it absorbs the gift from the sky. But I am dry and sheltered under the rustic corrugated iron roof. Inside or out, my house is my place, and I can retreat there in comfort. I feel thankful to have a home I can always return to. ‘Home is where you hang your hat’, someone said. I have heap of hats for every occasion, and when I come home, I throw mine back on the pile.
I think about people without shelter. The news is troubling as I see whole apartment blocks in Ukraine blown apart. What does one do next when home has disappeared under a pile of rubble? Nowhere to make children feel safe; no water or electricity. No shelter from the paralysing cold. No soft mattress at night. I shiver and wrap my granny rug around me as I relax in my recliner in the warmth and peace of my home. What have I done to deserve a safe shelter?
Does it matter what size your home is? I recently met friends who made the decision in retirement to live in a ‘tiny house’. As I pack up our stuff to move house and ‘downsize’, it doesn’t compare to their adventurous move to a carefully designed place that measures 8m x 2.5m – for everything! They speak of intimacy and liberation from stuff, of having a spot for every vital belonging, and having to go to sleep and rise together as there is no space for individual movement without disturbance. This is their shelter for now and it means as much and more than the five-bedroom house they moved out of, because it is a shelter adventure.
I think about why we ourselves might still need a house with several bedrooms, bathrooms and living areas. My sense of home and shelter is challenged by my friends’ decision. We are downsizing our property, but not our house. Unlike so many of our friends, we don’t feel ready for a retirement village unit, let alone a ‘tiny house’. I do not need a lot of space for my lifestyle, but I still feel the need to be able to welcome our large family to our home. Giving hospitality is high on our list – we want to share our home, and that takes space.
Clearly, however, a sense of shelter and a roof over our heads is not dependent on size. Our homes reflect what we value at any particular stage of our lives. My artist husband will always need space for painting and all that goes with it. He is not ready to leave that behind, although will be challenged to use a smaller space. Art is part of his sense of shelter and who he is, and I hope that he will find a new expression.
I enjoy watching the TV series ‘Alone’. There is something addictive about seeing people on their own in the wilderness trying to survive in order to win a prize. From my observation, the successful participants are often those who manage to create a weatherproof and warm shelter early in their adventure. They usually have only a tarpaulin to begin with and some are still using that when they leave. Food and shelter compete on the needs hierarchy in the first few days, but I am always surprised when they do not prioritise making a wind and rain proof shelter.
Some are satisfied to have somewhere dry to sleep and keep their gear. Others add branches and moss for insulation. Some manage to set up a fire inside for continual warmth and comfort – that always appeals to me. One person dug downwards into the earth to make a pit house under her tarp roof and showed a strong sense of shelter as she used a great deal of her energy to set it up. Others created swinging doors and protection from wild animals. A soft base for a bed looked like a good idea and many used springy natural materials to create a soft, welcoming mattress. Some did not really have a comfortable place to sit in their shelter, but those who did make chairs often were the most creative in whittling toys, utensils, games or musical instruments. I am sure this level of comfort in their shelter enabled them to stay longer.
As the days dragged on, participants would start to miss their homes and families. It is not natural to be completely alone; their sense of shelter is bound up with the loved ones who live there, and those reflections, (along with their family photo), would often precipitate their decision to give up and go home. No matter how well they build their shelter, home is where you want to be with people you love; shelter and relationships are inseparable for me. I have never, however, lived alone.
The remote highlands of West Papua can be quite chilly, even though the country straddles the equator. The locals wear very scanty clothing that involves only a penis gourd or grass skirt so their homes are important shelters. Their crude (to us) grass huts on the hillside are cosy shelters with interior fires to warm them through the cool nights. The family members, rubbed in pig fat for insulation, curl up on the ground around the fire, sharing body heat, while the smoke from the fire curls upward and out through the central hole in the thatched roof. Body contact in a tiny hut around a fire is the epitome of warm shelter, from which they emerge in the morning with their arms characteristically wrapped around their necks to retain heat. Their shelter is not just their fire-warmed huts, but warmth from their families and their own bodies. Intimacy can be challenging in such proximity!
When my little son saw photos of these huts and heard that we might be living and working there, he said he did not want to go to West Papua. Probing revealed that he thought the big bad wolf would blow down the houses of straw that he saw in the photos. Based on the children’s stories in his books, his idea of safe shelter was something more substantial than a thatched dwelling. Our sense of shelter is culturally shaped, which raises many questions about people reared in ‘Mc Mansions’ with television sets in every room.
