Monday, August 28, 2006

I feel like I just don’t shut up on this blog about swimming. But I have to tell you that I had one of the nicest most relaxing swims ever last night, in the pool at the camp out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by gum trees under a pile of glittery stars.

This is my fourth visit to the mine site, and I am becoming much more relaxed about it all. The first two visits I spent totally overawed at the sheer scale of everything, and the outlandish way of living. It made me question things like, why do we operate on a seven-day week? (Because God said so?) Why do we stop working just because it’s 5 o’clock in the afternoon? It seemed to me like the mining company had just created its own version of society, which was perhaps not dissimilar to what Marx had in mind .. the Company providing for all of the material needs, and the workers well, just working. It seemed strangely … successful. I suppose the main difference to the Marxist version is that this one is driven by extreme profit. Oh well.

By my third stint, the novelty and the philosophy were wearing off a bit. This stint, my fourth, is pretty much plain sailing. I’m really enjoying it. My favourite thing by far about it is the landscape. Not the pit itself, but the relatively untouched former cattle station that surrounds it. I took some photos on my walk home from work yesterday, so that you can enjoy some of the Australianness.

I love the form of these low hills. When I flew home last time, I finally got a window seat on the plane and I was able to see that the hills repeat for hundreds of kms in every direction, from the sky it looks just like rumply puppy skin.

When I arrived back at the camp, I found that someone had already put my washing in the dryer and left me suddenly free of chores for the evening, so I slipped into the pool for a quick dip. It was lovely.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Grind

I'm back at work. That's right, I'm a-livin and a-workin in a caravan. (Or as it's known in local parlance, a donga.)

It's not nearly as bad as you might imagine. Ok, sometimes I wish I could just get off at Parliament Station, string my scarf around my neck, grab a reliably delicious coffee from The European and stride off down Spring Street to do my important work for the State of Victoria, knowing full well that by lunchtime I would be window-shopping, eating sushi and talking on the phone all at the same time just like an archetypal city chick planning an evening of drinking fine wine and watching foreign films.

But not often.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Computer Goggles

On Friday, the optometrist told me that all the staring I do at the computer screen has actually been harming my eyes (what??) and so this afternoon instead of reading other peoples’ blogs or doing ‘research’ on the internet or even doing any writing of my own, I have been sitting in the lounge room painting my toenails and looking out the window at the birds squabbling in our bottlebrush tree, which has just come into flower. The lorikeets have most of the territory and they have been defending it most raucously. They can’t stand it when any noisy miners turn up, but they will tolerate some of the tiny little brown birds who have a very pretty song.

I’m hoping my new glasses will be ready before I have to go to work on Thursday. I don’t know if I can hold out for two whole weeks of work with no play on the internet. Either way, I'm pretty sure that blog posting will be spotty until I get them.

Whitsundays Weekend

You might think that because we live by the ocean the idea of a beachside holiday would hold no sway for us. However, we just had the best long weekend mini-break ever, in the Whitsunday Islands just a couple of hours drive down the coast.

We took a boat out through the islands to snorkel on the Reef, we glimpsed humpback whales off the starboard bow, we got back to dry land and ate the most delicious sushi we've had in oh, say, 10 months and my favourite part, we got up in the morning and stepped straight into our still damp swimming togs to do it all over again.

I'm going to tell you more about it, I promise. I'm just too relaxed at the moment.

But let me just mention here how this morning, back at home, I was trying my best to extend that holiday feeling when I decided to start off my day with a swim in the ocean. After Hayden left for work, I put on my togs and went down to the beach. Feeling refreshed and relaxed and ready for some kind of challenge, I put my eye to a small buoy not all that far from the shore, and decided to try for a lap of it. Without any of my usual fuss I plunged straight into the water and began to swim.

Well, the swim out to it was easy and deliciously refreshing, but upon turning around to swim back the other way, I discovered that the tide was coming out. Oh. I swam harder and harder and was a tiny bit scared and started to wish that I had gone to the beach where the lifeguards are, and I stopped putting my face in the water and kept my eyes on the beach and eventually made it back into water shallow enough to stand up in, and then I walked up on the beach and flopped on my towel, breathing quite hard. I looked at my watch. My little adventure-swim had taken me exactly 11 minutes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sing like nobody's watching

I saw Casablanca on sale in our local music shop the other day, so I picked it up. I’m so glad that the $10 DVD has finally come to Townsville. It was one thing that we had taken for granted in Melbourne and we really missed it when we first arrived here (what? $29.95 to watch a movie at home?), even though the lack of it probably resulted in us getting out of the house more often. I put the movie on in the background yesterday while I was painting, but this morning I decided to watch it again properly from the start (shut up, I’m on R&R, I can watch a video in the morning if I want to) and I was glad that I did. It really is a very well put together movie, even though the poor old Germans suffer for it. German people in general must be so put out that they’re always being slagged off for what they/Hitler did in the Second World War. They totally must be sick of the English-speaking world going nuts for these old war movies.

