Monday, 29 December 2014

A Very Special Cushion

On the last leg of my Aussie adventure I stayed at The Witches Garden in Mitta Valley. There I stayed with the delightful, charming and sometimes (hilariously) lewd McDonald family. They were the best part of my trip. The love, warmth and inclusivity in their household and amongst their friends and family is something I have hitherto never experienced. They are the sort of family I  have always dreamed about but never really believed existed, much less that I'd ever find one!

As a parting gift I knitted them this cushion cover:



I designed it so that it would hold the cushion much like a pillow case does: an inside pocket that you tuck the top into. The F and L are their first initials, the cables are round and bubbly because the McDonald's are well rounded, warm, happy and bubbly people: the ones opposite F are more curvy and artistic because she is a free spirited painter, who has a big heart and reaches out to encompass everyone into the fold, the ones opposite L are almost like ripples of laughter, but they are neat, precise and compact because he is a very together individual, and a pillar of strength and amusement.

Thank you so much for being my fairytale. The love, warmth, joy and happiness injected into me from your hearts and home will always stay with me.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Indian Pacific Train and Beyond

Within a day I was fully recovered, mentally speaking, from the tooth ordeal. A gaping hole in my left jaw that I couldn't help but continually stick my tongue in to explore the cavity plus a sharp pain whenever anything solid went too close to it and still not being able to fully open my jaw,  served as the only reminders of my trip to the dentist.

Never one to sit still for too long I became impatient to leave the sleepy town of 600 inhabitants. Various lifts offered to me by the locals who had befriended me over the course of my week and a few days in the little harbour town fell through one by one. I decided to make my own luck. I upped sticks and started trudging along the only road in and out of Denham waving a thumb and flashing a dazzling (or so I hoped!) smile at all the cars and caravans that sped past. The sun grew hotter, the cars sped by faster and I began to loose heart. Doubt, that ever creeping, niggling little bastard, snuck into my skull and whispered that I should have stayed were I was, that I should have waited till the next day for a lift that might not have materialized, that I shouldn't have been such a tightfisted miser and ordered a taxi to take me and booked a coach and all manner of other unhelpful nonsense. With a forced cheerfulness I waved all these aside and told the doubting voice that fate was waiting to send me the right car, the one that would be most useful. And, sure enough, as a long train of cars swept by one by one and I flashed a beautiful smile imploringly to each and every driver the last one in the caravan suddenly broke off, after having swept by with the rest, curved dramatically across the road and came back. Without saying a word a tall,  tan woman with enormous blonde wavy hair jumped out of the drivers seat, opened her boot and started thrusting my bags into the space therein. Then she said "Hi, I'm Sally, this is my daughter Kate, she's six. Where are you headed?"

During the six hour drive Sally introduced me to Help Exchange and we decided that I would stay with her and her family in Geraldton and help paint the new ceilings that she'd just had installed. Once that was done another passing acquaintance of Sally and husband Stick's passed through overnight on her way to Perth. I got a lift in with her and upon arriving quickly made plans to jump on the train to Adelaide across one of the most desolate and remote areas of not just Australia but also the world.

The train ride was a long and tiring forty three hours. Forty three hours of bush, vast horizons on either side, desert, and the gentle slow trundling clackity clack of the train as it meandered at a leisurely 85 kilometers per hour to its destination. We stopped for half an hour at Cook Town, once a bustling hive of train related activity it is now classified as one of the most remote spots in the world: on a par with an orbiting space station as one of the train hands joked. One family now lives in Cook Town. All the old school and community buildings and homes still stand. All are condemned and all have signs around them restricting access and warning of imminent danger should you cross a threshold. What a place to live. You could easily picture a 'silent hill' type scenario taking place amongst the deserted streets and shacks.

A whirlwind three day tour of Adelaide ensued when I finally stepped off the train, dizzy with tiredness and travel fatigue. I met up with friends of friends of friends, with cousins and soon to be cousins, and hung out with fellow backpackers from the YHA before taking the Overland Train to Melbourne. Another 10 hours of train travel and I was happy to know that I wouldn't be getting on another for quite some time! Or so I thought.

