Tag Archives: writing
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.
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.
The next step involved planting a nice green lawn in the salt bed.
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?
While filming a raven raiding a jam-packed garbage bin at a shopping centre car park in a Western Sydney suburb, a regular ABC Radio National listener accidentally records the sound of an unidentified stationary motorist adapting a personal safety device to the purpose of warlike behaviour blaring over the program he’s listening intently to.
The listener notices a woman in the car on the opposite side of the garbage bin becoming visibly distressed and can’t tell if it’s because she can see the camera pointed in her direction, or because the motorist leaning on the horn is right behind her and she wants to reverse out. The raven takes off with a brown paper bag from McDonald’s, and with nothing more here to see the listener brings the film to a conclusion. He plays it back on the phone to see how it looks and thinks, ‘Cool! It couldn’t have ended sounding more sweetly than that if I’d planned it.’
The following afternoon, the listener goes to the local DVD retailer and asks a young bloke at the counter for anything directed by Rolf de Heer. The bloke finds a box set collection of six Rolf de Heer films in the system, but they only sell it during Christmas. The bloke writes the catalogue number down for the listener so he can order it online, then the listener browses the shelves to see if any of the other films nobody ever has when he’s looking are maybe there this time. To his delight he finds two of them:
a) π: faith in chaos (A Film By Darren Aronofsky)
b) Grave of the Fireflies (A Film By Isao Takahata)
The bloke from the counter wanders over and mentions the 20% discount on all DVDs and Blurays that ends today, so the listener checks the price on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and decides that at five bucks a pop if they’re as emotionally unfulfilling as he suspects they will be, they’ll be just what he needs to restore his façade and face up with cool, calm collection to the world after
a) π: faith in chaos
b) Grave of the Fireflies
have shot, he’s long been expecting, his emotional order to pieces.
After leaving Whyalla Wetlands at midday and setting off for the general direction of Port Lincoln, a definite mental exhaustion began to set in. All of this moving from place to place while remaining alert to the whole experience was becoming hard work. I drove into a rest zone by the Lincoln Highway about 45 minutes south of Whyalla, and seriously considered camping right here for the rest of the day and overnight.
A pleasant enough spot: shelter from the sun, a sturdy table to read and write at, and the scrub was holding the wind back a little. Then the wind changed and blew all my maps and info pamphlets off the table after I’d carefully arranged everything for optimum study. The place lost its simple charm, quick smart. A short time later we had arrived at Cowell – a pleasant little town on the northern shore of Franklin Harbor – and I tucked into a delicious comfort-feed of King George Whiting and hot chips at The Fish Box Kiosk. If I had been thinking clearly I would have taken a photo from out the front, or at least waited until the fish and chips were on the table before snapping a shot from the back.
With a satisfied stomach, I decided at once to stop in Cowell for the night. I located the local caravan park, made a note to myself that I would be back later, and took a scenic drive into Port Gibbon along the Coastal Ketches Drive. Here’re a few bits of scenery that caught my attention.
There was still plenty of time left in the day, so I continued into the sand dunes south of Port Gibbon. Found a drive-in spot with private beach and went for a swim.
Soaked up a few more soothing colours.
After an hour or so of lounging in the dunes I turned inland for the Lincoln Highway and made my way back to Cowell. The petrol tank was showing empty by this stage, but I’d seen the petrol station in Cowell so wasn’t too concerned. That changed when I drove into the station and discovered it closed. Oh well, not to worry; the caravan park is a couple of blocks away. In I drove to the caravan park. The office was closed! I rang the number on the door. No answer! So I drove back to the closed petrol station and willed it to be open, but it didn’t work, so I started searching on google maps for the nearest petrol station. They directed me a few short kilometres across the surface of Franklin Harbour to Port Pirie or thereabouts, which wasn’t going to work for Vincent. A few internet searches and I located a servo up the road on Lincoln Highway. Unfortunately I had already passed that one on my way back to Cowell, and the internet has not been made aware that it doesn’t exist! If it did exist, I would have seen it. I paused…
looked at the maps a bit longer and decided Cleve to the west was about 1km closer than Arno Bay to the south, so I held my breath and cleaved for Cleve. Whew! They have a petrol station, and it was open. I filled up with much relief and promptly turned back again toward Cowell, then south to Arno Bay, then doubled back north to a non-signposted turn off for the overnight camping spot I noticed on a map somewhere earlier, which took me in a loop back to Arno Bay without going past the campsite. Sigh. Turned north again and went a little further to the next non-signposted turn off.
