The Not So Super Supermarket

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I am sure most of you have experienced the pleasures of shopping in a modern air-conditioned supermarket with everything you could possibly want on the well-stocked shelves. This is not a story about that. This, my dear friends, is about reality in the deep dark Palm oil plantation country of Borneo.
My local supermarket had, I’ve been told, come into existence a mere 20 years ago, but to the uninitiated, it appears to be at least three score years plus ten. ( older than me)

The owners haven’t felt the need to modernise with a coat of paint or a dab of plaster since construction. The interior has the ambiance of a post nuclear apocalypse, cans and packets of food are strewn across the aisles as the highly motivated staff ( cough, cough) unpack to stack the shelves during all of the opening hours. This would normally not be a problem, but the two-and-a-half-foot wide aisles don’t cope well. Large sections of the supermarket are unreachable on any one visit, so this clever marketing ploy, coupled with the unavailability of most of the common produce on a given day ( tomatoes maybe on a Monday or if not Wednesday or if you’re really unlucky the next week. Lettuce to go with your salad, on the other hand, never arrives the same day) makes you return again and again to enhance the shopping experience.

Yes, it’s a total lottery; as a behavioural psychologist would put it – intermittent positive reinforcement. Nothing like it to make you salivate.

Talking about fruit and veg, the produce, all of it is tightly wrapped multiple times in plastic film. You can look but not touch. This gives the appearance of conformity. The only way to recognise a bulk of it is by colour. Impossible to tell if it’s fresh or not – plastic all smells the same. Needless to say, we do have some little surprises when we open up at home.

The plastic thing reminds me of the time I found cheese with mould growing inside an unopened plastic wrapper. Expiry date was ok. That’s real skill you must admit.

May have something to do with the leaking freezers. The tiles or what’s left of them next to the deep freeze bubble and burp with what I think is rising damp. The owners do their very best to ignore it by throwing broken down cardboard boxes over it. They, in turn get saturated and disintegrate. Word of warning here; never wear flip flops or sandals. Body weight will force the brown fluid over your toes. My wife says it smells like rats urine. I told her I didn’t think so. Never seen more than a couple of rats at anyone time, the stench being so strong it would rot your socks off. You would need an army of rats to create that smell, but I must admit it’s hard to identify. What does concrete cancer mixed with effluent smell like?

Buying sliced bread is a bit of an art form. I used to, back home, feel the bread to see if it was soft and springy to the touch. Being warm was a bonus because it meant it was very fresh; doesn’t work here though. It’s always hot because it sits in the window with the tropical sun as company.

You know what I think?
I have a sneaky suspicion the uncooked dough is placed into the plastic bags to bake by solar energy. How’s that for efficiency!

Check out is well… slow to…. well you know. The cash registers are only a few feet from the first row of shelves and you thought traffic in Kuala Lumpur was bad! No useless modern conveniences like scanners here.
The shoppers who don’t like carrying too much tend to drop off their growing list of items onto the cashiers counter. So when you arrive to pay for your own groceries the counter is already full with others. Very messy indeed. Oh well I only need to do this 5 days in 7………

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Writer’s Routine

 

The alarm announces the day with an irritating excuse for an uneven melody. Perfect because it works. Five a.m. and the long days journey into night begins. No light yet, just the stirring sounds of workers reluctantly preparing for a repeat of yesterday.

The dog lets out a barks of frustration as a lone male walks in front of the house. The thought of breakfast breaks through the befuddled mind as it fights the urge to remain inactive. No bouncing out of bed to meet this new day. Slow right sided roll to the edge of the bed, then an arm thrush to stagger into an upright position. Unsteady gait, a balancing act on an imaginary tight rope, undignified thrusting of one then the other leg into the opening of a pair of shorts. The engine needs time to warm up.

The early morning pre-dawn air is thick with moisture as he walks up the stairs to the kitchen at the back of the house to prepare the breakfast. Two bowls of cereal and three cups of coffee begins the ritual. Pairs of eyes stare into miniature screens to peruse any information that has made a difference. The sounds of eating, ironing and bathroom duties reverberates throughout the house as time watching becomes increasing paramount.

Six a.m. is the deadline for departure, to be met by most members of the household except for me. The first sliver of tropical light dances over the surface of the weatherboard houses. Wave goodbye, watch the car disappear around the corner and like a recluse retreats to the sanctuary of electronic aids of information and creativity. The door is firmly closed and locked to shut out the increasing active outside world.

Time marches on, an active mind makes it fly along, an inattentive one grinds it to a halt. Reflection and mulling leads to periods of both. Hours can turn into minutes or minutes turn into hours; the dice of daily fate decides. Thus is the meanderings of a reluctant scribe.

Inspiration flows like a creek bed in a dry country; flood or drought with zilch in between. The tap is either on or off.

Working feverishly on the keyboard, thoughts to bytes building upon themselves creating layers of stone to support the complexity of ideas that form the structure of a new story.
Otherwise, lying on the bed watching the mosquitoes circling the room wondering which one will attack next.

Ten thirty and the next pattern begins. Showered and prepared to enter the outside world of predictable chaos. The ebb and flow of unbridled emotions a constant in the background during the walk from one sanctum to another – the coffee shop. Twenty minutes of automation, one foot in front of another, no thought involved, a well ingrained path in the memory of routine.

Sanctum Two, the weigh station, the second home of possible creativity. Coffee and cake, the fuel needed to plough on through a very long day.

Fleeting moments of conversation coupled with reading and writing; the pattern never straying too far from the original. Struggling to avoid the pitfalls of staying relevant to the world of the reader, staring and thinking, examining every nook and cranny for inspiration.

Twelve thirty, work completed, uncompleted or not started. The dice only knows;
automation takes over again.

Inner sanctum one has changed shape and form by the afternoon light. Neither comforting nor reassuring, but a place that separates the outside world from the existential self.

Period of satisfaction or despair, the struggle continues on and off until five pm when the routine of others intervene. The need for sustenance brings with it normality as daily events are discussed around the table. Writer’s inspirational thoughts and ideas simmer in the background all but forgotten.

Domestic duties prevail until seven thirty. Propped up in bed, no television, nor radio for distractions, just the electronic companion which screen dimly lights the four nondescript walls. Ideas surface without warning; being prepared to grab and mould them when they do is the key. The search never stops, the peak is never conquered, good is never good enough. Productive or not, the end comes when the writer no longer needs this day but yearns for the next.

 

Until Next Time My Dear

The night was a wild one. The wind lashed the coastline sending plumes of sea spray out over the esplanade to soak everything within a hundred metres of the beach. The row of palms swayed and buckled in a fight with nature’s irresistible force.

This evening, the sun had disappeared a lot sooner than usual behind the heavy rain laden clouds that had been around for most of the day. The red neon light of the hotel shone overtly into every nook and cranny of the deserted street.

Olivia stared at the room’s window focusing on the water droplets as they trickled down the glass forming little pearls of clear red tinged liquid on the glass and wondered why he hadn’t arrived yet.
It was always like this, waiting and hoping. The knot in her stomach tightened, a constant reminder that this was wrong.

It had started three years previous. At the age of 37, she needed a new direction after having worked in the small printing office of H. J. Young and Sons since she had left school. The small village she was born in, had up until then, been her only world. The last child of loving, but overly protective parents, she was painfully shy and felt awkward around others.

