Monthly Archives: July 2008

Don’t talk

As they get nearer, the mountain that emerges from the surrounding bushland reveals itself to be a cluster of tightly grouped stony hills. There is no apparent entrance but he has been here before and pulls off the dirt road that has taken them about two hundred kilometres from the coast.  Soon a rough track shows itself as two faint wheel ruts that appear and disappear up the side of the hills.  Large stones and ditches cause the vehicle to sway and dip as it climbs slowly upwards.

This is their first trip together and she has never been here before.  She doesn’t say anything but he senses her excitement.  The Toyota reaches a gap between two hills and they begin a steep decline through thick bushes and washed out waterways.  The spring sky is clear and the air already warm but in a thickly aromatic way that makes his head swim.  Gradually they emerge into a small valley nestled and hidden between the hills.  A fading bed of green cloaks the valley floor and gum trees grow out of empty creek beds.

“Oh God,” she says.  They park at the foot of a trickling waterfall and he takes her hand and helps her up the ragged red rocks towards the top.  “Look,” he says and there on a rock beside her she can make out a faded Aboriginal etching.  Then she notices that they are all around her. The two of them sit down on a boulder and the valley stretches east and west below them.  She doesn’t say anything and he is glad.  He hates the banality of language and how it pollutes beauty, how inadequate words hang over the indescribable and tarnish it with the prosaic.  He feels her hand on the small of his back.

Later they make their way back to the homestead. “You love all this, don’t you?” she says.

He nods.  “I do, I always have.” Then he adds, “It’s my country.” And she knows he doesn’t mean Australia, only this small part of it where he grew up and where she met him when they were still teenagers.  When the next question comes, he is not even surprised. “Did you used to bring your wife here?” she asks. It has become important to her this knowledge.  It insinuates itself into everything that is important to her and him; into everything that she wants to make her own.  She has a need for a new history with him, not one that is shared. He understands this even though they don’t talk about it.

“No,” he answers. There is a silence and he can feel her longing to know more but also that she is slightly afraid of spoiling this moment. “My wife loved beautiful things,” he says, “but she didn’t have time for beauty.”  He reaches out and touches her hand.  “You’re different.” She clasps his hand and looks out the window and says, “Don’t talk” and he senses emotion coursing through her like a tide that stops her speech.

He remembers that there is a flat ground in some low hills not far away where you can still make out the outline of strange lines of gathered stones.  A black stockman told him once that the Aboriginal people around here used to spend weeks making the intricate patterns and colours and then one day they would just dance all over them. He will take her there tomorrow.  She will understand how beauty is not always for keeping and how you can dance it away and how not holding it makes it grow more beautiful still.

He suddenly wants to tell her that he loves her but then he realises that he loves everything.

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Filed under australia, life, Love, Marriage

The neck of the sea

I grew up on a great river that flings its tail far back into the grey and green bushland of Australia.  Impotent tributaries spread unevenly from its snaking body like tentacles sucking at the dryness.  It is a wide river and long but for most of the year its sandy bed shimmers dry and hot under the indifferent sky. In summer the hot breath of the eastern deserts blows across the country around the river and stuns it into silence but for the ringing of cicadas. In the hot air, mirages float above the ancient water course and blur the image of gum trees and strange animals moving slowly through the glassy illusion of water.

But the summer also brings rain.  Wild cyclones that swing in from Asia, all noise and anger, grow calm and leaden as they are swallowed slowly into the endlessness of the land. Then they drop their rain and die and the river fills quickly and sends a brown frothing bounty rushing towards the West. And there, where the river opens into a wide and shallow mouth that forks around a scrubby, sandy island, the land spews its brown stain far out into the ocean.

Before my people came here, there was only the sound of the ocean and the birds and the wind, always the wind.  Sometimes it blew from over the waves for days and nights on end, pushing the cool salty air across the green fringes of the mangroves towards the country’s deep belly.  Sea birds pointed to the West and rode the moving air, hanging steadfast over the tidal plains of shallow water where stingrays and sawfish basked. Each day the tide made timid excursions around the toes of the river and each day retreated again towards the waves.

The Mandi people of the floodplain called this place the neck of the sea.  By the time I was born, the Mandi had long gone and their stories of the river are lost like the voices that told them or fading on red rock walls far from my town. The sickness of white men carried them away by the hundreds and for a long time their bodies would be found floating in the mangroves or lying under the wattles.  The old people simply walked away from their camps to die. They returned to the dust of a home turned strange by the feet of sheep and foxes.

Only the river dreams of the Mandi now.  And one day it will dream of me.

