I was only 24 hours in Brisbane....

It was a grey day with non-committal rain. Annoying but not dam filling. Probably the kind of rain that Melbourne is famous for, assuming that Melbourne is actually famous for anything, that is. The kind of rain that needs another setting on the windscreen wipers, somewhere more than off, but less than infrequent. I was going to Queensland, well Brisbane really. Wonderful one day and remarkable the next, or some such claim.

I queue at the check in, weighted down by booklets I would end up bringing home unopened. Thirty minutes of inching forward, one bag lift at a time. Boredom sets in. I resort to singing, but this only brings looks of disapproval. Maybe it was the wrong song. I count the seconds between each little step forward, but it follows no pattern I can discern. I consider singing again, just for the human contact. The sparrows in the rafters argue noisily, no one else speaks. People struggle with their elephantine designer luggage having packed lock, stock, barrel and 56inch plasma TV. I wonder if I packed spare socks. We move forward. Thirty-seven seconds have passed since the last quantum of movement. Is this really the best we can do? Still in the hallway of a new century, facing the continued threat of global terrorism, global warming and global apathy, you still get treated like some form of criminal if you attempt to make conversation with the people around you. Some people claim that we are more connected than ever before but they are probably the same people who think that Facebook friends actually are and that using LOL in spoken conversation is cool, rather than a marker of deep and abiding stupidity.

We move forward again. Forty-nine seconds this time. My bag feels heavy. Loose objects slide across the floor towards it, small children gravitate towards it. I try to apologize with a glance, try to say “I didn’t want to bring this much stuff! Ray made me do it!!” Nothing happens for a while. Ninety-seven seconds. I can see the finish line, but there are six people between me and check-in. Six people? That could take hours. Between check-in and bag drop species have become extinct, glaciers have melted and, as far as I can tell, the sparrows in the rafters have evolved into a new species. Finally, I get to hand over my bag. There is another slight delay due to the scales breaking, and I suggest that they place my bag directly in the middle of the plane, just to be on the safe side.

After this I get to queue for a security check. Unsurprisingly, this takes a while. My bags are x-rayed, my coat turned inside out, the soles of my shoes are poked with a highly trained finger and my own soul is scanned for evidence of evil intent. My bag is searched for drugs, explosives, letter openers, nail clippers, WMD’s, things that go bump in the night, monsters under the bed, the big bad wolf, …………….

…………………farm yard manure, illegal CD’s, copies of Dan Brown novels and finally, surprisingly, I am allowed through. Maybe it was the singing?

The compass needle swings north and settles. The background noise falls away and then settles. I fidget in my seat and don’t settle. The hobbit in the seat next to me spreads to take advantage of the full 30 inches of seat space. He may have hairy feet, but he has no worries about DVT. Ah, economy, truly the full flowering of 21st century culture. Re-runs of Two and Half Men and Top Gear. A biscuit, with a texture like plastic cheese and a flavour that seemed to vary by the bite - first ginger, then chalk and finally it tasted of nothing more than disappointment and cost cutting.

Despite having my knee caps forced into my forehead by the seat in front of me I must have slept, for I was awoken by a suggestion that we should reset our watches. Set your watches back one hour and your minds….how does that go? There were no warnings about predatory animals, winged or furry, and so clearly the north is safer than the west! We circle the airport a few times and I wonder if my bag has slid off to one side, causing the plane to go into some form of death spiral, but it seems they may have been just waiting for a landing slot.

We touch down in Brisbane. Some pilots make their plane kiss the ground like a peck on the cheek - but this pilot seemed to go for the full tongue down the throat examination of the tonsils approach. More teenage than new age. It’s cloudy. I need a coat. It’s obvious that it’s been raining heavily. A worker seems to be shovelling hot chocolate out of a roadside trench. Damp one day, torrential the next? Queensland, exotic Queensland, rainforest, coral reefs, shrill chip shop owners from Ipswich who flee to Europe of all places to escape multiculturalism - well good luck! - Cassowary and palm cockatoos. This is exciting, bound to be interesting. A flock of birds around the taxi rank, partially hidden by ragged grass, turn out to be house sparrows. Ah.

The taxi engages warp speed and flashes through the post industrial waste lands that seem to be compulsory around airports. Eventually, possibly due to damage to the dilithium crystals, we return to a speed more in keeping with Earth physics and safe arrival. Outside the windows are storage areas for concrete pipes and iron girders, ranks of imported cars, an abandoned steel works, with a gap toothed smile of shattered windows. Layers of graffiti, overwriting and obscuring the intent of earlier authors. An archaeology of public sentiment, political protest and declarations of love.

