My Trusted Travelling Companion

The response was not entirely unexpected.

‘You want what? Dad, have you heard of the 21st century? Nobody uses those old things any more.  They’re a waste of resources. Just download the Google Maps app to your phone.’

I gently reminded my daughter that for some arcane reason, neither I nor her mother owned a smart phone. Our portable communication devices are ancient 2G Nokia pieces, attractive in a retro way, but only capable of basic calls and texts, and only used to make a few calls while away from home, to reply to rarely received texts, to ring the RACV if broken down, and to find each other when separated at the footy, tennis , supermarket etc..

The occasion of this lively conversation was last December, when I idly mentioned to my daughter that the item I would like for Christmas was a hard copy 2017 Melways street directory, approximate cost $60, available from all good newsagents.

‘But if you don’t want to buy me that, and if you want me to reside in the current century, how about you shout me a new I Phone 7, approximate cost $990, available from all good Apple stores.’

‘Hmm, OK you’ve convinced me, I’ll buy you the Melways.’

Accordingly, two days before Christmas, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived at the front door, containing my eagerly anticipated present. Bought on line of course.

Why a Melways? I can’t really explain. Some items simply appeal to some people. All I know is that ever since my first car in 1968, I have always had a Melways in the seat pocket to navigate around Melbourne. I find the fine detail fascinating, I like the way different types of streets are marked in contrasting colours and line widths. Rather than staring at a small screen, I prefer scanning a double page spread, plotting out my journey in my own way. The touring maps are handy for day trips, and the freeway interchanges are clear. Best of all, Melways have always been the most accurate in setting out bike trails around the metropolitan area. You can buy expensive books showing Melbourne bike trails, but they are not nearly up to date as the ever reliable Melways, nor do they show fine detail. My first lookup when I buy a new one is to check for any new trails that the cycling group can try, and to check the progress of trails under construction. This is why my Melways is my favourite travelling companion.

Melways was conceived by Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay in the 1950s, the name a combination of “Mel” of Melbourne and “Way” from find your way. The first edition was released in 1966. The original 106 maps were hand drawn by Godfrey, while Mackay spent four years driving 274,000 kilometres in a second hand Morris Minor around every metropolitan street painstakingly checking street and landmark details. Godfrey’s wife got the books, selling for $2.50 onto the market by visiting a few newsagents each day touting the product, a process taking six months. All a far cry from today’s marketing methods.

The first Melways design was groundbreaking compared to the competitors. The concept was to produce a multi – coloured high quality directory printed on a good quality paper. By the 1980s Melways was the most popular street directory in Melbourne, holding 80 per cent of the market. The term “Melway” began to be used as a generic name for any street directory. Melway is still used today by Police and other Emergency Services as the most up to date mapping system.

Those early Melway users couldn’t have imagined that future generations would be using tiny mobile devices to get around. Nor would they have believed that we’d be trusting enough to let these satellite navigation systems send us on absurd detours or up one-way streets in the wrong direction. Or that we’d let ourselves be talked into driving into forests, creeks and onto train tracks. They also would not have anticipated the emergence of what physiotherapists call “Melways arm”, which according to urban myth is a strain developed by reaching over to the back of the car to get a Melways off the seat.

The Melways has been an ongoing insight into the growth of Melbourne’s suburbs. We read about the suburban population growth, but it is fascinating actually seeing this on a map. It’s possible to look online at Melway maps for various suburbs, comparing today with the layout thirty years ago. Then, in today’s newer suburbs, there were generally main and connecting roads with nothing in between. Now the maps are full of roads and suburban streets and courts. It’s startling to see the populous Eltham of today compared to the rural country area the potters and painters moved to.

Which brings me to my experience last week. Our cycling group sometimes ride along the trail from Williamstown to Altona. It’s a pleasant ride. The track follows the foreshore, with borders of native grasses, and sea views. We generally train to the city, ride through Williamstown and continue to Altona for lunch. The last stage is a ride further around the coast, finally reaching Laverton railway station for the train ride back to the city. It’s a smooth easy ride, all on good gravel and concrete surfaces.

