I flicked the switch and instead of a healthy grind and crunch all I got was a low grrr.
“Shit! Jesus! Fuck it! Why now? Right when I’m walking out the friggin’ door. I can’t believe it? Fuck. It’s totally stuck. Arrrrghhh!”
Maggie was looking at me sheepishly as she wiped down the bench tops. It must have been her. I realized that but saved my frustration purely for the spoon stuck in the waste disposal unit installed in the sink.
“Yeah! Right! Now watch out for that disposal unit mate,” the landlord had warned. “Make sure you don’t shove any husks, like corn husks or bones down there. Nothing too hard or she’ll stuff up.” Words of warning to be sure and here I was now with them ringing in my ears, and the bus to the airport packed and waiting at the door. One last tug, “Comon you Fucker!” I yelled and grimaced with all the agro of a Maori huka and “Shazam” I got it. Great ‘cause I was about as close to walking out that door and leaving that unit jammed as Icarus was to the Sun.
Maggie’s jaw dropped. For two weeks, I’d been the soul of decency taking 10 kids, two of her own, and herself on a tour of the Gold Coast. But I’d paid the price with fatigue and the endless niggling frustrations that go with the territory. Such as being landed with a minibus 10 hrs before departure because the rental company had forgotten to come and pick it up. How do you forget a bus? What’s worse they had no after hours contact number. Crickey! I was packing 6 two-way radios and two cell phones surely a car rental company could see their way fit to having an after hours service number.
The sight of that spoon in my hand and the wonderful grind and crunch of the machine as I gave it a test run instantly filled me with joy and I was quickly back on an even keel leaving Maggie a little bamboozled by the suddenness of my mood change and probably feeling a lot less physically threatened.
But those two incidents were easily the worst of it. That they both occurred on the last day marred my departure but hardly the trip, which stared in the hinterland of the Gold Coast in southern Queensland, an area they call Paradise Country for commercial purposes, but not without merit. We arrived at a farmstay called Cedar Glenn. It has been a family farm for over 100 years and we stayed in the original homestead and a laborer’s cottage. The homestead was a beautiful old rambling Queenslander, with an open fireplace and memorabilia from a bygone farming era adorning the walls. It oozed an old world, rough and ready charm. The farm was set in the foothills of the Lamington National Park a mysterious place of caves hiding aboriginal paintings and a region known as “The Lost World”. Which I learned about when I overheard Peter, the owner, asking Julie, the volunteer French organic farm slave, if she knew whereabouts of the key to “the Lost World.” How I’d love to lose the key to “the Lost World,” at least once in my life only to find it and perhaps reveal its mysteries to Julie personally.
Peter had a well-planned agenda for us. He was an interesting bloke in his mid 60’s with the fitness of a 30 year old. He had only just returned from climbing to Maccu Picchu. A climb he described as not too arduous but one I’m fairly sure I couldn’t make. I was quick to learn where his fitness came from. He had us out walking some rough trails along gully edges that were certainly testing me out and the kids I’d bought with me. The worst of it for the kids was that they were constantly grabbing at branches full of burrs for balance or spear grass that’ll give you those awfully painful paper cuts. They soldiered on though mostly because they had to and I’d have to frequently stop to conduct minor surgery with my Swiss army knife to remove splinters and apply Band-Aids. Fortunately, we soon happened upon beautiful vistas and caves where we could rest and just absorb the smells and sounds of the bush.
One cave in particular, had some aboriginal paintings in it. The most distinctive of which was a white image that looked a lot like an upside-down Poseidon’s Trident. I was ribbing Peter that he’d painted it there when he was 12 as it certainly looked like the lame attempt of a 12 year old at cave painting and a Poseidon’s Trident would have been a tempting choice I’m sure for any young forger. Though of course it wasn’t and I made an offer to the kids that if they could identify any other aborigine paintings, I’d carry them back. There was plenty of pointing at odd shaped markings on the cave walls and a game a kin to spotting images in clouds erupted, but I wasn’t compelled to carry anybody.
Peter, it seemed, was certain the key to good health lay in the water he drank. He refused to drink the tap water at the house as the council had recently compelled all farmers to treat their rainwater tanks with chlorine. He had done so but was refusing to drink it. Instead he was collecting river water and drinking that. I had plenty of sympathy for his position. He was making a stand against the ridiculous. He’d been drinking the tank water for 65 years why on earth would one dream of poisoning it with chlorine. The truth of it though is that it marks a point in the water crisis in Australia. Australia is drying up rapidly. Its not like this process stared yesterday but it does seem to be gathering momentum. For decades, however, there had been little interest in rainwater tanks. People, in the cities, weren’t even allowed to have them and all water was supplied by municipal mains. That policy is changing rapidly as Australians try to preserve every precious drop. One policy has been to compel new housing to install rainwater tanks to be used as grey water and perhaps drinking water. To ensure its safety it has to be chlorinated, but as all farmers know who have been drinking it as god intended forever, why poison it with chlorine and ignorance. This was the rugged independent stand Peter was making and so I felt for him. And at every meal he’d offer me river water that of course the Taiwanese wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. I’d bravely drink it hamming up my superpowers for the kids and leaving Peter aghast at my display. Though I think it was the right choice and I eventually had some of the kids down on there hands and knees by the creek drinking it like animals until I pointed to the cow pads and Kangaroo spore lining its edges.
Another thing I wondered about and this is not a criticism of Peter, as he was a man I liked and admired, was that when we were out making the campfires and introducing the kids to the pleasures of billy tea that it must have all seemed pretty backwards to a Chinese from the city. Tea and the art of making and serving it is an aesthetic art for the Chinese and actually so too for the Australian bushman albeit a dirtier and grimier art form. Peter was a master of the art. He was probably performing that ritual 4 days a week. He swung the billy with real finesse, but to me it was all a little sad. I felt for the performing monkey and not that I could talk with 10 kids in tow, but I wondered where in this world of commercialization of the art of billy tea had quiet decency gone. It was a sideshow act and deep down I felt slightly wounded. Just slightly. Peter’s life was a life I once knew intimately. I couldn’t see my dad swinging that billy for love or money. I’d do it though, I know I would, but I’m a teacher and I guess so too is Peter.
The farm had much more to offer than my musings here, as there was horse riding and animal feeding, tennis and cricket. On one evening we had a large campfire and sing-a-long. It really was the perfect package and I enjoyed it for what it offered.
After the farm we headed for the Gold Coast and a 1.5 million-dollar property in Broadbeach. The house had its own private pool, jetty and beach. It was wholly vogue. It wasn’t entirely my cup of tea and I felt the farmstay had much more to offer but I drank from it enthusiastically all the same. From here we launched ourselves into the world of theme parks. If you can appreciate what I was saying about Peter swinging the billy then my opinion of theme parks ought be self-evident. They are a sad blight on the landscape, but there is something to a level of tastelessness so out there that it becomes something kind of tolerable even enjoyable. Let’s not pretend it is anything other than it is, something the farmstay definitely gave you hints of. It is for unadulterated pleasure. Ride until you shake every possible screw loose and vertebrae crooked. And we did or at least wise the kids did. The 4D Shrek show was my favorite and probably the most popular show at Movie World.
There is so much more to say about that trip, but I simply lack the time as today I’m off on holidays again this time to take my own family down south to Tainan and through the mountains to Taidong.
Man of Action and Adventure.