Outside the window, tiny irregular puff balls of cloud hover in the sky, their height above the ground is uniform, at least as uniform as anything in nature is going to be. The green and brown patterns on the ground below are muted by the haze of heated air and dust. The man beside us, is paying attention to the screen on his overlarge mobile phone, typing in text or queries or what ever people do with these adult toys. At one time adult toys meant something risqué to the middle aged but unnecessary for the young. He soon ceased his typing and laid his head back, gazing languidly out of the window. He watched the wing for a few minutes which I imagine would be a great deal more interesting if he could actually see the movement of air over and the lift sustaining flow coursing beneath the wing, he just might have stayed awake longer.
His snoring though midway between a rumbling and wet, sloppy purr is barely audible above the engine noise, those abrasive sounding motors are grabbing in innocent bystander atmosphere into its turbines then hurling it out compressed, singed and very, very quickly. Propulsion, not just a good idea but fundamental to staying ten kilometres above the ground, and therefore making it possible to sip this fairly average Chardonnay and simultaneously feel like a sardine oriented in the vertical opposed to more typical horizontal a la John West – the absence of oil is appreciated.
Flying is the miraculous, the utterly incredible converted to the hum drum, the banal. It is a totally awesome achievement. Something weighing as much as a suburban house not only stays aloft but gets from here to London chewing up the remains of Jurassic ferns. Doing it once is incredible, doing it twice is amazing but unfortunately doing it, a million times is plain boring. It is too easy to forget, if we ever actually knew in the first place, that crossing vast swags of real estate, like thousands of kilometres in a few hours, and a) not dying b) doing it while sitting down and c) doing it in comfort, was completely impossible for nearly all of human history and unless there is evidence to the contrary, earth’s history. Early Australian explorers took three years to go from the bottom to the top of Australia and back again, ruining health, suffering serious sunburn and all of the benefits accrued to their wealthy backers, poor recompense indeed for their trouble.
All this stuff, the stuff that flies, the rockets that enter space, motor cars traveling along, all them come from what is inside of the heads of scientists and engineers and businessmen and businesswomen. Now if is too often said that technologists and any monied class lack soul, lack any romantic imagination, that mystical poetic dreaming apparently exists only in music, art, and even cooking if TV cooks are any guide. These activities are creative whereas applying logic and science to a problem is dehumanising and the opposite of creative. Is it cheating to get the answers by using logic? However Imagination uses logic, as it uses memory, perception, education, and so on. Imagination is the overarching goal which all these attributes of human thinking ultimately serve. Imagination is paramount in any and all human endeavours that really change how we live and what we know. This applies as much to developing, applying and distributing revolutionary new technology as it does to artistic endeavour. Flight is technology, is business, is hyper organisation – at least not for booking agents who keep mucking up my baggage bookings – but it’s more than all that, if you close your eyes and breath in deeply, it is completely magical. It is romance. It is poetry.
Step back from our world weary 21st century and imagine the wonder and awe our grandparents had when mechanised flight went from the impossible to visible reality.
The laws of gases, of force and mass and acceleration, of gas and fluid motion in the Bernoulli theorem. These are all dry stuff and they aren’t magical, there just laws, their tools created by or discovered by humans. What’s magical is that the human mind discovered ( invented?) them, and they are right. They’re right because using these laws works, over and over again. They are the Swiss army knives that do a million things. But get this, a two kilogram blob of fats and carbohydrates stuffed in a calcium based skull, cobbled together over two billion years of trial and error can just click into what’s true about the world and in fact the whole universe, now that’s mind blowing. Then those same human brains have the determination and discipline to create sophisticated technologies based on that derived understanding of natural forces and processes, and then to use them ( mostly) safely, is doubly incredible.
Come on get excited about our modern conveniences , our phones with their own inner lives, steam engines thundering through forests and over deserts, our jets which carry us all over our world, and most of all give a toast to the people who made them all.
The plane is going to land soon, and a final miracle I hope will occur, which is getting off in one piece.