This time was different. Nick had the bright idea of going even further around the coast, via the Point Cook wetlands, and making for the Werribee station. He produced a page from Google Maps showing a faint line which looked like it might be the trail to lead us to our destination. I had my doubts. Being used to detailed Melway maps, this faded A4 page in a large scale, only showing main roads, did not inspire my confidence.

Naturally we got lost. The map was not detailed enough to clearly show the new trail, and instead of cheerfully riding around the foreshore on a gravel track, we finished up dolefully pedalling along smooth bitumen through the densely populated streets of Point Cook and Santuary Lakes. Nick kept checking his map, to no avail; Steve tried to navigate with his phone GPS, but beautifully spoken “UK Carol” could only regularly proclaim that she was “recalculating” every two kilometres. Lou had Google Maps on his phone, but having forgotten his glasses, it was not much use.  Bill and Bruce just kept stoically pedalling, following the herd. I thought of King Richard’s saying of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” I would have given my bike for a Melways.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Hoppers Crossing Station, hot and tired and appreciating the cool and comfortable train ride home to the suburbs of Eltham, Greensborough and Diamond Creek. We all agreed that these areas are not too bad a place to live. Out here we still have hills, trees and interesting houses, compared to the depressing uniformity of some new suburbs. I now understand the meaning of Pete Seeger’s song “Little Boxes.”

My first action upon arriving home was to eagerly open my Melways. Yes, as expected maps 207 and 208 showed exactly where we should have gone. Later I copied the pages of the area, and carefully aligning the overlapping margins, cleverly crafted a hard copy map of the area to be placed in my bike rack. The next time we decide to visit the West I can confidently take the lead, yelling “follow me boys, I’m the Melways man.”

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.

