Words, writing and me

Author’s Note.

The article below is a copy of a talk given by me to the OMNI Liaison Officers’ meeting at COTA on 27th March this year. I was asked to talk on how I learnt to write stories and articles.    I did this, but also took the opportunity to publicise our blog in the hope of encouraging more men to put pen to paper.

Bruce McCorkill March 2017

From an early age, I have always loved reading.  At primary school I had special rights to borrow more books than the other kids.  At home after tea we would sit around the kitchen table reading.

In school my skills were in writing in subjects such as English, but I was hopeless in subjects like maths.

I spent three decades in the public service, much spent in writing reports. While supposedly factual, many of these were fantastic creative works of fiction.

So when I retired I took up writing.

I started in 2012 in Living and Learning Centre writing classes. This was an eye opener, because I had thought that authors just sat down and wrote. But no, writing can be hard work. You need to think of a good topic, will the story be character or plot driven, will it be past or present tense, told in first or second person. Then you have to make the story come alive and interesting, so people will enjoy reading it.

For example, a simple two page piece can sometimes take me ten hours of hard work to finish, by the time I think of a story line, draft it, find the right words, type it, change it, read it to my wife, then start again.

Some authors claim that writing is an art. I would argue that writing is just as much a craft or a trade, which you can learn. Building a house needs careful planning, use of the right materials, sound construction and attractive finishing. So with a story. A writer uses words as the building blocks of writing, and carefully places the right words in the right order to make the story stay upright. A good story should make the reader want to come inside and follow the author on a guided tour.

When I write, I like allowing the creative side of my brain to get loose and develop unusual tales with characters getting into strange situations. I enjoy developing plots having unexpected endings.  I particularly enjoy creating good strong decent characters, but who are flawed, yet are still likeable. I have also started writing poetry, which is a whole new challenge.

Since 2014 I have belonged to the Eltham U3A creative writing group. In the group I’m interacting with like minded people, who enjoy writing and understand my feelings about writing. Sometimes you mention to people that you are a writer, and they look at you in a very strange way. But in the group, you feel like you belong, similar to being in an OMNI group; everyone is on your side.

In my group, led by a very competent published author, we write on a variety of topics, fiction, nonfiction, prose and poetry. Tim belongs to the same group. We give each other feedback, and this makes me a better writer. Like an OMNI group, I come home with a smile on my face, thinking about the stories I have listened to that day.

Which leads me to our blog. WWW. OMNIDiamondCreek. Along with a few here, Daryl, Tim, Ron, Ken, I regularly post stories on the blog. The blog shows the history of the group over the last six years, and contains travel stories, Xmas party pictures and short stories and poems. This is a great chance to get your work out into the wider world. 99% of writers will never be formally published, but the blog lets us get our work out there into the public domain. For example I have written a short 20, 000 word novel, and it’s on the blog.

On a serious note, posting on the blog enables you to publish something about which you may have really deep feelings, which you want to share with many people. For example, my first serious poem in 2012, was about sexual abuse by priests, and this poem is still relevant now. Then again, some of my poems are more in an amusing style, such as the one about the dog on the tucker box which John passed out. So the blog gives us a chance to let the world know how we are feeling.

So this is a summary of my feelings about my writing. I would encourage other people to give writing a go.

I will finish by quoting a passage a friend gave me when I started writing.

The Joy Of Writing.

Only a writer knows the intense joy one can get from painting their life’s picture in words.

Our stories are just that – “our stories’ – they are us, they are our passion, our hopes, our disappointments and our opportunities.

Our words are merely the fabric we choose to describe out being.

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The Eye In The Sky Bruce McCorkill

eye in sky

 

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

Possessing an insatiable need to know

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Do we ever wonder why?

Or do we just leave it so

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

How many times do we try?

Resisting his relentless undertow

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Our private selves are just a lie

We secrete our lives in a steady flow

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

His watchers, all so cunning and sly

Data banks stretching row after row

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

When we all finally die

Where will our secrets go?

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

He requires us all to meekly comply

The Dog On The Tucker Box

The Dog On The Tucker Box.                   (As told by the dog)

 

I’ve been sitting on this box for years and years

Now I’m finally realising my worst fears

My master’s gone away, he ain’t coming back

Looks like the bastard’s given me the sack

I’ve been guarding his tucker for such a long time

By now the steak is surely past its prime

 

The big buses come along every single day

A bloke stands up and has his say

Gundagai, clear blue sky, a sheila named Mabel

To me this sounds like a silly old fable

The tourists throw coins in the box at my feet

Why don’t they know I much prefer meat?

