Friday, April 5, 2013

Nearly There

The Spirit of Tasmania has much to recommend it from various eateries, gift shops, a cinema, casino, and various other services and forms of entertainment. Honestly couldn't tell you about any of them. I drove my car on- board, found my seat and effectively went to sleep. I did stir when be left Melbourne and again somewhere in the middle of the night when I thought about how very dark it was (with the exception of the ship's lights) and then didn't stir again until the lights came on about 5.30 am as we weren't far off docking.

From there I waited my turn, drove off the ship, followed the big green signs and was off.

Functional - yes. Comfortable - yes. Anything else - couldn't possibly say.

Maybe when I go on it next time I will get to appreciate a bit more of on-board life.

Food and Eating When Not Lcoal

For all of my soapboxing about food when I am at home, I fully concede that the rules don't apply when on the road.

When I was in Western Australia a cheese sausage was a usual option. Nutritional value: zero. Ability to be called food:  well doubtful at best. Would I ever eat one in any other circumstances - hell no!

And then there was the sausage rolls from the Williams Roadhouse (southern roadhouse not the one oat the northern end of town). Homemade, huge, filled with real meat and flavor. Nutritional value: zero. Caloric value: calories don't count when you are on the road.

In New South Wales I discovered the joys of "Service Centres" which are a collection of fast food outlets, a fuel station, toilets and sometimes even a shower randomly placed down the highways (being that most towns are by-passed these days).  And it is in these havens of celebrations to all things wrong with the world that I have discovered my lastest road food - Subway. Nothing organic, nothing local or free-range, just a multi-national doing its job.

And I make no excuses for my indulgence - my choice of sandwich has been the pizza (hold the marinara sauce) fresh with swiss cheese, all the salads including jalepenos, salt and pepper and chipotle sauce. I know salami and chipotle make no sense but that is one of the joys of road food.

I am A Lousy Tourist

I am surrounded by beautiful villages and towns, wineries, eccentric architecture (yes the house pictured is in Warburton) and hundreds of otehr things to see and do but what do I choose? People watching :-)

Yes I am taking great pleasure in just people watching. There are no "extremes" (like Bellingen's bath-mat man) that I have seen today but I have certainly seen a wide range of ages, stages and cultures and that always pleases me when I am in the country.

Ironically, before I moved to Bellingen I would have described a few that I have seen today as having "alternate dress" but now they don't even rate a mention.

And just for the record, I did see a massie 'fro but no dreads.

Image: "Eccentric Artists Home" by DarrenClarke

The Yarra Valley, Warburton and Fire

2009 was a bad year for bushfires in Victoria, specifically around the Yarra Valley. I didn't live there but did work at the time for Centrelink, Australia's social services agency, and was a part of the team that had, as its job, to contact everyone in the area.

Now some people contacted us - there were specific hotlines set up - the rest we did our best to call. As well as the $2000 emergency payment that most were eligible for, we also checked if they had other needs that we could assist with.

 For some it was assistance with food or clothes (millions of dollars (and tons) of items were being donated from across Australia and trucked into the area) , others wanted to find out if such-and-such was okay, or to find somewhere to say. We did our best to put them in contact with relevant NGOs and other agencies. We (Centrelink) also offered counsellors but mostly people just wanted to talk and talk they did.  I blogged some of them at the time.

It was hard, it was gruelling, at times I shed many a tear as the person on the other end of the line did the same. I went home and dreamed of their stories. This went on for weeks. The first anniversary commemorations on the radio and tv bought it all back and the nightmares started over again. I avoided all of the following years' commentaries.

I was thinking of none of this when coming down the highway last Friday. That was until I spied a big green sign that had an arrow to Flowerdale, one  of the affected towns. I hadn't realised I was so close, or that I was staying "in the zone".

Even now four years later there is evidence in the area of the destruction brought on by those fires. Yes there is a lot of regrowth in the forests, the towns appear to have been rebuilt and, on Good Friday, were particularly vibrant and active but I could see the scars of blackened tree trucks. My anxiety levels were up and I was on alert for the whole drive to where I was staying.

Warburton was one of the towns on the edge of the disaster. Relatively it was untouched but only becuase of a late change of wind,.

Warburton is an amazing community - full of art and life and color. Looking out of the window of where I am staying, or at any of the many many trees growing throughout the townships brings me the sense of delight that trees invariably do.

But if I look up at the mountain, heavily forested with trees, I can only "see" flames consuming it, my hands sweat, my breath quickens, my blood pressure rises, tears well up and I feel very unsafe.I can hear the stories as loudly as I could on the day of the calls

I have lived at the foot of the tree covered mountains around Bellingen for 7 years and never had this reaction. I sit and imagine now the Bello mountains and I feel happy thoughts, the same reaction as they always. It isn't "mountains" that distress me, it is these mountains.

I know this is the first time I have been to the area - either before or after the fires. What I wonder is that if I am having this reaction from my peripheral contact, how is the healing process going for everyone else who was directly affected.

Give me floods over fire any day.

PS I write this up from the safety of Tassie - I handwrote bits as I was traveling but now I have my first solid computer time. Even as I type my anxiety levels are up and I am weeping.

Image: "Bushfire near Kinglake" from Science In Public