No Man’s Land
I was born out in the west of New South Wales one blistering hot day at the beginning of the summer of 1947. In those days the Macquarie river flowed full and strong, clear and cool, making sense of the little town which otherwise sat baking and indifferent on its plain of bindis, dust and pepper trees, not to mention the rabbits, immigrants from more verdant landscapes, brought here for sport by that most blood-sporting of people, the English; to the north west of the town lay the Snake Plains which in the wet turned into an impassable muddy bog as far as the Dubbo to Bourke railway line eighteen kilometres away. Around this bush town, populated mostly by the Anglo-Celts, a couple of Greek families, and in our street several families of Aborigines, the rabbits spread in profligate busyness into every paddock, their burrows giving name to the town - Warren. Somewhere before memories began, before time, in blackness spun and woven, when all seemed like sparks and strange wonderment, full and pressing upon a very small and reflective listener, showers of harmonics drew thin spiralling strands of accumulated possibilities into collaboration, into the sensation of purpose; heart pumping faster than it ever would again before snuffing out, releasing the restless spirit to its wandering ways; but for now the chemistry had begun and I start to feel the blueness light bleeding through, reflex arching from toes to kidneys, eyes closedopen, oceans of blood small fingers grasping….self as bells, self as pleasure, orchestras of winds and roaring foam. Imperatives press hard and I am thrust through- tight, impossibly tight tangled in pulsing lifeline. It's all blood, drinking motherbrine. Stuck. Something holds me back. She. The occult crescendo of steely, pungent memories begins to flood in as I decant with a loud and sudden whoosh, hanging on. Someone's got the orchestra at full tilt, never mind the glare. Effulgent light breaks and bursts on my skin and the close, dry heat of midday quickly dries my saturated cells. Harsh and sharp, pinkling nostrils quiver, surprised how hot and vaporous it all seemed just then….But that was all over in the flick of an eye. Another end, another beginning, tail in the mouth I swallowed, blinked, swallowed again and started breathing; in out in out… nothing to it really. Sweet and tender as the velvet petals of the fennel flower. This is my kind of place! Somehow. The story begins some eight years earlier and a rough, twelve hour drive back over the Blue Mountains to the coast, in Caringbah, an outer suburb of Sydney. Before the outbreak of the Second World War. February 1939. A man and his wife and their four sons go about their business. The father of the boys works as a fitter and turner in a factory to which he travels daily on the train leaving early in the morning having had his usual breakfast of smoked haddock and black tea. In his overalls and carrying his workers leather satchel with a few sandwiches and his thermos, he strolls the mile and a half to the local station to sit, silent and uncomplaining, letting his eyes run over the morning paper to peruse, routinely, the unfolding of an increasingly hazardous-looking political scene in Europe. He's my grandfather, Jack. A wiry old bloke, usually quiet, deferring to his more assertive wife; and sleeping in a small room of his own at the back of the house, like a cell, sparse, a narrow bunk, a small table with a couple of drawers. The air in the room always seemed to hang from the ceiling, the faint smell of rolly tobacco marbling around in its confinement. Rejected from the marital bed after a failed venture into flower farming which his wife had fiercely resisted. He'd insisted, she'd acquiesced and the plan had fallen over, so that was it. No more shared bed. The withholding of favours - an ancient female prerogative. She potters about the house cleaning up the breakfast things before doing her morning tidying of the bedrooms all now empty, beds unmade in a male dominated house where the allocation of domestic chores was never questioned; her boys would never have performed those chores to her satisfaction anyway. She was a fastidious old bird, my Gran. As she bustles about, the wireless crackles and pops and occasionally croons in the still morning air. It's not so loud that the several blow flies in the kitchen can't be heard every now and then darting to some preferred pozzy, some warming piece of the kitchen window. There's distance in the air. One of her boys works in town in an advertising agency where he does layout and artwork, and being a junior party cops a lot of the menial push and shove that is the lot of apprentices in all walks of life; but he struggles on as he has a real flare for the work. He has to leave home even earlier than his dad as it's another thirty minutes on the train to his office in the city. The other three boys are still at home in the garage out the back tinkering with an old 'ute they'd acquired from an engineer mate of their dad's. They'd got it going but were