Tuesday 29 October 2013

The Awakening

He didn't notice at first. It started six years ago, the long slow process that entered his consciousness, like a drip from a leaking tap, constantly in the background until something focuses the mind to its existence.

She was like that, constantly in the background, not intruding on his life, for the feeling at first was one of  ambivalence, the satisfaction of good conversation  once or twice a week but no more.  At first the pages in the book were mostly empty, only words, the sentences not constructed, the story not formed.  The life spark was almost inconceivable but the awaking had begun back then.  His life up until then had mostly been unremarkable.  The years after youth had gradually sapped the enjoyment of living.  Routine and predictability had replaced opportunity and spontaneity.

It started like most: marriage, kids, mortgage but mediocracy and failures followed.  No one's fault, every one's fault, who knows.  In the end it didn't matter, life was meandering towards its inevitable conclusion, the river was running dry. Meaning to what? Then...  from the deep void she entered.

 The words started to arrange themselves.  The faint glow of enlightenment pervaded the darkness.

Contact became more frequent as the days, weeks and years passed by.  Similarities became more stark too: innate intelligence, insecurities, ways of perception, stubbornness, the laughter, the smiles, the sadness, all manner of things created the glue of bondage.  The words were making sentences.
Long discussions on important topics of no consequence flourished as the story developed. It wasn't significant as the need to be together strengthened to the point that nothing else really mattered for life was now two on a blank canvas waiting to paint the final landscape together.

Is the story complete?  No, but the journey...  He can't wait to find out.

Nearing The End

The old man was finding it difficult.  The sun was strong and unrelenting and it made him stop and pause frequently.  His back ached, a reminder of the time things were easier working in the field.  A time he could work all day and feel nothing other than the satisfaction of taming the land to feed his family.  Those days had long gone and the arrival of his eightieth year was being etched on his mind with every jerking movement of the plough. 

Oh how he wished he didn't have to do this anymore.  Life had not been kind, his wife Betty  and child Tam had died many years before, during the year of the Spanish flu.  He was spared and the bitterness had stayed with him all those years.  "For what?” he had asked himself countless times.  “To work like a slave on the land;  to exist without a reason and  live on in despair until the Grim Reaper came to get me as well.”  

Memories now flooded his mind; the promises of  youth, a wife and children with future prosperity.  He could see them now, even fifty years later, his young son swinging on the branch of the old quince tree, his wife looking so beautiful, tending the vegetable patch she loved so dearly.  She always loved to watch things grow, his son and the plants, so the farm was a gift from heaven as far as she was concerned.  Heaven had claimed her in her twenty eighth year.  

How grand the plans had been; work hard and stay focused on the promises the future would bring.  Only one problem, it never did, never arrived.  Death and poverty had haunted him all his life.  

He sat down underneath the old blue Gum.  The sun was now pounding his head into confusion.  Sweat covered the grey pallid look on his face.  How could something so beautiful have gone so wrong?  His heart told him it was now near.  He looked up at the vivid blue cloudless sky and saw the future looking back.  A flicker of a smile appeared through the tears as he looked skyward.  "Betty my darling, oh how I have waited so long for you."  He closed his eyes for the last time.  Release had arrived.  

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Trip of Discovery

Kevin leaned heavily against the bus window as he watched the passing country mould into a kaleidoscope of pastel colours as the sunset approached.  Although his hair was thinning and grey, he was still fit and alert for a man approaching old age, but on that day his mind was a thousand miles away thinking about the reasons he was on this trip of discovery.  A rye grin crossed his face when he used those words -  “Trip Of Discovery”.   “Very melodramatic,” he thought, but at the same time the most apt way to describe it .

This of course had started a long time ago, not in a physical sense, but in the mind. His earliest memories, the occasional spasmodic flash back: a warm caring face, a soft hand, the sounds of a lullaby, still played with his inner soul.  None of it coherent, just there, always there in the back ground, occasionally resurfacing only to  re-submerge into the deep recesses of the mind,  nothing more, nothing less.

Kevin was born in a place he had not set foot in since his adoption over 60 years ago.  A small town called Lightning Ridge. He had recently received the letter from the government department giving the details he had wanted for most of his adult life but had been too afraid to find out. He didn't build up the courage to find out the truth until retirement .  After 40 years working first for a publishing company, then owning one, he felt less than satisfied with his life. In all those years he never married, never even got close.  In fact he found it hard to form any sort of relationship with the opposite sex.  Women scared him or perhaps more accurately the idea of spending his live together with one did.  He visited his adoptive parents frequently especially in their later years; more through a sense of duty  than love. Even with them there was no deep feeling of human closeness;  they did their best and he appreciated that. 