By the time she started work Olivia was attractive, though most would say, not a great beauty and because of her acute shyness, never socialised outside working hours. No one paid much attention to her for she was hardly seen and never heard. Life was slow, predictable and dull for many long boring years. Olivia lived with her parents up until their deaths and after much mental anguish, decided it was time to leave her comfortable existence behind in the hope of creating a new life.

The change brought with it a new job and a new city. The large industrial conglomerate she found herself working in was far removed from the small office she had come from; big, noisy and impersonal. The first 6 months were very hard, she felt depressed and lonely, though she was determined not to go back.

Then, he entered her life.

Steven Muirhead was a man of some fifty years of age who was, in most people’s eyes, a respectable successful businessman. Fit and toned for a man of his age, he was part owner of the industrial complex Olivia worked in. She had become aware of him a lot sooner than he of her. That all changed one late evening when most in the office were working back to finalise the end of year accounts.

Being one of the last to leave the office, Olivia was getting ready to go when quite out of the blue a deep manly voice behind her asked if she needed a lift home. Turning around, she was surprised to see who it was, she hesitated a second before saying yes.

That’s how it started. He didn’t seduce her at first, but it wasn’t long before she succumbed to his well-crafted charm and wit. The attraction for her was not his fatherly looks or strong irresistible personality, but that he paid a lot of attention and treated her, for the first time, as an object of desire. The thoughts of him being married with a family were pushed firmly back into the recesses of her mind. She lived for the moment and didn’t want to focus on anything that would detract from that.

It was approaching 8 pm and he hadn’t arrived. She was starting to worry. Was this the moment she had been dreading for so long? When the knock on the door came it startled her nevertheless. Olivia’s heart missed a beat as Steven entered the door; a sense of relief prevailed. Throwing his arms around her made all the difference, the knot inside her stomach unravelled. Gently kissing Olivia’s left cheek, he drew her head into his chest. At that moment, nothing else mattered.

The curtains remained open and the rain belted upon the windows diffusing the little light there was into the room, to fall upon their bodies embracing on the grey coloured settee. Olivia’s dark long hair cascaded loosely over her shoulders.

He whispered into her ears the things she wanted so desperately to hear. How much he loved her; how he would never leave her; when the time was right he would leave his wife for her; she was his one and only true love.

Many times the same words had left his mouth over the years, but every time she clung to them like they had never been spoken before. How she felt so wanted within his arms; the arms so strong and reassuring, the arms that protected her from invisible insecurities. All was well within those arms. The love making took her to another world that was far removed from her daily reality. This was now the only life worth living. The drug of love had complete hold.

Two became one, bonded by a universal force so strong it defied the laws of physics. The spark of existence itself engulfed the intertwining souls transferring the energy of love back and forth until there was no longer anything left to give.

Then, just as quickly as it started the bond was broken, one became two.

Even the wild weather outside seemed to pause to acknowledge the event. The sounds of their ecstasy joined the forces of the wind and rain to let the world know of their unspoken illicit love.

Quiet, nothing but the silence that greeted the end. He leant over, kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m sorry, my love I must go before she gets home.”

“It’s ok, you know I understand.” But she didn’t really.

He got up and quickly dressed, turned around and smiled, blowing a kiss as he left.

Olivia lay there looking up at the ceiling. The spell had been broken and she just wanted to cry. Guilt replaced comfort, fear replaced security. The cycle had begun again.

She wiped the tears rolling down her face and proceeded to dress.

Until next time.

 

 

Bedtime Story For Leela

It was time for bed.

Leela and Jack cuddled Mum and Dad, gave them a quick peck on the cheek and quickly scampered up the stairs and down the corridor to their bedroom.
It had been such a long, long day and both were so tired they kept rubbing their eyes.
Jack jumped onto his mattress and pulled back the sheets to get in.
Leela, being the good sister she was, tucked Jack in and gave him a good night kiss on the forehead.
“I love you Jack.” she whispered into his ear, but he didn’t hear her as he had already entered dream world.
Leela smiled and climbed into her own bed.
She lowered her head on the pillow, closed her eyes and tried to think of all the wonderful things she had done that day…..

A strange sensation of soft silky bristles brushing her face and a sharp persistent sniff woke Leela up from her deep, deep sleep.
She opened her eyes ever so slightly, but couldn’t make anything out clearly except for a browny grey blob next to her nose.
“Whaaat!” she shrieked.
The blob moved back into focus.
Startled, Leela sat up quickly, “Who are you? A rabbit?”
“Excuse me Miss, do you mind, I’m not a common rabbit, let me introduce myself.
Harry Hammerhead Hornbill Hop along Hare the Third at your service, you can call me Houdini for short, and to whom do I have the pleasure?” the big grey thing stuttered and muttered back.

 

“Harry Hammerhead Hornbill Hop – Along The Third at your service”

Leela turned her head sharply left and then right, looking around.
Where had her cosy bed gone, and her and Jack’s bedroom?
How strange, in fact to her astonishment she was sitting on the ground in a soft bed made of multi coloured hundreds and thousands.
In front of her was a large grey and brown rabbit, um I mean hare, wearing a yellow tweed jacket that was too tight, and a baggy loose fitting pair of pink stripped orange shorts that fell down below his bony knees. Finally to top it all off, the most disgusting tattered old black running shoes you have ever seen.
Oh, did I mention he was standing up on his hind legs looking rather menacing with his long pointy ears and scraggly white whiskers?

“Well Miss, what’s your name, I can’t stand here all day waiting.
I’m a very important hare you know, very busy, mustn’t dilly dally, wasting time with drop in visitors wasting my time to dilly dally,dilly dally etc etc” mutter,mutter,stammer,stammer.
“My name’s Leela of course.”
“Ah! Not Princess Leela! Oh me, oh my, it’s Princess Leela from the internet tree.
I thought I recognised you, Oh! I can’t wait to tell the others.”
“Hey wait a minute,” shouted Leela “what’s an internet tree and besides where am I?”
“You’re in Sparkle Dazzle Razzle land of course, as if anyone in this whole wide fantasy world wouldn’t know that.
Then again you might know it as Wonderland, the name we had before that awful Alice girl stopped us using it through the fantasy land patent office.
Awful girl she is, simply awful, should have minded her own business,” mutter mutter stammer stammer.
“You haven’t told me what an internet tree is yet.”
“Oh that. It’s where the mummies and daddies post all the photos and videos of their children.
On every branch and every twig hangs an image, on a fine thread of gold.
We have a great old time sitting around the ancient tree and seeing what the children are doing on the other side.
I’ve seen you many times in your princess dress, wearing your sparkling tiara, posing in front of the camera looking all regal and grand.”

Jack and Princess Leela on the internet tree

Then Leela suddenly remembered something.
“Where is Jack? I mustn’t lose him! I’m his big sister you know and if I do lose him Mummy and Daddy won’t be very happy.”
Just as she finished saying that, Jack appeared from behind a mulberry bush with a big smile on his face, and a large dollop of chocolate on his left cheek!
“Oh me, Oh my, he’s found the chocolate puddle!”
A thoroughly exacerbated Harry Hammerhead Hornbill Hop along Hare the Third, or Houdini for short announced.
“No chocolate before lunch, it’s the rules you know, mustn’t break the rules, it just isn’t done, no siree it isn’t,” mutter, mutter stammer, stammer.
Jack rushed up to Leela and gave her a big cuddle, then nestled down into her lap.

