At the edge of the world

“Renaissance cartographers portrayed the edge of the known world as an evil, enchanted place, where storms raged and bizarre creatures lurked. Sailors foolhardy enough to venture there were believed to face certain death. Yet resolute explorers pushed the world’s edge ever farther back, until the map finally wrapped around the globe.”

Jamie James, www.theatlantic.com

This triggered apprehension is the epitome of the Australian Gothic movement – the landscape is seen as malevolent so that terror shrouds the perception of a barren land that resolutely fails to fit a romanticised colonial ideal, that of the bucolic, verdant bounty of England’s green and pleasant lands. It was driven by fear of the unknown, a storm of ‘what-ifs?’ wresting anticipation into the realm of rank foreboding.

Far from the tame, considered beauty of the motherland – coppices cradled in cropped uniformity, ‘shaded lanes‘ and ‘soft dim skies‘ – the end of the world is a helix in time, a sinkhole to the past where the light dances and skulks with staccato resonance, a brooding reiteration of the dawning of time.

“Throughout its history Tassie, as the Australians call it, has attracted a rugged breed of people who have come and stayed. The first wave of Western inhabitants, the convicts transported from Great Britain, came involuntarily; but in modern times the island has held a special appeal for visionaries, explorers drawn to the far end of the earth.”

Jamie James, www.theatlantic.com

In a world in which everything has an online representation, Mount Terra, just to the north-west of Hobart, has but an echo of a story. Its contours exist in a vortex, no name, no place, no mark. It is a whisper cast in low-level light, bound by the circles of age that can be traced on ragged skin.

A sculpted muscle on the flank of Mt Dromedary, Mt Terra rises 608m above sea level. Mists swaddle ancient boughs heavy with doused lichen. Speckled rocks and faded green moss never rouse, but an iced bite refreshes the tips of your ears.

The air is bracing – a ‘clean’ you can taste – raw oxygen pumping into your veins like a drug, a soaring invocation of life on the edge.

Australia itself is remote, tucked away from almost everywhere else, but Tasmania – a small island state that dangles like a glittering pendant from the mainland’s neck notch – is about as far from anywhere as it’s possible to go.

And then there’s Mount Terra. So close to Hobart and yet so far removed, with its escapist views and redneck tinge it is wholly of its own. Trees and reptiles shed their outer casings to litter the dirt; skins and furs line the walls of the homes, crouched around wood stoves; and time casts off its mantle, stripping itself bare beneath our curious gaze.

There is a faintly gothic taint: the land is wreathed in smoke and fog, wraith-like vapours caught in curled valleys, pink, heather and velvet-grey tones bruise a faded eucalypt haze, and weathered hulks loom from the shade. But it is playful too, a natural wonderland, rich in soul, and the Tin Lid is quick to find his realm: a shattered trunk becomes a trader’s den, founded on the principles of Bartertown, rocks exchanged for love and long sticks.

Bleached rises soar ever up, strewn with the carcasses of long-hollow timber and burnt out burrows, while the scale, from the minute to the majestic, is awing.


And within this untamed intensity, couched within the wild sparse beauty of the edge, there is a tenderness. Stoves and flames stoke a closeted warmth, and life is carved out carefully:

   

Windows open to the expanse, edges are curled in tight. Rocks and bush poles form sturdy homes that bubble with hard-won laughter and warm toes; the scent of heady wine hangs in the air and produce comes carved from the earth.

In a shiver of sunlight at the zenith of day, we toast to a new life, a world away from the roaring choked grit of the city, and devoid of convenience or clique.

Faded by trial and time, Mount Terra is where shadows race to meet each other and an ancient place exposes its bones. It exists at the edge of the world and yet it feels so familiar, home away from home.