The dense thick forests of eucalyptus started to thin out and were gradually replaced with sparse Mallee as the bus motored on towards the semi arid desert town.

The morning sunlight reflected back off the seat in front of Kevin as he tried to focus his eyes. Stiff and tired he sat upright and looked outside .  The bus slowed as it entered the outback township of Lightning Ridge. 

The small town of Lightning Ridge is famous for its Black Opal.  It is mined in the surrounding country by digging deep shafts down to the soft limestone and extracting the milky potash that contain the sort after brightly multi-coloured gem stone.  Good opal comes alive when the sunlight strikes it at the right angle and there was some of the best in the world to found here. Not that you could tell by looking at this old dusty decrepit outback town. The place had an air of unkept chaos and the  main street  was in poor repair with large irregular pot holes everywhere some filled with bull dust. The overall feeling was of a  ramshackle collection of ill-constructed buildings in disarray. Miners or those who catered for them seemed to go about their business completely oblivious to the state of their environment.  This was a working town, no leeway given to aesthetics.

Kevin looked around in dismay as depression set in “How could this be?”  His imagination had convinced him he would feel like he was returning home; the place of his birth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It was completely alien to him from his city life.  A tight knot gripped his stomach; deflated, he stooped down and sat on the bench across from the bus station, his head in his hands trying not to think. 

The morning passed slowly.  There wasn’t much activity in town, this being a Sunday.  He sat there listless until reluctantly he dragged himself off to find a place to stay. 

“The Final Rest Hotel seems quite appropriate,” he thought to himself. 

The room was old but adequate for his needs.  Kevin flopped down onto the bed and closed his eyes. “What am I doing here?” He shouted out aloud. Tears slid off his ashen cheeks and rolled silently onto the well-worn sheets.

The death certificate for both his parents were issued on the same day some 60 years before. The details were scant - cause of death unnatural . “What does that mean?”  He had asked himself a thousand times.  There was so many unanswered questions.  Why did Molly and John, his parents, came here in the first place?  What were they doing here?  How was it they died on the same day in the same way?  Kevin’s mind was a whirlpool of activity  until eventually that evening he fell into a restless sleep, tossing and turning, continuing to look for answers.

Black Opal ( Geology.com)

The next morning he awoke with a start. The sunlight streamed through the dirty window, just like the day before in the bus, but this time without air conditioning.  It was  much more stifling and he lay in a pool of sweat.  The previous night's depression had vanished with the promise of what  the new day might bring though as he lifted his head to get up, it felt like the morning after a heavy night's drinking, cloudy and sluggish.  A long cold shower did not help a lot, but the thought of finding out what he needed to know from the local library and after, getting on a bus to anywhere far away from this god forsaken town brightened his mood somewhat.

Storm approaching Lightning Ridge

After breakfast, a typical country bacon, eggs and sausage affair, he chose to go for a short  walk through to the other side of town while he waited for the Public Library to open. 
His first impressions of Lightning Ridge had not dissipated.  He could not imagine parents of his ever living here.

After 20 minutes, he came upon a small open area close to a prominent limestone outcrop. The place was obviously used by the locals a lot as it was littered with assorted rubbish: plastic bags, KFC boxes, coke cans etc.  He sat down on an old wooden bench as he heard the far off rumble of thunder.  Staring into space he did not notice at first the young oddly dressed man sitting down next to him.  When his presence finally reached his consciousness, he was not startled but more intrigued or maybe puzzled by his appearance.  This man wore clothing that did not seem appropriate even for this place.  A pair of denim jeans hang loosely over his legs showing no cut nor form.  His shirt had no collar but was buttoned a third of the way down the front.  He wore an old fashion grey vest  that only provided a small pocket for a fob watch. The hair on his head was short back and sides in the old style and he displayed an unkept jet black beard. By his looks he would have been much older than 30 years old but for a light complexion.

