18 million or so tears ago, a dirty great shield volcano aggressively splattered a large area of northern New South Wales, in the days when the eastern coast of Australia was going through a spasm and trying to swallow New Zealand. Some have argued that it's a pity it didn't, but that's not for me to say.
This is around the time (give or take a bit) Adam was discovering Eve, who you'll remember went around starkers in those days, and Adam was getting accustomed to the enormous burden of being permanently priapic, so we can understand why he wasn't interested in arcane matters such as geology. Any decent biblical education leaves one well aware of the acres of difference in the relative values of intelligence, power, majesty and moral rectitude between God and his creation. At least God was into geology; I mean, he invented the stuff.
As I was saying, since then the effect of erosion on this mixture of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock includes fabulous and immense outcrops - and other features that simply stick up, on a grand scale, from the floors of valleys magnificent in their dense and voluptuous eucalypt forests. Blue gums, enormous in girth, build a cushion of cumulus-like foliage; the tops of the trees, viewed from above, look like nothing so much as a dense, bubbling cloud of green.
"Hey man," mumbled Leigh as we trudged along an uphill trail that threatened to, at any moment, collapse into the deep green gorges below us, "this acid is really good shit."
OK, OK, I just made that up. In fact, we were having a particularly pleasant time. Over the past twenty-five days, we had walked probably a hundred and fifty or more kilometres, and we had become pretty fit. We weren't going all the way to the Breadknife, but were climbing up to a good vantage-point to give the thing a good, close-up scrute. A mere fifteen-or-so kilometre round-trip. Tall ferns of various species gave way to ridge scrub as we climbed higher, until we were scrabbling over scree and fairly tumble-down rock platforms.
This sort of thing convinces me further that God, if he really is around, is a bit of a shoddy tradesman. Lord, if you really care for us, you'll put in, at the very least, gentle slopes with nicely delineated pathways incorporating escalators up the more challenging stretches. When Adam was having a yarn with a couple of cherubim at the gates, Eve was being chatted up by a creature that was to become the ancestor of used-car salesmen and Republicans, unaware that her nascent concupiscence would result in thorns, childbirth and great fucking boulders that like to take your head off when you're half way up a mountain.
As always, the effort was worth it. The Breadknife, and a couple of other ineffable gargantuans, peered across at us, rusty old fellers having their last say about the place, before wind, water and sun eventually took them down to be replaced by adolescents, emerging from their mother earth's aprons. The Breadknife could just as easily have been called "Old Silverback".
I thought of the serpent as we walked back towards camp, and, of course, we came upon a pretty little red-bellied black sunning itself by the path. Nicely coiled, with its head resting on its body like a little dog on your lounge pillow, it appeared for all the world to be blissing out.
We squatted near it and had a good look for a while, until we heard two walkers coming up the track. We said our goodays, and it was obvious they were English.
"Nice little feller we found here," said Leigh amicably, pointing to our friend by the track. The woman took one look at Blacky and hid her face in her hands, whimpering with a kind of rapid asthmatic pulmonary spasm. We looked at each other with some consternation.
"It's OK, he's just having a snooze. He's not interested in you at all." Leigh was being more than reasonable, I thought; little blackies, although poisonous, are very timid. Chris and I once had
a big feller who would park himself on the concrete doorstep on a Spring morning. We used to have to step over him to go to work.
She was disconsolate. When her husband tried to calm her by suggesting that it wouldn't hurt if she actually opened her eyes and had a look at it, she backed down the track, then turned as if to run.
"For Christ's sake, don't turn your back on it!" I yelled.
Have you ever seen one of those ninja movies where the guys run up vertical walls? Think it's impossible? Think again. The woman got about forty yards up the track-side cliff inside three seconds. Perched on a tiny ledge, she collapsed sobbing.
Leigh realised she needed his help. "There's more of 'em up there in those caves next to you," he kindly encouraged.
We realised we could have fun like this all day, but food - and a really big telescope - called, so we bid fond adieus and left our new friend contemplating the unabashed generosity and good-will of the average Aussie bloke, and the ubiquity of Pseudechus porphyriacus in the Wide Brown Land.
Apropos of nothing at all: According to perhaps apocryphal tales, a particular species of parasitic worm, Dracunculiasis (formerly referred to as Dracontiasis), was once a fearsome killer, and the only remedy was to extract it from its host by means of a stick, previously steeped in water. The stick would be inserted into the abscess on the patient's leg where the worm made its window on the world. (Fuck, I bet that little procedure brought tears to the eyes.) Shortly, the worm would detect the moisture in the stick, gradually emerging from the body and wrapping its way around it, right to the top. This ancient treatment became embodied in the universal symbol for medicine. (The parallels with our verbillaceous mate in the Garden of Eden are unmistakeable.)
Next stop was the Siding Springs Observatory, perched atop a mountain some few miles to our east. Now, the bloke in charge of this place is a feller by the name of Fred Watson, and a heartier, more rambunctious person you'd not likely meet. As well as knowing things your granny forgot about astronomy, he plays a mean guitar. We were hoping to meet him at the Anglo-Australian Telescope for a jam; although, as he keeps musician's hours, and it was only two in the afternoon, we thought the chances might be slim.
We alighted at the car-park, and with a fierce and cold breeze blowing straight at us, climbed up to the telescope on foot. A lift took us up three flights until we emerged at the viewing platform.
I suppose there are plenty of people who would look on that thing and simply dismiss it as a vast combobulation of steel, glass, and wire. But of course, it is actually a sports apparatus - a tool for the exercise of the imagination. It is the Age of Reason wed to Romanticism.
... I always wanted to say that.
Whatever it was, it was special. Even the kids on the viewing platform sensed the imaginative power of its part in the great project. One little bloke said to his mum "But what's it for?" His mother leaned over and said "It's for learning, mate, learning about the universe."
And with that, we drove back to our camp, to spend the last night of our trip across this often inscrutable, ever bewildering but stunning country, underneath a star-studded sky, thinking about all of those things that contribute to what is our world.