Dead skunk in the middle-a-the
20, 1994 02:33
10:08 Goombungee, Australia :: 8 JUL 94
Just the name of this town deserves an entry. You've read it
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
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
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
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
2 ½ cups cold
Bind ingredients together with a knife until dough leaves sides
DO NOT KNEAD!
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
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
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.
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