Sunday the 21st February is my sister’s birthday. This is for her.
Dorrigo National Park. New South Wales. December 2020
I turned off the engine to my van. As I opened the door I could hear whip birds, currawongs and the deep sonorous call of the wonga pigeon. There was that familiar smell, of dampness, fermentation and decay. The smell of rainforest. It has its own signature, different from the scents of tropical wetlands, and unlike the dry hints of the central Australian desert.
I recognised the place. Memories through a partly open door. I’ve been here before. How many years ago? Nine? I was with my sister Lynne, her partner Terry and his mum. We’d escaped Brisbane and its sticky heat after a family Xmas to spend New Years 2012 down at Coffs Harbour, a delightful coastal town a few hours south. We’d planned scenic drives into the mountains, to rainforest and waterfalls. Dorrigo National Park is an hours drive west of Coffs Harbour. It’s nestled above the coastal strip on the edge of the Great Dividing Range. It is a World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest. It is a living and breathing reminder of our pre-history. It’s special. But beside this, living in Europe, in London, I don’t get home to Australia often. So any time I spent with my sis when I came home to visit was always a gift.
As I descended the trail into a world of strangling vines, brush turkeys were busy creating castles of leaf litter, while a lyre bird (their dull plumage belies their magical voice, they are great mimics) scratched for insects amongst rotting vegetation. From high up the slopes came the eerie plaintive cry of a cat bird. My senses were in overdrive. And I recalled walking these trails all those years ago, hearing the bird song, enjoying cool damp reprieve from coastal summer heat. Turning a corner I discovered the pretty Crystal Shower Falls, a fluid veil falling elegantly over mossy green rocks. The forest around it cool and damp, but as I looked up through gaps in the canopy above me I could see dark grey clouds eating up the blue sky. Heavy rains were on their way.
When I walked this trail 9 years ago my sister walked slowly. Her hip had been giving her trouble for a few months. We chatted, tried to identify the feathered inmates of the forest. We spent time at the waterfalls that begged a few more minutes to admire, to listen to, to relax by. We spent a few hours chatting and ambling along the circuit, climbing back out of the forest dimmed by towering trees and vines to the Park cafe before we grabbed a well earned coffee. It was a good day.
Two months later my sister would call me in tears. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. Her sore hip the result of a lung cancer that had spread aggressively. She battled it bravely for ten months. But it won. And I had lost a good friend. 2012 was a shit year.
But as I walked the trail this time, I savoured the smells, the sounds and the presence of the forest. I didn’t feel sad or alone. I walked with good memories. My sister was at my side. Sometimes I feel her spirit beside me more than others. Occasionally when I’m cooking for friends or family, sometimes when I see an orchid in bloom (her favourite flower), and every so often when I’m walking in nature. It feels like she wants to join me. And of course, she’s always welcome.
My walk done, I closed the van door and started the engine. Storm clouds were thick and dark above me. I could feel the rain approaching. It was close. Camping tonight would be tricky. Yet, the forest walk had left me feeling grounded. I wanted to linger, to savour those memories that had come alive in the forest.
But the storm was close. I drove down the range while it followed me. The dark clouds that chased me this time were at least real, and would only bring wind and rain, not sad news or loss.
I found a camp site at the foot for the range. It was small, crowded with other travellers who’d sought refuge from the rain storm that had descended. I sat in the van, listening to thunder and torrential rain beat rhythms on the roof for hours. That, and thoughts of the rain forest, lost in clouds back up the range, and the walk through memories, that was comforting.
The national Park was a delight in early 2012, it’s an unexpected surprise now. Thank you Dorrigo. Thanks for the company sis.