Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Three


Spent a weekend in the country with Andrea and my friend Lynne.

years have sculpted our faces into barely recognizable mirror images of us
coffee kickstarts our days into deep conversations and shared memories
lunches herald an afternoon nap longer than seems reasonable
an energising evening walk up steep slopes amid tall trees
a glass of wine focuses the palate on evening hues
mushroom risotto accompanies evening silence
till yawning from a day full of nothing
we slip off to firm beds to dream
of island holidays
once shared
by us
3.
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Monday, 7 December 2009

That Ordinary House 16 Lunch

It’s two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. It’s summer. It’s still and it’s stifling. There is no air conditioner, no fan, no breeze. Christmas is approaching.

The necessities for a Saturday lunch are in place. My father stands silently at the back door. His gaze is distant. The heat shimmers off the burnt-off lawn of the backyard.

Stephen. Michael. My mother calls our names. We’re downstairs playing under the house – the only possible escape from the oppressive heat.

Stephen. Michael. We hear our names again. There’s an edge to my mother’s voice that alerts me to danger. There’s something going on. It’s bubbling. The pressure cooker is getting ready to blow.

The table is set. A floral plastic tablecloth with mock embroidered edges covers the pine table. Four plates are set. China plates with a floral pattern which fights against the floral tablecloth. The plates mark the limits of the table. They surround the Saturday meal – cold corned meat, sliced tomato, tinned beetroot, iceberg lettuce, slices of block coon cheese and, for my father, slivers of raw onion. Every other space on the table is crowded with condiments and options from the fridge – bright yellow pickles, salt, pepper, fresh bread, a bottle of vinegar, mayonnaise, and a large jar of home-made pickled onions – my father’s only link to his Italian heritage. And in the wings – cake.

My mother has typically catered for all possibilities. Catering for her men is her forte. Over catering, her vice. Year’s later, family picnics became logistical nightmares where the venue was chosen to accommodate the team of pack horses required to ferry food from the car to the picnic blanket, where the limits of tables gave way to the acreage of picnics in parklands. Quiches, olives, ham and corned beef and occasionally a home made brawn fought for space beside bread and bread rolls, butter and margarine, scones and butter cake, tea and coffee.

Back in the kitchen it’s not just the weather which is bearing down on us. The atmosphere is thick with foreboding. Silence.

There is nothing more painful than a silent meal.

Friday, 4 December 2009

That Ordinary House 15 The Kitchen Again

We're in the kitchen. The men's footsteps are climbing towards us up the back steps. We will soon be six in this room designed for two. We've bypassed the second bedroom. My bedroom.

The pressure's mounting but this room is already too full . The carving knife, the fridge, my father in his Bond's Y fronts, feet up on the table greeting Mrs Hebley, the next door neighbour who's dropped in to get a cup of sugar on a Sunday morning, the pig's head, the family meals, the arguments, the love, the suppressed anger, the accusations, the reconciliations.

My history is in my head. My head is dealing with overlapping memories and our guests want to talk about real estate. I want to know more about that carving knife. Real estate will have to wait.

Monday, 30 November 2009

That Ordinary House 14 Secrets

For continuity purposes you'll need to go back to June 2009 for episodes 11, 12, 13 of 'This Ordinary House' - the story of a simple abode and the tale of two sons selling the family home.

14 Secrets

Standing there with my brother and two strangers felt odd. The room was empty. I was sure the four of us were seeing different things. There was no point in describing the once present furniture to the invaders. They were already filling it with new items, removing the Venetian blinds, repainting the walls in colours more a part of their world than that of my parents.

All I could see and smell was my childhood and the musky smell of my mother’s foundation. The secrets were safe. Safe with my mother and father, taken to the grave, converted to ashes. I could only guess.

And yet. I was still curious. I suspected that there were aspects of my family and my parents’ lives that I had no knowledge of. Conversations I had never been privy to. Tensions I had been protected from. Stories never shared.

To my friends our family was near perfect. A handsome caring and loyal husband married to a devoted wife. A family which was discrete but not secretive, open but not carelessly so, friendly without desperation. To my mother, especially, family was all important. For her family, there were no limits to her love. Friendships were, however, restrained. There was a reserve in her level of commitment; in the level of trust she invested in friends.

My father on the other hand was naturally gregarious. His great skill was his ability to listen. He drew people to him, both men and women. He was quiet, calm, focused and charming. A charming extroverted man married to a family focused and, at some level, shy woman. I suspected that here lay the germs of a secret life. Here lay the tension. My forensic tendencies scanned their fifty years of married life for clues.

My mother did not trust other women. What was that about I wondered? The mother of two boys, she was the lone woman in her household. Strangely, she had embraced the arrival of the young women her sons brought home as they grew older.. These young women were girls who had been educated through the prism of the feminism of the 60s and 70s. Family gatherings were joyful plain-sailing events until the topic of women’s rights was raised - as it was at every gathering through the 70s.

It was in these conversations that my mother’s inner life leaked through. She was of another generation, one which valued traditional values, where roles were clearly defined; where everyone knew their place; where women supported their husbands, no questions asked. The daughters in law to be, challenged her long held stable view of the world.

It was not that she resented their choices – to live in de facto relationships with her sons, to want to be mothers and have careers; she delighted in that. There was something deeper that she had never come to terms with. It gnawed at her.

She did not trust her own gender. There was reason for her to suspect other women’s motives. Her husband was unusually handsome; her husband was charming. And being my father’s son I recognised myself in him. My father was a flirt. But he was blameless. It was the women who were not to be trusted.

There were clues. There was the episode in my teenage years when the wife of one of my father’s work colleagues made certain claims about his relationship with her. This was the only time this secret part of their lives played out in my presence.
The scars on the cream enamel of the Kelvinator bore testament to this explosive episode.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

That Ordinary House

It's been a long time but I'm going back to see how those brothers are faring in selling the family home. Last time I was there we were in the main bedroom and my head was spinning with flashbacks spanning fifty years of history from that Secret Room.
Tomorrow.

Big Fish, Big Ocean, Big Julian Pepperell

Julian Pepperell (Jules/Big Julie/Jaws/Big Fish) is in print. Again.
His new Book is Fishes of the Open Ocean. 266 pages of magnificent colour illustrations, scholarly information about hundreds of BIG Fish (accessible to the average joe/jill or non game fisherman/person - its exhausting being politically correct). It's coffee table size and ten years in the making - about how long it would take me to make a coffee table.

What's in it? Fish. Big fish of the game fishing type and of the predatory type. My daughter particularly enjoyed the shark section. Jess is 27 and has a fascination with the idea of swimming with the big ones one day. For mine I am convinced I could walk on water if ever i find myself in the same ocean as a man eater. Man eater - it's not a subtle tag.

The shark section is one of seven in the book. I thought I'd share a couple of thoughts about them rather than do the whole book.
SHARKS
1. There are lots of them
2. Many of them have very big teeth, jaws, appetites
3. They have cute names which are a dead (did I say DEAD?) giveaway to their personality types Tiger, Thresher, Hammerhead, Bull, Cookiecutter
4. Some prefer to keep a low profile with names like Silk, Salmon, Blue, Dusky, Basking Shark.
5. The largest (Whale Shark) is a filter feeding shark which gives me some hope. I'm looking to be part of what gets filtered out.
6. Many are threatened as they are slow to mature and thus breed and are victims of long line fishing and other by-catch processes of the large industrial fishing industry.

The one which unnerves me the most is the Bull Shark. It is one of the three most dangerous fish on the planet says Julian and it frequents rivers and estuaries.
As I sail on the Brisbane River (so does my daughter) and they have been sighted (and had a nibble on people) as far upstream as Ipswich (probably 40 km from the mouth) I am always a litt;le nervous on Saturdays. Moreover, visibility in the Brisbane River is about 20 cm on a good day so there is no way of having any warning of their presence. Perhaps this explains why the sailors of the South Brisbane Sailing Club are renowned for their ability to right their crafts in record time following a capsize.

Julian gives some comfort to victims and potential victims by saying: 'its attacks on humans are thought to be random and accidental' . Reassuring!

So if you're into Sharks, Rays, Billfish, Tuna, Mackeral etc etc this is the book for you. It's beautiful and a beauty.







I highly recommend it.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Wry Cooder




Wry Cooder. Who is Wry Cooder? Sadly I have had to clumsily explain to a number of people old enough to be my children who this Ry Cooder dude is.

So I went to a concert on Saturday night where a man in his prime spent an hour and forty five minutes visiting his back catalogue of never-were hit songs. This man who plays slide guitar like no one else; a man who leaves out so many notes it's like a meditation on the unspoken, the invisible, the insubstantial; a man who plays his guitar much better than he communicates in the spoken form - shut up Ry and just play.

How do you explain to people who were't born in the 70s, the significance of a musician who never had a hit; who is better known for his collaborations with Cuban musicians and African guitar maestros like Ali Farka Toure (love saying that name); thirty somethings who haven't heard of the Buena Vista Social Club and for whom Cuba only conjures up images of over proof rum, Bill Clinton's unusual habits with cigars and, well, it's part of America isn't it? ; who've never heard of Castro or the Cuban missile crisis or perhaps even JFK; who ask where Paris Texas is, assuming I've become very confused about my geography.

