Obsession Wrecked

The Maker

After fifty years of work, Jack’s retirement finally came. He was an old fashioned pattern maker, a skilled trade involving forming timber into intricate shapes.

It was detailed work, suiting his personality. Given a project he would examine the drawings in minute detail, selecting the timber carefully, then cutting and shaping, his plane and spokeshave coaxing lumps of timber into finely tuned patterns. This obsession with detail earned him the reputation as the finest craftsman in the shop.

Upon retirement, he was at a loss. Work had kept his mind busy and days full. He missed working with timber in a complex way. He was bored. Most days he wandered down the street to buy the paper, then spent the day pottering aimlessly around.

But one day, he noticed a model sailing ship in the window of the second hand shop. An old three masted galleon. Picking the hull up, he observed the balance of the solid timber. Carefully examining the model, he noted the fine detail in the construction, the smoothly shaped hull, the high masts held upright by miniature stays, the rope ladders leading up to the crow’s nest. The top deck structure had been painstakingly chiselled and carved and glued, there was a tiny moveable rudder, and the sails could be adjusted with waxen thread. The tiny cannons poking from the sides had been hand fashioned.

Knowing how to shape and join timber, he recognised the model as the work of a fellow artisan. Suddenly he realised the solution to his boredom.

He hurried home to his shed and made a start. He knew that some firms sold model kits, but this was beneath him. He preferred to do things for himself. He wanted something to challenge his mind and skilled hands. His shed was full of suitable timber and tools. By visiting the local library and city hobby shops, he finally found the suitable plans.

The daily routine became established. Each morning he was at his shed, cup of tea in hand, lighting the small corner stove, laying out his tools, and deciding which part to fashion. The hull was easy; he had smoothed timber all his life. For the deck structures he used his sharpest chisels and fret saws. The long slender gunnels were precisely carved to meet the curve of the hull. Stairways, he slowly chiselled out in one piece. He carefully bored out portholes, and carved the cannons in fine detail. He deftly fitted the tiny rudder into its axle and swung it from side to site.

His greatest challenge was fashioning the sails and rigging. The design was a complex three masted galleon. His hands felt clumsy learning the new skill of working with linen and thread. He bought tiny parts, special waxed thread for shrouds and ladders, minute metal rings to bind to the masts, parchment cloth for sails, tiny pulleys, plus many more. He also had to learn how to sew. He persevered, learning how to tie tiny clove hitch knots with sharp tweezers and hooked needles, how to cut, shape and stiffen the sails.

Eventually, the masterpiece was complete. He gently placed it on the mantelpiece.

Where it sat for years, a proud talking point, until one day it was no longer there.

Epilogue One – The Finder.

Was Jack real?

I don’t know. He was conjured from somewhere in my mind. I suspect that he is an example of what I imagine the personality of a complex model maker may be. That is, the obsessive need to complete something complicated in a painstaking way. To prove to ourselves that we are capable of successfully undertaking a project in great detail. My Jack certainly felt a compelling need for something in his life after years of purposeful work.

Then again, maybe Jack was just an old sailor who missed the sea and ships.         However, one thing I know. Such a boat existed, because I am the man who found it.

I was walking the dog along the creek when I noticed a curious object. It was a model sailing ship, largely intact but broken. It had been thrown down the bank. My feeling was one of sadness. Clearly a complicated model, it must have taken countless hours of patient construction. Such a work deserved a final resting place better than a smelly Eltham creek.

It was still there a week later, unclaimed, unwanted, unloved and lonely. I obsessed about it. Who had made it? Who had discarded it? Why? Was this person dead?

I decided to save it, restore it, to make it float as it should.

 

Epilogue Two – The Fixer

It was indeed a finely crafted piece, exactly as Jack may have done. But a wreck it was, with the sails hopelessly tangled, a mast snapped off, and the ropes entwined like jungle vines. But it had a certain quaint appeal; I imagined it proudly sailing around the fishpond. Two masts and sails were able to be salvaged and it looked reasonably respectable and seaworthy. Google advised, by the red cross and lion on the sail that it was a replica of an English naval galleon from the 16th century.

However it was designed for a mantelpiece, not a pond. Having no keel, it toppled sideways when launched, due to the weight of the high masts. I was not deterred, solving the problem by screwing a long bolt into the hull as a counter weight. But it still tipped over.

Determined to make the thing float upright, I inserted another bolt, then another, until it finally stayed upright. Unfortunately, the weight of three long metal bolts, together with the minimal buoyancy of the hard wooden hull, contrived to draw my ship down to Davey Jones’ Locker, so it floated with the deck below the water line. But at least it floated.

The boat stayed there for a fortnight while I pondered for a solution, finally coming up with a design of a long and light weighted keel, to act as a counterweight.

Alas, more failure. When I picked up the boat to action this renewal stage, it fell apart in my hand. The weeks in water had dissolved the glue. The rear section was adrift, the deck structures floated away, the gunnels and any other part involving glue also went floating, and the rear mast fell out. Shipwrecked. I imagined Jack having a throaty chuckle.

My boat is now in dry dock, propped up alongside the pond. Waiting for the day when I have the patience to glue pieces together with fine quality waterproof glue, coat the hull with marine grade paint, install my magic keel, and launch it.

I just wish Jack could be there to see.

THE LONELY BLOWFLY AND EMPTY JAM TIN

In my sparsely furnished hut, the lonely blowfly’s wings made pleasant music to my ears as he flew from one end of the single room to the other never touching either wall, it’s kind of strange how something you have never liked becomes a comfort as you grow older and live alone.

I sat shadowed inside and gazed through the open door out across the shimmering red dusty landscape, sparsely dotted with dwarfed trees and struggling shrubs, even the cruel 45 degree temperature winds had stopped blowing as though exhausted and feeling remorse for the destruction and cruelty it had created to the animals, birds and flora.
Dust was rising slowly far to the left of my view, like a ribbon it was heading my way, could this be a visitor? The dust grew closer I was too far from the road to see any vehicle, the dust trail got closer and closer, my heart lifted, but the dust moved on past my disused driveway and headed towards the distant low hills, where the blazing sun rose each morning bringing hope and heartache to all forms of struggling life in this thirsty land.
Once again I walked the long and rough driveway to the gravel roadway, the mailman has not stopped now for several months and the grocer never sends any supplies now. Some tea, flour, sugar, matches and jam would have helped a lot but you can’t expect credit when you have not payed your account for several months. They may even think I had moved on.
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The battered four gallon Ampol drum I used for a mail box lay on the ground full of bullet holes and squashed by a large rock. I used the same rock to beat it back into a usable shape again hoping to find a letter or a paper someday.Well used rusty rabbit traps now hang immobile on the side of the weathered timber hut, no use setting them anymore the rabbits have either died or moved on trying to find water they are tough critters but the end is the end, the kangaroos left a long time ago but the sheep and cattle were the first to suffer getting bogged only to die in the muddy water holes.

