Category Archives: writing

Slow

Sundae

It is a Sunday afternoon and the hours seem to drag, as they do on a Sunday afternoon. Too early for a shower, too early to start dinner, too early to slip into the comfort of flannelette.

Sundays are for shopping malls and supermarket aisles. Where we go to get lost and forget about our boredom among the bananas, the value pack of socks, a new type of cereal for breakfast tomorrow. It’s where purpose is as easy as making the choice between one brand of plastic-wrapped spaghetti to another.

There is joy in the small things on a Sunday afternoon. Even this feeling of endless time in this space is a privilege with a blanket on one knee. Stringing a few words together on a blog post is a delight. Grainy photos from the night before terrible, but perfect.

Conversations of the future are the present thing and my mouth is sore from opening and closing like a goldfish looking for new pebbles to suck on. My brain tired from beers and over-contemplation.

You could feel bitter on a Sunday. After reading the newspapers of beautiful people with beautiful manicured feet you may stare at your calloused feet and wonder what’s the deal here.

Or you could be okay with that.

I’m okay with that.

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Visiting The Retreat

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Me: Haha going to the retreat hotel

Alana: Woah. Take photos and tell me everything.

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Central Queensland doesn’t look like how you think it would. In the west, going out towards Longreach the earth turns a fiery red that sticks to your thongs. But this isn’t the outback you have on your desktop computer, there are trees here. Not skeleton ones, but full branches with leaves of green. Cane toads hang around the toilets like loitering teenagers. I try to kick one but the wrinkled monster is too fast.

At night time the stars nearly swallow the flat earth.

In Sapphire we fossick for gems. The sweat pours off our faces as we sort through the rocks with the willowby. Pour the rocks in the pan, push it into the water. Wash it. Repeat.

The Willowby. Dan likes that word. Our shorts are covered in dirt and it only takes us a few hours until we’re too cranky to be friendly to each other anymore.

I go for a run and I wonder as I do in most places, why people live here. The caretaker at Great Keppel Island says it’s a shithole but there is beauty in ugliness, even the shittiest holes must have some attraction, right?

I get lost on my run as the sun sinks beneath the shadow of the tree-line. I use the camels in the paddock to find my way back. I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t thump-thumping as I try to escape the country of rusted, gutted old cars. I could always ask for help, but I don’t want to go to the weather board slums with dug out backyards strewn with prospecting gear. When I get back to our camp-site the sky is purple.

The lady who teaches us how to fossick speaks bitterly of the slums.

Dole-bludgers, pensioners, living off mining land for nothing!

The lady has been living in the gemfields for over thirty years. Her face looks like a vintage bag you’d find in an op-shop.

We leave the gemfields with our small fortune in an eclipse packet that we hide in the glove-box. Our GPS takes us on an obscure route and we pass nothing but country-side with fat cows and grass too green to think you’re in Central Queensland. But the land changes around us, black hills with flat tops appear in the distance. It’s beautiful.

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Then the land opens up and drops beneath our feet. The modern gemfields.

Man can destroy the land by digging craters deeper than you can imagine. But at the same time the mechanical wheels of the train over five kilometres long, of the truck the size of a mansion carrying coal, well, it’s a different kind of magic. An ugly kind that still makes you take a second glance back in the rear view mirror.

We have lunch in Moranbah. Wikipedia tells us that it’s the most expensive town in Queensland to live in. The main attraction going for it, as far as we can tell, it the unlimited salad bar at the RSL club. We fill our plates up with three different types of salad. Dan moans, grabbing his full belly when we get back into the car. The town is only 25 years old and you can tell, it’s cement face has been whacked up quickly to accommodate the mining riches. A Red Rooster and a McDonalds do not make a town.

We can’t find anywhere to camp for free in Moranbah so we head back onto the highway and 90 k’s later we pull into The Retreat Hotel.

My friend Alana wrote this amazing piece about this place. In 2009 she worked and lived in the pub for two months. She endured sexism and saw some of the worst aspects of the outback working here, something that you cannot really experience by just staying one night and with a first glance it seems friendlier than staying on the endless highway.

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We ask the blonde bartender if we can camp for free?

Where?

A shrug.

Wherever.

We set up our tent on the grass, about 200 metres from the hotel. Dan wants a beer so he gets a beer and I take advantage of the free tea served in a styrofoam cup. As I look around the hotel I play I-SPY. I spy hundreds of rooms in portables, for miners hitting the piss. I spy signs promoting a topless waitress night (Thursday!) and another with a cartoon man squeezing a woman’s breast. I-SPY a sleaze hitting on the same blonde bartender. Alana wants me to say hi to the manager, but I don’t see any males in charge, only females running the show, so I stick with my tea and read through a selection of magazines: Mackay Lifestyle (YOUR WEDDING DAY!), Cosmos, Mining Life (DREDGING IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!).

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Dan and I use the showers which are also in the portables. My shower smells like someone was sucking on a cigarette while having their daily wash. On the door the sign tells us in a motherly tone, please flush the toilet after use. I tell Dan later that obviously that sign is written up for the dirty males that frequent the pub and don’t have basic toilet manners. Dan says I’m being sexist but he knows I’m right.