trying to work out how to keep it going. There wasn't much in the way of spares or tools but the boys were imaginative and could devise makeshift substitutes that had them terrifically pleased with themselves as they worked towards getting the old banger out onto the paddock at the back of their block. The old horse who lived there, ignored for years, was in for a rude change to his somnambulant lifestyle which till now he'd only had to share with the piping peewees and a dilapidated shed with a few too far gone bits of rusted out machinery. There was no way of even rightly saying what they'd once been. The corrugated iron roof of the shed had fallen in and the roughly hewn timber walls were rotting and grown through with all manner of weeds, tall and flowering, one of which was a particular favourite of the old horse whose only nourishment these days, aside from the paddock grass and weeds was the odd bit of stale bread passed over the back fence which got him slapping his lips in equine delight as he ambled up to savour its bake. When the woman has finished her daily chores she sits down to have a little reward. A second cup of tea and she cuts herself a slice of sponge cake she'd made the day before folded through with a strawberry jam she'd also made herself with strawberries from the garden. This is her pleasure now that her boys have grown up and Jack was no longer welcome. Gardening. Mostly flowers which grow in orderly profusion in a dozen beds in the yard. It's an impressive sight most of the year round in a climate ideally suited for ornamentals, shrubs and bushes of many kinds, carefully chosen. She's a careful kind of woman, neat and particular but now she's somewhat forgotten in the family. In the corner of the yard there's a marvellous shady spot created by two weeping willows. There's a hammock slung between them from which the whole little creation can be viewed whilst swinging by pulling on a rope attached to the washing line, one of those T-bar types with a pivot at the junction of the horizontal and vertical sections allowing the line to be raised or lowered. This was the standard backyard washing line in these parts before that metallic tree, that icon of Australian suburbia, the Hills hoist proliferated ugly across the land. This morning she's putting in a fresh planting of her favourite pansies. She's getting a bit heavy now, too many cakes, she's no longer a young thing and the years and their worries have accumulated visibly under her skin. Now she mostly lives in the pleasures she derives from her garden and the tasty delights she pops into her mouth, little finger delicately raised, something all young ladies were silently encouraged to do; apparently a sign of good breeding copied from the flustery world of English garden party etiquette. Amusingly, this quirk seeped into her boys, unknowingly of course, in the way they drank their beer… whether it was a glass or straight from the bottle, that little finger, like some prehensile signing, a vestige of digital language, waved. Sometimes it was straight out, priapic, unequivocal, sometimes crooked, a little shy, perhaps self-conscious at last. This quaint mannerism even extended to a third generation, surviving until that time when everything was subject to scrutiny and comment. I'd picked it up and with some help from my friends, dropped it, although every now and then, proving that muscle memory runs deep, that little finger rears up, recalcitrant before a world of changing meanings. The war in Europe brought little change to the lives of these Australians. Time moved slowly in those days, change was something they gave you over the counter after you paid for your groceries. But the young men were going off to fight the good fight, our very best currency being shipped out, handed across the counter and whatever we were buying there, we weren't getting a lot of change back; waiting for news of their young men at war in Europe the shopkeeper standing behind that counter started to look terrifyingly like that old hooded figure with the scythe and he was hungry, greedy, keeping too much for himself. But the cause was just and they were told God was on their side. With the high level of demonising the enemy which always accompanies war time propaganda there was scant opportunity for independent thought. Australians were predominantly a pretty conformist bunch anyway. The war would fatally destabilise those roots, although it would take the war in Vietnam twenty years later for that experience to percolate to the activist surface of Australian society. In the meantime the bravado and adventurism of youth ensured the suppression of any substantive oppositional thought on the matter. Australia by reflex did the bidding of the British, hell, we were British, members of the British Empire. The tail-end of that thinking is still with us embodied in the reactionary conservatism of Coalition politics at the start of the twenty first century. Amongst other anachronistic beliefs these retrovisionists still like to retain the Union