Australia · Brisbane

A New Year, a new plan

It’s getting on to a full year since we bought Wyuna, our house in Barney View. We’ve tried to get there (we still live, just, in Upper Mount Gravatt, the suburb of Brisbane) as much as we could, spending most weekends and even occasionally full weeks, at Easter and school holidays in summer, but as a family with offices and schoolrooms nowhere near Mount Barney to turn up to we’ve still been more or less based in Brisbane. ‘More or less’, because since finishing up my job at the beginning of October I’ve been free to base myself for the odd week, on and off, in Wyuna, all on my own, gardening, reading, playing chess, reading a bit more, applying for jobs, doing video interviews, and in general trying to keep on top of both the weeds and the insane new developments in AI.

Selling up in Brisbane

Just before Christmas we sold our Brisbane house. As I wrote in the last post, we’ve felt for a while we were kinda finished with the suburbs of Mount Gravatt, and just wanted to turn a new page. As Project Frappé, the trip back to Ireland and Greece we plan to spend most of 2023 on, began to loom on the horizon, and with interest rates steadily going up, we realised that juggling two properties wasn’t feasible anymore. Originally we’d thought of renting out our Brisbane home as we’d done for our big European trip, but renting a family home is tricky, nearly as complicated and stressful as outright selling it.


The ornamental peaches come to life, May

After some six separate viewings of our house, during which we had to make ourselves scarce while strangers tramped though the dining room, kitchen, toilets, and bedroom, sending messages later that week to the estate agent bemoaning the motorway noise, or the state of the granny flat roof, or this, or that, one of them finally made a decent offer and spared us the nerve-wracking prospect of having our greatest asset auctioned off in Mount Gravatt Bowls Club, livestreamed on Facebook or Meta or whatever the thing is. One of the conditions we attached to the sale was to continue to live in the house until shortly before we left for Europe. As I write, we’re on two week’s countdown in Mt. Gravatt, all while moving as much of our earthly possessions as we can each time we go to Barney View.

A year on Harper Road

The scourge of my tomatoes: the Bennett’s, or red-necked wallaby. That’s right, out here even the Macropus rufogriseuses are rednecks

So it was an odd ol’ year for us, 2022. No foreign trips at all, and other than Tina going to Canberra on a work skite none of us troubled the inside of an airport departure lounge. In fact, other than an Aussie Day Burleigh Heads break, last year’s ‘travel’ only saw us ply the stretch of highway between Mount Gravatt and Mount Barney, pilgrims on el Camino de Mont Lindesay.

We would often only get down there on a Saturday afternoon, only to leave again the next day. It was like having a holiday – a short one – every weekend. As the year’s pages turned, from our back balcony we beheld each different season’s chapters get populated with a cast of colourful characters. Some, like lemons, strawberries, peppers, and bananas, persisting over much of the story; others, like macadamias, mulberries, willy wagtails nesting on our balcony, and pythons sunning themselves on our shed roof killed off after a scene or two. As I write, I’m not sure exactly how many more pages the fingerlimes and grapes will last.

This is our life now, clearing out the overgrown geranium

In the evenings, with the wellies airing and the secateurs and watering cans back on the shelf, we’d sit out on the back balcony with a gin and tonic and enjoy the star of the show, Mount Barney itself. With a pleasing piece of cosmo-geographical symmetry, at high summer the sun sets right over the East Peak, the highest point (from our perspective) of the mountain (height: 1360m).

If we’d had clear skies I’d often go out in the evening for a glance upwards. The benefits to country living don’t stop when the sun goes down: one of the goals I set myself this year was to see, finally, the Magellanic Clouds, a pair of small (by galactic standards) galaxies in our Local Group. You need to be in the southern hemisphere – check – and have very clear skies – check – to spot these dwarves. They’re so faint, in fact, that you almost have to be looking slightly away from them to observe them. Anyway, observe them I did, noting with poignancy that every time I saw them I was looking right at the constellation of Tucana, coincidentally the name of our beloved camper trailer that (sniffle) we had to sell to fund this house.


Venus over Mount Barney

There are amateur astronomy groups all around, but so far I’ve haven’t forked out for a telescope, so I’m disinclined to miss sundowner time with Tina for a drive in the dark (with all the critters on the road) just to hang out with a bunch of anoraks who will, most likely, bang on about Newtonians and Cassegrains, equatorial mounts, and all that telescopic to-do. Next year, however, after Project Frappé, I intend to become an insufferable bore about the night sky.