Leela finds Jack with chocolate on his face

Houdini suddenly looked startled.
“Oh, Oh, Oh, I almost forgot, to many distractions, I remember now.
Thomas Toad is in trouble, I have to help him, Oh, I almost forgot,” mutter, mutter ,stammer, stammer.
And with that he jumped up and hopped away down the path and into the forest without even saying a goodbye or anything like that.
Leela looked at Jack and Jack looked at Leela. They were now all alone in this very strange world.

Fortunately soon after, along came, or should I say blew along, a large plastic bag full of other plastic bags.
Two small beady dark eyes and thin puckered lips told Leela and Jack this was no ordinary plastic bag.
Just as it was about to roll past it jammed itself between a rock and a tree branch.
“Oh my word, I’m stuck again,” proclaimed the bag.
Up until then he hadn’t noticed the other two.
It wasn’t until Jack ran up and pinched the plastic very hard that it let out an anguished cry of pain and discovered it wasn’t alone.
Jack, startled by the noise, jumped back and looked for Leela’s hand.
“What are you doing little man, that hurts? Just because I’m a lowly Plastic Bag doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings. Anyway, now that you are here you can help me off of this branch.”
Leela and Jack obliged and freed the plastic bag.
“Thank you, thank you so much, I now forgive you little man.
Let me introduce myself, Peter Plastic esquire at your service.
No job is too big or small with almost cheap rates.”
“What job are you talking about.” enquired Leela
“What do you think!” snapped back Peter Plastic. “Rubbish disposal of course, can’t you see I’m a garbage bag.
I’m the only one in Sparkle Razzle Dazzle land and do a very fine job, even if I do say so myself.
At this very moment you caught me delivering 40 delinquent shopping bags that have been blowing around our beautiful country side causing havoc and distress to our perfect residents. Yes, very much so, I have a very important job.
By the way who are you?”

Jack and Leela meet Peter Plastic

Leela explained to Peter how she woke to find herself here but had no idea why or where she was other than it was Sparkle Razzle Dazzle land and full of strange things.
“Oh! one of those you are,” Peter said knowingly, “we get them sometimes, escapees from the internet.
Did your mummy leave the computer on last night?
Oh never mind, to late, to late for a very important date….. Oh forgot, this isn’t Wonderland now.”
Peter had a little chuckle to himself, but Leela had no idea what he was on about.
“Anyway, we need help to get home, can you help us please, pretty please, Mummy and Daddy will be so worried,” pleaded Leela.

Before Peter could answer there was this enormous splash from the nearby forest.
Leela ran, while Peter rolled over to where the sound came from.
Low and behold there was Jack, waste deep in….. wait for it…… MILK!
Yes milk, he was sitting in a creek flowing with milk.
Jack, with a big cheesy grin on his face, was taking a sip.
‘Yummy,” he said. Jack was a small boy of few words!
“Well I’ll be,” Leela looked in wonder at the scene.
Milk in the creek, honey dripping off the pencil pines, and best of all, a small shop that made the most scrumptious honey milk shakes. (Or so the sign said.)

“This is Wonderland, Oh I mean Sparkle Razzle Dazzle land, how beautiful.”
“Yes it is, but we need to help you get home, but how is the question?”
Peter looked up with those beady eyes and puckered his lips even more so.
If he had hands he would have rested one under his chin… arrrh if he had one.
Anyway you get the picture.
A picture of concentrated intelligence focused on the problem.
“Aarrh I have it,” Peter said with a knowing look on his plastic face, “we will go and see Mr. Thomas Toad, he knows all the answers in the whole wide world.”
“Isn’t he the one with a problem right now?” asked Leela.
“Yes, yes I forgot I’m supposed to be helping him, I forgot silly me, too much plastic on my mind. Come, let’s go and find him.”

So off they went, deep into the sweetie smelling forest to find Mr. T. Toad.

Mr. Thomas Toad was of the horny back spotted variety.
He was big with leathery brown skin that had zillions of bumps and lumps.
This gave the impression he was tough and mean, but really he was a big happy softy who would help anyone in need.
Everyone loved him, or so he thought.

When Leela, Jack and Peter finally found him sitting under a toffee covered rock, he was looking very miserable.
Leela, before saying hello, asked, “What’s wrong with you?”
“What’s wrong, what’s wrong, the worst possible thing, that’s what wrong.
My toadstool has been stolen and I have nowhere to sit. What’s a king without his throne I ask you?”
He then let out a deep sad croak.
“It was just in front of my favourite toffee coated rock last night, but was gone this morning. Who could do such a thing?
How can a toad in my position sit on the cold milk covered ground.
I mean to say, I’ll catch a dreadful cold or something.”

Thomas Toad not looking very happy!

Everyone looked at each other and felt sad for Thomas.
(Well, not really but they were good at pretending!)

Just then an email arrived on the back of a huge lumbering tortoise.
“Out of my way, express delivery for Thomas Toad. Move it.”
No one had to “move it” because tortoise was so very slow.
Leela thought to herself, ‘How can an email be delivered without a computer! Then again, anything’s possible in S R D land.’

The back of the tortoise glowed red and the golden coloured words shone out, it said:
‘Dear Mr. Thomas, Help! I have been kidnapped by a pack of mushrooms that I suspect have bad intentions, save me as quickly as possible.
Your favourite seat always, Toadstool xx
P.S. you can find me down in the cookie and cake playing field, next to the second rainbow lollipop tree on the right.’
“Oh, we must hurry,” announced Thomas, and with that they all dashed off down the lane, past the milk creek and over the gingerbread mountain till they reached the playing field.

” Out of my way, Email delivery”

To their astonishment they found Toadstool surrounded in a sea of Mushrooms.

“See here,” snapped Thomas sharply. “You just can’t take my comfy seat and get away with it. It’s just not right you hear. What do you have to say for yourselves?”
The Mushrooms were stunned.
They looked at each other, formed a ring and muttered to each other in a high pitched squeal like only mushrooms can.
After a while one stepped forward, with his head bent so low it was almost touching the ground. Then spoke in a very squeaky voice.
“Sorry sir, we know we have done wrong. You must understand we became so jealous with envy.
You see Toadstool here is so tall and straight with the most beautiful red skin dotted with green and yellow spots. On the other hand we are just plain Janes, dull grey and uninteresting.”

Leela then thought how much she preferred eating mushrooms to toadstools but decided it was best not to say so.

A tear rolled down the stalk of the mushroom.
Upon seeing that, Thomas became all soft and jelly like inside.
“Oh! Not to worry, no real harm done as long as you have learnt your lesson.
Jealousy is a waste of time and energy.
Beauty is only skin deep and in the eye of the beholder and all that.”
(He read it in a book once but didn’t really know what it meant!)
“Oh thank you, thank you,” all the mushrooms shouted out at once.
Before you could say mushroom pie, they had formed a circle and proceeded to dance around Miss. Toadstool, singing and laughing.

Toadstool in a sea of mushrooms

Everyone was now happy and Sparke ,Razzle, Dazzle land was back to its Wonderland best.