I have been shaped by a life of constant moves – I have lived in thirty-five homes, not counting short stays. Some of those houses have been very basic, but they have all been our homes and I have never been without a place of shelter. There have been many lessons from a such a nomadic life, but the main one is that home is where you are.
The views out of my window are jarringly unfamiliar. Different plants and trees mixed with just occasionally friendly lavender and acacias. Suddenly a pair of lorikeets flits under the pink bottlebrush and my heart leaps to see birdlife that I know. I am sitting at a new window after moving from our home of eighteen years.
Our comfortable, convenient, customised dwelling that felt just right. The place that worked for us, embraced us, like slinky pyjamas. The rooms that all connected to the living areas so that we could always converse from anywhere; we felt close to each other. The family room with framed picture windows on three sides making the garden sidle inside and embrace me, then entice me out. Watching the snow peas form in the raised bed outside and the brassicas sprout their secret heads. Anticipating the seasonal arrival of perennial plants carefully planted in view of my spot.
There was a place for every phone charger, each spare toilet roll, the motley array of kitchen appliances, the grandchildren’s toys and books, dozens of photo albums and hundreds of books. Not that everything was always in its place, because it was just home. But the debris always found its spot eventually.
The cackle of kookaburras heralded rain or woke me out of early morning sleep and always made me smile and wryly enjoy the hilarity. The wind in the surrounding bush and the occasional crack of a dropping branch. The rain on the wrap-around verandah roof which always made me feel cosy.
Years of digging, weeding, composting, planting and pruning shaped a garden that was my canvas. Warm palette of reds, yellow and orange at the front; cool hues of mauve, pink and white at the back. A random mix of natives and perennials, unruly cottage plantings breaking out of borders and little surprises around the corners. Flowers in every season. Garden statues, bird baths and benches creating resting places for birds and humans. The rustic garden arch elegantly supporting my Pierre de Ronsard pink climbing rose.
Seven raised veggie beds have produced countless kilograms of produce over the years. Boosted by my husband’s lovingly cultivated wormy compost, the seasons came and went with summer vegetables and salad plants alternating with winter root crops, brassicas and alliums. And always greens of every shape for the picking. Unforgettably tasty tomatoes and bowls full of peas, fresh garlic plaited and cured, a herb box providing year-round flavours. Treasure hunts for the potato crops with the grandchildren, with squeals of delight when the biggest tuber was found and celebratory chips made.
Flourishing citrus trees weighed down with golden fruit contributing to summer drinks and lemon, lime and grapefruit marmalade to last until the next season. Overflowing abundance of organic cornucopia to share with all who came.
And the grandchildren. The first one was a six-week-old swaddled bundle when we moved in; now there are nine and some are high school graduates towering over me. They have never known Grandma and Poppa living anywhere else. When they were little tackers, they were too scared to go right up the back with its bushes, overhanging trees and warnings about snakes. Then it was totem tennis, soccer and badminton, paintings in Poppa’s studio, along with the annual Easter egg hunt. I would find stray undiscovered eggs under the bushes for the rest of the year.
Family gatherings for Christmas and birthdays followed a well-worn cycle, with the decorated table extended and a trestle added as the tribe grew. Eventually the highchairs went to the op shop with the soft toys, and the cheeky children would seat themselves at the big table, leaving the kiddie table for the adults! So much comfort food – especially Indonesian food with yellow rice and curries with aromas evoking our family history.
Dusty in summer and muddy in winter, our unmade road led nowhere except to our home and a couple of neighbours. Twice we made adrenalin-fuelled evacuations just in time from bush fires that threatened our secluded retreat. The two hourly train tooted at the nearby crossing, punctuating our lives and thrilling the little grandchildren. The goats over the road bleated, and the forbidden roosters crowed insistently; dogs barked at the wind and visiting cars. But peace descended like a comforter at night while we slept.
We will miss sharing coffee with our neighbours – almost a daily ritual at our fence café during the lockdowns. We shared our lives, our birthdays, Thai food, our faith, our worries and the time of day. How to tell such close friends that we were leaving?
But we have and life goes on; we file away the memories with gratitude as we transition to making new ones.