They say that here, time is forgotten. That can’t be, not in our modern world. Perhaps, instead, it has escaped, billowing free in an endless sky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First landing

photo 1 (9)

I am in thrall to the sand, salt and sun ratio that the powdery fringes of our world promise, toes scrinching in the cool damp of buried seawater, the sluice of surf over the break, and a horizon that sidles up to the sky. And while I have a deep appreciation for the finest beaches in the world – mirror-clear waters in the Maldives, the raw savagery of Fraser Island’s ragged coast and the scented chic of the Côte d’Azur – it is the schleppy beaches of the world I cherish.

photo 2 (7)

A sorry excuse for a strip of sand, Power Station Beach frills its way along the edge of Lamma Island, itself an outlying island of Hong Kong. It was once my home, literally. I slept in a teepee above the tideline and woke each morning to the belch and squeal of hot air rising in monolithic cement chambers, and the warble of red-throated loons as they paddled off-shore. There was a smear of sulphur in the air sometimes, which collided gracefully with saltwater and early morning char siu bao.

Yarra Beach, which skims the edge of one of Sydney’s least known and smallest suburbs, Phillip Bay – La Perouse’s jerry-built neighbour – also fits the bill faultlessly. It features a container terminal squat at one end, sand that may contain dead bodies and a distinct case of multiple personality disorder.

photo 1photo 5

It’s our favourite place – me, the Tin Lid and the Kelpie – even on a wintry day that scours vapourised breath from chapped lips. It stretches away from the eye in a leisurely curl, deep anchorage in its embrace. At one end, Port Botany Transfer Station and container terminal hulk-in, heavy; towering stands of metal boxes await the colossal grip of the lifting crane, and tiny stevedores scurry like ants from a height, busy in their endeavours.

photo 1

Sydney Ports Corporation

Peering in close, to get a good view of the action, blighted headstones line the ridge, the residents of the Eastern Suburbs Memorial Park taking best advantage of this ‘forever’ spot.

photo 2

At the other end is the splintered timber and plastic veneer of the sailing club, blinking with pokies and bickered at by bookies.

photo 1

I think that might be part of the attraction, the hustle of activity on a stretch of sand that stands sentinel to time. Ocean leviathans steam into port honking and wallowing, their steel guts either laden or set to gorge on the gargantuan consumerist container picnic that awaits them. The dead on their last journey, as they shift and sift through the sand; yachties riding their charges over trough and peak and returning, sodden, to the sailing club for a cold schooner and hot chips; the burning rumble of the jets as they land and soar from Kingston Smith; and local dogs who howl and splash in joy, catching life in salty draughts on lagging tongues.

photo 1photo 3

Defined by Yarra Point and Bomborah Point, the Bay is a series of south-westerly swoops, unique in this east-facing city. At the height of summer, we head to the shade of some scrub at the southern tip; in winter, we get to luxuriate in its length, right up to the otherwise sun-baked perimeter, a concrete seawall beneath the steely gaze of Port Botany, its industrial choker.

The Tin Lid is agog at the plastic-bottle whirlpool churning in the eddies, and the Kelpie insists on dragging a tree wherever she goes. Ring-ins for the day include a bestie and her bottom-waggling charge, who hurl themselves into dune climbing with verve:

photo 3photo 1photo 4

Beyond the bend is Frenchman’s Bay (and La Perouse on the spit), considered culturally significant as the site of some of the earliest contacts between Europeans and Indigenous Australians, and it remains significant thanks to the survival of the archaeological remains of a nineteenth century Indigenous encampment and mission, the continued presence of the La Perouse Aboriginal Community and the oral tradition and social identity associated with this history of occupation.

But that is another story.

Today, we are here, ensconced in a world of salt spray and cool sand, a blustery wind bemoaning our intransigence.

photo 3photo 3photo 1

This was where Governor Phillip first strode ashore; here on 18th January 1788, the Indigenous population of Yarra directed the be-hatted Arthur to a fresh water source, Bunnerong Creek, which flows between Frenchman’s and the Bay.

sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

sydneylivingmuseums.com.au

It is believed that Yarra means flowing, originating from this water source. With resoundingly narcissistic flair, Admiral Arthur quickly renamed the place Phillip Bay, despite the lack of ‘lush meadows’ promised by Joseph Banks. In fact, he was quick to decree that Yarra was ‘unsuitable for habitation’. And the meadows, it turns out, were round the corner at Port Jackson, which is where they headed, more demand for the HMS Supply…

