Warm and moist, sub tropical trees and vegetation along every street, bean pods under the trees. Birds squawking loudly everywhere. The wonderful sound of the crow. Signs everywhere and on every tap about the drought
How come the are Aussies so good at buildings, public spaces and brutality. Anzac park has me in tears. How come they do war monuments with such depth of feeling? Are their ghosts present? If so why are there no English ghosts?
The river bends and bows its way through the city that is so white. Abandoned blankets, bottles and cold ash in the botanical gardens the only indication of another race. Their art, language and place names everywhere. Invisible in all ways. Night people. Dreamtime nightmare. Already extinct.
Walking down the street an aboriginal man poorly dressed asks me if his hair looks alright. I tell him he is beautiful. He smiles a huge white teeth smile and thanks me. Later, he turns and calls back to me “should I put my hair up?” I tell him he looks great with it down. He says “thank you sir” and waves.
On a corner of a busy road three aboriginal hunters cross the road. No-one sees them. Their spears disguised as bottles.
Eating dodgy prawns and tonight I have the runs so I stay in my room and I read two books almost back to back:
Both by Cormack McCarthy:
- No Country For Old Men.
- The Road
I’ve been here for 4 days and it has rained almost non-stop. I remark to an old man that looks like Tony Hancock’s dad that this is the wettest drought I have ever been in. He tells me this is a “green drought”. I am not sure of the distinction. I ask how long this has been going on. He thinks for a bit then says “probably the mid 50’s” I look at him and laugh. Nonetheless, he explains that since that time the Russians and Americans have been bringing their dead satellites back to earth to burn up over the Australian Bight and in doing so they have “burned a bloody great hole” through the atmosphere that lets the sun burn away the rain clouds. I thank him for his explanation and admire the stains on his tie.
The drive north from Brisbane was remarkably unremarkable. No red dirt. No kangaroos alive or dead. No roadkill. Small tasteless strip mall towns with signs extending a hearty welcome and a fond farewell and not much in between.
Ned Kelly Motel
I get to the Ned Kelly motel with a 24 foot statue of the man standing out the front. It advertises rooms for $39 including breakfast but all I can get is a room for $50. I take it and the irony is not lost on me but to the keen 19 year old on reception it is.
The room has a switch on the wall that says Air Con. Only one of those words bears any resemblance to reality. I sleep badly and wake feeling robbed of a nights sleep. I go for the included breakfast which occurs in a small room with a loud tv that is set to a poor reception station. Luckily its a video of a Billy Joel concert so not much is lost. I get up to turn it down or off and I see that all of the buttons on the set are gone. Just holes where they were. I decide its best not touched or thought about.
All you can eat of cereals, toast, marmalade, jam, tea and instant coffee. Very generous considering.
I put the Make Up My Room sign on the door and leave.
I decide to explore some of the backwater places.
Driving for miles thru mangrove swamps with water just below the level of the road on both sides
The further I drive the more nervous I become. I remember a dream from my broken night. I am in a car it is raining a deluge and water is rising over the road. I keep calm. My car becomes a motorcycle and I am going up a muddy track to a barn with no sides but a tin roof and a concrete floor. I am safe.
I come to a small place with launching ramp, a dozen houses and a caravan park. There is an Abo fishing with a handline some 10 metres out in the water. I wave to him, he smiles and waves back. 10 metres past him pelicans cruise with their ridiculously large beaks.
I visit another couple of places that are similar, a kind of bayou/swamp with a Neighbours feel. I wave to people and few people wave guardedly back. I drive on and keep driving on.
Joey is a short pugilistic man just waiting for the bell to ring. I place my order and hurry to the seats outside. The breakfast is very good.
Further on I find all the ingredients of a half day fishing trip but not for today. I organise a place to stay for the next night and leave.
I get back to Ned Kellys and my room isn’t made up. I go to the keen 19 year old who is in the shop. He is standing in front of a chiller cabinet full of packets of bacon and a hand written sign that says “Bacon Rashes“. I say that my room has not been made up and he explains “ah we don’t do that here” with his winning smile. The irony lost on me but not on him. I settle for a fresh carton of milk.
Tin Can Bay
The ingredients turn out to be different, but first, as I drive into my new accommodation both sides of the street are flanked with armed soldiers. I am told they are on “exercises”. All this in a place with a population of around 4000.
I go to the marina to hire a tinny for half a day. It is about 24 degrees and a slight breeze. I am refused a tinny as the coastguard has issued a wind warning. So I buy a handline and a packet of squid and sit on the jetty. And it is here that I find my holiday and wonder why on earth I never brought a rod with me. I fish for a few hours then go back to the cabin as the tide gets too low to fish.
I drop off to sleep. I wake about an hour later and make a cup of tea. I hear shouting, loud voices from several directions then gunfire also from several directions. I listen and cars are being driven normally there is no immense silence so I figure its the “exercises”.
Towards evening I return to the jetty. Across the carpark is an impromptu army camp.
As I walk across the car park I hear a female voice shouting “help me please somebody help me“. The voice sounds desperate and about 13 years old. I stop. The voice calls again. It is coming from the army camp. I hope it’s part of the training as I walk down the jetty to fish.
I merge in with a bunch of guys fishing, I get lots of bites and one of the other guys gets a few small fish like I have never seen before. Night falls and suddenly a big light turns on over our heads. It lights up the entire jetty. Suddenly another world appears. Under the surface of the water are streams of small fish darting hither and thither. Invisible during the day but their silver sides illuminated by the light.
Then the sea snakes appear. Small and very deadly. The biggest is about 10 inches long and more than capable of killing a full grown man I am resoundingly assured by my fishing buddies. They slither as if on land and accelerate to an amazing speed that makes me realise that I could not outrun one let alone out swim one. I stand back from the edge.
The Next Day
The sun has just set on a 25 degree day. The wind came up late morning and blew warm all day. I washed two beach shirts and they dried in 40 minutes from dripping wet.
As I write this it is dark outside and there has been a gun battle raging for the last 20 minutes. There are two machine gun positions on opposite sides of the road outside the motel. There are mortar explosions from the park.
I am watching telly.
Tomorrow I am going home.