Friday 27 December 2013


I was walking into the bank this morning when I passed a young slender teenager who was looking rather solemn, leaning against the wall with a cigarette hanging out the corner of his mouth.  The image created made me reflect on the previous evening's conversation.

Whilst sitting around the kitchen table, the talk turned to smoking or to be more specific the health risks associated with it.  The topic was very poignant because the grandfather of this particular family had died of lung cancer in his early forties some 30 odd years ago and currently his youngest son is about the same age and a smoker.

As I walk the streets of Sandakan, I often see many young and old smoking.  Of course I don’t know the percentage of  those who do smoke but I suspect it is quite high compared to other parts of the world. 

This is not going to be a piece on 'stop smoking or else', but of   the choices we make during our life.

In another life, I used to work as a nurse in Adelaide and in that capacity I had to deal with a lot of different people; some pleasant, some not so. 

 This took place almost 40 years ago. I don’t remember the the name of the man central to my story, so for the sake of this tale we’ll call him Harry.

Harry was the sort of person who you could take too almost immediately. Despite his debilitating condition, he came across as chirpy, cheerful and personable. He struck up conversations with almost everybody on the ward.  I was 19 and very shy but I immediately felt comfortable in his presence. At the time, he would have been in his early seventies but looked much older.  His craggy-character-filled face told of a life of excesses and through his constant stories, obviously one he never regretted. Ever the optimist he refused to look at anything in a negative light.  He must have been in excruciating pain but brought an immediate cheer to the otherwise depressing environment of the ward.

You see this particular ward was for amputees.  Mostly people who had experienced trauma of some sort, severe diabetics, or in the case of Harry sufferers of PVD or peripheral vascular disease.

Harry was a chain smoker and had been since the age of 12. He loved his cigarettes and couldn’t imagine a life without them. He enjoyed the odd beer or two and smoking went hand in hand with that activity.

I’m not going to go into the intricate details of PVD other than to say the majority of those who contract the disease smoke.

Harry’s feet and lower legs were almost black through lack of blood supply.  In other words, his limbs were dying.  On this blackness grew large fluid filled blisters that constantly burst giving off a putrid odour whenever the wadded dressing was changed around his ankles.

The afternoon he arrived, the doctors had decided that he was to lose both of his legs above the knee. Harry took the news in his stride and tried to make a joke of his predicament.  Everyone was amazed with his attitude, some thought he was in denial. 

Harry could not stand to be in bed lying down.  He said it was too painful but looking back I think in reality he just wanted to sit up so he could have a smoke.  In those days, it was okay to smoke in hospital, so even though he was about to lose his legs through smoking the idea of not having a cigarette never crossed his mind.

You could see he was in great discomfort but he didn’t complain. He lit one cigarette after another deep in thought between the storytelling.  This man had been a born entertainer.

Evening arrived and the anaesthetist came to see to Harry and talk about the next day's surgery.  He inspected his legs for a short time and asked to be excused.  Soon after a team of medicos arrived and gave Harry a more thorough examination.  After a short discussion among themselves, Harry was told the worst possible news.  The circulation in his legs had completely shut down. The creeping blackness had now almost reached his groins.  There was nothing they could do. 

From what I remember Harry wanted to be alone for awhile.  For the next half hour his only companion was a cigarette.

Later that night, I happened to go past his bed.  I felt awkward and he could sense it.  He smiled at me and that helped break the ice somewhat.  He started one of his life’s stories,  but stopped abruptly midstream and said,

“You know, I have done a lot of stupid things during my life. Things I am ashamed of.  But not for one minute do I regret the general direct my life took. 
I started smoking as a young boy; stole my old man’s tobacco and rolled my own.  You know this may sound strange, but if I had my time over again I would still smoke.  I loved it, those around me didn’t, but I did.  It’s going to kill me.  I can live with that.” 

Laughing when he realised what he had just said. The conversation went on a little longer; I don’t remember anymore. 

We said our goodbyes at the end of the shift and my parting memory was of a burly man sitting upright in an armchair, eyes fixed on some distant object with a sly almost indistinguishable smile,  a cigarette butt firmly fixed in the corner of his mouth.

He died at 2 a.m. sitting in the same position I left him, still smoking until the very end.

One of the night staff told me that the last thing he heard Harry say before he passed away was “They can bury me with a packet of cigarettes; with me in life, a reminder of what killed me in death.”  He was apparently chuffed with the idea.

The teenager was still there, cigarette in hand, as I started my walk home.  I wonder if he’ll be one of the lucky ones or if it does eventually kill him, accept his fate the same way Harry did all those years ago.   No regret?

