Tuesday 5th April 2016
I’m sitting on a rock at sunrise as I write this post, looking down into the misty-bottomed Numinbah valley, which is covered in a carpet of lush, green treetops.
We just spent our first night together in one of Australia’s many rainforests, courtesy of the Binna Burra Lodge in the Lamington National Park. This time yesterday we were caught up in the chaotic bustle of Byron Bay. Now we’ve driven two hours North and passed into a different state both from New South Wales to Queensland and from the heady world of suburban socializing to the heart-opening solitude of nature.
The Binna Burra lodge has an admirable history. It was established by forward-thinking conservationists back in the 1930s, who believed that re-connecting people to nature, was the best way to build a collective commitment to preserve it.
Jakkie has been here once before. It was seven years ago when I made my first trip to Australia to spend time with her in the country she loves and demonstrate my willingness to travel the world to be with her. After she dropped me off at Brisbane airport and we said our tearful goodbyes, she headed up here in “Colin the Camper Van” for a few days alone in the rainforest.
This time, the moment we arrived at reception, she grabbed my hand and ran me upstairs to the library overlooking the national park. And there was that feeling again…… “I want to stay”.
On first impressions, Binna Burra lodge seems to combine a degree of exclusivity (as it is clearly a class above most camping locations), with a sense of relaxed inclusivity (as it is open to anyone with the means to find their way here, with a tent, and a pay a few dollars for the privilege of camping).
Sadly, we have only allowed ourselves two nights here on this occasion and being keen to make the most of our visit, we headed straight for one of the many hiking trails, keen to cover as many kilometres as we comfortably could before sunset.
We chose the 5km caves walk that winds along a narrow track surrounded by rainforest. I could barely stop myself from smiling with wonder as we wandered down, down into the dark valley to the sunlit ridge where a stunning view unfolded, revealing the bottom of the valley to be further away than we would walk today.
One of key features of our short trek was the Kweebani Cave, where the Yugambeh people, whose ancestors have lived here for thousands of years, would stop for shelter and to cook wallabies and goannas or whatever prey they had caught that day. Kweebani, a handy sign told us, means “I cook”.
As we roam around Australia, I am often called to reflect on the way indigenous people survived (and thrived) on this vast continent for tens of thousands of years—sometimes with awe and respect; sometimes with a deep, eternal sense of connection and sometimes with sadness and guilt.
All of those feelings were present at the cave, but most of all it felt like something of a museum piece. A spot that was once part of ‘black fella’ culture, now preserved with handrails and signage for ‘white fellas’ to visit, but no longer used by the ‘black fella’.
It reminded me of the feeling I sometimes get visiting an old, English country church that is open to visitors but no longer in use. Somehow you can sense that the spirit that Christian worship and devotion can evoke in ancient buildings, has left the church and you are standing in an historic place, but not a living space.
And so it was with the Kweebani Caves, which are an ancient site of Aboriginal culture, but not a living site used today. All of which leaves me contemplating how we can live lives that honour and preserve humanity’s ancient wisdom and connection with nature, while embracing the many benefits that modernity brings us.
One thing this trip calls me to do is to be present and live in the moment, to disconnect from the structured mindset that drives us to order and plan everything and leaves us clinging onto the past or fretting about the future, but rarely being fully present and connected to life, right now, here in the moment.
Here on my rock, at sunrise, I am just one kilometer from camp, but my experience is that in this moment there is just me and nature and nothing else. There’s the coldness of the rock on my bare feet and the warmth of the sun on my body and an expansive sense of connection to everything around me.
The gum tree I can reach out and touch seems as close as the sun, which my rational mind knows is 150 million kilometers away and over 100 times bigger than the earth, but is no greater or miraculous than the ant that just walked over my foot or the currawong bird that’s sitting on a branch looking at me.
I love being here. Here in this place. Here in this state. Here in this moment. Maybe this is where the inner voice that keeps telling me to “stay” wants to keep me. Not in Byron Bay or the Binna Burra, not in a physical location, but in this open-hearted state of consciousness that is blissfully connected to all of nature.