The next morning I wake up too early and like an old timer go for a walk. Utes and trucks speed past towards the holes in the earth. I help myself to another complimentary tea and count the caravans in the rest area: three, the number of fat bulls with no necks: six and the number of people in the pub drinking or having breakfast: zero.

There is nothing else to see so I head back to our camp through the wet grass.

I have another three teas and by 10am we are back on the highway, the hot sun burning our necks.

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Writing while travelling, ‘Travel-writing’

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This Sunday, Dan and I will take off in our 4WD named Whoopi Goldberg (it’s gold, getit?!). We’re travelling around Australia and are not really sure how long we will be gone, but our estimate is around six months. Whoopi is fancy, we have had a dual battery system installed so we can run our special car fridge all the time. Dan, being a handy carpenter has made a storage system in the back for our bags, tent and our life.

It’s a bit daunting but I’m really excited, although it won’t be until we set up for our first camp in Jindabyne that it’ll finally click: so this is our life now is it? But I am also looking forward to getting away from all of my Melbourne life, the countless useless items I surround myself with, not using my myki card and breathing in non-cigarette, non-car pollutant air.

A few friends have told me that I must keep writing. Travel writing, share with everyone what’s happening on the road and expose all those myths about Australia – do Australians really ride kangaroos to work? I’m yet to find out whether this one is fact or fiction.

And I want to do that, I like to write and I like to connect. But how can I experience things properly if I’m trying to document everything? You need to disconnect.  One of the great (and awful) things about Australia is that the phone and internet coverage is not so reliable. This forces you to disconnect. You truly do camp out under the stars and don’t bother checking in, or uploading or liking stuff. You just be. I’ve talked about being present before and it’s something I constantly struggle with.

I have to find a balance between taking enough photos and writing enough to remember and also living in the moment.

So, this is a post to say that I’m going away and I might be on hiatus or I might pop up from time to time depending on what’s happening. But don’t worry, I’ll be back.

 

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4.

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She says that she’s got all the time in the world. She’s still young. There’s time later to get her license. You can count the number of hours she’s had practice driving on a single hand. Straight lines through the back-streets. Easy Sunday driving with a nervous parent.

‘I can take you out, if you bring your L’s,’ you suggest, hoping that she doesn’t take you up on the offer. She doesn’t.

You forget that you’re 24. Your first thought is, okay, I don’t care and the second is fuck. If you’re going to follow your life plan, written by seven-year old you, you’re expected to have your first child in three years. A girl named Fiona. You’re also expected to marry an Andrew and live on a block of land outside of Albury. You don’t know any Andrews, except one who threw a chair at you in year 8. You’re not Facebook friends.

Some friends have babies and after a year or two the babies grow teeth and hair and rounder cheeks. Sometimes you feel like you need a baby to feel the passage of time properly. Would it slow it down? Or would it stay the same, sometimes exciting but usually stagnant like a pond?

Everyone seems to be having mini-crisis’s post-uni, but with much less drama. It’s like finishing high school again but with added responsibility because you’re more adult than you were at 18. You’ve paid bills and bought your own cereal. You’re succeeding at life.

She says you’re still young. But when does that stop, because some days you feel so old that you think about doing your will. You’re an organ donor, you’ve got the card, but you kind of hope to live a bit longer, write a bit more and find a way to slow time down.

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3.

For Simon.

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Lucas had been fat once. His mother had liked to cook, and he and his father had encouraged her by eating all the pecan pies, the sausage and potatoes, the endless casseroles and roast chickens with fresh bread rolls from the oven. Lucas’ face had a swollen but happy look, and his lisp almost seemed cute with all the extra fat jiggling below his chin. Of course he had been teased at school but that didn’t matter because at least his parents were alive then, united by bowls of steaming food and forks at the ready.

But now, at 12 years old the orphan called Lucas was skinny and tall. He acquired food through searching through the Woolworth bins or shop-lifting, it was divided between the dog and him. Lefty was a street dog who in his younger years had liked to fight, resulting in a missing leg. He was a faithful dog, as long as he was fed every day and at least had KFC once a week. In exchange, Lefty offered Lucas his coarse fur body as a pillow to sleep on at night.

Despite this Lucas was not homeless or as forsaken as one might believe. When his parents died from an extremely rare double coconut falling while in North Queensland, his mother’s strange sister Aunt Primrose had volunteered to take the boy in. She had always wanted children but had never gotten around to it and instead doted on her worm farm.

Lucas admired Oliver Twist, his dirty face and his adventure with the Gang of Thieves. Lucas had relocated to a small town in Victoria, Aunt Primrose had a large house with a sprawling garden. There was rumour about town and in the small school that she was a witch. The fact she didn’t seem to eat, and even worse cook, made Lucas want to believe this was true. Something as exciting as a witch was better than a three course meal. Aunt Primrose did have a laugh that came out like a cackle, and she laughed often as if it was as simple as breathing. But the broom only came out for sweeping and the jars of preserves were only of peaches and juicy pears the sweet smell wafted in the hot kitchen. Disappointingly there was no eye of newt, wing of bat.

