Monday, June 27, 2011

Exploited

Exploitation involving scantily clad women parading around on a stage, cheered on by a drunken mob, has been going on since Adam was a boy. No matter what kind of uproar comes from the wider community, this exploitation is allowed to continue and proliferate unchecked in our society. It is disturbing to say the least. The way that these poor defenseless blokes are parted from their cash by a near naked woman is expoitation in the extreme. Where are the rights of these poor men? Why is there nobody to protect them? With the Fever exotic dance troup rolling in to Broome for one night only, Marty and I decided to go along to see if we could survive these modern day sirens as they plotted to remove all of the cash from our pockets. The door tickets were only twenty bucks, which seemed a good start. But we weren't counting on the cunning of these wicked women. The crowd was comprised largely of Broome locals, predominantly men, a few excited teenage boys who looked like they might have obtained their older brothers' fake id and a scattering of women dotted around the venue. Marty and I arrived early enough to obtain a seat at a table right at the front of the stage. Undoubtedly the best place from where to view the cabaret style show that was to unfold before us. Eventually after a few drinks, the smoke machine blew into action and we were greeted onstage by Lady Dee who, as the owner of the troupe, was to play ringmaster (ring mistress?) for the night. She was all glammed up in leather gear with a thick coating of makeup caked over her plastic surgeried face. With a crack of her bull whip she laid down the rules for the evening. No photos, no touching the girls, no being rude. If you wanted special attention from a girl, all you had to do was wave some money in the air. Lady Dee must have been pushing 60. I expect that she had been doing this gig for years as she had the face and demeanour of a glammed up hardened carnie. With an introduction to the much younger and more attractive girls, the show was under way.

I guess I've always been somewhat attracted to the seedy side of life. I recall driving through Kings Cross for the first time as a youngster while up in Sydney with my parents, back in the early 70s. It was around midnight and the traffic was at a stand still along Darlinghurst Road all the way from the iconic coke sign to the fountain at the top of Macleay Street. The slow crawl gave me opportunity to take in the scene of flashing neon signs, masses of people and tarted up girls of the night. Even though I didn't really understand the scene I saw before me, I felt an energy about the place that acted like a magnet. Every time I visited Sydney over the years I felt a need to spend at least one night wandering the streets of the Cross. I was fascinated not only by the overt sexuality on display, but also by the colourful people that frequented the place. Hookers, alcoholics, heroin addicts, drug dealers and the sex show touts mingled seamlessly with the more refined folk dolled up in their finest attire for a night out at one of the neighborhoods swanky restaurants. The upmarket Sebel Townhouse hotel where the wealthy and the showbiz fraternity would stay when in Sydney slotted in alongside the legendary Bourbon and Beefsteak, a 24 hour drinking den that was the refuge of all manner of people seeking a late night drink after all of the other venues in town were closed. It was such a far cry from my life in the suburbs. Much more exciting with the constant scent of danger and excitement in the air. When I was old enough I had to check out the inside of the strip club establishments to see what they held. I was actually somewhat disappointed by what I found. They tended to be quite tacky affairs in dingy rooms of smoke and grime with overpriced drinks. But on a good night, as well as the titillation from naked girls writhing around on the stage, the crowd would go off. The girls always seemed in control and had the ability to direct the male clientele into all manner of actions including some quite humiliating. Essentially the macho bravado of any guy gave way to the demeanour of a lamb once removed from the male flock by one of the girls. And while the female encounters at these places were essentially shallow affairs, the nights were inevitably interesting. And unless fleeced by the unscrupulous establishments with their standover men, it seemed essentially harmless fun. Though in hindsight, I expect that some of the girls in those places didn't have the best of employers and probably had their own stories with how they ended up working in these clubs. Just like the parade of girls and transexual hookers that used to line up down William Street, selling their bodies for a pittance outside the high end car showrooms of Maserati, Ferrari and Porsche. I'd walk past them with wonderment as I'd make my way back to one of the more sedate parts of Sydney where I'd  be staying. And it wasn't just the Cross that held the fascination for me. And it wasn't just the naked women or sex for sale that led me there. More the desperate edginess and possibility of adventure. Back in Melbourne, the inner city suburb of St.Kilda had a similar seedy appeal. Through the 80s it also had the added bonus of being the centre of live music in Australia, with a number of venues regularly having bands that were to become legends of Australian music. The music industry sat very comfortably alongside the sleaze and the drugs of Fitzroy Street. It was well known that heroine could be bought easily in a local fish and chip shop. LSD could be bought out the back of the Prince of Wales. Girls plied their trade on Grey Street. Some guy was beaten to death by a moari bouncer out the front of the Linden Tree, a venue that closely resembled the bar in Star Wars where you could expect to meet any kind of strange character from any planet. The bar didn't open until 10pm but was still going until around 6am. I had a lot of fun nights in there. One night in full flight, I got talking to a couple of guys who couldn't believe I'd "allowed" Tori to go off and dance with an elderly guy who had requested the pleasure. The taller one was being egged on by his mate to then "show me the thing" which resulted in him popping his glass eye out of his head and plop into his drink. His friend picked the drink up and drank it down, rolling the eye around in his mouth for a while before spitting it back into the glass. I thought it was the greatest trick I'd ever seen and requested he repeat the performance for Tori when she returned back from the dancefloor. When a large moari bloke who had been menacing me earlier came back to invite me to be beaten to a pulp, my new friend stood up, revealing that he was around 6 foot 7, and instructed the guy that any beef he had with me he also had with him. I have no doubt he saved me a visit to the hospital. But it was that kind of place. Incident passed and then on with the next. On travelling abroad I'd seek out the equivalent centres of town. The places where the extreme natures of people would be on display in all their naked rawness. Sometimes I'd be repulsed. Sometimes fascinated. Mostly I'd be entertained, some part of me that I can't quite explain feeling fulfilled.

Broome is mostly a pretty quiet little town, but it has the colourful history that seems to accompany pioneer towns where riches are to be made. And while Broome in 2011 is a far cry from the Cross of the 70s or Fitzroy Street of the 80s, the seedy centre seems to have been the Roebuck Bay Hotel since 1890. I'm sure that all manner of goings on have happened here over the years. But on the night that Fever came to the Roey, the only link with there and the Cross of the old days seemed to be Lady Dee. She had probably been treading the boards of the dodgy establishments there as a young woman back in the seventies. And coming "all the way from Sydney" as she proclaimed, she had picked up a trick or two on the way of how to separate the fools from their money. "For twenty bucks you can have a Fever T-shirt that you can personally strip off the body of one of our beautiful girls and keep for yourself". The T-shirt sales went through the roof. A raffle during the intermission with prizes of T-shirts, posters, photos and the first prize of a 20 minute personal lap dance on stage saw money being exchanged by the handful for tickets. And my favourite one of all, a bid between the three front tables to see who would be table number 1, table number 2 and table number 3. The members of each table threw cash out on to their tables to see who would come in first to be the premier table where the girls would dance. Lady Dee pocketed just under a grand, made in around 5 minutes, for the tables to be labelled 1, 2 or 3 respectively. Apart from the order in which the girls took to the tables, I couldn't detect any difference that had been so eagerly paid for. Marketing brilliance! When the raffle was drawn, I knew I was going to win. I can't quite explain why, but I felt absolutely certain. And so it was that my ticket came up and the lap dance that came with it. Both Marty and I had consumed a large number of drinks by then and were having a rollicking time. Having been a little down in the dumps recently, I felt that Marty needed the experience more than me. So I thrust the winning ticket into his hand and with a helpful shove, he was up on the stage to claim the prize. More being a part of the show than getting to live out any kind of fantasy, Marty was great. He went along with all of the stage shenanigans coming off somewhat bruised from several hits from the handbag of a costumed up "old lady" and having had the bird's eye but "hands off" view from the girls writhing around him. After the show we retired out to the garden bar for several more drinks while Lady Dee was still harversting money from the guys who wanted to have their photos taken with the girls. She didn't miss a trick.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Settled in Broome

