“Anyone who doesn’t think their plane’s going to crash just doesn’t have any imagination.” The woman and her husband were looking over my partner’s colourful glazed vases at the Bermagui Seaside Fair and it was a warm, bright, sunny day. I’m not sure how our conversation strayed onto plane crashes but I have my own airline safety theory: it’s only small planes that go down on a regular basis because they don’t carry enough passengers. It’s the sheer weight of the belief that the plane’s going to stay in the air, 500-odd packages of certainty in each jumbo, which stops the craft plummeting. What chance does a 16-seater twin-engine Cessna have? The four of us surveyed the colour and gaiety of the Bermagui Sportsground as the brassy notes of the band filtered through the buzz of the crowd.
It’s hard to spot, but there’s a path into the bush in the far corner of the Quaama Cemetery. As you pass the main cluster of graves – the smart new granite of the Colemans, the Conways with their river rocks and shells, the green trellis over Pato Taylor – you may see it. Enter the scrubby remnant forest here and continue down along the path, deeper under the trees. It’s cooler in here. The light is dappled, filtering through the canopy. You can hear bellbirds’ chimes, the occasional whipbird, the zim-zippery wagtails’ calls.
There are nine wombats on the road between Bega and Bemboka. Nine dead wombats. And it’s not even a bad season, a dry season, when what little rain we get runs off the roads and pools in the ditches beside them, creating green oases in a land of brown. Those oases bring the wombats to the roadsides in drought. But this time we’ve had plenty of rain, and still they come to the road. There they die bad deaths: deaths bouncing off bumpers, deaths crushed under wheels, deaths dragged by undercarriages until they’re just stains on the bitumen.
My friends Vicki and John hit a kangaroo once, on the Tanami Track, in the Tanami Desert. Didn’t kill it. But they got out and had a look, and it was clearly injured. No WIRES in the Tanami. They made a decision; who knows if it was the right one. What would you do? They decided to finish what they’d started.
There must be more efficient ways of ridding a citrus tree of stink bugs than with a vacuum cleaner, but certainly none more satisfying. Thwok, they go as they hurtle up the tube. Thwok, thwok! A slurry of tinkling thwoks as a column of the little orange-backed bugs is sucked up the metal tunnel.
I’m gazing across my desk and out the window as a hearse glides down my street, a seemingly endless parade of cars in its wake. I wonder briefly who has died in this small town, to attract such a crowd. I mentally list the old and the sick, reach no conclusions and return to my work.
The next day I take my usual mid-afternoon ramble with the dogs, out the back gate, across the small village common and down the dirt track to the cemetery. It’s not hard to spot the new grave, still heaped with dirt and strewn with flowers, a small white wooden cross at its head. “Arnna Marie Clarke”, it reads, “aged 45 years”.