Another Country Diary


Links to images and other pages are in blue, mouse-over pop-up comments are burgundy. After about a week of diary entries, they go to an archive.

19 March '02
The bend and roadside cross catching sunlight, outside Tarago
Click for a (120k) bigger image
I've been putting off writing this. At first I was not sure that it wasn't just intrusive. So I let the subject rattle around a bit, and now I've got it reasonably straight in my head, so... 

As you can see from these photographs, I've been thinking about accidents on country roads. And the back road memorials that mark these (usually young) road deaths. As I also grew up in the bush and learnt to drive as a country teenager, there's a poignancy about these that can induce an actual sweat, in remembrance. 

Dark roads, cold night air, nervous laughter with friends as one of my mates was driving us too fast down gravel roads, headlights cutting off short before corners and bends. Still in short pants and the feel of being stuck to the leather seat with my bare legs, and that fear of the dashlight glow with the speedo that said 'too fast'. 

There was no alcohol yet, it was milkshakes at the local café and lies told to parents so that they wouldn't worry and we could all get together and 'go for a drive'.

Then, those night time phone calls that always meant something bad had happened. "Have you seen her? We're so worried, she went driving with .." and school friends talking in hushed groups the next day, and tears at recess. 
Sarah Esposito, born 1983, died 1/1/02

Or the local police officer calling, waking everyone in the house. I joined my father at the door with my legs shaking. There was a school friend staying over,  his brother had been in an accident and the officer took him to join his parents waiting at a bush hospital bedside. I couldn't get back to sleep that night.

Even if you've never been in a bad accident, the near misses and the ones you drive past make it real enough. You've probably experienced yourself, that jerking awake on the wrong side of the road as some sense had alerted you before you hit something (it was rarely 'someone' on those deserted roads thank god.) I still know when I'm being stupid for not stopping on long drives, but then there's that feeling 'I'm almost home', so you wind the windows down for a shock of night air, or get out and walk around the car so you can keep driving. 

Now it's my daughters who are out there at night on the roads, and these are girls I taught to drive! They've told their stories of being scared in cars of their friends and boy friends, but not being able to say 'no thanks' and get out. Getting them their own cars has lowered the insecurities of that, but they still humour us and our fears, sending a text message to my mobile by the bed when they're coming home late, or if they're staying in town. 

And even then some nights you lie there, wide awake, listening as cars pull up somewhere and doors slam. Waiting for the phone call, or the knock on the door.

For me, that's what is mixed up in those roadside shrines. The cross with the old school tie draped around it, except it's not 'old' but a young school tie. The light pole with scrawled messages from school friends, in coloured felt pens. The wind chimes hanging from the branch over the small pyramid of rocks at the bottom of Sparrows Hill.

It's repeated all round the world, from city to country. In Greece on the mountain bends outside of a friend's house in Larissa, there were real wooden shrines with photographs, fading magazine clippings, small statues of saints and jam jars of wilted flowers. There the stories they recorded were of culturally different deaths like the family in a donkey cart hit by a truck, or the the bus that hit an old man on a bicycle with his dog in a handlebar basket.

Taking a bend too fast and losing control is a young man's death. Or young women's. I can't help thinking that it is such a sad way to die. Trivial and without passion.  

20 March '02
Symphony for green violins. Ferns.
Window light, curtains glowing
Sulphur crested cockatoo crest feather in cobweb
Click on them for bigger images. (~ 120k)
The morning light at this time of the year is so... photographable (Duh!). It's probably because we're up earlier, 'Oh so this is what dawn looks like!'. We're still a few days away from dropping daylight saving. It's been harder to get up in the dark but we've had a string of early starts to practice on. Jan has had a commercial shoot, Kate has to be roused for an early Uni start and then our house guests wanted to head of early 'to miss the rush'. I took these pictures this morning after Jan left for work and before I sat at the computer for the rest of the day.

