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Mushrooms drawing - part

Once Upon a Mushroom Time

Let me take you on a trip back in time 50 years to a place a few hundred kilometres from Perth. It's a time before iPads and hard-drives, mobile phones and Facebook, even TV. A place of rolling green paddocks, healthy populations of soil engineers like bandicoots and echidnas, and billions of worms and micro-organisms, mycorrhizal fungi living below the surface.

But it's the wild macro-fungi that bring us here. The April rains have begun. In every nook and cranny of the farm, plants sprout from the earth in a burst of unbridled life-force. The chill breeze is counteracted by warming sunshine - a perfect day for mushrooming.

See the girls dressed in corduroys and thick, hand-knitted wool sweaters. One hand swinging a billycan, the other holding a small blunt knife. Squeals of delight carry across the landscape (they-re girls after all) as they race from place to place seeking their quarry. Like pearls on green velvet, hundreds of white-capped mushrooms are dotted across the paddock. The girls bend as if to kneel for a blessing, carefully severing the stems of the mushrooms from the volvas that remain buried in the soil. Watch the sisters place them in the billycan, white cap up to prevent sand spilling into their salmon-coloured, fluted gills.

As the afternoon draws in, the girls run with laden billycans back to the FJ Holden. Mum loads the precious cargo, and the girls, beanies pulled over their ears, jump onto the back of the ute for the ride home.

That evening, they eat eggs scrambled, cooked on the woodstove and served with home-made bread and lashings of home-made butter. On the hob, a pan of mushrooms braise slowly in rich butter. Outside, the wind howls, rain hammers down on the tin roof. Inside though, the house is warm, smelling of laughter, of love. That this annual expedition of mushrooming may cease to be is far from their imaginings. As the girls grow into women, they remember the unrivalled pleasure of eating fresh-picked, aromatic mushrooms sautéed in butter.

Like many stories these days though, there's no happy ending. Widespread clearing, agricultural monocultures, burning off, herbicides and pesticides, overworking the land - WA's partiality for growth (aka exploitation) has failed to take account of sustainable practices and a long-term view of the economy.

Nowadays, we buy our mushrooms grown and processed on an assembly line. And when I hold them in my hand, lift them to my nose and inhale their aroma, when I take that first bite, they just don't seem the same.

Karen Atkinson        
Denmark, WA       Mushrooms drawing