The New Decade

And so here we are, a new decade, one that feels much less like the gleaming science fiction future we were promised and much more like every dystopian novel realised.

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The area I live is not considered a high fire risk at the moment because it’s so drought-stricken that there’s practically no fuel for fires if they were to start, but like much of the state, the air is filled with fire smoke and the dust the wind picks up from the bare paddocks.

A strange side-effect is that when I’ve been driving through particular areas with my air-conditioning on, I’ve been getting contact rashes and my arms end up covered in hives. I’m assuming there’s some kind of pollen or seed in the air as grasses shed in distress.

Like a lot of people my age, I’ve lived through enough droughts to have heard of young children amazed by rain because they’ve never seen it before, but I’ve never seen anything like this.  It’s strange enough to see people in other parts of the country using sprinklers, they seem like foreign objects now, but it’s also becoming incongruous to see cattle and sheep when it doesn’t seem possible there’s anything left in paddocks for them to eat.

It’s not exactly the dazzling start to a new decade we’re conditioned to expect, but it’s what we’ve got and if anything perhaps we will emerge more resilient and wiser to how to resist the status quo.

The Garner Road Trip

The Sydney road trip was such a delight.

S and I left mid-morning Saturday, our only aim making it to a church in the back streets of Silverwater for a dance recital which promised both Alice In Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh.

We stopped in the mountains for deli sandwiches, the counter of which was run by a woman with a single, elaborate victory roll on top of her head and a commanding understanding of who exactly would be served and in what order.

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We made it to Silverwater, greeted by our startlingly tall nephew, loping down the footpath like a particularly excited puppy.

He will always be the first person I loved at first sight, a fact that didn’t appear to matter to him as he squirmed away from me while I danced in my seat to the pre-performance music. I appear to have reached the point where adoration gives way to a sense of in no way wanting anyone to associate him with the old person making a fool of themselves in public.

V

Thankfully his younger sister still has a few years left of unadulterated love for being looked at, spoken to, celebrated, before she too inevitably finds me so embarrassing.

L played a tap-dancing Tigger, the only problem being the very dramatic discovery she had lost a single tap shoe backstage, so she ended up being an excellent tap-dancing, jazz shoe-wearing Tigger instead.

She very gracefully accepted her post-performance gift from S, a pair of gaudy clip-on earrings, like the future Broadway star she is.

Lexi

All official aunt duties complete, the rest of the weekend slipped into a haze of cocktails and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

We started at the The Old Clare in Chippendale, where we indulged in a cocktail called the Scarlett, the appeal of which was the tequila and cinnamon base, the pleasant surprise of which was the cherry and marshmallow garnishing.

thescarlett

The last time I was at The Old Clare was many years prior, the last night it was just, I guess, The Clare.

I don’t remember much of that night, except drinking a lot of wine with a lot of women in the bathrooms while we took selfies, the only evidence I have that the night actually ever happened:

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We had dinner at NOMAD in Surry Hills, which serves simple but incredible modern Middle Eastern food and cocktails named without flourish.

I partook of The Gin Drink and The Vodka Drink.

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The highlights of the banquet menu for me were the fried green olives with nduja, the zucchini flowers with truffle honey and pecorino and the cauliflower with jersey yoghurt and currant escabeche.

Delicious!

Sunday was the main event: Helen Garner. On stage. In person.

Helen Garner, author of more sentences that have stunned me than any other writer, books with more empathy in their pages then I could ever hope to hold in my heart and the creator of the bluntest, saltiest, most perfectly constructed prose I’ve ever read.

Right there. In front of us. For one hour, during which she gave every single question an absolute considered response.

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Afterwards we walked through Martin Place, earlier in the day crowded with people taking part in a religious protest, which by evening had given way to crowds looking at the incredibly large and newly erected Christmas trees.

We went to the GPO for yet more cocktails, this time an embarrassingly tall Pimms, which arrived accompanied by the surprised laughter of the tables around us, and whose straw was completely unmanageable from a sitting position.