The rumble continued in the distance as the man spoke.  “Hope you don’t mind if I sit here next to you. I don’t get the opportunity to speak to many people these days.” 
"Of course not,” replied Kevin. "I’m only killing time until the library opens. 
“Your’e not from these parts are you?” quizzed the man. 
“No I’m not.  Only here for a few days.”  Kevin’s mood lifted a little. “In fact I am looking for some information.”   Kevin almost felt compelled  to tell this stranger the reason for being there. 
“People around here call me Jack.” 
“Pleased to meet you, Jack.  My name is Kevin.  Come from around these parts, Jack?” enquired Kevin. 
Jack looked at the distant thunder storm for a moment or two before he spoke. “I was born in Sydney but have been here a long long time. I was a miner but... not now. I kind of do a little bit of this and a little bit of that to get by.” 

A sudden roll of thunder announced the  storm was getting closer.  Jack appeared lost in thought as Kevin looked on. The sky lit up and Jack's eyes reflected the brilliant flash of light that permeated the increasingly darkening sky.  Kevin took a deep breath. 

“I suppose you haven’t heard about a couple who died here around 60 years ago in unusual circumstances,” Kevin immediately felt foolish asking. 

Jack didn’t  reply at first but continued to look into the distance towards the impending deluge. “Yes, I know the story.  Everyone does.”  He paused for what seemed like an eternity.  Kevin sat there transfixed on Jacks lips.  “The couple lived not far from here in a small wooden shack on the out skirts of town.  They had both come up from Sydney like a lot those days looking for a better life.  From what I heard the man had been a lot keener on the idea than his wife.  Even in the early days she struggled with the place and its people. You see she was from a well-to-do family and had gone to university, a rare thing for a woman to do those days.  Strictly brought up she was not overly endowed with natural beauty, but had a pleasant enough face and a kind, caring disposition.  She had met her husband in a department store, David Jones, where he had been working as a shop assistant since leaving school at the age of 15.  First impressions was of a striking figure of a man, tall and athletic, brash, charming, not too articulate, but possessed the gift of the gab. “Could sell ice cream to the Eskimos,” his work colleagues would often be heard saying as they watched the way he wooed his customers.    

An outsider observing the two together for the first time would conclude they had little in common, but love is a funny thing. He made her laugh with his carefree don’t-give-a-hoot- what-others-thought attitude.  She paid him attention, when others thought him too much of a show off.  He loved that in her.

One thing led to another and she fell pregnant.  Parents upset, embarrassed, but the scandal was quickly contained by a simple ceremony in the local Methodist church. 
John had come up with the idea of going to Lightning Ridge just before his young son was born after talking to a customer who had made a fortune mining in Lightning Ridge.  Over the next few weeks, he needed all his selling skills to convince Molly to give it a go.  Finally after much soul searching, she reluctantly agreed as long as if he struck it rich they would return to the city. 

Miners in Lightning Ridge 1910

Photo LR Historical Society

The baby arrived at the local Lightning Ridge General hospital in mid summer on one of the hottest years on record, making the place even more dusty and depressing as usual.  Of course this didn’t deter John one little bit; his optimism rose almost as fast as Mollie’s hope for the future evaporated.  John was different, he immediately felt  free from the constraints of the city and his old job and looked forward to this great exciting adventure.  Mollie’s  immediate reaction - a prisoner facing many years in jail, release so far away it was pointless even thinking about it.  She often looked into the baby's eyes and shed a tear. 

“So, that is how it started,” Jack sighed and looked up at the threatening sky that refused to arrive. 

John built a small but serviceable shack for his family before he staked his claim on an area just outside the main diggings.   It took Molly the best part of the first year to feel more agreeable with her situation, however she never really accepted it completely.  She kept herself busy looking after the baby and performing the domestic duties as they were.  
In the first year, they really struggled to make ends meet.  Finding quality black opal was elusive with only occasional low quality fragments that paid for some of the bills.  The second year wasn’t much better.  Molly became more depressed and started to fantasize a lot about her previous life back in the comfort of her parent’s Sydney home; the lush green garden with its eclectic array of coloured flowers greeted her every morning as she flung open the French doors of her bedroom that led onto the wide open verandah.   There on the elegant cast iron table lay her breakfast, beautifully prepared by her mother ready to be consumed in this seemingly blissful scene.  Only a dream to help disguise the reality.

John on the other hand never gave a thought to his previous life.  He lived on Opal fever; still he was aware  his wife was approaching the end of her tether.  Day after day he toiled down his shaft, breaking his back looking for that elusive breakthrough, always the next day, the next day he told himself.  He so wanted her to be proud of him and not regret being married.

