Bandung to Bali ii – Tree Island and the Spiders – 6 January 1973

Matt and the Spiders

Matt and the Spiders of Tree Island

Dad wakes us up for breakfast and tells us we have a new baby brother and we can go and see him soon. Dad grins as if he is really excited.

“Another boy!” I can’t believe it. Weeties crackle tastelessly in my mouth. This means a whole new plan.

Matt says we should take off to Tree Island. The sun, still low, flicks shafts of light through the dull canopy of the gumtree at the end of the garden. I put my white and pink polkadot dress on – it is not an outside dress but it is cool and light.

We pull on gumboots, but no socks, and crunch across the lawn, over the low fence and through the open gateway, dust flies up softly and settles like suede onto our black boots.

We jump over the damp septic outfall which marks a green stripe against the dry strands of paddock grass. Beads of sticky sap glimmer on a small gaping family of bright green fly catchers. Matt bends down to stick small bits of leaves in their traps to watch them shut.

A path pressed down by cattle between the grassed hollows at the far end or the paddock and the water trough at the top, leads us down to the black stump. (It was just a stump of a long dead ringbarked giant but Matt set fire to it last summer so now it’s the black stump.)

We have to straddle the bottom fence with its tight barbed wire. The boys go over the top – I go through the strands and scratch my leg.

Tree Island sits dark and quiet in a flat square in the centre of a paddock which rises gently up onto Heany Park Rd. The island marks a rare clump of ironbarks in an otherwise bare patchwork of grassy paddocks.

As is customary, Matt and Tony find sticks to poke and prod at the ground and (they imagine) to ward off snakes.

The envelope of trees dampens sound and the air, although close and still, is cooler than the open paddocks which start to glisten and break into a watery haze under a resolute sun.

“Come and look Chas,” Matt calls as he deftly hits at a tree – the tough, rippled bark thuds softly – wood against wood.

“Come and look at what I’ve found!” he urges again.

I come as close as I can to follow Matt’s earnest gaze along the trunk, perhaps for a millipede or a chrysalis.

“Look Chas, look in here,” Matt moves quickly and entices me still closer as he deftly pulls back a great strip of the outer bark.

The bark frays into thick red fibres along the tear and reveals the pale underbelly of the tree with its mighty spider nest.

A hundred huntsmen startle awake at once and leap and dart – legs flexing and bodies outstretched – a dozen great soft grey bodies deftly leap and hang weightless on the smooth white and pink polka dot fabric. There are babies too – light and pale clambering and springing on their threadlike legs.

Tony can’t speak – he is running and stamping and laughing so hard.

Matt is in a riot – he wriggles and jumps to get a big huntsman off his arm, “Your face Chas! That was ace.”

I brush the last of the spiders off my dress – they can get no purchase on the silky material – a little pool of bodies now swims and scrambles about at our feet.

We giggle and jiggle all the way home as sweat trickles down the back of my legs like tiny spiders in my boots.


3 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali ii – Tree Island and the Spiders – 6 January 1973

    • Hi LB -although huntsman spiders are quite big and hairy – they are actually very benign and kindly. I’ve always been a respecter of spiders although encountering a great nest of them & finding one inside a shirt one day etc – although they don’t really scare me – did take the wind out of me a bit. Memorable at least! Like all creatures I’m now worried I don’t see spiders as much as I used to. Huntsmen are also great barometers as they usually only come inside just before heavy rain or storms.


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