 

So I forlornly sit in the hot summer sun

Itching fur, drying throat, not having much fun

The cold winter nights raise my ire

I should be inside in front of the fire

Contentedly curled at my master’s feet

Now that would indeed be a canine treat

 

Drovers stop by with kelpies who scorn

Their withering looks make me forlorn

You should be out earning your keep

Come and help us round up some sheep

Sorry boys, I can’t go for a run

There’s a bloody great bolt screwed up my bum

 

My Trusted Travelling Companion

The response was not entirely unexpected.

‘You want what? Dad, have you heard of the 21st century? Nobody uses those old things any more.  They’re a waste of resources. Just download the Google Maps app to your phone.’

I gently reminded my daughter that for some arcane reason, neither I nor her mother owned a smart phone. Our portable communication devices are ancient 2G Nokia pieces, attractive in a retro way, but only capable of basic calls and texts, and only used to make a few calls while away from home, to reply to rarely received texts, to ring the RACV if broken down, and to find each other when separated at the footy, tennis , supermarket etc..

The occasion of this lively conversation was last December, when I idly mentioned to my daughter that the item I would like for Christmas was a hard copy 2017 Melways street directory, approximate cost $60, available from all good newsagents.

‘But if you don’t want to buy me that, and if you want me to reside in the current century, how about you shout me a new I Phone 7, approximate cost $990, available from all good Apple stores.’

‘Hmm, OK you’ve convinced me, I’ll buy you the Melways.’

Accordingly, two days before Christmas, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived at the front door, containing my eagerly anticipated present. Bought on line of course.

Why a Melways? I can’t really explain. Some items simply appeal to some people. All I know is that ever since my first car in 1968, I have always had a Melways in the seat pocket to navigate around Melbourne. I find the fine detail fascinating, I like the way different types of streets are marked in contrasting colours and line widths. Rather than staring at a small screen, I prefer scanning a double page spread, plotting out my journey in my own way. The touring maps are handy for day trips, and the freeway interchanges are clear. Best of all, Melways have always been the most accurate in setting out bike trails around the metropolitan area. You can buy expensive books showing Melbourne bike trails, but they are not nearly up to date as the ever reliable Melways, nor do they show fine detail. My first lookup when I buy a new one is to check for any new trails that the cycling group can try, and to check the progress of trails under construction. This is why my Melways is my favourite travelling companion.

Melways was conceived by Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay in the 1950s, the name a combination of “Mel” of Melbourne and “Way” from find your way. The first edition was released in 1966. The original 106 maps were hand drawn by Godfrey, while Mackay spent four years driving 274,000 kilometres in a second hand Morris Minor around every metropolitan street painstakingly checking street and landmark details. Godfrey’s wife got the books, selling for $2.50 onto the market by visiting a few newsagents each day touting the product, a process taking six months. All a far cry from today’s marketing methods.

The first Melways design was groundbreaking compared to the competitors. The concept was to produce a multi – coloured high quality directory printed on a good quality paper. By the 1980s Melways was the most popular street directory in Melbourne, holding 80 per cent of the market. The term “Melway” began to be used as a generic name for any street directory. Melway is still used today by Police and other Emergency Services as the most up to date mapping system.

Those early Melway users couldn’t have imagined that future generations would be using tiny mobile devices to get around. Nor would they have believed that we’d be trusting enough to let these satellite navigation systems send us on absurd detours or up one-way streets in the wrong direction. Or that we’d let ourselves be talked into driving into forests, creeks and onto train tracks. They also would not have anticipated the emergence of what physiotherapists call “Melways arm”, which according to urban myth is a strain developed by reaching over to the back of the car to get a Melways off the seat.

The Melways has been an ongoing insight into the growth of Melbourne’s suburbs. We read about the suburban population growth, but it is fascinating actually seeing this on a map. It’s possible to look online at Melway maps for various suburbs, comparing today with the layout thirty years ago. Then, in today’s newer suburbs, there were generally main and connecting roads with nothing in between. Now the maps are full of roads and suburban streets and courts. It’s startling to see the populous Eltham of today compared to the rural country area the potters and painters moved to.

Which brings me to my experience last week. Our cycling group sometimes ride along the trail from Williamstown to Altona. It’s a pleasant ride. The track follows the foreshore, with borders of native grasses, and sea views. We generally train to the city, ride through Williamstown and continue to Altona for lunch. The last stage is a ride further around the coast, finally reaching Laverton railway station for the train ride back to the city. It’s a smooth easy ride, all on good gravel and concrete surfaces.

This time was different. Nick had the bright idea of going even further around the coast, via the Point Cook wetlands, and making for the Werribee station. He produced a page from Google Maps showing a faint line which looked like it might be the trail to lead us to our destination. I had my doubts. Being used to detailed Melway maps, this faded A4 page in a large scale, only showing main roads, did not inspire my confidence.