One early December morning, close to Christmas after starting a new horizontal cut, he was breaking away some loose rock with his hand pick when all of a sudden an irregular clump of material broke away from the rock wall into his outstretched fingers.  At first he could not quite grasp the significance of the moment; the eyes couldn’t convey - nay comprehend the message being sent to his brain.  In the palm of his hand lay a piece of indescribable sparkling brilliance  the earth had just given up after many millions of years.   Black opal.  The size and quality would mean they would not have to worry about money for many a year. Tears swelled up in his eyes and flowed down his cheeks as if the taps of life had opened up to wash away all the pain and suffering endured since their arrival.

He could barely contain himself as he bolted back to the shack to share the excitement of the discovery.  Molly was in shock and cried with happiness at the prospect of finally going home.  To celebrate, John, Molly and the baby held in their arms danced a little jig around their one and only room.  As they swirled and twirled John whispered into her ear, “Oh my dear, I told you I could do it.” 

“ Yes, you were true to your word.  I love you dearly,” she stated through the sparkle in her eyes. 

Late that afternoon John decided to look for the Opal buyer who came to town 3 days a week.  He knew he could find him in one of the many local pubs where miners could be found spending most if not all of their hard-earned pay.  Drinking was a massive problem here, for lack of other entertainment it was the favourite pastime and you frequently came across men inebriated, lying or staggering in the streets. 

John found what he was looking for in the Diggers Rest, Marty was sitting at a table surrounded by an army of miners playing Black Jack.  He was a supremely confident man who didn’t suffer fools gladly, a tough negotiator but fair.  His eyes broke away from the game for a second and noticed John standing next to the door.  “Oh Johnny boy, long time no see, come and join us,” he barked out. 

John without thinking obey the order and sat down. “Just a quick game and a drink, then I must be getting back.” 

The storm had changed direction again and was now closing in.  Jack sat there, eyes transfixed on the sky and said, “Well as you probable have guessed, the one drink turned into two, two into three into four  and with it the judgment of when to give up.” 

The card game turned into his worst nightmare. The loses started to pile up.  At first he thought he could manage it by continuing to play until his luck changed.  After all, he had found the black opal that day; surely the gods were on his side. The alcohol dulled the reality until it was too late.  Midnight and time to pay up.  The only thing of value he had of course was the stone.

Defeated he staggered unevenly home, stopping every so often trying to gather his thoughts. In between the mist of intoxication and clarity, lay the sickening feeling of despair.  His muddled thinking tried to explain away the lose as just one of those things.  He would find another stone, he said to himself, there must be more awaiting him deep in the bowels of his pit. 

As he approached the shack he could make out the silhouette of his wife, sitting silently on the porch. She instinctively knew something was wrong, one look at his eyes had told the whole story. 

A wail pierced the quiet of the night, she was beside herself, head bend low between her knees.  “How could you do such a thing. This meant everything to us,” she screamed at him. “Ohhhh my life is a mess. I can’t stand it, and you.” 
“Oh, pleeese my dearessst... I’ll do my best to make amends,”  he slurred.

He flopped onto the ground, dejected. A distant rumble signified a thunderstorm developing.
Molly's rage did not subside, she paced erratically around the room, picking up her son who was now crying.  Her eyes glowing with resentment.  John stood up and hobbled inside, opening his arms in a feeble attempt to comfort her.

“Don’t you dare come near me,” she screamed as she dodged his advances.  ”Keep away I say, never ever come near me again.”  

John made another clumsy effort to make peace.
Molly was having nothing of it.  She pushed him away violently.  He lurched back and collapsed into a chair.  Tears streamed down her face as she made it to the door running off with the baby clutched tightly in her arms.

John got up unsteadily and went after her. “Molly, my dear, don’t be silly.  I’ll do anything to make up for it.  Come back, come back,” he pleaded.

Molly didn’t know where she was going and didn’t care.  She would not spend another moment with that man in that shack.  Rain started to beat down and soon covered her tears. She started to climb a ridge as the baby continued to cry softly.  Placing his head close to her bosom to keep him warm, she whispered into his tiny ear, "You’re the only one I have left in my life.” 

The storm intensified, the rain now lashing down in sheets.  She became more and more confused and disorientated.  John stumbled on into the gloom looking for her.  He had no idea where she had gone when all of a sudden a tremendous bolt of lightning lit up the countryside like a Roman candle and there near the top of a ridge, he caught sight of her scrambling over some rocks.  With renewed energy, he darted up the adjoining rock face to cut her off. Turning around an outcrop he saw her outline, she was no more than 30 metres away.  Then.......................

