Writer’s note: I wrote this not to advocate any position, or to say anything in particular. It’s simply a collection of observations, stories, hushed chats and whispers. There’s stories in here that aren’t my own, and it’s certainly not my intention to sound like I’m advocating a position. It’s in a minor key, it’s a bundle of observations and a collection of mumbles.
Bekka’s turning 18, coming of age, party at mum and dads. Scotty spins the tunes and dad throws up the fairy lights, mum caters to fill teenage stomachs – it’ll come up in the front paddock in a few hours anyway.
Mason’s got a new truck, lifted with an LED bar light to be seen from space. He’s the first to arrive at this festive event, and his country dimples cover valleys of insecurity. Cowboy hat bent at the front, ma and pa secretly hope he’d turn his eyes towards their Bek – if only they knew.
Stace, Maria and Bree tumble out of someone’s back seat, pre-loaded. Dressed to the nines, their heels sink into soft country soil, squealing with each squelch, their lives work to snob you off.
Jase makes an entrance, circle work in his beat up ute. The joker, always the laugh. Bekka’s beau, the half bottle of cheap bourbon held by it’s neck. He’s the joker, but she’s got a creeping suspicion the joke’s on him. 20 years old, on the same an hour, with no prospects of increase.
Family comes, smiles abound. Uncle Frank and Aunt Nina, there’s grandma and gramps. Cousins of all ages. Dad playfully grabs Danny in a headlock, trying to explain that his sodomite son is merely creative, like you can try to explain the gay away. Thanks dad, but they both grieve, unable to move past recent revelations.
Raye and Chrissy sit in the tray of Mason’s ute, necking cheap vodka straight from the bottle. He could have both in a heartbeat, but his sights are set on other targets, perhaps tonight he’ll pipe up the confidence to tell her.
Dwayne sings along to the country ditties, he’s unusually talented that way. Laughing off the compliments, he wonders how life might be different if not yoked with three generations of expectation breathing down his neck. Still, he hums along, wondering, even for a second, if things were different.
Kal, as everyone agrees, is classic wife material, the mother hen of the group. She chats CWA with mum, half an eye on Danny, blissfully unaware he’ll make no woman honest. She mistakes his compliments for flirting, and the thought crosses his mind that perhaps he could fake it, until he made it.
Speeches, and mum and dad praise their perfect Bekka. She spies Jase, he’s getting amorous with Raye, and way too close to his bourbon. She pats her tummy – a week late, and she wonders how daddy will react if she breaks the news to him.
And the party continues, and the fire crackles. They all continue to live their lives together, all in secret.
Picture from https://www.google.com.au/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lovethispic.com%2Fuploaded_images%2F108685-Bonfire-Party.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.lovethispic.com%2Fimage%2F108685%2Fbonfire-party&docid=2BomfXY3f8L2kM&tbnid=ahC-QHXakHIw-M%3A&vet=1&w=500&h=332&bih=708&biw=1517&q=teenagers%20party%20bonfire&ved=0ahUKEwiY4ePVj7_SAhVrrFQKHcKHDpgQMwhFKCMwIw&iact=mrc&uact=8#h=332&imgrc=ahC-QHXakHIw-M:&vet=1&w=500
Before you say it, yes, I didn’t blog about day six. That’s because most of the day was spend driving from Sydney to Port Macquarie. Because you’re all terribly interested, we stopped off to see my brother in law and his family for the night in Wauchope, a quaint little town inland a bit from Port.
The morning of day six was spent watching my nephew play soccer, so I found an excuse to pop into town to fetch some supplies for the drive back to Brisbane. I like Wauchope, it’s old rail yards and country feeling. Check out a few snaps.Day six, while spent mostly driving back to Brisbane, was a day of quiet contemplation, and if there’s two things I like, it’s quietness, and contemplation.
Over the last week, we’d cruised the nighttime peace of the Lockyer Valley. I’d taken on the foggy lofts of the Toowoomba Range, and the loneliness of the Gore Highway before dawn. We galloped across the western corridor of New South Wales, and I suspect if we’d come a day earlier, it would have been a picture of dry farmlands, aching for the rain that accompanied us on our drive. We voyaged past towns of yore, sleepy villages and tired rural centers. Gently undulating mountains and now-green farmland greeted us for many hundreds of kilometers, then offset to the murderous roads of Sydney.
