What a difference 47 years can make. That many years ago I travelled across the Hay Plain for the first time. I did it again this week, but not in January and not in an Austin A30. Pause for raised hands and sound bite of Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. This time we travelled in air-conditioned bliss and considerably faster than our old Austin had been capable of. There was no sign of the hell I remembered.
My 47 year old memory is of a dead straight road flanked by an occasional skeletal tree poking its deathly limbs into a sky as pale as an over-washed shirt. Nothing moved in the endless paddocks; not an animal or bird, neither farm vehicle nor human being. On arriving in a township – whether that was Hay, itself, I can’t recall – dehydrated, exhausted and earnestly desiring deliverance from the hellish heat, we spotted an oasis of green behind a weatherboard building. We hauled ourselves out of the car and collapsed onto the cool grass, flat out like lizards at a dripping tap.
My latest experience of Hay Plains was Paradise by comparison. Sure, I did spot a farm with ‘Hell’s Gate’ blazoned across the entrance, but it was only a blip in a landscape swathed in a purple haze of Salvation Jane, which sported regular watering holes for drifting cattle and sheep, and which provided the backdrop for many emu, kangaroo and wombat, although I admit, quite a few were road-kill. And then there was the township of Hay; neat, bustling, proud, with many shops and businesses operating from two storied heritage buildings, each one with its plaque detailing a colourful history of ownership, function and triumph over adversity.
This is not my home territory, but nevertheless I was filled with a sense of pride of place. My land, my people. I was overwhelmed, too, by a fresh appreciation that this land is yet another expression of God’s glorious provision for humanity.