Monday, January 18, 2010

Kookaburra Serenade or Two in the Bush (an excerpt)

New Day - New Hemisphere Dorothy (pp 67-69)

Flying to Australia on December 26, I wondered whether my mountaineer would be waiting for me at the airport. Would I respond with the same equanimity should he be late? Was it possible that international terminals with their arrival and departure gates could become the bookends of my life?

Nothing in my world had prepared me for the trans-Pacific flight where long legs and wide buttocks suffered in middle seats for fifteen (mostly night time) hours between Los Angeles and Sydney where I transferred to a domestic flight to Brisbane, the stormy subtropical eastern center of Queensland.

As I walked off the air bridge into the summery Brisbane airport clad in my Los Angeles winter wardrobe, the 90 degrees of 90% humidity left my hair frizzy, my lungs breathless.

My tears from July manifested again as the tall fellow, this time clothed in shorts and a checked cotton shirt, bent for a sweet kiss. He reached for my carry-on luggage as he handed me a stuffed kangaroo that played Waltzing Matilda when her tummy was rubbed. Suddenly, previous uncomfortable hours were inconsequential; everything seemed right side up in the down- under.

‘You ready to relinquish that massive suitcase?’ he teased as the huge green bag bundled off the baggage ramp.

‘It has wheels. I’ll pull it; how far do we have to go?’

‘You carry the roo; I’ll carry the bag; not far. I parked in the shade. The blue Commodore is your chariot for the next ten days.’ He opened the trunk, stowed the bag, then headed for the wrong side of the car to open the door.

Heading for the right side of the car, I stopped, confused.

Pointing, he laughed, ‘Here's the passenger seat.‘

True enough; here was the steering wheel. Embarrassed, I scooted around the other side of the car. We exited the airport onto the Brisbane Gateway in the fast lane on the wrong side of the road; it made me dizzy. Turning left was easy. Turning right wasn't ever gonna happen if I were driving.

We twisted onto a mammoth cloverleaf off the freeway into traffic on Sir Somebody Important’s Drive beside the Brisbane River. At way too many stoplights, I glimpsed the City Catamarans, the water taxis. criss-crossing the wide expanse of river to deliver commuters.

Finally, we entered the Inner City Bypass with four lanes of stoplight-free passage. Off to the left were skyscrapers of the Central Business District. We headed for the western suburbs.

Stranded Lorraine (pp 79-81)

It had been ten minutes since we had passed a streetlight. My body clock was telling me it had to be 11:30 pm and I should be sleeping. Ghostly gum trees flared repeatedly in the headlights. Leaning back, I could make out the stars in the sky. Beneath the wheels, the road went from gravel to compacted clay to grass then finally to what felt like loose boulders as we bounced up a ludicrously steep hill. Several times my head hit the roof of the car. My knees were crushed against the back of the seat in front. Surely, we were lost. What a mistake. I was miserable and longed for my single bed and quiet room.

Suddenly, with a final shriek of the engine, the car made the brow of the hill. Parked cars swam into view to the right and miraculously Ziggy pulled up alongside them.

We were in a tiny clearing two thirds of the way up a six hundred foot hill. Back the way we had come, the land dropped off about one in five into blackness. No house lights broke the gloom in any direction. However a sizeable bonfire lit the faces of an animated crowd of fifty people. We all piled out of the car and in the novelty of it all, the fire, the music blaring out of the shed, the jovial crowd, the isolation; my self-consciousness backed off a little.

Jerrie introduced me to a dozen people indistinguishable from one another. Some were volunteers at the conference centre. Some I vaguely recognised from the video screenings. None of them was particularly interested in me nor I in them, really. The weeks before and during an event were a riot of introductions, but now most overseas visitors had gone home. Most likely locals were tired of asking people where are you from, what do you do, how did you get here, when are you going back.

I know I was tired of answering. Life was returning to normal for these Australian residents. Jobs and families were coming back into the foreground; I dreaded it happening to me.

Geoff had quickly found an audience which relieved me of one source of worry. Ziggy got to talking to a girl from New Zealand and Jerrie, as predicted, disappeared with a man. I made polite conversation with strangers for a while, and then found myself sitting on a log idly watching the dancers.

Among my introductions had been an acknowledgement of John, our host. I’d established that this Londoner got permission to stay in Australia by citing his qualification as a wood turner. Australia had been short of wood turners at the time. So much for my hopes of discovering some way to stay in the country myself. I had no uncommon skills to offer. He now worked as a self-employed carpenter and had built the shed – his home – himself. I had idly wondered whether there might be any possibility of renting a room from him if the others went back to New Zealand. Clearly that was out of the question.

John was dancing with a pint glass in his hand, -home brewed stout. It probably fuelled all the dancers. By all accounts it was excellent. Less than a foot away, a few women were dancing by themselves alongside two couples, whose familiarity with each other had long since extinguished any flicker of seduction.

John waved his glass in my direction and asked me to join him – actually he insisted, loudly -– so I did; one of these experiences of dancing in front of someone rather than with them. Clearly, he didn't feel that. I remember he said, ‘We're clicking, aren't we?’