I was going to say ‘close your eyes and come with me on a journey down the Newell’, but then I realised that if you have your eyes closed, you wouldn’t be able to read. So keep your eyes open, like I did, driving 2600km’s of tough road through some of the most beautiful country in southern Queensland and through New South Wales.
At 2.30am, the world has a certain peace. A stillness. It’s fresh, and it’s freezing, and it’s full of opportunities. It’s an adventure, waiting to be explored. It’s paragraphs, awaiting to be written. It’s pitch black, save for the streetlights amplified on droplets of water teeming down the window of the packed-full Camry.
Once you’ve cleared Ipswich, you’re there. You’re on the open road, and the Lockyer, the mighty fruit-bowl of the South East awaits. You’ve driven down this patch of road heaps of times, through miles of green farmland, dotted by the occaisional fruit market, Rusty’s petrol station and Gatton UQ, where your dog goes to uni. At night though, this stretch is a different creature. There’s no fluro vests of the backpacker fruitpickers, no flashing amber of streetworks, no sign of the floods that swept through a couple of years ago. It’s just dark, and deliciously still.
The Range though, now that. What can I say? It’s treachery during the day. It’s suicide by 3am. Picture it, behind the wheel, twisting around a mountain like spaghetti on a fork, except with the added pleasure of fog so thick you’re forced to crawl along, seeing a staggering three meters in front of you. It’s thick. Oppressively thick, and you wonder if you’ll ever reach the top of this horrible, horrible range.
Once you’ve hit Toowoomba and it’s quaint tree-lined streets, you hang a left onto the Gore Highway, and then for the most of us, it’s uncharted territory. The flat plain of the Lockyer and the steep incline of the Range has given way to more undulating terrain. Rain hits the front windshield with ferocious anger. It’s still pitch black, there’s no sun to light your way, so it’s you and your highbeams vs. the road. The Gore bypasses towns big enough to rate a mention on a map, and fails to slow down for ones that are a mere punctuation on a long winding paragraph. It’s dark. Very dark. The road continues in the same way for another three and a half hours.
The clock approaches seven and the border town of Goondiwindi creeps up, like the morning sun yawning over the eastern horizon, showing in hazy yellow detail the view we’d missed since leaving Toowoomba. Highway lined with scrub, kangaroo caucuses and farmland as far as the eye can see. Like any family road trip, we pull into the Maccas carpark. The rain, thankfully, has let up and we’re greeted by the Australian flag dangling listlessly on a pole at the end of the carpark, as if it too was waiting for its morning coffee.Inside, a cop on a special orders his breakfast before escorting an impossibly large mining truck down the highway. A polite travelling family listens, too politely perhaps, to the local ‘Australia Rise Up’ candidate, who bangs on passionately about reclaiming this country. In the carpark, her dog barks out the window of a beaten up hiace van, stickers patching up rust spots and dings from years of abuse.
We leave Goondi, hitting the Newell, the backbone of western New South Wales, where five hundred kilometers separate us from Dubbo. If google is anything to believe in, we’ll be driving through six hours of sunblessed farmland and picturesque country towns. Naturally, the rain came out in force as soon as we hit 110, just before we get stuck behind the impossibly large mining truck, some 30 clicks outside of Boggabilla. Perched precariously on the back of a large semi-trailer, it would have easily filled up both sides of a metro freeway. Sadly for us, we had a one-lane country highway with no chance of overtaking for at least 50 clicks. After hovering around 110 for the last few hours, 80 was tediously slow. Tediously, tediously slow.
The rear escort eventually waved us through, indicating the chances of being crushed overtaking the mining truck had slightly diminished, so I planted my foot to the floor and the Camry really, really showed her limitations. The tacho red lined, but was not matched with an equal increase in speed, but she eventually squeezed past the truck and its two escorts. Once again, we hit the rainy Newell as it was meant to be hit – at 110.
Hardly a soul was seen either way as we powered to Dubbo. Moree and Narrabri were but an inconvenience, but we learned after the fact we should not have waited until Coonabarabran for a pit stop. The occasional silo or promise of ‘last petrol’ broke up our trip until then, apart from that, nondescript miles of rainy highway greeted us each step of the way.
Gilgandra was the next town we ignored, and I would like to say the rain eased and the countryside was beautiful.