Naturally we got lost. The map was not detailed enough to clearly show the new trail, and instead of cheerfully riding around the foreshore on a gravel track, we finished up dolefully pedalling along smooth bitumen through the densely populated streets of Point Cook and Santuary Lakes. Nick kept checking his map, to no avail; Steve tried to navigate with his phone GPS, but beautifully spoken “UK Carol” could only regularly proclaim that she was “recalculating” every two kilometres. Lou had Google Maps on his phone, but having forgotten his glasses, it was not much use.  Bill and Bruce just kept stoically pedalling, following the herd. I thought of King Richard’s saying of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” I would have given my bike for a Melways.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Hoppers Crossing Station, hot and tired and appreciating the cool and comfortable train ride home to the suburbs of Eltham, Greensborough and Diamond Creek. We all agreed that these areas are not too bad a place to live. Out here we still have hills, trees and interesting houses, compared to the depressing uniformity of some new suburbs. I now understand the meaning of Pete Seeger’s song “Little Boxes.”

My first action upon arriving home was to eagerly open my Melways. Yes, as expected maps 207 and 208 showed exactly where we should have gone. Later I copied the pages of the area, and carefully aligning the overlapping margins, cleverly crafted a hard copy map of the area to be placed in my bike rack. The next time we decide to visit the West I can confidently take the lead, yelling “follow me boys, I’m the Melways man.”

Obsession Wrecked

The Maker

After fifty years of work, Jack’s retirement finally came. He was an old fashioned pattern maker, a skilled trade involving forming timber into intricate shapes.

It was detailed work, suiting his personality. Given a project he would examine the drawings in minute detail, selecting the timber carefully, then cutting and shaping, his plane and spokeshave coaxing lumps of timber into finely tuned patterns. This obsession with detail earned him the reputation as the finest craftsman in the shop.

Upon retirement, he was at a loss. Work had kept his mind busy and days full. He missed working with timber in a complex way. He was bored. Most days he wandered down the street to buy the paper, then spent the day pottering aimlessly around.

But one day, he noticed a model sailing ship in the window of the second hand shop. An old three masted galleon. Picking the hull up, he observed the balance of the solid timber. Carefully examining the model, he noted the fine detail in the construction, the smoothly shaped hull, the high masts held upright by miniature stays, the rope ladders leading up to the crow’s nest. The top deck structure had been painstakingly chiselled and carved and glued, there was a tiny moveable rudder, and the sails could be adjusted with waxen thread. The tiny cannons poking from the sides had been hand fashioned.

Knowing how to shape and join timber, he recognised the model as the work of a fellow artisan. Suddenly he realised the solution to his boredom.

He hurried home to his shed and made a start. He knew that some firms sold model kits, but this was beneath him. He preferred to do things for himself. He wanted something to challenge his mind and skilled hands. His shed was full of suitable timber and tools. By visiting the local library and city hobby shops, he finally found the suitable plans.

The daily routine became established. Each morning he was at his shed, cup of tea in hand, lighting the small corner stove, laying out his tools, and deciding which part to fashion. The hull was easy; he had smoothed timber all his life. For the deck structures he used his sharpest chisels and fret saws. The long slender gunnels were precisely carved to meet the curve of the hull. Stairways, he slowly chiselled out in one piece. He carefully bored out portholes, and carved the cannons in fine detail. He deftly fitted the tiny rudder into its axle and swung it from side to site.

His greatest challenge was fashioning the sails and rigging. The design was a complex three masted galleon. His hands felt clumsy learning the new skill of working with linen and thread. He bought tiny parts, special waxed thread for shrouds and ladders, minute metal rings to bind to the masts, parchment cloth for sails, tiny pulleys, plus many more. He also had to learn how to sew. He persevered, learning how to tie tiny clove hitch knots with sharp tweezers and hooked needles, how to cut, shape and stiffen the sails.

Eventually, the masterpiece was complete. He gently placed it on the mantelpiece.

Where it sat for years, a proud talking point, until one day it was no longer there.

Epilogue One – The Finder.

Was Jack real?

I don’t know. He was conjured from somewhere in my mind. I suspect that he is an example of what I imagine the personality of a complex model maker may be. That is, the obsessive need to complete something complicated in a painstaking way. To prove to ourselves that we are capable of successfully undertaking a project in great detail. My Jack certainly felt a compelling need for something in his life after years of purposeful work.

Then again, maybe Jack was just an old sailor who missed the sea and ships.         However, one thing I know. Such a boat existed, because I am the man who found it.

I was walking the dog along the creek when I noticed a curious object. It was a model sailing ship, largely intact but broken. It had been thrown down the bank. My feeling was one of sadness. Clearly a complicated model, it must have taken countless hours of patient construction. Such a work deserved a final resting place better than a smelly Eltham creek.

It was still there a week later, unclaimed, unwanted, unloved and lonely. I obsessed about it. Who had made it? Who had discarded it? Why? Was this person dead?

