Bush Sitting is a new way to experience the environment that could be of interest to you or someone you know. Simply put, bush sitting involves finding a beautiful or interesting bush landscape, and sitting in it. How long? Well, long enough to watch the light change. That’s it. There are no moving parts in bush sitting, unless you count the Earth turning around the sun. You simply find a place to sit, and sit. You wait for the light to change. Now you’ve bush sat. Believe it or not, it can work wonders. By bush sitting, you can observe the bush in a patient, open way, which often gives the local environment a chance to become much better known to you.
Bush sitting takes its name from bush walking - in other countries it might be called hiking or tramping. Whatever the name, bushwalking involves a fair amount of leg work. I’ve had a few bushwalks that glow inside me still. Decades on, I’m thinking of the walk from Charlotte's Pass to Blue Lake in the Snowy Mountains, the Tarn Shelf Walk at Mount Field National Park in Tasmania, or getting swept up by the magic of hiking through the Budawangs in New South Wales. Such bushwalks can change you for life, and so in advocating this new way of experiencing the bush, by bush sitting, I’m not saying give up on bushwalks. By no means. But there are advantages in going to a marvellous spot in the bush, and staying there, that can’t be had by walking through it for a whole day.
I came upon the idea of bush sitting when I persuaded my father, who was a self taught artist, to take his oils and palette and portable easel, and come out with me into the bush to paint the real thing. In the process, he would give me some basic art lessons. So we packed the car and drove out to a place I am very fond of, Yankee Hat, just outside of Canberra, which offers a marvellous vista of the Brindabellas. The local Aboriginal people must have been inspired to paint at this spot, too, because there is a particular rock painting gallery not far from where we parked. We took our gear to a bright prospect looking up the valley, and set up camp for the day.
My dad grew up in a hard area in Wales, with industrial soot everywhere. To get away from the grime of a dirty old town called Swansea, dad joined the British Army. After his time drawing maps for the army in Jamaica (including the layout of Churchill’s postwar visit to Bermuda) he ended up working in factories, making aluminium wire back in Wales and, after emigrating to Australia, standing on the assembly line of a printing press in Surry Hills.
He discovered bark painting, and went to parks to surreptiously strip the paperbarks (do not do this at home!). But when he moved to the country, to run a small country store, there were no suitable paperbarks nearby, so my father went back to paint, and draw (and the melaleucas lived on).
Dad bought a new box of paints, and a couple of canvases, and began to teach himself to paint. He often copied scenes from the photos in Australasian Post, or worked from photos he took leaning out his car. He experienced the bush from these photographs, and these paintings helped him explore it.
These rural scenes made good presents. Every now and then he would sell a painting, which helped him buy new paints and new canvases. They say you have to spend 10,000 hours doing something to master a skill. He set to the task.
Inspired by the French and Australia’s own Heidelberg Impressionists, dad took up the challenge to go a little further into the bush than the roadside or carpark. I picked a place that was easy going, and we set up camp.
The two of us each started painting. My father took to his work like the professional he had become - by this time he’d gone to art school and won prizes. He was a good teacher, but I never quite got the colour eucalypt green mixed properly - it came out more as a garish lime jungle. But as the hours progressed, I realised that staying put in one place gave me a chance to really view the bush in a way that I’d never experienced it through walking. I wondered whether bush walking, at least the way I had gone about things, sometimes overlooked the sense of place.
I was anchored for several hours in one place, which was long enough to notice the light change. Artists know all about light, and the way shadows and colours shift according to the time of day. But I had never really experienced this, not in my flesh and bones - nor by looking. But by afternoon tea time the same rocky granite outcrop that overlooked the same Namadgi valley was a different scene from the one we’d come across that same morning. It was then I realised you could observe a landscape through time as well as space.
It was almost packing up time, late in the afternoon, when an eagle swept down just above our camp and circled us a few times. This eagle was only a few metres above ground level, and our plein air camp was its sole focus. Now, with its wings outstretched, it majestically - there is no other way to put it - surveyed our scene and took in what we were doing. It circled us a few times. Then it flew away, lost in the bigness of the sky. Amazing. At that moment I realised what many bird watchers know - stay in a place long enough and the bush and its many birds will trust coming closer to you. Staying put in one place can be marvellous.
If you’d like to try bush sitting, here’s a quick guide. Pick a bush place that you would like to appreciate, and find a quiet (perhaps shaded) place to sit. You can use a cushion or folded blanket placed on a comfortable log, or rock, or bring along your own fold up chair for a pozzie. Make sure you have some good sandwiches or snacks to eat, and a thermos, and get to it. Sit. Take the view in. Have another look. It won’t have changed yet, so give it another look again. Take it in. This could take some time.
Recently bush sitting in the amazing South West of Western Australia, I was confused by the thickness and mangle of the forest. After a little while, my brain stopped trying to impose form on the scene, and the scene itself started to speak to me. There might be many trees, but when I blinked, I realised there were only three main species - jarrah, banksia and grass tree. The scene transformed. The overwhelmed brain started to make sense of it. A rain cloud came over and spat 20 drops, and moved on. Invader twenty eight parrots chirped. Later that day, a number of Baudin black cockatoos came to chew on a nearby marri tree. The light moved on. I came in from my bush sit feeling a little more like the bush now breathed through me.
Bush sitting allows us to take in the regenerating qualities of the bush, without expending too much energy or bush bashing. Bush sitting could have its advantages for people with disabilities, or elderly folk unable to get around so easily. But there are advantages for able bodied people, too. Sitting stops you long enough to observe and feel the wonder of place. A rare treat in a busy world.