Goodbye Charles. Goodbye Gertie.
I followed you from Australia to Oklahoma, New York to Pensacola. We sojourned in Salt Lake City, holidayed in the Hamptons, cruised the coastline of Australia. I fell in love with both your parents, marveled at your wanderlust, ached to find out what was happening next in your most perfect life.
Travels with you both – how can I explain? That VW Bug, the ‘stang, the Indian. Calgary seemed so much cooler with you. The South shone. Seeing Paris through your eyes was as close to perfection as you could get. Every day travelling with you made me long for just one more day.
You showed me a life I never ever ever could have imagined. A life of travels, rented apartments, last minute getaways. Experiencing. Sensing. Creating. Creating. Creating. How I will miss enjoying your creativity in every, every, way.
I’m sorry I can’t keep following you, the reasons I suppose I’ll never be able to fully explain. I’m sorry I won’t be able to follow that amazing life – a life I could only ever dare imagine. A life away from the stifling office, away from crushing responsibility, away from the ordinary things that ordinary people do.
You made me dream of a life too beautiful for dreams.
Gertie, I’ll miss your pictures. Your drawings, your photos, your scribbles, your perfect way of creating life from a blank page. I’ll miss how you inspired Charles every day. I’ll miss the way you looked at him, the way you looked out for him, the way you seemed to draw out every perfect letter.
Charles, I’ll always be amazed at your words. I can’t tell you how much you’ve taught me, how you’ve shown me a glimpse of what is possible. Of being perfectly free to be nobody, but yourself. I’ll miss that about you, and I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone quite like you.
As I sit here on my porch, my mind half turns to my garden and my washing. My family and the job I hate going to. I think about the traffic on the highway and getting that little niggle on my bike fixed. My mind half turns to those things, but I wish I could escape for one last adventure. I wonder where you both would go – maybe back to Australia, maybe Asia, I hear the Pacific is perfect this time of year. Wherever you go, I wish I was there. I wish I could travel with you, and I’ll always be sorry I can’t continue on.
So goodbye Charles, and goodbye Gertie.
I will always love you.
Once you’ve cleared Nerang, you’re in the mountains. It only takes about 40 or so minutes to get to this point – so close! I often wonder why I don’t come out here more, knowing the simple answer is time. My camera, Nana Mouskouri and The Seekers are keeping me company. There’s something special about Judith singing ‘A world of our own’ when you’re in a world of your own for four hours. It’s been my first real drive since Mackay, and the first in a long time sans loved ones. An introverts dream – time alone, where the music choice is mine, the route is up to the toss of a coin and I get to do those stops that you promise to do another time.
Recent rain put the rain back in subtropical rainforest. Narrow mountain roads wound through towers of green, arching over my drive like a reclaimed cathedral. Tree trunks spired around me, reaching the heavens for a glimpse of light.
I stop by a creek for some serenity and snaps. Close your eyes and just picture it – the bubble of water tumbling over rocks. Cicadas singing the song of summer. Frogs harkening the coming of more rain. Nettle tingles my shins and my shoes sink into soft soil. Still water pools in a billabong, insects bounce off the mirror-like surface. It’s peaceful, its perfect. I bet you wish you were here!
A side-street with no name provides the perfect detour. The road has light debris, a carryover no doubt from recent storms. It seems like one of those places frequented by the rich and famous, wanting to be rich, but not famous. Farmhouses with unusually high amounts of security dot the no-through road. The letterboxes are named, not numbered. Names like Wurrunyah, Taralgon and Wangawallon adorn high fences containing perfectly manicured lawns and homes that wouldn’t look out of place in Better Homes and Gardens.
The detour is complete, and I head towards Natural Bridge. I slow down going through Numinbah. The post-war School of Arts has a dance on the 2nd Saturday of every month. I imagine the returned soldiers who built the community halls, schools of arts and RSL halls after World War Two, coming back from far-off places to build these carbon-copy halls right throughout this nation of ours. I wonder what it would have been like, coming from Europe, PNG or the Pacific, coming back to Australia, shutting up and getting on with life.
I decide not to turn to Natural Bridge. The unknown road ahead invites me with a mischievous whisper, so forward into New South Wales I go. I’m right in the middle of the hinterland now. My windows are down and the cool mountain air kisses my cheek. Moist mountain air fills my lungs. It smells like eucalyptus and moss, if you could imagine such a thing. Just over the border and I hit green, cleared farmland. Cows raise their heads from grazing on lush green grass to watch me pass. They chew listlessly, tails flicking away ever persistent flies buzzing around. Paddocks surrounded by moss-covered fences hold livestock. Holding them in, but in reality, who would want to escape this thinkers paradise?