Cable Beach - our local beach
A week may be a long time in football but it seems an eternity in our travelling life. Having been somewhat disconcerted with our accomodation situation on arrival, everything now seems to have settled down. A bit of a tweak in our expectations and general approach seems to have done the trick. We now effectively live in Bridget and Marten's house and just sleep in the van. The ants haven't quite been eradicated - still working on that one - but their numbers have certainly been reduced. We also have the luxury of using the van as a sort of parent's retreat during the day. I have been using it some days as my office. Tori has been using it to sneak off and have a sleep or watch a video. So we've managed to configure the best of both worlds. The meal situation has been working out well. We decided early on to lump in together and cook and eat dinners as one big family. Mostly Bridget has been cooking, which is great because she produces delicious meals without really batting an eyelid. And the kids have teamed up in pairs to cook on a couple of other nights. Tori's and my turns will also come. So the load is being shared depending on who has what on during the various days. Marty's days are alternated between running the business for their jewellery store (The Courthouse Collection) and trying to make some progress on house construction down at their block. Bridget is split between making the jewellery for the store and also working down at the block, plus making school lunches and essentially keeping a household running. I've been working on my laptop in the sunshine out in the backyard or occasionally in the van, depending on my mood. I managed a solo escape on my pushbike down to Cable Beach for a lunchtime swim. It's really the first piece of time I've spent down there other than going for a quick look and a sunset. Cable Beach regularly ranks in the top ten lists of World's Best Beaches and today I could see why. In the dry season, which is now, every day is a beautiful clear blue sky day with temperatures around 28 degrees. The bright warming sun sparkles off crystal clear turquoise water that washes gently on to a wide pure white sand beach. Hardly a ripple to be seen and then a series of beautiful body surfable waves springing seemingly from nowhere to give a relaxing ride into the shore. Having spent a lot of time on a variety of beautiful beaches over the last few months I was a bit sceptical about the whole ranking system, but today Cable Beach won me over. It truly is exceptional.

Jaz and Finn have been enrolled in Roebuck Primary School which is where Oscar and Rav go. They have just finished their first week there and seem to have settled in very quickly. Perhaps their increased adaptability is a product of our journey which has involved continual change. With 600 students, Roebuck is the largest primary school in the Kimberley. It has a beautifully manicured football oval, basketball courts, large library, excellent computer setup, multiple playgrounds and lovely green lawns. Their facilities leave Warrandyte Primary for dead. The school is more formal than Jaz and Finn are used to with teachers being referred to as Mr. or Mrs. rather than by their first name as is the case back "home". The hours are also different with school starting at the horrendously early 8am, which is a bit of a nightmare for school drop offs. I'm not used to starting my days that early and was quite content not to need to. Now that's all changed with me being the school chauffeur every second day. The up side of that is that I've found my new regular local cafe in which to have my breakfast and read yesterday (or the day before)'s paper. Being more than 2,000km from Perth with the earliest flight not arriving until after 9:30am, the daily paper doesn't hit the newsagents until late morning. Having the kids away in the day is something completely new. We've all spent so much time living in each other's pockets that it feels strange now to not have them constantly around. I still haven't really settled on my perfect daily routine but I think I will be trying to include a ride and a lunchtime swim at Cable Beach as a regular activity. Despite being more active on this journey, I feel that my level of fitness has been decreasing while conversely a nice paunch around my middle has been continually evolving. It seems to have a life of its own and constantly demands being fed beer or any tasty food that may be available. With the early start, the kids finish school at 2pm, which involves pick ups and then after school activities. Finn has been going down to footy training with Oscar and Rav on Tuesday and Thursday nights. They both play for the St.Mary under 13s, a team comprisied mostly of local indigenous kids. The closest game they've had so far this season is a win by seven goals. Back in Warrandyte Finn would actually still be playing in the Under 10s, so is a bit out of his league. He has however been managing to get a few kicks in the training scratch matches against the older and some very talented kids, so he's been enjoying it. I've spoken to the club president now and hopefully he'll be able to get a few games with the Under 11s team.

Broome is a town with a large indigenous population. Having grown up in the Melbourne suburbs, I have never really had any regular contact with Australia's indigenous folk. It was all very white European based where I grew up, with an increase in the number of people of Asian descent through the 80s. But there were no black fellas around. In Warrandyte, there are a few remnants of black fella culture to be found as the area around the river was a major hub of activity for the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. The river provided a major food source and the geology of the area provided inspiration for many of the Dreamime stories. But the people of that tribe have long disappeared from the area, probably not long after the 1850s when gold was discovered there. There's clearly been a lot of bad history involving the indigenous Australians and the rest of Australia, both historically and more recently. Some have been based on outright racism and a feeling of white superiority. Others have been caused despite best intentions. And maybe some inroads into rectifying the situation has been made. But one thing that has become very clear to me quite quickly while living in Broome. The majority of people who live in our major population centres of Melbourne and Sydney don't really have a full understanding of the situation. I'm hoping that I can get my head around it a bit more while I'm here.

Apart from the rich indigenous history of Broome, there is a colourful Broome history related to the pearl trade dating back to the 1880s when Broome was established as a pearling port. The laying of a telegraph cable a few years later that ran from Java in Indonesia along the ocean bed to Broome, coming ashore at what is now Cable Beach, brought a further influx of people from across the globe. The town today has a lot of character having been layered on top of this history. Being now a town of 15,000 or so people, it is a large enough population centre to cater for most needs. A couple of shopping centres, all manner of specialty shops, great weekend markets with a suitable hippy bent, loads of four wheel drive retail and workshops, several pubs, restaurants, cafes, live music, local footy, a couple of cinemas including the world's oldest outdoor cinema, and more pearl selling shops than you could shake a stcik at. And of course a sensational climate when the weather is at its worst down south, accompanied by a magnificent local beach and access to one of the world's great wilderness areas in the Kimberley. I'm looking forward to embracing it all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Loss

Within a few hours of waking I'd heard the news that an old family friend had died, the son of an old work colleague had fallen to his death while on holidays and that my pet cat had lymphoma. There's nothing like death to come crashing on in when you're having a good time and spoil the party. The latter may seem trivial, but since growing up, pets have been family members and their loss has always been grieved. Pusskana was rushed to the vet by our housesitters, having been vomiting and then losing movement in his back legs. An ultrasound showed a giant cyst on his intestines and so an operation was called for. The discovery of lymphacites in his blood showed that his condition was terminal and that he now only has a limited amount of time before shuffling off. The vet has recommended a chemotherapy treatment which is apparently not quite as severe as that for humans - no nausea, no hair loss and allegedly no depression, though I'm not sure how they can be certain of that one. With that treatment maybe he'll live for another year, but there's no certainty of him even lasting that long. I hope that he is still going and in reasonable health when we return to Melbourne in another seven months.

The first real pet drama that I experienced was as an 11 year old. Natalie and I were left alone at home with our pet dog Rusty on Christmas Eve while Mum and Dad were off at some party event or other. One minute Nat and I were happy watching TV and scoffing down Mint Slice biscuits, the next Rusty was convulsing violently on the floor, his mouth frothing with white foamy bile. I couldn't contact our parents in those pre-mobile phone days and so ran in tears to a neighbour's for help. We then raced him off to the vet but it was all too late. It seems that he had been baited by a chunk of meat laced with snail poison and so died an agonising death. It was an unwelcome introduction into the way that life can end with no real warning and it had a huge impact on me and Nat. Until this day, now almost 40 years later, neiither of us can eat Mint Slices without recalling that terrible night.