Some evenings promising black clouds rim the horizon; during the evening darkness you can see lightning. As the crimson sun rises slowly over the distant rim of hills the next morning the clouds are not to be seen, no rain again, its sheer torment.
Midday and it’s hard to breath the oxygen seems to have left the air and no where can you find relief from the searing sun, but there is always beauty to be seen in this land as the Willy Willies gather speed and suck up any loose leaves, twigs and dry grass in a whirlpool and dance across the dry dusty plains on some mysterious distant voyage supported by the swirling water-less red dusty air.
2015 may trip to central goldfields 031Bluey my black healer dog had been with me since a pup. His barking and insistent growling had me witness him defending his water bowl from an angry yellow bellied snake looking for a drink of water. Bluey snarled and bit the snake and shook its writhing body, shaking his head from side to side in a whipping action, Bluey and the snake were in a death struggle. I grabbed the long-handled shovel and with several desperate strokes I managed to kill the snake, but to late, Bluey was in pain, the snake had bitten Bluey on his soft nose, several minutes later he died in my arms. With a breaking heart and large tears in my eyes I buried Bluey on the shady side of the empty wood shed, that was over a year ago but the agony and pain is still within my broken heart.

Long ago the white cockatoos left and headed south to the red gums forests along the Murray river but there where to many of them to stay, so the stronger birds flew further south to the red gums along the banks of the Yarra river and the Diamond Creek, I don’t think many will return to this barren land even when it rains, all the undertakers (the black crows) have gone to nothing to clean up or eat now only dry white bones getting covered with the red dust each wind gust covers them more and more, soon you will see very little evidence life ever existed here at all.

All the newspapers have been used long ago to light the fire, so I am pleased I kept the empty 5lb fig jam tin, it is a large one a half-gallon can in size. It’s label is all I have to read now, it has a beautiful picture of three figs surrounded by their green leaves, I have read it so many times that I nearly know every word by heart. It was produced and packed by the Goulburn Valley Canneries in Victoria. I have never been there, but it must be a fertile area to produce such great fruit. The recipe on the label tells how to make a jam tart with a pastry base. I made one when the can was new and loved every mouthful. How I would love one now. Jam lasts a long time in the dusty outback; just pull back the lid and dig some out when you have toast or Damper with a cuppa tea. The label is brown now and threatens to crumble and fall away from the rusting can unless I use very gentle hands.
Magpie
The friendly black and white magpie “Winston” came to the door every morning and I would give him some bread crumbs and he would warble a long song to say thanks and cheer me up. For two long days he did not turn up, I found him lying lifeless in the sticky mud in the smelly drying water hole, I picked him up and carried him to his favourite bush near the hut where he often perched and waited for me to come outside, I buried him under his favourite shrub which is now also lifeless, dry and brittle above the dry hot red sand. The wind has blown a lot of the sand away now. Sometimes I can see some of his wing feathers waving in the wind as if beckoning me over to sit awhile with him. I do go and stay awhile because we are still friends.

White gum trees are very rare in this harsh country and how this one got to grow here over a hundred years ago only God knows. It has seen and helped many generations of Cockatoos and Grass parrots live and breed in its hollow limbs and provide me with firewood as various limbs died and fell to the ground, but not anymore, not many limbs carry any life to the leaves now, most are dry and brittle, just one struggling branch with green leaves begging for rain, after all the years it had helped me, I feel it is asking me now for help, share some or your tank water with me please. If only I could, but there is only two rungs of water left in my storage tank and still no sign of rain, will this cruel drought ever end?

You do a lot of thinking of times gone by when there is little to do, boys think back to their father, how he taught them the skills of life, how to love and be strong, how to be friends with animals and to have the wisdom to kill some in times of survival. I was young and full of magical spirit I could do anything, I had no fear. I remember dad’s balding head and I said with magical assurance your hair will grow again and each night I rubbed baby oil into his scalp and with great patience he sat there as though enjoying our time together, he never went completely bald, and he always told me he was 42 years old even up to the day he died. He lived a full life and somehow he is living a second life through me as I carry his wisdom and spirit within. I wonder if my son remembers any of my wisdom and skills and will he carry me in his spirit until he too has time to sit back and look back upon our lives.

There is only a small amount of flour left for black jacks and Damper. I am feeling the many days of pains of hunger, if only I could muster the energy and gather some firewood and start the fire with the magnifying glass before the sun goes down. The lighting kerosene has all gone and all the candles except for a two-inch butt girthed by melted wax and two matches I have carefully guarded for emergency. I go to bed early these dark nights and only sit up late now when there is a full moon to see and play my home-made game of drafts. You need a mate to help play this game properly but when you are on your own you always win somehow.

Mid afternoon and the sun was shining brightly not a cloud to be seen anywhere it was very hot and I sat on the corner of the rough bunk bed again reading the label on the fig jam tin listening to the musical wings of the blowfly circling within the walls of the hot hut. Why is it growing dim? the sun is still well above the horizon, as I stared out towards the white gum tree it became dimmer and harder to see, it’s almost black now and the blowfly still flying around was becoming more silent now, I dropped my beloved jam tin and the label now separated from the rusty bent tin, the label fell and broke into several fragments on the floor. I fell gently backwards onto the bunk bed in pain from hunger, weary and tired, as I started to drift away, laying there I saw a bright light and a GOLDEN TRUMPET at the end of a long dark tunnel and my mind drifted back over my life’s journey from childhood, ending suddenly at this present day, I now feel very relaxed and at peace.

Is that rain falling on the rusty tin roof?

