I wake up with a jolt to find the sun falling onto my face. I’m ridiculously sensitive to sunburn so I jump up. I try and cover the window with a sarong and doze back to sleep for another hour before the car gets too hot.
LAZY SALUTE TO THE SUN
I climb out of the car to find that despite all of the surrounding shade, I am parked in full sun. Dang. I must remember to read the poles when I park, to predict morning sunlight direction. Not that it’s hard to do. If it’s been too long or too many turns in the road since sunset to remember in what direction it set, there is always the stars. Locating the constellation in the skies of the Southern Cross and the ‘pointers’ will tell you which direction is due south. Tools like this have gotten me out of trouble many times. Sometimes I just get lazy.
As I salute the sun in my morning yoga practice, a car passes on the road nearby. I’m mostly hidden behind the scrub but for a moment I think about how strange I must look to people. Saluting the sun on my colourful straw-like mat on the side of the highway in the desert.
MUESLI BY CARCAS
The landscape has changed already. This morning crows are sqwarking around me. They sound pissed off. Maybe I was too clean with my scraps from dinner last night leaving nothing for their morning spoil. Flies buzz around my face. They haven’t been round much further south, but we are getting into hot country now.
As I cook up my muesli and coffee, I wander around the campsite and find an emu carcass. The flesh is gone – eaten and decayed. But the skeleton and paws hold strong in graceful poise as it lays on the ground. Still in death, there is grace and beauty. I take a few photos and take to the highway. Roo smorgasboard appears to be off the menu this morning and dead boar and emu seem to have taken their place. Their carcasses litter the road.
I feel good. Billy Bragg sings through my morning as I roll down the highway, meditation in my mind. I get the feeling I will cover lots of k’s today.
A FUR BALL FROM HEAVEN
I rarely stop at the usual tourist places but a sign to the ‘Cosmos Centre’ just short of Charleville triggers my interest. I spend $10 to go inside and view their exhibition. I love it. There is a 20kg ball of ‘space junk’ that burned through the sky as a ‘shooting star’, landing out of Charleville. It looks like a furry ball of animal.
There are buttons you can press to hear what planets sounds like from space. I listened closely to the sun, the earth, Saturn and Jupiter. As I do, I contemplate what each sound conjures up in me. Jupiter sounds all heart of the soul. It has the deepest soulful sound. It reminds me of the Tibetan monks chants that can resonate and stir up the deepest parts of ourselves. It’s similar to the deep resonance felt when chanting with a group in yoga. Such sounds seem to connect with some sort of inner spiritual part of ourselves that is generally beyond our capacity to even understand. It feels bloody good though! Saturn sounds deep as well, but in a more serious way compared with Jupiter that sounded more expansive. The earth sounds conjured up feelings of a richness, variability and gentleness. The sun sounds were open, present present and light. Less depth.
GOD DOESN'T WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY, HE ONLY WANTS YOU TO BE HIS
Not far up the road I get to Charleville. I know of this place through an amazing woman I met a few years ago in Sydney at the Happiness Conference. Keelen Mailman is a Bidjara woman. She spoke on the same stage as the Dalai Lama. This is her country. She tells the story of her upbringing and battling and thriving through traumas in her book, ‘The Power of Bones’. They call her Bones. I loved her the moment she spoke. We became friends. Keelen has an enormous heart and just as humungous resilience. She experienced a lot of racism in Charleville I seem to recall from her book. It looks like a really neat town. I consider to myself, what does a neat town suggest? Control? Order? Pride? I see a sign on the chalkboard outside the church. It says this.
"God's goal is not to make you happy but to make you his"
I decide not to hang around.
AUGETHELLA AND KEELEN MAILMAN
I drive north to Augethella. Another town Bones lived in. She now runs the station at Mt Tabor. We tried to connect but it won’t work this time. She’s out bush putting up 9km of fencing so that she can get away to Cairns on the weekend to see her grandkids. Hard work. I’m disappointed not to see my friend (and one of my heroes!) but happy just to check out her town and absorb her country.
Keelen (Bones) Mailman Keelen is the first Aboriginal woman to run a commercial cattle station. As a single mother at the age of 30. she took over Mt Tabor - two hours from Augethella - on Bidjara country, where her ancestors left their marks on caves and rock walls over 10,000 years ago. I first met Keelen when she shared the stage with the Dalai Lama at the Happiness and Its Causes conference in Sydney in 2015. You can watch her inspiring speech here. This is us at the Happiness conference in 2015.
Augethella has a beautiful feel to it. It feels laid back. The main drag is short with only a few shops - each with a unique shop front ranging from some with branding that could be decades old to others with more modern localized paintings.
I’m keen to learn about my friend’s country. Her traditional lands. The town has a park with some public memorabilia. I park the car and wander over. I learn from the outdoor touristic posters that this is meat ant country. I learn that a dead animal placed on a meant ant nest is reduced to bones after a few weeks. The football and rugby teams have been named the Meat Ants for around a century. Their team chants are chartered, telling tales of roaming the nearby towns playing their game and charming the ladies.
There is a big emphasis on Gallipoli and public acknowledgement of war veterans. Those from this region are explicitly listed. A new sign celebrates 100 years since the ANZAC’s charged Gallipoli.
I look for but can’t find a sign telling the story of the Aboriginal ancestral owners of the land. There doesn’t appear to be any acknowledgement of their existence at all.
The main drag is lined in flag poles, each bearing a different international flag. I see the USA, Ireland, Spain, Britain and Australia. There are many more. I think I must be missing something but there is no Aboriginal flag. Could it have come down? Surely it must have fallen and they are going to put it back. I’m astounded.
I can’t quite work out the reality of this place. Surely they could not have so many international flags and no Aboriginal flag. On Aboriginal land! Well, granted there would be a strong pastoralist history on these lands whose peoples would presumably deny Aboriginal title. But still, this is 2018. I feel confused and decide to spend a bit more time there, maybe meet somebody. Have some conversations.
RED HAIR AND TRAILBLAZERS IN MARS
I walk over the road to the pub for a beer. The pub is called the Ellangowan Hotel. I walk in and order a bitter. An old man standing by the bar turns to face me. With a long silver beard that matches the cheeky wild curls peeking out from below his bush hat, he’s clearly a character bushman. I have trouble hearing his soft voice but I think he says something to me about Mars and I’m sure he referred to my red hair. I think I maybe heard him wrong so lean in further. Yep, he definitely said Mars. He’s fumbling a cigarette so I motion to him, let’s go outside. He agrees.
Outside the locals (all white) gather over a Saturday afternoon beer. My new friend’s name is Bernie. He’s a thespian. We sit down together. He’s a wise man. He holds an eloquent and articulate conversation. Having travelled the world and worked in theatre companies in London, he knows a thing or two. And has a beautiful way of delivering his ideas. I’m really enjoying his company. He buys me another beer telling me how much he is enjoying my company as well. He tells me he noticed my energy as soon as I walked in the pub. It was different, he says. ‘She knows something’ he apparently thought.