In those days of the seventies Mum and Dad were very social. They were often out partying with friends or having friends over for elaborate dinner parties or fondhu nights. Mum would spend the entire day preparing the most amazing feasts with Nat and I buzzing around her feet trying to get a taste of anything we could. That is until she inevitably snapped under the duress of "the guests will be here any minute and I still haven't finished preparing the appetizers". Dad, normally the more volatile parent, would calmly assure us that the best place to avoid any grief was somewhere away from the kitchen and far away from the chaos of Mum in those moments. The guests would arrive to a welcoming drink, some fine savouries that mum had knocked up and a Burt Bacharach tune or the soundtrack of Hair playing on the radiogram. I loved it when their group of friends that included Grahame and Gill would come over. Grahame had worked with Dad at Business Equipment and I felt that I'd known them all my life. Certainly as far back as I could recall. He always seemed bouncily happy and full of energy, usually with a wide grin on his face and a laugh that was never too far away. He was one of those rare adults that seemed to give us kids plenty of time and treat us as real people rather than the annoyance that undoubtedly we often were. Gill was stunningly beautiful. Even as a young boy who barely tolerated girls as a necessary annoyance, her beauty was self evident and I couldn't help but stare at her at every opportunity. She seemed to have a warm glow around her and a gentle and welcoming presence. The morning after the dinner party I could always tell which had been Gill's glass from the shade of lipstick surrounding the rim. Some years later when I was a perpetual tertiary student majoring in card playing and bong smoking, Mum asked Grahame over dinner if there was any chance of a job at Tandem Computers for her seemingly very lazy and directionless son. And from that simple question and the helfulness of Grahame, the career that I have today began and has now stretched out for more than 25 years. I loved the fact that as the most junior person working at Tandem that I had a special relationship with the Managing Director of the company. It felt like some kind of insurance policy that at the very least I would always be treated fairly by everyone. And on the occasions that I saw him at work he was exactly the same as he had been my whole life. There was no pretence at all about Grahame. He always had time for me. And so it was with exceptional sadness that I learned of his death. He had been sick for some time and over the last few years had been suffering dementia. A horrible fate for a man who was so sharp in his prime. Gill I was told was still visiting Grahame every day. An incredible but unsurprising level of commitment and devotion from such a beautiful person. While his passing is probably almost a relief in some ways due to his deteriorating condition, it is really just the end of a long drawn out and sad process. Finality. I think with the death of each person that we know comes the death of a sliver of our life. While the memories are the same as they ever were, there is the reality that no new memories with that person will ever be created. And those that exist will fade and merge over time.

While working at Tandem, I became friends with Pete. He has just suffered his own incredible loss with his son being killed in an accident while travelling overseas with his girlfriend. By the time your kids are 25 you are probably expecting that they have survived the danger periods of youth and never dream that they will die in their prime. I can't even allow myself to imagine the pain that Pete and his family must be experiencing.

I guess for me, this day of horrible news is a reminder that all of our days are numbered, just as they are for those we love. I don't believe in any tangible form of afterlife. I don't believe that those we have loved and lost are waiting for us anywhere and that we will see them again. It would be a more comforting thought, but I just don't believe it. So to me death speaks with complete finality. Memories and photos are all that are left. Along with our own strong feelings and emotions for that person. Perhaps this is one of the motivating factors for me to have taken this journey now with my family. I know that it is a snapshot in time for all of us. Soon Jazzy and Finn won't want to be travelling around in a van with their uncool and boring parents and will be moving away. It seemed important to shift my family clearly to the very top of my priority list and make sure that I spent more time with them away from the distractions of day to day life as they had become in Warrandyte. And at the same time give them some strong family memories to carry with them through their lives along with a load of photos and a swag of stories. But the message is clear. Even when this particular trip is done and we return back to Melbourne, it is important for me to remember where my priorities should lie. This is merely a smaller part of the one journey. And it too will be completed before we know it.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Settling in Broome?

Once we'd decided to have the baby on the road, Broome was always our destination. The expected date for the baby to be born was late in June which is pretty much the perfect time to be that far north in Western Australia. By then the wet and the cyclone season is over and daily temperatures average around 28 degrees. It's pretty much as far from Melbourne as you can get, both in climate and distance, while still being in Australia. A little over 6,000km driving the way that we came. And now we are finally here. The baby is due in just over a couple of weeks but is hanging pretty low on Tori and seems to be locked and loaded in the firing position. I guess it could come at any stage. One of our first stops on arriving here was to visit Broome Hospital. Having dropped in for various appointments, tests and scans at hospitals enroute, it felt strange to actually be in the place where the baby will be born. The hospital has been recently rennovated and the maternity ward all looks brand new. High tech beds with electronic buttons for adjusting to a range of different positions. An iPod docking station for playing whatever music you would like the baby to come into the world with (ACDC's It's a long way to the top?). Full ensuite bathroom equipped with a large tub and shower. And a kitchenette with a fridge for snacks or drinks to help make the experience more amenable. Essentially, it's bigger and decked out more comfortably than our van. The midwife and other hospital staff were all very welcoming. In previous towns, it became apparent on visiting the local hospitals that what we were doing wasn't very conventional. It would seem that most pregnant women don't go off gallivanting around Australia in a caravan. When Tori called up the Karratha Hospital to make an appointment to stop on our way through, she was given a lecture by a midwife about how she should already be in Broome where the baby was to be born and that she should be busy preparing her nest. I'm not sure what she was hoping to achieve, but if her aim was to frighten and unsettle Tori and make her unconfident in her own ability to make decisions about her body, then she was entirely successful. It took Tori a few days to get back on track emotionally after that one. I guess I am relieved that we are in Broome now with the baby so close. The drive from Port Hedland to Barn Hill is a very isolated one, the only part of the journey so far that seemed as remote as crossing the Nullarbour. We drove at one stage for a good hour or so without seeing another vehicle. When all around in every direction is just a flat and wide wilderness with no civilisation in site, each glance down at the temperature guages and dials on the dash is one filled with hope of not seeing anything askew. It would not be a good place to break down. But we didn't. The car has been superb and once again hauled the large van easily across the distance to our next destination. When we finally arrived in Broome, it certainly felt like a major goal had been achieved.

Bridget and Oscar
The plan for accomodation in Broome had always seemed a little on the unknown side. I guess to a degree we have been operating on blind faith. Marty and Bridget are our friends who have lived up here for thirteen years now and they said that we could come and stay in the new house that they are currently building. Their expectation was that it would be at a close enough stage to completion that it would provide a comfortable place for us to camp the van and be sort of between that and the house. This is not how things have worked out. There are currently no rooms that are complete and really habitable. One or two are sort of close, but the site is layered in a very fine dust of dried mud and concrete from the unrendered walls. Probably not ideal for the lungs of a newborn baby. Getting to the incomplete bathroom involves walking across a courtyard of red sand and dirt and then up some make shift steps to the outdoor tiled area with toilet and shower. It will undoubtedly be an amazingly beautiful place when it is completed, but currently it is a large building site and completion is a long way off. So instead, we are camped on the front lawn of Bridget and Marty's current abode, jammed in tight with trees pressing up against several windows, allowing the multitude of ants that live here to gain easy access to the van. Bridget and Marty have been incredibly welcoming and have made us feel very much at home. But we haven't really worked out yet how to make it our home. We are half in the van and half in the house. The van is where we sleep amongst the ants and where all of our clothes are. To gain entry involves ducking and weaving through the trees that enclose the van to get access to the door. Marty has warned us about the neighborhood and told us that we should ensure that the van is always locked, even when we are sleeping in it, because the kids in the neighborhood are pretty happy to remove any item that they think may be something that they want. He said that the days of the local kids putting a brick through the window of a locked car to search for money or other valuables seem to have passed, but nevertheless they leave their cars unlocked so that curious hands can enter easily, see that there is nothing of value and just leave the car as it was. When we are not sleeping or getting clothes, we are in Bridget and Marty's very nice but incredibly cluttered house.
Marty
It's quite amazing the amount of stuff that somebody can collect. With Bridget being an artist, it is all very nice stuff, but there sure is a lot of it. Yesterday Tori was feeling that this living arrangement was not the ideal environment in which to be having a baby. And I have to agree that it's not ideal. It is difficult at this stage to work out where our own space actually is. And people that planned to come to visit us, I don't see how that can work. Bridget told us very sincerely to make ourselves at home, but we just aren't quite sure yet how to do it. Or how long we can do it for without causing some serious disruption to their lives, which we also don't want. But we don't really have any viable alternative either. It is peak tourist season in Broome and there is nowhere really to move to. And leaving Broome now so close to the baby being born is out of the question. The hospital here is superb and so that is where we will be going. I think that there is also something special about people opening up their home and their generosity to you. Even if it is a bit cluttered. I think we can make it work here. The kids all get on realy well. And certainly seeing these guys after so long has been fantastic. There's certainly a great social time to be had. And having Bridget around once the baby is born will be a huge asset I have no doubt. Both to help Tori emotionally through that tough time when a child is first born and also in a practical sense in dealing with the baby. She loves kids and will undoubtedly want to be actively involved, which will free Tori up to get some time of her own that she may not otherwise get. Today we enrolled Jazzy and Finn into the local school where Briget and Marty's boys, Oscar and Ravel, go to school. As well as preventing them from being bored stupid being stuck around a house for a couple of months with a preoccupied mother and a working father, it will free Tori up further to have the space that she will require both physically and in her mind. It's certainly going to be an interesting time. For the foreseeable future we live in Broome and I think it just might work.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Barn Hill

