Any of us could go any place in the entire world that we ever imagined or thought to imagine and make it our own. That’s a pretty exhilarating thought. You’re only as stuck as you think you are, as you allow yourself to be. But that’s not the tangent that I want to go off on, at least not right now. Tonight I want to acknowledge what I think is one of the most understated aspects of traveling: people. People make a place. They can also, just as easily, ruin a place. Most of my lingering memories of somewhere, whether good or bad, involve the spirit of the people there and my interaction with them. It has been no different on my travels so far this trip. While I truly haven’t had any horribly bad interactions or met any horribly bad individuals, I have had the pleasure of experiencing the other end of the spectrum; I want to share these wonderful people with you, preserving them and their positive impact on my travels for as long as I possibly can. I may not begin traveling for the sake of those that I meet along the way, but they will undoubtedly be a great majority of what I take away at the end of it all.
My first “Faces of” can belong to none other than Mick, the fantastic Bushman that I had the absolute privilege of getting to know during my month at Twisted River Wines. Mick is as authentic Australian as you could ever hope to come across; born practically next door to where his house is now, not going anywhere anytime soon. He was raised by his grandparents on a large dairy farm where he used to milk the cows by lantern light every morning before school, and continued on to work with horses, tractors, plows, chainsaws and just about every other piece of farm equipment known to man. Mick has worked hard and lived hard (he was a Hell’s Angel for a few years) every day of his life, and as a result has a tremendous respect for good work and good hearts. Cassandra and I absolutely adored him. I honestly don’t think that either of us would have stayed at Twisted River for so long if it weren’t for our occasional days with Mick. Around 9:30 am (he was notoriously late…I could completely empathize), you would see the white ute come rolling up the driveway, Mick’s bush hat, beard, and Bitty’s head-his chunky Kelpie and best mate-the only things visible until the ute pulled up to the mudbrick’s front door step. Cassandra and I would practically squeal with delight at his arrival, hurrying out to exchange our familiar greeting.
“G’day Sheilas! Ok, ok, how ya goin? Ready to go chop some wood?” Mick would ask us as he sharpened the saw that he would be taking to turn the nearest red or yellow box into a stack of firewood.
Mick taught us all sorts of fascinating things: secrets of the bush, typical lingo, the pleasures of cider and port when consumed during the day with some bush scone or damper. One of the best days that I had at Twisted River was when, after a morning of collecting wood, Mick decided to show us how to find, gather, grill, and consume a sawdust-eating grub called the Witchetty Grub. Off we headed towards the fallen tree near the stream that Mick had spotted earlier. Now what you do, he explained with plenty of animated hand movements, is look for the gathering of small amounts of sawdust on the ground next to the tree; that’s where the Witchetty are. After you find them, you somehow get inside that portion of the tree, and there they’ll be…slowly consuming the sawdust they create as they burrow their way deeper into the tree. A full-grown Witchetty is no joke-think Timon & Pumba style.
After we had gathered our feast, which Mick had named George as a collective whole, it was off to the barbie. A little butter thrown on as she heated up, then came the Georges, doomed to meet their demise as Mick’s expert hand rolled their plump bodies from one side to the other, sprinkling a generous portion of salt on top as they made their slow journey across the fiery slab of Witchetty hell. One couldn’t handle the pressure and promptly exploded on Mick’s face, but the others ended up slightly toasted and on our plates. Tough skin, slightly nutty paste of a center, salty aftertaste; one by one the grubs were consumed by an enthralled Mick, a slightly disturbed and disgusted (but participatory) Cassandra, and myself, overly eager and loving every minute. George’s cousins had actually won first place at a local Bush Tucker contest that Mick participated in not too long ago, and they really weren’t too bad…although the Bush Scone and Damper that we were also taught how to make-in the campfire, and always accompanied with a plentiful supply of cider-were pretty fantastic as well and just might have the advantage of appealing to a greater audience.
The last day that Cassandra and I were at Twisted River, Mick and Young Mick’s (his son) wife Catherine picked us up and took us to see what used to be Parks’ water supply, a lake called Endeavor. We then continued on to Parks, where we did some shopping; Mick insisted on having us over and grilling for us that afternoon. We also picked up the usual case of pear cider, which we promptly cracked open as soon as we got back into the Ute. Luckily Mick was just as big of a fan of day drinking as us two Yank Sheilas were. Joining us that afternoon was the infamous Gordon, Mick’s best mate (besides Bitty, of course) and fellow Bushman. Also joining the party were Catherine and Young Mick, who took us on a quad bike (4-wheeler) ride around the property to see the dozen or so kangaroos that gathered at dusk. Full of great tucker, immense appreciation and enough cider for a pleasant buzz, we said our reluctant goodbyes as the dusk settled in, exchanging contact information and vowing to keep in touch.
Ta, Mick. You’re the best.