Central Brisbane shines with the brash growth of all that is new. Cranes swing over building sites, mirrored glass buildings show off next door’s architecture. Builders in high visibility jackets clamber through a spider web of scaffolding that pushes itself and the buildings towards the sky. Faintly, you can hear the Earth weep as the resource boom booms and buildings grow higher and higher. In the dust on the building site windows somebody had written “Go Pies” and next to it was a request for people to reveal their chests (if you see what I mean). There is an article in today’s paper suggesting that Brisbane is the new culture capital of Australia. This either means Australia is doomed as a culture, or that somebody may have made a mistake! Yet for all of that, lines of bikes await riders, looking new and clean. I don't see anybody waiting to get on to them, but I don't see anybody sawing through the frames and carting them away either. So, despite the modernity, Brisbane seems more local and human, more trusting, than some places I have seen.

The hotel room was a picture of shiny, modern anonymity, made more so by the personalised greeting on the TV screen. I flash to the telescreens of 1984 and check my room number. It’s not 101.The room has a small window, through which you could extend your arm to about your wrist. That is the extent of the contact possible with the outside world. So I go for a walk. I head towards the Botanic Gardens, which are just around the corner.

As I enter the gardens a large lizard runs past, stops, shakes its head at me and moves on. Another one lurks by a bin. The more I look the more I see. I check my watch it says 4.30 pm - but it does not say “cretaceous” - how far did I set back my watch? A rustle in the bushes startles me - and I expect something large, toothy and small brained to leap out and get me - but it’s only a man with a leaf blower. I relax. Up by the pond I notice a lizard that seems to be fighting with, or possibly being eaten by, a large eel. It’s a brief, confused mass of legs, fins, teeth and tails, all wagged, waved and thrashed with a total mass of brain less than that of a peanut. It ends in a nil all draw, as both combatants retreat to home ground. The lizard was an Australian Water Dragon and the eel was either disappointed or lucky depending on who started the fight. Up by the waterfall a Dusky Moorhen seems to look at its reflection and appears surprised that it is no longer a dinosaur. Down by the water’s edge a large turtle basks in the sun, crusting itself in a layer on pond mud. It seems indifferent to the comings and goings that flow past it, but then for no apparent reason it slides into the pond, like a dunked biscuit falling into your tea. The small ripples brush against the weeds and the pond quickly settles down to weeded, mirrored stillness. A Willie Wagtail feeds its young on the fence and cackles and flaps in protest. Flat tail sweeping like a wind up toy, its upper body all movement and the lower half painted stillness.

Flowers bloom in the trees and a Hardhead - what a cracking name for a duck - floats in the weeds on the pond. It opens its eyes every now and then, checking for danger, looking for eels. Down by the river is a mangrove swamp, bubbling and popping like cooking soup as the waves wash back and forth. A White Faced Heron moves with deliberate stillness and infinite patience, hunting crabs and small fish. The roots of the mangroves trap flood debris and build new land. Here the roots of the Earth will be reinforced with witches hats, shopping trolleys and a collection of abandoned shoes which, mysteriously, all seem to be for the right foot. Future archaeologists will surmise a race of one legged people, forever stuck in contra-flows, but shopping none the less. Noisy Miners are just that, chasing each other, chasing dogs and harassing passers by. Clearly they have no respect for size or position, acting like reprobate teenagers. Birds crash and call in the upper branches of the mangroves, difficult to see despite them being only a few meters away. Eventually they reveal themselves as Fig Birds, with bold red eyes. As the light fails and I return to the sterility of my hotel room fruit bats glide and flap across the dulling sky. The view from my hotel window is better at night than by day - although the workmen hammer on late into the evening. As I walk home I pass a couple hand in hand by the park gate; the girl stands on tip toe and gently kisses her boyfriend and says "I'm glad you exist" - ah rationalist love - what a way to end the day.
I sleep.

The next morning it strikes me I have seen no gulls, which is a surprise. The most common urban bird seems to the Torrensian Crow - which is not a raven, despite my claims to the contrary. Its call is a bark, shorter and sharper than the Ravens of home. The bird itself is longer and thinner, with a sloped head, not steep like the birds at home. In the park one plays with a cable tie - planning abduction perhaps? A Grey Butcher Bird calls and lands nearby. In the park a giant Banyan tree rests on living pillars, some scored with names, others still grey and flat. You could spend days inside the girth of the tree and not see every view, and yet again Brisbane seems to be more open and natural than its modern brashness would suggest. The rest of the day is the minute detail of work, a comma here, a new word there.