On a picturesque piece of Kimberley coast line, about 120km south of Broome, lies the Barn Hill cattle station. It's still a working farm, but for the past 23 years it has also become a rustic caravan park with an ever expanding clientele. The facilities are quite basic. There is limited electricity due to them having to generate their own power. There are open roof bathroom blocks, so you can shower in the sun during the day or have a great view of the stars at night. Being at the cheaper end of caravan park living and being located in a place where the weather is generally hot and sunny while the southern part of Australia freezes, it is like a magnet for the grey headed retirees in their vans. Silver haired old ladies sit around in the shade knitting their doilies, that they then sell to the other elderly women staying in the park. The men swap their fishing stories over a beer or gather together to watch the footy. Most of them settle in here for three or four months at a time, often bringing the pet dog with them, who spends most of his time chained up outside the caravan. Some people have even set up little gardens of pot plants outside their vans, or planted lawn. Almost all of the vans have a big satellite dish out the front so that reception can be picked up on the large plasma TVs that seem to be a common fixture. A large number of these folk have been coming here for almost twenty years. This means that there is a kind of a community feel to the place, with the regulars all knowing each other well. The location is beautiful, indeed quite spectacular with the station looking out over rocky red cliffs to a wide sandy beach on the Indian Ocean. But the place has a little too much of a retirement home feel for me. Janice the owner told me that she feels slightly torn. She loves the regular income provided by the older brigade who settle in for months, but she'd rather have a more dynamic place where travellers can come through from all around the world with their different stories and to create a different vibe. But typically in the main season, the station is full to the brim with the oldies who have set up camp for the winter. Janice has lived here for 51 years, all but a couple of years of her life. She grew up on the farm, riding horses to round up the cattle, helping with the castrating of bulls and the branding and doing whatever else needed to be done. When she took over the farm twenty-three years ago, she was the one who set up the place to cater for visitors in their tents or vans. For us, this is just a last stop for a few days before we get to Broome where we'll settle in and get ready for the arrival of the baby. It's been a nice relaxing time. Warm days spent lazing around the table outside under the awning. Reading books. Swimming in the sea. Lying in the sun. Watching the magnificent sunsets. With Tori now 37 weeks pregnant, it's felt close enough to Broome that if Tori did go into labour early, we could be at Broome hospital in little over an hour. Though Janice said that there are so many retired nurses and midwives around, that there would be no problem even if the baby had to be delivered here.

Tori and I have been notoriously bad at planning for the births of our children. It seems that many people have baby showers where they end up with everything that they could possibly need for the baby well before it's born. They paint the baby's room. Set up a cot and a change table. Have a stockpile of nappies and baby blankets. Everything is all ready for the arrival of the baby well before it actually arrives. A week before Jazzy was born, everything that we had for the baby could fit inside a shoe box. A tube of cream for cracked nipples that somebody had knowingly sent to Tori, a pair of St.Kilda booties that my mother had knitted and one or two other small incidental items. We were told that we had to have a baby capsule for the car or we would not be allowed to take the baby home from the hospital. So we managed to organise that prior to Jazzy's birth. This time, with the baby due some time in the next few weeks, we don't even really know where the baby, or we for that matter, will be sleeping. We expect it will likely still be in the van so Tori and Jaz, with a little help from Finn, have set up the baby's nursery in Tori's and my bedroom. Basically that constitutes a collection of hand painted or cut out pictures of sea creatures and shells found on various beaches that are blu tac'd to the wall above the side of our bed. And a cuddly turtle from Exmouth hanging down from the fold away TV. They have done a lovely job, but as for material things required...We have no car capsule. No stroller. No cot. No baby bottle sterilizer unit or baby bottles for that matter. No baby bath. No breast pump (one of the more entertaining gadgets to watch in operation). No rattles or toys. No dummies. Pretty much nothing, other than a baby harness that friends Dave and Nat gave us before we left. We don't even have a name for him yet. I expect that we'll have time to get whichever of these things we really need before the baby is born, but the real question is going to be, where are we going to put it all? The van and car are pretty much full of stuff already. And where is the baby eventually going to sleep? When we bought the van, we thought that there'd only ever be four of us, so where do we put a fifth? In the beginning he will be in the bed with us, but after a few weeks, I expect that it will be time to find him a bed of his own. A box on the dining table is looking like a possibility at this stage. The one other item we do already have is a baby monitor that somebody generously gave to Tori. We had one of these for Jazzy and Finn which we put to very good use. In Barbados, when Jazzy was still under 2 and Finn was maybe 3 months, we found that once they were tucked up asleep in bed, the baby monitor could be positioned so that we could hear if they woke while we sat in the outdoor restaurant/bar next door to where we were staying, sipping on a nice cold beverage and eating flying fish sandwiches. I'm not sure of the range of this monitor and whether this time we'll be able to watch the sunset on the beach or do some other fun activity while simultaneously monitoring the baby sleeping in the van . I guess we'll find out. At least this time we have four people to listen out for any noise coming from the monitor.

To say that we have no real idea how this is all going to turn out would be somewhat of an understatement. But tomorrow we drive the rest of the way up to Broome and I guess everything will unfold over the coming weeks.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

An interview with Jazzy and Finn, Barn Hill WA


Jazzy and Finn have been taken away from their home in Warrandyte and out of school for a year, regardless of their own personal wishes, and have been travelling around Australia for five months in a caravan with their parents Greg and Tori. Currently they are in Barn Hill, 120km south of Broome. Here is what they think of the journey so far.

Greg Swedosh: So Jaz, how’s life on the road been so far for you?

Jasmine Swedosh: I quite like it but I miss lots from home. It’s really different because now we’re really spaced up together and whenever daddy goes away it feels really weird. Like a part’s been taken out. So it’ll be interesting to go back to Warrandyte and stay in the same spot.

Finn Swedosh: It’s been sometimes weird, sometimes bad. I didn’t like it when I was sick in bed.

GS: But would it have been any different than if you were sick at home?

FS: Well I have a bigger bed at home. And I like to stretch a lot. My bed here’s only a pillow and a quarter wide.

GS: Other than that how’s it been living in a caravan?

FS: It’s interesting. The vodka freezes in the freezer and you told us that vodka could never freeze. So, that’s interesting. How we’ve never used the van shower is interesting. How we can’t use the air con in some places is interesting.

GS: Jaz, do you like moving around and living in many places or do you prefer living in one place?

JS: Well, we’ve been making friends in caravan parks and then we’ve been leaving them. They’re sort of like three day friends and then one of us goes. Except in Exmouth we played every night, chasey in the playground. But in Warrandyte it was really routined and I like here how we get to go to school in our PJs. It’s interesting. Sometimes I like it and sometimes we go to places where we just have to walk.

