“The river itself portrays humanity precisely, with its tortuous windings, its accumulation of driftwood, its unsuspected depths, and its crystalline shallows, singing in the summer sun.” Myrtle Reed, Old Rose and Silver
I’ve always derived pleasure from watching sunrises, sunsets and rivers. Given the vast amount of poetry and photography dedicated to these subjects, I’m not unusual in my interest. Sometimes though, we can observe something in nature for years and then be gifted with an epiphany. We view it with new eyes. I had one such moment recently.
The last two months have involved adventures and challenges of a mainly non-walking kind. After having a transient ischaemic attack and a fall leaving her with spinal damage, a relative will not be able to return home and remains in hospital until we’re able to find alternative care for her. As next of kin and having power of attorney, I’ve been travelling back and forth to her location five hours drive away to visit and sort out her affairs.
During these trips, I’ve found an hour here and there to enjoy the local region where she lives, in particular, the Burnett River at Gayndah in Queensland. The beauty of nature can be comforting. As usual, I found the process of capturing shots meditative and calming.
There is a danger of being dragged into a tunnel of despair when watching a loved one suffer. How can I enjoy myself when she has lost her independence and is in pain? I’ve struggled with this in the past. If anything though, the suffering of another should be a reason for me to appreciate what I do have.
I’ve missed the contact with my blogging friends and followers across the world and thought I’d take some time to share a few images and information. I’m sorry I’ve not had time to read and comment on blogs during this period. When life settles I’ll be able to resume my interactions again. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy what I have to offer.
To followers, Tony and family, I walked the Tarcoola track earlier this year and am looking forward to sharing the walk through pictures soon. Thank you very much for recommending this beautiful short walk to me. To Kevin from Goin’ Feral and his lovely partner Sam, thank you for making the long journey north. It was wonderful to meet up finally and share beautiful Binna Burra with you. I will be writing up the Coomera Circuit soon. Thanks to all my other friends in the blogging world who sent supportive messages during the last couple of months. I appreciate your kindness and apologise for not having replied to you all individually.
To watch a loved one who has already suffered many setbacks in her life be in constant pain and dependent on others for the most basic aspects of hygiene and to be told there was little chance she would improve was a greater physical and mental challenge than any hike I’ve undertaken. A morning came though, when the unexpected happened. After being confined to bed with a paralysed and weakened body, she was able to take a few excruciatingly slow steps aided by a Rollator – a 5 star 4 wheeled walking aid. I left the hospital that afternoon in a daze, trying to take in what had transpired that day. I decided to make a brief stop to walk across a bridge spanning the Burnett River at dusk. The last time I’d set foot there was over 40 years ago as a 5 year old child walking from my home at an orchard to school. The old wooden bridge has since been replaced by a higher modern concrete version.
Birds were settling down for the night or finding their last meal by wading in the shallows or skimming across the water.
The final curtain of darkness was descending when suddenly, as is the unpredictability and ephemeral nature of sunsets, brilliant flashes of colour lit up the sky and were reflected in the water.
At that moment it seemed to mirror what I’d seen that day. The end was drawing closer in my relative’s life and just when we thought there was no hope for improvement, when the inevitability of her deterioration was darkening our emotions, she was not ready to let go. It was a brilliant event to witness. All hope seemed lost but it is was not yet over.
Death comes to us all but the human spirit can be amazingly resilient and the sunset reminded me of this. I’d watched her struggle to fight serious incapacity and seen the amazing strength she possessed that day and the flashes of colour before the darkness seemed to symbolise this. There is beauty even in the ugliness of struggle. The beauty is in the incredible human capacity to endure and the love that connects us and transcends these events.
For most of my life I’ve watched her battling many serious health problems and difficult life events and only felt deep sadness when instead, perhaps I should have focused on celebrating her amazing inner strength and endurance. She’s lived a quiet life; she’s not famous, but given what she’s had to endure she deserves recognition.
In the last two months, I’ve met many elderly female patients and listened to their stories. Their strength, determination and faith under seemingly hopeless circumstances has lifted my hopes that when infirmity hits me and death approaches there will still be flashes of colour before the darkness descends. They’re not famous adventurers, but they’re heroes to me.
Another evening I experienced a sunset from Archer’s Lookout. I don’t think I will ever view a sunset or sunrise in quite the same way again.
I visited the river as often as I could, enjoying the wildlife and the patterns the water carves.
On one trip my brother joined me. Being a mad fisherman he always has gear in the car and threw in a line. To his surprise he caught a catfish within minutes. On a later trip on his own he was to catch a few giant ones. Our father used to catch the same fish in this location many years ago.
On the subject of fish, the little town of Gayndah, situated on the banks of the Burnett River, was the source of the hoax fish, Ompax spatuloides . Locals served up a meal which they’d constructed from the body of a mullet, the head of a platypus and the tail of an eel, to visiting Brisbane Museum director, Karl Staigor, in 1872. Karl sent a sketch and description to expert Francis de Laporte de Castelnau who gave it the scientific name in 1879. This “fish” could still be found in some fish lists in the 1930s. Having lived in country areas for many years it comes as no surprise to me that the locals would take great delight in fooling visiting high brow academics.
It seems the Gayndah locals like to tell a few stories. Even though I lived in Gayndah for 8 years, I’d not heard of the legend of the Gayndah bear/yowie/panther/hairy man until now. A few explanations exist but one seems to be based on a true event. In the late 1950s, Queensland was struck by serious weather events – many cyclones, destructive storms and flooding. During this period a circus trailer overturned on the old range road. Most of the animals were recovered apart from three brown or Himalayan bears. Apparently this information was kept quiet at the time to avoid panic. It is possible that these bears may have survived and even bred.
Many Queenslanders are also probably unaware that Gayndah is the oldest gazetted town in our state. There was a small convict colony at Brisbane but Gayndah has the official honour. In fact, at one time Gayndah was competing to be the capital of Queensland, however the Burnett River wasn’t consistently deep enough to be used as a port. It’s hard to believe it was once a bustling centre when you drive along its sleepy main street today.
The town is also known for its citrus crops and competes with nearby Mundubbera for the title of citrus capital. The Gayndah Orange Festival is held every two years and was a thrilling event when I was a child.
This tiny town was also the location for The Mango Tree, an Australian drama directed by Kevin Dobson in 1977, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald and Sir Robert Helpmann. The film-makers chose Gayndah because many of the old buildings from the 19th century remained intact. If you visit the township today you’ll still see much of the old architecture. I remember how excited we schoolkids were at the thought of possibly being chosen as extras. Sadly, I do not make an appearance in the movie but many of the locals do. For old movie buffs, the lead actor Christopher Pate is the son of actor Michael Pate who also produced the film.
Rivers twist and turn. Sometimes they’re raging torrents washing away everything in their path. Other times they’re slow moving and tranquil. To look at the Burnett River recently, it was difficult for me to imagine it as a huge wall of water, sweeping away buildings and farms and flooding the local township in 2010.
It’s a reminder that everything passes. Tumultuous events in life come and go. The ebb and flow of life continues. Floodwaters can bring devastation but they also bring growth, as can difficult life experiences.
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—’