From the eyes of a frog

** Repost from June 2016

IMG_2232CRASH and vibration as the plough Ponds-lakes-Bulldozing_1059849_imagesank into the fertile mud of our home, a large swamp, all the inhabitants looked on in horror as the machine moved forward and we saw our life blood, water, starting to gush away. Our home had always had still water this allowed the reeds and grasses to grow and form a ring where the water and earth met and was where insects worms and aquatic life had happily lived. High in the rushes and reeds the dragonflies darted to and fro, spiders knitted together the swaying reeds and the water lilies seemed to float on the water and in spring would burst into the most beautiful yellow flowers. Speeding water beetles would dart in an erratic fashion amongst the humus which gave life to all the plants. From the treed forest around our water’s edge the fauna gasped in fear and shock the roos, wombats, rabbits , foxes, owls, kookaburras, swallows, so many more could be mentioned. All would have to move away, no more drinking water, food, shelter – nowhere to house their spring children no mud for the swallows to construct their nests.
33b345b03a23707d669f5df49c159ec1US FROGS had lived here for many generations in what was just perfection –  plenty of food and protection. We loved our neighbours and on moonlit nights we would put on a concert and sing to everyone and all around the swamp there were frogs who would join in. During the day time we would swim out to the floating lilly leaves to sunbake and smell the flowers sweet perfume. As I was growing up I spent many hours learning and talking to my grandparents, they had skills to pass on and I was eager to absorb their wisdom. My parents looked after me from when I was an egg waiting to be hatched and even more so when I became a tadpole, they taught me right from wrong, what was safe to eat and how to survive. Dad showed me his crippled leg where an owls claw had pierced the leg muscle, he was lucky to live. Mum always made sure I got the best food so I would grow strong and be able to have strong children when the time came.
PANIC everyone who lived here was dashing and darting escaping their destroyed homes. Mum and Dad said \”Hop away before you are killed.” I had never experienced fear before so I asked my grandparents what to do Granddad said when we were young disaster found us and we escaped to a little stream on the other side of this forest. We are too old to go with you and your dad is to crippled to go and your mum will never leave your father. Time heals everything and some day you may be able to come back, travel safely our future race depends on you.
Yes I was young and strong but with tears in my eyes I bounded into the unknown forest. It is much easier to swim than hop a long way over logs, bracken ferns and thick grass plus avoid the snakes and owls. I had hopped for two days before I found the little stream. I jumped in and relaxed my aching muscles then tried to find food and a safe place to hide – somewhere to be able to observe my new surroundings as I was scared and alone. It was not a place to be happy in, running water and very little still pools to relax in and food was very scarce also.
Two winter floods later as the last of the high water was subsiding, I was feeling very much alone when I saw some movement on the edge of the rushing water and heard a splash. I could not believe my eyes a beautiful green frog the same as my race slowly hopped towards me.frog1 She was so pretty, lovely big eyes, slim figure with long fingers and toes and  I could not help but fall in love with her. We talked for many hours, could have been even a day or two, about how she escaped the SWAMP disaster and somehow found the same little creek and lived alone for two years also. We spoke of our parents and grandparents and what a wonderful home we used to have. Yes, we were homesick so we decided to take the risks and hop back for a look at our old happy home.
Hop, hop, hop, back through the forest we went, being careful of the dangers of predators and injury. It was just on daybreak when we reached the edge of our old home. Across the swamp I could see the burnt out shell of the farmers log hut (home) a blackberry plant was strangling the remains as if to make sure they never returned. The plough was overturned and broken it would never destroy our home again. Many of the former inhabitants were there that morning rejoicing that our Swamp was returning to its former beauty. The man-made drain that let the water out had become soft and collapsed stopping the water from escaping and with man’s interference gone nature was able to resume. All the plants and animals could rebalance and live in harmony together as they did once before. I remembered what my parents and grandparents had said with the passage of time nature will restore what is good. All the animals and insects decided that day to stay and look after all the plants and with patience restore our struggling home. Katie my lovely soul mate said to me we are going to stay as well, look there is water and some lilies growing, we will stay and have our family here we owe it to our species and our parents to start all over again.
During the next spring there was immense activity the water was a full capacity all the plants had revived somehow. There were flowers on the lilies spider webs and reeds water bugs and beetles animals came to drink once again. Swallows were digging out the mud, kookaburras were laughing and Katie and I were swimming and diving off the lilly pads.
It was a full bright moon and I was singing my solo song to all my friends, but I was stressed as Katie was nowhere to be found. We usually sang a duet after my solo great sadness entered my heart as I sat alone every one tried to find Katie. We looked everywhere, as daylight started to break we gathered together with heavy hearts. Then, with a noisy splash, Katie jumped onto my Lilly Pad and called out to everyone the frog species is assured I have just laid our eggs to hatch in a secret spot so they will be safe until they become tadpoles. So life starts again.
I then remembered my grandparents saying, when our home was being destroyed, “Put your faith in nature to restore everything.”

It will try and try and try again, in the end it will succeed ……

…………………………………………yes,  LOOK IT HAS!
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16/June/2016

Benalla Trip 2nd November 2016

Sharing three learned days with Mark Dellar

 The V8 Toyota Cruiser backed into my drive way, the sun was shining with the promise of a great day ahead, Mark stepped down with a beaming smile c’mon Daryl get your gear ready, stash in the back but be careful of Chloe she is asleep on the back seat, with gear secured and the good byes and a hug for Lady Florence who had baked us an apple pie, we were on our way, out through Research then Kangaroo Ground, through the farmlands to Christmas Hills descending down into Yarra Glen, which has a horse racing track.This reminded us of the Melbourne cup ran yesterday where Almandin owned by Lloyd Williams and ridden by jockey Kerrin McEvoy, won the coveted Melbourne Cup. Here we turned left onto the Melba Highway through the grape and wine making farmlands heading north towards Yea. We marveled at the high hills that had been cleared mostly by hand and horses to grow pasture for grazing sheep and cattle.

Farmers were starting to cut grass for bailing hay, everything was green, dams and streams were full of clean water. Road works were excavating the embankments and cutting down red gums to straighten the busy northern road. We entered Molesworth, a small town of a dozen homes and one pub. We travelled further north and saw a sign saying where the F**K is Yark and shortly after that we came to the 50 km township sign saying this is F**king Yark, toilets turn left near footy grounds.Well, this location was busier than the  main street. Mark explained as we pulled up that I have to give Chloe a chance to have a drink and a pee. Some other travellers stopped and pulled out there picnic basket and a thermos of tea and chattered to us about what they were planning to do, by this stage Chloe has settled herself back on the rear seat and had dozed off again.