I decided to save it, restore it, to make it float as it should.

 

Epilogue Two – The Fixer

It was indeed a finely crafted piece, exactly as Jack may have done. But a wreck it was, with the sails hopelessly tangled, a mast snapped off, and the ropes entwined like jungle vines. But it had a certain quaint appeal; I imagined it proudly sailing around the fishpond. Two masts and sails were able to be salvaged and it looked reasonably respectable and seaworthy. Google advised, by the red cross and lion on the sail that it was a replica of an English naval galleon from the 16th century.

However it was designed for a mantelpiece, not a pond. Having no keel, it toppled sideways when launched, due to the weight of the high masts. I was not deterred, solving the problem by screwing a long bolt into the hull as a counter weight. But it still tipped over.

Determined to make the thing float upright, I inserted another bolt, then another, until it finally stayed upright. Unfortunately, the weight of three long metal bolts, together with the minimal buoyancy of the hard wooden hull, contrived to draw my ship down to Davey Jones’ Locker, so it floated with the deck below the water line. But at least it floated.

The boat stayed there for a fortnight while I pondered for a solution, finally coming up with a design of a long and light weighted keel, to act as a counterweight.

Alas, more failure. When I picked up the boat to action this renewal stage, it fell apart in my hand. The weeks in water had dissolved the glue. The rear section was adrift, the deck structures floated away, the gunnels and any other part involving glue also went floating, and the rear mast fell out. Shipwrecked. I imagined Jack having a throaty chuckle.

My boat is now in dry dock, propped up alongside the pond. Waiting for the day when I have the patience to glue pieces together with fine quality waterproof glue, coat the hull with marine grade paint, install my magic keel, and launch it.

I just wish Jack could be there to see.

Fifty ways to leave your lover

A recent task in my U3A writing group was to list 50 ways to end a relationship, then write a bit about a couple of them. Here is my attempt.

Fifty Ways To End A Relationship                                Bruce McCorkill Jan2016

1: Man steps on butterfly

2: Man caught with wine receipt

3: Woman goes overseas

4: Wife discovers husband has a child, conceived while with her.

5: Woman discovers she is lesbian

6: Woman turns 60 and wants to be herself

7: Couple’s children finally leave home

8: Best man refuses to shave beard off

9: Two people have an incredibly erotic passionate affair which just burn out

10: Man has a hairy dog which girlfriend can’t cope with

11: Woman meets potential mother in law for first time

12: Woman attends hometown funeral and meets old flame

13: Husband strikes wife for the first and final time

14: Wife finally decides to leave abusive home situation after spouse abuses children

15: Husband discovers wife’s secret mobile phone

16: Man arrives home unexpectedly, and finds wife in bed with best friend

17: Couple have child with special needs, just too hard for husband to cope

18: Empty nester couple realise they have just grown too far apart

19: Spouse turns into chronic alcoholic

20: One partner loves overseas travel, other refuses to go overseas

21: Female partner goes to art galleries and concerts, male likes hunting and fishing

22: Both partners fanatically barrack for different football teams

23: Female becomes prime minister, husband is jealous and can’t cope

24: Left wing woman discovers husband is secret ASIO spy

25: Woman inherits million dollars, so can leave awful relationship

26: Woman discovers husband has a vicious criminal past including murder

27: Husband discovers wife is already married, and is double bigamist

28: Husband retires, wife can’t cope with him moping around and organising her life

29: Wife assists husband in suicide

30: Woman discovers fiancé already has four children

31: Wife and husband on continual shift work, never see each other

32: Man commits murder and jailed for life, wife can’t cope

33: Woman attends potential husband’s Xmas bar barque, family is simply awful

34: Wife develops Alzheimer’s, stops recognising husband

35: Childhood sweethearts both move to different states with families

36: Boy turns 18, leaves small town dysfunctional family, never returns

37: Possessive mother hides letters from son’s girlfriend while she is overseas

38: Man goes to fight overseas, is killed

39: Lovers working in same office are transferred overseas

40: Husband starts doing drugs and spends family money

41: Wife starts to steal from husband’s investment s to feed gambling habit

42: Couple join different political parties, spend all time arguing

43: Owner has to put down long owned pet

44: Spouse has to decide to stop life support system of partner

45: Man victim of vicious one punch attack, dies leaving distraught woman

46: Woman returns overseas to care for ailing parent, loves old country too much

47: War is finished and wife’s husband returns home, lover has to go

48: Syrian refugee couple separated in detention camps turmoil

49: Woman’s illegal immigrant partner is deported

50: Person enjoying a passionate idyllic island romance has to return home to reality

 

 

The evidence based way of leaving your lover.

I enjoyed Friday nights. The working week was done, we were both home together, could sit on the deck with a bottle of our favourite wine and tasty cheese.

