Sailing Down the Murray

Resulting from an impulse Cudo Voucher purchase, this morning I took Father for a breakfast cruise in a paddle boat on the River Murray.  The breakfast was a bit average, but it’s the experience that one pays for rather than the food.  We received a glass of local sparking wine at the start of our meal (pleasant but sweet), but were told that coffee is not included and must be paid for at $5.00 a mug.

Just as we were about to board the boat, the sole partially detached itself from my right shoe and I flapped my way up the gangplank.  These shoes, a beautifully comfortable pair of Rockport walkers, belonged to my mother.  After her death in 2003, they found their way into my wardrobe and for the first time since leaving school I found myself wearing black lace-ups.  I have derived an enormous amount of comfort from those shoes, both physical and emotional   I think that I even wrote a poem in the early days titled ‘Walking in my Mother’s Shoes’.

Ever a sandal wearer in both winter and summer, it was a hesitant transition to these shoes but now I love them.  I was adamant therefore that when the soles wore out, they had to be replaced.  Re-soling is a tricky exercise and in my sad experience often not a success.  Slicing off the old sole is tricky and bonding a new sole in its place likewise problematic.  It frequently separates from the shoe again as the bonding does not hold under the stresses of walking.  Frustrating when the upper is still in such good condition.  Perhaps the shoes should be discarded but they are one of my last tangible links to my mother.

The river is relishing the break of the drought, but still flows gently.  As the Captain told us several times, it is the slowest flowing river in the driest continent.  The banks are lined with Willows, planted by early river boat captains, who used them as delineators of the river bank.  In times of flood, when the river spread sideways for huge distances, the trees marked the deep river channel so that boats which had ventured into new waterways could find their way back to the river and the deep water.

The boat was smaller than I expected.  Somehow, the mention of paddle boat brought to mind an image of a massive paddle steamer, playing the Murray tourist trade with faded genteel luxury.  The boat on which we found ourselves was much smaller – intimate even and built in the late 1970s.  It operates seven days a week servicing the tourist and corporate trade, with the Captain and his wife making their home on the lower deck.

It was misting with rain on the river, the day a mixture of greys and murky greens.  The brighter colour of the Willows provided contrast and relief.  Father gave me a potted analysis of the geological history of the cliffs as we passed, analysisng the sandwiched stratas.  Also the history of the river going back pillions of years when perhaps it followed a different path.  In those days, Australia was still connected to Antarctica.

We passed an old house on the cliff top, two straggly looking palm trees framing the view from the river.  We were told that at the time of Federation, the government gave two palm trees to the houses that lived along the river at that time, to be planted in commemoration of the great event.

I excitedly pointed out the high voltage transmission lines that straddled the river as we glided underneath.  Not many people get excited about these giant-like metallic towers that dominate  the landscape in stark silhouette.  In my day job, I acquire land for substations and easements for transmission lines like this and I have learnt to appreciate the geometry and strength of those towers.

I have seen Scandinavian designs of towers in the form of a line of giant men, striding over the landscape and holding the wires aloft with their arms.  Brilliant.  Each tower depicts a different phase of the stride.  I hope they get built some day.  There can still be art form in utility structures.

We watched the river birds, their take-offs and landings and discussed the merits of various river-front houses and houseboats.  We passed houseboats with clotheslines and dog kennels, Australian flags, solar panels and mini wind turbines.  Some were obviously occupied by permanent residents rather than holiday renters.

I nearly cancelled this trip, thinking that father would not be well enough.  He has perked up significantly after his recent hospitalisation with Serum Sickness and the severe allergic reaction is abating.  The Asbestosis is apparent in the breathy response to any exertion,  but he is stoic about that.  Stoic is one of the terms that I used to describe him in my Memorial Reflection blog.  I’m glad that I didn’t cancel and that we got to do the trip together.

Opportunity Cost – to Alice and back

Opportunity cost – a positive teamed with a negative as in the cost benefit analysis.  On her blog Tortoise Tales, Tortoise Mum has coordinated a blog hop on this topic.  Be sure to read what the others have written too.

 I‘ve had plenty of time to ponder the choices that I have made and whether I should have followed the high road or the low road.  Many of those decisions I did make were not necessarily the best ones (strategic thinking not being my strong point) but I acknowledge that each road has resulted in significant learning opportunities and experiences that have ultimately been beneficial.