Onwards through the rich farming valleys past Merton to Bonnie Doon over the bridge that spans the southern arm of lake Eildon past the empty pub to Lima South. It was getting warmer and it was noted by Mark again time for Chloe to have a drink and another pee so we crossed our legs and raced onwards to Swanpool toilets on arrival we marveled at the picnic shelter with it laser cut design of swans in sheets of rusty steel. It’s obvious that this little town was very proud and was  making visitors very welcome and comfortable, sorry we could not stay to investigate more but you guessed it Chloe was anxious to get to the farm.

Onward through Tatong with it classic white pub and well-spaced tree-lined street a quick right hand turn and we were on the red gum lined country road heading for the Dellar Ranch in Upper Lurg.

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Tatong Pub

Chloe sat upright as if to say we are here and I want another pee quick. We stopped at the front cyclone gate and were welcomed by a swarm large black mozzies that filled the car, Mark yelled quick Daryl make a run for it I jumped and we sped up the drive over the angry sugar ants nests to the safety of the long tin weekender making a run inside leaving Chloe behind to bring in her own swag and aeroguard. It was about mid afternoon when we arrived and after scratching and spraying we settled in to unpack and start the job at hand, slash all the long grass before the fire season starts, with the hand slasher brought out of retirement, oil checked belts tightened and blades sharpened, time to start the willing 11 horsepower Honda, Mark hanging on for dear life let out the clutch and away he went grass flying everywhere propelled stones banging against the tin walls Chloe and I hid in the shelter of the shed and peered through the cracks around the door to see if Mark was okay whilst we were under attacks from those persistent B51 mossy bombers. With the front area mowed like the botanical gardens and Mark out of sight over the embankment Chloe and my self-ventured out and found the famous Fire Pit, a large dug out area to contain a big fire, after collecting a stack of dry firewood we lit a big fire and stacked on some freshly cut grass to smoke out those mossies, this worked a treat.

After a couple of hours with the mower at rest we settled down with some beer and stout, dry bikkies and cheese in our deck chairs in the smoke trail watching the sun setting listening to the farmers kids extracting the last out of the day laughing and playing. We even heard the birds saying their prayers and giving thanks as they settled down for the coming cold night.

Mark heated up some stir fry and chicken and we had a couple of bowls full each as the flies went to bed and before the mossies renewed their night attack. We had a few beers and those mossies that bit us were then too pissed to find us or to tell their mates. We even managed a few yarns and rearranged the world as we sat around the open fire and stared at the star covered sky.

That was the end of the first day. Chloe slept with Mark he claimed it was for the warmth.

Day Two
7-30 am

Mark beat the birds up had the Honda humming away and more grass was being laid level, in and out of the trees, he been for a walk, lit  the fire pit and fired up the slow combustion stove and had the kettle singing ready for brekky. Upon seeing me greeting the day he bounced up to make toast, a bowl of weeties, corn and raisins.We sat in the sun sipping tea as Mark told me that Chloe had slipped down the side of the mattress during the night against the iron shed wall and was wedged there. Never a complaint from her. He called, no answer. Panic set in. No torch, no power, no Chloe. He was starting to panic big time. What would Daryl say? Then as day broke and as he was making his bed he discovered her stuck between the mattress and the tin wall. I suggested that from now on maybe I should look after Chloe.

Mark got back into slashing again, the day was heating up. I went around collecting fire wood and tidying up, doing dishes and keeping an eye on Mark to see if he was okay. Come lunch time and we had a reverse lunch. Lady Flo’s apple pie and cream then salad buns and tea after which we had a siesta for an hour or so. Then you guessed it, Mark was back into the mowing, he is a joy to watch like poetry in sweet motion. Poor Chloe after a freezing night she was still curled up in front of the wood stove sound asleep and even missed lunch.