The two tree ferns at the front gate have responded to some extra water. A leaking yard tap that has meant the sprinkler head on the hose has been just dripping into their centres, and gets swapped around when I remember. It's almost been enough excuse not to fix the tap because they've been growing so well. You can see why the curled heads are called 'fiddlebacks' on some US. varieties. That's green violins to us. 

The other images are of the curtains in our spare room with a great blue window frame, that colour that says Greek Islands, and a sulphur coloured cocky feather hanging in the cobwebs on the window ledge outside our bedroom. It makes it all worth getting up in the morning.

24 March '02
I've always liked the story about how the American Indians always had the fastest runner in the tribe bring in the ears of corn from the fields to the cooking pot. They knew that as soon as the corn is picked, the process of turning the sugar into starch begins. That's why sweet corn that sits for days in the supermarket, even when wrapped in plastic, doesn't taste as good as fresh corn picked just before cooking. 

Now I don't want to blindly accept that you can taste this change if it's just a matter of a 'pick to pot' time of a few hours. But without rigorous scientific testing, I'll just say that I've never had sweet corn as tasty as it is fresh from our own garden. And the kids are the biggest fans and consumers at this time of the year. It's become a standard joke, 'stand back, corn coming through' and we talk about what a challenge it will be to get to the pot when we become geriatric Indians in a walking frame. 

We've almost never been able to harvest more than the first large head on the same stalks. Sometimes there are two good sized heads ready at once, but usually the frost comes before the secondary ones grow to full size. We stagger the planting of the rows by a few weeks so that we can always eat it fresh, but it's sad to watch the last rows wither. It's one of the crops for which picking and freezing isn't an alternative. We can't snap freeze it like the commercial growers and it's always either mushy if you defrost it first, or stays cold in the middle if you cook it frozen. Scraping the kernels off is the only way we've found that cooks it properly, but it's not as satisfying as a handful of buttery, peppered corn cob.   

25 March '02
Dusk on the Bungendore-Tarrago road.Jan and I call them 'Bungendore's sons'. As in "there goes another Bungendore son", when we see a car with only one headlight heading to or from the town. Sometimes when we see them on one of the other roads around the area, it's a call of '"Wrong way, go back!" or "gee, there's a son a long way from home".

Click for a larger image (74k)


What is it that increases the number of local cars with one headlight? Is it just the fact that they don't drive a lot at night and never notice the light is out? Or perhaps it's that their high beam is ok (so necessary for kangaroo spotting that it's always checked) and they don't drive on low beam much? Toss in some older cars driven by the young people in town who obviously can't afford a regular service or repairs, and I think that maybe it's a mix of all of the above.

Of course they might not be just Bungendore's sons, they could also be Bungendaughters. Whatever the reason, it's one more small town phenomena to record for the archive. 
26 March '02
Road section at entrance to the Bungendore tip.There's an absence of industrial walls, billboards or train carriages in a small town, which leads to there being fewer displays of spray-painted graffiti 'tags'. Sure there's a few beginner's versions around, but defacing tends to be of the kind that scratches 'I LUV JULIE' into the new concrete panel on our footpaths. 

In the last few days, on the roads into town, we've seen how our repressed rural youth are seeking their personal expression. I'm assuming 'youth' because it can only be someone who doesn't pay for their own tyres who could afford to lay down these examples of intricate multi-layered rubber art.

While we elevated some of the New York urban graffiti artists to fine art status, I don't know if the Woodworks Gallery is ready for a Blue Poles sized slab of wall mounted asphalt. I also doubt that the Yarrowlumla council has a plans for a curator of road art, but we need someone now who is sufficiently canny to pull of the sale of an unsigned example like the above. It's clear to me that it's a candidate for gallery exhibition. It could be promoted as 'a fresh tribal statement of the gasoline culture of burn-outs, chirpies and small town aimless evenings'. Although there are multiples in different locations by the same 'school', showing strong stylistic similarities (the twin parallel line motif is strikingly obvious), I suggest it would be a bargain at around a couple of million dollars. That should pay for the new sections of road just fine.

And since I thought of it first, I want a commission. 
 
Fred Harden
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