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Fifty ways to leave your lover

A recent task in my U3A writing group was to list 50 ways to end a relationship, then write a bit about a couple of them. Here is my attempt.

Fifty Ways To End A Relationship                                Bruce McCorkill Jan2016

1: Man steps on butterfly

2: Man caught with wine receipt

3: Woman goes overseas

4: Wife discovers husband has a child, conceived while with her.

5: Woman discovers she is lesbian

6: Woman turns 60 and wants to be herself

7: Couple’s children finally leave home

8: Best man refuses to shave beard off

9: Two people have an incredibly erotic passionate affair which just burn out

10: Man has a hairy dog which girlfriend can’t cope with

11: Woman meets potential mother in law for first time

12: Woman attends hometown funeral and meets old flame

13: Husband strikes wife for the first and final time

14: Wife finally decides to leave abusive home situation after spouse abuses children

15: Husband discovers wife’s secret mobile phone

16: Man arrives home unexpectedly, and finds wife in bed with best friend

17: Couple have child with special needs, just too hard for husband to cope

18: Empty nester couple realise they have just grown too far apart

19: Spouse turns into chronic alcoholic

20: One partner loves overseas travel, other refuses to go overseas

21: Female partner goes to art galleries and concerts, male likes hunting and fishing

22: Both partners fanatically barrack for different football teams

23: Female becomes prime minister, husband is jealous and can’t cope

24: Left wing woman discovers husband is secret ASIO spy

25: Woman inherits million dollars, so can leave awful relationship

26: Woman discovers husband has a vicious criminal past including murder

27: Husband discovers wife is already married, and is double bigamist

28: Husband retires, wife can’t cope with him moping around and organising her life

29: Wife assists husband in suicide

30: Woman discovers fiancé already has four children

31: Wife and husband on continual shift work, never see each other

32: Man commits murder and jailed for life, wife can’t cope

33: Woman attends potential husband’s Xmas bar barque, family is simply awful

34: Wife develops Alzheimer’s, stops recognising husband

35: Childhood sweethearts both move to different states with families

36: Boy turns 18, leaves small town dysfunctional family, never returns

37: Possessive mother hides letters from son’s girlfriend while she is overseas

38: Man goes to fight overseas, is killed

39: Lovers working in same office are transferred overseas

40: Husband starts doing drugs and spends family money

41: Wife starts to steal from husband’s investment s to feed gambling habit

42: Couple join different political parties, spend all time arguing

43: Owner has to put down long owned pet

44: Spouse has to decide to stop life support system of partner

45: Man victim of vicious one punch attack, dies leaving distraught woman

46: Woman returns overseas to care for ailing parent, loves old country too much

47: War is finished and wife’s husband returns home, lover has to go

48: Syrian refugee couple separated in detention camps turmoil

49: Woman’s illegal immigrant partner is deported

50: Person enjoying a passionate idyllic island romance has to return home to reality

 

 

The evidence based way of leaving your lover.

I enjoyed Friday nights. The working week was done, we were both home together, could sit on the deck with a bottle of our favourite wine and tasty cheese.

This Friday night would be different. We were to play a game, with a lot at stake.

I started the conversation. “How was the conference?”

“Great, we worked hard, did a lot of team work, it was worthwhile. How was your week?”

That’s all he said. Strange, because normally he would be bursting with details of the conference, boasting of his presentation and networking skills. But his response was not totally unexpected.

“Meet anyone special?”

Once again, “No, just the usual boring corporate people. Tell me more about your week.”

Also strange, because normally by now he would be eagerly telling me about the multitude of very important people he was mixing with.

“I tried to ring a few times, but only got your voice mail.”

A small frown came over his face. “I guess that’s normal, we were tucked right away up in the country at the resort, the phone reception was nonexistent.”

“That’s really strange, because I bumped into my friend Jan and by a coincidence her partner was also at the conference. She rang him and got through. I asked her to pass on a message to you, but he said you weren’t there. I wanted to wish you a happy wedding anniversary.”

A bead of perspiration began to trickle down his forehead. “Yes, that’s really strange, although it was a big affair, he must have just missed seeing me. Let’s stop talking about me; tell me what you’ve been doing.”

I watched the trickle turn into a stream. This was proof enough. Stop playing around I thought, time to ace this bastard.

“Well James, I have been busy. In fact, after work tonight I picked up all of our clothes and did the washing. Just so we could have a cosy night together, then tomorrow we can head off to the beach house.”

He hesitated. “Personally, I’d prefer to stay at home, mow the lawns, tidy the garden.”

“That’s strange, you normally can’t wait to get to the house. But I really feel like some of that champagne we both like, the one for special occasions, the one we can only get at the bottle shop near the beach house. We can celebrate our anniversary, ten years of marital bliss.”

By now the stream was a torrent, and his face was flushed.

I continued softly. “Yes the champagne we drink, just for us. I notice you bought a bottle recently. As usual I found a receipt in your shirt pocket. You always do that don’t you, forget to empty your shirt pocket. But it was thoughtful of you to buy a bottle for our wedding anniversary.”

He paused for a long moment, thinking, desperately wondering what was coming next. “Ah yes, I know, I always seem to do that.”

“Yes, it’s certainly a bad habit, you should have stopped doing that a long time ago. But James, I noticed a curious thing. It was dated only a couple of days ago, in fact it was when you were up the country at this conference. But it was from our little bottle shop. Maybe you felt like celebrating our anniversary by getting in your expensive sports car and driving hundreds of kilometres from the conference up bush to the bottle shop at our beach house. Just to buy a bottle of our favourite champagne. What a touching gesture. Did you enjoy drinking it, thinking of me? Did you share it with anybody?”

His mouth flapped open, his throat twitched, but no words came out, there was nothing he could say.

“Enough of this maybe crap” I snapped. “You are a lying two timing piece of crap. I’m going down to the house in the morning. I suspect I’ll find a lot of evidence. I bet you forgot to hide the bottle, it’s probably still in the bin. I wonder what style of perfume I will smell. You probably didn’t even make the bed properly; you always were a lousy housekeeper. Will the furniture be in the same place? I only hope that you had some shred of decency left to screw your piece of fluff in the spare bedroom.”

The game was over, I had won but it was a sour victory. I played my final shot. “I’ll take your precious car down, it’s going to be mine in our property settlement, as well as this house and most of your super. When I’m back, you had better be gone.”