Am I getting old?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Chipbark Fashion Bravery

Sunday. Carted 20 barrow loads of chipbark from the front yard to the back yard this morning. The two year front fence project is almost complete. The neighbours were starting to talk. One has even moved to a new suburb. I can't be sure it's because of our footpath chaos but my guilt feeds my paranoia. I have now created 20 new opportunities for the local brush turkeys to destroy my backyard.


Celebrated by visiting GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) to see the 20 year retrospective of the Easton - Pearson fashion design collaboration (still going strong). Wow, have they had a great time? 20 years of dreaming up fantastic designs and watching them be created in India, China, Brisbane... Yes they still manufacture some of their pieces in their home town. While there was lots of stuff I couldn't relate to I was impressed with their bravery. They just take their ideas and go for it. Andrea loved it and drew my attention to the two early Easton/Pearson pieces she has - News to me! I drew her attention to the fact that Lydia Pearson swims her Saturday laps in the lane next to me at the local pool. One all.
http://www.eastonpearson.com/home click on image above for link.


Confidence and bravery. Two great characteristics for anyone to embrace.
I am pussyfooting around about working less at my Council job and giving myself more time to do other things. Like writing, photography, having coffee, going to galleries. What's holding me back? Fear of the unknown. Loss of connection with people and work I love?

On the other hand what would a brave decision deliver me. The next phase in my pattern of reinvention. By my calculations my working life has been a series of seven year adventures - 1. Uni and Canberra Public Servant - Bureau of Census and Stats (1967 - 1973)(Luckily I failed a year at Uni otherwise the pattern would have been ruined from the outset) 2. Teaching primary school (1974 - 1980) 3. Working in Community Theatre companies (1981-1987) 4. Teaching drama at tertiary level (1988 - 1994) 5. Community Arts Worker with Brisbane City Council (1995 - 2001) 6. Team Leader of Councils Youth Team (2002 - 2009). Hmmm overstayed my last one by a year. Is there a message in that?

PS I got an email from a young man I taught in 1980/81 at Ascot State School - my last year of teaching before running away to join the circus. He'sd heard me on Life Matters. He remembered the year as one of his fondest. We did lots of arty stuff. He has gone on to be a professional musician, one half of the jazz duo Stringmansassy, for those who know the Brisbane music scene. He's now teaching music in Bathurst. Teaching, its a great career. One learns so much about people and communication. And sometimes you make a difference.

http://www.myspace.com/stringmansassy click on image for link

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Life Matters


Welcome. Old and new visitors. I had the opportunity of speaking to Richard Aide on the Life Matters program on ABC Radio on Tuesday.

I was their "Meet the Listener" guest for this week. It's a great concept. Everyone has a story to tell and by profiling ordinary listeners they unearth the hidden stories of people's lives which are every bit as rich and often more authentic in their simplicity than the celebrity list that gets done to death.

And thus here we are on my blog: "My Missing Life'. Quite apt really as the inspiration for this blog has been to capture simple stories from the present and the past and tell them in a story format rather than as a journal.

Why? I like writing and it's a challenge to take an ordinary memory or incident and try to capture its essence. I reckon sometimes I do it well and other times I miss the mark. But that's the risk and the excitement. When it works its mesmerising and surprising and even when it doesn't I learn something. So what might you find on this blog?

Family stories -
1. "Journey" (March - June 2009) - The amusing and touching tale of taking my father's ashes back to his home village as the final homage to a simple man.

2. "That Ordinary House" (December 2008 - February 2009) - the saga of my brother and my attempt to sell our family home which unearthed a pile of poignant and funny stories associated with that tiny two bedroom war-service home in the suburbs of Brisbane. (More rooms yet to explore)

Travel stories -
Two stories from a recent trip to the Kimberley in Western Australia.
1. "Hummer Envy" (July/August 2009) - the tale of four people in a black Hummer travelling the dusty roads of NW Australia in anything but anonymity.

2. "Kimberley" (August to October 2009) - lost luggage; camp stretchers that don't fit into tents, camping gear that doesn't fit into hire cars, and bold faced bullshit artists.


Two stories from a trip to Europe last year.
1. "Haircut from Hell" (November 2008) - my attempt to connect with the locals at a hair dressing salon in a remote French village in Brittany.

2. "Beware of Breeding Swans" (October 2008) - a hapless swimmers story. The men's bathing pond on Hamstead Heath in London as experienced by an outsider.
PLUS:
Poetry
Photos
Two Barcelona stories (October 2008)
Tell tale signs of an obsession with water (Stradbroke Island Feb 2009 etc)
Even a piece about tea cosies (October 2008)

I hope you enjoy browsing. I certainly enjoy writing.

Let me know what you think.
Click on the photo to link to my Facebook page

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Life does matter

Confirmed.
I will be the 'Meet the Listener' guest on Life Matters next Tuesday.
I get my (almost) 15 minutes of fame with Richard Aide on ABC Radio National (Australia). 9:45am Brisbane time.
They're interested in my life as a clown and ,as it turns out, stories from my blog.

The program, 'Life Matters', should be a must listen for anyone interested in people and well...life. A daily dose is recommended 9-10am Monday to Friday.

Loani,
I think I need a design makeover of 'my missing life' to help new visitors find their way around. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The first encounter

Thinking.......... about this blog............ and wondering if new people who visit might wonder what the .....k#%* it's all about. I haven't used it as a traditional blog, musing on my day or keeping people informed about my life. And yet it is about my life. Maybe new visitors need some encouragement to dip in and out of the stories and pieces that lurk here?
How would I do that?

I could have a contents page?
I could say 'go look for the gems' and give some clues as to my favourite places? I could explain on every page that it's a blog full of stories written as stories which, when taken in isolation or together, might say something about who I am or who you are.

The fact is that in some ways a blog is only as good as the last entry beacause that's what new readers and occasional readers will encounter. and won't go any further if they're not hooked.

I guess I'd better keep writing.

Note to self. It's time I got back to my mother's bedroom and followed those intruders through my family home. They were last in the kitchen in that ordinary house.

If I'm lucky I'll get a chance to talk about this a bit more publicly next week on Life Matters with Richard Aide - ABC Radio National, Tuesday 3rd November 9:45am (Brisbane time). Waiting on confirmation.
Click on the Cowboy to get to my Facebook site.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Kimberley 1 to 12 The story in one place.

Its more fun in instalments but for the speedreaders.....

Kimberley 1. Two Words

It’s day two of our trip to the Kimberley. I’m sitting here in the apartment listening to Neil Murray sing his songs of country. ‘I am your native born….’

Andrea is calm now. Six hours ago her face was stone – a frown permanently etched on her usually smiling face. Two words, luggage and hire-car.

Kimberley 2. Luggage

The bags for our party of four have been delayed in Perth. They’ve put us on the connecting flight with a promise that our bags will arrive on the first flight the next day.

‘About nine o’clock tomorrow morning’ they call after us as we run across the tarmac towards the impatient plane, its engines roaring at us.

At Broome there is a line up of forlorn Brisbane travellers at the service desk. The attendant gives us the impression that this is not an unusual occurrence. He fishes four overnight packs for stranded passengers from a giant cardboard box sitting behind him on the floor. The Brisbane contingent will spend the night in one size fits all QANTAS issue shortie pyjamas.

‘What does your luggage look like?’ The attendant yawns us towards a large poster on the wall with depictions of typical traveller’s bags. They are all coded.

‘Isn’t it all marked and listed in your paperwork?’ Andrea has some expectation that there will be a sophisticated system to this obviously oft repeated event.

We gaze stupidly at the poster.
22A is a duffle type bag; 24 is a medium sized bag with wheels; 25 is a backpack.
‘Ours is a backpack with wheels’ we tell him.
‘Choose the closest match’ he says.

He reads back his inaccurate list: ‘one 22A, one 24, one 25A (small) and one 25B (large).’

‘And a tent in a small bag’ I add. ‘sort of fawn. Khaki.’
‘Two tone’ chips in Denis ‘orange and brown’
‘Makes khaki. If you mix them.’ I laugh at my joke.

He looks at us curiously.

‘And they’re all in the name Peel.’
‘But we’re not all Peels.’
We give him our actual names.
We turn to go, then remember ‘Oh, and when you send them to our accommodation at Moonlight Bay the booking is in the name Lynch.

We leave. It’s a balmy night. You can feel a slight chill in the sea air. June in Broome.

A taxi takes us to our apartment. The driver doesn’t bother to offer to help us with our luggage. It’s 8:30 pm. After nine hours on the road we rip open our QANTAS packs and queue for the shower with our baby tubes of toothpaste and our single shower sachets of shampoo.

Our first experience of Broome is a ten minute walk into what we imagine is the centre of the town. Chinatown, on the waterfront. We can’t quite get our bearings. We pass a noisy cluster of corrugated iron buildings on our way. It’s the only sign of life. Chinatown is dark and largely deserted with no sign of water. It doesn’t feel right. We were expecting the main street of a country town. This feels like a movie set. We manage to find a Thai restaurant opposite a bottle shop. The bottle shop is doing a bit of trade. We have a surprisingly good meal and the first two bottles of wine of the trip. We need them.