We’d basked in the joy of Sydney Harbour and enjoyed what people travel all over the world to experience. That crystal harbour, the vibrant city, the Opera House and the Bridge, all stunning snapshots of that magnificent city.
But now, as we pull out of ‘the doughnut’ at Port Macquarie, I look forward to the next six or so hundred kilometers to beautiful Brisbane.
You need to understand that pretty much from Coffs through to the Ballina is God’s country, and I don’t say that lightly. In the afternoon sun, this country is about as close to the heavens as one can get.
On the west, as the sun drizzles over the mountain you’ll see see cane farm nestled in the cradle of valleys. Rivers take the path of least resistance towards the sea, carving a curvy glass mirror through the lows of the countryside. Oyster leases peak out of the water and old couples, sipping coffee out of metallic cups look into it. Fortified bridges, like church spires guide the way from south to north, forcing even the most seasoned traveler to cover the break and marvel at the still rivers underneath. I’m reminded of my time doing disaster relief after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, in a small farming valley of the Lockyer. Old farmers talked with reverence of the waters, which provided life, death, inspiration and fear, and a local to these parts knew only too well how these currently dulcet rivers turned to fists of rage during a ‘big wet’.
To the east, much of the same. Quiet towns, abandoned churches, picket fences and farmhouses held up by ivy. The sun casts long shadows and the cane seems to arch west, aching for the last warms of the winter sun as it ducks behind the western horizon.
We inch north and run parallel to the coast. From Nambucca, we see glimpses of the Pacific, and it continues to reveal itself little by little as we head up the coast. This freeway is built for speed, the country was formed for taking it easy, and part of me thinks it’s a shame that we see this part of the earth as an inconvenience to race past. , rather than enjoy its intricate beauty. Once we hit the Byron hinterland, it’s just over an hour to home, and just over an hour until life kicks back in to its usual gears.
I continue at 110, wishing I could spend a week exploring these Northern Rivers, but aching for my own shower, my own toilet and my own bed.
It’s been a fantastic week on many levels. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family, this country. Like any travel, it opens doors, gives you this wunderlust, makes you want to leave, and makes you want to come home again.
Day Five :: Sydney
If you’ve been to Sydney, you’ll know how much of an amazingly beautiful city it is. The sparkling harbour, the Bridge, Opera House, Luna Park, the skyline – it truly is an amazing city. Truly, truly amazing.
After battling Pennant Hills Road, we made it to a train station for a not-too-long trip into the city. Emerging from a rail tunnel just before the bridge, we are seemingly catapulted from the north, over the bridge, into the heart of the city.
It’s as you expect. Loud, busy, unrelenting, amazing. We pass Martin Place and are soberly reminded of the horrible events just a few years ago. We pass old and new, all the way down to stunning Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour. Our first tourist trap is the National Maritime Museum, and it doesn’t disappoint. We tour the Advance, the Vampire, the submarine Onslow and a replica of the Endeavour, which, much to my children’s annoyance, wasn’t actually a pirate ship.
Lunch was spent overlooking the water in the harbour, where a nice Indian man struck up conversation with me:
“That’s your son?” he asked with his sub-continental accent
“Yes, that’s right, and that’s my daughter”
“You can tell. He looks like you. Big ears”…
After the Maritime Museum, we took the ferry over to Circular Quay. There’s something special about Sydney Ferries. A romance about those patented light yellow and green vessels, and Sydney Harbour didn’t disappoint. If you’ve ever been on a Sydney Ferry, you’ll know the feeling. That gentle bob up and down, the glisten of the light on the water, the soft growl of the diesel engines chugging through the harbour.
We round the finger wharfs and margined Observatory Hill. Luna Park smiled to our left as we chugged under that magnificent bridge. I reminded my children that Fort Dennison is where they sent the children who didn’t eat their vegetables. Before long, the classic sail-shaped roof of the Opera House comes into view and Circular Quay opens up like the pearl of an oyster.