Evening brings the flight home, back through the wastelands to the airport. I would suggest that you don’t press the “Yes I have dangerous goods” button on the check screens - it really does cause a great deal of hassle!

On the plane I sit next to a stranger with African skin and, as it turns out, an American voice and an Irish name. But in reality these were not the things that made her stand out - what was different was her willingness to talk, or possibly more accurately, listen to a complete stranger without seeming to feel the need to call 000. The plane droned through the night towards Melbourne and so did I. Just a chance meeting, but a good one.

I’d spent 24 hours in Brisbane - but it was a conversation on the homeward bound plane that seemed to make most sense. Standing or sitting in rows and queues, ignoring the people around you, seems so typical, but at times it seems so wrong. As we stare down the problems of the 21st Century, the least we can do is talk.

Time, time, time was has become of you ........

When you do things regularly you start to use them as markers of time, and when you begin to look closely you see how many different scales of time can be marked. Hours and minutes, days and weeks, months and years. You could use shorter scales or longer ones if you wished, but it doesn’t really matter. All scales have a now and a before, a now and an after. Each tracks time's arrow - the only linear event in a cyclic universe. Each scale ticks over time, and shows something different. The monthly tick of the seasons, the weekly tick of the weather, the daily tick of night and day all measure change in different ways. Even the fortnightly tick (more or less!) of these posts measures something, although I will let you be the judge of what that actually is. (And as irrelevant as it is I think that “fortnightly” is a marker as well - as English as wet summers, traffic jams, polite, silent queues in shops and routine sporting disasters).

The Year.

A year ago - almost to the day - I finally pulled myself out from under the anvil of stress and fear that had driven me into the ground. An anvil built from ambition, failure, over-expectation and a comprehensive inability to see the damage that was occurring. I would lie in bed and fear the coming of the sun, but when it arrived I would pull on the stiff upper lip (yet another marker) and go to work, for the fear of failure (which had long since become a reality, even if I didn't know it) was greater than the fear of fear itself . And I did this day after day, week after week, year upon year, until doing it made no sense, but doing it was all I had. In the end, inevitably, but still apparently surprising to some people, I broke - I had to stop, I could no longer go on. One last straw, one last disappointment, one last kick by those who were not able to achieve what they delegated to me. So, this tick of the clock, this marker of time, this real new year is significant, in many, many ways.

Thankfully, the world turns. You can’t can’t keep failing to notice, and even if you do, your body will. And in the end, when the break point comes, it feels as much a relief as a collapse. One year later it seems that clouds still come and go - that’s only natural - but I think the Black Dog is no longer walking, misbehaving, at heel. It has moved on. But will I ever forget that once, for more days than I care to count, a Black Dog owned me more completely than any master has ever owned a pet? I hope so, but it may pay not to forget.

When I started doing this, this blog, I thought it would only be about the external environment, the outside. But can you really see the outside if the inside is sick? As the inside has healed, the outside has lit up. It’s not surprising really, but it still comes as a shock to find myself smiling at the sun, the greenness of the leaves, the shape of a shadow.

So the clock has ticked through one year and I am back in The Grampians. Same house, same car, but is it the same place? I thought it had rained last winter, but this one was even better. Old fashioned rain. Rain that came in sheets from the sky and spread in sheets over the land. Flooding rain. Rain that pooled in low places and made the rivers flow. The Murray will reach the sea this year, which may seem normal, but it’s not, not any more anyway.

It was cold, a winter to buy a coat for the train wait at the start of the day. But day length ticks over, the tilt of the Earth brings its reward and the restless clock of spring does chime. There are less flowers than last year, pushed back a few weeks by the cold and the wet. The flowers are less in number, but they are not scarce. Last year we were surrounded by flowers, hugged by them, but not this year. And just as a child holding on to a single finger can be a more complete experience than the hug from a person you would rather not see, a single flower can be more arresting than the sight of many. A single flower may not be perfection, and the life spent seeking it may not be wasted, but if they punctuate rather than dominate a landscape they are still worth seeking, perfect or not.

The walk to the quarry takes 10 minutes this year, the first time it took half a day. We find more the 20 species of flower and the two children with us seem so much more than a year older than they were a year ago. The cold that held back the plants seems to have no effect on the kids, growing like weeds even when the weeds are struggling. Blue stars, purple stars, white stars, yellow rosettes, hoods of green, spider forms and fragile leopard spotted petals, trumpets of yellow and white. Flowers in the same place as last year, flowers in surprising places. Different and the same.

