WHEN I wake in the morning I lift my head just a little and look out the huge window of the A-frame loft, and into the rainforest. I lie there a while before I get up.
I’m wwoofing again, this time in Upper Main Arm, near Mullumbimby in northern NSW. I’m staying with Mel and Ant, and their toddler Maddy. They have veggies and chickens and a hundred fruit trees – exotic trees to me, like mango, papaya, tamarillo, guava and white sapote.
These last two weeks, there’s been something going on with ceilings. Maybe it’s because I’m travelling north and I’ve always associated north with up.
At Homeland, near Bellingen, I helped a few members of the community as they installed a new ceiling in their common house. They use the house for events and activities. For a while they ran weekly open-mic nights, but the roof sprung a leak many months ago and the building has been out of commission ever since.
A few young families moved onto Homeland recently, bringing fresh energy to rejuvenate the property’s facilities, and the long-time members’ spirits. That’s why we were fixing the ceiling.
Members can own their houses, but no one can own the land. About 30 people live there now. They tread foot-tracks from their homes to the common laundry and shower block and clotheslines, and meet each other along the way. Kids explore – there’s no traffic to watch out for. A morning can vanish on Homeland, among all the conversations and cups of tea.
Here, a few hours further north at Upper Main Arm, it’s been raining a lot. And while the raindrops tap on the tin roof of the outdoor living area, we’ve been building a ceiling below, so Mel and Ant can install insulation.
Whenever it stops raining, I fight Morning Glory. It’s a weed vine with a pretty purple flower and a conquistadorial spirit.
The land is fecund, damn fecund. Plants grow like nobody’s business – both the wanted and the unwanted. Periodically, Ant takes his machete and hacks a tract of jungle away from the fence line of their house zone.
The landscape is lush like a movie soundtrack. Mel and Ant’s outdoor chairs are stained with damp and the new shed already looks two generations old.
There is so much water in these parts, compared to dry Victoria (well, Victoria was dry before I left). I’ve got a thing for big rivers, so I’ve been happy here. When I visited the US a few years ago my main ambition was to sit by the Mississippi and read Huck Finn.
From Woolgoolga to Byron Bay I got a ride from a biological farmer called Ian. He’d lost a marriage and a farm, and until recently, he’d been living out of his car in Sydney. He still had rheumy eyes, but now he had big plans. He told them to me as we drove past Grafton and along the Clarence River. The river was astonishingly wide and full, and so close to the highway. We passed over the bridge where the water made for the coast, but soon we came alongside another, the Richmond River. Unless it’s flooding, you sure don’t see that kind of water down south.