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PacificEdge | May 25, 2017

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Home from the mountains— a stopover in Ouse

Russ Grayson

I remember her then. Checked wool shirt of the kind favored by bushwalkers and outdoor types. Warm wool trousers, dull khaki in colour. Petite wire framed glasses balanced on a delicate nose. Blonde hair tied back I’m bunches. Chunky leather boots. Pack on back.

In the good company of others we would trek into the forests and ascend to the mountain ridges for weekends or sometimes longer. Then, weary at the end of the day we would light a small fire and cook a meal together while enjoying the banter of fellow travelers in the wilderness. Next day would being much the same, only—weekend drawing to an end—we would not pitch tent and light another small fire, instead we would board a car and, in loose convoy, turn with regret back to the city, feeling hungry.

I remember Lucy too. She sated our hunger. A large woman somewhere in middle age, she owned the takeaway on the edge of Ouse. City bound after a couple days or more in the wilderness of the state’s south west, we would stop at Lucy’s for a toasted sandwich or hamburger and hot chocolate milkshake. Returning from longer wanderings in the wilds, how we would crave fresh bread, even if all we got at Lucy’s was sliced white. I doubt of there was any other type in town.

Remembering a fellow traveller is understandable, though remembering a fast foods takeaway and it’s owner is puzzling. Perhaps it was Lucy’s good humor and welcome when you walked in. Perhaps it’s the fact that a stopover at Lucy’s was something of a ritual for walkers. It’s not something that has bothered me until now.

I do recall the—probably true—story told by Des Sheild of how he once ordered a hot sardine milkshake from Lucy and how she went to fulfill his order. I imagine he promptly cancelled and opted for something less weird… never did get to hear that part of his tale. Des was a Queenslander who trained as a school teacher and who made the move south. Liking what he found, he settled in the state and quickly came to love it’s mountains and valleys through which he walked extensively. He had a slapstick sense of humor which he demonstrated frequently and was always bright, funny company.

We weren’t all that long out of the Vietnam war in those days and I recall Des saying that his brother had been a helicopter door gunner over there. Not the safest posting with the Green Machine but it was one he survived. Des missed the war, his marble not being plucked from the televised barrel of fate by some imagined important person, and so missing out on conscription into the Army and a tour of the Asian tropics.

Vietnam might have been winding down but another war was in the offing and I know that Des had a lot of sympathy for the wilderness lobby that was preparing to fight that war over on the Franklin.

Around that time, he got into a life changing situation with Catherine, a young woman who would occasionally appear on easier bushwalks. Catheine was a quiet and easy going, something of a calming presence then in the second half of her twenties. She wore her long, fair hair parted down the middle, but what was special about Catherine was the fact that she was an artist who produced wistful, atmospheric images in watercolor of mountains and rivers. Being a practical sort of person, sooner rather than later Des married her.

And That’s when I lost contact with him, or perhaps doing so was also due to moving to a small city in the north of the state to manage an adventure sports equipment shop.

In recent times I’ve tried searching for Des and Catherine on the web and on Facebook, without success. It’s just this curiousity I have to find out how they fared in life. I imagine them happily hunkered down in some rural town, Des teaching and Catherine exhibiting her paintings and both of them sitting around the log fire on cold winter nights. But that’s an idealized image and you never know how life turns out for people… it’s something of an unpredictable experience pushed this way and that by the winds of change.

As for Lucy and her fast food establishment, I’ve never been back to Ouse. The last time I might have visited was after a group of us climbed Mt Anne, the highest peak in the South West, one hot summer’s day. I have no specific memory of stopping there that time but, come to think of it, I have no memories specifically linking Lucy’s with any particular journey into the wilderness…just a generalized memory of stopping off there on the way home. If it was that day, however, then it was significant in that that climb was the last time that that small group would be together as well as the last time I ate at Lucy’s, for after that walk we all went our separate ways.

Catherine’s painting did figure one last time. The woman of checked wool shirt and clunky boots had bought a painting from Catherine which she hung above her fireplace…an image in faded blues on the white of watercolour paper depicting Mt Olympus emerging from the mists. But, like Catherine, Des and Lucy, that painting has disappeared too, lost in a flash flood in far away Tennant Creek.

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