Bunbury – an eccentric diversion

I never quite understood Bunbury. It appeared to be an odd place for such a large town, located at the long end of a journey to Perth. Near enough to tempt a day trip to the city, far enough to be inconvenient to workers, Bunbury sat as a town apart. Not exactly metro, but never quite country either.

I visited Bunbury a few times, often on the way to and from Perth when I lived in Bridgetown, but the longest stint was two weeks as country relief. An Oceanside town, Bunbury was the gateway for travellers heading south, particularly Margaret River and the South West of Western Australia. It did introduce me to the new sensation of travelling long distance by train in Australia, but even that was a ‘meh’ experience.

A busy town, I found it too full of hustle to be relaxing. I always felt like if I was in the town it had to be for a reason. Compare that to, Mount Gambier say, where there was nothing to it for a quiet walk or chucking a mainey (is that even a thing outside of South Australia?).

The beaches were pleasant, and I enjoyed lengthy walks up and the down the coastline when I worked there. There was something of a partying culture in the town, and I got the opportunity to go out nightclubbing (something I hadn’t done since leaving the UK). The experience made me feel old, and nostalgic for better days, when going out to nightclubs was fun, and didn’t seem so unusual and tiresome.

It’s probably an unfair appraisal of the town, but I found it difficult to fathom its reason for being. I wouldn’t want to live there; it was probably a good town for families wanting some amenities, but without the effort of a city. For me, it was always something more of place I was travelling through (annoyingly slowly, at about 80km on the ring road), and while not bad memories, they aren’t particularly fullsome in their praise, much like the town itself.

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Kalbarri and back

Sometimes I get itchy feet and weird desires to just travel somewhere. One weekend I drove from Perth to Kalbarri on a Saturday, returning the next day. A small matter of 7 hours in the road.

It was a blistering hot weekend, one that only got hotter as I travelled north. Blue sky all the way though, and beautiful ocean views for much of the road.

Kalbarri’s a small town. Arriving late I didn’t get much chance for exploring. I was cautioned against going to the national park (although I had no intention of doing so). Temperatures in the gorges can reach 10 degrees higher than in the town, and it was a 40+C weekend.

I didn’t sleep very well. There was no air con in the hostel room, something I find a little bizarre. It was a fitful night – sleep for an hour, wake, drink lots of water, go back to sleep. Repeat.

I eventually gave up at about 6am and headed down to the beach to have one of the most relaxing swims imaginable. At least for a time I felt a decent temperature, and didn’t want to leave the water.

I didn’t bother drying myself when I head back to the hostel, but I was dry by the time I got there. It was just a quick effort to get some coffee and then I was heading back to Perth.

You might wonder what the point of the journey was, but for me it’s always about the journey, not the destination, and that was my weekend trip to Kalbarri.

Anywhere in the world

2010, my degree was over, and I was spending lots of time in the Lake District. I think I had the desire to travel and explore from my imminent departure for Australia. Or maybe it was just that the distraction of my studies had faded.

One chilly weekend I stayed at Keswick, nestled by Derwent Water. My goal’s were relatively light that weekend; the modest peak of Cats Bells, then Pike o’Stickle in the Langdale Valley the next day.

I had rarely ventured into the northern lakes before, so the area was relatively new to me. Derwent Water is a lovely place to visit, and it was blissfully quiet that day. I don’t think there were many other walkers.

It was late in the year, Autumn turning into Winter. I had much less light to complete my walk. In fact, it was dark before I got back to Keswick. There was frost and a little ice, but it was relatively dry. Langdale Valley was a different challenge – lots of ice and frozen paths.

Still, that day on Cats Bells was one of my favourite walks. The sun was out, the views outstanding with a mix of sunray’s and clouds.

I remember in the evening, as I descended the hills and was walking back by Derwent, there was a section that prohibited a view of Keswick. Looking around I could see hills, Derwent itself, and reddish bracken glowing in the setting sunlight. I couldn’t hear anything. For a moment, I felt I could be anywhere in the world; there was something distinctly geographically anonymous about the setting. Not only could I be anywhere, I wanted to travel everywhere.

