I must have been about six or seven years old when I stood up in front of my class for Show and Tell, and announced that I knew a place where Smarties grew on trees.
It was a frightening moment. For the first few years of primary school, I was so shy that my mum nicknamed me ‘Little Mouse’. Throughout Kindergarten, I’d follow my teacher around instead of playing with the other kids at lunch, wandering over imaginary expanses alone but never drifting out of her orbit.
So you can imagine how much energy it took to join in with Show and Tell. But this, this was worth telling – I’d found a life-size fairy garden, and I needed everyone else to be as excited about it as I was.
Every autumn, my family and I would drive up to Mt. Wilson, in the Blue Mountains. Mum and Dad, filming on a handheld 90s video camera. Me and Poppy, dressed in gumboots and op-shop jumpers. We’d drive along the Old Bells Line of Road. We’d stop at pick-your-own apple orchards on the way there, and at Devonshire tea houses and woodfire pizza places on the way home.
We’d always stop at Bilpin Fruit Bowl, a produce shop attached to an orchard in Bilpin. The whole place felt old-fashioned – the faded sign, the buckets of honey, the house-made apple pie, the chunky statue of a fruit bowl, which looked as if it were made of papier-mâché.
Mt. Wilson was a European grove, surrounded by bush and rainforest. It was a village of gardens and picnic grounds, linked by wide streets lined with deciduous trees. The gardens felt huge – they felt like forests. Poppy and I would scramble down mulchy banks and come out in clearings, where autumn leaves fell so thick that you could drag your feet and draw patterns on the ground. We copied things we’d seen in movies; we lay back, and used the leaves as a substitute for snow.
The colours were astounding, compared to the colours we were used to. During school holidays, every family holiday was the same: camping in the Snowy Mountains. I loved the greys of the Snowy Mountains too; I loved icicles on snow gums and understated flowers in the alpine heath.
In comparison, Mt. Wilson was so vivid. Red and gold foliage, bold against the indigo undergrowth.
Looking back, going on a daytrip to Mt. Wilson felt like going on a holiday because it was a holiday, of sorts. Mt. Wilson was a miniature of the English countryside. The drive to and from Mt. Wilson also had English or American overtones: Devonshire tea and apple pie. I never thought about where the quaint, foreign influences came from. Never thought about what Mt. Wilson would have been like before colonisation. And for that, I’m sorry.
Apple-picking was a novelty, the autumn leaves were gorgeous, but the real reason Mt. Wilson seemed magical – and yes, I know it sounds corny, but I literally mean magical – was because little rainbow chocolate drops grew in the gardens. Poppy and I thought so, at least. And so we started calling Mt. Wilson ‘the Smartie Tree’.
Of course, Mum and Dad planted the Smarties there. I never realised; my sense of wonder just faded away, melded into a sense of nostalgia.
When Mum, Poppy and I visited Mt. Wilson later, when Poppy and I were in high school, I’d walk around Mt. Wilson alone, in these quiet, almost brooding moods, but I’d have a nice time. I think I was aware of how change, even positive or necessary change, is comprised of a series of little losses.
Nothing tragic, just something a tiny bit sad. It’s strange to think that you will never perceive something the same way, or strange to me.
Mt. Wilson or ‘the Smartie Tree’ is still the first thing I think of when I think of autumn, and nostalgia.