Tag Archives: writing

It came flooding back

This is a reblog of a post dating back to January 2011. Thanks to the National Library of Australia and the awesome Trove database, I finally found some actual newspaper evidence to support my show and tell story!
Indian Pacific train derailed
I see now that I got the month of derailment wrong (’twas January, not March), the train was going in the opposite direction to how I remembered it, and there is thus an undisclosed gap of a school year between the ‘last service centre’ and the Red Rattler back to Sydney. I wonder how many of my other distant memories are travelling in the wrong direction.

From what I can piece back together, it must be March Jan of ’78. The Indian Pacific Express from Broken Hill to Sydney Sydney to Broken Hill has been delayed at Parkes. Major flooding is threatening the stability of the main line between Parkes and Orange.

The driver probably announces that he is taking an alternate line to Sydney Broken Hill. It’s not the only explanation I can imagine for the story that develops later, but it makes sense.

The Indian Pacific Express is pushing through floodwaters. A 9 year old boy has dozed off with a can of soft drink cradled in his lap. The excitement hasn’t worn off, but it’s worn him out.

The boy is jolted awake. He is leaning into the window, or perhaps he is leaning into his mother’s shoulder. He can’t remember all of the details. He remembers the soft drink soaking his front.

The luggage has been thrown out from the overhead compartments and is strewn throughout the cabin. No one has been clobbered by it. Mum’s solid-steel make-up case has landed in an empty seat.

Water is rushing past the window on my side. The other side is pointing at the sky. People must be feeling safe enough. I can hear them laughing and chatting.

“I just moved from that seat to play cards with my mates back here,” the man from the empty seat tells my Mother.

“A woman was just walking through to the next carriage when we went over,” says another. “I hope she wasn’t still out there.”

I think it must be getting dark. We are staying where we are. I don’t know what’s happening outside the train. I don’t think anyone has come to rescue us.

We sleep on our sides through the night. Buses come in the morning to pick us up.

It is a long walk through the water to the buses up on the hill. It is a long drive through the water. Cattle are drowned and floating in the water outside the bus. I think maybe one bumps against the bus. I remember the dead cows. They are mostly black and white, and they are dead.

We have left the last service centre. I think it was an Oaks. I had a milkshake while I was there and now I am vomiting into a plastic bag on the bus. The bus stops and I am let outside to vomit in the mud.

Now we are on a train again. It is a Red Rattler and it is taking us to Sydney Central. It is very hot inside and the seats are hard and everything is rattling. I can see Dad there now on the train. I can’t see him until then. Maybe he came to meet us? I don’t know, but he is not very happy. He is annoyed and uncomfortable, and none of us are talking.

I am back at school. It is my turn for show and tell. I explain how the water washed under the tracks and lifted the sleepers. I explain how the line buckled and twisted and threw the train onto its side. I explain how the driver was given a choice to stay at Parkes or to go ahead and that he chose to go ahead on the other line. I explain how if we had gone on the main line, we probably would have been worse off.

Some of the boys and the girls in the class start laughing and telling me I am lying. Train tracks can’t buckle or twist! Sleepers can’t get washed out of the ground!

I start to get teary and angry. The teacher tells me I am lying and tells me to sit down. I demand that it is true. The teacher is annoyed now and is making me sit down.

“Your turn is over, Brad. It is a good story but that is not what show and tell is for.”

Children’s drawing

As a child, my pencil and crayon drawings were very formulaic. I would typically start with a mountain range and then build a house at the base of it. The house would consist of a square and a rectangle beside each other, a triangle on top of the square, and a parallelogram on the rectangle. The square was where the door went, and two windows went in the rectangle. Around the house I would draw some trees, grass tufts and flowers. Then I would put some birds in the sky and finish it off with a ball of sun in the top right corner with nice straight rays of light pointing at the house.
With this memory in mind, and with my 47th birthday approaching next week, I have reconstructed one of my children’s drawings from a few items I found at hand. The result is a bit puzzling to mind, which insists on decoding the whole process and psychoanalyzing myself.
I figure I have either lost my childhood innocence, or I have regained my sense of youthful playfulness. Can both of those things exist together?

Children's Drawing

Children’s Drawing

Just thought I would poke my head in

Poke my head in
Next Saturday I will have been completely alcohol free for a year. I’ve lost 26 kilograms, regained a love for my life, and people who see me regularly are saying nice things about how well I’m looking. I’ve even reduced my tobacco usage by $200 a month.