Jack in the top left hand corner of the Australian flag, like some stamp of legitimacy without which the nation would founder. But colonialism, like all isms must have an end. Nothing sinister about that. A people want their national symbol to have character and no doubt once our collective persona achieves a grown up character all its own, an appropriate symbol will appear. The late Sir Sydney Nolan, celebrated Australian painter, suggested we use the instantly recognisable shape of the Australian continent as the design. Unique and unforgettable. The war ground on, dripping down from the north like some creeping necrophile nightmare, the very essence of sinister, dark and oozing; collective dissatisfactions, lubricated by the blood of their own being, groaned towards a conclusion. But before that endbeginning could stamp its final irony on the planet, it had several torturous years to go, and my Gran had to watch her oldest boy pack a bag after a few hours preliminary training out at the air force base at Richmond, Sydney, and then, with a few thousand other young men climb the ramp to ship out to old mother England. To defend her honour. To avert the threatened rape and pillage of that small island standing so brave and defiant in the face of what looked like a replay of the war to end all wars, but which was in effect the second act of a two act play in the Theatre of Europe. The blackest of all Comedies. That eldest son, my dad, never spoke of his experiences in the war. Well, not to me anyway. He never mentioned it. I'd seen his decorations in a small box packed away in some darkly forgotten place one day whilst rummaging around, eyes blank, nose breathing in the unsmellable traces of other people's memories, dusty but sensationally evocative of….I was never quite sure what. There they were though, four or five campaign gongs and the one with the flash ribbon- the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was nineteen when they put him in charge of a Lancaster bomber flying out of their base at a place called Mildenhall on the east coast of England. RAF Squadron 622 - Bellamus Noctu. We went there one day, to Mildenhall, he and his wife and his seventeen- year-old son. An empty old aerodrome, a few Nissen huts and a large hanger, also empty. The floor had been marked out for indoor hockey and the only sounds that echoed there for my ears were the siren squeaks of sand shoes. As to what he heard, he didn't say. A silent pilgrimage. But that was the closest I ever came to his locked up cave of what must have been a clutch of painful and probably, even for him by that stage, inaccessible memories. I remember driving away from the benign impression I had of the place, and in the cramped confines of the hire car siding with him in some kind of instinctive solidarity, in a squabble he was having with my mother. It was all very turgid. Later on, the sharp edge of that exchange returned to surprise me and I wondered how we'd bickered and bit, moved by something none of us could really see. Later on, years later on, an uncle from my mother's side did some research with the War Department which turned up some details of his adventures in that grimy episode, the Second World War…. The incident described the successful return, in the face of great technical difficulties, of his shot up Lancaster and its crew to the mothershore. He was evidently a pilot of considerable skill. I don't recall the detail of the citation, but clearly, whatever it was, it wasn't enough to comfort his pain. An explanation lay perhaps in the recently revealed Bomber Command strategy in the latter stages of the war of bombing civilians in the German cities; not a very honourable practice and apparently a source of profound disquiet amongst the high principled air crew, among who, generally soaring above the mud and the blood of the trenches, such notions of honour and chivalry were very late casualties. Those were the orders to the aircrew though and according to Joseph Heller in his sequel to Catch 22, Closing Time, the fire bombing of Dresden killed more people than the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The consequences of bucking such orders in times of war were of course dire in the extreme. So the old man just stored it all up in his private vault of inarticulated and unresolved grievances. Emotional scar tissue…a big inhibitor to the later free circulation of emotions in his life and likely to intrude its subtle internal influence on the forces at large influencing the development of his son born less than two years after the end of the war. As a two-year-old while peddling about on a tricycle in the back yard, a gust of wind, that old aider and abetter, came to blow down a large sheet of corrugated iron which knocked me over into a hole and broke my left leg. After the leg healed, in a land seething with sunshine and a superabundance of vitamin D, I developed rickets and had to wear metal braces on two soft boned legs, clanking around steel shackled, a novice walker early encumbered with the