TOMMY

It’s been nearly thirty years since I lost Tommy. Despite that, I still have dreams about him. I dream that he hasn’t come home. I fret about him, but then he turns up; and strangely, it’s to the home where I now live, and Tommy never lived here. I get this wonderful relief, and wonder why I was so worried. Tommy always turns up. Then I wake up, and my old mate is long gone again. Despite his spectral presence, I haven’t told his story. Here it is.

I used to run a taxi service from my little country town. I’d pick up regular and irregular passengers from various spots in the Adelaide Hills, and I was always keen to see who I would meet, and what adventures might unfold. It was when I was picking up a regular, a lady who I used to ferry from her little dot on the map, to another little dot on the map, where she would do a fortnightly clean of her elderly parent’s house, when I first laid eyes on Tommy.

“Wow. What a great looking dog.”

“He’s been hanging around here for a couple of days now,” Margie told me. “Perhaps he got out of someone’s car, and they’ll come back for him.”

He certainly was a special example of dogdom. Possibly a cross between a labrador and a kelpie, he was black and trim, with feet that barely  touched the ground; a pair  of gravity-defying ears providing the magic force which kept him suspended between earth and sky.

“Give me a call if he’s still here in  a day or two.”

And that’s how Tommy, (somehow I knew straight away that was his name) after a little coaxing, jumped into the back of my cab, and into my life.

As well as having a wonderful inquisitive and friendly nature, it soon became apparent that Tommy was a dog of boundless energy (although bounding is what he did plenty of). He would race for a thrown tennis ball at lightning speed, often catching the ball on the first bounce, at the top of the bounce, with a snap of his jaws, and returning it soggily to his trained servant.

If there was no ball available, a stick did the job. Tommy also enjoyed a challenge. I could throw a ball into the longest grass, with Tommy unsighted, and he would criss-cross the terrain at lightning speed with his nose radar, and return panting for more in no time. (We fortunately had a large yard).

As much as I liked to walk with Tommy, what he really loved was the evenings I would trundle along the nearby dirt road up a steep hill in my battered old four wheel drive Toyota ute, with him running alongside. There were a couple of dams along this track, and a decent throw with a stick or ball saw Tommy leap into the water and power to his target with the same enthusiasm as his land based fetches.

This was a dog with a zest for life. No workmen could tarry on the footpath without Tommy inserting his friendly vibe. These were the days when a dog in a little country town had some freedom, so Tommy soon got to know most of the neighbours. He particularly befriended a couple who lived on the other side of the road to us, who had a couple of young girls.

When I was out with my taxi, Tommy stayed home or visited this couple. It was also the place he escaped to when I upset him, as I did one day. It hurts to recall this day, but firstly a neighbour told me that Tommy had been chasing her chooks. Then Tommy killed one of our chooks. Obviously this had to be nipped in the bud.

I read somewhere that you could hang the dead chook on their collar for a few days to cure them. I also read that if you gave the offending dog a good belting with the dead chook it would cure him. Believe me when I say that it hurt me as much as it hurt Tommy, but that’s what I forced myself to do. He ran off to sulk with the neighbours, and an hour or two later came home as pally as ever. From that day on, he never even saw a chook.

Tommy also liked to go for a ride in a car. It didn’t really matter whose car it was. If a visiting friend paused when opening their car door as they were about to leave, Tommy would leap in; and if they were true friends they would take him for a little drive before they departed.

One day Tommy disappeared. We fretted for days, thinking we had seen the last of him, when he reappeared  with a large gaping wound in his haunch, possibly indicating that he had been caught up in a fence. The vet attended to him, and we had to subject him to that great ignobility of wearing a bucket around his neck to stop him licking the wound. A dog’s life indeed.

My parents owned a small farm nearby, although they did not live there, and we used to go there to throw hay out to their cattle, much to Tommy’s delight. Here too was a variety of things which could be flung, and Tommy would clear fences with a single bound chasing sticks, with not the slightest awareness of the barbed wire wounding him as he passed. It is salutary that a dog doesn’t feel pain in such a situation.

Children were added over the years to the family which Tommy began, and one day as we were returning from the farm, I got a bright idea. We were crossing the unused railway line which ran past the farm and continued around the bend, eventually running behind the house where we lived.

