The first time I walked on the Cape to Cape, a 135 km coastal track here in the Margaret River region of Australia’s southwest, I felt like a curious child who is learning to read. A child that has only learnt consonants and vowels but not quite how to put them together. Illiterate, I wandered fascinated and wide-eyed in a world of colours and shapes: red bells, orange peas, blue fans, whites stars, yellow orbs. Over time, and armed with a copy of Wildflowers of Southwest Australia written by Jane Scott (and perfectly illustrated by Pat Negus), I started to build my vocabulary.
For example, one day the ubiquitous, fluffy ‘yellow orbs’ went from being ‘fluffy yellow orbs’ to being acacias and wattles. Just like that my walks became red bells, orange peas, blue fans, white stars and… Acacias.
Then I noticed that the Acacias that were knee high along the trail had leaves that looked like ivy. Another time I observed that the Acacias that lined a path near the river in Augusta had lots of small thorns. Some weeks later, on looking closer, I saw that some Acacias, the ones that were taller than me, dropped thousands on black seeds encased in a red woody ring.
Suddenly my walks were a world of red bells, orange peas, blue fans, white stars and Shark’s Tooth Wattle (Acacia littorea), Prickly Moses (Acacia pulchella) and Red-eyed Wattle (Acacia cyclops).
Last Christmas I bought a copy of Noongar Bush Medicine - Medicinal Plants of the South-West of Western Australia by Vivienne Hanson and John Horsfall. It records the various uses of plants by the traditional Noongar elders and healers of the region.
A few days ago I was walking along this enchanting coastal ridge, between Moses Rocks & Qinninup Falls, when I noticed the wattles were already starting to flower. I stopped and delightedly pointed that out to my (amused) visitor. She listened as I told her that in Noongar language these Red-eyed Wattles, or Acacia cyclops are called Woolya, and that the juice from the leaves was traditionally used to receive eczema, repel insects and protect from sunburn.
I am now like a child that has learnt to recognise lots of words and can make simple sentences. I walk along the Cape to Cape a little excited at every opportunity I get to name something; thrilled every time I recognise a word from my growing lexicon; humbled, and inspired, by the realisation that there is a lifetime of learning - and walking - ahead.