When I had moments of trepidation about going to Australia, I remembered that feeling of excitement and adventure at Derwent Water to motivate me. Today, I’ve had so many fantastic experiences that trepidation has pretty much faded, but I still recall that lovely weekend in the northern Lakes.

Sandbags in Tokyo

Back in 2012 I travelled to Japan for a holiday. Trying to keep down cost, I went in June, which is arguably the worst time of the year to go – hot, humid, muggy. Nonetheless it was a fascinating place.

Japanese cities are not quiet. The hustle and bustle of a place like Tokyo (which is really a collection of different cities) won’t allow for it.

This is why I like this photo of the sandbags; you can’t see any people. It gives no hint of what’s beyond. Clearly ready for returning workers, everything looks like it’s in the midst of ongoing labour. Even the buildings behind offer little sign of people. It’s like a part of the city holding its breath.

There were plenty of contemplative moments in Japan, but this is easily the most photographic representation I captured.

Fremantle Power Station

Ever since seeing the old hospital at Mount Gambier, abandoned buildings have held something of a peculiar fascination for me. They give rise to presentations of light we don’t always get to see in fully developed and in use buildings.

Fremantle power station was one such abandoned building. Situated by the ocean, it was another dormant urban behemoth. A group of us went to photograph the interior one early Sunday.

There was security, who had a party issue about people going in and out of the building. There was even a security guard circling the building in a small car, like some cartoonish authority figure. It appears he had good cause though. One time he passed, and about five or six teenagers scrambled out of an opening and ran across to the fencing where we were shooting the exterior.

In the end, the security seemed a little daft. At one end of the building the fencing was uprooted and there were huge gaps to walk through. There was no way you could logically stop people walking on site unless you posted a guard. We just walked right in. This was back in 2013, so I have no idea what the site is like now.

The interior was hollow, beyond the structural stuff. Graffiti was everywhere, sometimes in ludicrous locations. Unlike the hospital, this building exuded nothing of mystery. It felt like everything was on show. A relic of the past it may have been, but it was a vain one to be sure.

I met some other photographers inside, from Brisbane it turns out. At one point we decided to go upstairs, which meant walking out of the building, then climbing in a small opening (the same those teenagers jumped out of).

Upstairs we found more kids hanging around. They seemed harmless and completely unsurprised by our presence. This building has been photographed a lot.

I took plenty of shots, both digital and film (the images here are film). The building had its own richness, but akin to the more material qualities of urban versus rustic country, there was something lacking that the old hospital had. I realised one particular thing was noise – there was a highway close by, and Sunday morning traffic was increasing on a warm summers day.

I liked the building though. It had its charm, but I’ve never been back. Whereas I have fond nostalgic memories of the hospital, this was an experience that I simply passed though. Happy to remember it, but less treasured, if that makes sense.

The Explosive Rice Wine Barrels

During our stay in Shanghai, a group of us went to an old canal village. If memory serves I think it was called Tongli. It was a very pleasant though slightly busy small village with lots of old buildings.

During our bus ride there, where I got to see the full force of a metropolis worth of cars on the road, we kept ourselves entertained by singing songs. One of my friends, a Hammers fan, gave a rendition of ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’. Not sure what the Chinese people on the bus thought of that.

One part of the village I do remember was a rice wine brewery. We got to see inside and watch some pretty ancient style brewing going on. I can’t imagine methods have changed much in the past several hundred years.

The wine was potent stuff, the type of substance where the fumes are intoxicating. It had a particular taste to it, but with a sharp bite.

While we in the brewery I noticed one of the brewers working on a barrel. They were small, like a party keg than anything else, made of dark stained wood. As he put it away I noticed there were barrels. Lots of barrels. Probably hundreds. Stacked up all over; goodness knows how I didn’t notice before. It occurred to me that with all the fumes it could only take one spark and the place would go up.