Hiking, out and about

Local iron man and mountain goat Innes, of Mount Barney Lodge, told me (when I met him at the “meet the neighbours” session I talked about) that he’d been up Barney 600-700 times. Leaving aside my amazement that there existed a hundred or so virtual ascents of one of the toughest mountains in Queensland that may or may not have happened, I thought of my own Barney tally, which was 0, to the nearest 100, or 1 for that matter. How hard was conquering Barney, I asked Innes, bearing in mind we had phone-addicted kids? “If you can do Maroon in three and a half to four hours, you’ll be good to do Barney in eight to ten.” A full day’s hike.

On Maroon, Good Friday

In Easter, we prised the phones out of the kids’ hands and got ourselves up and down Maroon (c.1000m) in around 3.5 hours, which augurs well for a one-day family ascent of Barnesie. We’ve also done the main hikes around here: Cronan Creek and Lower Portals. I swear to God that when we come back from Frappé, I’ll conquer the Barney or die trying.

Making friends

Of course we’ve had friends come down over the year, but it is far to come and not everyone has been able to make it when invited. We’re going to have to rebuild a circle of friends locally to make up for the ones we’ll inevitably drift away from not being based in the city anymore.

Unlike in Mount Gravatt, there’s not much casually bumping into people walking the dog here. Actually, now I remember, we did bump into a neighbour once while walking Maya. She warned us (the neighbour), in as friendly a tone as you can say such a thing, that her rough-looking, working cattle dogs, who were circling nearby, were likely to make short work of our Maya. We realised our little moodle was a bit out of place here, where dogs usually have a tough job to do. We picked her up and scurried off, like a 5th Avenue widow walking a French poodle she never lets out of her hands.

Pietro, the area’s own pizza expert and fine art collector

We knew we’d arrived when nearby residents Pietro and Desley, one time owners of the famous pizzeria at UQ, invited us to an ensemble evening at their place for wood-fired pizzas. On entering their property, deep in the woods, you pass through two monumental stone portals: their property is something of a sculpture park. Desley was one of the first Go-Betweens fans, back in the early ’80s, which endeared her to me, as a long-time GBs fan. Pietro is always fun to talk to, whether it’s about his probably insane particle physics theories, his collection of Papua New Guinean masks, or the time he got to the top of Mt. Lindesay and found it crawling with snakes.

On an unseasonably cold and windy summer evening in mid-December, we put in an appearance for Christmas Carols at the local Community Church. When it was over we all adjourned outside for tea and biscuits, where we met locals Pam and Doug, the one-time owners of Lilydale, one of the few properties we can see from our place, and whose daughter (who we also met) used to spend a lot of time in our very house when it was owned by old Bill Harper. In fact, one of Doug’s predecessors had the honour of giving Mount Ernest its name. These are the people we want to know. People who have the area in their blood. By and large, the people we’ve met down here have been older. At work, I feel old, what with all the kids coming out of uni. Here, I’m rejuvenated.

Early in the year we became friends with our next-door neighbours-but-one, John and Micheline. John was first and foremost a gentleman, but most people knew him as a soldier. He’d fought in Vietnam, and since then had trained with the Gurkhas, been a guard at London Tower, and together with Micheline had run wilderness camps for troubled kids here in the Mount Barney area. John was a man after my own heart, with a no-nonsense attitude to the rampant, corrupting influence of political correctness. Spending time with him, preferably while having a drink in the Gurkha Bar, one sensed the tension between the erudite classicism he radiated and the implicit violence of the military culture he was imbued in.

But John was frail and moved around with some effort, the result of a weak heart. Over Christmas, he had a turn for the worse. We hadn’t seen him or Micheline in a couple of months, so when I was passing their house one day just after Christmas and saw their front gate was open, meaning they were back home, I made it my business to call down and see how he was doing. He made light of his recent ill-health, and I left him reassured somewhat, looking forward to a get-together the coming weekend. John died later that week.

Cooling off in the Logan, at the foot of Mt. Barney

Time to get going

It’s funny to think about leaving Wyuna now we’ve sold our Brisbane house. We should be moving in there now, ready to whip the garden into shape and have old friends down to stay, all the while making new ones too. Instead, we’ll have barely a fortnight between finally moving out of Rosewall St. and leaving for Ireland and Greece. But Project Frappé can’t be put off any longer. Besides, I haven’t seen my family in Ireland for nearly four years.

As I write, we’re trying to line someone up to mind the place while we’re gone. It’ll be hard work for them, keeping the weeds and lawns under control, and in general dealing with the isolation and having to remember to buy everything they need (the nearest shop, in Rathdowney, is a fifteen-minute drive away) before returning home, but for the right person the rewards will be that very isolation and tranquility, the satisfying self-sufficiency that a well-kept vegetable garden brings, and above all, the view they’ll share with the willy wagtails and the rednecks. The wallabies, that is.