The crushing way to leave your lover.

The weekend had been magic. Just the two of us spending time alone in a bush cabin far away from the city. It had been the culmination of several months of dating, developing into courtship. We had clicked from the start, there was a mutual feeling of being soul mates, we were in love.

There were differences .Jack could be a bit of a knock about guy, sometimes too blokey for my taste, but then again he would tease me about being too ladylike. So all in all, these were small things in an otherwise great relationship.

I suspected that he had asked me up to the weekend to pop the big question, in a romantic setting. I also knew what my answer would be – a definite yes.

Standing close together, Jack murmured, “Jan, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“Ask away” I responded softly.

He opened his mouth, but suddenly looked to the side. I followed his gaze. A big moth had landed on the decking at our feet. It was beautiful, golden bands around its body, large fluttering wings moving in the breeze. I had heard about these creatures in this part of the bush, and I thought what a lovely sight to finish the weekend with.

“Wait just a tic” he said and moved to the creature. With no warning his boot crunched the insect into a flat mess, then he casually flicked the remains off the deck.

“Now as I was saying.”

I looked at him in horror.

“Jack, you just killed that lovely moth, a lovely living creature. Why?”

“So what, it was just a bloody insect.” He grinned, “Just wait till I take you roo shooting.”

My heart felt like the moth, crushed and lifeless.

“Jack, take me home, now.”

 

Nullarbor Tales

Nullarbor Tales.                                                                     Bruce McCorkill October 2015

The date is 15th September, 2015. The time is 7.30 AM. Our car is caught in peak hour traffic on the Western Ring Road. Years ago, I would have been commuting, cursing the traffic and worrying about being late for work. This time is different. I’m not fussed by the delay. There is an appointment we have to keep, one we dare not be late for, but there is plenty of time. We are driving to a party at Margaret River – ten days and four thousand kilometres away.

Ten years ago, our son moved there, searching for great surf. He found this, as well as a casual life style and a lovely wife. Now they have a baby boy – Lachie, and he’s just about to turn one. Naturally, we decide to gate crash his party. Generally, we fly over, but have always hankered to drive. Just to do it, for the experience, for the fun of it. This is the perfect excuse. Hence, we are heading off on our adventure of driving across the Nullarbor. The car has been serviced and new tyres installed. I have gathered a collection of spare parts and tools. The boot contains more birthday and Christmas presents than luggage. Our family realised we could be the free Nullarbor postal service.

In the traffic, I think about the trip and decide to write a story about it. Not a diary type travelogue, but one more expressing my feelings along the way. I have a month to plan the story and craft the words to describe feelings which will interest the reader. At this early stage I experience a mix of mild apprehension, concerns about safety and a desire to have an adventure. We are keenly looking forward to seeing our family, especially our grandson. I miss my son, but realise he has found a new home on the other side of the continent. Friends ask when is he coming home, and I curtly reply that he is home.

It will be a fairly quick trip. Seven days to drive over, two weeks there, then seven days to return. A few days will be over seven hundred kilometres of driving. We share this duty, but I wonder if we have allowed sufficient time for a relaxing trip. The research sternly warns against driving at after dusk, with the risk of striking kangaroos and other wildlife. I have read about the dangers of the long snaking road trains, and the need to be wary of people towing huge caravans for the first time. My rational mind decides that these feelings are normal, and I should have no problems in expressing them in my story.

The first day to Adelaide is a long pleasant country drive, like driving to Ballarat, only eight times longer. The road is mostly a doubled lane highway, fairly flat, until we get lost in the Adelaide Hills and spend an hour driving around winding hilly roads. But this is a picturesque diversion, and the B&B owner has provided a range of tasty food in a comfortable environment, so we are off to a good start. The second long day to Ceduna is also a pleasant trip, so I’m feeling quite chirpy. We can do this.

The next two days we cross the Nullarbor proper. The drive is not what I expect. I had thought we would be driving through the desert, but the landscape is fully vegetated. As per the meaning “treeless plain”, there are few trees, but there are ongoing blankets of small saltbush shrubs, native grasses, and delicate purple flowers; all springing up from the rich red gravelly soil. The land is totally flat, just endless stretches of dull grey green colour.

When I think how to describe my feelings, the most suitable phrase would be that of feeling slightly disappointed, maybe somewhat cheated. The landscape fascinates me, but it is too easy after what I had been expecting. The road is wide with generous easy bends, good visibility, and occasionally passing lanes. The tarmac is smooth, with wide verges. Passing the dreaded road trains presents no problems, there is tons of space. Even the hordes of caravans pose no threat. The road even seems somewhat busy, with oncoming vehicles several minutes apart, and the car hums along smoothly. I recollect how my father wrote a story describing how in 1928 his father drove the family, with six kids, over the Nullarbor in an old Dodge, when it was only a dirt road. I feel admiration for those early travellers.

At the Head of the Bight, we digress to the Nullarbor cliffs, where whales spend months mating, calving and teaching their young to survive. I wonder how to describe the feeling of watching these huge creatures softly floating in the gentle swell, diving and surfacing, slapping wide tails, and keeping calves close and safe. We see about a dozen whales plus a few calves, and my camera is working overtime. The words I will use will be along the lines of awe at seeing these lovely animals, sadness at how they have been hunted nearly to extinction, and anger at how some countries still attempt to justify their slaughter.

It is intriguing stopping at Roadhouses. On this highway, function triumphs over form. Motel buildings are simply long brick boxes for travellers to sleep in. Food is basic. The servos are simple shops selling rudimentary supplies, plus fuel. The huge gravel forecourts are stacked with semi trailers, a place for drivers to sleep, grab a meal, have a freshening shower, and refuel. In my big city way I tend to denigrate the standard of some places until the realisation dawns that they are serving their purpose; helping travellers along their way. But I allow myself a Melbourne smugness over the coffee paucity, and crave for a decent coffee. Most places have push button self serve machines, which spit out a milky mixture tasting like baby’s formula. I experiment with the buttons and realise that by pressing the button marked “flat white strong”, a substance resembling coffee trickles out.