“Why don’t you and Tommy walk home along the railway line Douglas? I’ll meet you at the other end.”

Off they went. But halfway back home, I remembered that there was a portion of the line which crossed a creek, a considerable distance below; and that this crossing had sleepers with gaps between them. We raced to where the line met the road, and I walked quickly to the crossing from the other end. There was no sign of Tommy or Douglas. I ran back to the car and drove towards the farm, when we spotted Douglas at a house beside  the line they had found their way to. A kindly couple were about to run Douglas and Tommy home and Tommy was ensconced on the back seat ready to go. He was so pissed off when he had to get out and ride back with us.

One day I realised that something very strange was happening to my mate. His appearance was changing, so slowly that it was unseen, until the day it suddenly hit home. One half of his head was slowly wasting away. One side had all the muscle and flesh as normal, while the other was down to the bone. The vet said that he had probably damaged a nerve when fighting with another dog, and that the damage was probably permanent.

This was very sad. There was no change in his personality, but he was a very strange looking dog indeed. Then imperceptively, as the problem had developed, one day I realised that it was going away, and gradually, his head was back to normal.

These were different times, and I can quite understand the controls on free roaming dogs which apply these days; but it was not unusual in those days for me to return from an early trip to the airport, and while passing through the nearby town, spot Tommy and a collection of other dogs answering the ‘call of the wild’ and vying for its affection.

I’d give him a call, he’d jump in the car and be chauffeured home.

The greatest trauma of all was still to unfold however. One day I heard a shot, followed by a series of yelps. I looked out the rear window in the direction of the sounds. From the house on the other side of the railway line in the slope below the house, I saw Tommy making his way towards home in an erratic course. When he arrived I could see that one of his eyes was a bloodied pulp.

I put him in the car, and raced to the nearest vet, expecting him to drop dead at any moment, but encouraged that he didn’t. The vet said that it appeared the bullet had smashed the eye then glanced off without entering the head. It was a traumatic time for all, but fortunately the neighbour moved on, and despite Tommy misjudging the occasional ball and having it bounce off his nose sometimes, he was soon back to his old self, though disfigured somewhat.

Over the years, despite changes in lifestyle, Tommy was the reliable and constant companion. He grew older, as dogs do. When circumstances led to me renting out the house, and taking off for the red centre, of course he had to come with me. But the outback, beautiful as it might be, is a harsh place, and a friendly loving pooch like Tommy suddenly finds that every other dog wants to kill you.

It was at William Creek, a corrugated iron pub, a phone box, (is it still there?)  a road used for a landing strip, and a population of six where the first outback dogs circled the campfire menacingly, teeth flashing, and their deep-throated growls signalling their resentment to intruders. Smaller and older than these mulga-muscled beasts, I was very careful to see that Tommy was kept at a safe distance from them.

Out from Marree we explored the amazing Mound Springs, where water bubbles up from under the ground from the Great Artesian Basin. Tommy had no hesitation in leaping in for a warm swim in this magic place.

Eventually we rolled into the bright colours of Alice Springs, and after a couple of weeks, out to visit a nephew of mine where he worked, at Mount Allan, a remote Aboriginal community some 300 kilometres out of town at the edge of the Tanami Desert. I was to spend the next two years there, as the arts organiser.

The nearby (only 70 kilometres) Aboriginal township of Yuendumu holds an annual sports week-end every year,  and a week after I arrived at Mount Allan, this event was due. I took Tommy along, and we slept in the back of my van at nights. Incredibly, I met up with some Aboriginal friends I had made some years earlier, when I had picked them up in the Hills in my taxi. I never thought I would ever visit their home of Yuendumu, let alone become a near neighbour.

The sports week-end was a mixture of traditional skills, (firelighting, spear throwing) and athletics, along with softball for the women, basketball, netball, and the big one; Aussie Rules Football. There was also a ‘Battle of the Sounds’  whereupon bush bands  from various settlements would play their mixture of electronic country and rock, hoping to win this coveted award.

Visiting communities would come from hundreds of kilometres away to compete, and the population of Yuendumu would swell from one thousand residents, to ten thousand; including white spectators, for a few days.

