Australia :: June 1994 - March 1995

Subject: Dead skunk in the middle-a-the road.
Date: August 20, 1994 02:33

10:08 Goombungee, Australia :: 8 JUL 94

Just the name of this town deserves an entry. You've read it right, Goombungee.

The subject of this message refers obliquely to yet another Australian transportation difference. Since all lines painted on road surfaces are white, one can sometimes get confused between two lanes of a divided highway and your more mundane two lanes moving in opposite directions; no yellow center line to tell the two apart. This is especially problematic given the Australian predilection for constructing short runs of divided highway that abruptly resume two-way. And don't forget, they drive on the wrong side of the road here.

I got confused yesterday and very nearly became roadkill. By the time I realized the ubiquitous white Land Cruiser we'd been quickly gaining ground on was instead oncoming-and quite near-I instinctively broke and swerved. Some instincts suck. My sister was remarkably understanding considering how many times we crossed the center line. I did manage to keep the Camry mostly on the bitumen, before it came to rest sideways on the right hand (that is, wrong side) shoulder, just a couple foot from a reflector post. These are wooden 3X3s here not the floppy plastic things we're accustomed to in BC. Phew!.

19:15 Roma, Australia :: 8 JUL 94

Small towns. Very small towns. Have you read "Winesburg, Ohio"? Required reading in high-school English. Not that I can recall the author's name. Winesburg is a small town and the novel studies each of the residents in minute detail. The residents of Winesburg are an idiosyncratic lot, to say the least, and it seems each of them knows everything about each other resident except their life dreams. Because of this, they do not understand one another at all.

At least, that's the way I remember the book. I probably didn't finish it. I took good notes in class.

I grew up near another small town named Gilmanton. We bussed the children there to our high-school in order to get the grade sizes over 100. Gilmanton's most famous resident is Grace Metalious, who wrote "Peyton Place." The fine citizens of Gilmanton think very little of the author responsible for turning their lives into the first soap opera.

Goombungee, Jondaryan, Willamombi, Murwillumba: small towns in Australia-not so different from Winesburg or Peyton Place, or Gilmanton.

You might drive through one, then decide to go back for another look. While you're pulled off the narrow road without shoulders, waiting for the car following to pass by before negotiating the three-point-turn that'll get you back to town, the passing car will slow nearly to a stop. It is always some craggy old salt that peers back at you from the dusty, beaten eight cylinder Holden, held together with clichés. He only wants to know if everything's OK and after you wave to him with that stupid tourist sheepishness, "just turning around," he'll slowly accelerate away. If you watch for a bit as the car recedes you'll see his fitful mirror glances. He's probably muttering, "how on earth did they find their way here? Berloody tourists!"

This happened to me, yesterday, just as it's described. Such events startle city dwellers. If I'd been wrestling with a flat tire beside Toronto's 401highway enough vehicles to take the entire population of Goombungee to the SkyDome would have passed by and only slowed long enough to gawk.

Cathy and Jim Hartley, now relatives of mine by fortune of my sister's marriage, live in Goombungee, but they're not locals. Cathy explains that only those who are born there, or die there, are locals. City folk move in, more frequently than you might think, and once cozied in begin their campaign to bring city comforts and ways to the small town. Nothing ever changes: no one votes for newcomers, and 20 years in town won't alter that moniker, so there's no possibility of political influence from the inside and the common rebuke to new ideas voiced in town meetings? "It's worked this way all along. Why change now?"

The bulletin board in Goombungee may be found at the store. One of the notices lists a 3 ½ bedroom house on a ½ acre of land for rent. Just $95 a week. Such an appealing image, to live in a place where everyone knows your name and says "G'day" when passing you on the street. Where people look out for each other's well being. Where the family remains the center of meaningful existence. I'd love to live here for a month, or maybe two. I'd be willing to play the eccentric outsider claiming residency but instead surreptitiously noting every word, every act, every nuance of life.

Of course, the locals would not be fooled. They would play their small town act to the hilt. I'd enter the pub at happy hour, or the post office to pick up my mail, and the locals would suppress laughter, averting their eyes. As such, I could rewrite "Winesburg, Ohio," the townspeople would ensure the appropriate quirkiness, but "Peyton Place" could only be written by a local.

I know my limits. I'm a changer. I'd be there two months and get rebuked, "It's worked this way all along." I'd never be a local, but perhaps it wouldn't be too hard to live there anyway.