Abandoned farm houses with rusted roofs dot the paddocks and meadows. You’d be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t either on a slant, covered in ivy or crumbling over a rusted tractor. Curiosity gets the better of me, and I train my long-range lens on these modern relics, tributes to the sheer audacity of farmers trying to tame the Australian wilderness.
Numinbah Road twists like tangled fencewire through the escarpment. Grime covered homes hide behind the tree line. Letterboxes made of tin milk cartons dare the mailman to put his hand inside and offer all manner of creepy-crawlies sanctuary. The road straightens out somewhat as I approach Chillingham. This little town hosts not much at all – a puddle-covered tennis court, an honesty-box vegetable stand, an overpriced café and an art gallery that opens every now and again. Weatherboard houses are strangely symmetrical and painted in light pastel, and I think this town wouldn’t be out of place in a Wes Anderson movie. Naturally, I construct a short story of an eccentric retiree who falls in love with a widowed hippy who bond over sunset tennis and billy-tea.
I’ve hit the plains of the valley, where sugarcane towers in the breeze. The mountains dominate my rear-view mirror. I’ve always loved the mountains, and I’m reminded of the escarpment in my hometown. Houses on stilts perch high above the floodmark, sentries watching over the sweet crops below. Fresh shoots of green explode in rich, dark soil – this rain a blessing from above.
I turn north to slowly head home. My travels will see me navigate the hinterland once more – joys to continue once more. It’s much of the same, but all so different. Lookouts invite the casual traveller to stop – an invitation I take. At one, a dampened bible sits on the rock. A feather is used as a bookmark, next to it a post it note simply says ‘take me’. A bible, and like the valley that soaks up the rain, so do I ache to soak up the truth.
I find myself disappointed to find my way back to the M1. To my west, the mountains parallel the freeway and already I long to be back in her windy roads. Alas, this straight stretch of road and responsibility carry me back home. The better the road, the more cares one seems to have. The faster the limit, the more one has to think. The more lanes brings greater complexity. I reflect back to the single-laned mountain roads, where speed is limited by natural beauty, where distractions are beautiful.
I give thanks for safety on the road, and for a few hours of selfish fun in one of the most beautiful patches of God’s green earth. The Gold Coast / northern New South Wales hinterland – thank you for slowing me down and bringing me back to earth.
My kids recently had ‘lockdown’ training at school – think of fire drills, except for other adverse events. I don’t know what they do in this training, but it seemed to upset my son a little. He hasn’t wanted to sleep near a window, has been taking a while to get to sleep and has been a bit clingy at night time.
My natural reaction to seeing my boy upset is to comfort him – I’m sure that’s a natural reaction for most parents.
I held my little boy close, gave him a cuddle, prayed with him and generally settled him. My boy, without a care in the world, in a safe home, in a warm bed, with a full tummy. His room full of toys, his draws full of clean clothes. He has electricity that turns on, running water and a pantry full of food. He has emergency services literally a phone call away. My little boy, I held him close.
It dawned on me as I held him close – I want to keep him safe, but I think there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here.
I sat him on my lap and looked deep into his brown eyes.
“Boy, inside of you is a man-in-training. When you’re learning to be a man, you’re going to have to face things that are scary, uncomfortable or frightening. Sometimes, my boy, you’re going to have to be tough, and you’re going to have to be courageous”. I settled him, put him in bed and once again reminded him that sometimes, he will need to face his fears and just be tougher than the situation he finds himself in.
It’s a hard thing, looking into your kids eyes knowing you won’t always be there to protect them, knowing they’ll have to face hardships in their life that you won’t always be able to help with. Just like Johnny Cash’s classic ‘Boy named Sue’ . I don’t want my kids to live in fear, but I want them to have the fortitude to face challenges in their life.
So I’m asking, what have you dads (and mums) done to develop a bit of toughness in your kids? I’m so aware that our kids, certainly in Australia, are probably the most pampered, protected, safe generation ever. Our kids are well fed, immunised, protected, educated – the works! How do you prepare your kids for possible eventualities? How do you gently push back and help them find strength within themselves during hard times? To give them permission to fail, to gently let go so they can start building resilience within themselves?
There’s a colloquial term used by Antarctic researchers called ‘MOOP’, or Man Out Of Phase. It relates to the body’s natural circadian rhythms being out of sync during three months of unrelenting darkness in winter, and the alternative three months of summer sun. You may have experienced low-level MOOP on a Monday morning when you’re at work, feeling disorientated, unmotivated, delirious and questioning every life choice you’ve ever made that’s lead to this point in your life.