Jack wiped away a tear of his own as the first few spots of rain brushed against his well weathered face.
“You ok?” asked Kevin. 
“Yes of course, just a speck of dust in my eye,” Jack replied curtly. 

She turned around, their eyes met for the last time.  Long last cry of anguish.  A moment forever frozen in time as a  lightening bolt brought her life to an abrupt end.  Stunned and shocked, he lay flat on his back having been thrown off his feet by the blast.  He gathered his wits and raced towards that unimaginable scene. “Oh my lord, what have I done?”  

Mine shafts Lightning Ridge

“But you see,” Jack stammering with now watering eyes. “A miracle occurred. The baby some how survived unharmed.”

John was numb.  He collected his son from the charred arms of his wife who was still protecting him even in death and started walking back slowly unable to think clearly.  The storm had cleared and with it the full moon and its companion stars filled the sky with an eerie translucent light to show the way.

The two men on the park bench had not noticed the passing of the storm.  It had been threatening all morning but just as it seemed the heavens would open up, it dissipated. 

Kevin, with tears now flooding down his face looked at Jack and murmured, “What happened to John?”

The first light of the new day was breaking when John delivered his son to a local neighbour asking them to look after him for a few hours while as he had to attend to an accident his wife had had.  By mid afternoon, the neighbour had became concerned when he did not return and contacted the police. They were aware of Molly's death as she had been found by some kids on their way to school, however they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of John.

A search that afternoon unearthed nothing. It wasn’t until the end of the second day that John’s body was discovered down the bottom of his own miner’s shaft with a broken neck.  No one knew for sure whether it was an accident or suicide. In the end it didn't matter.  Both of the parents were dead.   

“You know the rest of the story, Kevin.” 
Kevin’s jaw dropped.  “How did you know it was me?”
“ I just knew, call it intuition.” 

There was a long pause as both men were lost in deep thought. Jack pulled out his fob watch and looked at the time.  “The Library is open now.  I must be getting on.  Pleased to have met you.  Your’e a good man, Kevin and I hope you find what you have been looking for.” 

Maybe it was the tears in Kevin’s eyes that obscured his vision, but as he looked up Jack was no longer there. 

Kevin walked towards the library with mixed emotions. The story had laid out a chapter of his life he had always wanted to know, nevertheless a deep sadness remained. The Pandoras box was open. What would his life have been like if it was Molly and John who had brought him up?  Would he be the same person?  He felt for both of his parents even though they seemed to be very different people.  He didn't blame his father for what he had done, loosing the gemstone the way he did.  All men have weakness and he was convinced that in similar circumstances he might have met the same fate.  He was also sure that his mother deep down had loved his father or else she wouldn’t have followed him to Lightning Ridge.  The sheer disappointment of not being able to return to Sydney had exasperated her reaction to the news and had driven her over the edge.  It was a greek tragedy in the full sense; two needless deaths and a small boy who never got to know his parents.

The library was one of the better buildings in town, built at the beginning of the nineteenth century out of  white sandstone imported from elsewhere in the state.  It stood out amongst the others in the street by its relative grander, exhibiting fake roman pillars either side of an arched doorway. The relationship to ancient Rome didn’t extend to the interior of the building though; drab and disorganised in keeping with the rest of the town.  The librarian was helpful and assisted Kevin in finding the newspaper article that appeared the week after his parent’s death.  And there in front of his eyes were Molly and John.  He  first scanned the photo of his mother; a wave of anxiety encapsulated his body as he fought to control the emotions exploding within. 

Then the father... Kevin froze, the colour drained from his face.

Monday 21 October 2013

Canunda National Park and the Coorong

The inspiration for writing " The Land only knows " came to me while Lili and I were walking along the coast line in South East of South Australia during our last holiday May 2013.
This part of the world is predominately volcanic limestone country with underlying aquifers.
The Australian aborigines lived close to the sea here for many thousands of years and even today you can still find evidence of occupation in the middens ( large areas of discarded  sea shells, in some places many metres deep) that are found in the local sand-hills.
Closer to Adelaide the limestone outcrops are replaced with a much larger network of sand dunes that separate the sea and a body of semi fresh water from the Murray River.
To the aborigines it's know as the Coorong and is a World Heritage site of significance because of the vast numbers of migrant birds that frequent the area during the Northern Hemispheres winter.
Southern Reaches of the Coorong
Mr Percival and friends

Salt creek Coorong

 Inland water ways of the Coorong

The 12 Hour Wedding

I have something to confess. In the past year or so, I have attended over thirty wedding receptions. Yes, my dear reader, I’m a wedding junky. Although 'attend' may be stretching the truth a tad, as all but one were involuntary. Let me explain. 

