Our surrounding bushland was a beautiful playground, we treated with respect. 

Regardless of season, the bush was dry and dense.  Bright red waratah, the delicate whites of flannel flowers, and sweet-smelling pink begonia, in thick clumps everywhere. 

We saw orchids in an array of colours springing from the dryness, some chocolate in colour, and smelling like dusky cinnamon. We aptly called them chocolate flowers. 

Grandma’s bonnet, egg and bacon flowers, bright yellow wattle of a great variety. There of course was also the wallaby, wombat, echidna, and a scattering of birdlife as well. The waterways crystal clear, platypus, tadpoles and a myriad of tiny water life, little beetles and what we called wheelie bugs.

We observed, smelt and admired, but never destroyed anything, carefully stepping around each botanical delight.

You could follow the fire trails from Welby, around the back of the tip, crossing Gibbergunyah Creek, and snaking your way around rocky outcrops and cliffs, until you reached Mount Alexandra. During our adventures we saw no one. We didn’t carry water bottles or food, when thirsty drank from the creeks. 

If it wasn’t for the fire trails, or the tip, or evidence of the old coal mine, you would think we were in no man’s land. 

The large variety of eucalypt, combined with the rich earth, and the array of plants beneath the entire canopy, had a distinct scent, which almost gave a flavour in your mouth on inhaling. I loved those heady scents conjuring up a sense of being at one with the earth, relaxed and alert at the same time.

The forest floor dense, with fallen leaves, the brown dry bracken fern, and the wattle with its distinctive leaves, extremely prone to igniting furiously if lit.  

Everything crackled and popped during bon-fire night on the Queen’s birthday, and this was in June during winter! 

The hakea also, was notorious for its combustion, the vast array of vegetation is designed to deflect the sun and survive in the dry, and therefore prone to explode at times of fire.

At one time, there was a group of boys, playing with matches, thinking they were funny. I am sure they thought they could control the situation, but the fire threatened the entire township of Mittagong. Knowing the perpetrators, left a burden of responsibility on us, but they were not deliberate arsonists, just stupid boys, we kept it to ourselves.

Sometimes dry lightning strikes also threatened our precious bush. We had big pine trees at the front of our home and when a fire came from the North, our home was under threat. Mum, and all of us kids had the hose ready, and buckets full of water. Wetting the lawn, garden and gutters. But the wind changed, I was never so scared in my entire life. Seeing the flames being fanned towards our home in the bush just opposite us. 

Nowadays, there are far more bushfires in Australia, with so many homes and lives having been lost. When seeing those reports on the news, my thoughts go back to my childhood, when we almost were a statistic to the bushfire menace.

Slicing through a piece of heaven, freeway carved through back of Welby
Josie Nicholas, Charlie and Kingston, with view from back of old Welby tip
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