Finally, Dubbo greeted us. For the uninitiated, its got more than Moree, Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. More old buildings. More pubs. More youth unemployment. More rain. Oh, less teeth. Apart from that, more of the other things.Jokes aside, it was nice to be in Dubbo. They’ve managed to preserve a lot of the old buildings – as you can imagine, it’s the usual suspects. Banks, government buildings, churches and suchlike. It’s quaint, and given better weather, I’d expect it would give an avid photographer many minutes of joy walking around snapping the interesting facades.
Our accommodation was as described. Did I mention it was still bucketing down rain? The receptionist at the motel apologised that they were running behind on cleaning, as one of their cleaners had slipped down the wet tiles. “Seemed like she was in a bit of pain” the receptionist commented, as if the cleaners health was a mild annoyance rather than an OH&S insurance claim waiting to happen.
A meander around Dubbo was in order, before we settled in for the evening, sleeping with anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.
So you want to date my sister?
First up, this has no relation to my sister, or that boy that keeps showing up in her Instagram photos. Or any of my brothers who are hell bent on protecting our sister from teenage boy tomfoolery. No relation what so ever. Everyone in this blog is purely fictional. Please, if you think this is in relation to you, it’s not.
So, you’ve taken an interest in my sister?
That’s nice. So have others.
When you started showing up in my sister’s Instagram photos, I joked with her that I’d probably start checking the police database and googling your name, just to do some preliminary searches. You know, you can never be too careful, can you now?
So after joking that you might wake up next to a horse’s head, my sister told me that you could ‘easily’ beat me in a fight. Now, I expect that she’s right in that respect. Just to dispel any lingering doubt, we probably should go toe-to-toe. I’m usually a bareknuckle man, but we can use gloves if your hands are particularly dainty.
I need to mention that I’m on first name terms with police in every reporting district in SE Queensland and Northern New South Wales. For some reason, I thought you might like to know that.
Well boy, I expect you are quite nice. By the look of those Instagram pics, you certainly have kind and soft features. Let’s not beat around the bush – many gals these days enjoy the company of a ‘beta’ guy. Naturally, I’d prefer my sister to be keen on someone more masculine, but each to their own.
So if this relationship is meant to be, I expect we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of you. Of course, we will love to warmly welcome you into the family. I think I speak for my brothers that we are all looking forward to meeting you and getting to know you.
I’m sure my sister has mentioned it, but every year all the brothers like to go away for a fishing and camping week – we’d love to extend an invitation to you. You can fish, can’t you? I could not see any evidence of fishing, hunting, camping, fire-making, drinking home brew or any other usual manly activities on your Instagram, facebook or snapchat messages that seemed to have made their way into my possession. I remember two years ago with the annual boys camping trip when we brought our sisters last boyfriend, Wayne. Gosh, he was a nice guy, but it’s a shame he left the camping trip mid-week and was never found again, not even by police or emergency services. I do hope Wayne turns up, he was such a nice guy.
Again, I do eagerly await getting to know you some more and spending some time with you.
p.s. a word of advice – when you meet my sisters parents, please, for the love of God, dress up. A shirt, dress pants and highly polished shoes as an absolute minimum. Please come prepared with your resume, your parents last tax assessments and your fathers occupation and of course, yours and your parents birth certificates, if they have been issued in Australia or similar Commonwealth country (Canadian or British preferably) – I’m sure you’ll agree you don’t want to be dating ‘outside your own kind’!
My grandparents are currently on a trip (again!) to Israel and have set up a Facebook page for the family to keep up to date with their travels. They’ve been there for about three weeks now, and so far I’ve seen pictures of them on an airplane and Dubai airport.
The most recent entry was from Jordan – Mt Nebo to be exact. For those not in the know, Mt Nebo is famous for mosaics of all shapes and sizes. They were visiting a workshop there set up for disabled people to learn the art of mosaics. My grandparents love for both the disabled and the Holy Land is well documented, so I’m sure combined was something of a dream come true for them!
I was reflecting on this little workshop they went to. I assume, like most things in the Middle East, it’s surrounded by dust, concrete buildings and searing heat. Whilst Jordan is a relatively safe country (as safe as you can get in that region!), it is surrounded by hostility – wars in Syria and Iraq, ongoing tensions in Israel and the ever looming threat of Iran getting the bomb.