The visiting communities would each camp on the edge of town nearest to their home country. On the second day, I was walking among this huge gathering, and I realised that Tommy was no longer with me. There were hundreds of dogs to be seen, and I was at a total loss as to where to even begin looking for him.

After a half-hour or more (I had even asked a couple of cops if they had seen my dog, much to their amusement) I heard an outbreak of frenzied barking, and I spotted Tommy running for his life with a pack of dogs after him. Tommy saw the open door of a bus, and leapt in, and fortunately his pursuers didn’t follow. Unfortunately, the call of the wild, or a bitch on heat, was a life threatening scenario for this new dog in town.

Poor Tommy. We slept in my van, and I cuddled the poor old fellow  as he trembled throughout that long night. I was careful to ensure that Tommy was never in such danger again.

On the way back to Mount Allan a couple  of days later, I stopped to boil the billy. Tommy found a little clearing, where a couple of white people were sitting near their little fire.

“Shoo. Go away!” The woman said to Tommy. I approached, and told them it was Tommy, and he was nothing to worry about.

“We thought he was a wild dog.”

I looked at my old mate. Chewed up, one-eyed, and greying, he was many years away from the spritely fellow I had picked up from the road so many years ago. His friendly nature was still there, but this couple couldn’t see it.

Over the next couple of months, Tommy grew weaker. It was all he could do to follow me around. On a trip to Alice Springs, I took him to the vet. The vet convinced me that he was suffering, and that the kindest  thing to do was to put him down. I buried Tommy in the front yard of a nephew in Alice Springs.

Driving back to Mount Allan a couple of days later, there was a graded track creating a diversion from the main dirt road, under repair. As I drove along the diversion, a young black dingo darted out of the scrub. It ran in front of my van, leading the way for three or four kilometres at least. I harboured thoughts of him flopping down with exhaustion, and picking him up and taking him home with me, but eventually he deviated from the track.

I came to the conclusion that it was just Tommy, saying good-bye.

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POOR BUGGER ME: Bill LEAK

 

I am sorry that Bill Leak died so young. In deference, I deleted this entry over the week-end, but after seeing The Australian lauding him over six and a half full pages, including all the letters, all of the editorial, and by almost all of the rabid right, I have decided to restore this post. After all, free speech is what they are always on about, so I shouldn’t let the side down.

Poor Bill Leak. Now I’m not going to say that he was on the piss with one of the great dickheads of our time, and fell off a porch as pissed as a parrot  and damaged his brain, (particularly the bit which makes one funny) because that might not be true. It is a worry however, to see someone who is really struggling with their craft kept in the employ of the only national newspaper in the country, pouring out the drivel which he does, day after day after day. The poor man demonstrates the seriousness of his struggle when he latches onto a single idea, which he trots out for weeks, if not months on end. For example, he gets the idea that Kevin Rudd looks something like Tin-Tin, so he draws him like this for a couple of years. Hilarious!

And of course those who might or might not get on the piss with multi-millionaire wankers and fall arse-up off the toff’s porch would naturally hate the Labor Party and the trade union movement. So what could be funnier for someone who might or might not be suffering from irreparable brain damage, than to depict Bill Shorten as a puppet, operated  by a thuggish trade unionist with CFMEU stamped across his shirt. So funny! Especially the first time, and perhaps the second time and maybe the third and possibly the forth, and struggling the fifth, and perhaps not quite so hilarious the thirteenth or fourteenth time. This was Leak’s attempt to destroy Bill Shorten in the lead-up to the recent election. It failed miserably.

But would you believe it? After Malcolm Turnbull was left with egg on his face after the election, Mr Leak was so pissed off with his hero that he depicted him as King Louis XIV dressed in his fine regalia for day after day after day after day. So funny! Alas our hero was running out of funny, but then came the perfect opportunity for someone who might just be a wanker who gets full of piss at his rich mate’s mansion and falls off the porch and lands on his head to demonstrate just how superior he is to trash like the working people of Australia and those who fight for their rights, and those even lower, the Blackfellow. For it doesn’t matter how big  a wanker you are, you can always attack the Blackfellow if you need to convince yourself that you are superior to someone. And with the power of the most widely distributed newspaper in the country, it is just so easy.