No-one knows why Phillip’s name was kept for the suburb but dropped for the Bay, but Yarra will always be Yarra to us, as I suspect it is for the Aboriginal community here, who have successfully claimed Native Title for the Yarra Bay headland and Yarra House. But that’s part of that other story…

photo 3photo 5

As the shadows stretch we head away from the Bay, promising ourselves a longer adventure next time. The Tin Lid is intrigued by Serious Stuff, complete with it’s half-drunk bottle of claret, and the bottom-waggler is intent on discarded hot chips, to his mother and the local gull’s dismay.

photo 3photo 2photo 1photo 5photo 2

The Kelpie yelps at the prospect of leaving, but she is soon snoring, dreaming of slung sticks and foamy surf that she snaps at in her sleep.

photo

That other story, with its 16′ skiffs, haunted homes and secret coves, awaits our return.

photo 2photo 3

Date night

bar05

Once upon a time, a trance-party princess skittered gleefully through the just lightening streets of London, tangles of lasciviousness and spilt beer sticky in her wake. Dawn had heralded ejection from the womb-warm pulse of an underground club and goddammit she needed a coffee. Bar Italia was a welcome embrace, breathing the rich scent of peppery coffee, spilt sugar, woodbines and raucous laughter into her life.

Described as a “Soho grotto, which keeps safe the city’s sacred heart… an idyll in a concrete jungle corroded by a vacuous modernity” (Huffington Post), Bar Italia is proudly family owned – since 1949 – and is a mecca for the tired, the wired, the thirsty and the dispossessed, a blazing beacon of London’s nighttime economy.

Perhaps Bar Italia is code for cool, but it turns out that The Cowboy has been taking his dates to Norton Street’s Bar Italia for countless years. And while this dogged diner is no late-night London hero, it is as loved by the masses.

It’s also worth pointing out that I was the final date and will remain so (if he values his mascarpone)…

photo 1

These days, hot dates include the Tin Lid, who has come prepared with gelato-destroying ninja positions,

photo 1

A cash-only, chipped-paint, crazy-paving lino’ed institution amidst the chrome and Chinotto of Leichhardt, Bar Italia is set like a derelict molar in a snicker of shiny teeth. But that is what makes it so irresistible – like meat cooked in wine and cream, hot whisky, cold soup and wagon wheels – nostalgia seeping from the cracks in the walls, the past staunchly refusing to pass.

photo 3photo 5

A sign reads No Soy Light or Skim Milk; another spells out the specials, complete with pink sauce:

photo 4

The queue we join snakes in agitation from the till, the Bar already full of just-courting couples and old flames, Italian mobsters, sequinned queens, families with frills of kids who chirp and bicker, and a bag lady, complete with bags. Long-uncool agitprop, free postcards and Jimmy Cliff posters peer down on heads bent over steaming bowls of pasta, chatter streaming from smiling lips, the air fugged with garlicky steam.

photo 4photo 4

First opened in 1952, when life was simpler, Bar Italia caters to a loyal crowd that demands nothing more than no nonsense trattoria fare.

We ordered the same as always, the spicy salty-sweet tang of puttanesca for her, creamy green al frumuto for him, with a tumble of hot chips for the kiddo. There is much debate about the avocado dish the Cowboy demands, stripped as it has been from the menu. Did it ever exist? Has he lost his mind? The barista calmly writes down what can be remembered and shushes us to our seats.

Utilitarian school dinner-esque meals arrive in minutes, as if by ESP, with seemingly no identification where the diner is seated required by harried damp-haired staff.

photo 2photo 3

Slouched against landscaped stucco, an acre of badly written braille, brandishing all the implements you could need, we are silenced.

photo 4photo 5

A print of The Last Supper looks down benignly from one wall, a flatscreen howls on mute from the other; both are ignored. Diners are turned over like cheap steak, a steady thrum through a squeaking door. Turbulents of air bully for space, the cold front from the street at war with the hot and sultry steam from the kitchen.

