Jim invited us to spend some weekend time with them at their ranch in the Hunter Valley, which is north of Sydney. The ranch was about two hours’ drive from the city, in some lovely hills and wine country. It was early spring in New South Wales, so the trees were just turning green and the weather was cool and damp. We toured a couple of wineries and enjoyed some samples, then set off for the ranch.
My first reaction was a shock of recognition. The ranch house was actually a fairly smallish white-painted clapboard with a tin roof, a screen door and a large porch. It looked exactly like the ones I grew up with in the country in Tennessee. The trees in the yard were familiar, willows and elms as I recall, and there were rose bushes. Jim said the original owner had gotten them from England many years ago. The leaves were opening on the trees, the grass was bright, and I felt I could have been back in Montgomery County.
Jim led us to the back yard and fired up a huge stone “barbie.” Brenda had brought a lot of barbecue food, and Jim set about cooking a real Australian feast. I helped set the picnic table and walked over to pet the white horses in their pasture, who were offended that I didn’t have carrots or apples for them.
It was a little chilly and cloudy, but Australians like being outdoors, and I was happy to sip a glass of wine and watch someone else cook. Then Brenda said quietly, “Keep your voices down and move slowly, and look over at the woods on the edge of the pasture.”
Coming out of the woods with their ungainly lope were three kangaroos. “They’re shy,” Brenda said, “but if we’re quiet they will graze for a while.” It was like watching deer come out of the woods to eat grass, only kangaroos instead. I felt again that odd sense of displacement, as if they had hopped out of the woods at my uncle’s old farm in Tennessee. They grazed for a few minutes then slipped back into the woods as quietly as they had come.
Later that night our hosts took us to a corroboree, a ceremonial meeting of Aborigines, and we encountered a wombat strolling along the side of the road. Yes, we were really in Australia! But that night at their ranch house I hoped for rain so I could hear the sound of rain on a tin roof, as I did long ago at my uncle’s house.