This Friday night would be different. We were to play a game, with a lot at stake.

I started the conversation. “How was the conference?”

“Great, we worked hard, did a lot of team work, it was worthwhile. How was your week?”

That’s all he said. Strange, because normally he would be bursting with details of the conference, boasting of his presentation and networking skills. But his response was not totally unexpected.

“Meet anyone special?”

Once again, “No, just the usual boring corporate people. Tell me more about your week.”

Also strange, because normally by now he would be eagerly telling me about the multitude of very important people he was mixing with.

“I tried to ring a few times, but only got your voice mail.”

A small frown came over his face. “I guess that’s normal, we were tucked right away up in the country at the resort, the phone reception was nonexistent.”

“That’s really strange, because I bumped into my friend Jan and by a coincidence her partner was also at the conference. She rang him and got through. I asked her to pass on a message to you, but he said you weren’t there. I wanted to wish you a happy wedding anniversary.”

A bead of perspiration began to trickle down his forehead. “Yes, that’s really strange, although it was a big affair, he must have just missed seeing me. Let’s stop talking about me; tell me what you’ve been doing.”

I watched the trickle turn into a stream. This was proof enough. Stop playing around I thought, time to ace this bastard.

“Well James, I have been busy. In fact, after work tonight I picked up all of our clothes and did the washing. Just so we could have a cosy night together, then tomorrow we can head off to the beach house.”

He hesitated. “Personally, I’d prefer to stay at home, mow the lawns, tidy the garden.”

“That’s strange, you normally can’t wait to get to the house. But I really feel like some of that champagne we both like, the one for special occasions, the one we can only get at the bottle shop near the beach house. We can celebrate our anniversary, ten years of marital bliss.”

By now the stream was a torrent, and his face was flushed.

I continued softly. “Yes the champagne we drink, just for us. I notice you bought a bottle recently. As usual I found a receipt in your shirt pocket. You always do that don’t you, forget to empty your shirt pocket. But it was thoughtful of you to buy a bottle for our wedding anniversary.”

He paused for a long moment, thinking, desperately wondering what was coming next. “Ah yes, I know, I always seem to do that.”

“Yes, it’s certainly a bad habit, you should have stopped doing that a long time ago. But James, I noticed a curious thing. It was dated only a couple of days ago, in fact it was when you were up the country at this conference. But it was from our little bottle shop. Maybe you felt like celebrating our anniversary by getting in your expensive sports car and driving hundreds of kilometres from the conference up bush to the bottle shop at our beach house. Just to buy a bottle of our favourite champagne. What a touching gesture. Did you enjoy drinking it, thinking of me? Did you share it with anybody?”

His mouth flapped open, his throat twitched, but no words came out, there was nothing he could say.

“Enough of this maybe crap” I snapped. “You are a lying two timing piece of crap. I’m going down to the house in the morning. I suspect I’ll find a lot of evidence. I bet you forgot to hide the bottle, it’s probably still in the bin. I wonder what style of perfume I will smell. You probably didn’t even make the bed properly; you always were a lousy housekeeper. Will the furniture be in the same place? I only hope that you had some shred of decency left to screw your piece of fluff in the spare bedroom.”

The game was over, I had won but it was a sour victory. I played my final shot. “I’ll take your precious car down, it’s going to be mine in our property settlement, as well as this house and most of your super. When I’m back, you had better be gone.”

The crushing way to leave your lover.

The weekend had been magic. Just the two of us spending time alone in a bush cabin far away from the city. It had been the culmination of several months of dating, developing into courtship. We had clicked from the start, there was a mutual feeling of being soul mates, we were in love.

There were differences .Jack could be a bit of a knock about guy, sometimes too blokey for my taste, but then again he would tease me about being too ladylike. So all in all, these were small things in an otherwise great relationship.

I suspected that he had asked me up to the weekend to pop the big question, in a romantic setting. I also knew what my answer would be – a definite yes.

Standing close together, Jack murmured, “Jan, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“Ask away” I responded softly.

He opened his mouth, but suddenly looked to the side. I followed his gaze. A big moth had landed on the decking at our feet. It was beautiful, golden bands around its body, large fluttering wings moving in the breeze. I had heard about these creatures in this part of the bush, and I thought what a lovely sight to finish the weekend with.

“Wait just a tic” he said and moved to the creature. With no warning his boot crunched the insect into a flat mess, then he casually flicked the remains off the deck.

“Now as I was saying.”

I looked at him in horror.

“Jack, you just killed that lovely moth, a lovely living creature. Why?”

“So what, it was just a bloody insect.” He grinned, “Just wait till I take you roo shooting.”

My heart felt like the moth, crushed and lifeless.

“Jack, take me home, now.”

