Category: the outback

A trip of infinite sadness and regret

I’ve been sorting through index cards, rogue pieces of paper and old photos because I’m moving. Moving out of the city, and returning to the trees and all of the secrets they’re waiting to tell me. They’ve been calling me for a while, and it’s time. I’ve become weary of city living over the last couple of years, and the more time I spend at the farm, in the bush or up in the mountains, the more I yearn to be in silence, amongst the trees and the stars, harvesting bush lemons, herbs and having a veggie garden with a couple of rescue chooks. Maybe even a rescue dog one day.

People ask me if I’ll miss living so close to the city. No. And yes. I won’t miss the sirens and incessant traffic, the dust, the cranes, or the crimes against architecture which seem to spring up while I am sleeping. I will miss the sunsets out to the west, watching the lights come alive in the Gotham City building, my many murders of crows, and the kookaburras, rainbow lorikeets and magpies that gaggle in the trees every afternoon. Perhaps they might like to follow me if I ask them? I suspect that there are going to be many murders of birds and other wildlife where I’m going.

There are people I’m going to miss, but I can visit them, and they can come by any time. It’s just that it’s time for me to move on, and when an almost inconceivable opportunity presented itself, I leapt. It was a quick decision, but most of all, it was an easy decision (which are the best kinds of decisions).

I’ve started packing, and that’s where I found a bundle of index cards and rusty paperclips from a couple of my trips out to Barcaldine – another place that calls me, and one I hope to see later in the year. Below is some writing from 2001 and 2002 – long before I’d found my writing voice (I’m still finding it) – and it’s about my time at Cumberland, the cattle property where my dear friend Meagan grew up. Meags died in May 1999, and I have mourned the shit out of her. You cannot imagine. Or maybe you can. Grief is one cruel mistress.

In 2001, I finally got out to her family’s cattle station to see where Meags had spent so much of her life; a place she had wanted me to visit when we were both well enough. But that wasn’t to be after Meags died in May 1999 from Cystic Fibrosis – the illness we were both born with. The last time I went out was in 2013 when I was addicted to opioids. A part of the reason why I decided to get clean was because I was alive, and Meags was not. I realised that I needed to recalibrate my compass, so that’s exactly what I did. I daresay the next trip will be very different.

An infinite trip of sadness and regret

Thursday 9th November, 2001

Stock and forty degree anarchy

Here I am at Cumberland, wrestling with hollow hope that the clouds, thick and full of promise, might crack open and give me a belated baptism. Blue funny faces remedy the forty-three degree fever for one quick minute, the coloured ice glossing my lips until I’m a pale shade of cyanosis. Swigging down coffee doesn’t sit well with the melting barbs of ice in my throat; my teeth frozen in a futile resolution to my thirst.

Frogs croak with my hot feet moving across the floorboards, so I walk outside and sing to them. I sing to them that we are missing the rain, too. Cumberland and surrounding properties are still on town water for now, but for how much longer we do not know. We do runs around the paddocks dropping off licks for the cattle, making sure they have enough water, the grass and wayward sticks whacking the ute. I wonder if the stock will be here when visit next. The cattle aren’t fat by any means, and look like the animal kingdom’s walking dead.

A palomino dropped dead yesterday afternoon from colic. The mare had been sick for days, splayed on her side to draw out the pain, her gut distended as though she was ready to foal. Just before Kerry went to get the shotgun, she got to her feet, hobbled over to the fence, and dropped to her death in the dirt.

The stock will not die from colic. Instead, they will starve and thirst until rib cages protrude through paper thin hides; craggy, matted hair shrouding more bones and bleeding skin.

I try to write and I sit under the weeping willow waiting for the words to come, but they do not. The arbour is green, and it grows grapes, although I don’t know how productive it is. It looks like a green and twig laden blanket, covering wire and wood, and it moves me with the breezes that roll through the garden.

A hot, bullying wind has risen, and the sky has swollen with charcoal coloured nebula – clumps of hope just out of reach from where we stand sentinel on the prickly grass. I’ve never felt rain on my skin out here, and doubt I ever will. At night, I dream of pellets of rain popping on my skin, and me – coming alive in the mud as the water volleys against the dry earth.

*

In the city, I’m in limbo. I feel shackled and ambushed. Out here, I am free. I eat cheese and tomato jaffles and icy poles, drink hot coffee and cold beer – all the while looking at coloured vignettes of Meagan, her eyes like chocolate discs swimming on her face – her blonde hair swathing her young neck, olive and soft.

I feel a sense of permanence here. Something like belonging. I don’t know why I come here. It could be to be close to Meagan – to sit at her grave and memorial garden in silence. It could be to air my regret at not seeing her the day before she died. It could be to tell her what’s been happening – we always loved hearing about the other was up to. What adventures we’d found, what adventures had found us.