sensation of restraint. In retrospect, arrows can be seen pointing to some pressing issue trying to climb out into the light of day, something from the unconscious, flagging. But around that time, at the age of about three, the miracle of language and the busyness of learning to be someone came to close down the freely swinging door to the inner worlds and the excitement of all that mask play filled me up for the next twenty-odd years after which time the door began to swing wide open once again and exposed me once again to the winds of fate and this time let in a more enduring sign; these things never go away, they just go underground. Here's the premise: the body is the outward and visible sign of the unconscious and directing influences of genetic coding and environmental influence. Let me propose the shape of the body to be the revelation of the labour and interactions of these accumulated forces and that a substantial amount of the events affecting this body have their origins in the magnetics of its inner shape, in combination with the outside world. I say substantial so as to not eliminate the random and essentially meaningless component inherent in every transaction which sometimes can be the dominating determinant but sometimes exerts absolutely no shaping influence at all. Any theory not containing this random factor must be flawed in that it presupposes the ludicrous notion that understanding or knowledge can be complete. That might work reasonably well when dealing with the workings of the internal combustion engine or how to bake a cake, but breaks down fundamentally when applied to the affairs of the human being whose head is in the heavens and whose feet are buried deep in the fissionable swamp of prehistory. So, the body then is a map for navigating the journey we all must make from the beginning to the end and beyond. Though not only the map. Also the transport and like those vehicles which must pass through more than one medium, must have more than one stage, like the axolotl which when it moves to the dry land from the water simply abandons its baroque protruding breathing apparatus and activates its till then unused internal lungs and steps boldly into a new life. Or the rocket which begins its life on earth where it must thrust mightily to escape the power of gravity and having achieved that end discards the heavy components and retains its light weight capsule form for navigation in zero gravity space. Now picture the human body if you will, divided into three easily identified segments: the legs, the torso and the head. With our legs we move around on the planet; the torso contains the engine room; and the head, adolescent males notwithstanding, contains the planning and control centre. In terms of a journey through life then, semiotically, the body can be read thus: the legs represent the unconscious, the foundation on which we exist, the waters upon whose face we move. The torso represents the conscious awareness of the details of our day to day lives, our doing and beingness. The head is the symbol for the world beyond the physical, the metaphysical, the Spirit. Our destiny. There are of course many other possible interpretive interpenetrating pictograms to achieve a personal diagnostic but in the pursuit of an answer to the riddle of life we either swallow the superstitions of others or we make it up ourselves....without fear and hopefully with plenty of flavour.  After the war, on his return to Australia and now just turned twenty one, my future father shouldered his kit and strolled through the gold paved city streets of Sydney to Central railway station, hardly able to grasp the pleasure he was feeling from the ground under his feet and the bold brassy blue glare of day on his eyes. They were his eyes and they were his memories of this place; the sounds of the pigeons warbling as they scrounged around on the station platform cradled him in a reassuring comfort, but the last two years had interceded volumes of fast churning indelible pictures and feelings that now hung like a translucent skin before his inner eye and everything had to refract through that skin before he could grasp it. He felt strange, dislocated now from the world he's once known so simply. Back in his own place now he realised himself to be in no man's land. He felt robbed and the cruel part of it was that no one else seemed to notice. He walked sharpish over to the kiosk in the centre of the platform, his steel tipped heels puncturing the air; the kiosk's tiny cubicle was bursting with the little consumables so charged with associations of childhood pleasures, but ignoring those, he asked the elderly lady squeezed in behind the counter for a packet of Craven "A" to satisfy a more recently acquired taste. He had a corrupted cocktail of appetites now and the manner of their appeasement was still largely unknown to this young man. The train to Caringbah didn't leave for another ten minutes so he sat back on the bench, opened the packet and took out a cigarette, lit it, inhaled deeply and sank into