FS: I hate those places.

GS: What about you Finn? Do you like being in different places or do you prefer being in just one place?

FS: Depends which place. Coorong, Nuh! Jack Point, Nuh! I liked Monkey Mia, Exmouth, Perth, Adelaide. I liked Warnambool and Colac. I’ve liked mostly everywhere except Merredin, Burracoppin, Jack Point and the Coorong.

GS: So what do you miss most about home?

FS: I’ve missed the kitty cat Pusskana. Friends. Mum telling me I have to go outside and play basketball.

GS: Do you miss that or are you happy it’s not happening now?

FS: I miss that because I’m getting a little on the chubby side. I miss playing sports.

JS: I miss all my friends. I miss the pool. My big bed. Having permanent WiFi everywhere. My bed here is the size of a pillow. Just shorter than a pillow wide. And it’s three quarters of a pillow because the gate cuts into it [GS: bed barrier installed after Jaz plummeted from the top bunk one night] so I have almost no spreading out space. So I miss my bed. I miss my iPod charger because we always have to share and there’s never enough. I miss doing tap and jazz dancing. And I miss going to school and seeing my friends every day.

FS: I don’t really like doing the dishes. I preferred stacking them in the dishwasher at home. I’d rather have a toaster than having to toast under the griller.

GS: Is there anything you’re glad to be away from?

FS: Sometimes school.

GS: How’s the home schooling going?

FS: My English has gotten worse, somehow. Same with my grammar. Maths I’m ok at. It’s going ok. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Sometimes I’ve done very well. Sometimes I’ve done…appalling.

GS: How does it compare to going to school every day?

FS: Depends what we’re doing. Sport… since we haven’t done it here, I’d rather over there. In maths, I thought it was a bit easier over there.

JS: I find it weird. As I said before, I like coming in my PJs but I don’t think I’m learning as much as the people who go to normal school. Except in maths. But I don’t like maths. We’re not doing as much writing and I’d actually rather be at normal school.

GS: What about you Finn? Do you think you’re learning as much on the road as you would at normal school?

FS: Depends on the subject. Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Hmmm…. I don’t really know.

GS: What do you think you’ve learnt on this trip that you wouldn’t have learnt at school?

JS: I’ve learnt stuff about birds and animals. Other than that. No. Nothing.

GS: Do you think the experience of seeing the birds and animals up close, for example swimming with a whale shark, is the same as learning about them from a book?

JS: Oh yeah, I guess not.

FS: I’d actually rather look at birds in a book, because at least it tells you what they are called.

GS: So how are your teachers in the home school? How’s Tori?

JS: Good. But we should do some science. She bought this science book that looks great but she hasn’t done any science with us.

FS: Let’s just not do the mentos and coke one while the baby’s around us.

JS: It’s really different depending on the day. Because she’s pregnant and with all the hormones, sometimes she’s in a really happy mood, but when she’s not it’s…

FS: Torture

JS: Pretty much.

FS: When she’s cranky she’s very cranky. When she’s happy, she’s..

JS: Very happy. There’s no subtlety.

FS: She can sort of drop if we aren’t doing our work all that well. But it can rise if we do well.

JS: It sort of depends how she wakes up.

FS: Yeah, it depends on that.

GS: And what about Greg. How’s he as a teacher?

JS: Strict and hard.

FS: Good and terrible.

GS: So what have been your favourite places?

JS: Robe. It ‘s a cute little town and I liked our caravan park. It was the first one we stayed in that had a jumping pillow. I’m going to live in Denmark [small town in Southern WA] when I grow up, because it reminds me a lot of Warrandyte. They have the pub and then all the stores and the river and the bakery. And they have loads of animals there. But if you keep driving, you don’t get into the city, you get into nothingland. And I liked Adelaide. It was sort of like Melbourne. It was big and I liked that.

FS: I liked staying at Jo’s because we got to see some people we actually knew. And I liked the beach there with the massive waves. I liked Robe and the food there. I liked Margaret River because we got to see Nana. I liked Warrnambool because it was so flat for riding bikes and had an awesome park with a flying fox. Even though I fell off it. I jumped and missed the seat. I liked Exmouth because we used to play tag with a couple of girls there and a guy named Blake who jumped on my back, which really hurt. I felt like punching him in the face, but I’m glad I didn’t.

JS: I also liked Exmouth. They had an outdoor movie cinema there.

GS: What places that we’ve been to have you not liked?

JS: Coorong. Jack’s Point. Death Valley.

GS: Death Valley was a different trip.

FS: Still… it sucks. Stupid sea level.

GS: Is there anything you do like about living in a van?

JS: Yeah. We’re more outdoorsy. We ride our bikes a lot more. But the actual inside van thing… I’d rather be in a house. But I do like that it has wheels and that we don’t have to stay in the one place for too long. I like how we don’t have to be anywhere at any time, except for Broome. But the van in general, I’d rather be in a house.

FS: I don’t think I would have read Harry Potter if we were back at the house, so I’ve liked doing that here.

GS: How’ve you been dealing with the long drives?

FS: I’ve been reading and playing with my iPod.

JS: I didn’t like the Nullarbor because it was long and there was nothing to look at.

FS: We did do the golf tree there.

JS: Oh yeah that broke it up and made it a bit more fun. I’ve mostly been reading, looking out the window, listening to music. I’ve liked the long driving days. We don’t eat any healthy food on those days. Mum always gives us Summer Rolls and stuff.

GS: How are you guys getting along together on this trip?

FS: Sometimes Jaz tells me to shutup and I don’t and we get in an argument. I do that to her too and she’s like “what if I don’t want to”?

JS: He’s annoying. I don’t like being too close to him. He’s so annoying. Most of the time anyway.

GS: Do you think he just likes to annoy you?

JS: Yes.

FS: It depends on the occasion.

GS: Do you think you’ve become closer being on the road together?

FS: Well, we do more stuff together. Ride our bikes.

GS: What about you Jaz? Do you think you’ve become closer?

JS: Yeah.

GS: How’s it affected the trip your mother being pregnant?

JS: She’s very cuddly. We haven’t been able to go to all the gorges, which is like, thank god! We hang out at the van a lot more.

GS: Are you looking forward to having a baby brother?

JS: Yeah. I’m looking forward to cuddles. And teaching him how to spell chocolate.

FS: Mostly no. Because all they do is eat and poop and cry and then they throw up and they cry more and then they need to poop. I just don’t want nappy duty.

GS: What have you learnt about each other on the trip? Jaz, what have you learnt about Finn?

JS: That he’s even more annoying than I thought.

GS: Finn, how about you?

FS: That she lies so often. Just like then.

GS: What have you learnt about your mum on this trip?

FS: That when she’s pregnant she’s boring.

JS: She’s cuddly. Very very cuddly.

FS: She get’s very tired. More than I thought.

JS: I think it’s the pregnancy thing. If she wakes up in a bad mood, she’s really really bad. If she wakes up in a good mood, which is usually, she’s very good to be around and a lot of fun. I reckon she’s doing quite well for a pregnant woman.

GS: What have you learnt about me on this trip?

JS: That you’d make a great Abraham Lincoln.

FS: And a great Elvis. And that you’d be good to go with to one of those burger places where you eat the burger with a knife and fork.

JS: That you’re scary. When I’m in trouble, you’re scary. And that you don’t whack Finn as often as you should. And you don’t let us have as much chocolate as we want.

FS: I’m sort of glad of that.

JS: Why? Keeping in shape Dudley?

GS: What are you looking forward to on the rest of the trip?

JS: Cape Leveque and… cuddling my baby. And going home.

FS: Uluru. Broome. Cape Leveque. Fishing. Will we be able to take out our fishing rods and cast into the water from our tent at Cape Leveque?

GS: Errm.. no. I don’t think so. How’s the food been on the road?

