Secret Love Affair

Go on shoot me. It has been going on for quite awhile now. We can’t meet as often as I’d like and we go for long periods where absence only increases my illicit desire. It started when I was 19 and having had a row with my father declared that I would be leaving his house and going over to the other side. I swore I knew what I was doing, a point not underlined when my army surplus backpack, having seen better days in ‘nam, fell to pieces at the airport. He fixed it up with the electrical tape he always carries for such emergencies while my mother worried quietly in the background. Inexplicably he bought her a duty free Lladro polar bear and then made me carry it on my travels. Perhaps he thought if I could keep a piece of fragile china safe he may, by some parallel universe magical thinking, increase the chances of my coming home in one piece too. And so I left.

To my other great, secret love: Australia. I know. I have complained about the constant migratory trail of our young and ambitious to her arms. I have worried that the massive muscle of her mining power could easily sell the ambiguous advantages of becoming our own ‘dig it up, ship it out’ mini state. I know I have been shocked that a country so close to us in so many ways has had such a different relationship with her indigenous people, or by her big ballsy brassiness. And yet I can’t help myself. From that first trip where I hopped on a train in Sydney in the late hot afternoon and thought I could be in Rockhampton by midnight, I have been awed by her vast beauty. And equally enchanted by her rich kaleidoscopic biological diversity. Climbing out of the rut and taking the small person, I’ve gone to find fragments of an earlier life and see some old friends, on a boat in the Coral Sea.

The small person says that her Mum has two versions – the work one and this one, the one who can spend a couple of weeks beach-combing and fossicking for treasure, she says she likes this one better. We are off Orpheus Island where my friends ran a research station for years and so this is their backyard and our kids go feral, playing at being rock wallabies on golden granite boulders that surround a crystal bay. Rainbow bee-eaters come to feed in the mangroves and rays glide around the boat, vigilant marine intelligence operators. Clicking shrimps, the cicadas of the marine world, deafen and the eerie cry of curlew can still spook even the rational among us. Everywhere the high tide mark of Cyclone Yasi, that stripped vegetation and picked up handfuls of boats and threw them with the petulant ferocity of a child throwing a tantrum. 8 metre waves in some places causing huge tidal surges, ripping up marinas and seaside villages before the Japanese tsunami and our own earthquake eclipsed Yasi in the news. Bananas at 15 dollars a kilo is one lingering consequence. We find a dead dugong and wonder if the sea grass is damaged and they are going hungry. The girls snorkel in clouds of damsel fish. A leopard shark, dressed and moving like a westie girl out for a night on the pull. Mudskippers; emissaries from the Ministry of Silly Walks. Dolphins catching fish under a porch light at the bottom of the garden and a wild koala at the front door, a million gar fish jumping in unison under the torchlight.

Travelling with the eight year old reminds me what I often forget. That it’s never about the work or the money or the goals. It is always about the people and the places and being enamoured and enchanted by them both. Read this carefully for I shall write this only once. After finishing the last sentence, fold the paper and eat it. My guilty secret is out, it’s true. I really do love Australia, and some of the special people who inhabit her.

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