Thursday, July 09, 2015


Rawnsley Park is an estate about four hours north of Adelaide. Once primarily a sheep station, it’s now more lucrative as a tourist station.

In true South Australian fashion, Rawnsley Park is very class conscious. For the hoi polloi, there’s a caravan park. For the better off, there’ a cluster of chalets arranged around gravel drives and neat garden beds. For the VIPs there’s an Eco Lodge, where presumably many resources have been exploited to give the impression that no resources have been exploited.

As a middle class white person, I am naturally in the chalets, most of which are occupied by other middle class white members of my extended family. We have descended on this place en masse for a family reunion, and thus the air is thick with talk of property values and good schools, all with excellent grammar and pronunciation, since we are all descended from a pair of English teachers.

The Wagon family have come from both the east and the west coast – ironically there are no South Australian Wagons in existence – centring around four original siblings, their children and their children’s children, as well as partners. The funny thing about having three generations of one large extended family together is the glimpses of genetic commonality that flash through us like goldfish flickering through a pond. The way one shrugs is reflected in another. A look of surprise is owned by two people. Tendencies towards bossiness or self-effacement ripple through us, regardless of whether we live in Sydney or Perth. We have deep, intimate things in common despite the fact that we have nothing in common.

At the same time, it’s fun to isolate the genetic differences. My love of quietness, for example, clearly comes from the other side of my family tree.

But one thing the Wagons all share is the fact that we are an active people and lovers of nature, which is why Rawnsley Park is the perfect place for us. The land in this part of South Australia bucks and pitches as if geology is doing an interpretive dance, throwing up bulbous hills and jagged mountain ranges, all softened by untold millennia of erosion. At this time of year, it’s pretty in a raw, visceral Australian way. The blush of green turns the flinty land into natural meadows, and the mountains glow pink and red in the gloriously gold sunlight of the late afternoons.

However there’s a really odd thing about this landscape. There is virtually no water anywhere, despite it being the middle of winter, and yet there are watercourses at every turn. There are channels carved into the clay soil where little creeks normally flow. There are falls of rock that are very clearly cascades. There are broad avenues paved with rounded pebbles that are, in normal circumstances, riverbeds. But there’s no water in any of them. It’s as if the entire countryside has been hit with a rampaging plague of feral paper towels.


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