FS: The food at the Exmouth Chinese restaurant was appalling. My won tons tasted like nothing. In the van the food has been pretty much like home. I still don’t like curry, broccoli, broccolini. Though I like broccoli a little bit more. Just a very little bit.

JS: It’s the same as at home but we’re having more simple foods like spaghetti or sausages, which are yummy. I’ve been making some of it. Salads and omelettes. We have lots of eggy stuff. And lots of bready stuff. Yeah, it’s been good. But I don’t like curry.

GS: What’s your favourite memory from the journey so far?

JS: I have two. Making all the friends at Exmouth and playing chasey. And at Robe, being dinked around by Finn on his bike.

FS: At Coral Boy, meeting Adanne, snorkelling and seeing a stingray every day.

GS: Anything else that either of you would like to add?

FS: I miss my pussy cat. I miss Pusskana. I miss playing dodge ball with my friends. I miss Warrandyte. I also miss whale sharking.

JS: I miss Warrandyte.

GS: If you could have just stayed in Warrandyte this year or instead gone on this trip for a year like we have done, which would you choose?

JS: Warrandyte. Sort of. In some ways. Because I’ve got stuff in Warrandyte. And friends.

FS: I want to come back to Warrandyte, but I also want to continue this fun journey.

JS: Yeah. I’m sort of like him. I’m in denial about wanting to go back to Warrandyte, but I also really want to do this as well.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Interview with Tori, Barn Hill WA

Tori Swedosh is just on 37 weeks pregnant with her third child. For the last five months she has been travelling around Australia in a caravan with her husband Greg and their children Jasmine (10 years old) and Finn (nine). I caught up with Tori at Barn Hill, about 120km south of Broome, to find out how the trip and her pregnancy have been travelling.


Greg Swedosh: So Tori, you’re just over 36 weeks pregnant. How’s that feeling?

Tori Swedosh: It’s very interesting. Mostly it’s quite good. It’s been a lot of different things. I haven’t hated being pregnant. I really like some bits of it. I love feeling him kick inside me. I feel like I have a little hot water bottle attached to me and when I’m feeling a little bit lonely I just know he’s there. That’s nice. I don’t like it when I’m feeling sick, which seems to be quite often in the scheme of things. But I know it’s just when I’ve overdone it. And then there’s other times when I’m scared, really scared, about him surviving inside me and making the whole journey. And then what it’s going to be like when he comes out.

GS: Why have you felt scared?

TS: Well it’s so close now. If something was to happen to him, it would just be awful. Stupid things. I was so sick after the whale sharking. I couldn’t walk for a day and thought maybe I’d hurt him somehow. Or Rottnest Island when we rode all over the island in the heat. That was a bit stupid. I don’t want to miss out on stuff just because I’m pregnant. It doesn’t seem fair.

GS: In what way do you think the trip has been different because you’ve been pregnant?

TS: Well I’ve needed a whole lot of extra help. I’m not really very good at asking for help but you guys have all been really great in looking after me. The children especially too. And missing out on stuff like going to Karijini. Couldn’t do that. But you know I didn’t feel too bad about it. It’s sort of like when we went to New York and I was so hungover I couldn’t get out of bed for a day and Sheri came and said “what a colossal waste of time”. Looking back I suppose it was, but that’s just what I was doing that day. It doesn’t really matter where I am. And I never think it will be the last time I’m ever somewhere. We’ll probably be up in this part of the world again sometime. If I hadn’t have been pregnant, I would have loved to have walked the gorges. This trip could have been really physical and adventurous, but those things haven’t been able to happen quite so readily.

GS: How has it been living in a van in different locations?

TS: Mostly good. Sometimes it gets a little bit small and I find people following me around when I really want to be on my own. But that’s ok too. It’s not a feeling that lasts very long that one. I don’t really like being penned in the corner of the bed, especially now being so big. Climbing over is a real effort. So I do wish the bed was the other way, but it’s not, so anyway… Cooking’s been ok. I don’t think we’ve eaten as healthily as we could have or would have if I wasn’t pregnant.

GS: What’s been the most difficult aspect of living in a van?

TS: Mostly it’s been good I think. It’s a very comfortable van. Sitting around the table is a bit awkward, where two people are always hemmed in. And I always have to sit on the end now because my belly doesn’t fit. There’s not really anything that’s difficult about it.

GS: What have you enjoyed most about van living?

TS: That we’re all together all the time. So my talking about those feelings of wanting to be alone, I guess everybody has those, but mostly it’s been great with all of us spending heaps of time together. You working and not being able to play all the time has been a bit hard. But that’s just the way it is.

GS: So how’s everyone getting on?

TS: I think mostly pretty well. It would be nice to have a little more kanoodling but it seems physically quite difficult. But I like watching the children play together a lot. They get along so well. I think they’ve become really close over this trip and that’s been really lovely to watch.

GS: How have you seen their development on this trip?

TS: They’ve grown up a lot. Just watching them interact with other people. Being not so scared to speak to grownups. The imagination involved in certain things. Funny comments that are made. Definitely they’ve grown up. Just the way they interact with each other. I think they’ll be really close forever.

GS: What about the home schooling? How’s that working out?

TS: I think it’s fine. I don’t think they’re missing out on anything. I like listening to the amount of work you put in to the maths classes. For me and the English, it’s just going through the books to keep them up to speed with what they would be doing at school and slowly introducing writing stories every week and doing projects. I think it’s fine. I hope they’re not missing out on anything.

GS: What do you think they are getting extra that they wouldn’t be getting at school?

TS: Amazing experiences. All that snorkelling and seeing those fish and the coral. Swimming with whale sharks. Different situations. Different people.

GS: How has it been being pregnant on the road?

TS: There’s been a couple of times when it’s not been very good. People saying things that get stuck in my head and get me scared. Having appointments change or being cancelled and really feeling that I just wanted to be reassured that everything was ok. One way that it’s good is that if I am knackered, which this last few weeks I have been a lot, there’s nothing I really have to do. I can just lie down. I can read. It’s not like it has to be very physically demanding. It’s just a different sort of a trip. It just disappoints me that I can’t necessarily do all of the stuff that I would have done. But I also like the fact that I was working so hard before we left home and now it’s nice to have some time not to have to do anything.

GS: How has the logistical side of things worked with doctor and hospital appointments?

TS: I had a schedule of dates for the various tests and so forth and have just called up local doctors or maternity wards to make appointments in the various places. It’s all worked out fine.

GS: Have you found them to be supportive?

TS: It’s kind of odd. Because you’re not their patient and they don’t know you, they’re probably not quite as supportive. That midwife in Karratha that I rang… she freaked me out saying “you should be in Broome. You should be doing this. You should be doing that”. I know how I feel. And I don’t think I’m stupid. So I don’t feel I need to rush anything because what’s the point of sitting and waiting around in Broome for six weeks, when we could be somewhere lovely if there’s nothing wrong. But she made me feel unsure about myself and my feelings. It made me question my own intuition about this. If it was my first child, maybe, but because it’s my third child, even though it’s a long time between drinks, I sort of feel I know what’s going on with my body. And especially having taught yoga. Before I left home I felt a real connection with myself and my body and I felt I knew myself very very well. I felt secure in myself and what I was physically able to do. And although now I run out of steam, I feel I have a good connection with what’s going on.

GS: What reactions have you been getting from other people?

TS: It’s a funny one because I’ve realised I really just don’t like bringing attention to myself all that much. I’m actually quite shy in very many ways. And when you’re pregnant it’s the first thing people notice. So sometimes if I’m feeling self-conscious, I can get a bit shitty. I’m more than just a big pregnant belly. I just hate people staring at me I think.

GS: What have been the physical aspects of this pregnancy?

TS: I’m finding now that my balance is quite tricky, which I hadn’t had before because I’d been doing so much yoga. I find waddling quite frustrating. I just have to be slow and I guess that’s the good thing about being on this trip. I don’t have to be fast. I just waddle behind.