Or it could be so I can remember her, and to read those words on her epitaph – ‘Rest, little one, rest.’

Wednesday 2nd October, 2002

I woke late in the night and had a skirmish with what looked like a bird eating spider above my bed. After I’d half-killed it, it showered me with its babies. I trundled off to the shower thinking that it never feels right killing a sentient being.

In the morning, Sue still had the bread out on the table and the kettle and been boiled. The Walker’s had an ironic thirst for coffee. Ironic, purely because they can drink several cups of the stuff in forty-seven degree heat. The office and the bedrooms are air conditioned, and Jay had said year after year that he’d have the whole house cooled. ‘Maybe next year,’ Sue said last night.

Today had been no different after looking at the weather station that had been Jay’s grandfathers – the arrow pointing at ‘dry’, with the temperature stuck on forty-one.

In the afternoon, we transplanted two trees. The first one looked like it had more guts to it – fatter trunk, leaves more evenly splayed with plump branches, and not on too much of a lean. The other was brittle and grey like a ghost gum, its threadbare leaves devoid of a middle vein running through the ashen foliage. It didn’t have much spirit about it.

And so, today was the tale of the two trees. Kerry dug them out from the old station hand’s quarters where the grand bull ring once stood, the excavator bouncing around like a feather on the wind. His kids visiting from Warwick looked on as their Dad tried to uproot the trees as gently as one can with an excavator, and one by one they sprung up and out of the earth, averse to being torn away from their tree family. Kerry drove them back to the homestead, and gently set them down into where he had scooped out the dirt – Katrina pointing her freckled hand at where they needed to be. She had left a hose in each to saturate the soil, and when both were in, we watered them for another half an hour, and soon enough the weakling was on a lean.

Jay poured a rum for himself and a wine for Sue. Katrina and I had a beer each, our eyes mulling over the flat plains as the sun dropped behind the spine of the mountains far away.

Jay, a man of few words, looked over at the trees and said something about ‘waiting and seeing’. This day, like every other day, had carried with it thoughts of his daughter who didn’t survive, then he looked to the girl who did, with a lopsided grin. Me, a bottle of beer in my hand, lost in the stars of an inky sky that will always lead us home.

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I’m going to India!

So how’s 2016 treating you so far? I’m deliriously happy to report that mine has begun like no other. Strange things are happening to my body and I’m rising earlier than ever (think 4-5.30am). I’m off the valium I was taking for my restless legs, and I think what has happened is that my body clock has done a complete one-eighty since I’ve been off the suboxone.

Being awake and present in the morning is such a gift, and while it’s something I’m still getting used to, it’s something I want to get used to. Dawn and dusk are the best parts of the day, and I’m getting so much done. I’m also suitably tired enough to collapse into bed only to go straight to sleep early in the evening.

I was to go to yoga with my friend Natty D. this morning, but alas, I could not find my yoga pants, so I’m in the process of turning my wardrobe inside out and donating a whole lot of clothes to charity. For me right now, less is more – unless it’s tea.

Speaking of tea, I caught up with my beautiful Bec yesterday (I have two beautiful Bec’s in my life – talk about being blessed), where we shared too much good food and did a gift swap. We’re both Capricorns, so if you’re into astrology, that needs no explanation. She’s part of my tribe – a ‘soul sista’, if you will. We giggle a lot and have debaucherous conversations. She has been one of my biggest and brightest supporters and I love her HARD for her open heart and willingness to cry with joy.

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She’s also obsessed about India, is a full time sari wearer, and with her husband Alex, has just spent close to a month in their beloved India. I was thoroughly spoilt at lunch with a bag of Chai Marsala from the world famous Abraham’s Spice Garden in Periyar. I’ve been having rabid fantasies about this chai mix ever since Alex made me a brew last year. Along with some black jasmine oil (which apparently smells different on everyone, so it should be interesting to see how it smells on my salty skin) and some loose green tea from Mumbai that came in a beautifully carved wooden box with brass elephants, I was feeling a tad emotional.

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I have a few sacred places that I visit – the farm, Barcy, Carmel-By-The-Sea and Byron Bay (even since it’s been heinously gentrified), but India is a land I’ve wanted to visit ever since I can remember.

Have you ever had a place you’ve never been to pull on your soul? Like really pull on your soul? Well, for me, that’s India.

I can hear the call of the Ganges plunging into the Bay of Bengal, the spice plantations, the temples and its people. I have some stunning books on India I reflect on often, and a couple of years ago I wrote ‘India. I weep because it is there and I am not. And I weep because I may never get there.’

So what’s holding me back? I’ve never had any luck with travel insurance, and getting sick in a developing country with transplanted lungs would not be ideal.