It was like a very quiet ambulance. The siren finally caught my attention and I realised that it had been there in the background. My phones lay on the desk, and I wondered which of them was demanding attention. My constant battles with technology predisposed me to ignoring anything that didn’t need me immediately, but this was insistent. Sigh. Was it the Blackberry or the Nokia?
The Nokia was mine, with its clear icons and simplicity. How I fought against the idea of owning a mobile phone, the hassle of keeping it with me in my handbag and being pressured to answer it whenever it rang. Too much bother! As for charging it constantly – there were already enough routines in my life. So my husband went out and bought the lime green phone and presented it to me, saying I would get used to it.
Gradually it became part of my life. I enjoyed the quick chats with my family in stolen moments at work down on the Peninsula and being able to make last minute arrangements. Text messages became my new language. My learning, however, was on a need-to-know basis. Like when the phone rang while my husband was preaching a sermon and I couldn’t mute it…
And then the Blackberry landed on my desk at work, a gift from the Business Manager. This was to be my work device from now on, said the memo. Oh goodness, how would I keep two devices going? Two networks, two chargers and two ring tones. Now my work emails were immediately visible and I could not escape.
Two tribal clans, the Yorta Yorta and the Dja Dja Wurrung lived along the grassy waterways of this region to hunt, fish and gather food across territory defined by tribal language, and bounded by geographical features such as forests, rivers and creeks.
The Yorta Yorta people occupy a unique stretch of forest-wetlands that are located in what is now known as the central Murray – Goulburn region.
We have chosen three very different areas for our road trip. After the majestic Gariwerd, then the expansive plains south of Bendigo, it is a dramatic change of scenery to arrive at the mighty Murray river, which is also our winding state border. Only 1.5 hours to get here, plus the usual leisurely morning tea break in Rochester.
A text tells us that our cabin by the water is ready early, so we gratefully arrive at Merool on Murray holiday park. What a spot! They seem to own this entire bend in the river, and the little wooden cabins stretch all the way. Our cabin is basic, but we paid for a river view, and the two way vista from the bend is beautiful from the balcony. Coming from an entire Airbnb house with every convenience to a small ‘studio’ with bare cupboards is a little challenging but we arrange our gear with some creativity and feel content. It’s a good base.
Our stay begins with some drama when the maintenance man who came to change a globe over the stove electrocutes himself, is thrown across the room and causes a total power outage! Not feeling too encouraged, we opt to eat dinner at the RSL down the road. The roast of the day with a background of bingo seems safer somehow.
We take an exploratory drive around the twin towns divided by the Murray; our accommodation is actually in NSW. Thank goodness there are no more pandemic border issues! The region centres around the gum-lined river, iconic paddle steamers, growing numbers of wineries and a rich history. We don’t however, have to leave our private balcony just to watch the gentle river traffic go by.
The old paddle steamers chug up to our bend and then return and the regular cruises and houseboats leave in the morning and return at sunset with a low hum – the pleasant sounds of people having a good time on the water. The haunting sound of the steamer whistles is reminiscent of another era. Occasionally a jet-ski or power boat hoon breaks the peace and leaves a rippling wake.
The bird songs are deafening at times and we see lorikeets, galahs and magpies flitting between the gum trunks and exploring the knots in the wood. Best of all, three kookaburras land on our deck, obviously expecting a reward. We feed them a little ham, and watch them ‘kill’ the meat by bashing it, which is what they do to snakes they catch. I have never been so close to the exquisite birds with their duck egg blue spots on the wings and their quizzical looks.
We sleep deeply and Peter gets up to see the sun rise; he shows me a photo because I am too snug to get up with him. It is a perfect, still morning and it seems that everyone has started slowly.
Bendigo and surrounds was known as Jaffa country and owned by the Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung clans a long time ago.
We are reluctant to leave behind the majestic mountains of Gariwerd, and this second week takes us to a very different area. Only a couple of hours to the north-east, Bendigo became the world’s richest city as a result of the gold rush in the 1850s. That is part of the defining history of the area, and the number of banking buildings in the centre evidences the boom of the gold era.