the strange emotion swelling just behind his eyeballs and spreading down to his toes. It was like two things at once; the familiar and the unknown, blending somehow; the soft folds of a warm pillow and the sharp harsh edge of metal teeth somehow woven together. He noticed he couldn't feel his feet and a mild panic appeared to rush up his forearms, dive into his armpits and swirl about as a crescendo of some mad beast rising made him wrench open his eyes to realise that the train was pulling into the platform. He took a deep breath, picked up his kit and scrambled on. It was the Cronulla train and once he'd settled in back home, that would be his first destination: Cronulla beach. His memory banks were overpowering him with sensations of hot blazing sun on his skin, the breeze sounding through the giant pine trees that lined the esplanade, the waft of fried chips and salt water pouring up his nose as he tumbled, dumped in the mighty waves crashing in the summer heat. The train rattled on, the singe of burned electricity cutting into his reverie keeping him close to the surface, in the train. From the station at Caringbah it was a good thirty minute walk to the top of his old street, the houses set way back from the wide graded road. As he got closer to his parental house his thoughts turned to what he might do with his life now he was home again. The sight of the white painted, red roofed fibro place was enough to wing his mind into what he might do once he got there. Well for a start he wasn't going to fly aeroplanes. The war had created something of an oversupply of pilots, and the rush to get into Australian National Airlines looked just a bit undignified and rather too much like bus driving. No. He'd wait and see. As it turned out his two young brothers had gone into truck driving, cajoling old semi's up to the Northern Territory and back. They told him about a job with the Shell oil company which needed drivers for their petrol tankers servicing the country centres of New South Wales. That suited him for the moment so he took the job. Driving hundreds of miles, hours and hours by yourself was just what he needed to settle down, find his bearings, sort out the too complex tangles grinding away not very far from the tip of his nose. Of course he didn't have a clue how to do any of that sorting out business, you just had to sit in it and wait for it to take its course. No counselling industry then. You kept your own council. You took responsibility for your own life. You suffered in solitary. You built your own walls. No shortage of bricks. He loved getting out of the city, through the press of Parramatta Road, out over the Blue Mountains and down into the western plains. Vast open spaces, how he loved it, sitting behind the wheel, simmering as his brain percolated away sucking in the clear air, the magic of warbling currawongs, the magpies, the mobs of kangaroos….and those breathtaking storms when black clouds dumped mountains of whipping rain across the road, flicking off great boughs from the gum trees like so many matchsticks to crash and explode into tinder on the road. A smallish branch had actually ricocheted off the bonnet of his truck one afternoon, shearing off to whack into the windscreen, smashing it into tiny fragments. It was only about three o'clock in the afternoon but it was almost night-time dark. He'd had to stop and sit out the storm feeling the winds buffeting his tanker, rocking it like it was a boat in strong swell. Dubbo was the major centre for distribution in the west of the state and he'd use that as a base to service the outlying towns, sometimes he'd stay overnight in the local pub of one of those small towns, have a few beers, a bit of a yarn; he enjoyed some conversation after all those solitary hours bumping around in his truck and the beer lubricated his tongue and whet his appetite for human company. In one of those small towns in the bar one night he met the local teacher, a bloke about his own age who could hold down a decent conversation and the two of them hit it off. The next time the young tanker driver was in town the school teacher told him he'd organised for his girl friend Maizie to come over the next day, from Warren, about sixty miles away. They were planning a game or two of tennis, maybe a swim in the river…and she was bringing her sister, so he'd be pleased to have someone about to entertain the younger sister for the afternoon. It was easy enough for him to rearrange his schedule, so the next day, the two boys, doused with Californian Poppy, the hair oil flavour of the time (probably that's all you could get) and all spicked up, waited in the dust outside the Courthouse in the midday heat, casual, unaware of the charge in the moment beetling down the main street towards them. Leila was at the wheel of the Desoto as it pulled up in a flurry of squeaking brakes and a cloud of dust that overtook the car, and, like a chaser that had forgotten why it was chasing, looked back over its shoulder and exhausted, lay back down on the road. The two young