Sydney seemed to sprawl indefinitely but eventually we are out and on the country roads again – it feels good, through Wollongong – which means ‘Whiteman piss off’ in the local Aboriginal language, or just ‘The Gong’ to local interlopers.
We are heading to Batemans Bay to see a friend of close friends, Peter (real name), just to say hello as we have strict orders from them that we must visit him. He lives in the same house they used to live in just outside Batemans Bay in a lovely spot called Malloneys Beach. A beautiful house virtually on the beach, only a large kangaroo occupied municipal fifty-metre verdant lawn separates the two. When we eventually arrive there is a Mob – this is the correct collective noun for kangeroos – and it sort of sums them up. kangeroos have a strange expression; half startled: half belligerent! I half expect them to say, ‘Listen carefully, this is how it works Pommy, you don’t hassle us, we don’t hassle you. Oh, and that counts for your excitable kids as well!’They remind me of the story of the Italian tourists travelling through the outback in a jeep that hits a large male, take your pick from buck, boomer, jack or old man. The kangaroo looks dead, so they start dressing it with designer goods; Armani jacket, Rolex watch, a gold necklace, etc… but this old man was not dead, only stunned and as they are doing their photoshoot Jack comes round and bounces off into the night wearing all their lavish trinkets… this buck was definitely a boomer!
You know you will always love the friends of your own best friends, and Peter is no different. After all the introductions (Peter is an enthusiastic History Teacher in the local High school), he sorts beds out for us all, we protest and say we’ll find somewhere in town, he is genuinely offended. He leaves us the run of the house and goes out.
It is a great spot in The Marramarang National Park with its abundant Gum trees, we try hard to spot Koalas, but fail. It affords the amenities of Batemans Bay alongside the beauty of the forest and the coast, Pebbly Beach is the next beach down, another beautiful spot, where mobbing Rosellas are plentiful. In the garden is a Satin Bowerbird, like most creatures in Australia it is unusual, this particular animal’s unusualness is not its appearance. What this miscreant does is collet blue things, (I’m not making this up!) to attract a mate, blue plastic, blue bottle lids, blue movies, Picasso paintings, ballpoint pens, blue clothes pegs and blue flowers – it is the last two that especially pisses the locals off, the guy next door is a high-ranking ex-government official; the sort if he were American or British would be surrounded by men wearing sunglasses, black suits and earpieces, carrying concealed weaponry and looking nervous. He has taken a particular dislike to the Bird of satinness. Like Peter, he appears to know very little about the avian annoyance. He tells me its mating call grates on him, which having heard it, must sound like the call of a gathering of small children that have assembled to mock his decades of power, my interpretation! I can tell you no more as I have signed a confidentiality contract, and they would make it look like an accident.
I know about the Satin Bowerbird, as I have taught it, I’m much more excited to see it than the locals. I think my enthusiasm annoys him as much as the blue collector!
Batemans Bay is the nearest coastline to Canberra. Canberra is a bizarre place, it is so spread out that you have to drive virtually everywhere within the city, and no one appears to live there, well, when the government aren’t sitting. It is equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney, and when two cities that both think they are the capital can’t agree where to position parliament, it only leaves one location. We stumble across an oil painting of our neighbour; it is just missing a faint bowerbird in a tree in the background. I think Canberra is based on every 1960’s Sci-fi utopia, it is soulless, it shouldn’t be, it is actually quite beautiful, but it has no soul, not even the main camp chamber of the parliament can lift it – it has to be a gay architect’s idea of revenge!
We visit the Science Museum and The War Museum (on the orders of Peter), but someone has kidnapped the people, maybe this is why making utopias is a bad idea, no one wants to live in them, too prescriptive and dictatorial? Either that or a plutonium bomb has leaked out.
We have our first taste of what we think is the outback at Braidwood, it feels like the outback at this stage of our travels – a pretty Wild West town, again with very few people in it. I wonder if they think we are the aliens?
One night Peter takes the kids fishing from the beach and catches a decent sized mullet for our tea. The Girl thinks this is brilliant, the fruits of the sea onto the plate in an hour. It is good for the kids to see the real connection between food and the platter.
We say our goodbyes; we have stayed 6 nights, reluctant to move on as we are having such a great time. The Wife and I discuss the fact that someone as lovely as Peter should have a decent woman in his life, as he has made no secret he is looking, but the only free females of breeding age are Kangeroos, and you can only marry those in mining towns! Soon after we leave he meets a lovely woman, they come over to stay with us in England and they believe they have conceived in our house, the rest as they say, is history, a lot of time, money, effort and sleepless nights.