I live across the road from the local Girl Guide hall. “How wonderful.“ I hear you say with images of young ladies in beautiful freshly pressed uniforms going about their scouting business of learning to tie knots and put up tents etc., but alas in all the time I’ve been here I’ve never seen one nor heard a single 'dyb dyb: do your best.'

The only function for this magnificent hall appears to be the occasional badminton game and more than infrequent wedding receptions.

This leads me to yesterday's marathon. 

The pattern I’ve observed seems to be a late morning affair that drags on to mid to late afternoon or an early evening into late night. 

Yesterday broke all records. I with my wife had been working on establishing this blog when the first strains of out of tune noise, sorry, I mean music permeated the room. Being less than fifty metres from the stage and with the windows opened to allow non air conditioned air to fill the hall, the noise level in my bedroom can necessitate raising one's voice to be heard to one's partner. Not a pleasant experience for a few minutes let alone hours. 

The music in general ranges from almost listenable to drunken barracking at the football. (sorry Manchester United fans ) 

I gave a short glance towards my wife with eye brows raised as the first notes of sound reached my ears at 10:30am . It signalled  another long day of noise pollution. (The concept of noise pollution hasn’t made it to this part of the world.)  A month or two ago during a short holiday period, there were 5 weddings in 7 days. Ugh! I transgress. 

Resigned to another day of getting mildly irritated to being an involuntary part of the proceedings; we went about our business. I’ll confess right now this noise issue affects me mostly. Being old and grumpy I require peace and quiet to contemplate the shortening time period I have left on this planet.  I understand most people want to celebrate their tying of the knot, but why drag it out? Most receptions here have what appears to be an open house arrangement.  The happy couple whom in most cases look anything but happy, sit on stage as guests arrive and depart in dribs and drabs. A large part of the time, the hall seems mostly empty but the band keeps playing on regardless, progressively increasing in volume to compensate for the lack of people.

Come five pm I have almost reached the end of my tether, the fuse is short, the bomb is about to go off.

“Hang in there,” my wife said with understanding eyes. I lay on the bed, twitched, rolled, wriggled, hands over my ears.

 “Let's go out for dinner; by the time we get back they’ll be packed and gone,” I stammered back.

What a good plate of noodles and a mango smoothie can do to soothe the nerves. Ah, I was almost human again when we arrived home to witness to our utter astonishment the proceedings, instead of disbanding, had ratchet up a notch. Long days journey into night Eugene O'Neill's addiction without the alcohol.

The funny thing is the music or whatever you want to call it, sounded the same as in the morning. In fact I swear they played the same song continuously with only slight variants all day. The worst part is always the last few hours and especially the last half hour. The paid singer has by this time retired due to exhaustion and is replaced by some of the guests who think they can actually sing.  It was singing in the shower with no water and an audience!  Yes, only a completely biased mother could  truly appreciate the disturbing noise coming out of their offsprings' mouths as having any relationship to music. 

Then, finally the high pitch of the ally cats petered out a little after 10 pm. The marathon came to an end after breaking all longevity records. Can’t wait for the next round, not!!

Well dear reader I have bored you enough, so I shall end this little ditty now. What is that you say? The bride and groom. Oh I suspect they slipped out hours ago and got on with the important part of the day in the peace and quiet of their humble abode.

Ps Just thought of something. If you were a thinking guest, you could have arrived at lunch time eaten, gone home and returned for dinner. Kill two birds with one stone hey.

Soon after our 12 minute wedding

Saturday 19 October 2013

An Australian Story - Only The Land Knows

4000 years Before the Present

The sun was not yet high enough to burn off the grey mist hanging low over the outgoing water. The lowering tide slurped back and forth along the full length of the white pristine beach. The tug of war between land and sea was gradually being won by the receding water. The salty cool air clung to the low lying limestone cliffs, breathing life into the lungs of the new morning. Winter and the cold south easterly winds would soon arrive bringing with it the rains to quench the thirst of this dry sparsely vegetated  landscape.