Then…

In the distance a deep rumbling sound could be heard, and it appeared to be moving towards them!
Houdini lifted his nose to the sky, took a deep sniff and froze for a moment.
“Oh! It’s the Giant Green Bowl of Jelly who lives deep underground: he’s on the move, take cover.”
Everyone darted this way and that.
Leela and Jack were left alone in the middle of the field as the ground began to shake.

In the next valley over grew the Internet tree. It also began to shake and quiver.
All of a sudden the photos of all the boys and girls started to fall off the branches and twigs, and smashed to the ground.

Leela felt something brush on her face. “Stop it Harry, I don’t like it.”
“Harry who?” whispered Mum
Leela opened her eyes and let out a shout. “Mum, you are back.”
“I haven’t been anywhere,” she laughed.
Leela quickly looked at the bed next hers and saw Jack there, sleeping peacefully.

Only a dream or…

In the corner of the room on top of the highest shelf was a stuffed toy… a toad sitting on a toadstool with a smile on its face…

 

 

Trip Of Discovery

Kevin leaned heavily against the bus window as he watched the passing country mould into a kaleidoscope of pastel colours as the sunset approached. Although his hair was thinning and grey, he was still fit and alert for a man approaching old age, but on that day his mind was a thousand miles away thinking about the reasons he was on this trip of discovery. A rye grin crossed his face when he used those words – “Trip Of Discovery”. “Very melodramatic,” he thought, but at the same time the most apt way to describe it .

This of course had started a long time ago, not in a physical sense, but in the mind. His earliest memories, the occasional spasmodic flash back: a warm caring face, a soft hand, the sounds of a lullaby, still played with his inner soul. None of it coherent, just there, always there in the back ground, occasionally resurfacing only to re-submerge into the deep recesses of the mind, nothing more, nothing less.

Kevin was born in a place he had not set foot in since his adoption over 60 years ago. A small town called Lightning Ridge. He had recently received the letter from the government department giving the details he had wanted for most of his adult life but had been too afraid to find out. He didn’t build up the courage to find out the truth until retirement . After 40 years working first for a publishing company, then owning one, he felt less than satisfied with his life. In all those years he never married, never even got close. In fact he found it hard to form any sort of relationship with the opposite sex. Women scared him or perhaps more accurately the idea of spending his live together with one did. He visited his adoptive parents frequently especially in their later years; more through a sense of duty than love. Even with them there was no deep feeling of human closeness; they did their best and he appreciated that.

The dense thick forests of eucalyptus started to thin out and were gradually replaced with sparse Mallee as the bus motored on towards the semi arid desert town.

The morning sunlight reflected back off the seat in front of Kevin as he tried to focus his eyes. Stiff and tired he sat upright and looked outside . The bus slowed as it entered the outback township of Lightning Ridge.

The small town of Lightning Ridge is famous for its Black Opal. It is mined in the surrounding country by digging deep shafts down to the soft limestone and extracting the milky potash that contain the sort after brightly multi-coloured gem stone. Good opal comes alive when the sunlight strikes it at the right angle and there was some of the best in the world to found here. Not that you could tell by looking at this old dusty decrepit outback town. The place had an air of unkept chaos and the main street was in poor repair with large irregular pot holes everywhere some filled with bull dust. The overall feeling was of a ramshackle collection of ill-constructed buildings in disarray. Miners or those who catered for them seemed to go about their business completely oblivious to the state of their environment. This was a working town, no leeway given to aesthetics.

Kevin looked around in dismay as depression set in “How could this be?” His imagination had convinced him he would feel like he was returning home; the place of his birth. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was completely alien to him from his city life. A tight knot gripped his stomach; deflated, he stooped down and sat on the bench across from the bus station, his head in his hands trying not to think.

The morning passed slowly. There wasn’t much activity in town, this being a Sunday. He sat there listless until reluctantly he dragged himself off to find a place to stay.

“The Final Rest Hotel seems quite appropriate,” he thought to himself.

The room was old but adequate for his needs. Kevin flopped down onto the bed and closed his eyes. “What am I doing here?” He shouted out aloud. Tears slid off his ashen cheeks and rolled silently onto the well-worn sheets.

The death certificate for both his parents were issued on the same day some 60 years before. The details were scant – cause of death unnatural . “What does that mean?” He had asked himself a thousand times. There was so many unanswered questions. Why did Molly and John, his parents, came here in the first place? What were they doing here? How was it they died on the same day in the same way? Kevin’s mind was a whirlpool of activity until eventually that evening he fell into a restless sleep, tossing and turning, continuing to look for answers.

The next morning he awoke with a start. The sunlight streamed through the dirty window, just like the day before in the bus, but this time without air conditioning. It was much more stifling and he lay in a pool of sweat. The previous night’s depression had vanished with the promise of what the new day might bring though as he lifted his head to get up, it felt like the morning after a heavy night’s drinking, cloudy and sluggish. A long cold shower did not help a lot, but the thought of finding out what he needed to know from the local library and after, getting on a bus to anywhere far away from this god forsaken town brightened his mood somewhat.

After breakfast, a typical country bacon, eggs and sausage affair, he chose to go for a short walk through to the other side of town while he waited for the Public Library to open.
His first impressions of Lightning Ridge had not dissipated. He could not imagine parents of his ever living here.

After 20 minutes, he came upon a small open area close to a prominent limestone outcrop. The place was obviously used by the locals a lot as it was littered with assorted rubbish: plastic bags, KFC boxes, coke cans etc. He sat down on an old wooden bench as he heard the far off rumble of thunder. Staring into space he did not notice at first the young oddly dressed man sitting down next to him. When his presence finally reached his consciousness, he was not startled but more intrigued or maybe puzzled by his appearance. This man wore clothing that did not seem appropriate even for this place. A pair of denim jeans hang loosely over his legs showing no cut nor form. His shirt had no collar but was buttoned a third of the way down the front. He wore an old fashion grey vest that only provided a small pocket for a fob watch. The hair on his head was short back and sides in the old style and he displayed an unkept jet black beard. By his looks he would have been much older than 30 years old but for a light complexion.

The rumble continued in the distance as the man spoke. “Hope you don’t mind if I sit here next to you. I don’t get the opportunity to speak to many people these days.”
“Of course not,” replied Kevin. “I’m only killing time until the library opens.
“Your’e not from these parts are you?” quizzed the man.
“No I’m not. Only here for a few days.” Kevin’s mood lifted a little. “In fact I am looking for some information.” Kevin almost felt compelled to tell this stranger the reason for being there.
“People around here call me Jack.”
“Pleased to meet you, Jack. My name is Kevin. Come from around these parts, Jack?” enquired Kevin.
Jack looked at the distant thunder storm for a moment or two before he spoke. “I was born in Sydney but have been here a long long time. I was a miner but… not now. I kind of do a little bit of this and a little bit of that to get by.”

A sudden roll of thunder announced the storm was getting closer. Jack appeared lost in thought as Kevin looked on. The sky lit up and Jack’s eyes reflected the brilliant flash of light that permeated the increasingly darkening sky. Kevin took a deep breath.

“I suppose you haven’t heard about a couple who died here around 60 years ago in unusual circumstances,” Kevin immediately felt foolish asking.