Ah, but poor Bill. He has now depicted himself as the victim, being cruelly dragged off by a policeman, and delivered into the arms of a a vicious lefty (you can tell he is a lefty, because he has a beard) who is armed with a noose and a club, with a big nail in it. Almost as thuggish as those CFMEU terrorists. Keep it up Bill. Show us your pain for the next week or two as you try to think of something fresh, and new, and perhaps even funny to say.

Who knows, you may yet convince us that the real victims in our society are not the poor, not the dispossessed, not the imprisoned, but the upper class snobs who get pissed with their millionaire mates and fall off the porch and damage their brains. Not that this is what happened to you of course. I have heard you state that you were not drinking at the time, and I have no reason to doubt you. After all, that could be stereotyping.

Turnbull vies with John Kerr for drunken dummy-spit.

I was one of many Australians of the left, who really felt for Malcolm Turnbull when he was stabbed in the back by the repulsive thug Tony Abbot, and when he had the shit kicked out of him by Beetroot Barnaby as he lay bleeding. The Neanderthals in his party just couldn’t tolerate a leader who actually had some principles, so on behalf of the fossil fuel lobby the assassins brought out their daggers and bovva boots, and installed the most repugnant tool ever to sully the Australian Parliament. Eventually, owing to the self devouring antics of the Labor Party, this embarrassing imbecile was elected Prime Minister.

In no time, the Australian people realized what a cretin they had elected, and the man we had felt for, and feared we might lose those years before, had his sweet revenge. No-one felt sorry for the victim this time. It was more like the Atticus Finch moment, when he shoots the ravenous dog frothing at the mouth as he staggers down the road threatening all and sundry. Our lovable Malcolm of course, was a much nicer assassin. His money and charm had already ‘nicely’ done for Peter King, the sitting member for Wentworth when Turnbull decided he wanted that seat, (after all, his big house is there), and Brendon Nelson barely felt a thing when Malcolm glided up behind him and slit his throat with a thin blade.

But even though it meant almost certain defeat for the Labor Party, the whole country, (except for Eric Abetz, Andrew Bolt, and The Australian) was able to breathe in some fresh air after the great stench was removed. The Labor Party went from being ten points in front, to ten behind overnight, but at least we had a decent man in the Liberal Party for a change. The country waited for the sweep of change our hero would bestow on the country, but something happened. Nothing. And then nothing happened again. And nothing with a nice smile kept happening, until finally our hero thought he had better do something.

Suddenly he had an idea! He would manipulate the stupid Greens into changing the voting rules in the Senate, (those rat-bags on the cross benches had the temerity to stand up for the poor!) kick the trade unions with draconian legislation,  dissolve both Houses of Parliament, and with nothing but a smarmy smile, a three word slogan, and his manifest destiny, consolidate his birthright. But what about all those nasty policies the stench brought in? Well, our hero had actually made a Faustian pact. Refugees could still rot in the gulags. Cuts to health, education, legal aid, women’s shelters, renewable energy, climate change, (the principle he lost the leadership to all those years ago) and everything else the stench brought in, was still there.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party under Bill Shorten was doing what parties are supposed to do. Actually develop policy, put those policies forward, argue for them, and don’t assume the voters are stupid. A lot of people wrote Bill off, but I didn’t. He argued his case intelligently for eight weeks, and at the end, hit those sanctimonious pricks where they were most vulnerable. They had always hated Medicare. They tried to bring in co-payments, they froze Government support to force GPs to end bulk billing, they stopped support for pathology tests, then they boo-hooed when they were called out on it. So the party who ran a whole election in the past on an interest rate scare, another on a refugee scare, and another on the invasion of Iraq are crying foul. This brings us to the latest election ‘result’.

As much as Malcolm Turnbull knifed his opponents in the party with a degree of ‘niceness’ he was as ruthless as any other politician, particularly when he forced Peter King from Wentworth. And as much as Malcolm Turnbull has a nice smile, he has shown that he is willing to jettison all of his principles for the sake of holding the top job. And as much as Malcolm Turnbull fought against the monarchy all those years ago, he has emulated the most reprehensible representative of the monarchy, Sir John Kerr, and his red-faced drunken rant at the Melbourne Cup all those years ago, with his ill-tempered whinge on election night.

