For our dear friends, M and I. A million thanks would not be enough.

Wrap me up in my oilskin and blanket,
No more ’round the docks I’ll be seen,
Just tell me olde shipmates,
I’m takin’ a trip mates,
and I’ll see ya some day in Fiddler’s Green.

—English nautical song

My first impression on my first trip to Western Australia was dust and unfinished roads.

We stepped outside the Perth airport and our friend, M, loaded our bags into his Mercedes-Benz. M’s otherwise elegant car was covered, caked really, in orange dust. I found this exciting, the promise of an adventure, but a comfortable one—how much trouble could one get in sitting in cream-colored leather seats? M told us we would have a two-and-a-half hour trip to the house. When I got into the backseat, the windows were smeared on the inside. M said, “Ah, don’t mind the doggie nose prints on the windows.” I knew we had several hours in the car, but I had no idea where I was going.

M is retired from the Australian Navy; we met our Australian friends, M and his wife, I, in San Diego when M was an exchange officer on Carlos’s ship. I had developed an intense fondness for M because he would whisk Carlos off for masculine adventures involving rugby and beer, but would always return him safe. M was a wonderful guitar player who would transform a party, and most notably, a wine connoisseur. But it had been years since I saw our friends.

During one of his recent ship deployments from Japan, Carlos had visited M and I at their previous home in the suburbs of Perth. He told me stories of dinner parties with urbane friends and lots of excellent wine. We knew they had since moved to the country and had a vineyard: M’s newsletters kept us up on the progress of the grapes. Due to some quirk in my husband’s personality, however, he refused to ask M more details about where exactly the new property was located. And I refused to get involved in the planning of this trip. I had fretted over the details of so many trips; this time it was Carlos’s turn. So, because of this ridiculous marital standoff, I knew only that they lived in the “country” southeast of Perth. The word “country” meant little to me. I grew up in the country in New York State, but we could be in Manhattan in two hours and at the local mall in 30 minutes. How country was country?

Track

The car rolled along, raising dust, and we would occasionally rumble onto unpaved gravel, as if all of Western Australia were unfinished (somewhat true, actually). Our car journey felt like the pleasant unraveling of civilization; we left behind the paved world and soon saw only the varieties of the genus Eucalyptus that makes Australia so unique. Carlos and M were chatting, and I sat up and made childish farm animal sounds as we passed horses and cows and sheep. The landscape started to undulate and ripen into farms and vineyards and streams. It started to look like a gourmand paradise, promising wine, meat, and cheese.

M asks me, “So, what do you want to eat while you are here?”

I don’t hesitate: “Lamb.” Soon we are in a tiny town, a town that could almost be a set for a Western, parked outside an unambiguous sign: BUTCHER.

Butcher

We are introduced to the owner (bit of local interest to have Yanks in town). I explain I must eat lamb in great quantities because I am jonesing. The crazy Japanese don’t like it, except in Hokkaido, and even there only as thin strips of meat on a Mongolian grill—I need rare lamb chops and I need them soon.

Lamb loin chops

We leave with more meat than is strictly necessary, lamb chops, Scotch fillets of beef, sausages, bones for the dogs. The shop gives a stronger sense that, despite the pioneer feel of the town, this is a land of plenty. And our dusty rumble towards Fiddler’s Green continues.

Our friends have called their property Fiddler’s Green after the old Irish? English? nautical legend. An old salt tired of seagoing walks inland with a oar over his shoulder. When he comes to a pretty village, and the people ask him what he is carrying, he will know he has found Fiddler’s Green, a lazy paradise of music and dancing maidens, grog and fragrant tobacco.

We make final turn into the driveway, which is no more than a track to the house, and I gasp at the vines, the lovely house. M says, “Be careful with the dogs, they are huge guard dogs and might attack if you aren’t very still.” I have a sick feeling in my stomach as I open the car door. But instead of huge mastiffs, two mutts—a Laurel and Hardy team of a slim, all black, Australian cattle dog mix (wagging his tail so hard he can’t walk straight) and a Jack Russell/Fox terrier mix (who pops up on his back legs in a little dance)—come dashing out to lick us into shape.

Fiddler's Green

The air is clean, the soil that strange orange color, and the birds sound bizarre, but as I hug our hostess hello, and we roll our overstuffed bags towards the house (I hope the three bottles of sake made it ok), I have a feeling of returning home.

Lunch is a buffet of wine, cheese, green onions, cured salmon, and bread. We take a nap and then have a tour of property: we learn new words like “Jarrah” (a hardwood tree that is prized for construction and furniture). M feels lucky to have some old Jarrah trees on the property. A Snottygobble tree looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. The Peppermint Tree, with its wiry, weeping branches, has leaves that smell of mint when you crush them. The Red Gum oozes a blood-red sap. A huge kangaroo leaps effortlessly over a fence and the dish ran away with the spoon. Where am I? What is this wonderful place?

Cabernet grapes

We eat grilled lamb chops, beef, and sausage with salad for dinner. We drink M’s grenache that has aged for a few months in an oak barrel. We chat chat chat, stay up very late, and then lay outside on the grass gazing at the night sky. Here away from the banal lights of civilization, the Milky Way pours forth as generously as the wine. This is indeed a land of plenty.

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