GS: What about emotional aspects?

TS: Up and down. It’s such a journey of emotion. There’s people who think that having the baby is the most wonderful thing in the world and I guess it is, but there’s times when you just feel like a big heffalump. There’s times when you feel nauseous. It’s frustrating. I don’t seem to be able to recognise when I get too hot and I end up in tears because I feel so rotten. Scared. Happy. Just a whole host of emotions.

GS: What have you missed from home on this trip?

TS: Friends. Just hanging out some times, some nights. Because I can be a bit of a loner easily, which isn’t a very good place for me to be. I’m actually much better when I’m around people. I get too stuck inside my head. And this is a really awful answer but lying on the couch and watching tele. Just sometimes. Just to have that easy comfort. Oh and a toilet just next door. I have missed that.

GS: How has the whole toilet thing been?

TS: It hasn’t been as bad as I thought because I believe that some women who are pregnant have to go to the toilet all the time. But I haven’t had that so bad. I can make it through a night without having to go.

GS: What’s the worst place we’ve been for the toilet situation?

TS: The first Yardie Homestead toilet was a bit gross. But I kind of got used to it. The Coorong. Having to go outside and dig a hole. Because there was no way I was going near those toilets with all the flies. That was horrible that place. I think the Coorong wins the prize.

GS: What haven’t you missed or been happy to be away from?

TS: Routine. I haven’t really missed being exhausted from working so much. The physical aspects of my job were in the end actually robbing me. I felt that there were times at the end of last year that I was pretty depressed because I was so tired from everything I was doing. So I think it’s been a good journey in that way. A good learning experience to be not quite so full on. But things seem to be very black or white for me in a lot of ways. I’m still struggling with that balance. I don’t know what will happen when I get home. What I’m going to do. Because I do like to feel useful in some way.

GS: What’s your favourite place you’ve been or thing you’ve done on this trip?

TS: We’ve been to some very nice places. I really liked Coffin Bay. That was beautiful. And because it was the first place with loads of animals and it was a nice bush camping experience with not such bad toilets. I loved staying with Jo. Her family were so welcoming and it was so interesting living in another family’s dynamic. They made us so welcome even though they were going through tumultuous times. Which I sort of suspect they do a lot of. I really loved Exmouth. Snorkelling Oyster Stacks was amazing. Whale sharking was fantastic. It’s a special place up there. Just lovely. Margaret River seemed very nice but we didn’t spend enough time down there. But I kind of figure we’ll probably be back at some stage.

GS: Any places you really haven’t enjoyed?

TS: I didn’t like the Coorong, as I said. It was so hot and there was no escape. And the kids just hated it there which makes everything really awful. That creepy place Jack Point with all the spiders. That was really weird. Mostly it’s all been really interesting. It’s been amazing really. I don’t know how it will be to go home and be stuck in one place.

GS: What are your expectations of Broome and what our living situation will be there?

TS: I don’t really know (laughs). Who knows? It’ll all be fine.

GS: Do you feel nervous about it at all?

TS: I’m not really sure how it’s going to work with a baby. I’m not really sure how it’s going to work with visitors like your mum, or Kym if she comes up, or Lynne if she comes up. I’m not sure how all that’s going to work. It’s usually nothing like you think it will be anyway. But I would hate for people to come up and me just to be in this state of mind of “Can’t do anything. Baby”. I do remember that about the other two being little. If I could get one thing done a day I was doing really well. And I don’t even know where that time goes or what you do with it. If I could wash the floor, or maybe cook a meal, that was like “oh my god, I got something done”. And I remember it being like that for some time. So I’m not quite sure how it’s all going to be. I don’t know how the house is going to be. I don’t know how we’re all going to fit. But we always seem to pull it all together somehow.

GS: After Finn was born, you suffered from post natal depression. Are you concerned about that this time?

TS: No. No I’m not. It’s 10 years later. I recognise those symptoms. I reckon I was a little depressed last year. As I said before, from exhaustion. But like with the rest of the trip, I don’t have to do anything. I can just lie on the bed with the baby all day if worst comes to worst. I think it was a big chemical thing. I think I’m more in tune with myself. And I just create space around me a little bit more. And not feel the pressure of having to have everything perfect, like I do sometimes. It’ll be interesting. I’m sure there’ll be chemical ups and downs but I know there are ways of curing them now. That was such a black cloud, that horrible bit.

GS: Are you confident of being able to travel on the road with a baby?

TS: I gotta say I’m a bit worried about the trip to Cape Leveque now after just coming down that 10km track to get here. It was so bumpy, I was thinking about a little neck and a big head sitting on that little neck. We’ll have to play it as it comes I think. I don’t know.

GS: Are you happy that this is the choice that you’ve made, living on the road being pregnant?

TS: Yeah, depending when you ask me. Sometimes I wouldn’t recommend it to people. But it’s been good to be close to my family and I’ve enjoyed the adventures. And there’s just going to be more and more I guess, with extra people involved. I know I’ll look back on this like when we travelled around Syria and Jordan. Those memories are some of the strongest, happiest memories I have. So I’m sure this trip will be too. We’re just lucky we’re in a situation where we can do it. So, yeah I am happy.

GS: Living in close proximity with people you get to learn a lot about them. What have you learnt about Jazzy on this trip?

TS: She’s very smart. Smarter than I expected. She’s very much like you. She’s got your feet. She’s going to be fine in life. She’s just so together.

GS: What have you learnt about Finn?

TS: He’s like a big golden retriever puppy. He’s very loving. Very cuddly. It’s funny because sometimes he’s very self-assured and other times he’s such a little boy. He’s still at that age of just discovering himself. I guess there’s still more to be learned about him.

GS: What have you learnt about me?

TS: I’ve been amazed how you’ve been able to do everything. You hitch the van up. You set it all up. You go to work. You fly away and do jobs. You come back and you put the WiFi up the tree so that everybody’s computers are working. You cook fish for us. You’ve just been doing everything. I think I would have been pissed off by now if the roles had have been reversed and you were the one lying down not able to do much. You’re very capable, but I always knew that. You’re a really good Dad. And, I’m glad you chose me. [GS: This is clearly my personal favourite part of the interview]

GS: And what have you learnt about yourself?

TS: I don’t know. It’s been a very different time for me. I just feel like I’ve grown up a bit more. I’m a bit more stable in myself. And… I’m a lot like my mum. I look in the mirror and I often see her face in my face.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Farewell to Exmouth