Things in Melbourne didn't quite go according to plan. Within a matter of days I had caught a cold and a chest infection from the friend of a friend who I was staying with and had fallen out with the friend who had arranged for me to stay there... I had however made friends with my host in my own right by this point so although I was keen to leave to get to warmer climes I was, happily, not in any rush. As soon as I could stand up without getting lightheaded I said goodbye to Sophia and Lorissa and jumped on yet another train. This time to Sydney for what turned into a nine hour lay over before finally arriving in Brisbane, Queensland. Getting into Queensland proved tricker than one might originally have suspected. According to the train operators a deep seated dislike between the NSW and QLD agencies leads to NSW passengers being routinely asked to disembark and jump on coaches to cross the border as the QLD operators refuse to let the NSW trains through. This is not so un-understandable as it might at first seem. You see, the NSW trains have a nasty habit of being ridiculously late! My train left Sydney over two hours past its scheduled time. We were all kicked off at Casino at four in the morning where two coaches picked up the passengers who had connecting flights to catch. The rest of us hung around for over an hour while another coach was found to take us the rest of the way to Brisbane.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Having a Tooth Out

... I fled from the island very close to tears, the pain, the not knowing how or where to go to get something done about it, the knowing that I was thousands of kilometers away from anywhere without transport, the unhelpfulness of the islanders - my hosts, their aggression... It was all a bit too much. 

Travis, the fisherman, let me sit to myself with my thoughts for a bit. After we were a little way away he said "Don't worry about it. They'll get over it." consolingly, I got up and joined him at the helm saying, as I fought back tears of frustration and pain "I'm not fussed about that! I'll never see them again anyway, it's their issue." and then forlornly, "I just want this tooth to stop hurting and I don't know where to go..." a tear rushed out of my eye and my throat choked. Not a bit alarmed at this crying pommie in his boat Travis assured me that the lady who ran the backpackers lodge would help me sort it out. And then he told me about the Korean fella who had cycled up from Perth and was en route to Darwin when one of his tyres had buckled, she'd (he couldn't remember her name) ordered the parts for him and ordered more parts when he'd realised he hadn't got the right tools, she'd even picked them up and brought them back for him. I smiled, the Korean was a young man called Jin. As he'd left the hostel (the day I arrived) he'd brought me a cup of wheatbuck tea and then given me a painted fan.

As we came closer to the mainland I was again gripped with sea sickness. Tucking my hair into the back of my collar I lent over the boat and was hit in the face with my spit as soon as it left my mouth. Disgusted, I lent further overboard and caught the salty spray to wash it off.

Standing on the wooden pier was a man who resembled Travis, this must be one of his four brothers I thought. Indeed, it was. As Travis recounted my tales of woe at the hands of the islanders his brother laughed and said that "She's a bit of a hard one to get on with. They've changed over there. Not at all like how they used to be." The brothers uniformly agreed that it was 'Island Fever'. According to the brother there was a dentist truck in town and if I was lucky I might catch it. It was leaving soon, today or tomorrow, he wasn't sure which. I carted my stuff back to Bay Lodge and Caroline opened the door to receive me with surprise in her eyes, "I thought you were on the island! What happened?" I briefly summed up all that had happened, of which I have told you dear reader not even a little, and came to the crux; the dentist van, was it still in town? A short phone call later it was not, they had left an hour ago. "That's okay," said Caroline, "Tara is going to Carnarvon tomorrow and if the dentist there can't see you I can take you to Geraldton on Sunday, there are loads there."

It was all arranged. The one and only dentist in Carnarvon, who operates between 8am and 1pm, would see me. Tara collected me with a friend of hers and a baby boy in tow and off we sped past seemingly endless bush and red dust. There is only one road in and out of Shark Bay, it is some 200 or so kilometers and all it consists of is bush and red dust. There is something fascinating and hypnotic about the vastness and green and redness of the long winding road. I gazed out of the window in a sort of trance, unsure of whether the feeling could be attributed to the bush or to the all encompassing numbing pain in my upper left jaw that was gradually creeping its way down to my lower jaw - so much so that by the time we arrived at the dentist I could no longer tell where the pain was coming from and when I was asked to be certain I could not rely on memory alone and so inserted a finger and pushed hard on the bottom tooth, some pain. I pushed hard on the top tooth and, with an ill concealed shout of pain, I assured the good dentist that it was without any shadow of a doubt my top tooth. And yes, I was sure I wanted it removed.

A nasty tasting numbing agent in gel form was clenched between my teeth, a few moments later a needle pinched my cheek and then it jabbed and burrowed into the roof of my mouth. A pair of dentistry pliers was used to loosen the tooth. A few strong and concerted efforts of pushing and pulling and I was sure that he would knock the rest of the teeth out by domino effect alone! A larger pair of pliers were put into action and within what can't have been more than five minutes from start to finish there was the little blighter. The cause of all my agony and the islanders angst at my leaving them without warning. All of an inch and gleaming white. Something told me that the islanders didn't believe in my toothache. I was sorely tempted to take the tooth. To put it an envelope and mark it with "See!" but I was told that I could not have my tooth. My tooth, after being inside my mouth for some dozen and more years, was, now that it was outside my mouth, a bio hazard.