We have plenty of time to wander across the country and pass the time in the car reading aloud the daily Lenten reflection. Our stop for morning tea by the road near Stawell looked peaceful but we were beseiged by flies. Lunch is in a park in the historic gold town of Maldon. Sitting under a spreading elm tree pulling apart a roast chicken, I can’t imagine a more pleasant spot. It’s a warm day, but a breeze springs up, and Peter snoozes on the bench while I tackle Wordle and Semantle for stimulation – and solve both. No one knows where we are, we have nothing we have to do, and plenty of time to go where we are headed. Bliss.
It is so booked out in Bendigo that we have had to settle for accommodation out of town in Lockwood South, which is not even a village. Post pandemic, people are on the move and enjoying local travel – like us. I am happy for local businesses making a comeback.
The Airbnb cottage is delightfully named Mulberry Place and we are warmly welcomed by our host. She has thought of everything, even messaging us to ask our milk and bread preferences. There are generous breakfast provisions and Easter eggs hidden everywhere. Next to their home, but separate from it, we look out through the roses and crepe myrtles to a dam. More serenity!
One of Ross Langmead’s songs is called The Pilgrim Song. It is a favourite for many because the lyrics reflect what all of us feel: life is not always easy. Ross was a man of faith and is remembered by his friends as cheerful and encouraging. Yet he had his struggles, as do we all while we are still on earth. He reminds us in this song that we sometimes are so bowed down by the rain that we miss the rainbow above. He drew on his faith and the strength of community to help him lift his eyes.
Listen to the song and if you would like to order a USB with Ross’s and Daddy’s Friends’ digitised music on it ($10), please use the contact form on this website.
It’s not easy to walk in the rain, and I walk with my eyes to the ground,
And I often ignore the rainbow above, and the coming of the sun.
V 3 There’ve been times of heavy weather when I’ve thought of giving up
And questioned whether anyone has made it through.
But i stake my life on what I know of Jesus and his love
And see the rainbow as my sign that it is true.
And see the power which comes from sharing all the power that we have
And the glimpse of peace and justice on the way
Is enough to make me lift my eyes and take another arm,
We had two attempts to launch “Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead”: one by Zoom and one in-person event. Both were cancelled in these uncertain times, and the event probably won’t be recovered. Although book launches are a good way to sell books, the greater loss was the gathering of friends and family to celebrate the subject of the biography: my brother, Ross.
The book was to be launched by the Rev Dr Jason Goroncy, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Whitley College, University of Divinity. Jason was a colleague and friend of Ross, an author in his own right and a member of Westgate Baptist Community. His speech was not given, but he has shared it for us on his blog. You can read it here: https://jasongoroncy.com/2022/01/14/on-living-for-shalom-the-story-of-ross-langmead/
I had also drafted my speech before we cancelled, and have been asked to share it:
The author’s speech for the launch of “Living for Shalom”
We thought this day would not happen! (And it didn’t…) A book launch is rather like a christening, or dedication of a baby. This baby was born in September, 2021, but a launch is finally the day when we give thanks and celebrate together.
For a sister to embark on writing the story of her brother is always going to be a delicate exercise. I used to say, ‘Someone should write Ross’s story.’ It was my encouraging husband who said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ I listed all the reasons why I would not be the best person, starting with, ‘It needs to be someone who knew him better as an adult, as well as when he was a child,’ and finishing with, ‘It would need other people’s perspectives’.
The thought, however, rolled around in my mind and incubated. I had finished writing my first published book and with my newly honed research skills, wondered what to write next. I knew it would be a commitment, and that not many people are in a position to give several years to a project. Apart from our family origin, I also shared many aspects of life with Ross – my faith, being an educator and studying theology. On what would have been Ross’s seventieth birthday, I wrote to Ross’s wife, Alison, and made a tentative offer. And here we are! It was two years from that offer to publication, and the book took seven intensive months of writing.
A visual artist can probably bring an idea to fruition more quickly than others: a painting or drawing may be completed in hours, but often it takes much longer. But then there is the puzzle of how to share the piece with others; unless they view or buy it, the appreciation is fleeting and perhaps never to be repeated. It may end up being relegated to the back of a studio.
Performance arts involve long periods of planning and rehearsal, then culminate in one or several performances. Those who watch and enjoy have to carry the memory and images of these occasions and the feelings they evoke, but the actual events may never be repeated. Months of work is over in a few hours.
A writer faces a long period of gestation. Longer than a pregnancy, probably. Anything from months to years, with no guarantees that anyone will ever see this embryonic manuscript. It may take some time before the words even begin to appear on the screen. Some books involve massive research while others are inspired cameos written in notebooks, devices on the run or the back of a paper napkin.