 

Nullarbor Tales

Nullarbor Tales.                                                                     Bruce McCorkill October 2015

The date is 15th September, 2015. The time is 7.30 AM. Our car is caught in peak hour traffic on the Western Ring Road. Years ago, I would have been commuting, cursing the traffic and worrying about being late for work. This time is different. I’m not fussed by the delay. There is an appointment we have to keep, one we dare not be late for, but there is plenty of time. We are driving to a party at Margaret River – ten days and four thousand kilometres away.

Ten years ago, our son moved there, searching for great surf. He found this, as well as a casual life style and a lovely wife. Now they have a baby boy – Lachie, and he’s just about to turn one. Naturally, we decide to gate crash his party. Generally, we fly over, but have always hankered to drive. Just to do it, for the experience, for the fun of it. This is the perfect excuse. Hence, we are heading off on our adventure of driving across the Nullarbor. The car has been serviced and new tyres installed. I have gathered a collection of spare parts and tools. The boot contains more birthday and Christmas presents than luggage. Our family realised we could be the free Nullarbor postal service.

In the traffic, I think about the trip and decide to write a story about it. Not a diary type travelogue, but one more expressing my feelings along the way. I have a month to plan the story and craft the words to describe feelings which will interest the reader. At this early stage I experience a mix of mild apprehension, concerns about safety and a desire to have an adventure. We are keenly looking forward to seeing our family, especially our grandson. I miss my son, but realise he has found a new home on the other side of the continent. Friends ask when is he coming home, and I curtly reply that he is home.

It will be a fairly quick trip. Seven days to drive over, two weeks there, then seven days to return. A few days will be over seven hundred kilometres of driving. We share this duty, but I wonder if we have allowed sufficient time for a relaxing trip. The research sternly warns against driving at after dusk, with the risk of striking kangaroos and other wildlife. I have read about the dangers of the long snaking road trains, and the need to be wary of people towing huge caravans for the first time. My rational mind decides that these feelings are normal, and I should have no problems in expressing them in my story.

The first day to Adelaide is a long pleasant country drive, like driving to Ballarat, only eight times longer. The road is mostly a doubled lane highway, fairly flat, until we get lost in the Adelaide Hills and spend an hour driving around winding hilly roads. But this is a picturesque diversion, and the B&B owner has provided a range of tasty food in a comfortable environment, so we are off to a good start. The second long day to Ceduna is also a pleasant trip, so I’m feeling quite chirpy. We can do this.

The next two days we cross the Nullarbor proper. The drive is not what I expect. I had thought we would be driving through the desert, but the landscape is fully vegetated. As per the meaning “treeless plain”, there are few trees, but there are ongoing blankets of small saltbush shrubs, native grasses, and delicate purple flowers; all springing up from the rich red gravelly soil. The land is totally flat, just endless stretches of dull grey green colour.

When I think how to describe my feelings, the most suitable phrase would be that of feeling slightly disappointed, maybe somewhat cheated. The landscape fascinates me, but it is too easy after what I had been expecting. The road is wide with generous easy bends, good visibility, and occasionally passing lanes. The tarmac is smooth, with wide verges. Passing the dreaded road trains presents no problems, there is tons of space. Even the hordes of caravans pose no threat. The road even seems somewhat busy, with oncoming vehicles several minutes apart, and the car hums along smoothly. I recollect how my father wrote a story describing how in 1928 his father drove the family, with six kids, over the Nullarbor in an old Dodge, when it was only a dirt road. I feel admiration for those early travellers.

At the Head of the Bight, we digress to the Nullarbor cliffs, where whales spend months mating, calving and teaching their young to survive. I wonder how to describe the feeling of watching these huge creatures softly floating in the gentle swell, diving and surfacing, slapping wide tails, and keeping calves close and safe. We see about a dozen whales plus a few calves, and my camera is working overtime. The words I will use will be along the lines of awe at seeing these lovely animals, sadness at how they have been hunted nearly to extinction, and anger at how some countries still attempt to justify their slaughter.

It is intriguing stopping at Roadhouses. On this highway, function triumphs over form. Motel buildings are simply long brick boxes for travellers to sleep in. Food is basic. The servos are simple shops selling rudimentary supplies, plus fuel. The huge gravel forecourts are stacked with semi trailers, a place for drivers to sleep, grab a meal, have a freshening shower, and refuel. In my big city way I tend to denigrate the standard of some places until the realisation dawns that they are serving their purpose; helping travellers along their way. But I allow myself a Melbourne smugness over the coffee paucity, and crave for a decent coffee. Most places have push button self serve machines, which spit out a milky mixture tasting like baby’s formula. I experiment with the buttons and realise that by pressing the button marked “flat white strong”, a substance resembling coffee trickles out.