The vivid blue sky allowed the late spring warmth to heat the ground and start drying the mown grass. It also allowed us to see the vapor trails of the big passenger jets high above us as they headed for Sydney and beyond.They were almost noiseless and barely visible except for that white vapor trail.There seemed to be one every 10 minutes, all travelling in the same direction.

At the end of the slashing day with the oven heated up, Mark the Melbourne Che,f put some Lasagna in the oven whilst we sat down by the fire pit in our deck chairs with dry bikkies, cheese and chips. Mark said “beer and stout” –  there is still some left I will get it out of the caravan fridge.There was cries of “no, no bloody NO! – it’s all frozen” – so we sat in front of the fire trying to thaw out enough beer and stout to wash down our bikkies. To no avail, beer and stout does not make good tasting ice blocks either.

At least the slightly singed lasagna went down very well followed by Lady Flo’s apple pie and beer flavored ice blocks. Chloe chose not to partake with us but stayed in warmer quarters with a large plate of canned stuff. Chloe refused to sleep with me, indicating she thought she should give Mark a second chance to make up and do the honorable thing?

It was getting late when we decided to go to bed. We were all tired but very happy. No phones, no tele, no traffic. But we had achieved our goal and cleaned up most of the grass to improve the fire safety aspect.

Day Three

Up at 7 am the sun was already up and shining as we prepared to tidy up ready for the return trip. But first a great breakfast and toast from the wood fire, weeties and corn and coffee. A quick tidy of the kitchen wash the dishes pack up our gear make sure the fires are safe. Wait, we have to empty the doorless dunny, out with the spade and electric drill, down on the hands and knees and unscrew the front panel so we can extract the can, quickly run over to the soft soil dig a hole and bury the Treasure, back to the dunny put the can in again and screw the front panel on ready for the next trip up here.

9am and off we go heading for home, down to the road and shut the cyclone gate. I asked Chloe if she would like the front seat on the way back but she seemed happy to stay stretched out on the back bench seat. A couple of k’s and a right hand turn towards Benalla Township, but before that Mark pointed out the turn to Winton where they have a motor rally car track an event worth seeing so they say. Before long we were heading towards Melbourne on the Hume highway, by-passing Benalla, we were making very good time then Mark suggested we take a scenic detour from Euroa to Merton. As we headed down the Merton road it said ‘road closed’ car rally ahead.Could not be, it was Friday, must have been left there from last week. We travelled on for some more k’s and guess what the road was closed so back we went to Euroa, looped around found the highway again. It was pisso time again but nowhere to stop but, as Mark observed, there are toilet stops for people with weak bladders along the highway. Alright for men, we can cross our legs but we had to give Chloe a plastic bag just in case. We both rang home to tell the ladies of our lives we were safe and should be home around 11-30 am. We passed a couple of highway toilet stops. They come and go quickly at 100km/per hour. Now things were getting serious. Just then we saw a sign one kilometer to toilet stop Mark pulled out to pass the longest semi-trailer ever built. We just passed the truck and realized that we were half way past the pit stop, a quick left turn, no smoke from the tyres but brown skid marks on the our undies! Mark calmly stated it’s okay as we backed up the exit lane from the Hume highway to the toilet. Time for Chloe’s pitt stop. After looking around seeing how noisy and busy a highway is we headed to Wallan. Another scenic detour was decided upon towards Whittlesea but more disaster at the railway line. A hold up as they were erecting two concrete poles. Yes, time is being eroded. Thru Whittlesea and the traffic just got thicker. Another detour to Doreen and YanYen road which was blocked for some unknown reason. Time was ticking away fast and Mark had to be home by 11.30am. A quick look at my watch said we would just make it but as we turned into Dudley St Eltham signs up, road closed all day another detour into various street and into Bible st at 12 bells. Unloaded the swag and gear. I gave Chloe a hug as she and Mark headed off home like frustrated rabbits.

Later, after all that it was revealed, Mark went home, fell asleep on the couch and missed taking his grandchild to his new school orientation day in Doreen. The very reason we had to be home by 11.30am.

Daryl Morrow – November 2016

**Editors note – just to allay any possible confusion, Chloe is a dog.

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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