Jack didn’t reply at first but continued to look into the distance towards the impending deluge. “Yes, I know the story. Everyone does.” He paused for what seemed like an eternity. Kevin sat there transfixed on Jacks lips. “The couple lived not far from here in a small wooden shack on the out skirts of town. They had both come up from Sydney like a lot those days looking for a better life. From what I heard the man had been a lot keener on the idea than his wife. Even in the early days she struggled with the place and its people. You see she was from a well-to-do family and had gone to university, a rare thing for a woman to do those days. Strictly brought up she was not overly endowed with natural beauty, but had a pleasant enough face and a kind, caring disposition. She had met her husband in a department store, David Jones, where he had been working as a shop assistant since leaving school at the age of 15. First impressions was of a striking figure of a man, tall and athletic, brash, charming, not too articulate, but possessed the gift of the gab. “Could sell ice cream to the Eskimos,” his work colleagues would often be heard saying as they watched the way he wooed his customers.

An outsider observing the two together for the first time would conclude they had little in common, but love is a funny thing. He made her laugh with his carefree don’t-give-a-hoot- what-others-thought attitude. She paid him attention, when others thought him too much of a show off. He loved that in her.

One thing led to another and she fell pregnant. Parents upset, embarrassed, but the scandal was quickly contained by a simple ceremony in the local Methodist church.
John had come up with the idea of going to Lightning Ridge just before his young son was born after talking to a customer who had made a fortune mining in Lightning Ridge. Over the next few weeks, he needed all his selling skills to convince Molly to give it a go. Finally after much soul searching, she reluctantly agreed as long as if he struck it rich they would return to the city.

The baby arrived at the local Lightning Ridge General hospital in mid summer on one of the hottest years on record, making the place even more dusty and depressing as usual. Of course this didn’t deter John one little bit; his optimism rose almost as fast as Mollie’s hope for the future evaporated. John was different, he immediately felt free from the constraints of the city and his old job and looked forward to this great exciting adventure. Mollie’s immediate reaction – a prisoner facing many years in jail, release so far away it was pointless even thinking about it. She often looked into the baby’s eyes and shed a tear.

“So, that is how it started,” Jack sighed and looked up at the threatening sky that refused to arrive.

John built a small but serviceable shack for his family before he staked his claim on an area just outside the main diggings. It took Molly the best part of the first year to feel more agreeable with her situation, however she never really accepted it completely. She kept herself busy looking after the baby and performing the domestic duties as they were.
In the first year, they really struggled to make ends meet. Finding quality black opal was elusive with only occasional low quality fragments that paid for some of the bills. The second year wasn’t much better. Molly became more depressed and started to fantasize a lot about her previous life back in the comfort of her parent’s Sydney home; the lush green garden with its eclectic array of coloured flowers greeted her every morning as she flung open the French doors of her bedroom that led onto the wide open verandah. There on the elegant cast iron table lay her breakfast, beautifully prepared by her mother ready to be consumed in this seemingly blissful scene. Only a dream to help disguise the reality.

John on the other hand never gave a thought to his previous life. He lived on Opal fever; still he was aware his wife was approaching the end of her tether. Day after day he toiled down his shaft, breaking his back looking for that elusive breakthrough, always the next day, the next day he told himself. He so wanted her to be proud of him and not regret being married.

One early December morning, close to Christmas after starting a new horizontal cut, he was breaking away some loose rock with his hand pick when all of a sudden an irregular clump of material broke away from the rock wall into his outstretched fingers. At first he could not quite grasp the significance of the moment; the eyes couldn’t convey – nay comprehend the message being sent to his brain. In the palm of his hand lay a piece of indescribable sparkling brilliance the earth had just given up after many millions of years. Black opal. The size and quality would mean they would not have to worry about money for many a year. Tears swelled up in his eyes and flowed down his cheeks as if the taps of life had opened up to wash away all the pain and suffering endured since their arrival.

He could barely contain himself as he bolted back to the shack to share the excitement of the discovery. Molly was in shock and cried with happiness at the prospect of finally going home. To celebrate, John, Molly and the baby held in their arms danced a little jig around their one and only room. As they swirled and twirled John whispered into her ear, “Oh my dear, I told you I could do it.”

“ Yes, you were true to your word. I love you dearly,” she stated through the sparkle in her eyes.

Late that afternoon John decided to look for the Opal buyer who came to town 3 days a week. He knew he could find him in one of the many local pubs where miners could be found spending most if not all of their hard-earned pay. Drinking was a massive problem here, for lack of other entertainment it was the favourite pastime and you frequently came across men inebriated, lying or staggering in the streets.

John found what he was looking for in the Diggers Rest, Marty was sitting at a table surrounded by an army of miners playing Black Jack. He was a supremely confident man who didn’t suffer fools gladly, a tough negotiator but fair. His eyes broke away from the game for a second and noticed John standing next to the door. “Oh Johnny boy, long time no see, come and join us,” he barked out.

John without thinking obey the order and sat down. “Just a quick game and a drink, then I must be getting back.”

The storm had changed direction again and was now closing in. Jack sat there, eyes transfixed on the sky and said, “Well as you probable have guessed, the one drink turned into two, two into three into four and with it the judgment of when to give up.”

The card game turned into his worst nightmare. The loses started to pile up. At first he thought he could manage it by continuing to play until his luck changed. After all, he had found the black opal that day; surely the gods were on his side. The alcohol dulled the reality until it was too late. Midnight and time to pay up. The only thing of value he had of course was the stone.

Defeated he staggered unevenly home, stopping every so often trying to gather his thoughts. In between the mist of intoxication and clarity, lay the sickening feeling of despair. His muddled thinking tried to explain away the lose as just one of those things. He would find another stone, he said to himself, there must be more awaiting him deep in the bowels of his pit.

As he approached the shack he could make out the silhouette of his wife, sitting silently on the porch. She instinctively knew something was wrong, one look at his eyes had told the whole story.

A wail pierced the quiet of the night, she was beside herself, head bend low between her knees. “How could you do such a thing. This meant everything to us,” she screamed at him. “Ohhhh my life is a mess. I can’t stand it, and you.”
“Oh, pleeese my dearessst… I’ll do my best to make amends,” he slurred.

He flopped onto the ground, dejected. A distant rumble signified a thunderstorm developing.
Molly’s rage did not subside, she paced erratically around the room, picking up her son who was now crying. Her eyes glowing with resentment. John stood up and hobbled inside, opening his arms in a feeble attempt to comfort her.

“Don’t you dare come near me,” she screamed as she dodged his advances. ”Keep away I say, never ever come near me again.”

John made another clumsy effort to make peace.
Molly was having nothing of it. She pushed him away violently. He lurched back and collapsed into a chair. Tears streamed down her face as she made it to the door running off with the baby clutched tightly in her arms.

John got up unsteadily and went after her. “Molly, my dear, don’t be silly. I’ll do anything to make up for it. Come back, come back,” he pleaded.

Molly didn’t know where she was going and didn’t care. She would not spend another moment with that man in that shack. Rain started to beat down and soon covered her tears. She started to climb a ridge as the baby continued to cry softly. Placing his head close to her bosom to keep him warm, she whispered into his tiny ear, “You’re the only one I have left in my life.”