Good-bye Malcolm. You broke Australia’s heart. Welcome Bill. You showed how to run a decent campaign, and you didn’t treat us like idiots.

Uluru Revisited

A chance phone call from the regional mananger of ABC  Alice Springs Radio 783, Stewart Brash, has stirred my memories of attending the handover of Uluru back to the traditional owners in 1985. Stewart traced me after finding  on the internet some photographs I had taken at the event, thirty years ago. To commemorate the occasion, Stewart is collating some photographs for the station’s Facebook website, and a shot I took of a banner being dragged across the sky by a light plane on the day, proclaiming “Ayer’s Rock For All Australians” caught his eye.

do2_2

The intrusion of that plane, at the moment of high excitement as the ceremony peaked, was intended to register the offence which some took at the hand-over, although some interpreted the message as a positive one.

A day before the ceremony I was having a beer in a pub in rural Mount Barker in the Adelaide Hills, when I saw an announcement on the television news about the handover. I immediately determined to get there, though both time and money were short. There were no direct commercial flights, busses or a train which could get me there on time it seemed, but somehow I stumbled across the possibility of scoring a ‘standby’ seat on a Fokker Friendship, departing Adelaide for Yulara Resort the next morning, a Saturday. With my backpack, a sleeping bag and a camera, and the payment of $70, I found myself flying low and slow over the mesmerising desert country on the way to Uluru.

Every trace of past rainfall and water-course was etched in patterns on the landscape, and the shadows of fluffy white clouds showed dark and sharp below against the vibrant coloured panorama. I wanted to shake my fellow passengers from their idle chatter and newspapers and to share the experience, but it seemed I was the only one captured by the magic.

Hours later, we tilted around Uluru and touched down on the tarmac of Connellan Airport. I stepped from the plane and into the warmest of sun, the brightest of colours, and an incredibly strong feeling of belonging.

I have posted on this blog previously my observations of the handback, so I won’t repeat them here, except to say that I got in a good position to take photographs, and was deeply moved by the occasion. After  couple of days exploring the rock and Katajuta, I managed to get a ride into the Alice, board the Ghan, and trundle back to Adelaide. I caught a cab to Glen Osmond, stuck out a thumb, and was picked up by an old school mate, who dropped me at my home in the hills.

Five years later, after spending two years as the arts organiser at the Yuelamu Community in the Tanami desert, I was back at Yulara, selling artworks from the community at the Sheridan Hotel as they explored the potential for a new gallery in a closed down bar. I spent a lot of time at Yulara over the next few years, during which time I visited either the rock or Katajuta on a daily basis. About this time I got hold of a copy of Ayers Rock, by Charles Mountforda seminal study of the creation myths of Uluru when knowledge of the stories was still very strong. This book confirmed what I had learnt during my time as an arts organiser; that every physical feature of the countryside was shaped by the adventures of the dreamtime ancestors, and that certain ‘skin’ groups had the ceremonial responsibilities for delegated sections of the land. Uluru, as revealed by Mountford, has a story for virtually every physical feature; rocks, caves, groups of trees, water stains and rock-holes, gashes in the surface, and the birds, plants and animals who frequent the region. One vivid tale tells of the evil spirit dingo, Kulpunya, sent by a tribe offended by a lapse in ceremonial protocol to slaughter the hare-wallaby people of Uluru. (Shades of the Chamberlains?)

I would explore a section of the rock on each visit, often sitting in a cave and contemplating the same view ancient eyes had taken in over millennia. It is sobering to realise that this whole great land mass was, a little more than 200 years ago, stitched together by song, dance, and ceremony.

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Today the great monolith towers 350 metres above the surrounding desert oaks and sand dunes, while the Minga (ants) from the Yulara Resort to the north visit in their thousands, forming a line of tiny specks as they journey to the top. The Anangu watch from their third world settlement in the south-eastern shadow of Uluru, and observe the 21st century intrusion of their land. Their observation, from frowning brows, is analogeous to the view Uluru has. The stories are locked into the land, and the Minga an insignificent distraction; but the keepers of the ceremony are fewer in number, as the stories fade into infinity.