My books spawn many sticky notes, shifted endlessly around on an empty wall. The chapters jostle for their order and some are deleted in rash moments, only to be dug out from computer trash and restored to dignity somewhere else in the evolving story. Ideas that seemed brilliant at the start are left sitting on the languishing list of thoughts, some never make it to the written word.
The region has been home to the Djab Wurrung and Jardwardjali people for 20,000 years and contains the densest concentration of rock art paintings and the largest assemblage of Aboriginal art motifs in Victoria.
The region was named The Grampians in connection with another mountain range in Scotland.
There was a niggling feeling of uncertainty right until departure, and we could hardly believe that we were travelling at last. I packed a couple of boxes of RATs, but we didn’t need to use them, even with Covid in our wider family. We pulled out most of the end of season veggies, watered deeply, put the tender plants in the bathroom, cooked up lots of pasta sauce and left the garden to survive. Free to go!
In the last week before this trip I received an invitation to promote and celebrate my book, Living for Shalom: the Story of Ross Langmead. So we waited a couple of days and stayed in Carlton so that I could attend the Whitley College Publication Celebration, which was a heart-warming event. I met people for the first time who had contributed to the book or featured in it, and was surprised at the emotional response from the audience.
Zagame’s House in Lygon Street is a wonderful city stay, with ultra modern decor, helpful staff and everything digitally controlled. When we tried to go sleep, however, there were stand-by lights, LED readouts and switches all round the room, so we had to hang undies and socks over the coloured glows to make it dark. Lygon Street is a dazzling array of eating places and for people like us from out of town, the choice was overwhelming. Looking out the window, we saw ILoveIstanbul restaurant just across the intersection and that settled it. In a very short time, we had the most appetising kebab platter, with lamb, rice, salad, dips and bread. It was so generous that it did us for two meals.
It is such a delight to head off over the Westgate Bridge in our new car that we have had for months but gone nowhere. Enjoying the smooth ride, the vista opened up and we see the wide horizon and expansive paddocks, I breathe more deeply and want to let the wind blow through. It is fun to open the roof in our Mazda for the first time; now we really feel in a holiday mood.
We have driven to Adelaide many times, but this time we turn off to the south of the Western Highway at Ararat and immediately Gariwerd looms up as we drive. End of summer dry grass and paddocks, iconic scrubby bush and cerulean blue skies stretch out before us and the bush does its magic, reminiscent of The Dry, which we watched a few days before.
I haven’t been to Hall’s Gap since 1968 when I was a young teacher in the Western District and visited the annual wildflower show. Although the little town has changed a lot in 50 years (where did that time go?) the dramatic, ridged mountain range has not. It is a first visit for Peter. The town sits in the valley between the ridges, down from the dammed Bellfield reservoir above it. The Grampians Chalets is our destination, and the rustic but tidy cabins are nestled around a dam and under the shadow of eucalypts.
Our lodge, called Boronia, has all we need and it is a relief to spread out and empty our cases. We turn around at a thumping sound and see kangaroos bouncing past the front door. They seem to live at the nearby oval and come through the grounds as a short cut.
Unlike for our European travel adventures, we haven’t researched much and follow our mood each day. It is perfect autumn weather, conducive to drives and walks and leisurely picnic stops. I know from experience to take some photos on the first day while impressions are fresh, so we meander up through the surrounding range, pulling in often to the frequent safe spots at the side of the road to gaze and breathe and recover perspective. There is nothing like looking down from a massive mountain range to give you a different view of the world; I enjoy the sensation of shrinking into the scenery and feeling overawed. My sense of God as creator is strong.
Magnificent views from Reed Lookout (or Reid, or Reid’s, depending on which map or signpost you believe), and Boroka Lookout, with its classic rock ledge that people are tempted to climb onto. I am not tempted!
Mackenzie Falls are famous and one of the largest in Victoria. I take the gentle path to Broken Falls and Peter does a further walk. My knee is restricting me but I do better than I expected. There is a wonderful anticipation as the sound of falling water becomes louder and finally you catch the first glimpse, and the sound, sight and fresh smell become one in a dramatic view. The fly in the ointment is the literal March fly and I feel a few stings before Peter goes back for the repellent.