Back at Moonlight Bay we’re too whacked to peruse all the brochures strewn on the coffee table and elect to have a QANTAS fashion parade to celebrate our arrival. It’s a pretty ugly affair. Grey cotton elastic waisted shorts and grey t-shirts; tops and bottoms sporting the flying kangaroo in red. Australia is in big trouble if this becomes our national dress.

None of us looks good in grey. No one looks good in grey.

Kimberley 3 Idiots

It’s early afternoon. The phone at the QANTAS Service Desk rings out. Pauline calls Perth. There’s been a delay. Bad weather. The plane should be in around 2pm.

At 2:40 Pauline phones the Service Desk. We’ve starting to get jittery about a second night in our gray issue PJs. They answer.

‘There’s been a mix-up’ says the voice sleepy with afternoon tropical exhaustion. ‘Apparently your bags were left in Brisbane.’

Pauline explodes. She gives them a serve. We’re cheering in the background. ‘I can’t believe that QANTAS, the national carrier could be so incompetent etc etc’

‘Hang on’ says the noew alert voice. ‘No. No.’ a voice in the background is giving an excited commentary. ‘I’ve just been told they’re here. Yes. Right behind me.’

The rest of us garner this information from the roll of Pauline’s eyes and her wild sign language.
‘They were there all the time, the idiots.’

Silence from Pauline. Silence from the Service Desk. It’s not a stalemate. It’s I’m speechless from Pauline and I can’t think of what to say next from sleepy voice. It appears that QANTAS has also outsourced intelligence.

We all get dressed in our gray QANTAS gear to greet the arrival of our luggage. Steve goes into role. Pulls his shorties up under his armpits, stumbles down the stairs like a drunk and greets the cab driver and the neighbourhood in a too loud voice. ‘Hello everybody.’ He bounces forward pushing the others out of the way, sticks his head through the open passenger window and asks: ‘Have these come all the way from Brisbane?’ And he recites the inaccurate list of identification numbers checking off each bag in turn. ‘I can help if you like?’ Steve has had a sudden relapse into his former life as a clown.

The staff at the check-in desk of the apartment complex don’t seem to share our sense of humour.

Kimberley 4 Hire-car

Two men in grey QANTAS T-shirts are talking to Renee about the 4WD camper they’re here to pick up.

‘It’s the black Hummer’ she says
The large ebony vehicle glinting in the sunlight and packed full of camping gear stares back at the three of them. Denis and Steve exchange looks. They were expecting a white Toyota Land Cruiser. ‘It’s not what I was expecting’ I mumble.

‘There’s two six person tents there’ continues Renee. My heartb3eat starts to pick up. Not from excitement. Fuck. They’ve supplied enough tents to house a small army but none of the creature comforts illustrated on their website. Andrea will spew.
I’m happy to go to Broome as long as it’s not a bloody boot camp.’ Her words ring in my ears.

‘It’s brand new’ calls her offsider from inside the shed.
‘Don’t know why they bought a black one. Everyone knows they show every scratch.’ I wonder if Renee is trying to be helpful. She doesn’t seem like the nasty type.
‘Stupid colour’ confirms Tim.

‘There’s been a change of owner in Brisbane’ she tells us. ‘It’s a mess’ they’ve been moving cars all round the country to cover their bookings.’

‘Some of em on backs of trucks’ chips in Tim. ‘This one came up from Perth couple a days ago.

’ But it’s not what we ordered’ I repeat.

‘It’s almost new’ repeats Tim. ‘You’re bloody lucky. You should se some of the cars this lot send us. Useless.’

We don’t have a lot of options. The girls are at the supermarket getting supplies ready to load up the land cruiser they’re expecting. We follow renee into the office and dutifully ask a few questions about insurance and conditions of hire while resignedly initialling every page of a document which would do if we were taking out a lease on Kirribilly House. Every black scratch is listed on the condition report.

‘The tents are on the roof ‘ Tim tells us. ‘and four stretchers, four chairs, a table’
Everything is big. Feels like were moving house.

‘The tents are those new ones’ renee says excitement in her voice. ‘the poles just pop up into shape as you set them up. Clickety click.’ She adds.

In the boot is a giant esky and four more of everything contained in four large plastic crates, or spilling over into the back seat. It’s chock-a-block.

We get a call from the girls. ‘Pick us up from Coles. We’re
almost done.’ I look at Denis. He looks at me. We both raise our eyebrows thinking the same thing. There’s no room for food, let alone our travelling gear sitting on the veranda back at Moonlight Bay.

‘One thing says Tim. ‘Don’t on any account leave your keys in the car and then close the doors.’ Pause. ‘The Hummer automatically locks you out. Some kind of security system.’ He says seriously. ‘I’ve done it once already. Lucky I had the window down. Last renter lost the spare key.’ He explains. Denis ands I exchange raised eyebrows across the bonnet.

‘When you get back, tell us how this thing works.’ says Tim casually indicating the multitude of dials and knobs on the dashboard. By now Denis and my eyebrows are just jumping up and down, twitching in disbelief. Shit. Andrea is going to spew. She hates surprises.

‘Call us if you need anything.’ says Tim as if he cares. We climb into the black cabin with its dark tinted windows and its bullet proof metal frame and inspect the array of options facing us . feeling like a pair of virgins we carefully reverse from the storage shed intent on avoiding the embarrassment of having our first accident in the carpark.
Shit, it’s a big monster.
.
‘But you’ll need to call Brisbane if anything goes wrong’ calls Renee as her parting reassurance.

Kimberley 5 Supermarket

In the supermarket the girls have a Hummer load of groceries piled high in their trolley.

‘Shit’ I think.
‘No room for food’ I joke.

They stare at me darkly, add another bag of oranges and send me off to get a second packet of Vita Brits.

I’m getting nervous. I make eye contact with Denis – but there is no eyebrow raising this time, just two pairs of staring eyes.

At the car we swing open the back door.. ‘Where are we going to put our stuff?’ asks Andrea.

‘We’ll be fine’ I reassure her. ‘Denis and I are expert packers’.

The car appears full, it’s true. We have 6 bags of groceries, four backpacks, four day packs and another tent to come. We decide to pack in the morning.

A meal at Matso’s, two bottles of wine, a whiskey each is followed by a sleep ruptured by dreams of packing solutions and retribution.

It’s a foggy morning next day. Unusual for Broome. It’s an omen. But of what.

Over breakfast we realise we need to add pillows to our list. And a toaster. We may have to choose.

Kimberley 6 Stretchers

The Hummer hums. We head north to Cape Leveque, 200 kilometres up the Dampier Peninsular.

We’re novices in the 4WD business so we take it easy. Plumes of dust envelop us as we pass vehicles returning from this one way in and out red strip of road.

Beagle Bay community would have made a nice stop for lunch but we miss the turn off.

In just over three hours we’re checking in at the Cape. The lighthouse sits on top of a short rise overlooking the campground. We’re directed to tent site number six.

We need to know where the sun will rise so we can orient the tents for the next day. The Hummer has a compass readout on the rear vision mirror so we’ll always know approximately where we might be. It only does the compass points by quadrants so we do some guesswork and set out the tents to maximise where shade might be throughout the day. Then we unpack.

We’ve left one of the maxi six person tents behind preferring to use the bambino tent Denis and Pauline have brought along as our second. Time and space are our key criteria.

‘Time us will ya’ I call to Pauline. It’s 12:15pm.

It takes us until 1:15 to set up both tents, one of which we’ve never seen before. Renee’s magic ‘clickety click’ assurances are way off the mark. But we’re pleased with our first attempt.

The girls have dragged out the camping table and six green eco friendly bags of food lie scattered across the sandy site. They’ve made some sandwiches and a cup of tea on the gas stove. Denis and I are filthy. We have red dust in every orifice. We all sit around the table and survey our home for the next three nights. ‘Clickety click’ – we toast ourselves and Renee on completion of our first stage.

Thirty minutes later we set to work on putting the stretchers together. As we bang them into a bed shape I’m thinking ‘fuck they’re big’. Long and wide. You could sleep two in these comfortably. When we have four set up all I can see is an ocean of canvas. They take up the whole campsite.

Then the fun begins. It’s clear they’re not going to fit into the bambino. We’ll all have to sleep in the big house I muse. We’re all secretly trying to imagine how that might work.

We carry one of the giants into the tent and discover it fits. That’s a win. Unfortunately it’s so fucking big there’s no way a second can follow.

Unwilling to accept defeat Denis and I ignore the wailing in the background and assure the distraught wives that we’ll sort it out.

There are two compartments in the tent. First we try turning the said stretcher sideways across the tent. It fits. But it fails to resolve our problem. It blocks access to the rear compartment. We try straddling both sections from front to back but that means we’ve lost the use of the second compartment.

‘What if we try assembling the second stretcher in the back compartment’ suggests Denis. By this time we’ve removed the first stretcher and tried carrying the second stretcher in on its side, on its back, at a forty-five degree angle, shoving it, stretching the ten to its nylon limits, all to no avail.

We begin by dismantling the stretcher and carry the pieces (there are only three) into the tight rear space. We mange to assemble it, though both of us fear permanent damage to our backs as we adopt some advanced yoga positions in order to join up the pieces (of which there are still only three).