Ponde who was on top of a limestone outcrop, crouched down low on his haunches, feet spread wide apart, balanced perfectly, relaxing while he looked seaward. Through the salt spray he saw the women swiveling their bony feet into the soft tidal sand, trying to feel for the prized cockle.  Ever so often their toes would come across the hard smooth shells. When this happened they would quickly bend down to scoop the cockles up into their long thin outstretched fingers, then with care, transfer their find into the net bags they carried over their shoulders. This occurred many times during the course of the morning. He watched on, feeling increasingly hungry.

Ponde was in his twelfth year, the year of becoming a man. He looked forward to the ceremony to make him so.  He could then hunt the agile majestic red kangaroo and the abundant small grey wallabies with the other men, when the tribe moved to their winter camping grounds . This would happen soon, as the days were growing shorter and the cold made it difficult for the tribe to survive near the sea.

By mid morning the net bags were overflowing with the cockle, so the women left the sticky wet sand and proceeded to slowly walk over the first line of sand hills. Ponde watched on, thinking about how lucky he was to be part of all this and as they approached the summer camp, he too wandered back .

His job was to prepare the cockles, placing them into equal heaps on the flat sandstones residing within the cooking pits and covering each with small branches, leaves and dry grass. When all was ready Ponde used a fire stick to ignite the make shift bush oven. The dry fuel exploded into a dancing yellow flame around the mounds of cockle; black smoke and the pungent odor of dry grass, burning shell and green leaves announced to the others  a meal of succulent seafood was on the way.  Members of the tribe gathered around the mounds of cockles as they opened up under the heat of the fire to reveal their sweet soft cooked meat. The feast began.

The camp site had been used long before living memory. Discarded shells of the cockle littered the ground for many hundreds of metres, so it was impossible to walk anywhere without hearing the crunching sound of shells breaking underfoot. The sea of old cockle shell glittered in the rising sun, seemingly telling their story of periods of plenty, when the members of the ancient tribes sat together around the camp fires with full stomachs, reliving the memories of the Dreamtime.

Ponde’s belly was now full. Soon he would be a man and have the secret knowledge of the dreamtime and the responsibility that went with it to pass down to the next generation. His life was one with the land, his existence dependent upon it. The initiation ceremony would bring him face to face with the stories of the dreamtime; vivid tales describing the forces that shaped life as he knew it.

For months he had lay awake at night thinking about this moment.  He felt so proud to be part of the tribe, he being an extension of the dreamtime. The land, the sea, the rivers, the mountains, the sky, the trees, the animals, and of course the people; everything was, is and always will be intrinsically connected, nothing was in isolation. 

Later that afternoon a number of the tribe appeared on the crest of an adjacent sandhill; one of them Cobar, a tall powerful man of about 40 years of age, wind-swept hair in disarray and a long black knotted beard, carried a small  dead wallaby on his shoulders.   The scars from a long ago ceremony were etched out across his chest in horizontal lines, ridges like coastal sand dunes, but these did not drift with the wind, a permanent reminder of his position in the tribe. Behind the large intensely piercing  eyes was a proud intelligent warrior, a man of authority, who showed in his deeply farrowed face a person completely self-assured and at ease with his surroundings. His eyes scanned the camp for Ponde. 

Soon Cobar came up to Ponde dragging the dead animal behind him and pronounced, “Here is a cutting stone to remove the skin of the wallaby. Do you remember how I showed you.”  

“Yes, Cobar. I remember, I promise to do a good job,” responded Ponde with confidence. Cobar nodded, turned and walked slowly away toward the rest of the men. 

Ponde knew this was a man’s job, so felt proud to be asked to do such an important chore before the initiation rites.  He grasped the round flat object tightly into his right hand and using the jagged edge he cut deeply into the fur, working it carefully as to not damage the hide too much. The cutter was made of flint and was very precious. It had been traded from another group of aboriginals that lived a great distance from this place and a number skins of kangaroo were needed to acquire such a valuable tool for the tribe.   

He closed his eyes and thought about the upcoming ceremony. Though excited, some apprehension lingered in his mind.  He had witnessed the beginning of many rites of passage since he was a small boy.  In his head he could hear the wailing of the women as they danced around the camp fire, for they were losing their sons to manhood forever and would miss them dearly. He watched as the boys were covered in red oche and a band of human hair strands was tied around their waists. He was also there when the men led the boys off into the wilderness on walkabout, to be told the sacred stories of creation and to return days later as men leaving their childhood forever in the past. Life marches on relentlessly with no desire to linger too long at any one moment in time. 