Lefty had met witches and was glad that Aunt Primrose wasn’t one. She was odd yes, but rather friendly. He was old now and wanted to live out his final three legged days with simplicity and laziness and not be enchanted into magical forests looking for special mushrooms. But Lucas was an orphan, and as stories of orphans go they never can be ordinary. And although Dickens would not write a book about him, nor would there be a musical making a song and dance about his misery his universe would be like an ongoing surprise birthday party – without the delicious cake. Unfortunately Lefty’s easy life would be disrupted.

 

(To be continued – with suggestions. What would you like to see happening to Lucas and poor Lefty?)

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2.

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The original Daniel interpreted the King’s dreams in Babylon. He was a visionary and a prophet, who was tossed into a lion’s den like a piece of meat.

He was said to have prophesised the world’s end numerous times over. If he was alive today Daniel would be working as a Hollywood script-writer, making millions, cashing in on our current obsession with end-of-world paraphernalia.

My boyfriend Daniel doesn’t see the end of the world coming. When I tell him of my fear of death, the deep clutching fear that grabs my heart when I try to imagine not being here, he shakes his head.

‘I don’t worry about that.’

Jewish Daniel prayed in the lion’s pit and was saved from being the lion’s lunch-time snack. He walked out of the den, brushing the dust off himself and whistled a tune.

Daniel has a step-brother named Daniel. Luckily he currently lives in Darwin, because two Daniels in one family can be a little bit much.

My sister Kim’s boyfriend is also called Daniel, when we talk about our partners we have to specify who we are talking about.

‘’My’’ Daniel,’ we say with our hands on our heart.

‘Daniel B or Daniel H?’ Mum asks.

Of course the two Daniels share the same interests: fishing, footy, laughing at the same YouTube clips, a love for the bogan drink Jim Beam.  The laid-back name originating from a man who prayed in a pit has connected them. There’s a photo of the Daniels on my grandparent’s mantelpiece, my pa in the middle of the two lads, all of them in suits at Hanna’s wedding. Big smiles all round.

No one else in my family gets that special spot, a framed photo in the middle, easily viewed from the dining table.

There’s a soft spot for the ‘D’ club in this world.

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1.

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When we were younger, with red and black socks pulled over knees and packet dyed hair swept over an eye, we would be told off for loitering in the fridge department in Myers.

The store manager was close to getting a broom and steering us to the door. Instead, he would yell, the veins on his forehead convulsing like blue snakes. We eventually moved on, to Hungry Jacks or some other place with neon signs and apathetic take-away workers who didn’t care what you did in the store – Just don’t steal the chairs, alright?

When I moved interstate I found that shopping departments had a new way to deter the vermin with their overloaded school bags. Outside the local haunts a high pitched frequency was played that only people aged under thirty could only hear. High frequencies are used as a torture device, a ‘Sonic Weapon’ in Guantanamo Bay forcing the truth out of terrorists. Box Hill had a lower, but still unbearable sound squealing through a megaphone outside the supermarket.

Loaded with groceries for the week I would leave the shopping centre and would squeeze my eyes shut from the feeling, like a worm crawling inside my ear, squirming.

These days I can’t hear it.

I kind of miss the worm.

Stacey and I go shopping at Knox and the lady in the shoe shop smiles so hard she looks like she’s a contestant in an American beauty pageant. She bustles around the shop finding the right size of the diamanté-studded wedge heel for Stacey and calls us darlings.

How does that feel darling?

Busy day darling?

You have gorgeous feet darling.

I bite my lip to stop myself from snorting but one escapes and echoes around the shop like a pig in a pen. Stacey’s face squishes like she’s eaten a lemon. It’s still January, too early for her to break her New Year’s Resolution. She’s given up the ciggies again and taken up permanent bitch face. I’m looking forward to February.

After twisting her feet back and forth and admiring them in the mirror Stacey decides to buy the shoes.

In the food court Stacey choses a quinoa salad and a bottle of water, I get the same. The neon signs blink and smile at me, I force the grain down my throat. It’s overcooked and gluggy. But it’s a super food so it doesn’t matter, it’s still super.

Hey, remember when we used to hang out at Hungry Jacks? I ask.

With all those losers? Stacey groans.

It was fun.

We were diluted and gross. I had a fringe!

James and Scully weren’t all that bad. I hear James is an engineer now.

Great.

Do you remember when we played Frisbee with the trays and Scully hit in an old lady in the head? I laugh, remember how quickly Scully ran out the store. His bony legs, his prized Nike’s slapping the pavement as he bolted.

No, Stacey shook her head, I don’t remember irrelevant things.

We focus on our salad and the low humming noise of the shopping centre seems to smother us a blanket. Stacey talks about work, her house and her new carpet, her new organic diet and whether or not she should get Botox.

Just on the side of the eyes. I don’t want to go all Joan Rivers or anything.

They’re smile lines, I say, your eyes are smiling.

She raises her eyebrows, Oh fuck off.

Stacey drops me home, in her new Jeep. It’s totally out her way but she would go out of her way for me because that’s what people who know each other since 7th grade do for one another.

I thank her. I can feel the disc in my wrist moving as I wave.

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