I develop an interest in the human tentacles snaking over the countryside. The Grey Nomads. The road is full of caravans pulled by retirees. Couples selling homes and travelling around Australia. The vans are nothing like the primitive plywood ones of my youth. These machines are sophisticated, sleek and shiny, fully self contained with ensuites, satellite dishes, solar panels, comprehensive kitchens and soft beds. Capable of camping anywhere by the side of the road, they are towed by sensible vehicles. Not the cute city SUV style, but powerful diesel four wheel drives and utes. At dusk at caravan parks, flocks of vans arrive. The routine is simple. Carefully back into the spot, connect the power and water, set up the satellite dish and solar panel, wind out the awning, unfold the deck chairs, and within ten minutes sip on a glass of wine. It looks like a good life, and I hope the Nomads are having fun, but for myself I prefer more structure in my life, plus a bit more space. My words to describe these travellers would be in the vein of people who have worked hard over a long life just wanting to have hard earned fun.

We reach Norseman, the Western end of the plain. I am becoming sadly aware that small bush towns are dying. There are only the roadhouses, surrounded by a police station and a few houses. But Norseman, which in gold digging times housed fifty thousand people, seems to be still a large town. I am hopeful that there is some heart left here. But this is an illusion. As we drive into the town, most of the houses are empty and broken down, with shattered windows and overgrown gardens. I ponder how I will describe this in my story, the feelings of sadness I feel. How to adequately convey the desolation of a town which was once a busy hub, to one which now on a Friday night has a deserted main street. There are a few voices emanating from the big pub, which in the past would be full of noisy men furiously drinking and laughing. A few cars are parked along the kerb, and a few children riding bikes up the footpath. The shops along one side of the street are all boarded up, with peeling paint. It is all so quiet and deserted, a living ghost town.

We head north to Kalgoorlie. On the way we stop at the mining town of Kambalda. My wife lived here when she worked for Western Mining Corporation over forty years ago, on a working holiday, and was anticipating seeing her old temporary home again. But she also experiences some sadness. Kambalda has changed so much we have trouble finding her old residence. We finally find the block of flats, but it is abandoned, corralled by a high fence. The busy mall where she had shopped, is firmly boarded up. The once thriving town is now a modern day ghost town, with Western Mining gone. We inspect huge residential compounds, built to house hundreds of miners, now empty, with not even one high vis vest left dangling on a clothes line. I suspect my wife is feeling despondent as we drive away.

Kalgoorlie is an enjoyable break. We stay two nights in a comfortable apartment, and wander the wide streets, admiring the beautiful old buildings, the big double storied pubs with bull nose verandas and ornate pillars. The city seems busy, with numerous interesting eating places, and we enjoy a decent coffee. We even stand outside a brothel. In a somewhat ludicrous twist, the main patrons of the once thriving Hay Street establishments, now mostly gone, are no longer miners needing to press the flesh, but Grey Nomads going on brothel tours. We watch the kerb fill up with lines of caravans, and groups of respectable couples self consciously queuing up. In my story I may try to put some amusing twist on this slice of modern Kalgoolie attractions, but overall I feel happy at seeing this town. It is still a busy regional hub, with life bubbling up. I will describe it in these favourable terms.

From Kalgoorlie we travel inland to Margaret River. My feelings range from regret that we are leaving the intriguing dry inland county, to a fascination with the changing nature of the landscape. I think of this as a transitional journey. The red soil disappears, replaced by fertile grazing land. The scrubby bushes give way to tall trees. Phone lines and fences spring up along the road. Semi trailers carrying massive Caterpillar excavators give way to flat top trucks carting agricultural machinery. John Deere dealerships dot the highway, and towns become more frequent.

It’s easy to describe my feelings for the next fortnight. Simple joy and delight at seeing our son, daughter in law, and our grandson again. Lachie is a lovable little guy. We spend time hanging out together, visiting wineries, going to the beach, and playing with Lachie. I take delight in sipping a daily cup of sweetly brewed coffee and reading the local paper, in the little cafes lining the bustling main street. Because the town is booming, shops are busy, eating places are full, mostly by well heeled tourists enjoying the beach atmosphere, dressed in smart holiday clothing. An absolute contrast to the drabness and functionality of the inland. I realise that Australia, while one country, consists of two landscapes, the harsh dry inland county and the soft wet coastal fringe.

We celebrate Lachie’s first birthday with family and friends, and this is a great day. It’s what we drove all that way for. In my story I will keep it simple, just write a bit about family bonds, love and affection, then leave it to readers to understand.

Regretfully, we finally have to go home. The trip is a reverse of the one over, an easy drive, we know the road now. But this time we travel around the coast, via Esperance. This involves driving south from Margaret River, down through the tall karri timber forests. These are spectacular, tall trees, densely crowding the forest floor. The words to describe this drive are ones like majestic, strong, tall and dramatic. We finally hit Esperance, a lovely place, where we have a walk on the beach and a final decent coffee before heading inland towards Norseman again, where we return back over the Nullarbor.

