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.
Smells. Noses. Nose Hair. Big noses. Peculiar things. Smells like teen spirit. Cue 90’s grunge riff. No, this is not a post about nirvana or Cobain. It’s about smells. The good. The bad. The ugly.
Like any of the senses, the sense of smell can elicit many a memory.
The above picture is a collection of some of the colognes I own. You could say I like smelling nice. My most recent re-addition was the Tommy. Love it. I was first introduced to Tommy by some rich kid on sailing camp back in ’97 or ’98. I can’t exactly remember when. But I do remember this. From that time on, I swore I’d never wear anything from a can again. It was one of the most amazing things to ever happen to my teenage, un-muscular, gangly self-esteem. It helped me almost get my first kiss (it wasn’t my amazing 16 year old personality or confidence that almost got me over the line!). That smell reminds me of the freedom of youth. Of awkwardness. Of first lust. Of spending $55 on 50mls of pure sophistication.
It was a smell that even got me thinking about this post. Not a pleasant smell, but a homely one. I was sitting outside in the hot Queensland sun, tanning myself, sweating. It reminded me of one of the most humble, hardworking people I know. I can close my eyes and just remember his smell. Sweat, car oil, coconut oil and Solvol soap. A masculine mixture of love. Yes, it reminds me of my Opop – my grandad. It was that smell that was in stark contrast to his last days – the last times I saw him. Hooked up to clinical machines in a hospital, then at a viewing. That rough, dirty, loving, sweaty smell had been replaced by the cool, businesslike smells of hospital and morgue. How can smalls change so quickly, so dramatically?
Mangroves have their own, pungent aroma. It has something to do with gas from rotting leaves mixing with the water and mangrove roots that give rise to that disgusting smell. No wonder mud crabs are always so cranky – they have to smell that God-aweful smell 24/7. But the mangroves for me have a different meaning. Every year, I used to go on holidays with my family, my grandparents, my uncle and aunty and cousins to my grandparents holiday house. At the bottom of their garden sat a tidal mangrove beach. Let me tell you, countless hours – days even were spent hunting soldier and mud crabs through those mangroves, under rocks, in the shallows. Now every time I smell those stinky mangrove odours – I think not of my burning nostrils but many a sweet summer spent with my siblings and cousins ‘at the bottom of the garden’, playing in the mangroves!
I’m interested – what smells remind you of what? Don’t be shy. I want to hear about funny ‘cupcake’ stories. First perfumes of colognes. Baby poo. The good. The bad. The Ugly.
Now a lot of my feminist readers (thanks Germaine) got all in a huff that the ladies didn’t have flags to wave in a relationship. My last post certainly saw a chorus of interesting opinions from both guy and gal. So to keep the ladies included, I’ve derived a set of equally usable and apt nautical flags that the ladies can use to communicate key thoughts, feelings, needs and emotions to their special gentleman friends.
You need to understand, however, that a guy will use a flag to communicate a simple, specific meaning. The ladies on the other hand – much more difficult. So I’ve tried to distil the ladyflags down to the key messages that I hope you gals would want to communicate to your gentleman lovers. I’ll still keep the original nautical code, for context.
So, here goes:
Nautical code: I am taking in, discharging, or carrying dangerous cargo
Relationship code: This flag is aptly named, in nautical themes, the ‘red flag’. If a gal waves it to you, it means she’s, well, its that time. The dangerous cargo referred to could be anything from a kilo of chocolate to a box of tissues (deadly in the wrong hands)
Nautical Code: “Yes” or “affirmative”.
Relationship code: When a gal waves the ‘Charlie’ flag, it usually means ‘yes’. But it might not. It could mean ‘I dare you too’. Or ‘Yes, but if you do, you can get used to the couch. So it’s a yes, but it often has certain, unstated (or unflagged) caveats.
Nautical Code: I am maneuvering with difficulty; keep clear
Relationship Code: I’m driving a manual, stay off the footpath
Nautical Code: I am disabled; communicate with me.
Relationship Code: Something is wrong, but I don’t want you to fix it. I know you can fix it quickly, but that’s not the issue. I don’t want you to fix it. Yes I’m crying but it does not mean that anything is really that wrong, I just need to cry. I need to talk about it. For a long time. Shut up, I’m talking to you.
Nautical Code: I require a pilot.
Relationship Code: It did not look like this on the map. This is one of those times when I don’t just want to talk about it, I need you to help me find my way out of the city. Yes, that means come and get me.
Nautical Code: I have a pilot on board.
Relationship Code: My mum is driving with me. We had a lovely chat and somehow ended up on the wrong side of the river.
Nautical Code: Coming alongside
Relationship Code: I just want to cuddle. That’s all. Absolutely all.
Nautical Code: I am on fire and have dangerous cargo; keep clear.
Relationship Code: I’m moody and I don’t know why and everything you do is going to annoy me and my tummy feels sore and I just need chocolate and oh honey please give me a hug and geeze you are annoying me and why isn’t there any chocolate in the fridge and geeze no I don’t want to talk about it and I was saving that last cornetto for tonight and why do you have to be so annoying and ughhh! Can’t you just be quiet and watch Greys Anatomy with me but whip down and get some chocolate for me?
Nautical Code: I wish to communicate with you.
Relationship Code: I want you to tell me what I told you, except in a deep, manly voice so my idea sounds good and rational.
Nautical Code: You should stop your vessel immediately
Relationship code: Why don’t guys ever ask for directions! You should have stopped at that service-station and asked for directions!
Nautical Code: No or negative
Relationship Code: Definitely no. Most definitely no. Don’t even dream about it.
Nautical Code: Man overboard.
Relationship Code: If you do go out with your mates, don’t come home. Ever.
Nautical Code: Do not pass ahead of me
Relationship Code: What do you mean you will meet me at the restaurant? You are not going to pick me up from my house?
Nautical Code: You are running into danger.
Relationship Code: You are WAY PAST running into danger. Danger was minutes ago. You are way past that point. Keep digging. (Often given with ‘the look’)
Nautical Code: I require assistance.
Relationship Code: There’s something creepy crawly in my room and you need to get it out. Yes I know it’s past midnight. Yes I know you are 20 minutes away.
Nautical Code: I require medical assistance.
Relationship Code: Don’t even think about coming over until you have brought chocolate.
Nautical Code: Stop carrying out your intentions and watch for my signals
Relationship Code: I’ll tell you when it’s time for ‘cuddles’ and no, it won’t be before the end of Downton Abbey.
Nautical Code: I require a tug
Relationship Code: I’ve broken down and I don’t know how to change the tyre and I don’t want to call the autoclub cause the guys are creepy and strange and I don’t like them and they’ll be hours and can’t you just please come and change my tyre. Oh and bring me some chocolate?
So gals… Do you think it’ll take off, or should I start running?