The thing with MOOP is it’s very easy to fix, and the body fixes itself naturally when the usual daylight / night time patterns commence. The body’s circadian rhythm starts kicking in again, and you go back into phase.
It’s funny to say MOOP. MOOP. It’s a funny sounding word, with very real consequences, and thankfully very easy to fix. MOOP. You’ll be thinking it in your head long after you’ve finished reading this article. MOOP. Man Out Of Phase.
For all the funniness about MOOP, what happens when a society becomes out of phase?
Sounds like a strange thing to say, right? But it is. Our culture – our Western culture is defined by many rhythms. Patterns. Occurrences. Cultural patterns. Biological occurrences and truths. I’m sure you could rattle off a few cultural or religious patterns we have in Australia – Christmas, Easter, New Years Eve, Australia Day, Anzac Day, Labour Day. Days that have deep significance historically to Australia, our cultural identity and the patterns of our society. Many of us know that Christmas relates to the birth of Jesus, that Australia Day commemorates British colonisation of Australia and Labour Day recognises the importance of the labour movement in fighting for better working conditions.
These days represent significant events. Significant culturally for western culture, and significant events in the development of our great nation. I want to emphasise that these events are significant, and for some these events may bring up painful triggers. Australia Day, for example, is recognised by some as a day of invasion, dispossession and the start of some horrible ills against aboriginal Australians. Australia Day is also a recognition of all the wonderful things brought by England and through the tradition of enlightenment – the Westminster System, democracy, railways and beer in a bottle.
These days, occurrences and events keep us anchored. They help us remember, and they give us an identity to forge ahead in life. They form part of our sense of wellbeing, security and culture.
What we are seeing, however, is our great Australian society quickly becoming ‘MOOP’. We are quickly becoming adrift from these defining remembrances, occurrences and observances. Original meanings of events are being drowned out, replaced or deliberately forgotten. Almost all notions of Jesus have been removed from Christmas and Easter, replaced instead by the gods of consumerism and consumption. Australia Day is being attacked, with over-reaching local councils especially deliberately throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
The result of being culturally MOOP results in society being disorientated, unattached, unsure of its identity and grasping at straws. Tonight is Halloween. All the shops are decked with gaudy inflatable pumpkins, faux-spider webs and irritatingly garish ghouls. Shelf-packers at my local shops are dressed as zombies, bloodied morticians and characters from terribly twee horror movies. ABC is having a Halloween fright week on the kids channel, catalogues are encouraging us to stock up for trick-or-treating. It’s the most ridiculous ‘event’ ever, and it’s a symptom of a culture out of phase. I’m not opposed to Halloween. I’m opposed to these traditions of zero relevance to Australian culture of society elevated to a place of almost reverence. Forcing a celebration of something that isn’t culturally significant, doesn’t remember something that adds to our understanding of the world or helps us reflect on what it means to be part of this great country. It’s a symptom of a society that doesn’t know who it is, and is having her age-old cultural traditions deliberately forgotten, and replaced with something of zero cultural significance, relevance or observance.
Since WW2, Australians became accustomed to immigrants and refugees, mostly from Europe. I’m sure many of these ‘New Australians’ were treated terribly, and probably suffered at the hands of racists. I recall stories from my dads family, who were accepted as refugees and resettled in Australia. They had some pretty mediocre times. Through this experience, however, Australia learned to be accepting. We learned a little bit about these different cultures – Italians, Greeks, Balts. I’m sure many had a rough start here in Australia, but they made their way. On a baseline level, however, these cultures had a common theme with the western / British culture of Australia. This connection, however lose, was a baseline cultural acceptance of Christianity. Be it protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, there were baseline understandings, even if the outworking looked different. Baseline understandings on what Christmas and Easter was. Baseline understanding and acceptance of a day of rest. Baseline understandings of personal responsibility, liberty and democracy. It took a few decades, but we learned to accept, get along, work, marry, laugh and celebrate with each other. If these groups were to ‘re-tribe’ to their original groups in Australia i.e. all the Greeks live in their own group, all the Italians live in their own group etc, they would still fit in with Australia as a whole. Why? Because of those baseline understandings that these groups have in relation to the significance of events such as Christmas.
I’ve mentioned this before, but cultures that forget their identity quickly perish. They become absorbed by the dominant culture around them, or collapse under their own deliberate forgetfulness. One of the reasons that the Jewish culture has continued for over 4000 years is they have been following the same calendar, traditions, observances and rites every year since the exodus from Egypt. The same observances – every week, year, seven years, fifty years. The same food, prayers, observances, scriptures, at the same time, over 4000 times.
