Running from Office

The following verse followed me from the city and found me where I am working in remoter parts:

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better

Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the ‘bidgee, years ago,

He was doctoring when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,

Just `on spec’, addressed as follows, `Goldie, Doctor of The Overflown’.

And an answer came directed in a writing not unexpected,

(And for sure the same was written with that horrible doctors’ scrawl)

‘Twas his running mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:

`Goldie’s gone to Queensland doctoring, and we don’t know where he are.’

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Goldie

Gone a-doctoring `down the Cooper’ where the Western doctors go;

As his flock are slowly sitting, Goldie runs past them singing,

For the bush doctor’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him

In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a not so stingy

Ray of sunlight struggles not so much between the buildings tall,

And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city

Through the air con floating, spreads its foulness over all

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle

Of the tramways and the ‘buses making hurry down the street,

And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,

Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me

As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,

With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,

For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Goldie,

Like to take a turn at doctoring where the seasons come and go,

While he faced the round eternal of the drafting and advising —

But I doubt he’d suit the office, Goldie, ‘Doctor of The Overflown’.

Nicholas Miller, legal practitioner and versifier, has doctored Paterson’s ‘Clancy ‘

Atul Gawende and the Cane Toad

Running along the road in the early mornings through the sleeping town and out through the canefields I ruminate on Gawande’s important recent work, ‘Being Mortal’. I think of the quick and the dead and I think of the slowing that comes to the quick before they join the dead. 

Before me, beside me, ahead and behind lie cane toads, flattened by motor cars. Quick as they were but yesterday, they were not quick enough. Now they lie about me, very dead.

 

How, I wonder, does the cane toad die? I mean in nature, without cars, wheels and tarmacadam? Does Old Toad embrace his kin, exchange farewells, lie down and, like the stoic Inuit, wait? Does he – or do his relatives – euthanase him with their poison? It is to the merit of Dr Gawande that my thoughts soar to such heights in the mellow time before sunrise.

 

Back at the hospital I ask my fellow doctor, ‘How does the cane toad die when the motor car won’t put him out of his misery?’

Dr Danny is a Queenslander. He knows. Over ten minutes he enlightens me: ‘Scientists introduced cane toads to Queensland to defeat the cane beetle that was eating the crop. The idea failed – wrong toad, wrong beetles. Both thrived. The toad multiplied, spread throughout the waterways and headed west to despoil Arnhem Land and the Top End. 

Cane toads became so numerous they even outnumbered the next most prevalent pest, the Grey Nomad. Growing up in Bundaberg I never saw a road free of toads. There’d be thirty between our front door and the gate. They love Queensland. They feed on our lizards, our insects and our own frogs. Our frogs are cute. The toads are not.

 

‘But here’s the interesting thing. They’re dying out. There are roads where you mightn’t see a single toad. It’s almost eerie.’

 

Is it the motor car, I wonder?

 

‘No, not the car. No human agency can take the credit. That’s not for lack of trying. People carry golf clubs and practise their driving on the toads. They freeze them, which is said to be merciful. From time to time the ‘papers offer a prize for the greatest number of frozen toads. The Innisfail Advocate presents the winner with a voucher for a banquet of frogs’ legs at the local French restaurant.

 

All of this turns out to be a token gesture. None of it slowed the marchof the toad north and west. And the toad had no natural enemies. Birds would swoop, peck and die. The dorsal poison glands killed them. Man’s best friends died like flies: I mean small dogs; they’d bite and froth at the mouth. I had to wash out the mouth of my Grannie’s King Charles Cavalier whenever I went to stay with her. The dog never learned.

 

‘But the crow did. Crows swooped, upended the toads and bit their bellies, a poison-free zone. Toads died, crows crowed. The magpies watched all this and learned to do the same. Goodnight, sweet toad.’

 

Bloody still in tooth and claw, Nature operates with impartial grimness. But my question remains unanswered: what End of Life Directive does Old Toad give his offspring? How does the toad die? What lessons can we learn from this supremely ugly, universally loathed creature? 

 

Barring sudden death at the hand of man or God, I shall see the day when I will resemble the cane toad, unattractive and an ecological burden. This is the lot of humankind: just as we are born helpless, we return in old age to a state of helplessness some time before the end

 

We will lie and we will wait. 

 

Meanwhile, whether by command or uncommanded, the same body fluids will flow, the same needs persist – for company, for care, for loving touch, for music, for flowers, for light and mirth, for the sight of children at play. 

Some good soul or some sour misanthrope or some hired wheeler might wheel us outside into the garden where perchance we’ll sight the cane toad uglifying the scene in all his coarse vitality. And we will envy him.

 

 

 

Orpheus and Eurydice in the Yidinji Lands of Babinda

I have taken this story verbatim from the free brochure produced by Babinda Information Centre Volunteers and funded by the Cairns Regional Council. 

The volunteer who gave me my copy, a gracious and helpful lady a good deal older than I, told me: The authors wrote this a very long time ago. They were a man and a woman who became knowledgeable about the local tribes. They both passed away many years ago.” I acknowledge my debt to those writers. I trust I have violated no-one’s copyright. I will be pleased to receive any information that will put me in contact with the heirs of the authors. 

More fundamentally, I acknowledge the traditional owners of these lands and thank them for welcoming me here. I swam in these beautiful waters, enjoying them among the descendants of the original inhabitants. Mothers and fathers of brown kids and pink kids joined tourists, backpackers, Asian tour groups and an old white doctor, cooling upstream of all and danger and loss.  