A squabble of council workers in high vis head for the garden out the back. In summer it is a foodies romp, lush with plants and lingering smoke, the clatter of catering hushed by soft warm air. Tonight, it is wind riven and bleak, though the crowds are here too, clustered behind the plastic curtains:

photo 4 photo 5

A lady glides by in blunnies, thick socks and a gypsy skirt: she knows what she wants, a bowl of melanzane alla parmigiana and to be left alone. A curt ‘grazie’ is all she utters – the rest is already understood.

The Cowboy becomes agitated towards the end of his tagliatelle, a thought clearly forming in his mind. It is the Tiramisu Thought, widely acknowledged as being largely stultifying until dealt with. And it goes like this:

I wonder if there’s enough tiramisu? I mean, the place is packed… what if it’s run out? I ate quickly: I got here early: surely they have to have enough? Right? Anyone? The queue is getting longer…

His attention is drawn to the softly spoken melee at the till: an old fella with a determined gaze is asking for a profiterole:

Hey, mate, you want this one? It’s the best one, it’s got tiramisu all over it! You get two dessert for the price of one eh?!… You don’t want that one? That special one? You no want tiramisu? What you mean?

OK, OK, now just a coffee, no worries mate, I can do.

(silence)

What, you want me to guess what sorta coffee you want too?

(insert vociferous Italian cursing and the sort of gesticulation that would put a flaming orangutan to shame)

The Cowboy springs into action and trots up to the discarded tiramisu, retrieving it and cradling it lovingly in his arms until it is polite to devour it. The Tin Lid insists on gelato. Tiramisu gelato…

photo 5photo 3photo 5

And I am content to wander through the guts of the place, and breathe in the last sixty-three years. Garlic, Vittoria, Napoli, biscotti, and burnt sugar, it is the scent of a loud, passionate and provincial dedication to rustic Italian cooking, and it is smeared generously through the air.

photo 2 photo 1photo 2 photo 1

And having waged war with the gelato and won, the Tin Lid executes a series of winning ninja moves before we head home in the cold, bellies brimming.

photo 3

 

Mean machines and chicky babes

With smoke pluming in lewd balloons from every steel orifice, the fetid flowery sweetness of methanol – a lingering promise of speed – and a vitriolic V8 Armageddon, a battle of sound that clangs righteously as it rides the cooling air, the speedway tangles itself into my subconscious. It feeds a memory as liquor feeds oblivion, of hot nights in a faraway land, my Dad and his mates drinking tinnies beneath the bonnet of a hot rod, 10CC bawling from the 8-track stereo at full bore.

The cowboy’s got the scent too… he knows his way around these events. No matter the class or race, he comes from a long line of hot-rodders, spending taper-thin tar-filled days on the quarter-mile at Eastern Creek, racing, rigging and living life at high velocity, a shortened diff snug between his thighs.

The cowboy's old man and his trusty steed

The cowboy’s old man and his trusty steed

It’s as if we have been called in, slotting seamlessly into a world of metal and fuel, rubber and gas…

photo 3photo 2

Arriving in Broome from the dirt tracks of the Kimberley, we have been doing a lot of this:

photo 3

and plenty of that:

photo 2 photo 1

Our playground is a turquoise coastline fringed in Pindan – the rust red dirt of the Kimberley – sunbaked days knee-deep in rockpools, hot chips, cold beer and salty nights beneath endless skies bivouacked around the fire.

But let’s be honest, in the face of such wholesome wholesomeness the consensus was that a little balance was in order…

photo 1 photo 5photo 2

The speedway is the abject celebration of man vs machine, the blast of speed, hollering testosterone, the wanton release and the final ignominy of being dragged through the dirt on a chain. It sparks with cultural references, alight with the high-pitched rumble of AC/DC, of Swan in crumply cans, of hot fireys dolled up in neon reflectives and a full face of makeup – it is the speedway after all…

photo 3

Barb’s running commentary crests the whump whump of the centrifugal track, spruiking everything from Auto One to Clarke Rubber, the bain-marie and Broome Cemetary; I can’t help but question if there is a correlation.

photo 1photo 4

She is excited: rapid-fire annunciation spills from the tannoy and the fireys start making a beeline for the track, schnitzy burgers tucked into deep pockets.