The culture is precious, and its preservation, paramount.

Aboriginal ‘Policy’ and the LCP.

Tony Abbott likes to portray himself as the Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a claim which sits comfortably alongside the claim that he believes in global warming and has the policy to lower emissions.

It’s bullshit, and under Howard and Abbott, and with the support of the ALP, he has contributed greatly to the nadir the handing of Aboriginal affairs has come to in recent years. It began with the axing of ATSIC, was expedited by the intervention, which included the dumping of the CDEP, (Communty Development Employments Program) and culminates in Abbott’s pitiful droning on about being the great Prime Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the greatest friend they ever had ad infinitum. This despite severe cuts to funding for Aboriginal affairs, including cuts to legal aid, cuts to support for remote out-stations,  and the effective disempowerment of the Aboriginal voice, apart from Abbott’s hand picked lackeys.

I was working at Mount Allan in 1989 when the CDEP was brought in to replace the ‘sit down money’ which was being paid to most of the residents of the community. The CDEP was effectively a work for a the dole program, in which one would work towards the betterment of the community for wages, with those who work the longest hours receiving more pay. Included in the package was funding to buy equipment, workshops and training, thus providing at Mount Allan, a modern motor workshop for the servicing and repairs of motor vehicles and other assorted repairs and maintenance, graders and front-end loaders for the maintenance of roads and landscaping, and the facilities for mixing and laying concrete.

The CDEP was not without teething problems, and relied very much on the quality of the administrator in the key position, a tough job, but only to be expected in a period of such major change. It was also very flexible, and funding could also go toward the work done in the cattle industry at Mount Allan, or the support of the arts industry. The CDEP was soon widespread in Aboriginal Communities, for the obvious benefits it brought. I will come to the cynical disbandment of the CDEP under John Howard later in this post.

Before 1990, the Aboriginal people of Australia had very little representation on a national level. The creation of ATSIC, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, was by far the best attempt to overcome this anomaly. Aboriginal people were elected by their peers throughout Australia and its islands. ATSIC was not perfect, but as was often quoted at the time, “The white fellah’s been fucking things up for a long time. Give us the opportunity to fuck things up for ourselves for a change.”

ATSIC also had oversight by the Federal Government, and got off to a good start, with their representatives being seen to participate in indigenous affairs, and with significant public recognition, including for example, an annual cricket match between ATSIC and the Federal parliamentarians. A certain amount of perceived corruption in its later years gave John Howard the excuse he needed to axe the organisation, helped in no small part by the ranting of the Labor Opposition leader of the time, Mark Latham.

In 2006 I was preparing for a visit to Croker Island for some research I was doing. I discovered online, that there was extensive work being done to facilitate the controlled use of Kava on the island. There were extensive boundaries being worked on, and a strict distribution criteria being drawn up. Residents were allowed one small bag of kava each, per fortnight, for $5. I was on the island to observe the first ever distribution of this substance, an island I hasten to add, which seemed to have a complete absence of grog, no doubt helped by the isolation of the island.

Unfortunately, while I was on the island, John Howard, using consequently debunked hysteria about the abuse of children to initiate an “intervention” announced that he would stamp his  mark on Aboriginal affairs, by further degrading and disempowering them. Government cheques would be purloined, so that a certain amount could only be spent at designated stores, to ensure that it wasn’t all spent on grog. No pornographic videos were to be allowed on Aboriginal lands, (but ok for white fellahs). Kava was to be declared illegal in all Aboriginal communities and only allowed for those of Fijian descent or other, for traditional use.

There was a Racial Discrimination law, which made such decisions awkward, so the Howard Government simply suspended the act for the purposes of the intervention. Because the government couldn’t control the wages the CDEP workers were getting, as they weren’t welfare cheques, the Liberals set about dismantling the CDEP. To its eternal shame, Labor, when it came to power in 2007, kept the same policies going.

Now, with its boots on the throats of Aboriginal people, the Abbott Government cuts legal services, training and other support for them. In addition, it is defunding support for the happiest, the closest to their land, and the healthiest Aboriginal people in remote regions; those in so-called out-stations. The ALP is making some half hearted objection to this decision, but frankly their support for Aboriginal people lacks credence, as apart from the Rudd ‘sorry’ speech, the Labor Party has jettisoned any Aboriginal policies worthy of support. It is left to the Greens to provide  a ‘left’ view of support for the downtrodden dumped by the major parties.