That was the day trip to Tongli.

Why Whyalla?

When I first moved to Australia, I had to undertake further study to get recognition for my degree. It seemed an onerous requirement as I was asked to complete just two undergraduate modules. Given my degree was a MA this seemed particularly peculiar. Luckily I could complete them online.

Part of one module required attendance for a two day course in Whyalla. We had to present an assessment model of some kind and demonstrate its use.

By then I was in Mount Gambier, but this was the first excursion I got outside of Adelaide or the Mount. Whyalla is a dusty, red soiled coastal town located on the Eyre Peninsula, or the lands of the Barngala people. In fact Whyalla is a an Aboriginal word mean “place of deep water”.

Iron ore is the main industry, and the huge steel works dominate the town. The red soil was everywhere, staining the buildings. It was a quiet town, despite its size, and seemed endlessly windy.

The course passed without a hitch. Since I received no certification for my work, other than acknowledgement of passing, I did not put much effort in.

I did notice though that the other students had something of a tense relationship with their lecturers. Several students had been failed (including myself) for a piece of work submitted earlier. We’d been allowed to resubmit to get a pass grade, and since that was all I needed I wasn’t heavily invested.

However, there was some issue about the coursework. In truth, I don’t think the guidance had been very clear. We were meant to write on a particular family setting, but all the examples were included on the same sheet with no other instruction and no indication of distinction between each example, other than a new paragraph. People just assumed the whole document was the example. It was a case of the lecturers should have been clearer, and we could have clarified. The lecturers though, took a more belligerent attitude and became quite defensive. It was an interesting display of power dynamic, and very much to the students disadvantage. I felt sorry for them.

It got a little embarrassing though, because clearly something about my general standard of work had caught someone’s eye. So much that during lunch one of the lecturers came out and asked me, in front of the other students, whether I had considered being a tutor. Quite aware of some looks about the room, I said I hadn’t and would speak to them further when I had more time to mull of the matter. Nothing came if it at the end, but at the time I apologised to the other students. They knew my circumstances and clearly I wasn’t feeling the pressure they were. Empathy did not seem to be the lecturers strong suit.

Beyond that I had a quick mooch about the town, but with a flight that evening didn’t have that much time to look around. All I remember is the red, and that deep, deep blue ocean.

Shanghai Sci-Fi

Difficult to believe it was ten years ago, but it was quite a trip to Shanghai. A little impromptu, the holiday was due to a friend getting married in the city, and so a group of us went for the occasion. It was a chilly time to go, right over the new year period.

It’s a remarkable city, a metropolis really, which carried the slight veneer of colonialism from yesteryear, but showing signs of the rapid advancement of the Chinese economy. Something of the skyscrapers had a slightly science-fiction feel to it. It was busy though, with millions of people working there.

One little quirk were the old temples dotted around. From the outside you wouldn’t know they were there, but inside were these little old buildings and pools. It was quite a peaceful oasis in such a busy metropolitan area.

One night we went to a jazz club called the Cotton Club, getting a live performance from a US jazz singer. She had this strong southern state accent and the coarse voice of a heavy smoker. She was a great singer though.

Eating out was an adventure. None of us had even a rudimentary understanding of Chinese so we spent a lot of time guessing what was on the menu. On one occasion we ate at a ‘hot pot’ (a restaurant where you boil/cook your food at your table). A friend of mine ordered chicken, thinking it was a safe bet. To everyone’s surprise they brought out a small frozen chicken – the whole bird – plucked and cleaved into square prices, bones, offal and all. It tasted pretty good from what I recall.

There only a week it was nothing more than a snap shot of the city. In the future I’d like to go again.

D&D Guy

When I first worked in Perth, I travelled to my office each day by train. The office was located in a part of the city called Midland. Midland usually had the poorest housing, and a higher level of social problems than other places. It did not have a good reputation.