The throaty roar of a V8 snaps our heads up in anticipation and the tension is palpable. The dirt puffs into the air, a choking fog that adds taste to the putrid gas of the burnout cloud that hovers balefully over the track…

photo 2photo 4

Shiny wrecks howl around the track bucking and butting each other in a parody of Darwinism – here, only the headlong maniacs with ‘real good drivin’ skills, eh?’ and a car that doesn’t fold into pieces survive. Little tuckers are next, knee-high rev-heads slotted into souped-up billycarts that peel in and out of formation on the quarter track, proud parents jockeying for position on the hurricane fencing.

photo 5

The Tin Lid has wangled a bright blue Zoopa Doopa and stops his wholesale demolition of it to tell me the bain-marie lady told him the family meal includes:

  • 2 x cheeseburgers
  • 2 x chips
  • 2 x nuggets (of unknown origin)
  • 2 x Zoopa Doopas

We’ll be having hot chips then and pretending we are not really a family…

photo 5 photo 1photo 1photo 5

photo 4

A toddler bowls up and down the concrete in the shed pushing a Tonka. He is utterly absorbed, oblivious to the tonnes of metal being flogged through the dirt just metres away, fire flashing from bellies, smoke pouring from arseholes…

photo 5photo 3

There are tin lids on the prowl everywhere, from nappy-straddling tots to leering teens, stalking the lolly jar while sizing up the beer fridges and each other:

photo 1photo 2

Ours, though, is more interested in second place and the misappropriation of a Double Diggity Dog cooker. This leads to a confusing moment as I realise he has no idea what a ‘dimmy simmy’ is. This is quickly rectified, in theory rather than in practice.

photo 3photo 3

The official (the one calling the shots, or at least the tow truck) up there in the box with Barb, is wrapped in shiny black, a motorcross-hatcheted cap pulled down tight over black wraparound sunnies and a mid-shoulder length grey rat’s tail. His shirt reads: Official. 2013. Perhaps the other one is in the wash? Or maybe he’s just a fan of Barb.

photo 4photo 3

It is he, however, who announces the lolly storm. Pint-sized punters pour towards the track as a lumbering effie – the rescue truck – barrels onto centre-stage. From the back of the tray a couple of young fellas are hurling white paper lolly bags into the crowd that seethes and boils in anticipation, breaking left to curl around the track in hot pursuit. The Tin Lid can hardly believe his little sugared-up eyes and beseeches the Cowboy to assist him. The reward is greater that he could imagine, two paper bags crammed with teeth and milk bottles and snakes, and a stolen moment to gorge himself.

photo 1photo 5

As the rumble dies down, the children suddenly quiet, Burnout Billy is back. For Billy, the aim is to spin doughnuts in his low-slung not-ever-gonna-be-street-legal mean machine –in a fetching shade of lime – until the tyre pops. Billy is a legend though, and the crowd chew on his smoke as they bellow him on. He gets not one but two, and drags his whooping arse out through the dirt on sparking rims.

photo 5photo 4

The speedway has a viscous seam of Australiana pulsing through it. As the big guns roll out, throbbing to a bass line that can be heard 10kms away, mobs of spectators flock to their eskies atop utes and trucks decked out in lawn furniture, and parked trackside for your viewing pleasure. This is a passion, a shared love with something for everyone. Kids roam free in the dark, high on lollies, adults lounge in precise formation and the sharp whine of speed continues deep into the night.

Shrouded in smoke, the speedway is a neon-coated sugar-filled beery wonderland.

photo 4photo 1

Another one bites the dust

It was the Tin Lid who found the passageway, cowering behind a pile of poles, neglected and long unknown. It is the  green mile for a old girl losing herself to the times, a concrete snicket snuck between towering walls dank and abandoned. We ducked beneath meaty railway sleepers stacked and forgotten, over rusted manholes and between discarded shards of life…

photo 5

What we found was the relic of a memory, the fading glow of nostalgia dispersing softly into empty air, no-one to hear. I don’t know who once lived here, though I can guess at the sound of ready laughter, the scent of rollies and nag champa and cheap snags, the clink of toothbrush mugs brimming with Fruity Lexia and the rabble of joy at the end of a long night on King Street.