The storm intensified, the rain now lashing down in sheets. She became more and more confused and disorientated. John stumbled on into the gloom looking for her. He had no idea where she had gone when all of a sudden a tremendous bolt of lightning lit up the countryside like a Roman candle and there near the top of a ridge, he caught sight of her scrambling over some rocks. With renewed energy, he darted up the adjoining rock face to cut her off. Turning around an outcrop he saw her outline, she was no more than 30 metres away. Then…………………..

Jack wiped away a tear of his own as the first few spots of rain brushed against his well weathered face.
“You ok?” asked Kevin.
“Yes of course, just a speck of dust in my eye,” Jack replied curtly.

She turned around, their eyes met for the last time. Long last cry of anguish. A moment forever frozen in time as a lightening bolt brought her life to an abrupt end. Stunned and shocked, he lay flat on his back having been thrown off his feet by the blast. He gathered his wits and raced towards that unimaginable scene. “Oh my lord, what have I done?”

“But you see,” Jack stammering with now watering eyes. “A miracle occurred. The baby some how survived unharmed.”

John was numb. He collected his son from the charred arms of his wife who was still protecting him even in death and started walking back slowly unable to think clearly. The storm had cleared and with it the full moon and its companion stars filled the sky with an eerie translucent light to show the way.

The two men on the park bench had not noticed the passing of the storm. It had been threatening all morning but just as it seemed the heavens would open up, it dissipated.

Kevin, with tears now flooding down his face looked at Jack and murmured, “What happened to John?”

The first light of the new day was breaking when John delivered his son to a local neighbour asking them to look after him for a few hours while as he had to attend to an accident his wife had had. By mid afternoon, the neighbour had became concerned when he did not return and contacted the police. They were aware of Molly’s death as she had been found by some kids on their way to school, however they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of John.

A search that afternoon unearthed nothing. It wasn’t until the end of the second day that John’s body was discovered down the bottom of his own miner’s shaft with a broken neck. No one knew for sure whether it was an accident or suicide. In the end it didn’t matter. Both of the parents were dead.

“You know the rest of the story, Kevin.”
Kevin’s jaw dropped. “How did you know it was me?”
“ I just knew, call it intuition.”

There was a long pause as both men were lost in deep thought. Jack pulled out his fob watch and looked at the time. “The Library is open now. I must be getting on. Pleased to have met you. Your’e a good man, Kevin and I hope you find what you have been looking for.”

Maybe it was the tears in Kevin’s eyes that obscured his vision, but as he looked up Jack was no longer there.

Kevin walked towards the library with mixed emotions. The story had laid out a chapter of his life he had always wanted to know, nevertheless a deep sadness remained. The Pandoras box was open. What would his life have been like if it was Molly and John who had brought him up? Would he be the same person? He felt for both of his parents even though they seemed to be very different people. He didn’t blame his father for what he had done, loosing the gemstone the way he did. All men have weakness and he was convinced that in similar circumstances he might have met the same fate. He was also sure that his mother deep down had loved his father or else she wouldn’t have followed him to Lightning Ridge. The sheer disappointment of not being able to return to Sydney had exasperated her reaction to the news and had driven her over the edge. It was a greek tragedy in the full sense; two needless deaths and a small boy who never got to know his parents.

The library was one of the better buildings in town, built at the beginning of the nineteenth century out of white sandstone imported from elsewhere in the state. It stood out amongst the others in the street by its relative grander, exhibiting fake roman pillars either side of an arched doorway. The relationship to ancient Rome didn’t extend to the interior of the building though; drab and disorganised in keeping with the rest of the town. The librarian was helpful and assisted Kevin in finding the newspaper article that appeared the week after his parent’s death. And there in front of his eyes were Molly and John. He first scanned the photo of his mother; a wave of anxiety encapsulated his body as he fought to control the emotions exploding within.

Then the father… Kevin froze, the colour drained from his face.

 

 

 

The Red and Blue Ribbon

Stewart stared across the breakfast table at his small grandson eating his cereal with a spoon. Sam had been stopping with them all week as his parents were in Adelaide for work. They enjoyed having him around as it reminded them of their own little boy all those years ago. Friday, one more to go. He had promised him this weekend they would go fishing, something they both enjoyed immensely. Steward does most of the fishing of course, while little Sam plays at his feet with whatever is lying around on the wooden planks of the old Beachport jetty.

Steward gazed out the window at the inclement weather.

“Ahhh, a wet drive to work.”

The fog had still not lifted and hung low over the ground in wispy pools of white.

Sam made himself comfortable in front of the television to watch Play School.

“Aren’t you going to give grand dad a kiss before he goes to work?”

Steward received no response.

“I’m wearing that red and blue ribbon pin you gave me for my birthday, pinned to my jacket.”

Sam was transfixed to the screen. Steward smiled to himself, kissed his wife on the cheek and walked out the front door.

Mount Burr, where they lived, was a good 45-minute drive to Steward’s job in Mount Gambier, very easy with most of it on the country’s main road, National Highway No 1. The tall pine tree plantations stood like soldiers to attention with only their feet visible, their heads inside the clouds.

Steward’s new Land Rover backed out of the drive, on to the side road and slowly motored up a slight incline towards highway No 1.

“Well, this is bad, can’t see a bloody thing,” he stated aloud to himself.

The car parted the mist like a ship parted the ocean, disturbing the air only long enough for it to flow back upon itself and leave no trace of the disturbance.

Steward fiddled with the radio’s frequency knob until he found his favourite station. It was playing a song he knew well. Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets. That brought back memories. The night he met his wife, Sandy at the local town dance, they were playing that song. A little rye smile passed across his face as he thought of all good times they had spent together over the years. The raising of their boys into men they could be proud of.

The 3 kilometres to the turnoff was slow and tedious. The fog refused to lift. For a moment, Steward thought he could see the sun trying to force its way through the thickened soup but he wasn’t sure. How he hated driving in the fog.

Crawling along the narrow road, he came across no other cars. It was 7.30 am and normally you would have passed something by now. The radio gave out a fit of static then recommenced suddenly with a male announcer.

“Good morning all, what a beautiful spring morning we are having today.”

Roger Monk here wishing you a pleasant day ahead. Steward’s ears pricked up.

“Roger Monk? He’s been retired for years. What’s he doing back on air?”

Steward was perplexed. Maybe they dug him out of retirement for nostalgic reasons. Music replaced the voice and another golden oldie was played. Steward himself didn’t know this one.

It was taking forever to get to the highway. The side road was full of pot holes much more than he remembered. He cursed the council for not doing its job properly.

Finally he reached the turn off, it was still quite dark and he could hardly make out the road markings. Turning left, he observed a sign he had never noticed before. It was made of wood, white and pointed at the leading edge with words Mount Gambier 20 miles.

“What the heck!” Steward was confused. “When did the council start using wooden signage with mileage written on it?”

Steward smiled to himself and shook his head.

“I must be dreaming. They haven’t used imperial measurements since 1966.”

He felt uneasy though. The car drove slowly forward when to his total astonishment he notice another bazaar thing. The national highway was now only a single lane.

At that moment, a logging truck steamed passed at high speed in the opposite direction, surprising Steward to the extent he almost ran off the road.

Steward took a few deep breaths. “What was going on? The truck seemed to come from no where.”

