Wandering Thoughts

September 12, 2018

The shepard’s hut – 5 minute review

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:32 pm

Somewhere, days to the west of here, on the other edge of a continent, there’s farm country, poised between the sea, and the salt lakes and sand.

This is the country that’s home to Tim Winton’s novel ‘the shepard’s hut’. Home to the characters that pull you across the pages, home to the narrative has you hoping for a happy ending although, in the end, a hopeful ending’s all you get.

Yet for all the force of the narrative, it’s the land that makes this book — a landscape, not a portrait. Maybe it’s just me, taken as I am with the Australia that isn’t its people, but days after I reached the final page, with the characters beginning to fade, the abiding memory of the book has become the scenery it’s set within. Arid, yet alive, although governed by the harshest of laws.

Winton doesn’t just use description to conjure the land. Much is added by the messy business of hunting, and the knowledge the characters need to stay alive. This is all part of the story too, but the book could lose the bush-lore and still keep its central tale in tact. Much of the purpose of the art of survival seems to be to add to the picture. To help you the reader feel as much as possible of the colours and contours of the country between the last of the farms, and the beginning of the desert proper.

In the end it’s pretty easy to care for the characters, but even if you didn’t you could happily read this story just for the land alone.

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September 5, 2018

On the other side of the curtain

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 2:39 pm

I’ve never been so close to Australia, even though I’ve lived here for years.

The thing is, in that time the people I’ve lived amongst come from a place you could call Planet Development. Educated, urbane, cosmopolitan. Internationalists. Outward looking. Prone to pronouncing h’s. Not prone to ending sentences with ‘but’.

No better or worse than anyone else, but familiar. Similar to the people from Planet Development back home in New Zealand.

Here in hospital (two and a half weeks and counting) Planet Development is a long way away. Plenty of people — nurses, doctors, other staff — come from overseas. And the Australian born staff are diverse too. But the staff don’t have time to talk. On the other hand, I share my room. Me and one other patient, separated by a thin plastic curtain. In the same room, day and night.

First, there was the old woman, who snored like an opossum trapped in a roof. Who was friendly. Who confided that her husband had died two months ago. At night she’d wake from dreams crying ‘no, no, I don’t want to visit the grave.’ When my drip started beeping in the night, which it did on a whim, she would shout, words breaking over the bow of her Australian accent: ‘Shart up. Shart up!’. She’d always apologise the next morning. “I wasn’t swearin’ at you. Just that machine.”

Then, there was the guy who had the television as loud as it would go 20 hours a day. During the night I wanted to scream: ‘shart up, shart up!’ But I put my headphones on instead. He was friendly, pale and in his sixties. Keen for a chat any time after 5am.

“I’ve been a tradie. And a sparkie.”

When I told him I was  a political scientist, he told me he had friends who were rich, paused for a bit, then started talking again. He talked about hunting roos just above the escarpment. How it seemed a cruel thing to do, but there were too many of them. How he loved the peaceful mornings in the country. How a few years ago the doctors had seared away bone cancer with radiation, and how he needed a hip replacement as a result. His kidneys were buggered. One of his brothers wanted to give him one of theirs. But it, “wasn’t worth it for an old bloke like me.”

The Liberal Party were busy dispatching Malcolm Turnbull while we were room mates. When his family came round they huffed about in collective disgruntlement with politics. Not that the Liberals mess seemed to be helping Labor much. Pollys were the same he grumped when Bill Shorten intruded on the TV.

He was friendly. He was disgruntled. He watched politics on the TV until the news melted into infomercials, then until the promises of the infomercials were replaced by the sure footed male certainty of the footie commentators. Cancer in the bones, buggered joints, quiet country mornings. Grumpy at the pollies. Friendly to me. Melancholy.

He was replaced by a woman from a small country town not so far from Canberra. She was terrified by what had happened to her. Telling the exact same tale in tears to anyone she could reach on the phone the first day she was admitted. The pain, the misdiagnosis, the internal bleed, the screaming at the medical staff, the doctor who finally got it right. Slowly the tears and fear ebbed away as a long line of friends came to visit her. She worked in a club, in her sixties maybe. She had a queue of health problems. With her friends she exchanged tales of woe in Australian so perfect I wished I had a book so I could write down the idioms. There were violent boyfriends. Drunks. Husbands addicted to pokies. People asking for money who had no right. Women encumbered with good for nothing men. But also friends, and families, and her family, which had fractured then reformed. They all came to her bedside.