The same could be said of the treatment of refugees, but that’s another sorry tale.

”Poor Fellow my Country,” has never been so apt.

Crossing the Nullabor, 2014

Phew! The appropriate one-word summary of a journey across the Nullabor Plain. Our crossing was done from a Sunday to the following Saturday; i.e., seven straight days of driving, averaging something over 400 kilometres a day. There’s a lot to see on such a crossing, but as we had a week to do it in rather than a fortnight, most of it was observed rolling past. I should however, start at the beginning.

I was in ‘the west’ because I had a tale to tell about Captain Collet Barker; a presentation incorporating slides, a talk, and some songs. The venues were Albany in the south-west, where Barker had served as the Commandant of a rag-tag settlement for 16 months from 1829-31, and at Mount Barker, where a ‘mount’ and a town were named after him, a similar situation to the naming of a mountain and town in South Australia after the same man; the place where I make my home.

I had visited both places in 2006 as I researched Barker’s life, and thought it would be a fun challenge to take my presentation, which I have been fine-tuning for a couple of years, to the west, where they love their history, and then to ‘do’ the Nullabor on the way home. I had flown from Adelaide to Perth a couple of weeks before our return journey, and had my newly renovated 1989 Jackaroo shipped to Perth via the Indian Pacific train. Jan joined me, flying from Melbourne, where she had been with her son Skye, to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Perth was mild and sunny. Jan caught up with her cousin, a lonely lady in her late middle age who lives in isolation in a Perth suburb, and we met a niece of mine, Penny, and her fiancee Jim, at the Subiaco Pub, and went for pizzas afterwards, along with her workmates, who are all in the exploration side of the mining industry. Penny was working at the Granites Goldmine in the Tanami Desert when barely out of her teens, and has also worked in Botswana. She is a talented and beautiful lady, who juggles her career with the raising of two teen-aged children, at her house in Hobart Tasmania, while also living and working with Jim in Fremantle on the other side of the continent. Don’t know how she does it, but she do. They’re getting married in Freo in late December. Would be nice to make it.

A visit to King’s Park, the wonderful breathing space which overlooks the capital, and a journey to Fremantle (before realising Penny was in town) and a potter about Perth, and we were off to Mandura, 100ks south, to stay with Jan’s cousin, Ira. Husband Steve was in Kalgoorlie supervising a Karate tournament for the week-end (Steve is an accomplished teacher and exponent; a black belt I believe) so it was a pity not to catch up with him on this trip. We did, however have a pleasant evening with Luke, Ira’s son, and his wife Lisa and the newly born Isabelle. Ira’s daughter Elyse, partner Ryan, and son and daughter Taj and Em were also there.

On the Saturday I showed my presentation to Ira, sister Jenny, and Mum Iris, an eighty year old who still heads off into the bush in her camping van, and who is having a new house built in Mandura. It was limited to my laptop, but was a good run through to get the bugs out, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. A snack by the waters of Mandura in great company, and Sunday rolled around, with high winds and rain accompanying us on the 300k journey to Albany, where Ira and Steve had made their holiday house available to us for a week. We paused for a prize winning pie at the Mount Barker Bakery, eaten at the summit overlooking a cloudy wet day, before rolling into Albany in mid-afternoon.

The house is on Emu Point, the  headland leading out to the narrow entrance to Oyster Harbour.  From here it is an easy ten minute drive into Albany, on the road  skirting Mount Clarence, whilst providing spectacular views of King Georges Sound to the south. On Monday we  met with Malcolm Traill, curator of the Albany Museum, and did a test run with the equipment in preparation for the presentation the following Tuesday morning. I had met Malcolm in 2006 when he was in charge of the history section of the Albany Library.

On Tuesday morning I did my Barker presentation to a gathering of 87 people, many of whom are members of a historical group who meet weekly. They seemed to enjoy the talk, although I chose to drop the third song in my presentation as it went on for over an hour. Often when I do the talk I have a half-time break.