Ok, promise. No more talk about lasts. ‘Cause it’s firsts from here on, this blog being numero one in my new life.
So…. Before I drove to Warwick a week ago, I flogged my old Courier twin-cab (‘the tradie’) to Darwin and back. Not for the pleasure of driving. Not in December with the air-con only just, and a passenger door that plays flute – an eerie solo instrumental that comes and goes – mostly comes. Took me a few hundred kays, but I worked out my ghostly virtuoso found full voice in a left-to right cross-wind, and/or at particular speeds. Pitch and tone were simple: adjust angle of right heel, or hit brake. For ‘soft background’: ball up reams of shit-paper, and shove where necessary. For ‘mute’, have a nice break-down! Which I did, an hour or so south of Darwin. At the passive end of the mechanic’s snatch strap on the way back to Adelaide River, my flautist dropped right out.
The next day, his wife Leanne dropped me off at the ‘The Cav’ (Cavenagh Hotel) in Darwin. Then she shopped with her friend Simone while Kenny rang around for a fuel-pump seal. Thanks heaps Kenny and Leanne (Lawrence) if you ever stumble across this.
So, why clock up thousands of Ks in midsummer with fuel prices off the scale and a tortuous whistle beyond the centre console? Easy: mayflies, and forks in the road. WTF?!! So… to explain, a quick backwards glance.
At twenty-one, we’re wired like the mayflies – got a little time under the sun to live and love – gonna cram three score and ten into ten. Maybe less, if like me, your twenty-first happened to fall in the same year big bro got the big ‘C’ at twenty-three.
Somewhere amongst the desperation, you might be lucky enough to hit a fork in the road, and suffer a painful egg from the metal signpost. Then it’s gonna itch and throb and ache, leastwise mine did, during the years I worked for the McBeans in the NT. At the time, it was said that Ian and Kay oversaw the largest private owned pastoral aggregation (Innesvale and Bradshaw Stations) in all the land of Oz. Whatever. This ain’t about cows.
So….At the signpost, you shade your eyes to peer left into the setting sun. It’s not easy – gotta go tippy-toes to see past a smooth, bitumen crest so you can check out the rutted black-soil section further on, grid-lined with deep, dark, truck-corrugations. Then you gotta hike up to the apex to spot the huge red sign twenty years or more away, just before the steep descent. At the bottom, there’s all kinds-a signs. Gotta squint, but you can just make out AA, renal unit, and corrective services etc, etc. Seems to be a mess of smashed-up railway carriages as well, way down the bottom.
Back at the fork, you scratch your head (rub your egg) and look to the right. Shit, eh? Looks pretty rough, a few humps and dirt patches ; a rib-cage or two in a boggy dam beside the road; the odd signpost: marriage counselling, financial, blah blah blah. BUT… then she’s evened out into sylph-like blacktop, gun barrel straight over the horizon.
The thing is, at twenty-one, an alchemist is some old guy that makes gold from a lump of lead. At sixty-five, you understand the metaphor, understand who it was set you on a better path. Which leads us back to ‘The Cav’ .
That night, I walked down to the Esplanade, and spent the precious few hours with Kay and Ian that I’d put off, and put off, and put off. Yep, we all got ‘em – those of us that got an got an egg – work commitments and family, and surprise, surprise, also the odd patches of rutted black-soil with deep, dark truck-corrugations!
Later on, I left Kay and Ian a signed copy of ‘My Time of Eagles’, along with a warning not to park it up high unless the top shelf is made of ironwood (beware, heavy going!). Inside the front cover, it says….
‘Unlike the boy who searched high and low for his Alchemist, I found mine, and didn’t know it. For it was only by taking a backwards glance at my years at Innesvale and Bradshaw that I understood I’d been set on a better path.’