I always read at least one book about the country I am going to visit as well as the guidebooks. I have read Peter Carey’s True History of the Ned Kelly Gang and Bill Bryson’s Down Under and it is through reading the latter I know where we are bound next: Eden
Old Tom was a mercenary misanthropic Killer whale whose skeletal remains are the basis for the towns imaginatively named: Eden Killer Whale Museum. The onshore whaling station, the countries once longest running, was founded by a carpenter Alexander Davidson and his grandson ‘Fearless’ George Davidson – fearless is another way of saying certifiably cracked, his mates called him ‘Crazy Fish’ but not to his face. Old Tom (and his pod) would help herd passing Baleen Whales into the bay. Old Tom would thrash around in the bay as the migrating Baleens passed pretending to be in distress to attract them from their migratory course. The Davidsons would kill them, then leave the whales anchored in the bay so that scallywag Tom et al could eat the tongue and lips, that’s all they wanted! I know it sounds like I’m making this up (again), but it’s true – honest! Here check it out http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/the-legend-of-old-tom-and-the-gruesome-law-of-the-tongue/ I did my own research into ‘Crazy Fish’ Davidson, deceased. Old Tom was classed as the leader, and he kept his epicurean verve for lips and tongues for four decades.
Old Tom still looking quite pleased with himself!
Although I was engrossed by the museum, the children have found an old record player with a stash of 70’s disco and pop, The Boy is holding up an ABBA LP like it is the voice box recorder from an unadvanced spacecraft. “How does it work?” It looks a hundred years old now; they are amazed, they are laughing at it like a couple of bullies from the future. But I remind the boy, feeling slightly affronted and the protector of times past that I once took him to the Science Museum in Manchester and pointing at a 1950s cylinder Hoover and asked him what it was for, for him to reply: ‘Is it the first mobile phone!’’How mobile would that be?’ ‘Two of you could carry it!’I have to be dragged away by The Wife feigning hunger, it could be a double bluff, but at times like this I recall the beautiful elephants of Kuala Lumpur Zoo ( https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/6946206-28-a-woman-in-bloom-travails-through-life-sometimes-avoiding-the-p ), and cannot risk it, the kids have become bored with the singing discs.
We set off later than planned for Melbourne, The Wife is impatient because of this we don’t have a proper breakfast – this is never a good idea. Everyone is ratty and I suggest we stop somewhere and get a bite to eat. There will be more choice in Melbourne, let’s keep going – The Wife is driving, The Wife is in charge (I may wear the trousers, but she picks them out and I iron them!) I have given the kids a large apple each in the back. The Boy has eaten his and then stolen his little sisters, he doesn’t want it, he just wants to torment her. She is maybe pinching him or using cruelty as a revenge weapon, I cannot detect from the front. She is very skilled at pushing his buttons, her favourite is to puff her cheeks out and rub an imaginary large belly – he’s not fat, but it annoys him, fuelled by his hormones, she will do this from behind the safety of her father! He threatens even greater levels of punishment in ever increasing threatening gangster tones. “I’m going to slap you up,” “just wait until this car stops; I’m going to kill you.” The Wife has already snapped, then he threatens her with siblicide again and I snap. “Give me the bloody apple,” I demand as I shot my arm into the back at just the right angle for the side of the heavily cushioned seat to spring the ball form the socket of my shoulder. “SHIT!” “What, what is it?” Demands The Wife. “My arm’s dislocated.” She knows I’m being serious, I’ve done them so many times. The one that has decided to limp with gravity was due to be operated on before we came away after a dislocation during a football game, but I have put it off due to our travails.
I’m beside the busy road trying with all my might, fighting the pain to snap it back in against a tree like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon. If I can get it back in before the muscles go into spasm, I have a chance, it is a stubborn bastard, it pops out easy, but is always reluctant to pop back in. A guy walking his dog is watching the pantomime from a bridge and ambles down to assist. He points us in the direction of the nearest hospital in very nearby Traralgon. The Latrobe Regional Hospital is deserted when we get there, they ask me for insurance, which I tell them I have, but then never again ask to see it. There appears to be a lot of bored medical staff glad to have something to do, I’m surrounded by so many looking at me like I’m a member of the royal family. They can’t get it back with Nitrous Oxide, so have to knock me out. When I awake it is at least back where it should be, and should hopefully endeavour to stay there.
I’m annoyed with myself both physically, psychologically and parentally. I hardly ever lose my temper; I’m like a laissez faire Dalai Lama on holiday. This injury messes things up and I know I have to be even more careful with it for the next three months. I was lucky we were literally ten minutes from a state of the art hospital; it will not be the same in South America. The family rally around, The Boy is feeling particularly guilty: someone has to have the blame, we live in a blame culture, but annoyingly the blame ultimately lies with me, and that never sits easy, even when all your sockets are in their correct positions and you are being fed chocolate and pizza!
Next time: Don’t scratch below the surface.
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