Ultimately we accept defeat when the best we can do is achieve three legs in contact with the ground and the fourth suspended six inches above terra firma. The only other option is to cut a hole in the brand new tent to allow the final leg to find the ground.

We’re tempted. The thought of having to explain this to Tim and Renee causes us to pause.

Denis and I look at each other. Resigned to our fate we emerge from the tent stretcher carried between us to face the music. I’m fuming.

‘I’m going to call Tim. This is fucking ridiculous.’

It’s not your fault’ Andrea offers reassuringly.

And I’m not sure it’s Tim’s either but I march off to the phone to abuse whoever answers my call.



Kimberley 7 Tim

3 pm. Tim’s phone rings out. Just as well. I have time to calm myself.
Eventually a girl’s voice answers. It’s not Renee. It’s a young backpacker’s voice but she’s smart enough to read the emotion in my voice.

‘Tim. It’s for you.’

‘Hi Tim. It’s Steve here. Hummer Steve. Remember? Yeah the cars running well.’ I’m practicing my calm voice. ‘But the tent situation is a f…ing disaster.’

I tell him the whole story. Upside down, inside out, dissemble, reassemble. I’m not about to let him be unclear about our predicament.

‘Someone had better sort this out’ I tell him ‘cos sleeping under the stars is beautiful but not worth the premium price we’re paying for the Hummer plus camping package.

‘I’ll check with Rennie’ he says. Rennie? Is there a Renee and a Rennie? Is he trying to do my head in. I suppress the conspiracy theory growing in my head.

I suggest airbeds instead of stretchers. He agrees, surprisingly enthusiastically.

‘Can you get them to us at Cape Leveque tomorrow somehow?’ He is suddenly less enthusiastic.

‘I’ll have to call Brisbane’ he informs me and promises to get back to me in the next hour.

It’s 4 pm and I haven’t heard from Tim (or Rennie or Renee). I call Tim’s number. It’s engaged. I walk once around the campground. I call again. Engaged. I report back to the silent team on the lack of progress. Andrea has taken to one of the beds. The third time Tim answers.

Tim is less chatty this time. He tells me the boss from Brisbane will call me.

My mission to negotiate a solution by sundown is looking very unlikely. I report to the team. We waste a lot of energy trying to second guess the Brisbane boss and finally agree to the inevitable. We’ll sleep out tonight.

We now work hard at finding the silver lining. What a stroke of luck. Without this we would never have chosen to do this. How romantic. Under the stars. Full moon.

Andrea spoils the mounting euphoria by pointing out that we’ve now taken four and a half hours to set up camp. Denis and I claim it as a new world record. We’ll call the Guinness book of records tomorrow.

Pauline giggles. Denis rolls his eyes. Andrea says she’s going to lie down. She has a choice of inside or outside. What luxury.





Kimberley 8 Vinnie

‘Hello. It’s Steve here. I’m the bloke with the Hummer. Can I speak to the manager please?’

‘He’s in a meeting. Can he call you back in five minutes?’

‘Hello. It’s the Hummer bloke in Broome here. Can I speak to the manager please?’

‘He’s in a ….’

‘I know. You said he’d call back. That was 30 minutes ago.’

‘He’s busy in…’

‘I know.’

‘He’ll be out in about 45 minutes. Can I get him to call you?’

‘No! I want to speak to him now. There are four of us here sleeping rough in the bush. I want this sorted out now.’

‘One moment. I’ll see if he can be interrupted.’



‘Hello’

‘Hi.’ I say in a false light voice. ‘It’s Vinnie isn’t it? Vinnie, I’m the bloke with the Hummer. I’ve got a problem.’

Vinnie doesn’t wait for my tale of woe. He launches into a passionate endorsement of himself. How he’d recently bought the business; how he didn’t have to honour previous bookings; how he was doing us a favour; how he’d gone to a lot of trouble to set us up well with gear; how great a car the Hummer was; what a mugs game it was to be in the camper rental business; how ours was the last renter he was ever doing which included camping gear; how lucky we were and how you can never make people happy.

‘Customers always find something to whinge about.’

I listened to all this in amazement. This man had just purchased a nationwide car rental business and he hated customers. What had he been thinking!

I took a deep breath. I reminded him that that I was one of his unhappy customers and yes, that I did have something to whinge about. I was still in possession of four oversized stretchers which some dickhead had never thought to measure against the tent they were meant to fit in!

I didn’t wait for him to find a solution. I had one.

‘We’d like two inflatable mattresses to replace the stretchers’

What a simple solution.

Vinnie now launched into a tirade about how he never used inflatables. How people brought them back in appalling conditions. Why stretchers were the only option.

This was a very long speech. Didn’t he have a meeting to get back to?

‘We’d prefer inflatables Vinnie. But you solve our problem and we’ll be happy.’

I didn’t tell him that we’d left one of his giant tents back in Broome. I didn’t tell him our second tent was a baby hiking tent. I knew that no stretchers were ever going to fit into that tiny space, but decided not to complicate things and agreed to exchange the giant stretchers for small stretchers at the Kimberley Camping Store when we passed through Broome on the Friday.

I decided to call everyone to make sure they all understood their role in this next instalment.



Kimberley 9 Tom

Tom turned out to be my contact at the Kimberley Camping Store. He seemed to be in charge. He remembered the order. ‘

Yep. Really! They don’t fit? Oh yeah, I did Vinnie a good deal with those stretchers. They were cheaper than the small ones.’

‘But they don’t fit Tom.’

‘Oh.’

I gave a brief summary of the Vinnie conversation minus the tirade. Tom sounded understanding so I calmed the storm building in me and asked him to check what stretchers they had in stock and their dimensions.

‘What'll we do Tom? Can we do a straight exchange? Only slept on once or twice Tom. Good as new.’

‘If you give them a wipe down I’ll put them back on the racks and sell ‘em no questions asked.’ Tom was also happy to give me some prices and sizes of inflatables as our other possible option.

‘Put the stretchers and a couple of air beds aside will you Tom? We’ll sort it out on Friday.’

‘It’s all sorted’ I told the team.

‘Are we getting inflatables?’ Andrea asked pointedly.

‘Well … no. Probably not.’

‘Why not? That’s what we want.’ She went on.

I took another in a long line of deep breaths, tucked my frustration away behind my sunglasses and told her: ‘Vinnie said! But we can buy one ourselves to fit the small tent.’ I added.

‘Why? That’s not our problem. He should pay for that.’ The terrier in Andrea wasn’t going to let this go easily. She had Vinnie gripped tightly in her terrier teeth and didn’t seem to notice that Vinnie had me in his. I started to shake a little. My jaw muscles were locked tight with tension. My eyeballs were fixed like concrete. ‘CAN WE JUST DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO MAKE THIS HOLIDAY WORK.! I AM MERELY THE MESSENGER.’ Said one word at a time through firmly gritted teeth.


Kimberley 10 Kimberley Camp Store

Tom was younger than I expected.

‘Hi, I’m here about the stretchers’ I greeted him with unjustified familiarity.

‘Oh Yeah. The Hummer bloke’ Tom responded good humouredly. ‘I’ve got them out the back’

Tom produced four stretchers in their bags and two inflatable mattresses. He’d kept his word. We insisted on unpacking them and setting them up in the car park.

‘Do you reckon they’ll fit?’ I queried Denis.

He looked back at me. Short of setting up the tent in the forecourt of the camping store neither of us could be sure. They looked smaller. I conjured up a picture of the tent in my head and another of me trying to fit two of these stretchers in where only one fitted previously. Without much conjuring I was also able to picture Andrea’s response if this turned out to be false. This second image came with a soundtrack. Shit I thought.

I turned to Denis, shrugged and told Tom we’d take them – but we really only wanted two.

‘We’ll take the double inflatable instead of the other two’ I told him.

We threw the stretchers in the back of the Hummer and followed Tom into the shop.

‘We need a few other things’ I said as we headed for the back of the store. A replacement bag for one of the sleeping bags, a set of mantles for the gas lantern, a tie-down for the jerry can Tim had lent us, (‘brand new’ Tim had told us ‘don’t lose it’ – come on Tim, since when do brand new cans have rusted bases. Tim was turning out to be an inveterate liar and not very convincing bullshit artist), a spout for the jerry can.

And as an afterthought a map of the Kimberley.


Kimberley 11 Tom and the beetroot

Back at the till Tom was busy with another customer.

One of his offsiders stepped in. We told him the stretcher story.

‘We’re returning four stretchers and taking two in exchange. Vinnie will pay for the stretchers, we’ll pay for the rest’ we insisted.

Tom was called over. ‘We can’t put used stretchers back on the shelf to sell as new.’ He directed this information at Denis and I. ‘Tom said it’s be okay.' we smiled innocently.

‘What the f…k is this about?’ This time Tom got the spray from his, by now, beetroot faced boss. ‘You and me. In the office. Later.’ He began punching the keys of the register seeing Tom’s face in every letter and number.

‘Sorry’ I mouthed to Tom.

