Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Magic Of Never-Never

I read 'We of the Never-Never' twenty years ago, and on re-reading this book, find the magic as strong as ever.  It reminds me of all that we must be thankful for in our lives : love, true friends and the sometimes harsh but bewitching beauty of the natural world.  As I read, the rain pelts outside; inside the electricity flickers, candles come on and off  at the whim of the power supply.  Flying ants fill the rooms, little white ants crawl on our tables and mud is splattered all over the floor.  But I remain caught in the spell of the book and these things don't seem like annoyances any more.

Written by Jeannie Gunn in 1908, this is the story of her adventures in the Australian bush as she accompanied her husband, Aeneas Gunn, who had been appointed manager of a large cattle station in 1902.

Her arrival in the bush was unexpected, and unwanted, for this was a land which white women did not inhabit, but once there, she was gradually accepted and eventually befriended.  Her story is eloquently narrated and the charm of her personality, tales of the brave and true bushmen and the pristine beauty of the land come alive through her words.  I quote a few paragraphs from her book, just to give you an idea of its timeless charm.

"And All of Us, and many of this company, shared each other's lives for one bright, sunny year, away Behind the Back of Beyond, in the Land of the Never-Never; in that elusive land with an elusive name - a land of dangers and hardships and privations yet loved as few lands are loved - a land that bewitches her people with strange spells and mysteries, until they call sweet bitter and bitter sweet.  Called the Never-Never, the Maluka (her husband) loved to say, because they who have lived in it and loved it, Never-Never voluntarily leave it."

In the beginning, when the men at the station learned that their boss had gone and got married, and, moreover the Missus was to accompany him, this is what one of them (the Sanguine Scot) said:

"I'll block her yet; see if I don't," he said confidently.  "After all these years on their own, the boys don't want a woman messing round the place."  And when he set out for the railway along the north track, to face the "escorting trick", he repeated his assurances.  "I'll block her chaps, never fear," he said; and glowering at a "quiet" horse that had been sent by the lady at the Telegraph, added savagely, "and I'll begin by losing that brute first turn out."

The Maluka and his Missus, meanwhile, having no inkling of this, were on their way to the end of civilization in a Territorial train:

"It was a delightful train - just a simple-hearted, chivalrous, weather beaten old bush whacker, at the service of the entire Territory.  "There's nothing the least bit officious or stand-offish about it," I was saying, when the Man-in-Charge came in with the first billy of tea.
  "Of course not!" he said, unhooking cups from various crooked-up fingers.  "It's a Territorian, you see."
  "And had all the false veneer of civilization peeled off long ago," the Maluka said, adding, with a sly look at my discarded gloves and gossamer, "It's wonderful how quietly the Territory does its work."...

They left behind the city and town dwellers, all of whom were horrified at the idea of Jeannie going into the bush.  This is what she says, later on, while shuttling from camp to camp:

"Whatever do you do with your time?" asked the townsfolk, sure that life out-bush is stagnation, but forgetting that life is life wherever it may be lived.

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