We are shown constantly of Israel and Hamas bombing the snot out of each other. Claims are made from both sides, blood pours on both sides of that boarder.
In the middle of it, there is this unassuming workshop for the disabled, to make mosaics.
In the context of the Middle East, I can only imagine the needs of these most beautiful people do not rate much of a mention in any forum. I don’t expect that the little workshop for the disabled is brought up in Arab League meetings, nor will it be an agenda item on the upcoming G20. But someone – and to be honest, I don’t know who runs it – has set up this workshop for the disabled to give them life, meaning, skill and hope.
A true pocket of humanity, in an otherwise inhumane part of the world.
I can only imagine the life-changing dignity these disabled people have, and the absolute amazing work the people running that organisation have. You could probably argue there are a multitude of equally, possibly more worthwhile causes in that region – the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq is the first that comes to mind. But no – not to the people that run this workshop, making mosaics with the disabled.
There are pockets of humanity all around us. You’ll find it in a street team, bringing a hot meal to the homeless. You’ll find it in the teacher who actually gives a damn and stays back to tutor that kid who wants to achieve. It’s in the family that sells up to move to South East Asia to help fight child prostitution.
My wife and I have been talking about how we can show humanity and thankfulness to our children – especially leading up to Christmas. Without a doubt, it is so so easy to get wrapped up (see what I did there!) in the excitement of gift giving, about getting more, about ‘things’. We’ve come up with a few ideas, and would love to what you’ve done to instill ‘outward looking’ values in your children.
Finding pockets of humanity, however, isn’t about other people. As touching as it is to hear about random acts of kindness, humanity or thankfulness, it’s up to you to practice them too.
Of course, it does not have to be anything big. For you, it might not be opening a workshop for the disabled, or giving haircuts to the homeless, or helping the newly arrived in your country settle. It could be as simple as giving the guy who sells The Big Issue a smile and a G’day in the morning. It might be leaving a sandwich next to that homeless women you pass at the train station. Perhaps it could be an afternoon at the local school, doing remedial reading. Who knows – there’s no limit or capacity to the kindness that can be shown.
So I’m throwing out the challenge to you – make a pocket of humanity this week! You might not be able to change the world, but you can change someones day by something simple as a smile!
Picture totally stolen of my grandparents facebook page.
The phone was out of range.
There was no internet reception.
We only had each other.
We couldn’t instagram the bush tukka.
We couldn’t log into Facebook at check in with friends.
We couldn’t tweet about how amazing this place was.
Many people scoff when I tell them that I don’t have a phone. Well, I do have one. I share one with my wife. She has it Monday to Friday, I have it on Saturday while she’s at work. She uses it, I pay for it!
It seems that we’ve been so accustomed to sharing the ‘best bits’ of our life on social media. I’m not saying that’s good, bad or ugly. It’s just how we’ve become narcissistic in this social media age.
I truly believe that being disconnected is one of the best states we can be. When it’s just you and perhaps those around you that you love. When there’s no distractions. When you’re not tied to an electronic device that ejaculates inane crap 24/7. Don’t get me wrong – I’m quite partial to a bit of facebooking and my instagram addiction is well documented. What I’m saying is there is just something fantastic about being ‘off the radar’.
It’s hard to be disconnected in this day and age. When we are, it’s usually by technological malfunction rather than choice.
I want to know how you get ‘off the radar’, if you do. I’d love to know what you think about when you’ve got no facebook feed to check out or thought to post on twitter. When all you see is purely nature, and not a filtered photo on a small screen. Do you get scared about being disconnected? Do you relish in no one being able to contact you? No boss to ask about that project. No report to turn in. No phone calls to return. Nothing required of you, except to enjoy the moment.
How do you ‘disconnect’?
(yeah, I’m totally aware of the irony of asking about disconnection on social media, too!!)
Photo totally ripped from http://titaniumrunner.net/2011/09/disconnected/
I recently read an article in Smith Journal about how the influx of international beer into Australia is evidence of the success of multiculturalism. Whilst the article was proudly sponsored by Corona, I couldn’t help but notice that proliferation of overseas brews actually demonstrated the opposite of multiculturalism in Australia.
First up, I’m quite partial to a brew. I’m always happy to try something new, but I’ll always come back my fav bitter or draught beers.