When one or other of our drips started beeping at night we’d check in on each other. When I lept out of bed embarrassed and swearing after I tipped over my pee bottle she scolded me in a caring way for putting weight on my leg. “Get back in bed, you’ll hurt yerself. The nurse ill take care of it.”

We saw each other all of two times. Other than that it was conversations through the curtain. But when it came time for her to be discharged it was hard not to feel a pang of loneliness all of a sudden. And easy to wish her well.

It’s not as if the immigrants Australia of many of the hospital staff isn’t the real thing. And Australians from Planet Development are Australians none the less. But anthropologists ignore capital cities and traipse into jungles or out to remote villages because that’s where they think they’ll find yesterday’s native, still alive today, impervious as globalisation flows around them. Here in hospital, I’ve found yesterday’s Australian, just there, on the other side of the curtain, battling away as the informercials flow around them.

September 1, 2018

A tangle

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 9:51 pm

It’s amazing what you can take for granted. The long sweeping bay. The kangaroos on the beach. The clear water, bending the morning sun into twisting patterns, tangles of light  on the sandy sea floor.

I’m too smart to take surfing for granted. So — even though the bar was a bit short, ending in a snapping close out in inch-deep water; and even though there were two other guys out, meaning I couldn’t have every wave I wanted — I was revelling in the little lefts on my longboard. Arcing along the outside section, fading when the wave backed off, and threading the odd one through the shallow closeout at the end.

I can’t remember the rest of the wave now, so I’m guessing it was nothing special. All I remember is a painful clunk at the end of the ride as my board hit my leg after I’d decided at the last minute to leap over the closeout, rather than surf across the shallow sand.

It hurt. Worse than any other collision I’ve ever had with my board. But the pain backed off and, although I was a little slow to my feet on the next wave, I didn’t think any more of it. I knew the warfarin I take because of my artificial valve would mean my blood would take longer to clot. But the injury was to my leg — not my head — and I decided it couldn’t end up as anything worse than an oversized bruise.

I caught a bunch more waves unaware how wrong I was.

By the time Jo and I got back to Canberra that afternoon I could barely walk, and my thigh was so swollen it had lost its curves. Off to hospital.

It’s amazing how strange other people are. Or, if you pause to think about it, it’s easy to take for granted how strange you are. The first night in accident and emergency was a good reminder. My swollen leg hurt too much for me to sleep.

Most of the people in the beds around me weren’t so different — the man slumped over his knees, his hand resting on his daughter’s knee; the old guy in the bed next to me, with a cough that was so full of phlegm it threatened to overwhelm his dogged lungs at any point. They weren’t so far away from an imaginable future. Or a slightly different life.

But then there was the family. You could tell from the way they strode up and down the corridor, and from the unmoderated crack of their Aussie accents that they were normal as fuck.

“I got it on me phone”

“The fight?”

“Look”

Loud grunt.

“I’m his mother, I can’t be seeing that.”

“We’ll use it when we sue ’em.”

Loud Grunt.

It took me a while to work out that Loud Grunt was one of the losers in a melee (the nurses’ word for it). His cousin, also a loser, was also in the bed next to him. Their team clearly hadn’t done well in the battle.

Loud Grunt was grunting because his jaw was broken in two places. He was loud because of the morphine I guess. Almost ebullient. Caught in the post-match analysis.

“We reckon it was one of those girls who ‘it ‘im with the pole”

Affirmative grunt. There was a woman with him — his wife? his sister? — who somehow understood what he was saying. She translated.

“Yeah definitely one of them.”

Grunt, grunt.

“E says he should have hit im before the others joined in. He won’t make that mistake next time.”

“We’ll sue em, now we got the video.”

His cousin also had a broken jaw. But he didn’t make any loud grunts. Maybe he hadn’t been given as much morphine. Maybe he simply wasn’t as resilient. Maybe he felt caught in the tangle of his messed-up family. He just let out quiet forlorn moans from time to time. I imagined him holding in tears.

It took me a day to make it up to the orthopaedics ward. By this time I was in agony. The pain killers didn’t do much. Or if they did, my leg was utterly wrecked. It wasn’t until they sent me for surgery to drain the fluid from my muscle — compartment syndrome was the diagnosis — that I started feeling any better.

And this is where I’m typing from now. In bed, recovering in between setbacks (I started bleeding again at one point), tangled up amidst a drip, an electric inflating sock for blood clots, and a drain from the wound. Tangled up and promising myself that I’ll never take my mobility for granted again.

Loud affirmative grunt.

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