The roads so narrow, it’s not like this, it’s a national highway, dual lanes. Where is it? Have I taken a wrong turn? I can’t have. I have driven this road for years.”

Questions with no answers raced through his mind.
The radio spluttered again into static. Steward played with the tuning knob and found a station on an unfamiliar frequency.

The surprises didn’t stop coming. Robert Menzies’ voice filled the airways telling all to prepare for war.

Steward was totally confused.

“I must be going mad.”

He wasn’t sure what to do. He slowed to a crawl. The roads surface was now poor, rutted and loose.

He looked down to his mobile phone and found no signal. The radio was now solid static.

The fog was lifting. The sun shone through, burning off the remaining mist to reveal a beautiful day. Steward wound the window down and took a deep breath. What superb air, he had not smelt anything like it.

The surrounding countryside looked very different. Large gum trees dominated either side of the road, the pine plantations had disappeared. The odd small clearing opened up amongst the trees to reveal the stone farm houses.

Steward’s head was spinning. This could not be. Was he dreaming or caught in some type of time warp? No answers.

The road was now an overgrown track. He stopped and jumped out. This was very foreign. Nothing was familiar apart from the gum trees and the vast number of birds in the sky. Kangaroos could be seen everywhere. Curious and unafraid, they stood in mobs observing this strange distressed creature with the lost expression.

Without warning, a spear pieced the thick undergrowth and thudded into a large red gum just to the left of his head. He awoke from his distressed state as the adrenaline kicked in. He noticed a slight gap between two sheoaks and darted through it. Running as fast as his old legs permitted, he headed for a rocky outcrop that might offer some protection.

Panting like an overworked sheep dog, he scurried behind the first boulder he reached. Peering around the rock, he discovered he need not have worried, no one was following. Steward caught his breath, then proceeded to walk to the crest of the hill to see where he was.

Looking out over the far reaching green plain, the area was deeply wooded, interwoven with vast interlocking wetlands. Hugh flocks of birds created clouds of colour as they took to the air, circling and returning to earth in a vast shimmering wave. Dotted over the landscape, a few thin wispy grey streaks of smoke drifted upwards towards the heavens, camp fires by the aborigines. A world of tranquility, except for a flickering glow of orange and red on the horizon, standing out in stark contrast to the rest of the greens and greys, an artist inadvertently dabbing the wrong water colours on to his masterpiece.

It took a moment until he realized what he was observing. Though it was still cool, sweat poured down his brow and on to his eyes. He wiped the salty solution away. An uncontrollable tremble took over his body. He fell to his knees.

Mount Gambier, the volcano had not erupted for 4600 years and there he was watching it. Steward touched the small red and blue ribbon his grandson had given him and cried.

He eventually staggered to his feet and slowly descended the ridge walking towards the far distant glow not knowing what to do or where to go. He staggered on for what seemed hours. He looked down at his boots, now covered in water.
These were the old wet lands of the South Australia’s Southeast before the European settlers drained them. It felt a thousand pairs eyes were focused at him, but he saw no one.

He wandered through the wetlands looking for the telltale smoke of an aboriginal campfire for he needed to be with others. The anxiety of dying in the wilderness alone mounted in his ever increasing confused mind. What did he do to deserve this fate? Where did he go wrong? More questions with no answers.

Exhaustion set in, he could no longer stay on his feet. The sun was low when he slid to the ground underneath an old red gum and rested his back upon the trunk. He closed his eyes.

A bright light appeared in his dream. The light spoke to him, it was his dear beloved Sara. She whispered to his soul, she was there by his side. The light became brighter and with it, all fear left his body. Her comforting face filled the space in in his head. All was well now.

A large group of aborigines surrounded the prostrate body lying still, under the old gum tree. A large black hand removed the pin on Steward’s jacket and they all milled around to admire the beautiful soft blue and red ribbon, wondering what it was.

Sam was stilled glued to the television set when the screen flashed brilliant white before fading in on itself to a pin prick. For a moment he thought he saw his grandfather’s face.

“Grandma come here quick, the television is broken.”

No response. He jumped up and ran around the house looking for her.

“Grandma , Grandma, where are you? Talk to me I’m scared, Grandma, Grandma…”

Twenty years later.

Sunday afternoon and Sam got up from the couch, as he was shouting to his sons.

“We’re going out, get your things. Enough lying around for the day.”

Two small adorable fair haired boys fell into line as they giggled to each other. The twins loved it when dad took them for a drive. It was always an adventure and the chance of an ice cream or piece of cake was always on the cards.

“Daddy, where are we going today?” they chortled back.

“Surprise!” was the abrupt reply.

Sam had read in the local newspaper about an interesting local discovery a few years ago. A cave with Aboriginal paintings had been discovered in a range of hills close to Mount Gambier. Remarkable to think that after all these years of European settlement, they were still finding artefacts. It was being open to the public for the first time and he was keen to take a look. Besides that, the boys loved drawing and were always interested in the bedtime stories he told them about the aboriginal dreamtime. Getting them away from the television had become a priority. He remembered watching way too much tv himself as a child.

It was a glorious day, the sun shone fiercely through the few clouds that were in the sky. They bumped along the old dirty track that led to the caves. A number of other cars followed behind looking for the new signs that were put up to direct them to the location.

This part of the area’s vegetation was till mostly intact and had survived the farming revolution as it was designated a national park early on in the country’s history.

A make shift car park had been organised on a piece of flat land below a rocky outcrop. The path to the cave was steep and difficult to transverse.

The boys plodded on gamely. Not complaining at all. Sam was proud. He thought how much better behaved they were than him at a similar age.

Eventually the path ended and after rounding a large boulder a small opening could be seen under a ledge. It wasn’t very obvious, so he now understood why this had not been discovered earlier.

After crawling on all fours for some metres, the cavern opened up. A temporary lighting arrangement was in place. It did a good job of exposing the magnificent array of cave drawings. A guide was on hand to explain to the public the significance of what they were witnessing.

The boys looked on in awe, mouths opened. The scene was one with nature. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus and birds of all kinds. Beautifully depicted in the aboriginal way, vivid natural colours with simple, but inspiring symbols.

At the back of the chamber in all its prominence was the erupting volcano. The aborigines were there to witness the event.

Sam took a step back to take everything in. His eye glanced upon a curious symbol – two blue and red lines.

Memories flooded his mind from that long ago day. He had been frantic, he could not find his grandmother. He ran screaming to the next door neighbour for help.

“Where’s my Grandma? I want my Grandma.”

Police cars, sirens, people everywhere.

His dream was broken, upon hearing the guide make a comment about the two-coloured lines.

“The archeologists don’t quite understand this symbol yet. It doesn’t relate to any animal or plant we know of. At the moment the meaning seems to be lost in time.”

Sam with a tear in his eye, looked down at his two small boys.
But he knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only The Land Knows

 

Aboriginal-Culture-Images

4000 years Before the Present

The sun was not yet high enough to burn off the grey mist hanging low over the outgoing water. The lowering tide slurped back and forth along the full length of the white pristine beach. The tug of war between land and sea was gradually being won by the receding water. The salty cool air clung to the low lying limestone cliffs, breathing life into the lungs of the new morning. Winter and the cold south easterly winds would soon arrive bringing with it the rains to quench the thirst of this dry sparsely vegetated landscape.

