Halls Creek

2014 – jet engine to Broome, then rocketry turbo prop to Halls Creek. Like a flying bus the plane stopped at Derby and Fitzroy Crossing before it’s final destination. It was baking hot, but the pilot was kind enough to put me in the seat behind his, the benefit being a vent of cold air that blew out. It was a sticky flight though.

A good thing about these types of journeys is how tactile they make the experience of flying. I usually had a deep fear of flying, somehow managing to board a plane, but pretty much in a state of anxiety the whole journey. In these small planes, flying amongst the clouds so close you feel you can touch them, or seeing what the pilots see because they literally sat in front of you, it changes perceptions. Nowadays I’m pretty casual about flying anywhere.

I was astonished by the scenery. Expecting an endless red desert I was met instead with lush greenery. There had been heavy rains from a storm recently (maybe a typhoon) and so the water had invigorated the plant life. It was almost surreal.

It was a country relief job. They put me up in a Department house for a week. I was covering the office while the staff went on training. There was just me and an admin worker from Karratha – I can’t remember his name but I do recall he was from Chile.

It was quiet. I think the local community knew the regular staff were away, so were content to wait a week. I only had a couple of clients the whole week.

Halls Creek was a quiet town. Quite sedate in many ways. It was a ‘dry town’, with restrictions on alcohol. Maybe that made a difference I don’t know. There was an IGA, a couple of pubs (one dodgy looking, the other not so), and some other municipal buildings. A wayfarer town, on the Great Northern Highway. I was only there four nights. I came back a month or two later, but nothing occurred to alter my perspective.

It was quite a cruisey week, with good opportunity for photos. A little nugget of country living I would otherwise not have had the chance to experience.

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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.

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.

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.

Just eat the fucking thing: A Coorong Story

I’ve written previously about my travels through the Coorong, it’s open lakes that shift between vast pink coloured pools of water in the wet months, to seas of white salt in the drier seasons. It’s a lovely place to visit.

On the route there was a red shack, which always seemed closed. It advertised fresh fish and shellfish. It was always a mild curiousity.

On one occasion though, there was someone there waiting and on a whim I stopped to see what there was. It turned out the owner of the shack lived in a house in a neighbouring hill. He could see if people were at the shack and drive down in his 4WD, which he promptly did.

He had all sorts of local fish on offer, so much so I wasn’t really sure what to go for. He had a good selection of shellfish, but I’ve never been that much of a fan of that particular variation of aquatic food. However, he did persuade me to try done local yabby, or something very similar. It looked like a prawn on steroids.

I was very English about it, nibbling carefully, savouring (testing) the taste. He gave me something of a funny look, and then, in as strong and gruff an Aussie accent as you’ll hear, he said ‘Oh for Christ’s sake just eat the fucking thing mate!’

Being acutely self-conscious at this point, I smiled good naturedly and eat the mutated prawn very quickly. That’s me told, I thought.

Thankfully, I had been in Australia several months, and this brash, slightly country-esque, direct approach was not unusual in my experience. Nowadays, I’d just gulp the thing down quickly.

In the end, I purchased some of the yubbies and some other small fish. They all tasted good, making for a satisfying meal. A good lesson to take the tie to stop, explore, and don’t hold back on tasting.

The Coorong was home to the Ngarrindjeri people. You can read more here

Trembling Travels

My first experience of Mount Gambier came courtesy of a ride on a Rex Express plane. Taking about an hour to get from Adelaide, this was the quickest route to the town. Over the time I lived in the Mount I must have taken the journey quite a few times.

Nowadays, I am well accustomed to the nature of travel in Australia country. Back then in 2011, the idea was some new to me. I had still to appreciate the nature of scale in this vast land.

Rex are one of the smaller airlines, their planes smaller propeller types. They were SAAB I think, but really I was just glad they landed safely.

The flights were very expensive, prohibitively so in fact. Most of my travel was due to work, so I didn’t feel that pinch. Taking into account travel to and from the airport, checking in and flight time, it only saved a couple of hours in the journey to Adelaide. I wasn’t clear on the business sense of such high prices for so little advantage. I didn’t have a car so generally opted for the bus for leisure trips – it was much cheaper.

The planes were a little rickety, and particularly prone to uncomfortable flights in bad weather. Sometimes the wind would be so strong the planes couldn’t land at Mt Gambier and would have to turn around and go back. Luckily that didn’t happen to me.

I remember one flight, coming out of Adelaide, was during a storm. We’d already been delayed before a lull allowed us to take off. I wish I had my camera handy because it was one of the most dramatic images I ever saw over Rads.

As the plane began the takeoff on the runway it abruptly slowed and pulled aside. A warning light had gone off we were told. We waited for about half an hour on the tarmac. Eventually we took off, flying right into the clouds.

It was night, and I saw nothing for the whole flight until we landed. The plane shook all the way; seatbelt sign stayed on, and the stewardesses didn’t even try to hand out complimentary coffee/tea and savoury snacks. At one point the pilot addressed us over the speaker, giving us the usual cruise altitude etc. but the plane shuddered noticeably more while he was talking and he abruptly cut off mid-sentence. After a moment the plane stabilised a bit more. We didn’t hear from him again until we landed, but it occurred to me that the plane was requiring both of them to fly.

My fear of flying was much more pronounced back then, and the flight terrified me to be honest. My biggest fear was that the plane wouldn’t be able to land and we’d have to turn round. Luckily, as we approached the airport there was a brief clearing in the weather and we landed first time.