LATE JULY 1923, Newdegate district, Western Australia. It is not a sublime landscape, but beauty may yet be found in its intricate, fragile detail. The slender trunks of the merrit mallees glow pink in the light of the rising sun. Yellow-throated miners chase noisily in the upper branches, watched keenly by a brown goshawk in a nearby salmon gum. Below, between the melaleucas, a mallee fowl scratching in the sand finds a legless lizard and devours it in two gulps. Giant ants crawl busily around sandalwood stumps and emus drink from a shallow pool on a flat granite outcrop. A rabbit pauses beside a ti-tree not yet in flower, sits upright and delicately cleans its nose with its paws, much like a cat.
As the sun rises, the aroma of wood smoke and frying bacon mingles with the subtle scent of the eucalyptus and melaleuca. Soon the noise of axe biting into wood joins the chatter of the miners, the thumping of the buck rabbits. This is a landscape already bearing the imprint of colonisation, but about to undergo a more visibly dramatic transformation as government policy and popular aspirations together mobilise an army of settlers to eat away at the ‘wilderness’.
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