11.3.3 Sacred bush
The great Australian holiday everybody knows is set against the sea but bushwalkers understand that the beach is not the only Australia worth knowing. Not to love the ocean is almost unpatriotic and the first breaking wave we ride is one of the rites of passage of most childhoods. But Australia does not have a monopoly on sand and surf.

For a uniquely Australian experience you need to turn away from the beach and walk into the bush, where the environment is like nothing else on earth. Walkers know that while the bush is hard work, especially in the heat of summer, their experience is as close as we can get to the way indigenous Australians crossed the landscape for millenniums.
Sit quietly under a giant gum in a forest valley, look up at the sandstone walls of the surrounding cliffs, as harshly red as the sky above is starkly blue and you can look at a vista that has not changed for thousands of years.
It does not take an especially spiritual nature to find a sense of the sacred in the bush. Paul Hasluck, writer and governor-general, would play tapes of Palestrina in the bush, letting the music blend with the bird calls and the wind in the trees. "The sound belongs to the setting. The setting enhances the sound," he wrote.
Hasluck knew how to connect his Western spirit to our unforgiving land, which reminds us with every summer's heat and each decade's drought that we are only here on sufferance - and find majesty in a landscape that will only be loved on its own terms.
Few of us will ever connect with Australia, not the landscape we have made in our own image, but the real Australia the Aborigines reached their peace with millenniums ago. Some explorers and stockmen understood the bush was not for taming from the start. But generations of European Australians saw the bush as a crippled version of European forest and saw gums as less beautiful than oaks and elms.
But bushwalkers are the heirs to the men and women who saw the bush for what it is - less hostile than indifferent to us. Bushwalkers know how easily it can swallow them up in a vastness, wearing them down with heat and exertion on walks in country just hours by car from city high-rise. Bushwalkers can imagine what Australia was like before settler society started to remake the landscape.
Bushwalking has probably generated a far greater love of the land among Australians than all the Greens' reflexive raging against development.
Walking in the bush, not down a fire trail or country road, but a path cut through the forest, shows how the bush is resilient and can withstand everything thrown at it - except us. Even the tread of hiking boots down the decades changes the landscape.
Bush tracks wind back to spiritual core
By Stephen Matchett
December 30, 2003