After the horrendous tragedy in Manchester, United Kingdom, I find it difficult to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my weekly blog. The enormity of the crime brings me to tears and anything I write seems inconsequential.
I read that we are wired to focus on dangerous and fearful things. It is something about being human, about our survival instinct. According to research conducted by psychologists Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, at McGill University in Canada, “… it isn’t just schadenfreude, but that we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.”
Nevertheless, the Manchester atrocity is the stuff of nightmares and my heart goes out to all those affected. My admiration goes to the Mancunians who have stepped up to the mark to assist and strengthen the resolve of the people to rise above this act of terrorism. This is the Place is the stirring poem by Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) that he read at the vigil for the victims.
Preamble for this week’s blog: on a scale of one to ten I suggest that this blog sits at about 3.
So, this instalment is about a road trip across the Nullabor Plain. The Eyre Highway stretches along the coast from Ceduna in South Australia and inland to Norseman in Western Australia. This road is the Eyre Highway. We made the crossing in the early 1980s. Our road trip actually began in Hobart, Tasmania, not counting the ferry across to Melbourne on mainland Australia. From Melbourne to Perth is 4,320kms.
The little blue Ford Laser was loaded to the gunnels and Kath was squashed into the back seat with not much room to move. Not far from Melbourne I wanted to stop in beautiful Ballarat – to live there. Fortunately Roland talked me out of that idea. We found out afterwards that it gets extremely cold and I’m a child of the tropics.
We navigated our way through Adelaide fairly easily, albeit with Roland cleverly reversing my directions. I get confused between left and right so when I said, “ turn left” he’d turn right and vice versa thereby finding the correct route. So, only another 2,790kms further to drive to Perth.
Crossing the Nullabor is an adventure any time. At this stage we did not know where we were and neither did anyone else. There are roadhouses but they are few and far between. Fuel was expensive and we were not really prepared for the distances. Yes, we had driven vast distances in Southern Africa but there was usually a dorp (village), town or even a city along the way. The vast and treeless plain of the Nullabor – the long, long stretches of straight road, and the huge road trains that rode up close behind us were something new and strange. Places marked on the map we were using (I’d found it in an old copy of The Australia Women’s Weekly) turned out to be water tanks.
There was a lot of road kill all along the highway. Wedge-tail eagles live on the carrion and often become carrion themselves as they gorge to the point of not being able to take off when a vehicle approaches and runs them down. Much later, friends told us of a car towing a caravan that ran over a rotting kangaroo corpse. The caravan had to be abandoned because someone had left a window open and the inside was covered with stinking, rotten gunk.
At the border between South Australia and Western Australia is the Quarantine Station where we had to throw out all the fruit and vegetables we were carrying.
One day I’d like to do the trip again, albeit more consciously. I’d like to visit some of the spectacular coastal cliffs and the deep caverns. I wouldn’t like to do it again carrying most of our worldly goods in a small blue hatchback.
Now that we were back on the mainland we stayed a couple of days in the fishing town of Vilanculos. One memory that has stuck were the delicious, juicy crab claws that were supplied as ‘bar food’. So, we’d sit at the bar in the evening and eat our way through bowl after bowl. I don’t even like crab but these were different. Fresh mussels were also available.
Somewhere, I think in Inhambane, we watched the African women collecting mussels off the rocks. When the tide was out, the women would walk out in stately single file. Picking their way across the rocks, with heavy metal buckets balanced on their heads, as a wave came in the women would throw their skirts up so as not to get them wet. As they did not wear underclothes, this was cause for much merriment for Wendy and me. I rather think Roland and Cliff either didn’t notice or were too embarrassed to laugh. Anyway, we bought a bucket of these mussels and I can remember how mouth-wateringly yummy they were.
Another treat in Mozambique were the cashew nuts. You could buy a great big square tin for next to nothing. I remember we were going to take a couple of tins back home but ended up eating the whole lot.
So, from Vilanculos we headed toward Lourenco Marques, now called Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Slowly but surely we were moving back toward civilisation.
Not long after we arrived in LM, I noticed that a wound on Kath’s heel was looking very red, swollen and lots of pus. Soon a red vein appeared running up her leg. I panicked. I knew this was a sign of blood poisoning. With no knowledge of the Portuguese language, we weren’t confident we could manage the hospital and doctor in LM. Roland and I decided to leave and head for my sister’s place in Rhodesia, near the Limpopo River. We bid a tearful farewell to Cliff and Wendy and off we went.
We went through the border between Mozambique and South Africa at Komatipoort. I remember very little of the trip, just wishing the Land Rover could go faster. We crossed from South Africa into Rhodesia at Beit Bridge – border crossings were not a problem in those days. Soon, we were on the ranch where my sister, Win, lived. Win and I decided to take Kath back over the border to the mining town of Messina (now Musina) to see the mine doctor.