“A long time ago, when the Yidinji tribe lived in the Babinda Valley, there was a tremendous upheaval that created these unusual shaped “Boulders” with their foaming, rushing waters. In the tribe was Oolana, a very beautiful young woman. Also in the tribe was Waroonoo, a very old, wise and respected elder. It was decided these two should be given in marriage to each other and so it was done. Some time later a visiting tribe can wandering through the valley and as was the custom of the friendly Yidinji, they made the strangers welcome, inviting them to stay. In the tribe was Dyga, a very handsome young man. All eyes were upon him for his grace and beauty. At first sight Dyga and Oolana fell in love.

 

“So great was their strong attraction for each other they arranged to meet secretly. Knowing full well their desire for one another would never be permitted they ran away. Oolana knew she could now never return as she was rightfully married to Waroonoo. They journeyed well up into the valley, spending wonderfully happy days together as they camped under Chooreechillum*, near the water’s edge.

The two tribes had been searching for them and it was at this spot they came upon the the two lovers. The wandering tribesemen seized Dyga, forcing him away 
(re)calling how they had been shamed and would never return and how they would travel far away and never return. The Yidinjis had taken hold of Ooolana and 
were dragging her back, forcing her to return with them to the rest of the tribe. Suddenly she broke away and violently flung herself into the gentle waters of the creek, as she called and cried for Dyga to return to her here, but the wandering tribe had gone and with them her handsome lover.

Would he ever return? Just at the very instant Oolana struck the water, a tremendous upheaval occurred. The land shook with terror and sorrow as Oolana cried for her lost lover to come to her. Her anguished cries spilled out as rushing water came cascading over the whole area. Huge boulders were thrown up and she disappeared into them. Oolana seemed to become part of the stones as if to guard the very spot where it all happened.

So to this day, her spirit remains.  Some say that at times her anguished calls cry out calling her lover to return – and that wandering travellers should take care

lest Oolana call them too close to her beautiful waters, for she is forever searching for her own lost lover, and this must always be.” 

Upstream the waters are wide and gentle. Downstream a little and around a bend the river narrows, the waters deepen and rush between mighty boulders that are 
grey and silent and solid and powerful. Leaping suddenly downward in great foaming furrows, the green waters crash from a height into a pool that roils and

froths in endless turmoil. “Very many have drowned here”, reads the notice. (“Caution, slippery kocks”, reads another notice, the capital ‘R’ helpfully altered to a ‘K’.) In the words of the copper in ‘Point Break’, pointing over his shoulders at the wild waters off Bells’ Beach where Patrick Swayzee has preceded them, “It’s death on a stick out there, mate.” 

 

Upstream where all is tranquil a young mother sat on the steps at the water’s edge, watching her children swim. She said, “It’s true. In my own lifetime in Babinda very many have drowned down there…very many. But only men drowned. Never a woman.” 


* Choorechillum, Queensland’s highest peak. Its whitefella name is Mt Bartle Frere.

A Guest of Clive

When I mentioned to a friend I’d be attending a medical conference at the Palmer Coolum Resort, she said, “You can’t possibly be supporting that man.” I never chose the location of the conference but I looked forward to returning to the pleasant place where I had attended previous events. If staying at Palmer’s resort constituted support, clearly I could support him; but apparently I should not. Everyone I spoke to had a clear opinion: Clive was a selfish man, he was immature, he was a menace to democracy.
I realised I was lacking in conviction on the Clive Issue and this lack was at best surprising and probably deplorable.

We drove in to the resort. Green expanses of the famed golf course pleased the eye. A plastic dinosaur assaulted the finer senses. Sweeping around a bend we arrived to stillness. The resort was a human desert.

At the desk the embarrassed receptionist said, no, I could not have The Australian delivered to my door. Nor, she volunteered, could I have any paper other than the Sunshine Coast daily. Surprised, I stood for a moment. After allowing the penny to drop I grinned, made a remark recruiting the receptionist, inviting her to lower her guard, to confess something of herself.
In the silence she blushed. After a time she wished us a pleasant stay as if she really meant it. As if she were making amends.

In the course of the weekend we did have a pleasant time. Among the conference people we enjoyed free and vigorous intercourse. With our hosts we enjoyed warm but guarded dialogue that lacked the thrust and mutuality of intercourse.

Visiting Cuba in 1999 we were the guests of another large figure. Fidel permitted us to read his local daily, “Grandma”. No other newspapers were available. Throughout the country we found our hosts warm but reticent. The dinosaurs we found were motor vehicles from the 1950’s that exhaled black smoke. In a free exchange of toxins the locals smiled as prevailing winds deposited their pollutants on Miami.

In another free exchange four hundred workers have been released from the Coolum Resort to join Mr Abbott’s jobsearchers. Where forty bellstaff used to work, there remain three. Those three work hard, smile a lot and sew their lips.

Down in the village of Coolum Beach you can buy the ‘free’ press. I purchased The Australian, whose first headline you may see below. I searched the paper in vain for any comment – The Australian is not shy to comment – offering a broader view of Clive. Plenty of thrust but no mutuality.

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A Cherub

Working here on the old camel trails, we commonly encounter a Rasheed, an Ahmed or an Akbar.

And there is always a story.

This particular little ’Afghan’ is 15 months old, a cherub with round cheeks and light brown curls.

When you see a face like this you cannot stop yourself from smiling.

A child with a face like this finds himself in a world where every adult smiles at him. He likes this world that seems to love him so.

Sarah, his mum, has the same ripe-fruit cheeks.

 

What is the cherub’s story?

Sarah explains: “Akbar’s great grandfather was a cameleer. His great grandmother was Aboriginal. Here – you can read about it in this book.”  Sarah hands me a heavy paperback, titled “Linden Girl”, by Pamela Rajkowski. The subtitle reads: a story of outlawed lives.

There is always a story, and that is the cherub’s story. It is the story of a couple and their encounters with Law. The Law forbade this cherub to exist.

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