Circular Quay is teeming. Ita Buttrose is filming an advertisement for something while disinterested tourists swarm around with selfie sticks and matching backpacks. Asian men dressed in beige pants with long-sleeved polo shirts tucked in walk slowly while their wives chatter and point, all donned in matching tracksuits and hats with the see-thru visor. Impossibly good looking 20-somethings swan up the steps of the Opera House, every photo they take is worthy of a travel brochure. Overweight security guards lean listlessly against concrete barriers, and I wonder how much of a deterrent they would be against someone hellbent on terrorising this beautiful corner of the world.
From the stairs of the Opera House, it’s hard not to fall in love with this city. The city, Lady Macquarie’s Chair, Fort Dennison, the Quay all laid out, glistening, happy, Sydney.
Our next stop is what I call Centerpoint Tower, but I think it’s changed names a few times since the 80’s. I can’t believe I’m paying money to catch a trip up an elevator, but honestly, it’s worth it. Sydney, sunshine, 360 degree views. The mighty Pacific to the east and those Blue Mountains to the west. Laid out before me, this city. The bright red Coke sign at the Cross, the stoic conservatorium, the harbour, Hyde Park and the silent memorial. It’s all there, aching to be explored.
We had a wonderful evening with various family and went to bed way to late, having enjoyed every second of this long, but amazing day.
‘Thank goodness for those Aldi jackets’ I mused, wishing I perhaps bought one. Warm and waterproof were two things I wanted to be. I consulted with my travelling companions on the plan for the day – the zoo, and contingency plans as the outlook predicted rain. You see, we had plans to leave Dubbo this afternoon for a farmstay in nearby Mudgee.
Now, I don’t know about you, but two days stuck inside a farm while it’s raining outside might sound ideal. Actually, if I didn’t have the children, and I had a 4WD and a suitable cache of liquor and books, it would be very, very pleasant indeed. In this instance, however, I had kids, a Camry, an empty carton and no books. You could imagine my trepidation about the farmstay.
“Hello?” I answered cautiously
“Gwen here, from McDonalds Farmstay. Listen, it’s raining here, and there’s not much to do”
“I suppose it would be selfish for me to pray for sunshine?” I quipped
“I suppose it would be selfish for me to slash your tires if God came through with sunshine?” Gwen fired back
I suspected she was serious, and after an awkward pause, I thanked the Lord for rain, and thanked Gwen for calling, and made arrangements to visit later in the year when there may not be as much rain.
The morning was sorted – but what would we do on our spare Thursday and Friday ? We were due in Port Macquarie on Friday afternoon to meet up with family, and the originally we would go there straight after the farmstay. I put ‘the word’ out to friends and family in Sydney, and within minutes my very kind uncle and aunty offered us, humble Queensland travellers, to stay at their place for the next two nights. It was especially kind, considering it was State of Origin night, but more about that later.
Day two at the Dubbo Zoo was much better than day one, for the simple reason is we ditched those horrible bikes and elected to drive around the zoo. We saw all the animals in half the time PLUS I avoided a coronary! You could say we all won. Once again, the zoo was fantastic. The pictures were the same as yesterday, so I won’t double them up.
After lunch (and I must say, four days on the road and I’m really over bought food), it was time to hit the road to Sydney!
Unlike days previous, we travelled in relative sunshine, through rolling hills, quaint towns and past miles of farms. Quite lovely. Dinner for the kids was (three guesses) Maccas at Lithgow, the western gateway to the Blue Mountains. Lithgow didn’t get the memo that sunshine meant a bit of warmth, and we froze through 5oC. It was cold. Really cold. From there, we were ready to hit the Blue Mountains. I was prepping myself for a drive not too dissimilar to the slow, yet short drive up the range to Toowoomba, then down into Sydney. It was only about 150kms to my uncle and aunts, and I was thinking ‘1 1/2 hours, no sweat’. So, after driving around the 110km/h mark for a week, anything under 80km/h was slow. Tediously slow. Then, I got to Pennant Hills Road. Why there are not more homicides in the Hills district is anyones guess. I thought Brisbane’s one way streets were annoying, but driving through the Hills is pure murder. After some questionable u-turns, creative double line crossings and hard breaking, we managed to arrive at Thompson’s corner for some Thai and to find a suitable bottle-o that would cure my longing for a Queensland brew. From there, it was literally only another 3 illegal u-turns, interesting right turns and four polite toots of the horn that we arrived, safe and sound at my uncle and aunts.