After a week away at Yuendemu and all the time, I was straining my brain to think like a mouse. Jennifer wondered why this would be a challenge for me. Aren’t women mystifying sometimes. Thinking like a mouse, this inspiration comes from my favourite consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, only he used this to get into the mind of Moriarty while I had to make an even greater leap of intellectual downsizing. From my vaunted human brain to that of a tiny mouse.
I thought, when I was doing my mousy thinking, if I was a mouse where would I put a hearing aid. It was probably not going to be a key part of a murine sound system. But it is big, at least relative to a mouse, well he would not want to carry it far. So where was the nearest dark place near my bed. Ah ha. The games afoot. I ran up the staircase on our return, heaved over the bookcase and there tastefully decorated with mouse droppings was my hearing aid. I had outsmarted a creature with 1.5 grams of brain. I had done it! Jennifer was suitably impressed!
Next step revenge! Jennifer had carefully positioned ratsac secured in these two little boxes, they have an entrance and exit which is mousy sized. Next day Jennifer checked for any tiny nibbles on the ratsac. No luck. Again I applied my vast intellect to the problem, and stuffed the tiny doorways with cheese. I had to do without but such is the personal cost of revenge.
Next morning, the cheese was gone. And there was the tiniest sign of a nibble on the ratsac inside the boxes. We saw him that evening, moonwalking on the kitchen floor. It takes ratsac a few days to work but I was sure, we were sure that this was his last hurrah. This was his last display of mousy bravado. The next evening he was relaxing on one of the ratsac boxes then toured the lounge room, putting on a very healthy turn of speed from sofa to television. He looked amazingly well.
My suspicion was he was so bloated on my expensive cheese he had no more room in his stomach to actually eat the ratsac. I had been outsmarted and outguessed by an animal with a brain the size of my fingertip.
At this stage, Easter break was over, chocolate eggs consumed, and on Tuesday morning we left for our flight to Lake Nash. Over our time in Lake Nash, Jennifer and I have talked long into the nights and are now painfully reconciled with the thought that the mouse is actually in charge of the house and we are merely strolling players. The next tenant in Bloomfield can have him as company.
I will leave a note, ” the house mouse does like watching the TV but only SBS.”
Lake Nash is a cattle station that covers 16,000 square kilometres, this is the size of the state of Victoria, and it is situated in the northern Barkly and abuts the border of the NT with Queensland. The nearest town is Mt Isa, the city of lead, about 200 kilometres away by gravel road. The station is bisected by the Georgina River. When the Georgina River flows, it joins the Diamantina River, and in those wet years, it helps fill Lake Eyre. The other rivers that contribute to the lake are the Warburton River and the infamous Cooper Creek. The Finke river usually peters out in the Simpson desert but when it is really going strong it connects with another river and ultimately ends up in, you guessed it, Lake Eyre.
The Georgina can be up 200 meters or more across when in flood. The flood plains can be bigger than that and the effects on the land are visible from our RFDS plane as we circled over Lake Nash before landing. This temporary giant lake gives the station its name of Lake Nash. Even when the Georgina and the smaller creeks are flowing less vigorously, the roads are all cut and the community has no road access for months. Over late summer and then the dry, the Georgina exists as a series of huge waterholes, and these are wonderful places for a sunset stroll or a picnic. Pelicans, spoonbills, swans cruise while brolgas strut in the shallows. The brolgas are easily spooked as we drew near, stopped their loud singing and dancing on the bank, and launched into the air and flew out over the vast waterway. The pelicans were pretty relaxed about us, they were swimming in a long single file appearing as if to consult with a glossy, white spoonbill perched nonchalantly on a branch of a sunken tree. The scene reminded me of the opening lines of the children’s book “Madeline”.