If we follow this cultural MOOP through to possible eventualities, what do we find? I foresee a few possibilities.
The first may be spiralling into a death-roll of consumerism. Almost every ‘event’ now has been reduced to a celebration of consumption, rather than an opportunity for remembrance and reverence. Christmas will continue to be an opportunity for hyper-consumption. Easter will continue to be about eggs. Australia Day will become a forgotten embarrassment, not a day for thanksgiving and reflection. Days of non-significance – mothers and father’s day for example, will become just another opportunity to consume.
The second possibility could be the emergence of a more dominant culture. A culture that is also very old, very ridged and from the outside, very uncompromising. A culture that does not share the same baseline expectations, understandings, festivals and traditions. A culture, an ideology that focuses on submission. However right or wrong this ideology is, it is very focused on it’s end goal, and how to achieve that through everyday submission. When a culture forgets why we celebrate Christmas, when a culture forgets the birth of enlightenment, when a culture forgets the fight for individual liberty, it is easily overcome by an ideology demanding total submission.
I don’t want this essay to sound like a call for a Christian theocracy. It’s absolutely not. It’s not a call to return to strict societal roles. It’s not a call to return to the 1950’s. It’s a warning. A reminder. We have a rich cultural heritage. Imperfect, sometimes violent, sometimes unfair. We also have rich reminders though, these things I have mentioned before.
So here’s the question. Are you going to succumb to cultural MOOP? Are you going to allow yourself to continue to be culturally and historically disorientated? Will you allow your history be forgotten, amputated, corrupted? Or will you remember the whys of western culture? The hows of how we got here? The whats that our ancestors had to do to get to this point?
What are you going to do to remember, respect, preserve and continue?
We woke up early. To early. The early bird gets the worm, and the early traveler gets the dolphin, so to speak. Yes, we woke up early to get to Tin Can Bay to see and feed the dolphins.
Grey Nomads aside, it was a pleasant journey to Tin Can. Nestled at the point is a cafe and the internationally famous Barnacles Dolphin Center. Nanny-no-fun had arrived their first (by a few years, by the looks of things) and had signposted the entire place with penalties regarding feeding, touching, swimming or sharing moonshine with the dolphins. Fines of thousands of dollars for dolphin related infractions. If the dolphins didn’t want to be touched, why do they flock to humans? I just found it bizarre that there was a host of legislative penalties to protect the dolphins, like they couldn’t choose to swim away from humans like every other fish in the sea.
So we arrived and paid our money, took off our thongs and washed our hands, and stood in line for our turn to be in the water the same time as the dolphins.
For about 10 minutes, we got to stand in calf-deep water about a meter away from about five playful dolphins, constantly being reminded of the penalties involved in swimming, touching, approaching, imitating, or otherwise enjoying the dolphins. Just standing, watching the dolphins, being reminded again and again of the penalties. Thrilling. We then had to proceed off the beach, and wait in line again to feed the dolphins. I’m sure it would have taken longer to get off the beach, if we were behind Grey Nomads. They like to take their time and liberties when it comes to these things.
Well after the thrill of watching the dolphins wore off, we were at the front of the line to feed the dolphins. We got our bucket with one fish, waded down the the water, fed the dolphin, and filed off the beach. With one more reminder of never ever to feed the dolphins and the penalties involved, we were done, and the dolphins had their state-mandated quota of three kilos of fish for the day. I wonder if feeding dolphins would ever be an election issue.
After a pleasant morning of dolphin-penalty education, it was back to Rainbow to prepare for a lovely afternoon of whale watching. We had plenty of time after checking out to pop up to Hervey Bay, via the lovely town of Maryborough for an afternoon in the Bay. We enjoyed lunch at Migaloo’s Cafe near the pier, and I was slightly dissapointed that no whale was on the menu. Still, a nice ham cheese and tomato toastie filled me up ready for the cruise. Naturally, I ‘shared’ the kids beer batter chips. A skip to the marina and we were ready to go!
“Before we hop on, ladies and gentleman, can I just get your attention please” the overly tanned lady corralled the group “The seas are a little rough out there today. We will have a little bit of rock’n’roll, so if anyone has any medical conditions just let me or one of the staff know”. At that point, I should have taken the recommended seasick tablets.