‘I don’t want to cause trouble but if we’d had the right sized stretchers in the first place…’ I sensed that this piece of advice was not helping me or Tom. I shut up. Tom fell silent. Beetroot face continued wrestling with the register, calculating a refund on the maxi stretchers, adding in the cost of the two replacements, and then punching in the mattress, the spout, sleeping bag cover, mantles and strap. We watched as the pressure valve inside his head crept slowly towards its limit.

‘There’s nothing to pay’

Denis and I stared at him, looked at each other and didn’t argue. He’d charged everything to Vinnie and it had evened out. Four maxi stretchers equalled two mini stretchers, an inflatable double mattress and a counter full of other stuff. Amazing. I was tempted to ask to see the docket but something in Denis’ eyes caused me to pause. The thrill of an imminent explosion was enticing but…

‘Okay’ we chorused.

Denis and I, aware that Vinnie was about to receive a fax in his Brisbane office, took the opportunity to quietly load up and exit.

‘Let’s pick up the girls and get out of town.’ 'Out of mobile range.'

Kimberley 12 Silent Companions

The girls enquired after our shopping expedition.

Hapless Tom, by now the only unemployed camp store assistant in Broome, became the centre of his own story.

We left the Vinnie bit until last hoping it would pass unnoticed. Of course it didn’t and Vinnie the vampire travelled with us for the next two hours, a silent fifth passenger in our tight knit team. Luckily we were heading up the Gibb River Road, 1000 kilometres of remote corrugated dirt. We wouldn’t have mobile coverage from Derby to Kununurra.

Each night as we set up our tents, inflated our double mattress and squeezed our two stretchers into the Eco 6 tent we had the company of the full entourage: Trouble shootin Tim, Clickety Click Renee, Recently unemployed Tom, Beetroot Face and Vinnie the problem solver.

We slept like babies.

Kimberley 12 Silent Companions

The girls enquired after our shopping expedition.

Hapless Tom, by now the only unemployed camp store assistant in Broome, became the centre of his own story.

We left the Vinnie bit until last hoping it would pass unnoticed. Of course it didn’t and Vinnie the vampire travelled with us for the next two hours, a silent fifth passenger in our tight knit team. Luckily we were heading up the Gibb River Road, 1000 kilometres of remote corrugated dirt. We wouldn’t have mobile coverage from Derby to Kununurra.

Each night as we set up our tents, inflated our double mattress and squeezed our two stretchers into the Eco 6 tent we had the company of the full entourage: Trouble shootin Tim, Clickety Click Renee, Recently unemployed Tom, Beetroot Face and Vinnie the problem solver.

We slept like babies.

Kimberley 11 Tom and the beetroot

The last but one instalment of the very long Kimberley story. You'll need to go to posts back in September to get the other instalments.

And so..............

Back at the till Tom was busy with another customer. One of his offsiders stepped in. We told him the stretcher story.

‘We’re returning four stretchers and taking two in exchange. Vinnie will pay for the stretchers, we’ll pay for the rest’ we insisted.

Tom was called over. ‘We can’t put used stretchers back on the shelf to sell as new.’ He directed this information at Denis and I. ‘Tom said it’s be okay.' we smiled innocently.

‘What the f…k is this about?’ This time Tom got the spray from his, by now, beetroot faced boss. ‘You and me. In the office. Later.’ He began punching the keys of the register seeing Tom’s face in every letter and number.

‘Sorry’ I mouthed to Tom.

‘I don’t want to cause trouble but if we’d had the right sized stretchers in the first place…’ I sensed that this piece of advice was not helping me or Tom. I shut up. Tom fell silent. Beetroot face continued wrestling with the register, calculating a refund on the maxi stretchers, adding in the cost of the two replacements, and then punching in the mattress, the spout, sleeping bag cover, mantles and strap.

We watched as the pressure valve inside his head crept slowly towards its limit.

‘There’s nothing to pay’

Denis and I stared at him, looked at each other and didn’t argue. He’d charged everything to Vinnie and it had evened out. Four maxi stretchers equalled two mini stretchers, an inflatable double mattress and a counter full of other stuff. Amazing. I was tempted to ask to see the docket but something in Denis’ eyes caused me to pause. The thrill of an imminent explosion was enticing but…

‘Okay’ we chorused.

Denis and I, aware that Vinnie was about to receive a fax in his Brisbane office, took the opportunity to quietly load up and exit.

‘Let’s pick up the girls and get out of town.’ 'Out of mobile range.'

Monday, 12 October 2009

Vale George


George
George - son of a General was born in 1997 on the outskirts of Adelaide South Australia but spent most of his life in Queensland. George, who was a sibling to countless ex machina brothers and sisters, was particularly loved by his foster parents Pauline and Denis and loved and respeceted by his half brother Danny and his extended family.
George's family of origin had a proud history of achievements spanning over 50 years. Notable highlights included his family's triumphs at Mt Panorama and the impact on the world of his younger brother Ute and his flashy cousin Monaro.
George travelled widely, rarely independently, preferring the company of his foster family. He loved fishing trips, island holidays and camping. It was on one of these camping trips where he met his untimely end.
He had had major surgery two years previously and though it appeared he had fully recovered, he had an unexpected relapse outside Injune on the 27th September 2009.
He was aged 12, though his body showed signs of premature ageing and even tell tale signs of neglect - though family members refuse to discuss this (out of a sense of protecting his half brother Dan it is rumoured). Some felt that he had not been in the best of health. Their warnings sadly were not heeded and George himself insisted on accompanying Denis and his three mates on this much anticipated trip.
George died beside the Carnarvon Highway 15 km north of Injune of massive internal hemmoraging. Valiant ttempts to revive him failed and he was pronounced dead by RACQ Luke at 8am on Monday 28 September.
In a moving ceremony George was stripped of all his valuable assets (including a brand new roof rack which some in the family feel may have contributed to his demise) and laid to rest by Denis and his three travelling companions.
George now rests in peace at the Roma Automotive Service Centre.
"Kings would call his name in honour of his clan" Shakespeare's The Tempestuous

An hour after his sad burial George was replaced by this little Toyota Hilux twin cab beauty who was much more adapted to the harsh life of the west. (not meaning to imply that George was a wuss)Posted by Picasa
The sad relatives hold a wake at an aptly named Carnarvon Gorge site -'Big Bend"

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Boowinda Gorge - Carnarvon


11 kilometres from the commencement of the track this beautiful curved and sculpted gorge winds its way back from Carnarvon Creek.

At midday the sun penetrates this space. Light plays with the curves to create patterns which add to nature's sculpture.
Marvellous. Magic.
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Carnarvon - men on a mountain


Steve, Nick, Denis and Mike after 900 steps to the top of the Gorge. Not such a feat really, as some tough granny's made the climb with us.
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Carnarvon Gorge rock art - Women's Business


Women of the local tribes carved an image of a vulva every time a child was born here. The cave wall was overwhelmed with these carvings.
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Carnarvon rock art - Men's business


Back from Carnarvon Gorge minus our car but plus some great stories and photos.
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Saturday, 26 September 2009

Carnarvon Gorge


I'm off to Carnarvon gorge for a week with Denis (my Hummer co-driver), a mate of his and my son Nick.
We're going to drive for 10 hours tomorrow and then walk for 10 hours the next day and then recover for 10 hours the next day and then walk again and then drive back for 10 hours.
Sound like fun?
Yes I'm wondering too.
My son is very nervous about spending 5 days with three men more than twice his age.
I'm nervous too about spending all that time with my wonderful son. What if he gets really bored and starts complaining about being out of mobile range? Or worse he might start behaving like the 'jumping mouse' he was as an 8 year old driving me spare with his excess energy. Or perhaps it will be fabulous.
The latter I expect. No matter what there will be more stories and more photos.
And then I can finish the trail of almost finished stories I've posted on this blog.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wandjina Karma

I didn't see much aboriginal art in our Kimberley trip but we did swim in a beautiful waterhole which had this Wandjina figure under a canopy on a side rock face.

Strangly I'd gone to the N/West with only one idea in mind if I was to buy any local art - and that was to buy a Wandjina figure. I'd waited twenty years for this. In the late 80's a local West End based Indigenous artist,Vanessa Fisher, had had an exhibition in a local hall - the Jagera centre - and she had a painting there which I fell in love with but couldn't bring myself to own. It felt too powerful, too spiritual and though mesmerised by it, I felt not ready to live with it. It haunted me for many years and though Vanessa offered to paint me another one this didn't feel right either.

So here I was in Wandjina country.

I saw a beautiful print in a local cafe on the day I arrived but decided to wait and see if anything else presented itself in the three weeks I'd be on the road.We visited four key galleries over that 3 weeks, one of which showed only Wandjina paintings and the others none. It is a very localised image. Still none of these captured me. The rock art piece, on the other hand, had exactly the presence I'd felt with Vanessa's painting. Spooky and of another world and time. I could hardly chip it from the rock face so I photographed it as best I could.

On arriving back in Broome I knew it was the screen print which was still closest to what I wanted so I approached the cafe with some excitement, scanned the walls and it was nowhere to be seen. SOLD. It had been on that wall for 6 months and I'd missed my opportunity.

With one last day in Broome Andrea and Pauline suggested I visit a particular gallery in the old part of town which they were impressed by. It seemed ethical and well informed they said.

