More goldtops

That was the autumn of the goldtops; but none of my subsequent experiences with mushrooms was as intense or as revelatory as the first. There was a gradual diminution of the power of the intoxication, unarrested by a steady increase in the dosage. I found I needed to eat two or three or four to feel even mildly stoned and, eventually, reached a point where the amount I ingested began to make me feel ill before any sensory or psychic alterations took place. Regretfully, one day I gathered up all those that remained in my favourite field by the clay pans, took them home, put them in a blue glass flask with crenellations all round the bulb, and filled it with vodka: this, my friend assured me, would provide a stimulating drink in a few months time, when my rapidly acquired tolerance for the drug had faded and I could once more appreciate the reiterated mysteries of psilocybin.

Nevertheless, during those few weeks I walked all over the local landscape, and found many wonders: a shelf of grey sandstone overlooking the Hawkesbury, where the outlines of dolphins and turtles and whales had been pecked into the rock, which I have never found again; a fish—probably a taylor, or kahawai—similarly pecked into the rock at the entrance to a dry cave high up in the cliffs at the southern end of the beach; the sunfish I found another day on the furtherest seaward edge of the great tessellated shield which, bisected by the Patonga Road, stretches across the top of the ridge near the Trig Station.

My favourite carving was one of a man on a flat shelf of sandstone on the way to Flathead Beach, a small cove around the rocks from Pearl Beach. This man has a crescent shaped headdress; he lies on the rock with his arms and legs outspread, a spear in one hand, fish in his armpits and another between his thighs, just below the end of his pecked pecker. Long lines in the rock emanate from these fish, one pointing up towards the mouth of the great mangroved and islanded estuary of Brisbane Water, the other out to the rocky tip of Lion Island: surely two very rich fishing grounds. There is also, another friend told me, an image of a wallaby carved next to where the man’s spear point is, but I have never been able to see more than a few vague lines there.

It was as if, when I was on psilocybin, some veil drew back and I saw further and more than I ever would have seen straight; or that the richly inscribed landscape of that place could only be read by one whose gaze was untrammeled by day-to-day concerns; but whether this drawn-back veil was in my mind or a distinct quality of the land itself was never clear to me. All I knew was that a characteristic of these rock engravings is that they are sometimes as clear as the lines on the palm of your hand and sometimes not just inscrutable but well-nigh invisible.

Some of this has to do with natural conditions of course: whether it has been raining or not, whether it is morning, noon or night, overcast or sunny, the way the light falls at different hours of the day. The best time for seeing rock carvings is early or late on a sunny day, when the slanting light picks out their shapes; or, alternatively, on an overcast day after rain, when the freshly watered grooves gleam under a white sky. That said, there are still times when viewing conditions are ideal and yet the images will not appear, seeming to have withdrawn themselves into the rocks, as shy as some wild creature, reticent as a child, perhaps, or cunning like some ancient gnome.

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