 Indulging in the tantalising Sliding Doors scenario and ‘what if?’ I have pinpointed what was probably for me the most defining decision of my life.  I was in my early twenties and decided to go travelling.  The plan was to drive up through the centre of Australia to Darwin, work there for a while in the Greek gambling clubs where a young blond female who could run fast could make a reasonable amount of money, and to then set off on the usual overland trip of that time, up through Asia, and progressing through the sub-continent, the Middle East, Europe and the UK.

 I didn’t set off alone – I had a younger sister with me.  We were driving in a 1958 Morris Major Elite called Blossom and were full of youthful confidence and exuberance.  We didn’t get far as substantial rains washed out the Stuart Highway and the floods that we travelled through infiltrated the car.  We finally arrived in Alice Springs in a car with no brakes and not much money for us.  Fixing the car and getting a job to pay for it all saw me staying in Alice a bit longer than I anticipated.  Seven years longer in fact. My sister, who wasn’t the car owner, soon moved on but I stayed put.

 There were a lot of things that happened in those seven years.  I got my pilot’s licence and flew around much of Central Australia.  I started two businesses, the first in soft furnishings and the second in real estate.  Knowing that getting established in real estate would take some time, I also negotiated agencies for modular homes and started selling those as well.  In response to customer request, I also project managed construction of the homes, both in town and out bush.  I landed a contract for 33 small modular units on Aboriginal settlements, and spent days in driving around remote areas, sleeping in the back of my station wagon and supervising delivery and construction of those units.  It was a unique experience and introduced me to aboriginal culture in a way not possible in the towns.

 I built my own home in Alice as well, subcontracting out the construction but doing a lot of the grunt work myself.  Building the kitchen, installing all the air-conditioning ducting – things like that.  Saved myself a heap of money and of course derived personal satisfaction as well.  Carving a garden out of that compacted hard ground was yet another achievement, and I grew some beautiful roses.

 This took up all of my twenties.  It was a strange time in retrospect.  It was also quite a lonely time.  I loved the country and getting out of town and felt such a strong affinity for the Centralian area.  I had more acquaintances than strong friendships though.  In spite of the fact that men outweighed women, there was quantity but not necessarily quality. 

 There were passing relationships and some memorable affairs, but none of them lasted very long, except for one.  It was still disastrous.  I engaged this man as a sub-contractor on the houses that I built and there was something about him that caught my eye from day one.  Perhaps the twinkly blue eyes, the physical strength and solid build, the irrepressible laugh, or the way that he turned up the heat as he looked at you.  He oozed the X factor.  I wasn’t the only one of course, as I was soon to discover he conquered wherever he went and left a trail of devastation in his wake.  There was something about me that kept him coming back for more as well.  Both of us knew that together we had no future, but we could never quite let each other go.  I was the one who ended up with the broken heart though.  Not just broken but totally disintegrated.  Still, many years later he ended up fathering my child but that is another story altogether.

 As I approached thirty, I knew that if I didn’t get out of town soon, I would be stuck in Alice and would drift into a solitary life that I didn’t want and would always regret.  I sold up and closed businesses, let the house and headed south, determined to get some further education and a piece of paper that would give me more choices in life. 

 The Adelaide that I returned to was different to the one that I had left.  My friends had partnered up and moved on.  Paths that once converged were now far apart and our different experiences separated us.  Call me naïve but I was a bit surprised to learn that a woman entering her thirties does not have anywhere near the appeal that a woman does in her twenties.  Also, making the transition from business woman to student meant a loss of status and connections.  I was older than fellow students and had little in common with them, and no longer had networks in a city in which networks were everything.   It was a time of confusing transition.

 That period is now many years ago, and yes I got that piece of paper and a few more besides.  I did have more choices and I have travelled in a variety of directions since then and continue to do so.  I have often reflected on those years in Alice though and the impact that they had on how my life panned out.  It was a spur of the moment decision to stay there, prompted by flooded roads, a car without brakes and no money.  I have always felt though that staying in that town for so long through those years of my life was a significant factor in my not forming a regular partnership as did all the friends that I left behind.  Had I not stayed so long in a place in which I was unlikely to find a compatible partner, I may have found the relationship and family life that I had always assumed would be a reality.  Instead I have had a child on my own, and years later at that.

 Edith Piaf sang of no regrets (Non, je ne regrette rien) and she’s right.  There’s nothing to be gained from dwelling in yesterday.  Sometimes though I wonder what would have been if I’d kept on driving.

Other posts that are participating in the blog hop on Opportunity Costs: click here to view the list.