I set off by myself while they cruised the Saturday market and spotted the place they were obviously talking about. I hesitantly enquired if they had any Wandjina paintings. There was a pause and then a confirmation. We happen to have only one and it happens to be here from the stockroom on the other side of town as someone else was also asking after Wandjinas. I was not being followed but being preceded it seemed.

The young girl, who was not a local but was very enthusiastic and well informed, fetched it from the backroom and hey presto, there it was. A big bold, in your face, take me if you dare painting that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Yep. This was the one.

Price? Well to cut a long story short about 10 times what the print would have cost. I hesitated, thought I should probably consult my beloved Andrea about a four figure purchase and then thought bugger it. I'll take it, I blurted out. Later I asked Denis if he would be able to be in the room when I told Andrea. My human shield.

As it turned out I had misjudged my beloved's care and understanding about my quest and it was cool.

Strangely, when I took Andrea to see the painting the next morning, in the hour long window of opportunity we had before we were to board our flight to Brisbane, it turned out I'd gone to the wrong gallery. I'd chosen a tin shed. Theirs was a shiny slick place next door.

As well as that it seems that despite my lack of research, my impulse buy was informed by good karma - the artist turns out to be a highly regarded senior painter in the Wandjina tradition - Lily Karadada.


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Kimberley 10 Kimberley Camp Store

Tom was younger than I expected.

‘Hi, I’m here about the stretchers’ I greeted him with unjustified familiarity.

‘Oh Yeah. The Hummer bloke’ Tom responded good humouredly. ‘I’ve got them out the back’

Tom produced four stretchers in their bags and two inflatable mattresses. He’d kept his word. We insisted on unpacking them and setting them up in the car park.

‘Do you reckon they’ll fit?’ I queried Denis.

He looked back at me. Short of setting up the tent in the forecourt of the camping store neither of us could be sure. They looked smaller. I conjured up a picture of the tent in my head and another of me trying to fit two of these stretchers in where only one fitted previously. Without much conjuring I was also able to picture Andrea’s response if this turned out to be false. This second image came with a soundtrack. Shit I thought.

I turned to Denis, shrugged and told Tom we’d take them – but we really only wanted two.

‘We’ll take the double inflatable instead of the other two’ I told him.

We threw the stretchers in the back of the Hummer and followed Tom into the shop.

‘We need a few other things’ I said as we headed for the back of the store. A replacement bag for one of the sleeping bags, a set of mantles for the gas lantern, a tie-down for the jerry can Tim had lent us, (‘brand new’ Tim had told us ‘don’t lose it’ – come on Tim, since when do brand new cans have rusted bases. Tim was turning out to be an inveterate liar and not very convincing bullshit artist), a spout for the jerry can.

And as an afterthought a map of the Kimberley.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Kimberley 9 Tom

Tom turned out to be my contact at the Kimberley Camping Store. He seemed to be in charge. He remembered the order.

‘Yep. Really! They don’t fit?
Oh yeah, I did Vinnie a good deal with those stretchers. They were cheaper than the small ones.’

‘But they don’t fit Tom.’

‘Oh.’

I gave a brief summary of the Vinnie conversation minus the tirade. Tom sounded understanding so I calmed the storm building in me and asked him to check what stretchers they had in stock and their dimensions.

‘What'll we do Tom? Can we do a straight exchange? Only slept on once or twice Tom. Good as new.’

‘If you give them a wipe down I’ll put them back on the racks and sell ‘em no questions asked.’

Tom was also happy to give me some prices and sizes of inflatables as our other possible option.

‘Put the stretchers and a couple of air beds aside will you Tom? We’ll sort it out on Friday.’

‘It’s all sorted’ I told the team.

‘Are we getting inflatables?’ Andrea asked pointedly.

‘Well … no. Probably not.’

‘Why not? That’s what we want.’ She went on.

I took another in a long line of deep breaths, tucked my frustration away behind my sunglasses and told her:

‘Vinnie said! But we can buy one ourselves to fit the small tent.’ I added.

‘Why? That’s not our problem. He should pay for that.’

The terrier in Andrea wasn’t going to let this go easily. She had Vinnie gripped tightly in her terrier teeth and didn’t seem to notice that Vinnie had me in his.

I started to shake a little. My jaw muscles were locked tight with tension. My eyeballs were fixed like concrete.

‘CAN WE JUST DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO TO MAKE THIS HOLIDAY WORK.! I AM MERELY THE MESSENGER.’

Said one word at a time through firmly gritted teeth.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Kimberley 8 Vinnie

‘Hello. It’s Steve here. I’m the bloke with the Hummer from Broome. Can I speak to the manager please?’

‘He’s in a meeting. Can he call you back in five minutes?’

‘Hello. It’s the Hummer bloke in Broome here. Can I speak to the manager please?’

‘He’s in a ….’

‘I know. You said he’d call back. That was 30 minutes ago.’

‘He’s busy in…’

‘I know.’

‘He’ll be out in about 45 minutes. Can I get him to call you?’

‘No! I want to speak to him now. There are four of us here sleeping rough in the bush. I want this sorted out now.’

‘One moment. I’ll see if he can be interrupted.’



‘Hello’

‘Hi.’ I say in a false light voice. ‘It’s Vinnie isn’t it? Vinnie, I’m the bloke with the Hummer. I’ve got a problem.’

Vinnie doesn’t wait for my tale of woe. He launches into a passionate endorsement of himself. How he’d recently bought the business; how he didn’t have to honour previous bookings; how he was doing us a favour; how he’d gone to a lot of trouble to set us up well with gear; how great a car the Hummer was; what a mugs game it was to be in the camper rental business; how ours was the last renter he was ever doing which included camping gear; how lucky we were and how you can never make people happy.

‘Customers always find something to whinge about.’

I listened to all this in amazement. This man had just purchased a nationwide car rental business and he hated customers. What had he been thinking!

I took a deep breath. I reminded him that that I was one of his unhappy customers and yes, that I did have something to whinge about. I was still in possession of four oversized stretchers which some dickhead had never thought to measure against the tent they were meant to fit in!

I didn’t wait for him to find a solution. I had one.

‘We’d like two inflatable mattresses to replace the stretchers’

What a simple solution.

Vinnie now launched into a tirade about how he never used inflatables. How people brought them back in appalling conditions. Why stretchers were the only option.

This was a very long speech. Didn’t he have a meeting to get back to?

‘We’d prefer inflatables Vinnie. But you solve our problem and we’ll be happy.’

I didn’t tell him that we’d left one of his giant tents back in Broome. I didn’t tell him our second tent was a baby hiking tent. I knew that no stretchers were ever going to fit into that tiny space, but decided not to complicate things and agreed to exchange the giant stretchers for small stretchers at the Kimberley Camping Store when we passed through Broome on the Friday.

I decided to call everyone to make sure they all understood their role in this next instalment.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Boab trees - Kimberley W. Australia

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Geike Gorge- Fitzroy Crossing W. Australia

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Kimberley 7 Tim

3 pm. Tim’s phone rings out. Just as well. I have time to calm myself.
Eventually a girl’s voice answers. It’s not Renee. It’s a young backpacker’s voice but she’s smart enough to read the emotion in my voice.

‘Tim. It’s for you.’

‘Hi Tim. It’s Steve here. Hummer Steve. Remember? Yeah the cars running well.’ I’m practicing my calm voice. ‘But the tent situation is a f…ing disaster.’

I tell him the whole story. Upside down, inside out, dissemble, reassemble. I’m not about to let him be unclear about our predicament.

‘Someone had better sort this out’ I tell him '‘cos sleeping under the stars is not worth the premium price we’re paying for the Hummer plus camping package.'

‘I’ll check with Rennie’ he says. Rennie? Is there a Renee and a Rennie? Is he trying to do my head in. I suppress the conspiracy theory growing in my head.

I suggest airbeds instead of stretchers. He agrees, surprisingly enthusiastically.

‘Can you get them to us at Cape Leveque tomorrow somehow?’ He is suddenly less enthusiastic.

‘I’ll have to call Brisbane’ he informs me and promises to call back in the next hour.

It’s 4 pm and I haven’t heard from Tim (or Rennie or Renee). I call Tim’s number. It’s engaged. I walk once around the campground. I call again. Engaged. I report back to the silent team on the lack of progress. Andrea has taken to one of the beds. The third time Tim answers.

Tim is less chatty this time. He tells me the boss from Brisbane will call me.

My mission to negotiate a solution by sundown is looking less achievable. I report to the team. We waste a lot of energy trying to second guess the Brisbane boss and finally agree to the inevitable. We’ll sleep out tonight.

We now work hard at finding the silver lining. What a stroke of luck. Without this we would never have chosen to do this. How romantic. Under the stars. Full moon.

Andrea spoils the mounting euphoria by pointing out that we’ve now taken four and a half hours to set up camp. Denis and I claim it as a new world record. We’ll call the Guinness book of records tomorrow.

Pauline giggles. Denis rolls his eyes. Andrea says she’s going to lie down. She has a choice of inside or outside. What luxury.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Kimberley 6 Stretchers

The Hummer hums. We head north to Cape Leveque, 200 kilometres up the Dampier Peninsular.

We’re novices in the 4WD business so we take it easy. Plumes of dust envelop us as we pass vehicles returning from this one way in and out red strip of road.