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Filed under australia, life

Sunday afternoon in Nebraska

On a late Sunday afternoon in Lincoln, Nebraska, I emerged from a movie theatre feeling like someone had just put a skewer through my life and slowly barbecued it for three hours. I was alone in this big, flat, corn-fielded state; there was a slight coolness in the air and colour was leeching from the denim fabric of the sky. The movie I’d just seen was American Beauty and I’d spent time in the darkness wincing at the truth about myself and my marriage that I had somehow submerged beneath the surface of work and achievement and dutifulness.

I stood uncertain in the street feeling a long way from home and with the need to do something welling in me like panic. And then it struck me that I didn’t know what to do or even what home was anymore.  Not really.  I could see the kids playing on the floor in front of the television, the furniture, the garden; the comfort of known things spread before me like a gift to which I could always return.  But then there was my wife with her sad eyes and observations stained with disappointment, her angry accumulation of lists and things and places for everything.   I remembered that before I came here I would escape from her and plan the study tour of America in fine detail so I could fee l some control over my life, so I could apply order to growing uncertainty of where I fit.

Now I was where I had planned to be and the only place that was left to go was home.  There were to be no more easy decisions about airline schedules or early morning pickups; no more hotel beds turned back at night or the respectful handshake of strangers. I was in the movie, I was returning to a place where there was no time to watch the miracle of leaves dancing.

Some Nebraskan college students walked ahead of me up the street.  They were laughing about something. Their heads were full of themselves and their cleverness and they had an air of immortality.  They were full of fries and philosophy and Friday nights and they thought that death comes only once.

I looked at my watch and made the now automatic calculation of Australian time. They are all still asleep, I thought, but in a few hours they will wake up.  It comforted me, the thought of my children dreaming.  And then I realised that I had just woken up too but that I could not go to sleep again.

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Filed under australia, life, loss, Marriage, USA

All their own work

A few people have tagged me in the past to nominate some of my favourite blogs. So…here they are! And what an eclectic lot! I don’t have many criteria for those that I enjoy – I guess I like those that contain true things, that don’t hate or spread hate, that make me smile or make me think.  Anyway, here are just some and I’ll post some more at a later date.

Tim– Thoughtful, honest and often humorous appraisals of his life and beliefs.  A father, a Christian but most of all a seeker.

Kym– Her photographs are a celebration of daily life in a beautiful place. The kind of person you suspect of an interior landscape quite as startling as that around her.

Florescence  – The sort of writer that makes you understand that great writing is born of effort and commitment.  A gifted and generous blogger.

Max  – Few people can say so little and so much at the same time.  Quirky, enigmatic, clever and invariably Max.

Jane – Here is subtle writing that touches like a breath on your cheek suggesting so much more than you can actually see.

John  – John represents what is quintessentially the best of British. Consistently funny, slightly seditious (if you are a monarchist), unpretentious and the genuine product of a nation that brought the world Monty Python and Peter Sellers.

Ninglun  – Urbane and measured writing on a broad canvas from a  retired Australian teacher. Gentle but uncompromising social commentary.

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Filed under life

In which I receive certain advice relating to the practice of medicine

 

I stand up to leave the meeting.  “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment,” I explain.  I am with one of the Managers, and he looks up at me with raised eyebrows.  For a moment I think he is questioning my excuse and I wait for his comment.

 

“I do hope you’re not going to tell him anything,” he says through pursed lips.

 

“Sorry, tell who what?” I answer, genuinely confused.

 

“The Doctor,” he says and then, since telling the Doctor everything was clearly my intention, he adds, “Never tell Doctors anything.”

 

I begin to pack my briefcase. As I do so, the Manager gives me the following advice:

 

When the Doctor asks, ‘Do you smoke?’ You must say No.”

 

I interrupt.  “But I do smoke.”

 

His eyebrows lift again, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

 

“Well,” I explain, “I only smoke on Fridays.”

 

“Whatever for?”  Now his eyebrows are so high that I think they might disappear into his hairline.

 

“Harm minimization,” I explain.

 

His voice is slightly incredulous.  “But why bother at all?” he asks.

 

“That’s what my Doctor says,” I reply and this reminds him of his original treatise.

 

“Ah, well, doctors,! Never tell them anything!” And he continues with this explanation.

 

“After he has learned you don’t smoke, the doctor will ask if you drink and you must also answer ‘No.’ This will be followed by the question, ‘Do you exercise?’ And this time you must answer ‘Yes.’”

 

“After that there will be a considerable silence in the surgery,” my interlocutor adds.

 

“And then what should I do?” I ask.

 

“Then,” says the Manager with a dramatic flourish, “then you must say to him, ‘So now tell me what’s wrong with me!”

 

 

 

 

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Filed under humour, life, Men