I met some Germans on this hike, students from Bavaria. It was their first time in Australia and their first time in the Blue Mountains.
‘There are lots of forests in Germany,’ I suggested.
‘Yes,’ they said, ‘but they are not smelling like this, or sounding like this.’
I was glad they were enjoying it. I certainly was. Does anything smell better than eucalyptus after rain? Do any bird calls sound better than the clear notes of those bell miners? Yet I’ve also met people who hated the Australian bush.
I once walked in the Blue Mountains with an English family, recent arrivals in Australia. It was hot, we were all tired, the track was steep and the youngest child had to be carried. They were polite enough to pretend to be having a good time, but when I got to know them better, my friend was able to explain what he really thought of the walk that day.
On first impression, he found the Australian bush harsh, threatening, unattractive and grey compared to European forest. Eucalyptus trees had too little foliage for their size, and their peeling bark made them look damaged. There were few colourful flowers on native Australian shrubs. There was nowhere to sit and relax, for fear of planting your backside on something thorny, prickly or deadly poisonous.
And evergreen forest was boring because it never changed with the seasons.
I felt similar alienation when I first visited North America.
I was driven up to Banff in the mighty Canadian Rockies on a quick day trip from Calgary. The Rockies seemed too big to be true, like some oversize film set thrown up as a backdrop to a tourist town. Pointed conifers reflected by a lake looked almost kitsch, like illustrations on the cover of a Sunday school textbook. It took some time to get used to it.
In Californian redwood forest I’m impressed by the size of the giant trees, of course, but they have a musty, thick smell that never quite lets me get comfortable.
Tropical forest in Asia can be lush, exotic and exciting, but I’ve seldom found it beautiful. Perhaps that’s because I find the humidity oppressive.
European landscape is easier to like straight away. I suspect that we Australians of European descent have a sort of race memory of green fields with stone walls, woods of oak and beech, purple heather, field and coppice, all that stuff. I loved it the moment I saw it.
I can imagine that Australian bush takes some getting used to, but if you look for details in it there is much to marvel at.
What do you think? Have other non-Australians taken some time to get to like our bush, or perhaps never come to terms with it?
Are there other beautiful places in the world which we Australians will never appreciate the way locals do?