But what is life if you don’t get to experience it? What is life without a little risk?

Until I get to India, I will always be a falling leaf looking for a place to land. And so I am going. I have two years to save, plan and research with my doctors, read and observe and get my body into optimum condition. I’m going to be with Bec and Alex who know the country, have researched hospitals for me (bless) and know where to eat, stay and how to carve out an authentic Indian experience.

We will celebrate Bec’s 50th birthday in Udaipur, and I’m planning on staying for a few weeks. Why go halfway across the world to what I believe is one of my spiritual homes or places of spiritual refuge, when this might be the only chance I get? So it’s off to the Ganges to gently dip my toes into its waters, spend a day watching the funeral pyres, meet some sadhus (holy men), meditate in an ashram for a few days, catch a train to Varanasi, shit myself as is per the authentic Indian experience and go on a two week tour.

I’m well aware that travellers often have a romanticised view of the places they visit, but I know that India isn’t all palaces, ashrams and markets. India is a country of immense poverty and suffering, so my ultimate India experience would be to volunteer at a hospice. I figure it’s the least I can do as a human being.

But back to the farm. Every year, Ben and I give Ganesha a de-web and a rubdown with dubbin. As we worked on Ganesha with lots of love (and dirty jokes), I felt connected and uplifted by this act of ritual and worship. I rubbed his belly with reverence and love, and massaged his hands like I would a fragile human.

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OH, THE REVERENCE …

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Shiny, happy Ganesha!!

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On the third day of the New Year, I drove from the farm up to my folks place at Mooloolaba where I was greeted by this vision.

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I spent a beautiful afternoon wandering around and sucking back veggie juice, then I walked down to the beach to bless my 2016 gratitude stone that I’ve added to my medicine bag. Then I meditated. You get some odd looks when you close your eyes and stay perfectly still for extended periods of time. I just smile at people and get a smile in return – what a gift that is in itself. Spending time alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely. I spent so much time alone as a child in hospital that I’m an ace at it, yet so many see being alone as wasted time. Redundant time.

Why not surround yourself with people?

I like to pose another question – why not surround yourself with YOU? Why not be comfortable in your own presence and hold the space for your body, mind and spirit. For me, the rewards of being alone are constant and ever changing. It restores me back to calm and peace and a surrendering of sorts to the universe and it gives me spiritual sustenance in a Waldenesque kind of way.

The true waste is this – waiting for someone else to fill your cup. Don’t wait. Fill your own cup with your dreams, memories, plans, loves and adventures. No one truly knows what you know about yourself except you, and that is something really special. More special than you may ever realise.

When I’m alone right now, this is the place I’m dreaming of and making plans for – the Bhaktivedanta Hospice in Vrindavan. To say it inspires me is an understatement of gargantuan proportions. Here’s what it’s all about. Also, here’s to conscious dreaming …

My summer of love

Earlier in the week, someone asked me what I’ve been up to. ‘Reading, writing, stuff …’ But mainly reading and writing, hanging out with my sister and my nephews, working, planning, walking and dreaming. It’s true – I’m an abject failure of a social butterfly, although I did actually go OUT Friday night to the opening of Brisbane’s The Soul Pantry – a fabulous florist in Newmarket you should visit if you live in Brisbane. I mean: TERRARIUMS. I am obsessed. Such a granny. 

It’s my favourite time of year. Yes, I love Christmas and will be trimming my tree (and the rest) this weekend, but it’s summer that truly has my heart. I had a passionate relationship with summer in my youth – days of water-skiing, inner tubing and swimming at my home on the Brisbane river; meditating on the pontoon at water level, and slathering coconut oil on my body to bake myself like a ham.

But then I had my transplant which meant no sun. Or, I could have sun, but with a family history of melanoma, my immunosuppression and my wish for eternal youth, I literally took shelter and have been alabaster ever since. It took about fourteen years for me to re-embrace summer and over the last couple of years, I’ve rebooted my brain and learned to adore what I call my ‘Summers of Love’ once again.

This calls for the following:

  • A new swimsuit and rashie √
  • Bebel and João Gilberto on repeat √ (and Enya – don’t judge me. Did you know she has a new album?) √
  • The radio tuned to ABC classic FM  √
  • Naked cooking, naked dancing, naked writing. Okay – just entire days spent totally naked √
  • Admiring the lights of the city – sometimes with clothes on – hoping no one has binoculars trained in my direction √
  • Writing on my balcony, watching and listening to the birds flying just out of my reach while the sun sinks behind the mountains √
  • Scratching words together for my novel √
  • Watching ‘Love Actually’ & ‘Eat Pray Love’ (and crying a lot) √
  • Late afternoon wandering by the river √
  • Stealing the swing from unsuspecting children at the park √
  • Coming to the realisation that a whole year has passed and I HAVEN’T KILLED A SINGLE PLANT √
  • Reading Les Murray’s latest collection √
  • Thoughts about new balcony furniture (Keren Brown, I am looking at you) √
  • What-the-fuck-am-I-going-to-cook-for-dinner mania √
  • Clandestinely skinny dipping in the pewl come twilight  √
  • Mangoes, mangoes, mangoes √
  • Sunscreen. All day, every day √
  • Make friends with salad. Yeah, not convinced unless it’s covered in five types of cheese.

