Here & Now

The kid is quiet. And still. That's remarkable - not so much the quietness but this little fella is rarely still. I could run my house on such energy. And leave the lights on all night.

My nephew is nine - whoops, sorry - nearly 10, and is visiting from the Gold Coast where he lives in suburban splendour. But now here we are, high on the Billen mountain, sweaty and scratched, in a special place.

We sit side by side, sipping from our water containers, in the Secret Cave.

We don't talk. A warm wind shakes a shower of dry leaves from a tree outside but all is quiet in the cave. (We watched The Phantom last night. There's no waterfall marking the entrance to this cave but there are treasures within it. In an indentation in the cave wall stand ancient Vegemite jars containing tea and sugar. There's also an antique aluminium billy.)

It was quite a bush bash getting here. On the way he passed through a forest of tall grass trees (Xanthorrhoea) and learned they grow only one or two centimetres a year. Some have been growing here since before Cook renamed Wollumbin.

He heard a goanna rustle up a tree but couldn't find it. Goannas hide well.

He marvelled at the size of the stumps left after giant hardwoods were felled only decades ago by the white colonisers.

We share a shortbread biscuit in the cave's stillness.

He has come of age. It's an initiation. He now belongs to the Clan of the Cave.

Only a few have been to the cave (in Billen history anyway), which is impossible to find without The Knowledge. It has a hidden and tricky entrance that demands serious focus (one slip and you could fall to a certain bruising) and a lot of energy. (I'm exhausted. He's not.) Yes, the kid has lots of energy. It's renewable too, requiring only rolled oats and soy milk.

We can see Wollumbin looming in the far distance, a blue silhouette against a paler sky.

Closer, and below us, spreads the valley where Billen homes lie scattered amongst a new forest that has revitalised this once desolate property since the Billen tribe settled here more than two decades ago. We stopped the ridiculous yearly burn-offs and removed the cattle from these fragile hills. Solar panels wink in the sun.

Many families live here sharing an improving environment with an increasing diversity of wildlife. Through blood ties and his time on the mountain, he's a part of this now.

Yesterday, I took him to our community market. He drank organic hot chocolate, licked a homemade ice cream (the vendor was his age) and checked out pre-loved toys being sold by enterprising young Billenites.

He got to know some of the young locals and disappeared with them up the creek for a while, dirtying his best shoes. “Oh well,” he said. Yep. Oh well.

Later, he jammed along with the musos, smacking a conga.

The walls of the cave show the history of this area. Getting creakily to my feet, I show him the exposed layers of ash and rock laid down from the many explosions of the Wollumbim volcano 23 million years ago. He runs his hand along the wall.

A stone embedded in a seam of volcanic ash falls under his touch. I tell him he can take it with him. As a token of his belonging.

Soon, government leaders will gather to talk about climate change. For this land's sake and for the kid's sake I hope they do more than talk.


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