The first thing that we stop to take photos of today was the emus. Sitting out in Marburg just waiting to give their vital oils over to become tablets and oils to help the arthritic and the diabetic. Curious birds, they were dusty of feather but bright of eye, with the buzzcut hairdos we associate with our Great Aunt Ruby, a no nonsense lady who made a fantastic afternoon tea. We’d taken the Warrego Highway from Oxley, in the West of Brisbane, out toward the Lockyer Valley. Well, at least I thought it used to be the Warrego Hwy, but the first part of it, is called Darren Lockyer way. It is just handy, I guess, that the retirement and honouring of a Qld footy hero ties in name wise with a road upgrade into a Valley sharing the same name.
Anyway, we stopped in at The Girls coffee shop for two flat whites and to ‘Stop and Smell the Roses’ as the sign insisted, and had a chat with the ‘girls’ there. They have a cloth for the coffee machine, a cloth for the benches, and a lady cloth – not, as you might think, a type of handtowel, but a towel that does everything. Tamaryn and I admired a lady sitting up with perfect posture reading a magazine and having her sandwich and tea in this roadside café, I bought some macadamia mustard, and we were away.
Driving along, we started talking about the memories inspired by some of the beautiful old Queenslanders – unrestored but majestic – that we were passing. The smell of an old Queenslander – like dirt, like dust, the smell you get when you wash old wood with soap and water. We wondered if the people in the houses expected the demonic children or old fashioned base ball players to wander out of the dead corn fields that grew to their houses, if they were annoyed that they were so close the this massive highway when they were supposed to be living in the country, how it is that Queensland gothic has defined itself so beautifully through the closed-in hot wooden shutters and wrought iron of the Queenslander and verandah shaded by solid date palms, and that we were happy to be on the road.
In Gatton the meeting before ours was running late so I sat in the council office – pet registration notices had gone out so I listened to a lady kindly chatting with one fellow who came in to advise that he’d had to ‘let the old girl go’. He thought he’d likely be too old for another dog in his lifetime. Colleen came down to get me and we met Melissa and Jason down at the coffee shop that knows them so well that they can order using just their names. They’ve nominated Forest Hill as the ‘cultured community’ so we went out and saw their perfect School of Arts and their lovely fruit shop and two pubs sitting on opposite corners in the short main drag. We saw bee huts everywhere – not hives – the little boxes that we build for them – and so we bought a little tub of local honey.
Lockyer Valley is apparently the food bowl for Australia – with Aussies eating mostly LV produce from April to October every year, and looking around the farmland you can believe it. The warm winter sunshine was being interrupted by passing storms, dark clouds laid out all the way to the horizon on every side, hilltops and the far off Great Dividing Range lit as they presided over the torn fields of lettuce, broccoli, turned earth and other vegetables. We looked and looked for signs of flood as we entered Gatton and again as we left on our way through to Grantham, which was totaled in 2011. I couldn’t see much that I would have noticed as a reminder of the event, but Tamaryn, who’d be wandering around taking the photos we’ll use to promote Small Halls, said that she could tell it was pretty torn up, dead trees in the river bank. We tried to work out where the water must have come through, but seeing how flat the country is, and where the river twists, it seems like if the river burst its banks, the water must have been absolutely everywhere. I asked about this at the meeting with the council folks, and Jason said that everyone was pretty tired of being known as the area that got decimated. He says that everyone got on with things pretty quickly, and bounced back amazingly, stronger than ever, due to the support that was poured into the community by all levels of government, by other communities, royalty – clubs, you name it. He put it pretty eloquently actually – ‘The huggin’s over, we just want to get on with it.’
So how does the Lockyer Valley want to be known? As the foodbowl of Australia, known for the quality and sheer quantity of output. Driving around to find the halls that they’d mentioned, we drove through fields in all shades of green, so many that I found myself humming, over and over, ‘That’s how we laugh the day away in the merry old Land of Oz’. The quick change sun and rain passing over us gave the impression of an earth and a region pulsing with life, aching to burst through the soil and grow, grow, grow. We passed a truck carrying a load of dirt-brushed beetroot. Two guys drinking beer near their car in the front yard called Hello and then called out again. Tamaryn stopped to photograph a truck and the fellow who owned it stopped nearby and told her a long story about how his wife had died three years earlier. She’d played a game of tennis and eaten a good meal that day. He wasn’t over it. Plovers guarded the field as fiercely as the two Dobermans who had the official job, We took a side road to try to get closer to a double rainbow that seemed to be intensifying in colour as it arched down into a straw yellow field.
We stopped near the UQ campus, at a fence guarding an avenue of trees that seemed forgotten, the Australian version of some Louisiana plantation entrance, twisted gums and date palms alternating in the late afternoon’s apricot light. Pink galahs alighted in the barren limbs of a ghost gum in the next paddock, and in the distance, a huge flock of ibis moved from one stand of dead trees to another, the body that they made shining and shimmering like the scales of a fish. With the light dying, we took the road out of town, heading up to the range to Toowoomba. There was a lit roadworks sign advising possible delays of an hour. We looked at each other – surely that couldn’t be right? And when we got to Toowoomba, at the top of the hill, we realized that it had been, with huge trucks backed up for streets and streets. Tamaryn wondered why they didn’t radio each other to stay off the road and have some dinner. We were tired. We searched online for somewhere to stay and went to the first place that looked affordable. It was GlenEllen B&B, an old house – and in Toowoomba that’s pretty old, near the big park. You can tell it was very fancy. We’re staying in the owner’s grandmothers’ old bedroom. It’s beautiful, done out in a combo French English style. I am going to get in the bath to remember what a lovely day I’ve had.