Last week I was out walking up the North Shore line, when I came to the bottom of a steep path suddenly, and – it all seems like a dream.
Half an hour from the city, and you leave the red red road, and turn away westward.
The path falls steeply, falls, falls, falls; all in a moment you are there. The Valley lies at your feet, the mysterious Valley, strange whispers of which have come floating to the outer world. I have often heard of the valley where everybody married everybody, but I never believed it existed. And here it lies, a wide, green, laughing place, miles wide, miles and miles long. Here and there on the hillsides, and up the valley itself, are houses; they look like homes. They rear themselves so gently, with such fronts of woodenness and peace, from luxuriant melon-slopes and orchards. Their golden smoke goes curling up through the afternoon sunlight, and you long to go in and become part of them, even as they are part of the beautiful closed-in world outside them. Low hills lie all round. The world is shut right off. You are out of everything altogether.
Here in this valley the ordinary ways of life – Australian life as we know it – cease; something foreign, something French, a trace of the Maupassant or Flaubert steals in. They do as they like here. You see two women with bare feet, diffing in dull brown dresses on a green slope. Their blue sun-bonnets are bent till the field of peas throws up an emerald background behind them. You come to a little grave with a railing round it at the bottom of an orchard. She was a daughter who died thirty years ago, but fresh flowers are in the bottle at the foot of the grave. You pass wooden cases, the lids open to show the gleaming scarlet of ripe tomatoes, or the dull amber and pink of peaches. You feel an intense, exquisite silence in the midst of work and life. You watch men picking plums, and a woman washing at a stream away on the left hill. She works as if life were all before her and yet throws an agility into her movements, and hums happily, while her little crippled son lies on the grass near. You look all along the valley and you see a cottage up the slopes, and you are told how that was the house Grandfather was born in. Fancy a grandfather being born in a land where most grandfathers belong to a prehistoric age, and are, in fact, merely conjectural! Great-Grandfather lived there. Mother, and uncles, and aunts, were born there. Everybody is related to everybody.
Is it Poe’s valley – that “greenest of our valleys by good angels tenanted,” we have stumbled into, five minutes from the station, half-an-hour from Sydney. Years ago – 90 years ago – Great-Grandfather owned the valley. Just fancy a great-grandfather! Years went on, and Grandfather married, and his children married, and cousins married cousins, but they all clung to the valley. The sons brought their wives, the daughters their husbands, and they built new houses on its sloping sides, and it began to be a hive of homes. Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, they went on marrying among themselves until relationship got lost altogether. They are all mixed up now. They don’t know what they are themselves. But they stayed on there in the Valley; and they stay there still, and one name predominates.
In the Valley they live by fruit. They rise before dawn, they dress by candle-light, they breakfast by the earliest rays of the sun. Men and women alike, they begin their picking and packing, peaches, apples, melons, tomatoes, plums and pears, and when it is half-past 10 in the morning they take a rest and sit down to their mid-day dinner of vegetables and a peach or apple pie.
They work on after that till five. Then they take their tea. And early, almost with the sunset, they go to rest – the sweet still rest of a happy valley.
The utter peace of this valley of orchards creeps into one’s soul. And these relatives live in harmony, and love each other. They go in and out of each other’s houses all day long, and at Xmas they gather in the old homestead, a stone’s-throw away. If you try to realise where you are you are lost. You cannot do it. You may not convince yourself that you are not in another world. You are in another life altogether. And again the women in brown, digging peas, flash before you, and Great-Grandfather’s cottage, the house Grandfather was born in, and away to the left, a little white place where the valley buries its dead. For they die in the happy valley. What else would you expect? They marry and intermarry, and grey mists rise from the creek where the willows shed red needles on the banks, and their roots turn yellow like sponges under the creek waters, and they die, many of them in early youth.
But in death, as in life, the valley is not divided. It does, and is buried, here among its own. It has its own little cemetery, its own pastor to bury and marry it. Fathers, mothers, little children, all who lie here belong to some one who loves them, close at hand. Over the graves grows such a luxuriance of violets that I think to see the place in spring, and the blueness thrills through my senses. Headstones of purest white mark all the graves, little and big. They quiet place is fell of flowers. A tall, white gum looks over the fence. Acacias droop silently all around. And in the winter, when the frosts come, loving hands come and lay bags across the graves – for the violets, they say – to keep the frost from the violets! And all this in a valley not half an hour from our Post Office Clock that makes the nights loud, and the electric trams that run people down in the streets like grass. If ever you want to go anywhere – anywhere out of the world – go and find my valley.
Louise Mack, “My valley“, The bulletin (6 Apr 1901): 32.