The trip out was fantastic. The boat smashed through the waves, splashing over the hull, engulfing the boat in a roaring white wash. I perched against the side and waxed lyrical in my mind, Old Man and the Sea style. Yes, I was enjoying the high seas, the waves, staring out into the offing and generally loving life. I was unworried by the horizon rocking like a swing in the breeze, oh no! Those suckers around me were looking green, some even taking the vomit bags and quickly filling them. HA! Not me though, I had my sea legs on, feeling the sun and the salt and the spray on my face. How wonderful!
Finally, the overly tanned lady’s voice came through the ship’s PA “Whales, three o’clock”, much to everyone’s excitement. Camera primed, I raced to take some photos of these wonderous creatures.
Snap snap snap. Snap snap snap. The mother and her calf breached, flapped and wallowed just meters away. Snap snap snap!
The gentle rocking of the boat suddenly didn’t feel like a dream, and life didn’t seem so wonderful. A certain grumbly rumbled across my tummy. Nausea rippled through me. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good.
Fast forward three hours, three full vomit bags and generally wanting to die, I crawled across the gangplank, back onto dry land.
So, whale watching didn’t go as planned. I’ve got a few nice photos, and some very unflattering ones!
It may not have been the best end to the holiday, but in the scheme of things, it was a minor setback to a wonderful, wonderful holiday.
We packed the car for the final time, readying for our final trip – the four-or-so hour trip back to Brisbane. After Gympie, the Bruce opened up to a smooth, multi-lane highway, and we comfortably sat on 110 without the risk of going up the back of any Grey Nomads. There was a comforting familiarity of passing the Sunshine Coast beaches, north Brisbane, over the Gateway and down for our final stretch home. Home. Home, from a wonderful, wonderful holiday.
Unexpected joys were found in Rockhampton. It was really just meant to be a sleepover stop-off between Mackay and Rainbow Beach – it turned out to be so much more!
We sadly said goodbye to Mackay, and I truly hope we will return again. I hope we return to her crystal blue beaches, her swaying cane farms and handsome mountains. I hope we return to Cape Hillsborough and all the rich natural beauty that fine town has to offer. Goodbye Mackay, you’ve been a fine city, and we’ll miss you.
Approaching from the north, Rockhampton is home to a series of caves. Found by accident by a Norwegian back in the day, these interesting, interesting caves were open for tours. The information center had a fascinating display of early life in this central Queensland city. If you could look beyond the spelling and grammatical errors, it truly was an informative snapshot of the hardships of early life. Picture, 30oC weather, a hot wind, on a horse or buggy across a dirt track, dressed in full suit or dress, visiting this inhospitable place. At least they didn’t have Grey Nomads to contend with. We visited and explored these caves, and wow, what an adventure! Now no longer full of guano (look it up), these caves were truly wonderful to explore.
The drive to Rockhampton was surprisingly bearable, despite multiple roadworks and herds of Grey Nomads. Rockhampton lies on the Tropic of Capricorn, so the local tourist board erected a pole on the southside of town commemorating it. Think of the equator mark in Uganda, sans political unrest, desert and local militia. Our airbnb host, an amiable lady of a certain age enlightened us to the Rockhampton Zoo. Before you ask, yes, there is a zoo in Rockhampton, and yes, it’s free! We spent a wonderful few hours strolling around the simple but satisfying zoo. The usual things were there – kangaroo, emu, koalas and token crocodile. Rockhampton Zoo also had some more exotic animals, the names of which elude me.
Being the beef capital of Australia, we naturally had to have steak for dinner – yum!
Our airbnb was a cute miners cottage, brought in from Mt Morgan. It was nearly 90 years old, quaint, cozy and I’m sure full of memories. Rockhampton itself is a fascinating town. Full of old buildings, with a train line running through it, it truly was an interesting place.
Refreshed from our stopover and lovely sleep, it was time to hit the road once again for our last location – Rainbow Beach!
Home. I arrived back late last night. Bags have been unpacked, clothes washed, the car ridded of the collection of bug brains and sandy car seats. I’ve returned to four broody chickens, long grass, slightly larger tummy and much thinner wallet.
I’ve returned still loving Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I’ve returned for a much greater appreciation for early European explorers and settlers. I’ve returned with spoonfuls of gratitude that I get to live in the great state of Queensland.
I’ve driven about 1200klm north, clicking just over 3200klm driving in total.
We traversed half the mighty Bruce Highway. We passed through crackly dry beef plains, head-high sugar fields, faded green bushland, the brilliant blue Whitsundays and through hundred-year old towns.
I’ve seen more roadkill than I can poke a stick at, cussed at more grey nomads you can poke a pension card at, been amazed, awestruck, laughed, giggled, hurled and everything in between.
So join me any my brood as I incorrectly recollect some of the best bits of when Vidins does Mackay.