And so that is my glamorous life. I got all of the stuff I love and adapted it to my post-transplant, no sun life. November has been a pretty sedate month, and December is looking distinctly unremarkable. But I like unremarkable and ordinary and as much as I’d love to be in Barcy now, that trip will have to wait until another time. 

My novel (set in the outback in the early 70s) is coming along (1200 words today – take that, Hemingway), an epic and covert poetry project is beginning to take shape and I’m working on a short story. I never write short stories, but the last one received a great review in the Sydney Morning Herald, so this in itself is miraculous.

I turn 39 on New Years Eve, and as with every birthday, I have no idea what I’m doing. Big changes can happen between now and then, but I seem to always escape to the country for my birthday. Last year, I spent a very sedate birthday at my folks beach house at Mooloolaba, and the two years before that, I stayed at my friend Nic’s farm in the hinterland of Byron Bay where we did we got our witch on and burned shit. Going by the year 2014 turned out to be, I can say that burning shit GETS SHIT DONE. I highly recommend it #manifestinglikeamofo

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I’ve never spent a NYE at my place in the city and don’t know if I ever will. I feel in limbo with its frenetic pace – almost as though I’m shackled – whereas out ‘there’, whether it be Barcy or the farm or the beach, I am unencumbered and free. 

Waking up in the quiet of dawn and going for a surf on the first morning of a new year is such a gift. There’s nothing that quite matches its intensity or sense of calm. Bobbing in the ocean for while, eating a solid brekkie, sinking into a good book, doing some writing of my own and going for a wander is my ideal. Simple, yet ideal.

But first I have get through Christmas, which isn’t to say that I ‘endure’ the festive season. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love getting my yule on and buying gifts for my nearest and dearest. I’m in full blown love with my new baking fruitcake tradition to the point where I’ve now had my fruit mix soaking in rum for ten days. When the weather cools down, I’ll bake. 

As I type, it is 6.27pm. Cicadas embroider the air which will forever take me back to the vipassana I did in 2013. There’s the odd siren, barking dog and the bristle of leaves in the evening wind.

Over the next couple of weeks, my opiate antagonist therapy will whittle down to zero, so I’ve been thinking of how I can celebrate this milestone. I don’t drink, so I’ll most likely keep things unremarkable and ordinary, write down some words and walk along the river. I’ll open my arms up to the world like the protagonist in my novel did today and feel the salt building on my skin. Salt is something I’m quite fascinated by, and not just because it grows in little mounds on my skin in summer that I can season my fish and chips with.

While I have a humanities brain, I find the  chemical breakdown of salt fascinating and  beautiful. On their own, sodium and chloride are highly toxic. But when they come together, they create something really special. Salt is stable, non-reactive and compatible with life. Salt gets a lot of bad press, but on a hot day like today, I’ve gobbled down no less than fifteen salt tablets because I lose excessive amounts through my skin as a CF’er. Where you might have to cut salt out of your diet, I can dump it on my food in excessive quantities. Without it I become hyponatremic which can be fatal, but that’s enough histrionics for today.

Being able to be completely free of Suboxone is going to be absolute freedom. I’ve not had one craving for anything drug related since I started on the therapy in 2013, and that alone lends me a steady strength. Back when I first started lining up at the chemist at the junkie counter, I knew I had my addiction cornered. There wasn’t a part of me that didn’t want to be free from the slavery that is addiction and I knew that I would get here. How did I know? Because once I make my mind up about something, I get it done. Whether that’s being stubborn or just being really fucking determined, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a potent mix of both. Knowing I had this beat from day one was essential for my recovery, and the day I take my last dose may be unremarkable and ordinary, but as I’ve always maintained, there is great beauty in the ordinary. Even when you can’t see it, it is everywhere. If you don’t go in search of magic, love or anything else you want in life, you will never find it. The Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is deeply rooted in revering nature, the everyday and its imperfections. It’s a state of heightened consciousness where there is beauty hidden in how you experience the world in its state of constant transience. The Buddhists were really onto something with their reverence for impermanence, so I urge you to embrace your wabi-sabi. If that’s not enough, then maybe some Roald Dahl will do the trick:

‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’