We reach Ceduna and branch down along the Eyre Peninsular. It is a great drive along the coast, stopping at small coastal towns and sitting by the beach having coffee and cake, and looking out over the blue seas, with cute piers jutting out into the water. In my story I will say we just had a peaceful, leisurely relaxing time in this part of the world. A highlight is detouring to the seal colony at Point Labatt. This is a sixty kilometre drive on a rough gravel road, but it is worth it. From the viewing platform, we gaze down at the colony of sea lions, lolling around on the rocks, seeming to be having a fine peaceful life. The sea is a dark aqua colour, with numerous white crests, and I have fun taking lots of pictures.

At the small town of Tumby Bay, after our coffee on the cute cafe on the beach, we go for a walk and spy two bikes parked next to a bench. These bikes are totally full of panniers, back packs, handlebar baskets, as well as various other bags hanging down. During the trip we have seen a few cyclists riding along, but I have never had a chance to talk to the riders. We see a couple about our age in cycling gear walking towards us, so I naturally ask them if they are the owners of the bikes. We have a great talk to them, for the next half hour, finding out how they cope with the riding, where they sleep each night, and so on. It turns out they are a couple who decided to take two years off work to ride around Australia. So far they have travelled 19,000 kilometres, including riding up the highest mountain in each state. The reason they are doing this, is that the guy developed multiple sclerosis. He couldn’t ski or run any more, but still could ride a bike, so off they went to achieve this item in his bucket list. I would simply use the words of massive admiration and inspiration for this man. Also, if any of the cycling group guys back home, complain about the hill at Westerfolds Park, they will get no sympathy from me.

Port Lincoln is a bustling place, the home of the tuna and other fishing fleet. The town is busy, and in the evening we have a tasty meal of oysters in the pub, with a cold glass of white wine. Beautiful! We inspect the marina, and I have the “aha” moment, when I realise this is where the tuna in little cans in Safeway, actually comes from. The marina is full of big fishing boats, painted blue and white, strongly built to withstand the powerful seas. It is a dramatic moment.

In contrast, the next overnight stay, at Whyalla, is just depressing. The town is a dull functional one, built to accommodate workers in the huge steel mill. We drive up to the lookout to take pictures of the mill, a scattering of brown red buildings, surrounded by huge piles of iron ore. We get talking to a local resident about living there. He tells us about the large number of workers he knows who have died of cancer. Also, he describes the fish from the local harbour, which are a fluoro green colour, and terribly deformed. We hear how safety equipment for the workers is hung on walls, but without any signs directing workers to use these things, as this would clearly admit the mill is a dangerous place to work. He asks us to look around the town at the colour of the buildings and streets. On the way back to our motel we see that the whole town is covered in a red brown sediment, even the concrete footpaths and street posts are brown. Lots of the houses are painted brown, to blend in with the dust from the steel works. That night we look up the place to find that it has one of the highest incidences of lead poisoning in Australia. My thoughts here are a mixture of sadness for the workers who are suffering, despair for the future of the kids who will suffer in the future, plus anger that nothing is being done about this terrible deadly place. In fact I read an article by the mayor, complaining that people should stop criticising the pollution from the mill, as the company puts a huge amount of money into the town economy. We are glad to drive away the next morning, but feel despair for the residents who can’t leave.

At Port Augusta, we visit the Wadlata Interpretive Centre. This attraction has displays of both the original Aboriginal inhabitants of the Outback area of South Australia, plus the early white settlers. We wander through the centre, admiring the interactive displays as well as the pictures and equipment of the settlers. It is a fascinating look at the early days of this part of the Outback and life there. A number of areas detail the original overland explorers, and I can only think with admiration and amazement of how tough those men and women were.

Finally, we are on the road to Adelaide and nearly home. On the drive, we talk a lot, and relive the highlights of the visit. Our feelings can best be described as some sadness in leaving, wondering when we will next see the Western part of our family, but a certain keenness to get home, as well as the pleasure of reuniting with our Melbourne family. There are some regrets that we did not have nearly enough time to do much sightseeing along the way, but there were time limitations. But we start to talk about what we could do next time if we drove, including taking longer to drive over and see more off the main road, then maybe get the Indian Pacific train home. We will just have to wait and see.

We have achieved our main challenge of crossing the Nullarbor and attending Lachie’s birthday. So after seven days of driving, we finish where we started, on the Western Ring Road, this time in evening peak hour traffic. The welcoming arms of the Eltham trees embrace us, as they have for the last forty years when we return home.

We unload the car, check the garden, and have dinner. Then I head for the study and computer, because I have a story to write.