“The day comes in strips of yellow glass over trees” Peter Balakian

There’s a woman who lives in an iron-clad company house, on a red dirt track, at the upper edge of an Aboriginal community in North-East Arnhem land. She’s a nurse in a small doctor clinic a short walk from this house. In Summer she drives a car because going outside from the air-conditioner is like walking into a closed bathroom after a hot shower. Impossibly hot and steamy. It’s winter now and she chooses to walk. The sun is merely warm and the outside air faintly cool on her skin. She feels alive.

The first 100 metres is the red bauxite track covered in tiny marble-like balls, slippery underfoot.

She turns left onto the bitumen, 2,000-steps-to-work road, and the bush warm charcoal smell from last nights cultural burn greets her. It was a cold fire that slowly ate down the undergrowth, overnight, that would otherwise have prevented fresh new growth in the spring. A little further along the smell changes to the sweetness of eucalyptus leaves warming in the morning sun mixed with a profusion of wattle blossoms. Acacia auricululiformis or black wattle. Ubiquitous throughout the Northern Territory it needs smoke or heat from a fire to germinate its seeds. Its flower is paler and smaller than the silver-leafed Cootamundra wattle of her childhood further south.

One of the nurses she works with asked her if she was afraid of the dogs, walking alone without a stick? Dogs of varying degree of dingo heritage station themselves at the edges of the invisible boundaries of their owners homes, watchful but not menacing. She ignores them looking straight ahead and presents no threat to them.

A white sulphur-crested cockatoo screeches out a warning, or a greeting, to others in its flock from the highest branch of a gum tree. Maybe to share or to scare away others from eating the bunches of honey tasting flowers.

The woman approaches the left turn towards the clinic.

Sometimes I feel like a woman in a dream, wandering down this path to work. So far from my family and all I’ve ever known, and yet, by now, so familiar. So many paths to choose from and even on this short walk there are sandy side tracks leading to different destinations. I could take one to the right, amongst the trees and come out at the nearby bay. Sit and read all day. I could take the trodden down bush walk to the left, past the houses and end up at the blue house when the new-born puppies are and play all day with them. But I keep walking on the bitumen past houses and dogs until I reach the padlocked gate of the clinic. I rummage in my bag for the key and with that wake from the dream.

What is Curiosity?

I started this blog several years ago with the idea that, while I was writing a remote area nurse memoir, I’d have a website with photos and articles to accompany it. That worked for a few years until life’s ups and downs took up a lot of time and energy (which it does so well!) and my posts became sporadic and into a few different topics.

I’ve been thinking about my lack of posts recently and about the topic of curiosity and where it leads and decided to pick up where I left off with a wider focus about curiosity. I completed the memoir a couple of years ago and the manuscript is sitting in the cupboard. I’m also curious as to why I begin things and dont finish them. My elderly mother said to me recently “you have so many abilities but you never finish anything”…hmm…I need to think about this.

The Australian Oxford dictionary defines curiosity as:-

An eager desire to know

Inquisitiveness

Strangeness

A strange, rare or interesting object

Roget’s Thesaurus lists a range of explanations from searching and seeking to snooping and spying.

I like to think of curiosity as a quest, a thirst for life, opening up to what life presents. The opposite of being fearful and closed off and hesitant. I’m not too keen on the thought of flippant snooping or superficial spying. That has the feel of purposeless gossip that harms without informing, learning nothing.

So I’m going to try once again to post weekly about saying yes to life and following where it leads…

Queensland country road

Turtles and an Angel

There’s a few turtle stories in Ben’s life. The one that I remember the clearest is when he was about 12 and had collected a number of small turtle shells from a dried up pond. The shells went under his bed until I noticed a smell coming from under there. On looking closer it was apparent the shells weren’t entirely clean and my advice to put them outside on an ants nest was turned into Ben spraying perfume on them and leaving them under his bed! He grew up into a keen fisherman with a through understanding of the sea and for some reason I equated sea turtles with him.

Ten days after Ben’s funeral I was staying with my daughter in Central Queensland. I was browsing in the self-help book section of the local Big W oping to find something to help me articulate my shock and grief. I turned around with that feeling that someone was looking at me. A book had been left open exactly at my eye level on a page about sea turtles. I looked straight into the face of a beautiful sea turtle and knew Ben’s presence instantly.

This was more comforting than any words. A felt presence.

The next day I returned to the same shopping centre for a massage. I hadn’t been there before so I was happy to be seen by any practitioner. I was asked what I wanted and I said I was particularly tense after my sons recent death and just wanted a relaxing massage. The woman introduced herself as Faith. A few minutes into the massage she said to me, “I dont know how it feels to lose a son but when my mother died two years after she lost my brother. They said it was a broken heart.”

I asked after another few minutes he had died here or overseas as the woman was African. “In South Africa”, she replied.

“Was it an expected or a violent death?”

“My brother was a policeman and he was shot and killed by thugs.”

I told her that Ben had been shot and killed by police.

She said that there will never be any justice where the police are involved. She told me not to focus on the details of what happened and why but to look after myself and my other kids and not to push my husband away.

I felt a presence again. I cant explain what it was but it was there and it saw me and knew the words I needed to hear at that time. Still many months later I remember those words and try to live by them.

Turtles and angels have more in common that you realise.

Storytelling

Last May I went to as many events as I could at the Northern Territory Writers Festival in Darwin. The highlight for me was a panel of speakers discussing memoir writing and how family might react to the stories shared. All four women had published a recent memoir.The questions asked ranged from, “Do writers edit out parts to protect feelings?” to, “How much time has to pass before dirty laundry can be safely aired and can it ever be aired?”.The consensus was that you have to tell your own story and navigate the “hard stuff” about who it’s going to affect, the wisest, kindest way you can. There was no easy answer to any question raised. Each writer recognised the problem and each had worked out for themselves how to tell their own story with minimal negative impact on family.

Magda Szubanski reminded us that Aboriginal people are very conscious of not telling a story that doesn’t belong to them.She struggled with writing her fathers story, balancing her words carefully so as not to disrespect the Polish Jewish and Catholic communities the family had been a part of. She taught herself to write by finding her own voice and thus making the telling her own, if not the story itself.The memoir took her eight years to complete.

Each person has a unique story, unlike any other. And to be able to tell it freely enables a person to make sense of their life’s experiences. To clarify their emotions, to heal from losses, to inspire and encourage and to preserve cultural identity and so much more. Storytelling is fundamental to human experience. As listeners or readers we are entertained, we learn, we experience vicariously and we are enlarged by the contact with another person’s world. But, for all the benefits it’s still a balancing act to be honest in our telling and to share our story, without taking away from those closest to us what is rightfully theirs. Their story, their perception, their life. And isn’t that the same compromise we face day after day, whether writing a memoir or living our lives.