Behind the house, where this year we toasted marshmallows, baked potatoes and drew with last night’s charcoal, the path leads to Clematis Falls - or Calamitous Falls as it came to be called for no other reason than we could and that it was funny. Follow the path to the hairpin left and head slowly up towards Chautauqua Peak, with views down the valley and over the hillside. Views back into the flat lands from which the Grampians spring, and if you look at the amount of water you can see a view back into winter. The peak is slim and airy, a blunt edged knife that flanks Halls Gap. It requires more than just walking - you have to put your hands on rock, you have to look where you are going, you have to scramble up short rock steps. The looks of surprise caused by the presence of a five year old redhead and her eight year old brother in such places is worth the walk alone.

This time it is not the views or the floating snow flurries of cockatoos that hold my attention. It’s the name of the peak that does. Chautauqua Peak. Chautauqua. It seems that the last year has been some form of chautauqua for me. A chautauqua was a meeting, a mobile discussion and opportunity to learn. Originating in the US in the 1800’s their aim was to educate and illuminate, and apparently similar meetings were once held below this peak. The first chautauqua I encountered was not a meeting, but a book. A book that did not relate to the great body of work on Zen and was not that accurate on motor-cycles either. The learning was personal, introspective, but the audience was public. This feels familiar, and I had not made the connection until I was sat on the top of Chautauqua Peak, with the past and the present laid out before me, and my family around me. The passing of a year without learning is just existence, passage and learning seems to be real life.

The Month.

I have been waiting for spring with this year with unfamiliar impatience. Each warm day greeted as an augury, each spell of sunshine the first day of spring. Waiting for spring is like waiting for your children to grow, one day they fit in a shoe box, the next they are at school. However, I am now prepared to call the bet for real - it is actually spring. The leaf burst on the birch trees on both sides of the house is well underway; other people are wearing shorts, the dragon flies are back. Daylight creeps in at the morning windows, and soon it will shine in perfect circles on the hall wall and stream onto my waking pillow for a few days. The evenings draw out, children resist daylight bed times and the chance to see evening possums before sleep passes for another year. The flies swarm, annoyingly, around the spurge, the magpies fight, the grass grows with almost audible vigour and eventually the football season comes to an end, and a different type of magpie stops fighting to cheer a cheer twenty years in the making and saints still weep tears, but nobody cites this as a miracle. A month ago none of these were really true, but today they are.

The Week.
Going away is a great way to see change, especially if the change is slow. The Grampians did not really look any different between day one and day seven, the changes too small to see. The home garden was a different story. Flowing down over thick wood pillars was a cascade of wisteria flowers. Pink and cool, a frozen river of winter cold, icy and beautiful. Snow flurry petals fall in the breeze, to be collected with infinite care by a girl in love with purple. Bees have found the flowers, and just down the road a swarm gathered in a path side tree that most people seemed not to notice. Street trees are clothed in green flowers rather than leaves, ash before oak this year - will it rain, will it soak?

The Day

The week draws on as the days pass with the relaxed pace that only a holiday can bring. Morning tea and an extended breakfast, a slow plan for the day, minutes pass and hours accumulate, the days take on a rhythm of their own. Change comes unexpectedly, with the rain gone and bright, clear skies. Nature responds. Lizards, hidden for the rest of the week, come out to bask - it would be a good day for snakes - flies buzz loudly and honeyeaters chase in the sparkling branches. In one day the land looks dry again, the roads kick up dust and winter seems far away. Rocks grow warm to the touch, cricket replaces football. Nature is taking it a day at a time.

The Hour.

The clouds rush past, and hurl rain at the window. The harsh clatter of rain on a tin roof, staccato and relaxing. And then it’s gone. Time for more speed than normal, to catch the hour before it passes. A short walk. A gentle stroll in rain cleaned air. A rainbow's arch, a roll of distant thunder. On days of heavy rain such an hour feels like a gift, given unbidden, received with an open heart. The hills become visible as the clouds pull away. This is a time for distant vision, quickly seen. A time to put aside plans and just do. Within the turning of an hour much can change, much can be resolved.

The Second.

Balloon burst, cork pop, lightning strike, the pen nib, ink dipped ears of a hare in the road side grass. An owl call. The flash of a hawk over the road. Cameras click, a passing laugh. And finally, at day’s end, that lingering second of warmth before sleep comes and the clock is reset for another day.

Sometimes in the fleeting instance when you crack open a stone you see laid before you the crystals that have grown through the long ages of the Earth and you know that years, months, weeks, day, hours and seconds all come together to form something so remarkable and so rare that you can't help but smile. A dog barks in the background, so you reach for the nearest hand or you chase the nearest child just for the joy of the movement. And time keeps going regardless.