men leaped back to avoid the reclining billow of red dust and smiled their most rakish of smiles for the best possible impression. The girls climbed out of the car dressed for tennis and ready to go. They'd brought a picnic for the afternoon, so they all strolled around the corner to play. They were gorgeous girls, two of a family of five sisters and three brothers. The girls all had Spanish black hair, large mouths which the younger ones were fond of painting with bright red lipstick. Not today though, not for tennis, their fresh clear faces and supple bodies seductive enough for the fun at hand, but given the right setting Maizie and Leila Teys had a real flair for decoration, some might say, indeed some did say, gaudy decoration… possibly a throw back to what might have been an Irish Celt blood line, but in the fine tradition of Australians with their dubious histories, there'd been little interest paid to our family's origins. I knew nothing of any of my great-grandparents, neither their names nor their places of origin, let alone anything beyond that. The girls also had skinny legs which they'd got from their mother Freida; not unlike the kind of legs you see on Aboriginal women. I'd travelled out to Dubbo to wish her farewell on the occasion of her death and, somewhat interested in probing the old girl's brain before that repository of family memory was no more I asked her whether there was an Aboriginal connection somewhere along the line. She smiled an enigmatic smile and turned to look out of the hospital window avoiding a reply. Whatever the ethnicity of the Teys family, it was the sight of Leila dancing around the tennis court in those white shorts that fatally wounded the heart of that petrol tanker driver. They were married within a couple of months with the teacher as their best man and, wasting no time, nine months later, legitimately speaking, in a rush and tumble and keen to get on with it, I was born in the early summer of 1947, in Warren, in a house run by the local midwife, into the still air and the quiet torpor of a rural backwater town, population 858, now 859. The girl's father, "Butcher" as he was known, as a young man had been light boned and agile. He'd started working in the stables of the local racetrack. This led fairly naturally to a brief career as a jockey until his weight cut him out. But by then the life of the track had a hold on him so he continued with a bit of horse training on the side; then, to prop up the inevitable punting, he took up bookmaking, an occupation he was to hand on to his two younger sons; and for a little while in Wollongong, Maizie ran an SP operation out of her kitchen…until the law interfered. If you like gambling and you're smart you become a bookmaker. The government has to have its cut, so if you don't have a license and you use the phones to take bets, they're on to you, quick smart. Spoilers. The oldest boy, Ally took to the shearing sheds. There weren't that many options for young blokes in small country towns, and sheep, before the advent of water guzzling cotton, were the major industry. You started as a rouseabout, making sure the shearer's pen was full of sheep for them to drag out to fleece. You then picked up the fleece from the floor, throw-spreading it onto the wool sorter's table. After that you had to sweep up the bits and pieces of wool and if you heard "tarboy", you had to grab the tin of disinfectant and slap it on the bums of the sheep whose backsides had been infected with maggots. Those sheds were something else. The tin roof accelerated the heat to surreal dimensions, combined with a pace of work determined by two factors: the shearers were paid by the number of sheep they did in a day and obviously the more sheep you sheared the better man you were and, the competition was serious. The bloke who was the fastest was the "gun". My uncle Ally regularly took out the spot at the head of the line of shearers for the better part of twenty years after which time the intensity of labour took its toll and his pride surrendered its coveted ascendancy and he bought a little fruit and veg. shop for a deserved decline into old age. Their mother, Freida her name was, although a lot of people called her Gert, was the real force in that family. The matriarch without doubt, she kept a tight grip on her brood and appeared to brook no back chat to her indomitable will. Even when her sons were middle-aged, she would still go around to their places and do their washing…no one was going to stop her. The daughters-in-law never seemed all that impressed. It was a tight knit, clannish sort of family where collective attitudes were the levy banks behind which its strength magnified. So it was strong in itself, not to be flooded out, but it was vulnerable to inner decay from a lack of openness and an unrecognised fear of the loss of the familiar; probably not an altogether unusual feature of the operation of families in any time or place, but particularly apparent here in western New South Wales. I always came into this world from far