Ponde reflected on this as he finished skinning the wallaby. All he had to do now was wash the hide in the nearby creek. It would make a wonderful warm shawl for someone, maybe a final gift to his mother before she lost him.

Many things now cluttered Ponde’s mind and maybe it was this that made him forget to bring back the cutter. It laid in the sand next to the creek...
Canunda National Park, South Australia

The Present

The sun was not just yet high enough to burn off the grey mist hanging low over the outgoing water. It was cool and winter would soon arrive. Peter and Janet had been looking forward to this holiday for such a long time. Both were professionals. Peter, a smart looking lawyer and Janet, an eloquent  interior decorator led very busy lives. 

The pressure of work had been getting to them, so they had decided to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of the city they loved.  These two were not country people by nature and preferred the home comforts and facilities only a large city could bring. Janet was not sure about going to the country, being a flashy dresser that felt comfortable in high heels and designer clothing, not a jeans-and-t-shirt girl.  Her idea of letting go was a holiday in a resort, camped  next to a swimming pool with a drink in hand. Peter on the other hand, though just as much a flashy dresser, fancied a driving holiday in the country where he could get away from people and do some walking. After much discussion, Peter got his way so they hopped into their expensive foreign sports car and drove away along a straight barren highway that soon took them to the peace and tranquility of the country side. 

After a few days, the feeling of serenity started to permeate their souls. “Life in the city never quite felt like this,” thought Peter. He could see the stress lines on Janet’s face fade as the days went by.

Day Four saw them walking along the coastal dunes in a well-known national park by name, that was seldom visited due to its isolated location. The track had led them to some spectacular coastal scenery; they were enjoying the experience walking hand in hand even though the weather was bleak. Peter was surveying the landscape when he noticed cockle shells on the sand, spread out over a very large area between two sand hills. 

“That’s interesting,” he proclaimed loudly, “How did they get here?” 
“Maybe the wind blew them here or the sea had encroached into this area at one stage,” commented Janet. 
“Humm not to sure about that,” Peter mumbled back.

He started to walk towards them when a round unusual shaped rock caught his eye. He bent down and picked it up and studied it closely for a few seconds before saying, “ Look here, Janet.  This stone has a very sharp edge to it. It looks to me to be man made.” 
Janet leaned over his shoulder and examined it herself. “ Ohhh  looks like a lot of the rocks around here, besides why would it be here in the middle of nowhere.” 
Peter  thought some more then nodded, “ I suppose you’re right, wishful thinking on my part.” 
“Yes,” Janet giggled,” You’re such a romantic. Too cold and barren for anyone to be living here.” 
Both of them had a good laugh as Peter tossed Ponde’s cutter on to the sand.

As the couple walked away, the wind let out its own shriek of laughter. Peter suddenly felt quite strange. He closed his eyes. Inside his head someone whispered, "Only the land knows, only the land knows..."

Oyster Catcher looking for the same food as the Aboriginal women

Welcome to My Writing Blog

Not very original I must say, but then again I'm not a very original person. First a little background info on myself and my wife who will occasionally contribute to this post. 

Currently I live and work ( volunteer ) in Sandakan Sabah, Malaysia. If you have a map handy, it's on the far northeastern part of Borneo. Population of 400 thousand plus, home to many ethnic groups that more or less co - exist in harmony. My wife a local with both Kadazan and Chinese heritage, is also a principal at one of the high schools and I must say very capable; keeping me well in line on most occasions. We met through our mutual desire to teaching English ( I know it sounds improbable, but very true) and making a long story short I moved here just over a year ago from Thailand where I had been for the previous 7. I'm an Australian by the way so please don't hold that against me. Talking a lot and giving my free advice on most topics are my main strengths ( my wife begs to differ ). 

Anyway enough of that; the purpose of this blog you may be asking yourself...  Boredom, yes that's right.  I want to kill time by expressing myself in writing. Only half joking, mind you.  I need to share some of my thoughts through short stories etc. and would love to have feedback from you, the reader    ( Hello is there anyone out there? ) so we can exchange ideas and make ourselves better people for it. Just read the last line so I think it's time to stop.

Yes I know how to smile