Photo by BossDonkey care of Photobucket

Thursday 26 December 2013


The first sliver of light appearing on the horizon.  Adam lay there as he had all night looking up at the ornate ceiling of his small bungalow; the patterns changing subtly as the light started to penetrate the dark recesses of the bedroom.  He was 37 years of age, tall and lean, too tall to be a successful jockey but he had proved all of them wrong.  His wife lay there still asleep, but unlike him had slept fitfully, hardly stirring all night.  The room might have  lightened up, but the darkness still hung over his mind. 

He had tried all night to focus on the good things in his life: his wife, his poetry, the horse racing.  The poetry had a small, significant group of followers, but  he hadn’t thus far made any money from it.  Only yesterday he had been told by a good friend, his latest collection, not yet released to the public, had already received critical acclaim from one of the nation's top newspapers.   

All this didn’t seem to matter now.  Depression had seen to that.  Bouts of melancholy often settled upon him like a medieval woollen cloak placed on his slight shoulders; heavy and uncomfortable refusing to be removed.  It became worse after the last fall; no more steeple chasing.  Horses were his life. They made him feel alive and carefree, though his riding antics always attracted plenty of attention and were regarded as reckless by some.

This night was different;  constantly restless, he thought of the accumulating debt he was unable to service and the supposed inheritance that had never materialised.  He thought of his poor Annie who would never know the joys or otherwise of adulthood. 

He didn’t sleep.  All night his mind had entertained the images that made up his life.  It was far from being all bad, but in his malign state, the negatives far outweighed the positives.  

Then just before dawn, the shroud inexplicably lifted: no pain, no seeking a direction, a meaning, just a calm simple dark emptiness.  A void where nothing really mattered anymore.  He knew, the train was in the station.

He shifted his body weight to the edge of the mattress, dropped his feet to the floor and slowly stood up.  He then knelt down beside the bed, ran his hand under it until he felt the butt of his rifle.  He took one last look at his still sleeping wife, bent down, placed a gentle kiss on her cheek without waking her and quietly walked to the next room to put on his boots.

The sun now was filtering strongly through the glass inlay on the front door and as he opened it, the cool sting of the crisp June morning air hit his cold expressionless face. 

The train pulled out slowly; two lines converging into the distance towards the final end point. 
Adam was the only passenger.

He walked slowly down the still quiet street wondering for a fleeting moment if he needed to see anyone... No, it was too late for that, the time had arrived.  The early morning bird calls were still active in the mostly deserted street as he strolled towards Brighton beach.

A man returning from a night's fishing nodded a good morning, but received no acknowledgement.  Eyes fixed staring into the imaginary distant, he meandered for a quarter mile until he reached a patch of tea tree scrub close to the beach.  

Finding a small clearing, he removed his wide brim hat and put it carefully onto the ground placing the contents of one of his pockets: a small pocket knife, pipe, some tobacco and a  silver shilling into it.  His hand slid down inside the other pocket and felt for the one cartridge case he had on him.  With purpose, he sat down resting against the trunk of an old tea tree and secured the rifle between his feet with the barrel resting in his mouth.  Running his hand along the length of the barrel he found he could not reach the trigger, so he broke off a small twig to use as a lever and then re positioned himself. The twig looped around the trigger and he pushed it slowly away.
The train was now picking up speed; the end point was clearly in sight. 

Adam looked upwards into the clear crisp blue sky as a silver gull glided effortlessly past and thought ... Nothing.

The deep blue skies wax dusky, and the tall green trees grow dim,
The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall ;
And sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim,
And on the very sun's face weave their pall.
Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave,
With never stone or rail to fence my bed ;
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.
                                   " The Sick Stock-rider"

Adam Lindsay Gordon 1833 to 1870

Adam Lindsay Gordon spent a number of years living in Dingle Dell near Port McDonald with his new bride before moving to Melbourne.

Short history of his life  

Wednesday 25 December 2013


Lake Mcintyre - a serene lake and better known as a bird sanctuary.  It is an old quarry made into a wetland reserve about 2 kilometres west of Millicent.  Skirted around the lake with my camera and ever patient husband which took about 30 minutes.  The lake is definitely a haven for water birds and  the bird hides makes it easy for the bird lovers to observe and capture pictures of them.  Listening to the small birds tweeting and chirping in the Tea trees aroused my curiosity of the types of birds that dwell in there.  Made me want to spend my time clicking away but there is only so much time on a short holiday.


Believe it or not?  Mount Gambier, in the south east of the state, is a honeycomb of thousands of cavities under the city.