photo 4photo 3photo 2photo 1

I can taste the stolen lust of a pool-room hook-up, the splash of pizza grease on a tatty sleeve that gets you through till lunch, and grazing for food at Newtown’s happy hour haunts. I can hear the opening strains to the midday movie, the slam and rattle of a favourite track and the crinkle of hot water hitting instant coffee.

photo 1photo 2photo 1photo 5

I remember lost afternoons adrift in a sea of marigold green, limpid skies that stretch to forever, and long nights of venal delight roaming in packs along wholly owned streets and in bars that bawl and titter with conspiratorial vim.

photo 4photo 2

And I sense the familiarity, that innate understanding that life can wait – there’s living to be done.

photo 1

In the fading breath of a dying life the ghosts of the past are ripe. Fat veins of memory pulse with propriety while the deeper recesses crank out serotonin-laced recollection, hazy chapters with happy endings. Words clatter into my mind, sodden with the past: the Oxford and its sticky carpet; a snort of tequila from the depths of the gutter; a pride of marchers howling righteous discontent; a velour sofa, home to a family of four on a summer’s night. Light spilling from open doorways, no need for an invitation; sprawling across a robber’s grave drinking in the moonlight that blankets the cemetery; a vigil beneath I Have a Dream

photo 4

Those days are gone my son…

photo 5photo 4

And the remembered corners of the city will be sold to the highest bidder, reams of DA notices papering over the folds of history.

photo 3photo 1

The former glory of this happy realm lies dormant, waiting for its next incarnation, “prime commercial units that front a nineteen-unit four-storey build” like a gap-toothed wallflower dreading the slow songs.

photo 5photo 4photo 2

Show’s over folks, the fat lady has sung.

 

 

 

 

Eat your heart out Kerouac…

On the road again, loaded up on future dreams slick with nostalgia: this sunburned life, grimy with dirt, never looked so good.

The suburbs recede into no-man’s land, a grey sand between urban and bush, the threat of a mall around every corner. Once past the sprawl of fading wealth, the outer rim of the coastal conurbation, its lush green polo-pony-stud-farm badge proudly polished, the land rises sharply, tipping us deep into the interior… which is a vastly different world.

There is a point of no return. It is the point at which you glance up to see an endless sky divested of clouds and soul-searchingly empty. It is stretched taught to the horizon, no room for benign fluffy whites here. This is a place of blistering starkness, with light so sharp it looks as if it could shatter into a thousand shards, where a harsh and unforgiving reality takes no prisoners.

This is bat country…

The Tin Lid is living his little life to the full – it’s one long day of bumping F150-riding laughter, cold pools, hot chips and treasure hunts after another. His first case of pink sun-kissed skin brings on much back-slapping and calls of “You’re a true blue Aussie beaut now mate!” from his proud father and lamenting from his mother. Doesn’t bother him.

Black Mary's a great babysitter

Black Mary’s a great babysitter

Life on the road

Life on the road

He is the reason we dawdle and skitter, his attention span about as good as Mary’s fuel economy (the Cowboy has taken to treating her like a boat and calculating money spent in “hours on the water”), but he is also the reason we stop and look, chase, laugh, tumble and shout. He is the reason we are doing this.

After a day of breakdowns (the great solar story at Muswellbrook: the fuel filter fiasco on the steepest of hills, which caused Mary to hiccup and stall inducing fear in those of us not snoring: and the messy starter motor slaughter in Gunnedah) we find ourselves marooned…

image_4image_5

at the Red Chief Motel, Gunnedah, the epitome of 70s kitsch and dubious signage:

image_8image_7

Yes, the phones are self-dial, the TV is colour and the air-con is welcome respite from lazy gusts of 39 degree heat that wrap around your like an ermine shroud. What is not clear is the connection between the Red Chief and the Indigenous man depicted on the side of the pebbledash clutching a woomera. And our thin-lipped Aussie proprietor can elucidate no further. She just points out the pool and offers the Tin Lid free Coco Pops. Beaut.

