Saturday, 20 July in the year of grace, 2013
As I write on this chilly morning, I am sitting in the study of the Presbyterian manse at Bowenfels, NSW, which is in the mountains west of Katoomba and on the edge of Lithgow. I think I read somewhere that it is about 900 metres above sea level, which must be close to 3000ft in the old scale of things, and the temperature to date reflects it.
Not far from my feet is the ever-faithful Jock, while in the sunniest part of the room is, of course, Tonkie. (Where else would any sensible cat be?). Janet popped in a short time ago, holding two shampoo bottles. I vaguely heard the words, ‘red’ and ‘blue’ so thought I’d better check on what she’d said. It’s too easy for us men to get into trouble by failing to remember what we’d been told a short time previously, so age and caution serve me well – when I remember to apply them. It turned out she’d held up the bottles for my inspection, explained what was in them and said, “The one with the red writing is the shampoo, and the one with the green writing is the conditioner.” Janet has amazing amounts of patience when dealing with her vague hubby, and of course rearing our five children helped develop it.
The domestic scene here is one that is probably being repeated in various ways right around the country at this time of the day, but it’s a bit unusual for us, because we are now some hundreds of kilometres from Puddleby on Sea, our home at Lake Macquarie. I’m up here for six weeks’ locum work, while some members of our family are holidaying at Puddleby. The Bowenfels minister has sensibly lit out for a few weeks’ holiday and is off to Queensland’s sunny warmth. We’ve been coming up here each winter now for some years, and stay in the manse. The Presbyterian Church Bowenfels is on the register as an historic church. It was built in 1842 and is much the same now as it was then. You’ll see the sign on the Great Western Highway as you approach Bowenfels, advising you that it is there. Behind the church is a lovely, fairly modern hall. The church is so hard to keep warm in winter that the congregation holds its Sunday services in the hall, which is cosy, warm and well-heated, during the winter months.
Behind the hall is the manse – quite modern, and made for the winters. It’s a lovely home, and sits on three beautiful acres, with lots of trees. Beyond the bottom fence is the bush. Blackberry thickets are sprinkled through it, populated by cautious rabbits who have burrows tunnelled into the blackberry bushes’ prickly safety. Gloriously plumed mountain lorikeets, magpies and other bird species add to the beauty of this place. The air is fresh and keen.. sometimes TOO fresh, TOO keen in mid-winter, but it’s as pure as one could get. There’s not an ounce of anything in it but pure air.
We arrived a few days ago and were welcomed as old friends by the marvellous people who live up here. Their warmth and kindliness are beyond measure. They’d thought of everything. That warm hospitality is not just for us – it’s for everyone whom they meet. The congregation is a congregation of friends. Each Friday evening a few members go to the Lithgow bowling club for dinner, and while here we always go with them, where there is always a great deal of chatter, laughter and tall tales. Norm the session clerk is so funny. He told us that a few days ago a visiting lady was looking at some large holes in one area of the church grounds that were dug by a post hole digger. Trees are to be planted in them eventually – some big ones, including at least one Wollemi pine. “What are those large holes for?” the lady asked. Norm’s reply: “They’re rabbit burrows. You wouldn’t believe the size of the rabbits around here!” “Really?” replied the lady, looking astonished, before noting the twinkle in Norm’s eye. Yes, the old bush yarns are alive and well around these parts. Norm spent the first few years of his life in Northern NSW, working on a banana farm, and told us that his job was to put the bends in the ends of the bananas, to make sure they’d fit into the boxes, which are always made a trifle short. Of course we believed him!
Much as we miss Puddleby, we also love being here among the people of Bowenfels and Lithgow; a district where people actually know one another and who belong in a definable community, with a strong community spirit. Most country towns are like that.
Oh well, I’d better leave now and start thinking about tomorrow, Sunday, and the two services; one at Wallerawang and the other here at Bowenfels. The weather forecast for tomorrow is a bit daunting, I’ve been told: 3 degrees maximum, snow at Orange and possibly around here. It’s snowed each year we’ve been here. As I was thinking of that a few minutes ago, a lovely little poem by Samuel Longfellow (1819-92), the great American poet, popped into my head. It’s been set to a hymn tune and is in the old Presbyterian hymn book.
The final verse goes:
O God! Who gives the winter’s cold
As well as summer’s joyous rays,
Us warmly in Thy love enfold,
And keep us through life’s wintry days.
PS: Janet just asked to read what I’d written. She’s often good at picking up the odd typo etc before I submit it. As she read, I heard a giggle.
What? I asked.
She gave me “the look”:
“I said ‘red and blue’ writing, not ‘red and green writing’” she told me.