I left the dentist's office still picturing the islanders faces upon receiving my tooth in the post. Perhaps I could send them the dentists bill instead? No. It doesn't quite illicit the same response does it. I sat on the grassy verge and waited for Tara to come back for me.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Dirk Hartog Island

Dirk Hartog's was the second European expedition to set foot on Australian soil and, to current knowledge, the first to leave a mark of having visited.
The Island which he landed on and which was subsequently named after him is located in Shark Bay, a stunning World Heritage Area.
Sadly my phone was largely out of operation at this point and thus my photography was limited to a few shots here and there. Much to my chagrin I discovered later, upon reaching Melbourne some weeks after leaving, that the phone was not as useless as I had thought and I could still have been operating it. Oh well. No use crying over spilt milk.
The island was purchased by the current occupiers grandfather in the late '60's. He was one Sir Thomas Wardle, known for operating cheap supermarkets and philanthropy, he also ran successfully for Mayor of Perth in 1967. Up until Wardle's purchase the island had been used as a sheep station. He argued, when the lease came on the market, that it should be kept for public use by the government but as this idea was dismissed at the time he purchased it for his own private use: beginning the process of de-stocking it of sheep. The final sheep left only a handful of years ago under the oversight of his son and one of his grandsons - the current occupant of the island.
My stay on the island was brief. I came to it as a WWOOFer and left it in agony, in search of a dentist.
For the past few years the current occupants have been handing the majority of the island back to the Australian government for it to be used as a National Park as per the wish of Tom Wardle and the requirements of the lease under which he purchased it. They have also been running the old sheep shearers accommodation as an exclusive holiday retreat.
As a WWOOFer I had expected there to be farming and gardening work to do but was warned by the lady in charge before arriving that she mostly needed help with cleaning the guests rooms and preparing and generally tidying up after the guests. Perhaps I arrived at a difficult time, but talking to the locals who frequent the island and who have met and helped past WWOOfers, I'm not so sure. The work was all cleaning, which being used to it over the years was very easy to do and quickly finished and so I spent my days walking and reading and planning my next moves in the sunshine on secluded sandy beaches while turtles bobbed their heads and coughed at me and mini sharks darted in the shallow waters.
The slight annoyance at a complete lack of farm life, not even a veggie patch, and only being given cleaning tasks to perform began to weigh on me. Perhaps sensing my unease I was given a day off after only four days. I was invited by four guests to join them on their fishing trip. Despite being encouraged not to go and being told that I wasn't allowed to accept a rod if one of the guests gave me one, I went with them. They were an interesting and jolly bunch of lads. My unease at my position of being a volunteer who had 'defied' my hosts to go with the guests, weighed heavily. I felt that perhaps I was getting in their way. Perhaps they would have more fun without me there. The sane voice in my head reminded me that I had been invited by all of them warmly and welcomingly as we had sat around the after-dinner table playing cards. And re-invited by all of them the following morning. Still uneasy, I began to feel queasy. The boat rocked, my stomach churned, my breakfast fell into the water below. After the first unsuccessful fishing stop at Coral Bay we sped along to Turtle Bay where we slowed into the shallows and I jumped to shore.
It took a few hours to warm up again after the cold of the spray and wind as well as the fact that I had regurgitated all of breakfast as well as whatever phlegm I could muster. By the time the boys came back for me I was thoroughly warmed up and excited to see them as well as to see some fishing. The waters were calmer but as the fish weren't biting and I had nothing to do the feelings of sea-sickness once more washed over me and by the time we got home my lunch had joined my breakfast.
That evening as I taught them another game of cards I began to feel an aching in my top left jaw. By morning it had become full blown toothache. I have never before experienced dental pain, and I assure you, I never wish to again! I woke to find my left arm stuck to my mouth with drool and flecks of blood. I could not open my mouth further than it already was, neither could I close it. The school teacher found me in the staff kitchen with a half eaten bowl of cereal and tears streaming down my face. Each mouthful and been achieved at extraordinarily painful lengths. Her first, sane, oh so sane, reaction was to get me to take some pain killers. Being on an island, and with no real knowledge of where to find a dentist once back on the mainland (Denham only having a population of 600 and therefore not having a resident one) I turned to the skipper of the fishing trip. He was heading home and I knew once on the mainland my friends at Bay Lodge Hostel would be able to advise me further . He immediately agreed to take me. My hosts offered no help or advice on where or how to obtain a dentist, I don't think they believed that I needed one, simply asking me to stay at least one more day to do more work for them. When I explained the impossibility of this due to the fact that not being able to eat would make me too weak and useless to work for them, they sated their displeasure with a few choice swearwords and I was free from them, forever...