Monday, September 21, 2009

Rain and Steam

Not necessarily in any order.

Before I get to our trip to Swanbank ... It rained briefly last night. Tropical rains are so sensual. The big drops, the loud patter, the sweet odor. It reminds me of the best tropical rain I ever felt. On the Trobriand Islands in 1983 with my friend Ian. We had just arrived and set out for a walk. The rain arrived suddenly, heavy, warm, inundating. We just kept walking as children laughed an pointed from under banana leaves. We ended up in the closest thing to a town ... Losuia, I think ... drenched to the skin. But by the time we were back at the hotel, we were only damp ... as damp as you might be in the tropics if there hadn't been a rain.

That hotel in the Trobriands was owned by an Aussie ex-pat who had his ear glued most of the time to a short-wave radio with the footy on. Footy would be football, and my nephew Scott informed me today that it is spelled with a 'y' not an 'ie' as I had assumed. I enjoy Australian English ands train to hear its varieties as we wander about.

Wandering included a trip to Swanbank where we boarded a classic, restored steam train on Sunday, the Queensland Pioneer Steam Railway. A total hoot! The billowing black steam was the most 19th century part of the deal, but the cramped cabins, the beautiful wood, the unannounced stoppages ... it all made it so easy to imagine rail travel in another time when distance meant so much more than now. We waited in the torpid heat in our car, the Bonnie Dundee, on a siding as the crew prepared to offload one car and connect up to another ... reasons were not provided. This was in the middle of a bit of a railway graveyard, and all the slow decaying metal made me shutter-happy.

At some point we got talking about how much further away Australia was in the mid-70s when my sister first moved here. For good or ill, the world is contracting. That said, I still send three postcards wherever I go, and those are ready for the post some time today.

Gonna take a break and make some coffee ... no matter that I am half a world away from home, I am still bolt awake at 5!

As I say, we sat in the Bonnie Dundee, and we were the only group without wee children. One said children was a messy looking little girl who was not squirm-free for more than a flash the entire journey. She particularly liked hanging out of the window, and her father, a hale-fellow-well-met lad of a man, only occasionally saw fit to haul her back in. Mother and I, sitting together right behind, cringed in unison. I mentally timed my leap across the seat in front of me to see if I could retrieve her from disaster. Her accompanying young brother, in the care of what appeared to be the grandfather was more the muttering type whose excursions were limited to purposeful trips up and down the aisle. Even so, he was more than once perilously close to tumbling off the balcony. What a grump I am ... I wish there were options for child-free outings ... or at least outings where the children where sworn to the seen-not-heard standard of yesteryear for which I loudly hanker.

So after the train ride, we went into Ipswitch, an old mountain working class town that is feeling the pressure of gentrification. It is a straight-shot train ride to downtown Brisbane, but it still has that old small-city charm. I can see why people would want to live here, notwithstanding that the lack of ocean breezes makes it hotter by day and colder by night than the coast.

We went to the Ipswitch RSL ... Returned Servicemen's League, I think ... for lunch. It seemed such a characteristically Australian place. A club, with membership and special rules for non-member entrance. A bar, a buffet, food to order, entertainment, and slots. The club funnels its profits to assorted community ventures. There was an enormous old guy propped up on a stool at the bar, and it was obvious that here was his spot which he guards with dull alacrity day in and day out. The underlying socialism of this decidedly capitalist country is part of that secret conspiracy of which I spoke a day or two ago. All the Aussies get it, and you have to admire it ... but I'm not quite in on the punchline. Back to the prosaic ... enormous feed, hearty food. I erred in having a bourbon on the rocks as I was ready for bed for the rest of the day.

Photos by Arod. I am uploading a whole lot of them to Flickr as I write this, and will add the link here when the upload is done.

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