away, scrambling over the sand bags for my stringently measured dose of that family and then away again, unconstrained, back to the big city. My father had a pretty hard time of it there in Warren in the first few months of my life. He was an outsider and a city boy to boot, with a well developed will of his own; not shy to speak his mind, but with a need to tread carefully in this brand new set of circumstances before him. Circumstances infinitely more complex in their demands than anything he'd previously encountered. In the war, in a way, it had been quite easy. You just obeyed orders. Here there was no chain of command he would recognise. The dominant clique he had to deal with was deeply rooted in the place, immured within its own certainties, so inward looking, that really from their point of view he was like a marauder, galloping in to plunder and steal. Even if he had wanted to join that little world, his sense of independence, brutally cultured in the broad spectrum of war, would naturally have precluded him. Sure, he'd brought an addition to the family with the new child, but they feared the undercurrent of his influence would tow away the gains and they'd lose their daughter as well. The centrifugal forces of time would confirm their worst fears. All this naturally enough was never spoken, could never be spoken. It only existed in the tensions that interfered with the free flow of emotions and the awkwardness in managing the details of daily life. For a few months after my birth we lived on in the Teys' household, in a caravan out the back, next to the woodpile; the aroma of chopped pine lying on a bed of soft splintered chips like a low fog you had to wade through to get into the house or to cross the back yard to the dunny, a proudly solitary little corrugated sentinel to colonic relief, festooned with spider webs and bits of torn up newspaper, some hanging from a nail poking out of the framework and a further collection, which served as flooring, softening the abrasive concrete slab. When we returned from wherever we happened to be living in the world at the time for a visit, this back yard, chopping the wood for the stove so we could have breakfast, toasting the bread through its little caste iron doorway on a long home made wire fork, the smell of the black tea…were all deeply pleasurable events. The fragrance of pine smoke invariably releases in me, in the most exquisite detail, those moments, that place. The logistics of working the petrol tanker job in with his new found responsibilities would eventually prove too clumsy, and so served as a useful excuse to do something about their future. The imperatives of a new family made the decision to return to Sydney to join the queue of pilots waiting to get into the local commercial carrier an easy one for my father. It was a decision with a little something for everyone. Except old Butcher. He was grief stricken at the prospect of losing his favourite girl- all the way to Sydney- a whole day's drive away in the great city. You could get lost down there and even if you came back, something of the place always hung on to you, robbed you of that indefinable quality that you always recognised in someone from the bush, coloured with the intimacy of family life. He was right, and at times in the following years thousands of miles from Warren, it did seem like a poor trade to my mother; eventually her old father would come to suffer in impotent rage as that part of himself in his beloved child flickered out, beyond his reach, and burst his heart. But back then in those early days it was decided that we would move down to Sydney and after much weeping and comforting and promises, Butcher packed us into his old ute, stacked the three ports in the back and drove us to the station at Nevertire to catch the train. My first move. The beginning of this peripatetic life. Not much to see for the moment though; cerulean sky, the tops of pepper trees, much greener than they should have been. They always seemed like they were showing off to the more numerous parched and dusty looking eucalypts surviving around them. Some disconsolate clouds evaporated, wandering without much purpose across the sky as we bumped and rattled along the track to meet the train. My mother was very excited and noticed nothing of the world she was leaving, keeping up a constant hubbub of conjecture to which there was little need of reply. So the two men, elbows hung out the doors looked straight ahead, eyes as glazed as the flat shimmering landscape that trundled by. Once we were in the south bound steam train tertickterticking our way to the big city she settled down, letting the gentle sadness of parting bump around in her heart for a bit until, softly bruised, she fell asleep, my head on her breast as I listened to the sounds of her breathing slow down which seemed to encourage her heart until it too became more languid, its hypnotic rhythm seeping into my comfort and carrying me away to a more ethereal waiting room.
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