In the early 1980s some of the station land was returned to the traditional owners by the NT Government. The local Aborigines had been displaced in the 1920s when the station was first established. Since then they had lived on the station but without any tenure or security until in the 1980s they were going to be forcibly relocated far away, to Bathurst Downs; a place notorious for poor hunting and no more opportunity for fishing or catching yabbies. This was intolerable as it had no permanent water and was far from what is their country. As as result of their political action they were given land back but only ten square kilometres, called Lake Nash Community or sometimes the original name of this whole area, Alpurrurulam. The station runs 80,000 cattle in the good years, and the last four years have been good years meaning lots of rain filling up rivers and reservoirs, and cattle giving birth to more calves. It has been indeed good years for the station.
The settlement has few houses and only a few hundred people. There is a housing shortage with some people sleeping in abandoned car wrecks and most houses are overcrowded increasing the risk of infectious disease. Very few of the Aboriginals have well paid work, and that’s mostly on the station. On the station, they do mustering, tending cattle and have to use, ride and handle horses. The few men who work there do okay. However, some of the young men do not work at all. And they don’t hunt. And they don’t do culture. They seem to inhabit a void between White ways of life and thinking and the ancient Aboriginal ways. Many of the men do work at Rainbow House, in a work for the dole scheme. Like the station work, it is nearly all outside work, in all weathers and conditions, temperatures in the high forties over most of Summer. There is little respite at night with temperatures rarely dropping below 25 degrees. The main benefit for them beside income, is that they are doing something; here in the centre boredom erodes everything; health, any desire to hunt, or even take proper care of themselves.
Enthusiasm about work, life and culture creates well being and positivity.
The lack of meaningful work is the curse for these small remote communities. There is not the population size here to support businesses as in a town like Yuendemu with about a thousand people. Many more people can work in Yuendemu and do. Here some people do paint, in the small, multicoloured, brightly illustrated house in the centre of the town. The quality according to locals varies from excellent to average and below! One artist sells his work for thousands of dollars. The kids love school… mostly. I saw a little seven year old girl, who had knocked her foot and her Mum brought her in to get her checked out. She was very quiet at first, timid toward me but soon relaxed and talked about school, about the fun of learning words and numbers, and how much she liked her teacher; my patient and her smiling, happy Mum made a delightful pair.
I met many people, and it is indeed the majority of men and women I saw, who impressed me with their sense of humour, their love of this land, and genuine warmth toward the health staff including Jennifer and I. This is our second time here and they often beamed with pleasure on seeing us on our return. Even having the briefest of pasts here is a connection from us to them. I met an old patient of mine from my time in Utopia, and she smiled from ear to ear, when we recognised each other. There is a warmth to relationships here with patients which was the exception and not the rule back home in Launceston or Geelong. Not all communities are like this in the centre but this friendliness is very noticeable here in Lake Nash. Again it is striking how diverse it can be from community to community. When we were driven through town one evening, everybody called out hello and waved. ” Hi Ladies” the nurse called to the ladies sitting under the verandah at the art centre, “Hi Kids” she called to the children gathered on the side of the road and playing with their camp dogs, ” Hi Boys” she said to the young men walking along tossing a football between them in the gathering twilight. And so on.
Then there are the lost ones, my heart almost breaks to see these beautiful young people turn their backs on taking responsibility for dealing with their own serious illnesses; illness which if not preventable due to social, environmental and antenatal factors could still be ameliorated by diet, exercise but above all else, just taking their daily tablets. I met a softly spoken gentle young man who has never taken his medication with any meaningful consistency, and is dying from the effects of diabetes on his kidneys and will go blind from its unrestrained damage to his eyes. Sure I am the first to admit that given time, most diabetics will suffer these complications but it’s a big difference getting these problems in your seventies as opposed to your twenties. Nothing anyone seems to try or say has triggered that spark, that desire to just choose life. He is not the only one, a beautiful women of twenty two is going the same way. However, these are the minority; most of the men and women I met are responding to the care and attention of the health workers by trying their best and reaping the rewards of better health for longer. The longevity and well being of most people here are still below what we expect in Launceston or any white dominated town or city.