The forecourt is steeped in late afternoon light by the time our impromptu exile begins. As the Cowboy mutters and curses deep in the bowels of Mary’s engine, the Tin Lid and I play with bits of tar and the splayed offshoots of frayed truck tyres.

All thoughts of a cold beer in the local pub have been summarily placed on hold and the evening descends into a parody of a bad road movie, a dust-streaked family holed up in a tinny motel, lolling in an air-conditioned stupor and faced with ten-to-ten takeaway from the local Chinese, an ill-fated marriage of gristle and monosodiumglutomate.

image_9

Gunnedah is streaked with lush green avenues, stately wide-brimmed homes and a healthy looking cricket pitch in the centre of the town. It smacks of a different era, a time of wagons hauled into town, of crinoline-wrapped womenfolk, roustabout-crammed pubs and the Sisters of Mercy.

Grand old pubs stake out the corners of the main street, vying for alpha status, while bush staples – the civic mall, Best and Less, Crazy Charlie’s, the gentlemen’s outfitters and a tired milk bar flogging spiders and day-old sushi – make up the bits in between.

image_13

image_11

A desiccated once-bloaty toad lays sprawled on the pavement, much to the Tin Lid’s delight, and the butcher takes us on a verbal tour of the agricultural delights of the region as vast rumbling stock trucks surge through the streets, bleating and screeching in protest.

image_12

Sporting the moniker Koala Capital there is plenty of emphasis on re-greening prime agricultural land in Gunnedah and the importance of sustaining old growth gums to support the koala population. We went searching but found no ‘walas’, not even in the tallest gums. Instead, we found an eccentric old fella with a model railway in his front yard, intent on teaching us the rules of rugby union. And a giant tomato…

image_17

While real estate windows are flocked with For Sale signs, it is clear that there is plenty of business going on here. What is less transparent is the nature of it. A high street window reads:

image_10

Further inspection yields little information, other than the expensive tag line Unlocking Resources to Fuel the Future. And then there is this, conveniently located in the middle of town:

image_16

Which looks suspiciously like a coal seam gas fracking plant cunningly concealed in two 40ft. containers.

A quick chat with a bloke in a hat at the pub confirms our suspicions. Gunnedah is home to a coal seam gas program, as well as a number of newly sited coal mines. This leafy old lady, long in the tooth but beautiful still, is frantically redefining herself, a stately maid tarted up in tight clothes and towering heels, a grimace of red on tired lips to draw the crowds.

We pass dusty sale yards and stock pens on the way out of town, Akubra-wearing farmers in tidy rigs roar in and out, and the pubs are filled with ag workers, from roustabouts to cockies to the slaughter man. But it makes you wonder where the other mob are, the mining mob, and how long it will take to change the face of this place irreparably.

On a lighter note this is what happens when the staid world of chartered accountancy steps outside of its box – a Christmas greeting taped in the window that defies the methodical earnestness of counting numbers. Other people’s numbers…

Sobre, dignified and professional

Sobre, dignified and professional

A cursive explosion of happiness

A cursive explosion of happiness

TOP TIP

To avoid heat exhaustion during the heatwave, repair to your local bush pub where the atomised water is free…

image_18

Rollin’ Stock

My attorney advised me not to get sick. She patted my fevered brow and told me to lay off the synonyms, put down the allegory and retreat from this cataloguing of quirk.

Ignoring her advice, as one is wont to do in the face of a rampaging word habit, my verbal strength failed me. I found myself surfing a wordless wasteland, devoid of Australiana, though certainly not culture-less: I discovered hot purple lint beneath the bed, a significant crack in my favourite liquor jug and a preoccupation with gossip of the lewdest nature. The Tin Lid and the Cowboy learnt to approach bestowing Who magazines and gin, with caution flickering in the whites of their eyes. And we have run out of cheese.

But fear not. The search is back on, laced with vim and promising Australiana in spades.  The Secretary is braced for intrepid retrieval; she has purchased new pointy pencils for her scribblings and is wearing double band aids on her potential bunion blisters. My attorney is relaxing on a beach with a molotov cocktail, grooming herself with a small Spanish man.

All is good in the world.