In the event, Kath was given an anaesthetic – chloroform – administered in the old fashioned way, on a cloth. The nurse was the anaesthetist and assistant. Once she was anaethetised, the doctor started probing into her foot. It seemed to take hours and hours. He eventually found a small grain of coral deep in the flesh and plucked it out with tweezers. Coral poisoning is dreadful. Win and I stayed in the room all the time. Before Kath had even come round from the anaesthetic, we were on our way back to the ranch. We had to make the border at Beit Bridge before it closed. We scraped through but only because the officers knew Win.
I don’t know if I ever told my sister how grateful Roland and I were for her help that day. She is truly the hero of the story.
On the way back to the ranch, driving through the bush, we saw an aardvark.
There is a good and kind blue witch. Her name is Agapanthus. Agapanthus is a good woman who keeps children amused and occupied with her magical stories. Agapanthus was my friend and ally on Bazaruto. I’m not sure where she came from but she was there when Kath and I needed her.
As the lazy, sun filled days passed. As the tide came in, and the tide went out we realised that it was possible that our ferry had forgotten to come and pick us up. I don’t know if I was the only one who had some moments of anxiety. In the mean time, Roland and Cliff had taken cousin Wally back to Paradise Island (Santa Carolina) to catch a flight back to Salisbury. More importantly, they had made the trip safely although I seem to remember they told of a close brush with a big shark.
To fill in some gaps: Cousin Wally had joined us in Inhambane or Vilanculos – probably Vilanculos. Roland says Vilanculos. Roland also says we left from Vilanculos and not Inhassoro – I do believe him as his memory for that sort of thing is a lot better than mine. Anyway, Wally was with us on the fishing boat going to Bazaruto from Vilanculos. So, now nobody knew where we were or how long we were going to be there – including us.
Kath and I spent a lot of time with Wendy but she needed to have time for herself without us hanging around. Then Agapanthus came along and Kath and I became very attached to Agapanthus and her magical adventures. Agapanthus could sing, too. Admittedly, she used my voice and that was OK. Kath was young enough to think I had a lovely voice (I don’t, I am totally tone deaf).
So, more-or-less, we were marooned on Bazaruto, not quite a desert island but near enough. In those days there was no telephone, not even a radio-phone, no electricity and there we were with a small child. How irresponsible were we? Roland and I, not Cliff and Wendy!
Finally, one day, we saw a fishing boat waiting on the tide to come in. I don’t think I was the only one hoping it was there to pick us up. I suppose it was predictable that high tide was quite late in the evening when we were supposed to leave. All day we had watched storm clouds gathering. We knew this was not going to be an easy trip back to the mainland.
Once the fishing boat was close enough, we clambered on board with all our stuff, including Cliff’s boat that was towed behind. The ferry had an almost illegible sign stating 5 crew and 12 passengers (something like that). Well, not on this trip! We were packed in with at least 30 people. Where they came from I have no idea. Our group chose to sit in the open stern of the boat because the overcrowded cabin was not pleasant. We are not talking comfort or luxury here. This was a working fishing boat and smelled like it; old fish and raw diesel fuel being the most noticeable odours. I sat on a coiled rope. I think the pattern of the rope is still imprinted on my bottom. Kath was curled up on my lap. Roland stood behind me, keeping Kath and I from flying off the boat, this was highly likely as the waves got higher and higher and the sea rougher and rougher. Cliff stood behind Roland. He was hanging on to the mast with one hand and steadying Roland with the other. Wendy was hanging on to Cliff. I can remember Alec’s hat blew off soon after we left the island and the Skipper wanted to turn back to retrieve it. “No!” we shouted in unison, “Keep going. Don’t turn back.” During the night the Skipper saw a light on the shore and, thinking it was Vilanculos harbour, turned toward it. It turned out to be a fisherman on the beach with a little fire to keep warm. I had heard of a ‘false dawn’ but had never experienced one until this frightening night.
We didn’t know it at the time, but we were caught in the tail end of a tropical cyclone. In the event, Kath was violently seasick the all way back to the mainland and the trip took all night. Another thing we didn’t know was that Kath had a tiny splinter of coral in her foot and it was in the process of turning septic. There will be more about that in the next instalment.
Thanks for your encouragement to keep writing this blog. I don’t know if I am enjoying remembering these things or not!
Jane Caro tells it like it is. Her openness regarding her anxiety, her parenting, her feminism, and the battle (for that is what it is) against the patriarchal attitudes in her life and her working life, is inspirational. In many respects this could be a life-changing book.
Her philosophy – what she has learnt – is this “… safety is an illusion and danger is reality. Terrible things can happen and they can happen to anyone. You are not special and nor is anyone else.” Jane Caro says that once she accepted the truth of that, “… – not just intellectually but viscerally – I gave up trying to stay safe”. I have also learned this and it is enormously freeing.
I would like to be Jane’s friend! I thought that from when I first saw her on The Gruen Transfer