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Australian Spring

03/13/02 12:00AM By Will Curtis

Jane and I left Vermont in the midst of last fall's spectacular color to find ourselves, 14 hours later, walking down the streets of Sydney, Australia, on a gorgeous spring day. It seemed that we had no longer landed than we were striding along with everyone else bound for the harbor. Yachts dodging bustling ferries, sidewalk cafes, jugglers, flags snapping in the wind, men blowing into long tubes making extraordinary sounds; all dominated by the Opera's white sails. We felt as though we should be skipping like children.

One of the delights was finding out that Australians really do say, "G'dai, Mite," just like Crocodile Dundee!

We got up early one morning to be picked up by Diane with her Land Rover. Diane, 4O-ish, her red pigtail topped by a typical Crocodile Dundee hat with a long feather, was to guide us into the nearby Blue Mountains They're called 'blue' we learned," because of the blue haze created by the eucalypitus trees' fine oily mist. It was quite a day. Crossing the Hawksbury River by way of a one car ferry we lurched over the worst roads we've ever experienced, roads built by convicts 150 years ago. One of the convicts was Diane's great-great grandfather. A young English farmer with a wife and child, he had gotten into a fistfight and before he knew it, he was on a convict ship bound for Australia. He never knew what became of his English family. He and his fellow prisoners labored under the harshest of conditions in the inhospitable mountalns but at the end of their sentence they were given a patch of land there.

Diane had grown up in the Blue Mountains and knew of their secrets. On top of one stony, dry ridge, we walked to a ledge sacred to the Aborigines on which were ancient carvings of 20,000 years ago. As we walked through the dry eucalyptus leaves, we asked nervously, knowing of Australia's abundance of deadly snakes, whether we should be worried about them. "Well, they're around here alright; as a matter of fact the man who discovered anti-venom, lived up here in the mountains." A little later as we twisted down a gorge to ford a beautiful clear shallow river, Diane said that it was a wonderful place to swim because you could see the snakes coming!

Will Curtis of Woodstock, Vermont.

--Will Curtis is an author and naturalist.

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