I develop an interest in the human tentacles snaking over the countryside. The Grey Nomads. The road is full of caravans pulled by retirees. Couples selling homes and travelling around Australia. The vans are nothing like the primitive plywood ones of my youth. These machines are sophisticated, sleek and shiny, fully self contained with ensuites, satellite dishes, solar panels, comprehensive kitchens and soft beds. Capable of camping anywhere by the side of the road, they are towed by sensible vehicles. Not the cute city SUV style, but powerful diesel four wheel drives and utes. At dusk at caravan parks, flocks of vans arrive. The routine is simple. Carefully back into the spot, connect the power and water, set up the satellite dish and solar panel, wind out the awning, unfold the deck chairs, and within ten minutes sip on a glass of wine. It looks like a good life, and I hope the Nomads are having fun, but for myself I prefer more structure in my life, plus a bit more space. My words to describe these travellers would be in the vein of people who have worked hard over a long life just wanting to have hard earned fun.

We reach Norseman, the Western end of the plain. I am becoming sadly aware that small bush towns are dying. There are only the roadhouses, surrounded by a police station and a few houses. But Norseman, which in gold digging times housed fifty thousand people, seems to be still a large town. I am hopeful that there is some heart left here. But this is an illusion. As we drive into the town, most of the houses are empty and broken down, with shattered windows and overgrown gardens. I ponder how I will describe this in my story, the feelings of sadness I feel. How to adequately convey the desolation of a town which was once a busy hub, to one which now on a Friday night has a deserted main street. There are a few voices emanating from the big pub, which in the past would be full of noisy men furiously drinking and laughing. A few cars are parked along the kerb, and a few children riding bikes up the footpath. The shops along one side of the street are all boarded up, with peeling paint. It is all so quiet and deserted, a living ghost town.

We head north to Kalgoorlie. On the way we stop at the mining town of Kambalda. My wife lived here when she worked for Western Mining Corporation over forty years ago, on a working holiday, and was anticipating seeing her old temporary home again. But she also experiences some sadness. Kambalda has changed so much we have trouble finding her old residence. We finally find the block of flats, but it is abandoned, corralled by a high fence. The busy mall where she had shopped, is firmly boarded up. The once thriving town is now a modern day ghost town, with Western Mining gone. We inspect huge residential compounds, built to house hundreds of miners, now empty, with not even one high vis vest left dangling on a clothes line. I suspect my wife is feeling despondent as we drive away.

Kalgoorlie is an enjoyable break. We stay two nights in a comfortable apartment, and wander the wide streets, admiring the beautiful old buildings, the big double storied pubs with bull nose verandas and ornate pillars. The city seems busy, with numerous interesting eating places, and we enjoy a decent coffee. We even stand outside a brothel. In a somewhat ludicrous twist, the main patrons of the once thriving Hay Street establishments, now mostly gone, are no longer miners needing to press the flesh, but Grey Nomads going on brothel tours. We watch the kerb fill up with lines of caravans, and groups of respectable couples self consciously queuing up. In my story I may try to put some amusing twist on this slice of modern Kalgoolie attractions, but overall I feel happy at seeing this town. It is still a busy regional hub, with life bubbling up. I will describe it in these favourable terms.

From Kalgoorlie we travel inland to Margaret River. My feelings range from regret that we are leaving the intriguing dry inland county, to a fascination with the changing nature of the landscape. I think of this as a transitional journey. The red soil disappears, replaced by fertile grazing land. The scrubby bushes give way to tall trees. Phone lines and fences spring up along the road. Semi trailers carrying massive Caterpillar excavators give way to flat top trucks carting agricultural machinery. John Deere dealerships dot the highway, and towns become more frequent.

It’s easy to describe my feelings for the next fortnight. Simple joy and delight at seeing our son, daughter in law, and our grandson again. Lachie is a lovable little guy. We spend time hanging out together, visiting wineries, going to the beach, and playing with Lachie. I take delight in sipping a daily cup of sweetly brewed coffee and reading the local paper, in the little cafes lining the bustling main street. Because the town is booming, shops are busy, eating places are full, mostly by well heeled tourists enjoying the beach atmosphere, dressed in smart holiday clothing. An absolute contrast to the drabness and functionality of the inland. I realise that Australia, while one country, consists of two landscapes, the harsh dry inland county and the soft wet coastal fringe.

We celebrate Lachie’s first birthday with family and friends, and this is a great day. It’s what we drove all that way for. In my story I will keep it simple, just write a bit about family bonds, love and affection, then leave it to readers to understand.

Regretfully, we finally have to go home. The trip is a reverse of the one over, an easy drive, we know the road now. But this time we travel around the coast, via Esperance. This involves driving south from Margaret River, down through the tall karri timber forests. These are spectacular, tall trees, densely crowding the forest floor. The words to describe this drive are ones like majestic, strong, tall and dramatic. We finally hit Esperance, a lovely place, where we have a walk on the beach and a final decent coffee before heading inland towards Norseman again, where we return back over the Nullarbor.

We reach Ceduna and branch down along the Eyre Peninsular. It is a great drive along the coast, stopping at small coastal towns and sitting by the beach having coffee and cake, and looking out over the blue seas, with cute piers jutting out into the water. In my story I will say we just had a peaceful, leisurely relaxing time in this part of the world. A highlight is detouring to the seal colony at Point Labatt. This is a sixty kilometre drive on a rough gravel road, but it is worth it. From the viewing platform, we gaze down at the colony of sea lions, lolling around on the rocks, seeming to be having a fine peaceful life. The sea is a dark aqua colour, with numerous white crests, and I have fun taking lots of pictures.

At the small town of Tumby Bay, after our coffee on the cute cafe on the beach, we go for a walk and spy two bikes parked next to a bench. These bikes are totally full of panniers, back packs, handlebar baskets, as well as various other bags hanging down. During the trip we have seen a few cyclists riding along, but I have never had a chance to talk to the riders. We see a couple about our age in cycling gear walking towards us, so I naturally ask them if they are the owners of the bikes. We have a great talk to them, for the next half hour, finding out how they cope with the riding, where they sleep each night, and so on. It turns out they are a couple who decided to take two years off work to ride around Australia. So far they have travelled 19,000 kilometres, including riding up the highest mountain in each state. The reason they are doing this, is that the guy developed multiple sclerosis. He couldn’t ski or run any more, but still could ride a bike, so off they went to achieve this item in his bucket list. I would simply use the words of massive admiration and inspiration for this man. Also, if any of the cycling group guys back home, complain about the hill at Westerfolds Park, they will get no sympathy from me.