Beagle Bay community would have made a nice stop for lunch but we miss the turn off.

In just over three hours we’re checking in at the Cape. The lighthouse sits on top of a short rise overlooking the campground. We’re directed to tent site number six.

We need to know where the sun will rise so we can orient the tents for the next day. The Hummer has a compass readout on the rear vision mirror so we’ll always know approximately where we might be. It only does the compass points by quadrants so we do some guesswork and set out the tents to maximise where shade might be throughout the day. Then we unpack.

We’ve left one of the maxi six person tents behind preferring to use the bambino tent Denis and Pauline have brought along as our second. Time and space are our key criteria.

‘Time us will ya’ I call to Pauline. It’s 12:15pm.

It takes us until 1:15 to set up both tents, one of which we’ve never seen before. Renee’s magic ‘clickety click’ assurances are way off the mark. But we’re pleased with our first attempt.

The girls have dragged out the camping table and six green eco friendly bags of food lie scattered across the sandy site. They’ve made some sandwiches and a cup of tea on the gas stove. Denis and I are filthy. We have red dust in every orifice. We all sit around the table and survey our home for the next three nights. ‘Clickety click’ – we toast ourselves and Renee on completion of our first stage.

Thirty minutes later we set to work on putting the stretchers together. As we bang them into a bed shape I’m thinking ‘fuck they’re big’. Long and wide. You could sleep two in these comfortably. When we have four set up all I can see is an ocean of canvas. They take up the whole campsite.

Then the fun begins. It’s clear they’re not going to fit into the bambino. We’ll all have to sleep in the big house I muse. We’re all secretly trying to imagine how that might work.

We carry one of the giants into the tent and discover it fits. That’s a win. Unfortunately it’s so fucking big there’s no way a second can follow.

Unwilling to accept defeat Denis and I ignore the wailing in the background and assure the distraught wives that we’ll sort it out.

There are two compartments in the tent. First we try turning the said stretcher sideways across the tent. It fits. But it fails to resolve our problem. It blocks access to the rear compartment. We try straddling both sections from front to back but that means we’ve lost the use of the second compartment.

‘What if we try assembling the second stretcher in the back compartment’ suggests Denis. By this time we’ve removed the first stretcher and tried carrying the second stretcher in on its side, on its back, at a forty-five degree angle, shoving it, stretching the ten to its nylon limits, all to no avail.

We begin by dismantling the stretcher and carry the pieces (there are only three) into the tight rear space. We mange to assemble it, though both of us fear permanent damage to our backs as we adopt some advanced yoga positions in order to join up the pieces (of which there are still only three).

Ultimately we accept defeat when the best we can do is achieve three legs in contact with the ground and the fourth suspended six inches above terra firma. The only other option is to cut a hole in the brand new tent to allow the final leg to find the ground.

We’re tempted. The thought of having to explain this to Tim and Renee causes us to pause.

Denis and I look at each other. Resigned to our fate we emerge from the tent stretcher carried between us to face the music. I’m fuming.

‘I’m going to call Tim. This is fucking ridiculous.’

It’s not your fault’ Andrea offers reassuringly.

And I’m not sure it’s Tim’s either but I march off to the phone to abuse whoever answers my call.

Kimberley 5 Supermarket

In the supermarket the girls have a Hummer load of groceries piled high in their trolley.

‘Shit’ I think.
‘No room for food’ I joke.

They stare at me darkly, add another bag of oranges and send me off to get a second packet of Vita Brits.

I’m getting nervous. I make eye contact with Denis – but there is no eyebrow raising this time, just two pairs of staring eyes.

At the car we swing open the back door. ‘Where are we going to put our stuff?’ asks Andrea. ‘We’ll be fine’ I reassure her. ‘Denis and I are expert packers’.

The car appears full, it’s true. We have 6 bags of groceries, four backpacks, four day packs and another tent to come. We decide to pack in the morning.

A meal at Matso’s, two bottles of wine, a whiskey each is followed by a sleep ruptured by dreams of packing solutions and retribution.

It’s a foggy morning next day. Unusual for Broome. It’s an omen. But of what.

Over breakfast we realise we need to add pillows to our list. And a toaster.

We may have to choose.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Kimberley 4 Hire-car

Two men in grey QANTAS t-shirts are talking to Renee about the 4WD camper they’re here to pick up.

‘It’s the black Hummer’ she says
The large ebony vehicle glinting in the sunlight and packed full of camping gear stares back at the three of us. Denis and Steve exchange looks. we were expecting a white Toyota Land Cruiser. ‘It’s not what I was expecting’ I mumble.

‘There’s two six person tents there’ continues Renee. My heartbeat starts to pick up. Not from excitement. Fuck. They’ve supplied enough tents to house a small army but none of the creature comforts illustrated on their website. Andrea will spew.
'I’m happy to go to Broome as long as it’s not a bloody boot camp.’ Her words ring in my ears.

‘It’s brand new’ calls her offsider from inside the shed.
‘Don’t know why they bought a black one. Everyone knows they show every scratch.’
I wonder if Renee is trying to be helpful. She doesn’t seem like the nasty type.
‘Stupid colour’ confirms Tim the sidekick.

‘There’s been a change of owner in Brisbane’ she tells us. ‘It’s a mess. Tthey’ve been moving cars all round the country to cover their bookings.’

‘Some of 'em on backs of trucks’ chips in Tim. ‘This one came up from Perth couple a days ago.'

'But it’s not what we ordered’ I say with a little more intent.

‘It’s almost new’ repeats Tim. ‘You’re bloody lucky. You should se some of the cars this lot send us. Useless.’

We don’t have a lot of options. The girls are at the supermarket getting supplies ready to load up the 'land cruiser' they’re expecting. We follow Renee into the office and dutifully ask a few questions about insurance and conditions of hire while resignedly initialling every page of a document which would do justice to a legal firm arranging a lease on Kirribilly House. Every black scratch is listed on the condition report.

‘The tents are on the roof ‘ Tim tells us. ‘and four stretchers, four chairs, a table’
Everything is big. Feels like were moving house.

‘The tents are those new ones’ Renee says, excitement in her voice. ‘The poles just pop into shape as you set them up. Clickety click.’ She adds.

In the boot is a giant esky and four more of everything contained in four large plastic crates. Other stuff is spilling over into the back seat. It’s chock-a-block.

We get a call from the girls. ‘Pick us up from Coles. We’re almost done.’
I look at Denis. He looks at me. We both raise our eyebrows thinking the same thing. There’s no room for food, let alone our travelling gear sitting on the veranda back at Moonlight Bay.

‘One thing' says Tim. ‘Don’t on any account leave your keys in the car and then close the doors.’ He pauses. we wait for the punchline.
‘The Hummer automatically locks you out. Some kind of security system’ he says with gravity. ‘I’ve done it once already. Lucky I had the window down. Last renter lost the spare key.’ He explains. Denis ands I exchange raised eyebrows a second time from opposite sides of the bonnet.

Tim demonstrates how the auxiliary battery works and gives us instructions about when and how to use it. The charge light flicks on and off. Tim swears, gets it to work long enough to convince us it'll be okay and closes the boot door. It never works properly again.

‘When you get back, tell us how this thing works.’ says Tim casually indicating the multitude of dials and knobs on the dashboard. 'It's automatic' he says proudly stating the bloddy obvious. By now Denis and my eyebrows are just jumping up and down, twitching in disbelief. Shit. Andrea is going to spew. She hates surprises.

‘Call us if you need anything.’ says Tim as if he cares. We climb into the black cabin with its dark tinted windows and its bullet proof metal frame and inspect the array of options facing us. Feeling like a pair of Hummer virgins we carefully reverse from the storage shed intent on avoiding the embarrassment of having our first accident in the carpark.
Shit, it’s a big monster.
.
‘But you’ll need to call Brisbane if anything goes wrong’ calls Renee as a parting reassurance.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Kimberley 3 Idiots

It’s early afternoon. The phone at the Broome QANTAS Service Desk rings out. Pauline calls Perth. There’s been a delay. Bad weather. The plane should be in around 2pm.

At 2:40 Pauline phones the Service Desk. We’ve starting to get jittery about a second night in our gray issue PJs. They answer.

‘There’s been a mix-up’ says the sleepy voice, slowed by the afternoon tropical warmth. ‘Apparently your bags were left in Brisbane.’

Pauline explodes. She gives them a serve. We’re cheering in the background. ‘I can’t believe that QANTAS, the national carrier, could be so incompetent etc etc’

‘Hang on’ says the now alert voice. ‘No. No.’ a voice in the background is giving an excited commentary. ‘I’ve just been told they’re here. Yes. Right behind me.’

The rest of us garner this information from the roll of Pauline’s eyes and her wild sign language.
‘They were there all the time, the idiots.’

Silence from Pauline. Silence from the Service Desk. It’s not a stalemate. It’s a rare I’m speechless moment from Pauline and an I can’t think of what to say next from sleepy voice. It appears that QANTAS has also outsourced intelligence.