I've loved living in Exmouth. The Ningaloo Reef, the Cape Range National Park, both of the very different caravan parks in which we’ve stayed, the people I've met and the town itself. Before the 60s, Exmouth wasn't even a town. There was an Aboriginal community in the general region but no white fellas. It was only when the Americans installed a naval base that Exmouth came to be an official town. The reason for the joint US and Australian base was to build and support thirteen transmission towers that operated in the VLF (very low frequency) range and were to be used for communicating with submarines. Today it is the largest of only four such communications centres in the world and is capable of transmitting a signal all the way to a submarine sitting underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at the bottom of San Francisco Bay. At one time there were 5,000 American servicemen resident in Exmouth and the base provided several home comforts such as a basketball court, baseball field, drive-in movie theatre, burger restaurant (of course) and a giant white water tower built in Texas to make the place look more like "home". They even drove on the right-hand side of the road. The town of Exmouth sprung up to support the base, undoubtedly with many people setting up businesses there to help the servicemen spend their pay. The Americans left the base in 1992 but there are several reminders still of their former presence. In particular, the giant towers that dominate the landscape at the top of the cape. Taller than the Empire State Building and the Eiffel tower, they loom high on the horizon as you drive from the town towards the west coast. The towers were built in the US, then were dismantled and shipped to Exmouth, landing at the navy pier that was built specially for receiving this cargo. The base is now run by the Australian Federal Police and while strictly controlled, the pier is accessible to the general public as one of the top ten ranked dive sites in the world. Nobody has ever been permitted to fish from the pier so in effect a marine sanctuary has been provided. Having already dived on the reef a few times and rediscovered both my love for it and my confidence in the water, I was looking forward excitedly to diving on the famed navy pier. But the day that I went the conditions were diabolical. The sea was surging in the heavy wind. The visibility was non-existent. On descending down the line to the dive site, I couldn't see anything at all and was being pushed from side to side disconcertingly by the swell. On getting to the bottom things were a little clearer but visibility was still only a couple of metres in any direction. However the fish life was incredible. Schools of huge potato cod, white tipped reef sharks, grey nurse sharks, lion fish, giant moray eels, octopus, thousands of fish of all sizes and colours. But due to the conditions the dive was difficult. And when on the second dive my equipment started to play up, it became a case of surviving the dive rather than relaxing and enjoying it. My buoyancy jacket had begun to malfunction and I couldn't release air, floating up away from the group and into the structure of the pier with its mess of shell and coral encrusted cross beams. The air just wouldn't release from my suit for a very long minute or two and I'd lost sight of those below. At only around 12 metres it's not a very deep dive, but when you can't really see and your equipment decides to have a mind of its own, taking you where you don't want to be and tangling you up in the beams, it's a bit frightening. Eventually and thankfully, the air finally released and I sank back down, relieved to see my dive buddy and the others. I left the pier feeling disappointed with how things had gone, having been looking forward to diving there for months. I couldn't bear this as my last memory of diving in Exmouth, so I went along on another day. This time the sun was shining. The sea was calm. The visibility was clear. My equipment operated correctly. And what a difference all of that made. I was relaxed and able to glide around and properly explore the amazing creatures that made the pier their home.

All of the time spent diving and snorkelling on Ningaloo Reed gave me a completely new view on sharks. Having been scared senseless by Jaws when I was a kid, there have been many times over the years when I'd be in the sea and would hear that theme music in my head. Seeing a shark in the water would have made me soil my speedos for sure. But there are so many sharks around Exmouth, of so many varieties, that I came to have regular encounters with them and swapped interested stories with others on those that I didn't see. On various dips into the water with snorkel or tank, I sat and watched an eight foot leopard shark as he dozed on the bottom, followed white tip reef sharks as they cruised around under the pier, got close and personal with a grey nurse shark while trying to get a decent photo of him, jumped excitedly into the water on a dive with the anticipation of seeing a tiger shark (even though we didn't end up seeing any) and swam with the biggest, but most harmless of them all, the giant whale shark. I hope I can maintain this perspective. They are amazing creatures.

The whale shark day was another of the many highlights of Exmouth. The whole family spent a day out on a boat on the reef, periodically jumping into the warm water to swim alongside a 5 or 6 metre shark as he cruised along devouring plankton and krill. The sight of a pregnant woman with a big belly floating around on a pink noodle in the open ocean was also an interesting sight. Tori chased the whale sharks around a little too heartily and paid for it the next day, barely able to leave the bed. Her energy levels have been quite low over the last few weeks but she hasn’t been able to resist taking part in the adventures to be had. The day ended with some drama when Jazzy was stung by what appeared to be a jelly fish. While she said the sting itself wasn’t too bad, she was holding on to her stomach saying that she felt like it was shrinking, sucking in breaths of air with wheezy gasps. After dousing the sting with vinegar, the crew broke out the oxygen cylinder and mask to try and help her breathe while she sat on one of the bunks below deck. It took an hour or so for her body and mind to eventually settle down. In the past this would have completely tarnished the whole experience for her. The previous hours of fun and amazement of swimming with the whale sharks would have been wiped out by this unfortunate incident. But it is a sign of Jazzy’s growing maturity that this was not the case. She took it in her stride stating that the trip out to see the whale sharks was all worth it sting and all. Watching your kids grow and evolve is perhaps the most amazing wildlife viewing that one can have.

The town of Exmouth is quite a vibrant and cosmopolitan little place considering its tiny population. People come from all around the world to swim with the whale sharks or to dive the reef and navy pier. Some of them stay and take jobs with the dive companies or in the bars or restaurants, and it gives the place much more of an international feel than you would normally expect in a tiny isolated Australian town. The standard of food in the restaurants and pubs is also surprisingly good. I don’t expect that you could find a nice bowl of Vietnamese pho soup in too many towns in Australia that boast a population of only 2000. Most people living in Exmouth seem to have originated from somewhere else. And the visitors who swell the numbers of the population all know that they are somewhere special, often having come to escape the winter climes of the southern Australian cities and instead spend their days fishing, swimming, diving or exploring the national park on beautifully warm sunny blue sky days. The net result being that Exmouth is a particularly friendly and welcoming town.

Time in the water was the dominant feature for us at Exmouth. Days of snorkelling out on the easily accessible coral reef from the various beaches dotted up the coast. Turquoise Bay, Oyster Stacks and Lakeside all had different reef structures providing a variety of snorkelling experiences. Jaz, Finn and I swam with a hawksbill turtle at Turquoise Bay. He was completely nonchalant about us swimming right beside and over the top of him as we followed him around for about 15 minutes before we decided we’d had enough and moved on to look at something else. Blue spotted stingrays were abundant. Starfish were scattered around the sandy floor. Sea urchins sat in the crevices. An octopus stuck out from his hiding place in the coral, his big eye gaping as he looked around for food. There was so much to see that every entry to the water was completely different. Such a wonderland, it is sad to be leaving this behind even though I know we’ll be heading somewhere else beautiful. And as if to snap me out of my idyll and remind me of caravan living on the road, on our last morning the door handle to the van snapped off, meaning that the only way to get inside is by jimmying the door open with a screwdriver. And still the electrical issues seem to persist. Having replaced all batteries and the inverter, there’s only a couple of other components that could be the cause of our quickly draining batteries. More van maintenance and undoubtedly expense now awaits us in Broome.

With our departure from Exmouth, the first instalment of our trip is essentially over. We decided not to go to Karijini in the end as it seemed pointless with Tori unable to walk down any of the steep paths through the gorges. Instead we stayed those few extra days in Exmouth. And despite all of our water adventures here, we still managed to be the useless tourists that we are and somehow didn’t make it to the gorges and canyons of the Cape Range National Park. I guess those combined with Karijini give us an extra reason for coming back up to this great part of Australia some time in the future. Our next real stop is Broome, some 1300km north of here, though I expect we will be travelling this distance quite quickly. Tori is now a couple of days over 36 weeks pregnant and Broome is where the baby will be born and where we expect to be living for three or so months. The first couple of weeks there will no doubt be spent establishing ourselves in whatever manner of accommodation we have waiting for us. There will be an unfinished house involved, though I have no idea at what stage of building the house is at. This is the new house that our friends Marty and Bridget are building and that they have said we can stay in. I know there’s a bathroom, so that’s good. And I believe that there some other completed rooms. But I am expecting the place to look like the building site that it is and for us to still be largely staying in the van. I guess it continues a good pattern in the births of our children. When Tori was pregnant with Jaz, we lived in a small rented cottage in the English country village of Fulking. It had a roof that leaked in four or five different rooms which finally resulted in me banging on the landlord's door at six o’clock one rainy morning demanding that he remedy the situation. When she was pregnant with Finn we were renovating our own house in the village of Henfield and going to the bathroom involved balancing across a narrow plank stretched several metres over a sandy floor where the kitchen was to be built. Every other room had a layering of sawdust. So I guess it’s fitting that now for the birth of this child we’ll be living in an unbuilt house. I’m not sure how this all fits in with Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchical needs which has security in a physical home as one of the fundamental requirements on the path towards esteem and self-actualization. But so far we seem to be doing alright.

And then of course once the baby is actually born our life will become a completely different ball game. We’re hoping for a calm and healthy one. And also for our own spirits to remain strong. Perhaps then we will be able to resume the journey and find some more naturally beautiful places in this large country to move around to. There’s still so much exploring to do.