Journey - a story in 16 parts. J14It could be Ireland. Except for the weather and the sandy beaches and the blue skies.
There’s a hill on the slopes to the west of the coast which used to be the agistment paddock for the dried up milkers from the old family farm. Dad and his horse Silver would climb the hill regularly to check on the stock. It was one of his allotted jobs. It was also an opportunity to disappear from home for half a day.
From Coolgardie Hill the view back is across a broad floodplain – a sea of sugar cane split by the remarkably straight Richmond River. Here the mighty river travels parallel to the coast for its final twenty kilometre journey – against all common sense for rivers.
I imagine Dad sitting up there surveying the scene below, picking out the landmarks which he knew by heart.
To the south, the headland at Ballina marked the destination for the cool waters flowing from the hinterland. Tucked in tight against the rise on which he sat, marking the limit of the ancient silt deposits, the Pacific Highway speeds travellers south or north to the major centres or to hideaway holiday destinations. The river follows the highway, or rather the opposite is the truth. On the far side, the eastern half of the floodplain, accessible to this day by the cable ferry which winches six vehicles at a time across the Richmond is a sparsely populated strip of coastal farmland; an expanse of sugar crops regularly broken by lanes leading due east to secluded beaches known only to locals.
Dad knew these lanes intimately. As a teenager his slender body and sinewy arms were engaged as labour, laying cast iron rail tracks between the fields; sweating each day with his mates in their cane gang, working the lines, cutting manually, pissing on his blistered hands at the end of each day to help the healing - the original antiseptic.
At the extreme south of this view he would have been able to pick out the hamlet of Wardell, where the highway crossed the river via an impressive ornate steel bridge with its engineered hydraulic span which opened to allow trading vessels to travel upstream as far as Lismore.
Wardell is a pub, three churches, a general store, a bank (closed) and a school of arts hall.
No one stops at Wardell.