I have found a dinosaur, kitted out in kitten heels, a behemoth whose wears its continued relevance as a shiny badge of pride on the latest Prada sleeve.

Straddling the criss-cross of tracks at Redfern Station, Carriageworks to the north, loco yards to the south, Eveleigh is a flirting anachronism that melds past, present and future.

The Eveleigh Locomotive Workshop is decked out in pop-bright flags that herald Innovation, Heritage, Sustainability, and Community, the tenets of a modern reincarnation. Once the powerhouse of a vibrant steam industry, Eveleigh has evolved into a paradox; it is an industrial museum, threaded with memory and steeped with the souls of the past, while at the same time a bright-eyed bustle of innovation, the Australian Technology Centre, chock full of businesses with names like elcom; ac3; and thoughtweb.

The Tin Lid taking it all in

The most recent arrivals are flouncing fashionistas and doe-eyed interns who traipse across a landscape once reserved for hardened men, in teetering heels attached to smartphones. The media has arrived…

Built in 1887, Eveleigh championed the power of steam, forging, stamping, pressing and bolting metal into the rolling stock that powered the halcyon days of Victorian industrial development.

Rows of pounding machine shops lined up to be fed from the fires of the foundry, the hammer and press of the forge clamouring long into the dark. It was a place of fire and pain, steel and sorrow.

Remembered in black and white, courtesy of our perspective on the past and the pitch of the coal that coated everything, the characters that brought Eveleigh to life are long lost to our modern world. Cloaked in navvies humour and clad in flat caps, steel boots and itchy wool, these men embodied the grind and grist of non-automated workforce. They were the face of the headlong hurtle to the six o’clock swill, a flutter on the nags and a meat pie ‘n’ sauce on a Sunday.

It’s a long way from iPad-clutching cashmere suits and dolly-birds in vermillion sipping double-shot-skinny-soy-caramel-lattes (“hold the sugar, I’m watching my weight”).

Contemporary buildings peer out suspiciously at the heritage-listed loco shops from behind fortified slatted fronts, their eyes narrowed in distrust..

Or is it envy? The incidental architecture jars painfully, with sharp lines that jut, a scope that is stingy, and a lack of wildlife in the lobby. The arches at Eveleigh are vast, arcing high above me, the space filled with sound and memory, scrabbling birds and thick cobwebs.

In the blacksmiths bay a working smith, thick dreads snaking down his back, is busy striking metal into shards of russet and gold before thrusting molten steel into icy water and disappearing behind a curtain of steam. The Tin Lid is most impressed, casting his Charlie and Lola book onto the ground over and over in sheer admiration of this worthy skill.

This is a place where three worlds overlay each other, a shadowy resonance beneath a glossy facade stapled onto an arresting history. Naturally that includes CCTV…

The dross of over a hundred years of operation has been carefully scraped away to reveal a sterile, staid beauty, yet still present within the glossy corporate facade are elements of the past, a reminder of a previous life, though ATMs crouch expectantly in corners once reserved for the gaffer’s office:

Vast bolted pieces of the obsolete sit redundant in the windows, as if gazing curiously into the present. The trundling beep of cherry pickers and scissor lifts, the clink of a teaspoon and the sharp bite of Ajax serves to remind me of the prosaic nature of Eveleigh now. The cranes and hydraulics lie idle, the tracks no longer lead anywhere, and there is a eerie calm, interspersed with busy cutlery and whirring cash machines…

The strict Victorian austerity of this era is smoothed out, softened by the buildings’ evolution, but in places the past peeps through, a stark reminder of the brutality of Eveleigh’s history:

In memory of the fallen

As you wander further away from Innovation Plaza, an air of desolation and dereliction lingers, somnolent workshops lie empty and dark, their windows smashed, the small information signs have become extinct and there is barbed wire to deter.

It is here that the past is closest to the surface. Here you can smell and taste another world and best understand the proud history of Eveleigh and then men who worked here.

The path from past to future is never easy. Eveleigh manages to maintain a sense of pride and purpose and though the innovative adaptive reuse program is far from the gristly origins of the loco yards, it is also a long way from any further encroachment by the developers and the concrete crawl that typifies them.