I walked to the local station every morning, often leaving late so I had to run. Being quite overweight at the time the daily exercise did wonders. I had to be quick because the trains were intermittent at the station I aimed for, Meltham. I could have gone to a different station, but it was too busy and I preferred a little bit of quiet at the platform before the train arrived.

The train journey had some familiar faces. I worked in child protection, and occasionally parents I recognised would get on board. I tried to keep a low profile in those circumstances, because I didn’t want any work issues before I actually started work.

One figure that was a regular traveller on the same line was D&D guy. He usually had some kind of role-playing book out and held it close to his face to read. The man had white hair and was probably in his forties. I was always curious about his reading habits, trying to see what book he was reading next. He often had science-fiction novels as well.

I took the photo of him while he held his book up, obscuring his face. In many respects, he made me think of myself. I could easily be that figure on the train, reading role-playing books or sci-fi, dressed in similar attire for work. Even our hats were similar.

I always toyed with the idea of speaking with him, striking up conversation, but I am an introvert trough and through. I was an avid role-player once, particularly live-role playing, but I figured that those days were gone. I think maybe that was what prompted me to consider speaking to him, this idea that I could reaches those good old days of fantasy games, Dungeons and Dragons and all the other assortment of games we played; speaking in terms of Orcs or Elves, or D10 (a tens sided dice) or hit points. Some things are better left to pass though.

I wonder if he’s still catching that train, going to work, and indulging in the hobby. It would be nice to think him of a continuing fixture, keeping the hobby alive for both of us.

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Shining

Chuck Wendig, author and writer of the excellent Terribleminds.com blog, set a flash fiction challenge for his readers. The challenge was to write a short story using the title of one of Stephen King’s novels. I opted for ‘The Shining’. Enjoy the read.

Arriving early, Jeff sat down to work, alone in the empty office space. Strewn about his desk were casefiles and reminder notes. Jeff stared at the bureaucratic debris.

The sight paralysed him.

It might have been only seconds, maybe minutes, that he was fixed in place, before a noise broke him from his trance.

Someone else had come into the office. Jeff winced. Not at the sound, or the thought of company, but at the light. Squinting he looked outside. It was bright; an omnipresent glare that hurt his eyes. And today was a cloudy day.

Walking into the cubicle section was Diane and she sat at her desk behind him. In the spirit of clinical perfectionism, there were four desks in a cubicle, each facing a corner little naughty children. Sat by the window, Diane and Jeff had long since perfected the art of talking even with backs to each other.

‘Am I suitably late?’ said Diane.

Jeff shrugged. ‘I guess so. It’s early for most people I think.’

‘That’s true. Actually, weren’t you at court this morning?’

‘Came in to get some papers first. Did you need to be in so early?’

‘Oh, I’ve a million and one things to do,’ she said, flicking on her computer and kicking her bag under the table. ‘Got child interviews this morning and then a family meeting.’

‘Busy.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ said Diane, clicking away on her keyboard.

Jeff blinked. The glow of his monitor was bright.

‘It’s too bright in here,’ he said.

‘What?’

‘Too bright. Aren’t there controls for the shades?’

‘Yeah, but we’re not supposed to touch them. They practically had a fist fight the last time someone lowered them. If you’re off to court maybe stick it out until then. Maybe you could wear sunglasses.’

‘At my desk?’ said Jeff. ‘I’d look like I’m hungover.’

Jeff didn’t need to see Diane to instinctively know that she turned in her seat to look at him.

‘Aren’t you really hungover though?’ she asked with humour in her voice.

There was a pause.

‘Maybe a little,’ said Jeff at last.

Diane said nothing, but turned back to her desk. Jeff imagined she was smiling.

No, he knew she was.

With a click, the door of the team leaders office, surprising them both.

‘Good,’ said Sheila, their team leader, stepping out of the office. ‘You’re both in.’

Jeff glanced towards Sheila’s office. How long had she been in?

‘You’re here early,’ said Diane.

