Our home. Our country.

As I write this I am thinking about a blog that I recently read that was written by Kelly Theobald for the Birdsville Roadhouse, and am reminded of how when I read it I started to get that little tear form in the corner of my eye. To most people I think the act of welling up while reading about your home town is a little silly, but for some reason whenever I read nice things about Birdsville I get a little sentimental (with nasty things I just tune out). Once again it made me realise how great the community out here is and what a wonderful place it is to live.

When people ask me why I am doing this I often reply with “well why not?”. The Simpson Desert is my home, well technically it’s not my actual home but rather an area of land that meets my home. In saying that, according to the brown shaded area of the map I have here, Birdsville is a part of the desert so maybe it is my home. The traditional owners of what is known as the Simpson Desert are the Wangkangurru people and many descendents of this group still reside in the Birdsville area. As with many parts of Australia and the world there are stories of violence and clashes between Indigenous people and European settlers in the area, but to me the beautiful thing about the desert history, unlike some other areas, is that for the most part the relationship was peaceful. The traditional owners walked out the Simpson Desert on their own accord and where possible took up work on leases in the area.

For me, the link between the desert and myself has been on paper for more than a century when my grandma grew up on Annandale Station, and when my grandad took up the Adria Downs lease. I haven’t however actually felt this appreciation for the area until recently. I could easily have left this part of the story out, but I think it’s important to realise that just because something says that you should have a connection it doesn’t necessarily mean that you do. In the past couple of years I have found myself with a longing to return home, and a little bit of an empty pit whenever I left the area. It gets in your veins and never leaves. Anyone who has spent time in the area know this, and I think it is the single reason why descriptions of life out here hit home with me.

I started to think about how I was going to write about the history of the desert from the Indigenous and European perspectives nearly 5 months ago. Back then I had told people that I was going to write about the cultural history, but to be honest it has taken me this long to work out that I don’t know how. Yes I can acknowledge those who walked before me and who called the land home for thousands of years, but from growing up in Birdsville I find it very difficult to separate Indigenous life from European life. I know that from a historical perspective there is a very clear separation given thousands of years passed before Europeans came to the area, but on a more personal note the separation isn’t so clear. For me the two have been intertwined for as long as I can remember, and I feel and have always been made to feel, that my connection with the land that I am about to cross is worth as much as the descendents of the Wangkangurru people. Whether this is politically correct I don’t know, but to me it is our home and our country. In saying that there is a poem that I love called “My Country” – by Dorothea MacKellar, which depicts what is beautiful about our great nation.


The love of field and coppice

Of green and shaded lanes,

Of ordered woods and gardens

Is running in your veins.

Strong love of grey-blue distance,

Brown streams and soft, dim skies

I know, but cannot share it,

My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons,

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror

The wide brown land for me!

The stark white ring-barked forests,

All tragic to the moon,

The sapphire-misted mountains,

The hot gold hush of noon,

Green tangle of the brushes

Where lithe lianas coil,

And orchids deck the tree-tops,

And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!

Her pitiless blue sky,

When, sick at heart, around us

We see the cattle die

But then the grey clouds gather,

 And we can bless again

The drumming of an army,

The steady soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!

Land of the rainbow gold,

For flood and fire and famine

She pays us back threefold.

Over the thirsty paddocks,

Watch, after many days,

The filmy veil of greenness

That thickens as we gaze …

An opal-hearted country,

A wilful, lavish land

All you who have not loved her,

You will not understand

though Earth holds many splendours,

Wherever I may die,

I know to what brown country

My homing thoughts will fly.

We recently had a funeral here in town at which the whole community recited the last verse of this poem. It was a beautiful way to remember an old friend and it is a verse that I believe many Australians can relate to. No matter where on earth we travel for some of us we never really leave Australia. I now know that although I may leave the area in body one day, I will never really leave the area in spirit and I look forward to the journey of crossing a part of our country so special to many of my friends and the people of Birdsville, as well as to those who have passed through it. At the next full moon I should be half way through my walk, and I would love it if you could all take a moment and think about what makes our home and our country special to you.

For now though I bid you all a farewell and I will see you on the otherside slightly smelly, a little dusty and probably changed for the better.

If you need to contact me while I am walking click here for information.


8 thoughts on “Our home. Our country.

  1. Jenna, what an inspiration you are, and what a wonderful read, you are so right, when you say that the desert gets into your veins and your heart. I know it has with me, and it is a time I will never forget. Wishing you all the best for the Long Walk. Take lots of care. We might be headed to Birdsville in the next few weeks and hope we might meet up there.

  2. Hi Jenna, I have never met you but think what you are doing is fabulous and therefore you must be a fabulous spirit. How inspiring are you. Best of luck and I will be tracking.

  3. Oh Miss Jenna… Thats just what I needed to read this beautiful Sunday morning.. I have a few tears in my eyes(-and I know that doesnt sound unusual for ‘ol emotional me’!), but after catching up with Kym and Jo last night, and thinking of Frank, and other legends like Frankie Booth, who have passed, I feel that my slight conection with BDV, and sourounding areas, is so very special and dear to my heart.. It does get into your veins, and stays there..
    Biggest, huggest Jungle hugs….

  4. Jenna, Beautifully said. You are fifth generation Australian and of the forth born here. That seperates you not only in generations but distance from what is your ancentral home in Yorkshire. You are now of the land here connected by birth physically and spiritually to what is your home. Your birth place can never be taken from you, you may wander far from home but as you have found, there is that niggling in the back of your mind the longing to return to your roots, your home. Your connection to the land of your birth is no different or less important than those that have gone before you, Indigenous or European.
    If you ever get the chance, go to Cooktown and take the Guurbi tour with Willie Gordon. He is trully an amazing man and the culture of his people that he shares and explains tells us about life from the cradle to the grave and how we are all connected to the land of our birth, our home, and it all relates to each and everyone one of us no matter what our cultural background.
    Here is a poem by Henry Lawson, I first heard this some years ago put to music by The Mucky Duck Bush Band from Perth –
    From The Bush

    The Channel fog has lifted –
    And see where we have come!
    Round all the world we’ve drifted,
    A hundred years from “home”.
    The fields our parents longed for –
    Ah! we shall ne’er know how –
    The wealth that they were wronged for
    We’ll see as strangers now!

    The Dover cliffs have passed on –
    In the morning light aglow –
    That our fathers looked their last on
    A weary time ago.
    Now grin, and grin your bravest!
    We need be strong to fight;
    For you go home to picture
    And I go home to write.

    Hold up your head in England,
    Tread firm on London streets;
    We come from where the strong heart
    Of all Australia beats!
    Hold up your head in England
    However poor you roam!
    For no men are your betters
    Who never sailed from home!

    From a hundred years of hardships –
    ‘Tis ours to tell the cost –
    From a thousand miles of silence
    Where London would be lost;
    From where the glorious sunset
    On sweeps of mulga glows –
    Ah! we know more than England,
    And more than Europe knows!

    Hold up your head in London,
    However poor you come,
    For no man is your better
    Who never sailed from home!
    Our “home” and foreign fathers,
    Where none but men dared go,
    Have done more for the White Man
    Than England e’er shall know!

    • Thanks Al. That is a magnificent poem. I have never heard it before, but it is beautiful. I suppose there is something special about everyone’s home, it can just take us a while to find it sometimes. Thanks again.

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