Port Lincoln is a bustling place, the home of the tuna and other fishing fleet. The town is busy, and in the evening we have a tasty meal of oysters in the pub, with a cold glass of white wine. Beautiful! We inspect the marina, and I have the “aha” moment, when I realise this is where the tuna in little cans in Safeway, actually comes from. The marina is full of big fishing boats, painted blue and white, strongly built to withstand the powerful seas. It is a dramatic moment.

In contrast, the next overnight stay, at Whyalla, is just depressing. The town is a dull functional one, built to accommodate workers in the huge steel mill. We drive up to the lookout to take pictures of the mill, a scattering of brown red buildings, surrounded by huge piles of iron ore. We get talking to a local resident about living there. He tells us about the large number of workers he knows who have died of cancer. Also, he describes the fish from the local harbour, which are a fluoro green colour, and terribly deformed. We hear how safety equipment for the workers is hung on walls, but without any signs directing workers to use these things, as this would clearly admit the mill is a dangerous place to work. He asks us to look around the town at the colour of the buildings and streets. On the way back to our motel we see that the whole town is covered in a red brown sediment, even the concrete footpaths and street posts are brown. Lots of the houses are painted brown, to blend in with the dust from the steel works. That night we look up the place to find that it has one of the highest incidences of lead poisoning in Australia. My thoughts here are a mixture of sadness for the workers who are suffering, despair for the future of the kids who will suffer in the future, plus anger that nothing is being done about this terrible deadly place. In fact I read an article by the mayor, complaining that people should stop criticising the pollution from the mill, as the company puts a huge amount of money into the town economy. We are glad to drive away the next morning, but feel despair for the residents who can’t leave.

At Port Augusta, we visit the Wadlata Interpretive Centre. This attraction has displays of both the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the Outback area of South Australia, plus the early white settlers. We wander through the centre, admiring the interactive displays as well as the pictures and equipment of the settlers. It is a fascinating look at the early days of this part of the Outback and life there. A number of areas detail the original overland explorers, and I can only think with admiration and amazement of how tough those men and women were.

Finally, we are on the road to Adelaide and nearly home. On the drive, we talk a lot, and relive the highlights of the visit. Our feelings can best be described as some sadness in leaving, wondering when we will next see the Western part of our family, but a certain keenness to get home, as well as the pleasure of reuniting with our Melbourne family. There are some regrets that we did not have nearly enough time to do much sightseeing along the way, but there were time limitations. But we start to talk about what we could do next time if we drove, including taking longer to drive over and see more off the main road, then maybe get the Indian Pacific train home. We will just have to wait and see.

We have achieved our main challenge of crossing the Nullarbor and attending Lachie’s birthday. So after seven days of driving, we finish where we started, on the Western Ring Road, this time in evening peak hour traffic. The welcoming arms of the Eltham trees embrace us, as they have for the last forty years when we return home.

We unload the car, check the garden, and have dinner. Then I head for the study and computer, because I have a story to write.

Selective Sinning. Bruce McCorkill August 2015

We were lying entwined in our post coital languor, when I idly raised the concept of sin. I had been educated in a strict Catholic school, with the nuns continually warning us about all types of sin and the awful consequences. Luckily, this was all in a long gone life, but occasionally I mused over the types of sinning people indulged in.

I asked Brett, “do you think what we are doing is really sinning?”

“Of course not sweetheart” said Brett. “We aren’t hurting anybody are we, just having fun.” This was typical of Brett, he was the pragmatic one; in advertising, he could put a positive spin on a square rock. “Speaking of the subject,” he said, let’s spend a bit of time looking at sin, We can check out the seven deadly sins, see how we go on a scale of seven, I bet you we’ll score really low.”

This sounded interesting, more fun than discussing boring old virtues.

We quickly disposed of the minor sins. Gluttony and sloth for example played no part in our lives. We were both extremely busy people, in highly paid corporate jobs, there was simply no time to be lazy or wasting time eating, and becoming fat and ugly. That would not be a good corporate look. It was more fun spending time making money. We followed the Gordon Gekko stockbroker motto, ‘lunch is for wusses.’

Maybe we suffered a little from pride, but in a good way. Both of us were proud of our careers, our families, our possessions and ourselves. There was no need to suffer from envy, as we both had it all, success and our great relationship. It was actually enjoyable watching people look at us enviously as we entered fancy restaurants, a well groomed successful pair, alighting from expensive cars. Although we did have to be careful where we were seen.

As far as greed went, yes, we both suffered badly. Greed for more quality time with each other. Our times together were limited to quick lunches, followed by afternoon trysts, overnight conference excuses. Once, we even managed to spend a whole week together in a little cabin in the high country, and that was just fantastic. We needed more, but that was not possible.

So that left lust, and naturally enough, in our stolen times together, we deliciously indulged in the sin of lust. I sometimes wondered if we dressed this up as love. Someone once said that women pretend lust to gain love, and that men pretend love to gain lust. Maybe that is true, I didn’t want to believe it, all that I knew is that we were happy with what we had, no matter what name it went by.

Brett being the pragmatic one, figured that once a line had been drawn and crossed, querying about the size or shape of the line was just plain semantics. You just continued on to the next line. Meaning, just enjoy it while we can. So I went along with him.

I almost forgot about the sin of wrath, probably because I have never been really angry at anybody. There was never any reason to be. Life was sweet. Until that afternoon.

We stepped out of the hotel doorway, after our Friday afternoon tryst. Suddenly, a couple came out a doorway down the street. The light was fading and I couldn’t see them clearly. They were dressed smartly, nicely groomed, but with the slightly disarrayed appearance of dressing hurriedly, clothes not totally neat. An appealing looking couple, they seemed to be in love, and parting for the day. They embraced and kissed. Not a passionate kiss, but a long lingering touch of the lips, the familiar type which lovers do to farewell this time, but giving a promise of next time. The diffused light gave their faces a soft glowing look, and seemed to highlight a reluctance to leave their embrace. Finally after a final fleeting hug and familiar caress they briskly strolled towards us, almost like stepping into another life.