I’m not sure why this sense of hopelessness afflicts some people and not others. Too often it can be multigenerational, where the skills to embrace life and cope with it’s many ups and downs were simply never learnt. Yet most Aboriginal people who have had to deal with similar poverty, disease, and lack of work, have a steely resilience, a determination to survive and still enjoy being Aboriginal and all that means and can mean. In medicine, though it’s the least compliant and most sick who dominate our thoughts and time; and it’s also true that most patients do value a kind word, acts of compassion, an explanation well given, timely advice and intervention; these actions can all change life for the better. This is the best part of being a doctor. And then, there are those few I think of as the lost ones, and for them, all we can do is to try and then try again to help them, but as each attempt founders on their lack of engagement, and the situation gets inevitably and rapidly worse, this is the undoubtedly the saddest part of medicine. A dedicated nurse who has worked here for many years said that she wants to protect them, but you cannot. It is a salutary fact of life that each of us has to accept responsibility for what we do and then live with it’s consequences whether for good or ill; Only in games like ” Monopoly” are there ” Get out of Jail free” cards.
Well that’s a wrap for this current trip to the Northern Territory. Hope you enjoyed the blogs. You can check out any old ones on my blog. brucebarker2016.blog. Just type it into google or the funny rectangle on the left top corner of your browser.
A huge thank you to the staff at Lake Nash, that’s Bev, Angelique, Kirri, Clifford, Clarence, Valerie and Michelle manning ( or is it womaning) the front desk.
PS I have just read a book published by a dear friend of mine. I can recommend John Elcomb’s ” The Bounty Share” as a well worth a read. I bought my copy on Kindle. It’s about some modern day pirates and their comeuppance. All set in Tasmania and full of food, wine, local history, fishing, and a submarine!
I woke up this morning, leaned over and reached down to pick up my iPad, glasses and my hearing aid – just the one. The iPad and the glasses were there but not the hearing aid. As I had gone to bed after a wine and dinner out, I thought may be I was mistaken, microelectronic amplifiers don’t usually develop legs. I spent ages looking, studying the carpet in minutiae and shining lights under the bed. I must be losing it, I thought dementia is finally come upon me!
I took a lesson from Sherlock Holmes that when you exclude the possible then the improbable is what actually happened. I said to Jennifer I think a mouse or rat took it. Jennifer treated this with considerable skepticism which is reasonable given my past record of tall stories and far out excuses.
We went to the Desert Park, enjoyed the outing but the thought of what could have happened to the hearing aid nagged at me.
Not long before dinner, I saw a mouse blur across the kitchen floor from oven to washing machine. I told Jennifer there was a mouse. She believed me, but checked for droppings or a nest and finding none, wasn’t too concerned. Then after dinner she saw it too. It was dawdling on the kitchen linoleum, just sniffing the air and enjoying the ambience or what ever it is mice do when terrorising humans.
We sat together on the sofa watching a program about Orkney and to my horror I saw the mouse climb up onto the cushion and walk along Jennifer’s trousers and over her chocolate wrapper. I said oh Look at that! Jennifer said she felt something but did not actually wonder what it might be. It was the mouse. It ran off, leaping to the floor and dashed back into the kitchen and under the fridge.
Jennifer went to get some mouse traps while the mouse and I watched Tele on the sofa together.
We have spent a pleasant weekend here in Alice Springs, some walks, some runs, dinner at Barra on Todd; but the definite highlight was visiting the Desert Park on its Open Day this Sunday morning. It has been twenty years since it began operations providing a place to see many Australian Desert animals. Including Numbats, Mala, Bilbies, phascogales, hopping mice, to mention some of the more famous marsupials, denizens of the wonderful Tanami. We saw phythons, geckos, goannas, and a thorny dragon. Birds included Zebra finches, painted finches, red capped robins, red tailed black cockatoos, dotterel, and many more.
There were lots of children and families, Indian, white Australian, Aboriginal kids, Mums and Dads, and everyone having a terrific day.
All in all it was a super day.