As fate would have it, we arrived and unpacked just before the kick-off for State of Origin. He didn’t say it, but I know my uncle was ever so pleased I brought a sixer of XXXX Gold (and I know what you’re thinking, but the bottle-o didn’t sell XXXX Bitter). In fact, he was so pleased, after one beer he offered to keep the rest for safe-keeping, and got something that was a little more chilled (the Goldies had warmed slightly in the traverse from Thompson’s Corner to their place). I told him he’s welcome to keep them, and enjoy them later.Well, Maroon jersey donned, I was very gracious in victory.
I recently found myself embroiled in a situation where I felt someone I loved dearly had defiled standards that they set for themselves. I’ve viewed this particular person as a real rock in my life for many, many years and it really, really hurt me seeing them doing things that I thought they’d never do. It left me struggling, in a way, to find a bit of stability.
In the Jewish calendar, we are currently in Hanukkah (or the Festival of Lights). Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian occupiers in Israel at the time. The Maccabees were a band of Jewish fighters who, essentially, had enough of the Hellenization and paganisation of Israel, the Temple and the Jews. They led a pretty crazy campaign against the occupiers, took control of Jerusalem and the Temple and re-dedicated it to God. To the un-initiated, Hanukkah is not just the ‘Jewish Christmas’. It represents a series of very significant events, military battles, the miracle of the Menorah and the re-dedication of a people to the Lord.
Why do I compare these two stories?
I’ve noticed, as I get older, the implicit contradictions of life. Of how we proclaim social justice, yet buy clothing made by sweat-shop labourers or slaves. Of how we ‘ride with you’, yet leave 1400 English girls to be raped. Of how we complain about the price of petrol yet continue to buy bigger cars. Of how we complain about the price of food, but waste it by the ton every year. Of how we want to #bringbackourgirls yet leave countless Indigenous children to be raped and neglected within own communities.
I compare these two stories, because after the abovementioned event, it made me want to reach for the baseline, concrete absolutes of my childhood. If I can say so, I was brought up in a Christian movement that focused on staying away from vice and a relatively strict interpretation of scripture. Whilst some may see these rules as strict and stifling, there is a great security in knowing firm boundaries. I’ve relaxed some of my views as I’ve grown, but fortified others. I guess that’s part of growing up. In the face of the above-mentioned challenge, however, it made me want to re-kindle and re-affirm the ‘absolutes’ I grew up with, like someone drowning, gasping for air.
In times of crisis, our natural reaction is to grasp for something concrete. When I was learning how to ride my motorbike, the instructor told us that if we panic, we’ll likely want to grip onto something strong (i.e. the Earth) to protect ourselves. After these terrible events in Sydney this week, we saw a huge number of people suddenly ‘get religious’, filling churches, offering prayers, seeking comfort in faith – all good things.
What I suspect is that most – if not all humans have is a longing for something real. An unshakable foundation.
The Maccabees (indeed, the whole nation of Israel) were facing the extinction of their homeland, their culture and most importantly, their faith. They saw the desecration of the Temple. They were not content to see all they held dear destroyed. They fought – ruthlessly – for what they believed in. They strove to reclaim the concreteness of their faith and their connection to God.
I’m not saying follow your childhood beliefs in an unquestioning manner – to the contrary! We must all test what we believe. You need to know what you believe and why you believe it, and know what you don’t believe and why you don’t believe it. Permissiveness and passivity has seen the rise in a generation of ‘meh’, unsure of what is truth, willing to follow any trend like long grass blowing in the wind.
It’s easy, as we grow up, to see the contradictions and pain in the things we love, and be jaded by it. It’s easy to be jaded, for example, the Church and all it’s inherent contradictions, but miss the life-changing, liberating message of Jesus.
Is it time you revisited the concretes in your life? Faith, family, liberty? What do you hold dear – do you see it slipping away? Have the events in life made you jaded? Angry? Dismissive?
Like the Maccabees all those years ago, is it time for you to restore those truths you used to hold so dear, no matter what the cost?
Image from http://www.thejerusalemconnection.us/blog/2011/12/21/would-the-maccabees-be-proud.html
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/