And so it was that I arrived at Redbanks Camping Area, a little after 8:30 pm, to watch the sunset.
And, as the last bit of sunlight disappeared into Spencer Gulf, I spotted Mercury setting close behind it. Just as well I hadn’t read the sign I slept overnight in front of… “Camping Prohibited”.
One thing I neglected to mention of Port Bonython was the starlings; rats of the sky I’ve read them called, but I don’t subscribe to that characterisation, at least until being a rat becomes as respectable as it is to be a starling in my view, or rather, thousands of starlings exploding out of a tree like leaves of a tree exploding into thousands of starlings across the windscreen and then rewinding back to the stripped bare tree in the rear-view mirror and morphing back into leaves again. It wasn’t the last time I’d see such a thing, or try to write about it, but it was the first time. I’ve seen murmurations of starlings during a visit to the UK recently, and they were fantastical of course, but a totally different kind of experience. Next time I drive between here and Port Lincoln I’ll be sure to have one of those dashcam devices installed at the front, and one at the back.
Mid-morning of 26th December we turned off Lincoln Highway into the stormwater capture facility that is Whyalla Wetlands: a series of four artificial ponds designed to take the strain off local infrastructure during heavy downpours, pedestrian walkways, fitness and recreation equipment, picnic shelters, hybrid toilet amenities, fish, plants, and birds. My first point of interest was the toilet amenities followed by the birds and plants. And to the extent that the birds were interested, the fish. I didn’t make it past the first pond–Pond 4–which is the last pond.
For the best part of 2 hours I paced around the general confines of the above photo and watched the birds. Most of them were common seagulls and cormorants, but there were standouts like the black-winged stilt
and a tern hunting hardyheads.
Then there was this little fellow scooting over the water. I don’t know what its proper name is.
Then there was the tern again. I couldn’t get enough of the tern,
but the atmosphere in a photo essay is not quite the same as it is in artificial wetlands so I figure we’ve had enough with the tern now. It’s midday already and time to hit the road again. I’m getting peckish.
I remember the previous evening I had watched with a sort of hypnotised wonderment as the sun set against the ranges in the east. I gradually became aware that I was looking in the wrong direction! I turned west expecting to see the real sunset over there, but the sky was a uniform white light, and the land was all cast in a silvery shadow. I found a winding path of sand through the carpets of stone, pebbles and grass tufts down to the water, stood between a couple of mangrove trees and took a picture of Vincent with where the sunset should be, made a few attempts at mangrove tree photography, then carefully worked my way back along the sand path all the while feeling as though I was out of bounds. I had reasoned that if I stayed on the sand I wouldn’t be disturbing anything important.
South Australia’s Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources say, “These long ridges may look like man-made structures formed from pebbles, but in fact these very distinctive flat-topped ridges are a natural phenomenon.” It does look like a manicured zen garden of sorts, doesn’t it?
When I woke to day 7, 26th December, the sun had already risen above the Southern Flinders Ranges and glared across Spencer Gulf at us with all of its unclouded might. A southeasterly guster was doing its best to blast the sand out from under the shingles. I ventured a short wander along the beach but was driven back by the wind to the shelter of Vincent. Cranked up my driving music and moved along.
Continued south from Fitzgerald Bay into Port Bonython proper and paused for a while to appreciate Point Lowly Lighthouse.
Somebody put the sign on the wrong building.
The Point Lowly Cottages were also pretty cool, though not my preferred style of accommodation. They need wide verandahs, with canvas blinds to pull down against the powerful winds which I’m pretty sure don’t abate for long in this part of the world.
I wanted to get some photos of the gas-loading wharf and fractionation plant, but my shadow wouldn’t get out of the way, so I worked with what I had.
There was a large flock of birds in the distant south that I couldn’t make heads nor tails of, and a single gull swept by at one point. Without any further signs of life about it started to feel a bit touristy, so we slipped out for the road again. Next stop Whyalla…