I watched their ritual, like a voyeur, gaining a vicarious pleasure from their show of feelings. Their silhouettes seemed familiar, and as they turned towards us under a street light, I suddenly realised why. I jerked Brett behind a shrub. But our eyes had briefly locked, and recognition mutually flashed.

We knew this couple, extremely well. In fact, they were part of our life. But not in this situation. We knew them through work and socially. Our kids went to the same schools, played the same sports and shared friends. We had partied together, been on neighbourhood committees. They were our friends. The problem was, the man walking away was my husband and the woman was Brett’s wife.

That’s when I truly realised what the sin of wrath meant. A hard molten ball of white heat formed in my gut. Then this ball exploded through my whole body, up into my chest where my heart started to pound, into my temples, which constricted into a fiery bridle around my brain. My fists tightly clenched and my jaw did the same. My eyes felt like burning lasers as they stared at the couple. I realised then why people kill, because I wanted to hurt the couple, if I had a weapon handy I would have tried this. My husband, the cheating bastard.

I managed to hiss at Brett. “Did you recognise that couple?”

“No” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t get a good look, all I know is that from their actions, they seemed to know each other quite well, shall we say. Looks as though they had a fun afternoon, just like us. Wonder what they scored out of seven.”

“Brett, that was my husband Jack.”

He just chuckled. “So what, why are you angry with him. He’s only doing with that woman what you are doing with me. You’re both a couple of cheaters.”

“Brett, that so called cheating woman, having fun with my husband, having a great sinful afternoon, was actually your wife. And they saw us.”

At this he groaned and closed his eyes. I was expecting him to explode with anger, like me, to display wrath towards his wayward wife. I hoped that this might be the trigger to thrash things out with our respective spouses. We had frequently said if push came to shove we could discard our partners and start a new life together.

But all I saw in his eyes was a second of calculation. He always was a good numbers man, great at calculating odds and risks. I could see the choice in his eyes. Retaining his comfortable life style, house, possessions, versus the disruption of going off with me, his supposed love, but in reality his bit of fluff on the side. I could see him mentally building his story to his wife that night. To reassure her that she was his real true love, I was just a passing distraction.

I again felt wrath that afternoon – towards Brett. But it was just a sad tragic anger towards a sad tragic man. My anger turned to disgust. As we walked back to the car, together but apart, I saw him surreptiously glancing at any attractive woman walking by. He was already planning his next adventure . With someone like me who was prepared to conveniently confuse love and lust.

My feelings then turned into envy. For all the women who somehow against all odds, find a simple decent guy. Someone to be rightfully proud of.

My Special Place

My Special Place                                                                               Bruce McCorkill August 2015

The track gently unfolds. It winds around green fields, trees, sports grounds, bushland, paddocks and the river. The track is flat and wide, with the bends not too sharp. This track is a small part of the whole trail – the Main Yarra Trail.

The Yarra walking and cycling trail starts at Diamond Creek and follows the Yarra River as it slowly flows through the outer suburbs of Eltham, Templestowe and Banyule, the mid suburbs of Heidelberg and Banyule, the inner areas of Fairfield and Collingwood, then the city area of Southbank, where the river continues to its death at Port Phillip Bay. The trail generally meanders through pretty surroundings. There are few parts where it actually goes via built up areas. There is always some greenery to pass through, whether bushland or sprawling sports fields.

I have been cycling along this trail since I moved to Eltham, some forty odd years ago. If I kept count, the number of times the wheels of my various bikes have revolved over the surface would be in the thousands. It is a fine and fun experience to cycle on the Yarra Trail. There are a range of surfaces ranging from bumpy bitumen, to pebbly gravel to smooth concrete. Each day, there are a range of riders and bikes to watch, solitary racers hunched over the drops, fiercely concentrating on the track, to friendly groups of older casual cafe riders, concentrating on how long to the next coffee or toilet stop. Of course there are an ever increasing number of families on the track, ranging from parents with babies on the back gingerly negotiating bends, to exasperated dads yelling at overly confident kids to keep left and both hands on the handlebars. It is a moving tabloid of people having getting out and having fun.

While I enjoy riding the whole length of the Yarra Trail, there is a certain section which is my special place. This is only a short section, maybe two kilometres long, but it is the part I always enjoy travelling along the most. It goes through the Warringal Wetlands in Banyule, and is my short time of tranquillity and peace on that ride. Generally, the gravel sections of the Yarra Trail are constructed of hard rough black gravel, fairly fast to ride on, but the bike bumps over the bigger pebbles, and it’s not a soft ride. Other sections are made of round pebble gravel and it’s like riding on ball bearings.. But this particular section is made of soft yellow gravel. It’s a fine gravel, no large shards to bump the wheels. Instead of a coarse crunching sound, my turning tyres only make a soft hiss as they gently sink into the fines. This part winds through a flat section of open parkland, interspersed with old gum trees. In one open section the council has planted strands of young gum trees and over the years I have seen them grow from tube stock into young sprouting trees. In another field there is a copy of a painting by one of the Heidelberg school, and when I stop there and look towards the city, I understand why these artists made the trip from the city to paint in this beautiful spot.

The track here is safe. The bends are fairly loose, with only one where there is a danger of veering onto the wrong side if taken too fast. There is a short length where the roots of an ancient pine tree have rudely intruded into the surface, but this just causes a gentle bump of the handlebars. Even when wet, the tyres still securely grip the gravel. Unlike the short cut over the fields just before this part, where if it has been raining I am lucky to survive without skidding in the slippery mud. When I enter my place, I relax my grip on the bars and lower my head. I concentrate on enjoying this short time and space and gently lean into the bends this way and that, staring at the gravel under my tyres. I almost go into a trance. It’s meditation on the move. I generally don’t talk to my fellow riders on this section, it’s my alone time in the group. All too soon, Banksia Street appears and it’s coffee time. An animated conversation break, unlike the tranquillity of the previous stretch.

After four decades, my place has now suddenly changed, it’s not the same. A few months ago, I noticed that orange stakes had been hammered into spots along my special section. This did not bode well; I had seen this on numerous occasions along the main trail where upgrades were to occur. A few weeks later, the bobcats moved in and smoothed out the gravel. Then the appearance of formwork along the length confirmed my fears that the upgrade was not to be new yellow gravel, but concrete. And then the next time we rode the section, we rode over smooth newly laid concrete.