If there’s a downside to recovering from manic depression (let’s just call it that and be done with it) and accepting the results of all the associated weird public behaviour that I’ve been responsible for during the last 5 years, it’s the awareness that I knew exactly what I was doing, even when I was drinking a full 1 litre bottle of whisky each weeknight and passing out in the laundry after vomiting in the wash tub. In fact, when I inspected this house I am renting there were two deciding factors that led me to apply for tenancy. Firstly, the undercover outdoor area where I could smoke and drink while reading and blogging. Secondly, the large metal wash basin in the laundry for me to vomit into and wash away the mess without too much fuss.

There was no particular reason for me embarking on the challenge of straightening my life up. I wasn’t dissuaded, for example, when I knocked three front teeth loose after one particular passing out event in the laundry. I simply grew tired of the fact that my body wouldn’t give in and give up my ghost. I kept waking up every morning and arriving early for work, and doing my work well, and leading an apparently normal life among my workmates. I didn’t try to make friends with anyone at work, and when people tried to be friendly with me I did my best to be polite and professional while remaining distant. I would even refuse Friday arvo beers and snacks.

There is no doubt a much longer story I could reveal here. If I were to continue on from here I would pause to quote Edward Dahlberg…

“When one realises that his life is worthless, he either commits suicide or travels.”

then I would counter it by noting that, while my initial response upon reading that quote recently was one of absolute agreement, I have found on further reflection upon my own experience that it’s quite possible to balance suicidal behaviour with travel. But to go any further from here I would need to explain how the kind of suicidal behaviour I was engaged in is equivalent to ‘committing’ suicide in the manner that Edward Dahlberg meant it. Frankly, I don’t want to go any further with it. I’ve moved on, and I don’t feel there’s anything more to be gained from dwelling on it. Nothing to be gained for me, and nothing more to be gained for anyone else.

I had a piece of furniture delivered today. Then I went out and bought a TV and a DVD player to put on it. It’s the first time in 5 years that I’ve allowed myself to buy anything that might pin me down to one place and dare me to call it my home. Soon I will buy a bed frame and stop sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I will still be traveling, but probably less often and not so far away from home.

Little Day Out

Little Day Out

On separation anxiety

Way back in August of 2010 I bought a bromeliad for company. It was very much a pup at the time. 6 months later I sent it away to live with my parents, and I spent the next couple of years living in the bush with my car and a tent.
Fast forward to August of 2014 that little pup had had many more pups, was flowering in two places, and despite having seemingly run out of room was immaculate green through and through. I reclaimed it and brought it back home.
It was happy enough for a while. I started researching methods online for separating the pups since I was feeling bad about it being so cramped. None of the online methods left me feeling truly confident that I could separate them without doing irreversible harm, so I kept putting it off.
One fateful mid-summer morning I tenderly placed it out in the yard for some sunshine before going to work and proceeded to forget about it for a few days, since it was so hot at the ends of the days the only thing on my mind was to turn the air conditioner on and lock myself inside. When I finally thought to bring it back in, half of the leaves had burnt dry.
I was devastated, but over the last few months it has bounced back and started to shoot out more pups. Given that it’s just turned to winter down under, now’s not the ideal time to be re-potting but I couldn’t bear leaving it any longer, what with all the worry about how the new pups would fit in to that twee little pot.
Less than $20 worth of potting mix and plastic pots later, and only one spider to find a way under my collar!, I’m feeling much better. I hope they are too. Wish them a comfortable winter. It would be a delight if August 2015 brings more flowers.


Definitions and examples #1

A case of caffeine withdrawal
An experiment in lateral thought

Charters Towers, outside hours

If everything had unfolded according to my travel plan, the 6 hour wait at Townsville Airport for the last flight home to Sydney on Wednesday this week could have been easily avoided; I could have booked in for the last Tuesday night flight out. It would have been tight time for check-in, but do-able. As it happened though nothing went wrong, or even slightly awry, to delay my completion of the install I was flown for: I didn’t get lost or take a wrong turn on the drive in to site; the client was fully prepped, present, and had all the necessary personal protection equipment on hand at the ready; no last minute changes required rewiring or hardware adjustments. In short, there was no need to stay late or go back again the next morning. But you don’t get bonus points for being ready to take your flight home a day early. Rather, they’ll keep what you paid in the first place and then make you pay the full price once again. So there was nothing to do but stick to the plan and stay one more night in (beautiful one day, perfect the next) Tropical North Queensland, Charters Towers.
I had the rental car back at the airport by 11am the next morning in order to save an extra day’s rent, checked in my tool case, and read the latest issue (#8) of New Philosopher on the theme of travel from cover to cover between numerous coffees until 4:30 boarding. By the time I was home—just on midnight—my reading had left me so deeply in such diverse thoughts on the ethics and utility of travel in general that I couldn’t get myself off to sleep for another 3 hours. Here are a few quotes from Issue #8 of New Philosopher to give you a taste for what’s inside.

“[Susan] Sontag argues that taking photos is a way of refusing life, of limiting experience to a search for the photographic.”
(News: Stealing the moment)


“Few places today uphold the right to be bored. Even our thoughts are hijacked. “Silent and lifeless, people sit side by side as if their souls were wandering far away,” writes Kracauer.”
(News: Radical boredom)


“[Peter] Singer’s is a philosophy that demands the end of travel as we know it, in that it demands that we unpack the special box of experience it represents and instead judge every action by the same criteria. How does what we say and do, every single day, affect the aggregate suffering of the world in which we exist? Where can most good be done – and how can we ensure that we contribute to that good?”
(Travelling with purpose: by Tom Chatfield)

I’m not sure that my purpose in Charters Towers – to help make personal protection equipment more accessible and accountable on a gold mining site – would impress Peter Singer, but it’s a step forward from my purpose 10 years ago, which involved servicing cash handling equipment for the gambling and hoteliers industries.
In brief response to Kracauer, I can say with some confidence after 6 hours waiting at an airport that airports are one of the few places that still uphold the right to be bored, though they do make the boredom, should you choose to accept it, terribly comfortable.
Finally, I haven’t read Sontag’s full argument On Photography for the dismissal of photography from the list of life enhancing experiences, but I have read elsewhere that she changed her mind later in life about some aspects of that argument, and, so, having now, by way of diary entry, at least partially justified using my free travel time between Sydney and Charters Towers to do some photography, I give you some photos of light playing on clouds filmed at a few different heights.
p.s. I’m not at all disappointed that I didn’t capture a photo of the iridescent fog that rippled and surged overhead of me like an aurora during my drive back to Townsville, but it wouldn’t have harmed my experience if I’d been able to stop by the highway for just a few moments to capture it without the fear of a truck slamming into me.

Brisbane descent

Brisbane descent

Townsville descent with solar glory

Townsville descent with solar glory

Fog bow at Macrossan camping ground

Fog bow at Macrossan camping ground

Pajingo access road at sunrise

Pajingo access road at sunrise

Towers Hill Lookout, Charters Towers, with town under fog

Towers Hill Lookout, Charters Towers, with town under fog

Towers Hill Lookout, Charters Towers - Sunrise with town under fog

Towers Hill Lookout, Charters Towers – Sunrise with town under fog



It’s surprising how many ecological transformations are possible given a salt lake bed and a patch of common reed to begin with. So many in fact that it’s taken a few days of sorting through all of my artist’s impressions to pick out a series that’s not merely arbitrary, but seems to comply with my basic idea of how reforestation works, but this is more like a regrasslandestation. Here we see what is basically the original salt lake bed, except I’ve cleared some haze out from the background to improve the view. You can almost see the low mountain range on the horizon.
Salt lake - Gippsland
The next step involved planting a nice green lawn in the salt bed.
Salt lake with lawn
I’m not sure what species of grass it was, but it clearly thrived on the saline conditions; it even outcompeted the common reed grass.
It strikes me now as I weigh up the pros and cons of this transformation that where there were at least three biomes before (mountain range, salt lake bed, and common reed patch) there is only one biome now (if you don’t include the sky). So there is nowhere for two communities to meet and integrate as per the definition of an ecotone, unless you include the sky.
The obvious thing to do here is to define the sky as a biome, thus permitting whatever community happens to be there to transact with the one on the overgrown lawn. This in turn leads one to wonder what kind of transactions occur between the other side of the sky, and, say, the surface of the moon. The result of this kind of wondering I found turns out to be mostly very silly, but I did start to wonder about how one would go about terraforming another planet to make it suitable for life as we know it on Earth, and that’s not so silly to wonder about. For instance, can the terraforming process manufacture a wide range of ecotones where biomes from different communities can meet, integrate, and produce edge effects? I’ve not seen any such consideration given to this question in the literature of terraforming. And if it can be done, how many salt lakes should there be compared to lawns and common reed patches? Which countries on Earth will the salt lakes and their vegetation be introduced from?