More on the connectivity front. I'm writing this in yet another Motel room with a phone system that won't talk to my modem. <sigh> Last night Jim and I tried to troubleshoot some difficulties his fax software seemed to be having. He just couldn't dial out and I couldn't see anything wrong either. My system dialed out and connected on the first attempt. That left us really scratching our heads. However, on 8 of 9 subsequent attempts, my system failed. I had changed nothing.

For some reason, the modem wasn't hearing a dial tone. Nothing we tried seemed to affect it. The next day I went over to the school where he's principal and I and his secretary tried it using the school line. Same problem. Conclusion: Australian Telecom line problem. It's the most probable explanation.

23:12 Roma, Australia :: 8 JUL 94

This day included a visit to Jondaryan Woolshed, a non-profit heritage park in the heart of the Darling Downs sheep region of Queensland. Although the park includes many great old buildings containing scads of great artifacts from "olden days," the best aspect had to be watching the tour guide shear a sheep. The commentary was good too.

While there we got to try "damper," a very simple bread the early swagmen, migrant station workers, made using no more than a hole in the ground filled with hot coals in which a potful of simple bread dough was cooked. Here's the recipe:


Jondaryan Woolshed Damper Recipe

4 cups self-raising flour
pinch salt
2 ½ cups cold water

Bind ingredients together with a knife until dough leaves sides of bowl


Cook in a hot oven for 45 minutes.
When cooked, turn upside down to cool.
Cut when cool and spread with lots of butter and golden syrup.

It's amazingly rich and tasty if a bit on the biscuity side. I'd recommend it as suggested with a nice rich tea to which the bush people historically added a bit of eucalyptus.

10:24 Highway 54, Quilpie bound in Australia :: 9 JUL 94

I'm going to try this, although Australian highways aren't really conducive to typing on the road. I'll just have to spell check later.

We're traveling at bout 130 km/hr along what can only be described as a bush country superhighway. Bitumen, bouncy and occasionally shouldered. Every kilometer or so a dead boomer marks the road side. To our right the rail line parallels the highway that runs straight as an arrow, often for 30 or more kilometers unbending. A steady wind blows wispy grass heads across the road right to left. It reminds me of blowing snow on Quebec highways. There is the occasion tumbleweed too. These bound across the road or plow through the tall grass at roadside. They're only hazardous for inexperienced drivers who attempt to avoid them.

As for the countryside itself there are few features: gum trees, range grass coloured like flaxen California blonde, ruined kangaroos and the highway cutting through the whole lot like a laceration. The rich red soil bared at the bitumen's edge dramatizes the image.

I employ the metaphor of laceration with purpose. I was tempted by 'incision'. The cut is straight, precise, the intention to open a path to the innards. But the highway cut is organic, forced to follow the lay of the land so that curves and undulations dismiss the implied order. An incision implies surgery, repair, whereas a laceration is an insult to the Flesh. And the highway seems a bit of that, an insult to the land, a broken-glass cut through the natural order, a rusty nail puncture wound where a cart path or trail would be appropriate. The broken bodies of Australia's official mascot verify the usage of laceration.

The estimate of one dead boomer every kilometer can only be low. This is the second reference for the subject of this message-"Dead roo in the middle-a-the road." The carnage in some sections confounds the imagination. I have seen as many as 10 in a few hundred meters. Since I see neither skeletal nor rotting remains I assume that either the scavengers drag them to cover or road crews clear the carcasses frequently. [No road crews, it's the scavengers-pmj]

Here, about 30 kilometers west of Roma, the land undulates gently and in the distance small hills rise. The scene appeared different for much of yesterday. For a time only distant gum trees broke the horizon line of an otherwise uninterrupted table land. Beside the steady and uneven pitch, roll and bounce of the bitumen surface, only the periodic floodways provided any undulation. These abrupt dips in the roadway form spillways for floodwaters that seem inconceivable in a land receiving less than 15" of rain annually. When a store owner in Jondaryan explains that the hill rising behind her store recorded 8" in just 4 hours then the signs measuring past water levels 2 meters above the floodway seem less improbable.

The annual rainfall at Jondaryan historically averages 24". The region failed to accumulate that much over the past two years and the semi-arid land is now bone dry. Eight inches in a few hours helps little; the earth needs a lengthy soaking to profit from a rain. The water from a brief deluge runs over the parched surface in a torrent until it finds a creek or river. An hour of sun reduces the remaining moisture to vapour. All that is left is the damage caused by the torrent.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --