Aftermath

Our neighbour Hanno finds the walk to school arduous. So when he goes to pick up his big sister Eve in the afternoon, Jens takes him in the wheelbarrow. And sometimes after a big day at kindy, Eve hops in too for a lift home.

Jens and Tash used to have one of those Dutch bicycles with a child capsule on the front of it. Both kids fitted, side by side. But they lost it in the fire when their house burned down.

The fire happened six days after Christmas and four days after Eve’s birthday. Tash tells me that sometimes they remember presents that were in the house. ‘Burnt?’ says Eve. ‘Yes,’ says Tash, sad face. ‘Burnt.’

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Anzac Day, Covid-style

I wheeled down to the road at 5.30 am, moved by the concept of the ‘driveway dawn service’. I wasn’t sure if my Bermaguee Street neighbours would be partaking, and when I reached the street, mine was the only light. So I headed up to the cenotaph in case there’d been a social-distancing rebellion – no-one. But I knew that Helen and Peter Taylor would be out the front of their place in Bega Street with candles and wreath – and a radio. The ABC was broadcasting live the service at the War Memorial in Canberra.

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An interesting time to launch a book

Who could have known, back in December when I started the immune-suppressant Ocrevus treatment for my MS, that a pandemic was brewing? I’ve been feeling particularly exposed and even asked people at my March book launch (more on that later) to refrain from the usually obligatory hugs at the occasion. But now, a month later, I have the results from my latest blood test. My white cells are ‘completely within normal range’, said my GP (she of The Joke fame). Great! So I’m not immune depleted after all! But hang on—the Ocrevus isn’t working? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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‘Keep rain where it falls’: Michael Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy’

After Council connected Quaama to the Brogo Dam supply in 1984, they sent a truck through the village collecting everyone’s rainwater tanks. ‘You won’t be needing these anymore—let us do you a favour and remove them for you!’ They needed people to pay for household water now—the last thing they wanted was people collecting their own.

But by the time we built our new house in 2008, the NSW Government was offering rebates for every new tank connected to toilets or washing machines. And development approval relied on such environmental features too.

Many Quaama residents collect rainwater from their roofs now. For those who don’t, their share soaks into their garden, or runs off into the channels that Council digs along the roadsides, breeding mosquitoes and frogs until it seeps into the ground or evaporates. But at least the rain ‘stays where it falls’—one of the main tenets of Michael Mobbs’s presentation to the Bermagui Institute in February. Mobbs, the ‘Off the Grid Guy‘, has disconnected his inner-Sydney home from mains water and sewer (and electricity) and promotes sustainable living.

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The writer, stripped bare.

Write what you know, they say—and I know night.

Jet black, dark of the moon night. Crisp shadows on bright, silvered lawn night. Still night of hush and mopoke hoot. Howling night of seethe and crash.

Doona-burrowing, extra blanket, bed-beanie night. Night of sweat and swelter, sheet-tangle, turn and tumble.

On a steamy summer night, 4.12 gleams greenly at the bedside. Blackbird song, else silent. Then a creaking, then a tearing, a ripping, a shearing, a shredding … the crackling subsides, then silence again. Re-enter the blackbird. Later I awake and step outside to rolls of pink bark and new, smooth, fragrant, pale trunk exposed. A gum, stripped bare.

I started writing my memoir nineteen years ago—unknowingly. In a cosy sharing of Quaama women writers, I jotted down vignettes. Longhand pieces, dislodged from memory’s dim corners to briefly breathe fresh air, then closed tight again in notebooks. Fifteen years on, I wrestled with a novel but the memories, old and new, kept breaking through. Refocus.

Two years of filling the gaps, explaining, considering, blaming, absolving, reckoning. Pain, fear, confusion, exposure, realisation, understanding. Relief.

The writer, stripped bare.

Long Road to Dry River will be launched by Jack Miller at Well Thumbed Books in Cobargo at 10.30 am on Saturday 7 March. Then I’ll be in conversation with publishing industry icon Mary Cunnane, there’ll be a couple of readings, then we’ll hoe into one of WTB’s renowned morning teas. If you’re around these parts, it would be wonderful to see you there.

In the line of fire

1.30 am, New Year’s Eve. The FiresNearMe text: Put your plan into action. I hear a vehicle down on the road, coming in from the forest. Then another. Soon, a constant stream.

2 am. We’re backing down the driveway, in two cars. I have the dogs, food for them, water, my walker, and the Mechanic has my scooter, our documents bag and the go-bag, which has been sitting in a corner for weeks.

Down at the Quaama fire shed an RFS guy stops us.
Do you know anyone out at Verona? he says.
Plenty, why?
Lots of homes are threatened. We can’t get out there, not enough of us.
Later, too late, I wondered if he wanted us to ring and warn them.

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Fuelling the fire

Thanks for your kind enquiries—my initial Ocrevus infusions are done, and nothing to report, no adverse reactions. As for any benefits, I won’t know until March.

But something new—our neighbour’s bees have been descending en masse onto our birdbath, the shallow one. It must be the only accessible water source within range. They mostly cluster around the water’s edge, but some intrepid ones skim the surface, and some dip right in. We scoop them out if we notice them in time.

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When the carer can’t care

Did I say ‘carer’? The Mechanic balks at that word. ‘I’m a husband,’ he says. ‘Caring’s just part of the job description, isn’t it?’

Anyway, roles were reversed last week. He woke up on Tuesday with a stiff calf muscle. He’d done an eighty kilometre ride the day before and thought he’d try some gentle stretching. But by that evening the muscle had swollen to about twice its normal size and he winced just to put his foot on the floor. He had a mild temperature too. We were off to Bega casualty, in my car—I wasn’t sure if I’d be leaving him there, for a start, but he couldn’t have driven anyway.

It was alarming when the triage nurse starting asking about recent long haul flights. The doctor agreed and ordered a blood test, which seemed to confirm a clot—otherwise known as deep vein thrombosis. But the ultrasound department was closed for the night. ‘We’ll give you some blood thinners and pain relief,’ said the doc, just after midnight. ‘Come back at 9 am for an ultrasound.’

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