We all get dressed in our gray QANTAS gear to greet the arrival of our luggage. Steve goes into role. Pulls his shorties up under his armpits, stumbles down the stairs like a drunk and greets the cab driver and the neighbourhood in a too loud voice. ‘Hello everybody.’ He bounces forward pushing the others out of the way, sticks his head through the open passenger window and asks: ‘Have these come all the way from Brisbane?’ And he recites the inaccurate list of identification numbers checking off each bag in turn. ‘I can help if you like?’ Steve has had a sudden relapse into his former life as a clown.

The staff at the check-in desk of the apartment complex don’t seem to share our sense of humour.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Kimberley 2 Luggage

The bags for our party of four have been delayed in Perth. They’ve put us on the connecting flight with a promise that our bags will arrive on the first flight the next day.

‘About nine o’clock tomorrow morning’ they call after us as we run across the tarmac towards the impatient plane, its engines roaring at us.

At Broome there is a line up of forlorn Brisbane travellers at the service desk. The attendant gives us the impression that this is not an unusual occurrence. He fishes four overnight packs for stranded passengers from a giant cardboard box sitting behind him on the floor. The Brisbane contingent will spend the night in one size fits all QANTAS issue shortie pyjamas.

‘What does your luggage look like?’ The attendant yawns us towards a large poster on the wall with depictions of typical traveller’s bags. They are all coded.

‘Isn’t it all marked and listed in your paperwork?’ Andrea has some expectation that there will be a sophisticated system to this obviously oft repeated event.

We gaze stupidly at the poster.
22A is a duffle type bag; 24 is a medium sized bag with wheels; 25 is a backpack.
‘Ours is a backpack with wheels’ we tell him.
‘Choose the closest match’ he says.

He reads back his inaccurate list: ‘one 22A, one 24, one 25A (small) and one 25B (large).’

‘And a tent in a small bag’ I add. ‘sort of fawn. Khaki.’
‘Two tone’ chips in Denis ‘orange and brown’
‘Makes khaki. If you mix them.’ I laugh at my joke.

He looks at us curiously.

‘And they’re all in the name Peel.’
‘But we’re not all Peels.’
We give him our actual names.
We turn to go, then remember ‘Oh, and when you send them to our accommodation at Moonlight Bay the booking is in the name Lynch.

We leave. It’s a balmy night. You can feel a slight chill in the sea air. June in Broome.

A taxi takes us to our apartment. The driver doesn’t bother to offer to help us with our luggage. It’s 8:30 pm. After nine hours on the road we rip open our QANTAS packs and queue for the shower with our baby tubes of toothpaste and our single shower sachets of shampoo.

Our first experience of Broome is a ten minute walk into what we imagine is the centre of the town. Chinatown, on the waterfront. We can’t quite get our bearings. We pass a noisy cluster of corrugated iron buildings on our way. It’s the only sign of life. Chinatown is dark and largely deserted with no sign of water. It doesn’t feel right. We were expecting the main street of a country town. This feels like a movie set. We manage to find a Thai restaurant opposite a bottle shop. The bottle shop is doing a bit of trade. We have a surprisingly good meal and the first two bottles of wine of the trip. We need them.

Back at Moonlight Bay we’re too whacked to peruse all the brochures strewn on the coffee table and elect to have a QANTAS fashion parade to celebrate our arrival. It’s a pretty ugly affair. Grey cotton elastic waisted shorts and grey t-shirts; tops and bottoms sporting the flying kangaroo in red. Australia is in big trouble if this becomes our national dress.

None of us looks good in grey. No one looks good in grey.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Kimberley 1 Two Words

It’s day two of our trip to the Kimberleys. I’m sitting here in the apartment listening to Neil Murray sing his songs of country. ‘I am your native born….

Andrea is calm now. Six hours ago her face was stone – a frown permanently etched on her usually smiling face. Two words, luggage and hire-car.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Hummer Envy 2

At One Arm Point our presence had provoked interest, at Cape Leveque we reverted to curiosity status. Our campsite was centrally located on the pathway between the East and West beaches. There was constant foot traffic past our tent and around our giant stretchers which were scattered around the Hummer (we couldn’t fit them in the tent).

Was it our strange sleeping arrangements or the Hummer which caused people to pause and stare as they passed by?

To compensate for our embarrassment each of us told our Hummer/stretcher story to whomever was unwise enough to slow their pace and make eye contact. At times we found ourselves prompting each other to tell the hapless visitors another chapter of our harrowing story only to find that we were repeating a story already told.

We had become Hummer obsessed. We were at risk of becoming Hummer bores.

‘Watch out. It’s those people from the Hummer again’ families were heard to mumble as they returned from their evening appointment with another glorious sunset.

After leaving Cape Leveque the kilometres rolled by and our Hummer phobia began to fade. Our Hummer love affair was beginning.

We mastered the complexities of the CD player, the sun roof opened on command; we learnt how to override the automatic locking mechanism (which locked everyone into the car until the driver agreed to set them free); we became mesmerised by the compass and temperature readout appearing electronically on the rear view mirror.

The boys twiddled with every button on the dashboard, constantly consulting the manual while missing vast tracts of stunning countryside. The girls in the back pretended to be dismissive of this obsession with dials and gadgets but were secretly in awe of our technical expertise

'Open the back door please'

No worries

'Turn up the airconditioning'

Easy

'There’s too much bass on the Leonard Cohen CD'

Done

'Can you please just watch where you’re driving and stop fiddling.'

Sorry can’t help ourselves.

The envy we created was subtle but palpable. Our black Mariah entering campgrounds turned heads, drew stares, created division. Some approached, others avoided us.

‘Great to see a Hummer doing what it was designed to do’ said a fellow camper as he circumnavigated the beast inspecting tyres, ground clearance, towing points and remarking on the absence of a bull bar, a serious oversight in his opinion.

They were designed for desert warfare I’d say without any information to back up my claim. Iraq I’d add. There’s no country they can’t conquer I’d observe without irony.

We were challenging the 4WD paradigm. The Toyota Land Cruiser hegemony was under threat.

In the bush there is a clear hierarchy. At the top sits the Land Cruiser – the more battered and dirty the higher the status. The Land Rovers and Nissans come a close second but clearly in the minority. Then come the also rans – the Mitsubishis and a range of baby Toyotas, Mazdas, Holdens and 4WD campers.

But we were the only Hummer. In the whole of the Kimberley. We were the one black mean machine driven by a team so inexperienced that it wasn’t until the Pentecost River, 1500 klms into the trip that we figured how to use the 4WD mode - and then only because we were faced with a 100 metre stretch of deep water. We furiously read the manual as we watched Land Cruisers and 4WD buses inch their way across the boulder strewn riverbed with water up to their doors.

We may have been able to make this crossing in standard 4WD but conversations overheard between blokes in campgrounds convinced us that we needed to be cautious and engage low low low 4WD mode.

‘Let the engine do the work’ a friendly camper had advised us, sensing our inexperience.
‘Know where your wheels are’ said another overweight bloke who looked like he’d spent his life in a mechanics shed on a cattle property and had retired to his camping chair never to move from it again except to get another stubby from the fridge.

The Hummer was an automatic. We sat there engine running all set to go. We had a choice three buttons. We pushed the ‘low 4WD’ knob. It blinked at us and automatically returned to the standard 4WD setting. Bugger. We punched the ‘high 4WD’ button. It flashed and engaged. We were out of standard but our camp advisors had emphasised that ‘low’ was the only option in this situation.

Shit.

'Where’s the manual' said Denis. I found the page and read aloud.

‘To select low 4WD the car must be at a standstill’.

Check.

‘Place the auto shifter in the neutral position’.

We were in ‘park’.

Denis shifted to neutral. I hit the ‘low 4WD’ button. The light flashed beside the correct button and held.

We were ready. We were mentally prepared. Select low, handbrake off and let the engine do the work - use the accelerator sparingly. We glided slowly into the brown water and watched it rise to door level around us. We entered the water smoothly, our foot off the accelerator and slowly came to a halt.

Denis was driving. I was shitting myself. The girls were a little nervous but oblivious to our ineptitude. The river surrounded us and stretched before us.

After what seemed like an eternity, of TV images of cars being swept off river crossings into foaming torrents, of me swimming for help through croc infested waters, Denis and I realised that we were still in neutral. Not only that but two Toyotas (our arch enemy) had followed us into the water and were lined up behind us.

‘Oops’ said Denis.

‘Better put it in gear’

‘Well done boys’ chorused the girls from the back.

After 1500 kilometres of knob twiddling and manual perusing we had failed our first major test. And there were witnesses to this moment of Hummer humiliation.

Two days later on a two hour walk into the beautiful Emma Gorge a man and his son passed us on the track returning from their early morning trek.

‘Dad, isn’t that the man….’

‘Yes son, It’s the man from the Hummer’ said his father shepherding him protectively to the side of the path. As we walked on we could see the young boy looking over his shoulder unable to let go of the image of the Hummer man and his Hummer mates. On his face he had a quizzical look. Part admiration, part confusion. I had the feeling that he knew there must be more to this story than was evident.

I have no doubt that in many a Kimberley journal, alongside the notes about the grandeur of the Mitchell Falls, the cave paintings of the Wandjina figures and the magic of sunsets over the Bungle Bungles there are small but memorable notes in the margins:

‘saw the Hummer man again today’.