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By Monday, we were tired, looking forward to a quick visit to Newtown for brunch and a relaxed drive home.

Newtown is probably the only place in Sydney which tugs my heartstrings and gives me the smallest doubt that moving to the country was the right decision.

I miss the cold, dark terrace I lived in with some of the best housemates I ever had, the late-night restaurants and the cinema with an art-house slant. I miss all the picnics in parks and the friends living close by, sitting in their backyards with beer on hot afternoons.

King St

There wasn’t much time to wallow in it though. About half-way home my car’s ignition coils gave up with a sigh and a shudder and I’ve spent the days since grateful for my country town mechanic who will fit me in whenever I need him, for working within walking distance of both him and home, living close enough to family to get help when I need it and seeing my two little nieces enthralled and completely taken in by the magic of Christmas tress and fairy lights.

Sydney though, I will be back and we will continue our complicated relationship another time.

The Bush Fires

The weather has suddenly become claustrophobic, the house like an oven when I get home from work, having baked in the afternoon sun.

It’s the kind of weather where you open up the windows and there’s no cool air anywhere to displace the heat.

Everything smells like the bush fires, just weeks ago the wood fire heating of the neighbours, the seasons changed so fast.

Just a few months ago we built a big bonfire to burn off some dropped branches, yesterday the caramel-coloured labradoodle appeared covered in black soot, having rolled in the remaining ashes of the bonfire which would now be catastrophic to even consider.

My dad came home after a day of drafting lambs, his face and hands covered in the orange dirt that has been hanging in a haze, looking like he’d had a terrible spray tan, a country cousin of George Hamilton with his teeth and hair looking peculiarly white.

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Our town is in the news for its progressive water restrictions, which were never fully lifted after the last bad drought a few years ago, but it still feels like everything is running out.

If you are a water diviner you’re doing a booming trade, your craft seeming less like mysticism to the people eager to pay through the teeth for metres and metres of exploration to find bore water.

The impending summer feels like it will make or break things.

The Drought

At some point in the last couple of months, the crunchy dead grass gave way to exposed dirt and the wind kicked up this dirt, which now hangs in the sky.

A couple of days ago it threatened to rain and the dust slowly descending on clouds, two horizons of earth meeting.

When it did rain, it rained dirt and the next day every car in town was covered in streaks of it, lines at the local car wash now regularly extend into the street with people banned from washing their cars at home.

Washing your car on your front lawn now seems like a luxury almost too wasteful to have ever been true, much like sprinklers, which are now foreign objects, nostalgic symbols of bygone Australiana like really tanned dads in high-cut shorts, holding cans of VB.

Amongst this though, roses bloom, flowers of the desert.

Roses

 

The Funeral

The road that leads to my house is flat, but curves gently to the right and then left. It’s lined with a mixture of homes and businesses: Storage sheds set back from the road, a vacant lot being turned into one of the town’s dozens of petrol stations.

On this road there is no reason to stop.

One afternoon I was driving home for lunch and was startled to see the entire stretch of road, a kilometre or more, lined with cars. Each side street I passed was full, ending with a dark blue Mercedes parked outside my house.

It felt apocalyptic, something must have happened to bring this many people to this part of town and yet besides the empty cars everything was quiet, nothing seemed out of order.

I sat my driveway and checked social media – in a town this size anything unusual is noted and speculated about, but there was nothing.

Finally I messaged my sister, a local journalist, who immediately knew.

A funeral, a young women her age, mother of one, a brain tumour.

Opposite what will eventually become a 7-Eleven is a fairly nondescript church of blonde brick and all the cars belonged to people, probably hundreds of them, who had come to this church in the middle of the day to mourn her.

The scale of their mourning shifted the entire appearance of the neighbourhood, made it seem hushed.

It made me pause, it was touching that one life could bring all of these people together in one place to love her, to be around one another as they loved her.

I finished my lunch and I drove back to work, past small groups of mourners making their way back to their cars. When I returned that evening, they were all gone, there was nothing to suggest this street had been crowded with heartbreak just hours before.

 

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