Yes, it was wide and smooth, it was flat and faster, there were no tree roots any more, the rainwater drained away efficiently. It still meandered along the same alignment, the verdant lushness still bordered the concrete, the painting views were still inspiring, but it was different, it was not the same. I missed the peaceful hissing sound of the tyres and gravel quietly meshing. I rode too quickly to fall into my meditative trance. I appreciate that local councils are gradually upgrading the Yarra Trail; still too much is in a poor condition. I realise that natural bushy public areas are becoming sanitised. I just wish that my small part of this long trail could have been upgraded at some future time.

I miss my special place.

A Mutual Surprise

A Mutual Surprise                                                                           Bruce McCorkill May 2015

 

They both enjoyed their meetings. A gentle hug, peck on the cheek, stroke of the arm, a quick appraisal of how the other was looking, a mutual reassurance that they were both fine. Then to the pleasure of a decent coffee and chat.

Carol and Jan had known each other from their first day in the kinder sand pit. Some instant bond formed and they stayed best friends ever since. Even after both married, they continued to meet for coffee and talk. Neither could really understand this. They were different, Jan the flamboyant outgoing one, Carol the quieter of the pair. Jan had a business career, two marriages and messy divorces, and a series of disastrous relationships. Carol had gone into admin work, married her only boyfriend Brian and stayed in a stolid uneventful marriage.

These differences didn’t matter, and they had stopped querying their friendship. It just was. They enjoyed being together, the companionship and talking. They had tried involving their partners, but it didn’t work. Carol would proclaim “we are soulmates,” and after the third wine, Jan would joke “no, we are really gaymates.”

This meeting was different. They hadn’t met for a while, and Jan sensed something was very different about Carol. “What’s with you? You have a new hairstyle; you look great, new outfit. You even look sexy. This is a change from Brian and the burbs.”

“Well, I have a surprise for you. I’ve decided to leave Brian. The last year has been almost unbearable. We go to work, he goes to the RSL, I go to night classes, and that’s all. We don’t communicate. As for our love life, sex is just a mechanical scratching of the itch, there’s no tenderness, gentleness or emotional feeling. In a nutshell, I’m almost fifty, and I don’t want another three decades of this life. I married early to the first nice boy, raised healthy kids, made a home. So I think my dues are paid and it’s my turn.”

Jan was amazed. “Wow, that’s a real revelation; I thought your marriage was rock solid, although Brian has always struck me as being on the boring side.’

Carol continued, “It’s been coming a while, but after attending some of the women’s study groups, I’ve realised that I haven’t got any real identity apart from my mundane marriage. There are a lot of women I’ve met who feel the same way and it’s been great talking to them. But guess what, something else happened. This may shock you – but I’m in a relationship with a man, and it’s full on fantastic.”

“Tell me all about it, don’t spare any details.”

“It happened by chance, I met him one Sunday at a nursery, he helped me select some plants, we had coffee, talked and it started from there. We just seemed to click. There’s a problem because he’s married, but he plans to leave his wife.”

Jan felt a familiar feeling here; over the years she had heard that promise from many of her new loves.

But she said, “fantastic news, as usual we’re soulmates, because I have a surprise for you. I’ve been going out with a new fellow. I had just about decided to give up on guys. I think about all the smart types from work I’ve been involved with, more concerned about a quick macho shag before charging off to the next planning meeting. This one’s different. He doesn’t even work in the business world, he actually runs a nursery. He’s married also, but is going to leave his wife.”

“Talk about us being on the same train,” Carol exclaimed, “soulmates, gaymates and now

playmates. “My guy also runs a nursery, in Upwey, specialising in grafted roses.”

Jan’s face sagged and she almost threw up, but managed to gasp “and his name is Brett.”

“Why, Jan, how did you know that, do you know him?”

Jan looked at her old friend, happy, vibrant and on the cusp of a new life. She only hoped their friendship could withstand what was coming next.

“I think you could say I know him fairly well, or I thought I did. He’s the guy I’ve been going out with. What a two timing bastard. I had a strange feeling something wasn’t right, but I really wanted to believe in this one. He’s just like the rest. Men!, they just want one thing. This is the finish.”

She closely hugged her friend, who was now weeping softly. Carol had helped her through two messy divorces and now it was her turn to help her friend. This had happened to Jan before and she was just resigned and angry, but Carol was really hurting.

“What do you mean Jan, this is the finish, you don’t mean our friendship surely.”

“No you dummy, I mean this is the end of me and men, this jerk was the last straw.” She stroked Carol’s arm gently and gave her a light kiss on the lips.

Jan continued. “I have a confession. I’ve become totally disillusioned about men. Brett was my last try, it’s easier to have a man on your arm at business functions rather than a woman. But I’m over it now. I’ve been finding women who feel this way. Sick of guys only thinking through their pants, not understanding what women need in the way of tenderness and love.

To coin a cliché, I’ve jumped the fence and it’s great. Hope I haven’t shocked you.”

Carol looked at her friend closely. “Not really. With some of the courses I’ve been doing, I’ve also found women who want more from a relationship than a man can give. Women like me who married the first guy, then drifted through an unsatisfactory marriage, conforming to society’s expectations, but not knowing any better. Now, there’s lots of us waking up and needing to know who we really are.”

She took hold of Jan’s hand and softly murmured. “Seeing as it’s confession time, sometimes when Brian is labouring over me, with his big beer belly, rough hands and bad breath, I wonder what it would be like being with a gentle slow woman.” She softly laughed, “As usual, Jan, we are both on the same train, you’re just a few carriages to the front.”

They looked at each in a different and frank way. A speculative look, curious to discover what track their train would take them down. Their kiss was a gentle sensual brushing of the lips, sweetly almond tasting, a farewell to their old friendship and a promise of things to come.

Jan eased away. “Enough for one day, but how about if you come over on the weekend for a sleepover, like we did on the school camps. We have a lot to talk about.”

“What about Brett. How do we deal with him?”

“Simple, we just thank him for being an excellent train driver.”

Carol suddenly chuckled. “Jan, I have a final surprise for you. You know how we used to share your tent on those camps; I really used to like watching you get undressed and snuggling into the stretcher bed with you. I felt warm and safe.”

“I know, silly, why do you think I brought that tiny tent.”