‘Lots to do,’ said Sheila cheerfully. ‘Now unfortunately we’ve got a few people off sick today, so I need someone to chair a family meeting this arvo. Who’s up for it?’

Jeff’s mouth dropped open, but no sounds came out. He was already overstocked on work.

‘Well, I can’t,’ said Diane. ‘I’ve already got interviews, those two sisters remember, and a family meeting.’

‘Aren’t they twins?’ said Sheila.

‘Nope, different ages,’ said Diane.

‘I see,’ said Sheila. ‘Jeff?’

‘I’ve got court.’

‘Oh that won’t take you past midday. You’ve got nothing booked this afternoon?’

‘Well, no, but I have a lot of work on-’

‘But nothing booked.’

‘No.’

Sheila’s eyes rolled up briefly. ‘Good, so no bookings then,’ she said, her voice tightening. ‘Can you chair then please. It’s at one.’

Sheila turned and returned to her office, closing the door behind her.

‘Can you really do that meeting?’ said Diane.

‘Guess I’ll have to,’ said Jeff.

Wincing, he rubbed his eyes. Now it was the lights in the office that were too bright.

‘Bloody hell,’ he said. ‘What the fuck am I meant to do?’

Looking down despondently at this desk, Jeff ran his hands over the masses of papers and files, as though somehow he could make it all vanish. Of course, the paperwork stayed, and the light pulsated. Propping up his arms on elbows, Jeff closed his eyes and sank his face into his hands.

Behind him, Diane said nothing. A small part of him had hoped she might offer, but deep down he knew she couldn’t. He’d refuse anyway.

What could he do? Fake court? Pretend the hearing didn’t happen until late? No, that wouldn’t work. Either Sheila would realise the truth, or he’d go stone crazy not being able to do anything. If there was thing Jeff hated more than work, it was having nothing to do.

A family meeting would take an hour to two hours, probably two since he was unfamiliar with the case. Then factor in writing up the notes. By then he’d only have about an hour, assuming he could speed type. He wouldn’t get anything done. Another day wasted on nothing, just someone else’s work.

Placing his head in his hands had provided some welcome relief, but he couldn’t sit like this forever. Raising his head he blinked. The light was still bright, too bright. He was beginning to get a headache. That monitor.

‘It’s too bright,’ he said.

‘Hmm, what was that?’ said Diane.

‘The light. And this monitor, I think it’s broken.’

Diane turned her chaired and rolled over next to him. Looking about his desk she shook her sadly.

‘Geez Jeff,’ she said. ‘I thought I had it bad. Let’s see if we can’t sort this out.’

Reaching across, Diane swept all the papers and casework together in a single pile.

‘There,’ she said. ‘That’s a start. Now, just sift through it one at at time, casefiles typed up, paperwork on file or in the confidential waste. And get rid of these,’ she said, swiping away the reminder notes and putting them in the small office bin under Jeff’s desk.

‘Wait a second,’ he said, making as though to pull them out.

‘Useless things,’ said Diane, waving her hand to stop him.’How long have some of them been there? A month or two? Forget it. And now your monitor, well, there’s the problem, you haven’t switched your computer on.’

Jeff looked down at the computer and blinked. True enough, it wasn’t switched on. Looking at the monitor, he realised that it too was not on.

Rolling his eyes up to the ceiling, Jeff looked at the light. Switched off.

The clouds.

Looking outside, the clouds were dark and grey.

Still there was light, all about him. It was peripheral now, like someone was shining a torch to the side of him.

Diane looked at her watch, seemingly oblivious to Jeff’s optical distress.

‘It’s getting on,’ she said. ‘Get that computer on, get the files you need and head off to court. You should still make it and…’ she lowered her voice a little so Sheila wouldn’t heat, ‘…dinner at mine tonight, yeah?’

Without waiting for an answer, Diane turned back to her desk and began typing away on her keyboard in earnest.

Jeff took a deep breath, and then another. You can do this, he thought.

Reaching out, he clicked the computer on.

And like that, the lights went out.