Graham Reid | | 4 min read
poet William Carlos Williams had an astute and true observation about
travel: “I have discovered that most of the beauties of travel are
due to the strange hours we keep to see them.”
certainly some bleary-eyed beauty at Parramatta Park west of Sydney
as night wheeled towards a red dawn to the sound of cockatoos and
And on the way
here -- leaving a central city hotel at 4.30am -- the streets were
deserted. It sometimes seemed the sole sources of bright lights were
the surprisingly numerous McDonald’s outlets which pierced the
night with their golden arched glow.
the hour before dawn a dozen or so cold but alert figures who had
arrived at the park -- the site of the original Government House
built in the late 18th
century -- mingled in anticipation of what would follow.
paperwork done -- important waivers and orders for champagne
breakfast on our return to Lachlan‘s Restaurant at Old Government
House -- we climbed aboard a bus for another drive to a deserted
field in Baulkam Hills.
And there, as
we stood in the chill air, our hot air balloon was filled with gas
and the brightly coloured object gradually fattened enough to carry
us high above the silent suburbs with just a blast of flame and heat.
balloons are a fascinating way to appreciate a landscape. My sole
previous experience had been in the Atherton Tableland inland from
Cairns and there, drifting above clouds, orderly orchards of pruned
mango trees and on to a vista of green and brown, I was struck by the
vastness of the view.
But this flight
near Sydney is different: it is mostly over suburbs where dogs --
alerted by a high-pitched sound from the gas tank -- bark
incessantly. They wake owners who come out to shut them up but,
because they don’t look up as we drift silently overhead, can’t
figure out what has set their animals off.
And so we float
onward, around 800 feet (250m) off the ground and the streets beneath
us create their own rhythms and patterns. Some look like songlines
for white fellahs.
Over there is
an oddly shaped fan-like building (Parramatta Prison, above left), here a church
whose symbolic shape is only apparent from this height, and in the
distance a white mosque and minaret pierce a bush-clad hill.
From up here
these western suburbs look like abstract art as the camera lens
frames just a few streets or a baseball diamond.
On the distant
horizon the tower blocks of Sydney emerge above a haze of cloud.
Up here you can
see the hoarder who has a backyard full of car bodies, broken
trailers and useless junk, and the new developments which cut
hard-edged lines in the rolling hills. Or the piercing shaft of a
motorway heading towards the heart of the city in a relentless
straight corridor through the suburban sprawl.
past, and for a while there is the powerful sweet smell of a bakery.
But mostly it
is cool, odourless silence.
We drift on.
Matt our pilot takes us down so low I can reach out and touch the
tops of trees in a copse beside a stream. Herons take flight from a
golf course where sandtraps look like odd bacteria beneath a
microscope. Horses and cows below are oblivious to us until there is
a rush of gas to pull us up into low cloud again.
For an hour we
let the breath of nature take us where it will, followed by the
shadow of our airborne selves.
Matt looks for
a landing spot and calls the back-up van to meet us. We bend our
knees as the basket bumps gently to earth behind a TAFE institute.
Too-cool-for-school students pretend to pay no attention to the
bright blue and yellow object now deflating before them.
passengers leap out of the basket, help roll up the balloon and dump
it in the trailer. Then it is back for a hearty breakfast on the
Garrison Veranda at Lachlan’s.
Antoinette -- who had seen the Montgolfier brothers’ aerial
invention at Versailles around the time Australia’s first governor
was establishing his residence -- considered ballooning “the sport
of the gods”, perhaps because until then only gods could look down
on the earth from far above.
So we might perhaps add to what William Carlos Williams observed about travel: Sometimes it is the height from which we see places that reveals their beauties.
For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.
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