It is true that there is an influx of overseas beers – Guinness from Ireland, Carlsberg from Holland, Bin-Tang from Indonesia, Millers from the USA, Ashai from Japan. For the most part, beers are from, what we could best describe, ‘Westernised’ countries.
What we aren’t seeing is an Afghani Amber Ale. An Iranian IPA. A Sudanese Stout. A Malaysian Malt Brew. A Pakistani Pilsner. A Bahraini Bitter.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics advises that as of the year 2010, the top % of migrants to Australia were from the UK (14.5%); India 13.2%); China (10.3%), South Africa (5.8%) The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea, Fiji & Vietnam all had between 4.5% – 1.8% share of the migrants coming to Australia.
The Australian Department of Immigration advises that the highest number of approved protection visa applicants were from Afghanistan, Iran, ‘Stateless’, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Whilst we are not being ‘swamped’ by refugees (as some commentators argue), what we aren’t seeing is an influx of multi-cultural drinking trends or drinks into Australia. Arguments against this might be:
– Of the current migrants, drinking options (certainly for the UK migrants) are well established here in Australia
– For refugees, a majority of these are from Muslim nations where alcohol is either illegal or strongly frowned up.
Post World War Two migration saw an influx into Australia of exotic delights such as Italian food. The late 80’s and 90’s saw an increase in Indian, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants in suburban Australia. Why aren’t we seeing an influx of Northern African cuisine? Middle-eastern restaurants are still, for the most part, on the fringe of Australian dining.
A cursory glance through the beer fridge at your local bottle shop won’t tell a story of multi-cultural success. It will show that Australian Society likes to try commercial European and American beers, as well as a host of local brews. It will show an explosion of craft and boutique beers. What it won’t show is a large selection from, if I can use the term, ‘New Australians’.
Beer drinkin’ is a long-standing pastime of many Australians. Rightly or wrongly, it’s a part of our national psyche. A ‘thing we do’. You don’t seem to see many ‘New Australians’ in a bottle shop – to the contrary – some ‘New Australian’ communities inflict punishments for those caught drinking alcohol.
Don’t get me wrong – alcohol brings a stack load of problems. Drink driving. Domestic violence. Alcohol fuelled violence. I think as Australians we could probably do ourselves a lot of good by easing back on the booze.
So is beer a good gauge of the success (or lack thereof) of current multiculturalism? Of course. We aren’t seeing new refugees or non Anglo-Saxon migrants enjoying beer. We aren’t seeing brews from their country of origin lining the already overstocked fridges of bottle shops.
Multicultural success to me is being open to a new culture – that of the host and that of the new arrival. It’s about enjoying the best bits of both. The food. The drink. New expressions. New ways of thinking. New ways to express individualism. You can argue that this essay is pro assimilation. You could argue that I’m looking at non-Western cultures through ‘white eyes’, and I totally get that.
I don’t know about you, but I’d love to sit down with one of my new Australian friends over a beer and find out about his culture. About his old country. His family. His hopes and dreams now he is here in Australia.
I’d love to sit down and have a beer with him. I wonder if he would want to do the same with me?
In 1999, I gleefully left my childhood home of Wollongong, NSW for the bright lights and sunshine of Brisbane, Queensland. I was 17, excited and ready for adventure.
I left behind a lifetime of friends and a handful of family.
I have returned a few times to visit friends (many of which have since left the ‘Gong for Sydney) and to see family.
My Grandmother died just week and I have had occasion to travel once more to that city wedged between the majestic green mountains and the expanse of the Pacific.
In all honesty, I thought this would be if not my last, certainly one of my last trips to Wollongong. I don’t have many close friends there and my family are at quite different phrases in life. My grandmother was my main relational connection to the city.
On the evening before my Grandmother’s funeral, I spent the most wonderful time with old family friends – their children – children I once babysat are now grown adults and most married!
Sitting around that sturdy table with beautiful, encouraging, faithful friends, I realised I still have many more trips to make back to the Gong. I realised once again that seeds of friendship, faith and love planted many seasons ago were only just flowing. Seedlings of the everyday had turned into a colourful garden!
I went to Wollongong for a funeral. To bury someone and say goodbye to someone very near and very special to me. When I left, I realised it was not the dead that I was leaving behind, but the living that I yearned to see again.
The picture above is the work of @tvidins on instagram. You can find this, and other beautiful pictures here