Another outing is to Bellfield Reservoir – still and sparkling behind the dam that doesn’t look big enough to hold back all that water just above the town. Drowned trees are evidence of how it was filled, and we smile wryly and say, ‘Oh the serenity’, referencing The Castle, as we often do. Nearby is Silverband Falls, where Peter walks while I relax, but see none of the promised wildlife.
In no time we slip comfortably into holiday routine: slow breakfast with the news, head out late morning with our ham and cheese sandwiches and a thermos, back mid afternoon for a snooze and a decision about dinner. Peter cooks a wonderful stir-fry, but as the cottage has no oven we can’t heat up the frozen pizza or pie we brought for convenience, so will just have to eat out! TV reception is dodgy too, so more reading and puzzles. Holiday mode forces itself on us and we unwind on the inside too. We are both enjoying the Lenten reflections from Biola University that we receive by email. Beautiful meditations with art, poetry, music and Scripture reflections.
It takes Peter a few days to work up to a solid walk, but he eventually heads for the Pinnacles, an optimistic Grade 3 rating. It is supposed to take 2.5 hours but I reckon it will be longer, especially if talks to everyone on the track and gets their life stories! Occasional text messages reach me with stunning photos – thousands of steps and scrambling up rock stairs. He is struggling but I tell him he can make it hoping he isn’t pushing too hard. Finally he is heading down, with screaming calves and knees! The greater the pain, the greater the sense of achievement; he is glowing with satisfaction and a bit of sun.
The local food offerings are varied, so we opt for Vietnamese, and I salivate thinking about the wonton soup. When we phone to order, however, we are told that the wait is so long it won’t be worth it! Apparently Hall’s Gap is full on this Saturday night, and the hospitality sector is struggling for staff, so we won’t be getting anything tonight. Devastated, we raid the store box of canned food and manage a cup of soup. There is a can of herrings, but it turns out to be ‘mango curry and pineapple’ flavoured – something only Peter would eat. Cheese on toast and some gourmet ice cream has to do us for now. I think of people in Ukraine and I have no complaints.
Our next goal is some exploration of indigenous history. The local information centre has a little, but the rundown cultural centre is being renovated – don’t expect it any time soon, according to the enterprising cafe owner, who also owns the gelato joint, the fish and chip shop and a cafe in town. There is already $5 million set aside in funding, but it seems that the local tribes can’t yet agree on what to do with it.
We come away armed with maps that show where the rock art is to be found. Gariwerd has the most and some of the best in SE Australia so we fuel ourselves up with a strawberry milkshake in a mason jar that tastes like the flavour of children’s medicine.
All up, we cover over 100km to get to the two most accessible sites. The first is Bunjil Shelter in the Black Mountains. Bunjil is the creator and leading figure in indigenous stories, and this is the only drawing still extant. Extraordinary. I stand there trying to connect with people who sat there probably 22,000 years ago and mixed ochre to paint.
The only other person we see is a lady on her own. We chat and when I ask where she is from, she tells me that she has no home and lives in her car. I was struck speechless, not wanting to pry. She is well dressed and quietly spoken, and leaves me to find some shade to meditate. I think about her for a while, and when Peter and I talk about her later, wish we had put some cash under her windscreen wiper. Meanwhile Peter has disappeared through a gap in the rocks, waving like Miranda in Picnic at Hanging Rock, who was never seen again…
Ngamadjidj is a challenging drive on unmade roads to the Wartook Valley. It is a 750m circuit to walk to the cave, beautifully signed and cared for, complete with brand new eco toilet block. In contrast to our European trip experiences, we are always amazed at how well kept our tourist sites are.
We are completely alone and it is not hard to imagine what it was like so long ago. These drawings are faint, but are the only ones depicting white men, set underneath a magnificent overhanging rock. Just awesome. We wonder whether anything we create will be seen by anyone in 20,000 years’ time. The terrain is scrubby with extraordinary rock formations and colours and we keep saying, ‘Wow!’ Peter starts to talk about painting and I know it is inspiring him. Dramatic black, charred tree stumps tell of serious fires, and we read about how since 2018, fire management techniques have included indigenous wisdom. About time!
The drive home takes us through the spectacular scenery we saw on the first expedition, and we relax and enjoy it again in the perfect autumn weather. Tonight, our last night, we are ordering Vietnamese food as soon as they open!