Ponde who was on top of a limestone outcrop, crouched down low on his haunches, feet spread wide apart, balanced perfectly, relaxing while he looked seaward. Through the salt spray he saw the women swiveling their bony feet into the soft tidal sand, trying to feel for the prized cockle. Ever so often their toes would come across the hard smooth shells. When this happened they would quickly bend down to scoop the cockles up into their long thin outstretched fingers, then with care, transfer their find into the net bags they carried over their shoulders. This occurred many times during the course of the morning. He watched on, feeling increasingly hungry.

Ponde was in his twelfth year, the year of becoming a man. He looked forward to the ceremony to make him so. He could then hunt the agile majestic red kangaroo and the abundant small grey wallabies with the other men, when the tribe moved to their winter camping grounds . This would happen soon, as the days were growing shorter and the cold made it difficult for the tribe to survive near the sea.

By mid morning the net bags were overflowing with the cockle, so the women left the sticky wet sand and proceeded to slowly walk over the first line of sand hills. Ponde watched on, thinking about how lucky he was to be part of all this and as they approached the summer camp, he too wandered back .

His job was to prepare the cockles, placing them into equal heaps on the flat sandstones residing within the cooking pits and covering each with small branches, leaves and dry grass. When all was ready Ponde used a fire stick to ignite the make shift bush oven. The dry fuel exploded into a dancing yellow flame around the mounds of cockle; black smoke and the pungent odor of dry grass, burning shell and green leaves announced to the others a meal of succulent seafood was on the way. Members of the tribe gathered around the mounds of cockles as they opened up under the heat of the fire to reveal their sweet soft cooked meat. The feast began.

The camp site had been used long before living memory. Discarded shells of the cockle littered the ground for many hundreds of metres, so it was impossible to walk anywhere without hearing the crunching sound of shells breaking underfoot. The sea of old cockle shell glittered in the rising sun, seemingly telling their story of periods of plenty, when the members of the ancient tribes sat together around the camp fires with full stomachs, reliving the memories of the Dreamtime.

Ponde’s belly was now full. Soon he would be a man and have the secret knowledge of the dreamtime and the responsibility that went with it to pass down to the next generation. His life was one with the land, his existence dependent upon it. The initiation ceremony would bring him face to face with the stories of the dreamtime; vivid tales describing the forces that shaped life as he knew it.

For months he had lay awake at night thinking about this moment. He felt so proud to be part of the tribe, he being an extension of the dreamtime. The land, the sea, the rivers, the mountains, the sky, the trees, the animals, and of course the people; everything was, is and always will be intrinsically connected, nothing was in isolation.

Later that afternoon a number of the tribe appeared on the crest of an adjacent sandhill; one of them Cobar, a tall powerful man of about 40 years of age, wind-swept hair in disarray and a long black knotted beard, carried a small dead wallaby on his shoulders. The scars from a long ago ceremony were etched out across his chest in horizontal lines, ridges like coastal sand dunes, but these did not drift with the wind, a permanent reminder of his position in the tribe. Behind the large intensely piercing eyes was a proud intelligent warrior, a man of authority, who showed in his deeply farrowed face a person completely self-assured and at ease with his surroundings. His eyes scanned the camp for Ponde.

Soon Cobar came up to Ponde dragging the dead animal behind him and pronounced, “Here is a cutting stone to remove the skin of the wallaby. Do you remember how I showed you.”

“Yes, Cobar. I remember, I promise to do a good job,” responded Ponde with confidence. Cobar nodded, turned and walked slowly away toward the rest of the men.

Ponde knew this was a man’s job, so felt proud to be asked to do such an important chore before the initiation rites. He grasped the round flat object tightly into his right hand and using the jagged edge he cut deeply into the fur, working it carefully as to not damage the hide too much. The cutter was made of flint and was very precious. It had been traded from another group of aboriginals that lived a great distance from this place and a number skins of kangaroo were needed to acquire such a valuable tool for the tribe.

He closed his eyes and thought about the upcoming ceremony. Though excited, some apprehension lingered in his mind. He had witnessed the beginning of many rites of passage since he was a small boy. In his head he could hear the wailing of the women as they danced around the camp fire, for they were losing their sons to manhood forever and would miss them dearly. He watched as the boys were covered in red oche and a band of human hair strands was tied around their waists. He was also there when the men led the boys off into the wilderness on walkabout, to be told the sacred stories of creation and to return days later as men leaving their childhood forever in the past. Life marches on relentlessly with no desire to linger too long at any one moment in time.

Ponde reflected on this as he finished skinning the wallaby. All he had to do now was wash the hide in the nearby creek. It would make a wonderful warm shawl for someone, maybe a final gift to his mother before she lost him.

Many things now cluttered Ponde’s mind and maybe it was this that made him forget to bring back the cutter. It laid in the sand next to the creek…

Canunda National Park, South Australia

The Present

The sun was not just yet high enough to burn off the grey mist hanging low over the outgoing water. It was cool and winter would soon arrive. Peter and Janet had been looking forward to this holiday for such a long time. Both were professionals. Peter, a smart looking lawyer and Janet, an eloquent interior decorator led very busy lives.

The pressure of work had been getting to them, so they had decided to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of the city they loved. These two were not country people by nature and preferred the home comforts and facilities only a large city could bring. Janet was not sure about going to the country, being a flashy dresser that felt comfortable in high heels and designer clothing, not a jeans-and-t-shirt girl. Her idea of letting go was a holiday in a resort, camped next to a swimming pool with a drink in hand. Peter on the other hand, though just as much a flashy dresser, fancied a driving holiday in the country where he could get away from people and do some walking. After much discussion, Peter got his way so they hopped into their expensive foreign sports car and drove away along a straight barren highway that soon took them to the peace and tranquility of the country side.

After a few days, the feeling of serenity started to permeate their souls. “Life in the city never quite felt like this,” thought Peter. He could see the stress lines on Janet’s face fade as the days went by.

Day Four saw them walking along the coastal dunes in a well-known national park by name, that was seldom visited due to its isolated location. The track had led them to some spectacular coastal scenery; they were enjoying the experience walking hand in hand even though the weather was bleak. Peter was surveying the landscape when he noticed cockle shells on the sand, spread out over a very large area between two sand hills.

“That’s interesting,” he proclaimed loudly, “How did they get here?”
“Maybe the wind blew them here or the sea had encroached into this area at one stage,” commented Janet.
“Humm not to sure about that,” Peter mumbled back.

He started to walk towards them when a round unusual shaped rock caught his eye. He bent down and picked it up and studied it closely for a few seconds before saying, “ Look here, Janet. This stone has a very sharp edge to it. It looks to me to be man made.”
Janet leaned over his shoulder and examined it herself. “ Ohhh looks like a lot of the rocks around here, besides why would it be here in the middle of nowhere.”
Peter thought some more then nodded, “ I suppose you’re right, wishful thinking on my part.”
“Yes,” Janet giggled,” You’re such a romantic. Too cold and barren for anyone to be living here.”
Both of them had a good laugh as Peter tossed Ponde’s cutter on to the sand.

As the couple walked away, the wind let out its own shriek of laughter. Peter suddenly felt quite strange. He closed his eyes. Inside his head someone whispered, “Only the land knows, only the land knows…