Umberto Eco, with whom I usually don’t agree, described the world as “a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth”. I can’t remember where or in what context he said those words, but I choose to believe that he’s referring to our clinging to the notions of right and wrong, of good and evil. Of course I don’t want to mention the war. I’m still even tossing up whether to see that movie that is the reconstruction of the events in the plane on September 11. Half of me wants to go and see if there is anything there to help me make sense of what is going on in the world at the moment. And the other half of me just wants to sing loudly with my fingers in my ears “La-la-la-la-la-la”.

There was a question on our recent census that asked what my address was in August 2001. When I answered the question on the form, I thought that they were just asking me if I had moved house since the last census (answer: yes, many many times). But of course they could also have been asking: where were you before the world changed so much?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Work Wear

I have wanted to mention for ages just how much I love wearing Hard Yakka work wear to work. Everyone who works on the mine site must wear high visibility workwear every day, no matter what job they do. Cleaners, payroll assistants, marketing executives, secretaries like me, everyone. I think it’s great. It’s just like wearing highly-reflective pyjamas to the office. Here’s a photo of Hayden in what he wears to work at the nickel refinery (this photo was taken on one of Hayden’s first days in the job, that’s why he looks slightly nervous).

When I’m working at the mine, I wear an outfit pretty similar, except that my shirt is bright safety orange, and my pants are blue with reflective bands at the knees. Overall I’m much more highly visible than Hayden is.

But it’s not the high-visibility of the uniform that I love, it’s the comfort. Not only do I get to wear sloppy loose-fitting clothes, but also I can get as grubby as I like - and it’s expected.

That’s why I have put on my work clothes this afternoon, even though I am at home, a couple of hundred km’s from the office. I’m going to do a spot of painting (inspired by Claire, though sadly without a skerrick of her talent).

Hopefully it’s going to be fun.

The Roulettes

On Saturday, the Roulettes were in town to celebrate the anniversary of Victory in the Pacific. Hayden and I arrived home from our Saturday morning swim to find them swarming around the air above our place like a herd of giant bees. Hayden took the camera down to the beach to get some good snaps of them.

It was a pretty impressive show, and thankfully sans compere, hotdog stand and merchandising. Like I think I mentioned before, Townsville is one of the few places in Australia to have ever been under enemy attack. And, because there is such a large number of actual working soldiers who live here (and it always makes the local news when they are to be shipped out to the next new war zone), the days we commemorate Australian involvement in war are always done with much more tact and taste than I've seen in other cities.

At the end of their show the Roulettes flew off into the distance, and the spectators lined up on the shore were left to calm their dogs and little children.

Long Division

There is a divide in Townsville, and I’m not talking about the divide between black and white, which does exist (and which I am working up to talking about. Stay tuned). The one I’m talking about now is the divide between the haves and the have nots. The divide is this hill, known as Castle Hill.

Castle Hill is a big feature in the townscape. All the roads go about the base of it and the sea air flows around it, creating beautiful afternoon breezes in some places and suffocating stillness in others. Castle Hill divides all that is pleasant in Townsville from all that is flat, brown, suburban, and generally uncivilised. On our side, the Eastern side, is the sea, the parks, the cafes and restaurants. On the other side, and I’ve walked to the top of it and peeked over the other side so I know, there is naught but a flat grid of suburban houses interspersed with massive warehouse-size shops that sell lounge suites and televisions. In every driveway there is a ute, and behind every front-yard fence is a barking dog.

Townsville has a rivalry with nearby Cairns that is not quite as fierce (or as tiresomely talked-about) as the one between Sydney and Melbourne. But there are people around here who feel quite strongly about it and I have noticed that there are many mine employees who chose to live in Cairns rather than Townsville, even though it adds an extra leg to their journey home each fortnight - either five hours on the bus that the mine provides for free or a couple of hundred dollars for an extra return flight each time. That’s easily too much time and/or money for me to consider commuting from Cairns, but like I said, there are a lot of mine workers who do. (There are people who commute from further afield too: Darwin, Adelaide, Christchurch and Bangkok. But that’s another level of hassle altogether).

