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Most Australians who grew up in the 60s are familiar with the May Gibbs stories about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, two little gum nuts that have adventures in the Australian bush, helped by lizards, birds, possums and other native animals. The bad guys were ‘the bad bad banksia men’ modelled after the cones that are left once the banksia flower stems have fallen out and the cones have hardened. There are 76 banksia species and the banksia is named after Sir Joseph Banks, a naturalist who travelled to Australia with Captain James Cook. If you are familiar with the banksia tree it is easy to see where Gibbs got the inspiration for the bad bad banksia men as they mostly look kind of wicked.. but there are friendly and jovial ‘banksia men’ to be found, like this little guy that I spotted at North Head, Manly, Sydney on a recent trip.
I have been cruising through some of my old travel photos and the flower one caught my eye. It was taken on the grounds of one of the best places I have ever stayed, the Morning Mist Resort near Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. Don’t think western style resort with multi-story buildings and contrived landscaping, this was an immense flower garden with bungalows for guests dotted throughout the grounds. It was amazing to meander back to our digs through such a sensual overload and to wake up amoungst it.
The place had a great restaurant with incredible views of jagged mist covered mountains, delicious local cuisine and the most divine fruit cocktails, decorated appropriately with masses of flowers. The resort was walking distance from an entrance to Khao Sok National Park, Thailand.
Khao Sok is one of the oldest virgin rainforests in the world, even older than the Amazon, and the area is well worth a visit. One of my favourite outings was visiting a monkey colony and being allowed to cuddle a baby monkey, it was even sucking its thumb like one of my daughters used to do. It is memories like these that keep my passion about travel alive. I hope Morning Mist is still there, the people were so lovely. I did this trip in 2010 and the garden must now be a midsummer dream.
Recently a friend died.
In his prime.
Sudden death shocks us. It takes us by surprise.
In its wake we contemplate mortality, mostly our own.
We speculate on what comes after.
We tell ourselves stories, we reiterate our beliefs.
We comfort ourselves.
But we cannot Know what lies across the threshold.
No one can, until they go themselves.
All the way, without coming back.
And they can’t tell.
An unexpected and quick death can be a lucky card.
The winner in an often bad deck, filled with bad, sad and ugly. Just for starters.
Death has one constant. All things succumb.
Death, as they say, is the great equalizer.
My friend was lucky.
He died quickly, in his prime.
In a house he loved. Surrounded by his acres of trees, native animals and birdsongs.
In an octagonal space, with wide expanses of glass.
A mud brick oven and open fire at its heart.
Built with recycled materials.
With his own hands, sometimes in the jovial company of friends.
A huge slab of polished wood made the kitchen table.
He hewed that wood with a good friend, using the old logging rig in the yard.
A still wet oil painting sat on the easel.
He’d named it ‘Sailing Away’.
A little sailboat with big red, wind-filled sails, heading towards the horizon.
A boat in its prime.
Heading into the unknown.
A small alcove made a good music room.
An old stereo, big record collection, guitars, a borrowed keyboard and his treasured violin.
A man enraptured by melody and sound.
A friend had just written him a song.
About him sailing away (no knowledge of the painting), leaving the rest of us clods behind.
He talked of a trip to his boyhood home.
Down the south coast.
Wanted to take his woman. His companion. His soul-mate.
Kept saying he had, ‘a yearning to return’.
He went farther than anyone thought.
Depending on where we sit, death precedes a great adventure, spiritual fulfillment, or a dissolving into nirvana, into a state of perfect nothingness.
We can only speculate
But now Paulie knows
He went all the way, he’s not coming back.
So he can’t tell.
A visit to the local botanical garden had me drooling over the textures and colours in the hot houses.
I’m not sure where this tree comes from but it does bear a resemblance to native Australian plants – and indeed may be one as there are a few in surrounding gardens. This particular spreading tree is around 6 foot tall and is growing in the Coffs Harbour Botanical Gardens. The common name is Powderpuff. Each flower is around 3inches in diameter and the ‘petals’ are so fine they become transparent on the end unless you look very closely in the right light and then you can see the little stamens.