“Where are you going?” My husband asks before I leave the house on a lazy afternoon during the Christmas shutdown.
“I don’t know. Somewhere.” I step out of the door, still unsure where I was heading, then, as an afterthought, added, “Probably will go and sit under a tree.”
I walk off with car keys and a water bottle. This year we had decided to stay at home during Christmas break and do nothing. Five days of doing nothing and I have had my fill of doing nothing. I needed to get out of the house.
But where? I sit in the car and wonder. Other than shopping centers and tourist attractions, there are very few places to hang out. I want to go somewhere quiet. Somewhere where I can be alone. I let the car take me where it wants and before I knew it, I was on the Redhill.
The car park at the top of the hill has only a few cars. That is encouraging. I get out and take a walk around the building at the top. It is a restaurant but closed for Christmas break. I have been to the Redhill before, mainly with visitors, to show them a bird’s eye view of Canberra. But never took a walk around the hill.
At the restaurant’s back, a bit away from the road, there is a BBQ table. It is empty. I sit there and take a deep breath. The view before me is sublime and serene.
The suburb of Redhill is spread in front of me, covered with mature trees in varying shades of green, interrupted here and there with rooftops. The Redhill primary school and Canberra Grammar are peering out through the dense eucalyptus trees.
At a distance, plains of Canberra airport, followed by vacant land divided at random with rows of pine trees. Low hills surround the valley marking the boundary of Canberra. Far away on the right, I can see houses of Queanbeyan, a town of New South Wales, considered almost a suburb of Canberra.
The afternoon breeze has its own sound and presence. It is hot and cold at the same time, bringing the aroma of local vegetation. It also brings the constant buzzing of the cars from the Hindmarsh Drive. It makes the pages of my notebook flutter and makes my pen and glasses fly away to the ground.
I have found the isolated spot, I tell myself. Who would come here in such a heat and during Christmas break? Half of Canberra has gone to the coast. The rest is in shopping centers.
But I am wrong.
A girl, wearing a striped t-shirt and pair of shorts with earphones in her ears and a water bottle in hand, climbs from the Mugga Lane side of the hill. Moments later, a family of four comes from the other side. The dad is carrying the younger boy on his shoulders while the daughter is walking with the mum.
Another man approaches from left, panting and sweating, in a white t-shirt and a blue cap. He crosses the family, exchanges greetings, and keeps going down the same way as the family.
Near the bench where I am sitting, bull ants patrol around the mount they have created by digging the soil. A bird calls somewhere from a tree. A fly is following me, buzzing annoyingly.
I get up to take a walk along the perimeter around the top. The rock sticking out from the ground has many black and white layers showing a formation geologists talk about. A bush of massive Aloe Vera, pine trees, several varieties of eucalyptus, and many more natural bushes.
Footsteps behind me are crushing the gravel. Somewhere down the hill, someone is playing cricket. I can hear the bat striking the ball. There is a big rattling sound at a distance, like metal sheets unloading from a truck. I wonder how clearly the sound traveled with the wind. I can hear things from miles away.
A signboard tells me how Redhill got its name. Red Bottle Brush was planted here due to Walter Burley Griffin’s interest in color in the landscape. In 1916, the designer of Canberra, Burley Griffin, directed that the hills around Canberra should be replanted according to the mass color scheme — yellow flowers and foliage for Mt Ainslie, pink for Black Mountain, white for Mount Mugga Mugga, and you guessed it red for Redhill.
Redhill was the first hill subjected to the experiment. It was planted with red Bottle Brush plants. It was hard to maintain such a vast area and weed out the other flowers. The experiment failed miserably.
In 1917 Mr. Griffin thankfully changed his mind and urged that the Canberra hills be restored to their natural state.
Different birds are calling from around the trees. I hear a peculiar sound from the bush in front of me, like a newborn baby. I can’t find the bird, though. I hear a Kookaburra and I spot it. It flies in from the left and lands on the top branch of the gum tree. It lets out few more cries, announcing its presence. I see a flash of red between the gum leaves; moments later, it changes its position and becomes clearer. It’s a Red Wattlebird.
A butterfly swirl pass. I follow her with my gaze and notice there is another near the metal fence.
I hear two sets of footsteps behind me. A young boy of late teens and a slightly older girl walk past me. They are deep in discussion.
“Love is crazy, dude!” Boy in a black t-shirt and blue jeans declares.
“Love is good. Love is nice.” Says the girl with a canvass bag on her shoulder and a water bottle in hand.
“Love is crazy and good!” The boy says thoughtfully and the girl laughs.
“Maybe.” She responds.
Suddenly it all makes sense — nature, the wind, the trees, the birds, the people. I touch my lips with my tongue. They are dry with heat and wind. I drink some water and crave tea. I am ready to go home now.
Dated: 29 December 2015.
I live in Canberra, which is the capital of Australia. It is known as the bush capital. It is a beautiful place. I will write more about it in the future.