Those who prefer Cairns generally consider Townsville to be too dry, too ugly and over-populated with boorish yobbos and army dickheads. There is an element of truth to that, (but really, most of it goes on on the West Side of Castle Hill). People who prefer Townsville reckon that Cairns too sultry, too lugubrious, too overgrown and too given over to tourism. And as I see it, Cairns has been lazily and smugly selling itself to Japanese tourists and now, quite late in the piece, Townsville has begun to smarten itself up, much like one of its working citizens who, in preparation for a big night, puts on clean jeans and an ironed shirt and a lot of aftershave (and, most probably, rounds off his outfit with white sneakers and no socks). The tizzing up of Townsville has well and truly begun, and where once Castle Hill was considered an unsightly reminder of the proximity of the desert, it is now considered an interesting feature of the landscape - especially by those who live in the recently gentrified suburbs in its afternoon shadow.

However, there is one feature of trashy Townsville that it just hasn’t managed to cover up: its tattoo.

If you click on one of the pictures, you should be able to see it. It would have been quite a feat to paint it up there in the first place, and when we first moved here it used to irritate me - a stupid tribute to the lengths that some people will go in order to perpetrate such a visible vandalism.

Then I was told by a fairly reliable source that the white graffiti angel has been a feature of Castle Hill since 1963. That's either some very good paint or some consistent touching up over the years. Either way, I better appreciation of it now. It's a piece of historical vandalism. It marks the way that Townsville used to be.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Comforts of Home

I feel I should preface this with a *whinge alert*.

Last time I was home on R&R, back when it was still July, we were having a pizza picnic in the park when we saw a mate of Hayden’s from work who said by way of small talk: “Well, I hope you enjoyed winter,” and I said “What? Is it over already?” and the smile dropped from his face and he said “Yes”. Summer around here, as I already mentioned numerous times all the way through November – March (see archives), is a long hot form of torture. I did not want to believe that the pleasantness of winter was over. I went back out to the mine where it is far too far west for the change of seasons to have arrived yet.

When I arrived home again yesterday, I found that the worst was true. The evidence is that our home has been re-infested by ants and geckos, who are making themselves comfortable in preparation for the duration of summer. The geckos we still find very cute. The ants less so. Last summer when we first arrived in Townsville, the ants seemed but a small price to pay because our new modern (OK 1990’s) apartment was free from all the hassles of our graciously decaying place in Melbourne (to recap: paint blistering from water seeping down whenever the people upstairs watered their plants; power lost to half the flat due to ancient 1930’s wiring embedded in the plaster; residual anxiety due to the safety risk caused by those two problems together; a bathroom too small to turn around in and a kitchen not much bigger..).

To turn this whinge into something positive, I’m trying to think of some way to learn from the ants. Not that I am going to sacrifice myself for the colony by crawling down into a glass of ribena to drown in the sweet sweet liquid, or crawling up into the honey jar to die an even stickier death. But I do want to do something, so I’m going to get busy. I’m going to be as busy as an ant from now on until the heat comes to town.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tennyson's Birthday

Today is the anniversary of Alfred Tennyson's birth in 1809.

In Tennyson's day, poetry was meant to be read aloud among groups of people, as a form of parlor entertainment, like karaoke.

That's the sort of pasttime I just wish would be magically ressurected. Not by me of course, I hate reading aloud. I just want to be read to.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Music Tourism at the Zinc Mine

I don't know what it is about being out in the country that makes country music so applicable. I mean, I've always been a musical tourist. Much the same way that other people pick up colourful knick-knacks to take home from their holidays, I do like to pick up a bit of the local music and take it home .. where it often sounds garish, tacky and out of place. I've got some really terrible examples of "hard rock" from Italy and "cool jazz" from Spain.

And so it is, out here in the country, with the country music. I just can't get enough of it while I am out here in this wide flat place.

My favourite time to listen to it is on the dark bus ride from the camp down to work in the morning. No one talks much on that 10 minute ride. But I like it. It's very early. It's dark. There's nothing to see but stars and the shadows of trees, and the occasional roo, eyes glowing in the headlights, standing rock-still by the side of the road. It's all so good with some slow, simple, whiny music.

So you better watch out, Hayden. I might just done gonna bring some home with me..

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Back In Town

Hayden and I entertained ourselves before the start of a party last weekend, on the balcony of a friend of ours who lives above Townsville's main street. It's another one of those inner-city apartments that don't need to have their own clock because the city hall clock is in plain view from the lounge room window.

[OK, two qualifications: one, Townsville is a town and not a city, so it obviously cannot have an inner-city. It just has an inner-town. Two, the clock tower is not above the city hall, it's actually atop the mini-brewery where they make Townsville Ale, in the bar of which we celebrated Valentines Day this year.]

It turned out to be a really good party, with dancing and everything, but a little sad because it was for two friends who are moving away. One's going to Sydney and the other to Brisbane.