P1 gazed around the car park offering plenty of parking spaces. ‘It’s always empty. Every time I’ve been here, it’s been empty.’
We’d gathered in the Morialta car park; my husband, his brother (P1 from the K-Team adventures), their cousin from Switzerland, and me. The K-Team planned to hike through this Adelaide Hills gorge and show P2’s sister the sights. They hoped to see some kangaroos and koalas.
‘Actually, last time we came, it was like Rundle Mall on Christmas Eve, everyone and their mother were walking and jogging here,’ I said.
My husband adjusted his pack. ‘Ready to hike to the third falls?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s too hot. It’s 35 degrees Celsius. We should just walk on level ground and in shade to the first falls.’
‘It’s not too hot,’ P1 said. ‘Let’s go.’
‘Well, I’m staying here to paint.’
My husband rolled his eyes. ‘What a piker!’
The K-trio marched up the hill, and as they blended with the dark trunks of acacia and wattle trees, I settled under a small gum tree and pulled out my sketch pad. The creek gurgled below, over sandy-white stones, past an ancient cliff-face; remnants of rising rapids of ages past that had carved its way through the landscape.
How the waters cut the stone in one direction? I don’t know, I just sketch it. Sketching with my faithful 4B pencil, working out the composition, the tones, light and shade.
My mind wanders back to childhood. That’s what my mind does while I sketch and paint. Many times in my life I’ve visited this place. Memories, lots of them. Good memories. Blackberrying with Mum, Dad and my brother. Truth be told, Mum and Dad picked the berries and my brother and I fished for yabbies (fresh-water shrimp). I recall breathing in the scent of liquorice plant as we hack our way through the path tangled with prickly blackberry bushes. My earliest memory, hiking up the path, the K-Team had just ventured up—up over the ridge; the first falls barely visible, second and third falls and the creek in between accessible only by bush-bashing. Dad and Mum picked berries while my brother and I, with our sieves, fished for yabbies and tadpoles. Once caught, we placed them in our glass jars to take home as pets. I liked to watch my tadpoles slowly turn into frogs, if they didn’t die or get eaten by our cats first.
My brother brought home a yabby one time. He placed it in a metal bowl in the back yard by the Geraldton-wax bush. That particular yabby had a habit of escaping. I don’t think it liked its metal bowl too much. Understandable, since my brother would forget about it and often when I went to inspect the yabby, it’s bowl was dry with a few bits of algae stuck to the bottom. Then, there were the cats. Somehow, the yabby ended up in my brother’s room. A mystery how it got there.
When it disappeared, yet again, and months passed without sighting it, we assumed the yabby had died or been eaten by the cats. Then, one spring morning, when fossicking in the back yard, I turned over the bowl. Underneath, I found the yabby, half buried in the mud, and doing back-stroke to escape from me.
Back to the present and time to paint the scene in watercolour. I stare at the white cotton 300gsm watercolour paper. I look up. The scene’s over-exposed, the hill’s blue rather than blue-green, the sky’s white, the trunks blue-grey, and the cliff a soft mauve. I blink and my eyes adjust and I begin with my wash, cobalt blue for sky, lemon yellow for hills and grass, stripes of white for eucalypt trees, crimson rose for the cliff. The washes dry quickly in the heat.
Layer upon layer, the colours build and blend. I’m in the zone. A soft breeze keeps me cool. Ants swarm over my paint palette hunting for moisture. They wander around and then away, disappointed. I shift a few centimetres to avoid them crawling up my leg.
I stop and study the work.
A couple approach me. ‘May we have a look?’
I show them.
They nod. ‘Mmm! Very good.’
‘Have a nice day,’ they say and walk away.
I check my phone. Two and a half hours, gone, just like that. The K-Team haven’t returned. Do I wait? My husband can come home with his brother. We’d discussed this arrangement before they left on their jaunt. It’s a three-hour-return walk to the third falls, so they could be some time yet.
No more fiddling, I decide. I pack up my paints, read twenty minutes in the cool shade of a leafy gum tree, and then, with no sign of the K-Team, I drive home.
My husband arrived home an hour later, raving about sighting kangaroos and a baby koala. The K-Team were unimpressed by the third falls. I could’ve told them they would be.
I showed him my painting. He smiled, nodded and seemed pleased with it. And I was glad I spent the afternoon with my memories of Morialta and painting plein air*.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Painting: Morialta Creek en Plein Air* © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
(*En Plein Air is the French term meaning “outdoors”.