Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Idiot in Reverse

At 9 the next morning Geoff and I were up and moving, Geoff made breakfast for us (egg and bacon toasties, how I love thee) since he was starving and I was about to board a low-cost airline where food would cost me my firstborn child and maybe one of my appendages.

I climbed aboard a Virgin blue aircraft at 1000, and landed in Sydney around 1630. The flight across Australia is about the same length as the one across the US, and you transition through two time zones in the process.

I often take these night shift walks when the foreman's not around
I turn my back on the cooling stacks and make for open ground
Far out beyond the tank farm fence where the gas flare makes no sound
I forget the stink and I always think back to that eastern town

The views were fantastic. I flew over Kalgoorlie, the place I hadn't bothered to go, and it was as boring and brown as Ash and Geoff had described, then we skipped along the coast, between the Australian bight to the south and the Nulaboor plane, and I (looking out the north side) could see the vast desolate emptiness that is central Australia. The clouds hung in little puffs immobile and cast little black dots upon land that was an otherwise featureless morass of brown and orange. It was like flying over 2500 kilometers of Texas. I think this place would drive me pretty bonkers if I ever had to drive across it alone.

I remember back six years ago, this western life I chose
And every day, the news would say some factory's going to close
Well, I could have stayed to take the dole, but I'm not one of those
I take nothing free, and that makes me an idiot, I suppose

I became absorbed in my Rudyard Kipling book during the flight, and the next time I looked up we were only twenty minutes from landing, and the landscape was entirely different.

The hills were rolling and green, with orange only peeking through on a few cliffs in the otherwise unbroken lushness of New South Wales.
The green was a sharp contrast to the dusty brown of Perth, and the vast emptiness between the two.

I thought about Stan Rogers and one specific song of his called "The Idiot" written about Canada many years ago. In Canada the land and the economics work somewhat similar to the way they worked out in Australia, with the hard work and independent lives being lived in the dust of a newly industrialized and heavily mined west, and the work drying up in the beautiful and picturesque eastern towns until many of them were left with rolling green hills and a dependence on government money.

So I bid farewell to the eastern town I never more will see
But work I must so I eat this dust and breathe refinery
Oh I miss the green and the woods and streams and I don't like cowboy clothes
But I like being free and that makes me an idiot I suppose

I've always loved Mr. Rogers work and especially his narrator's voice in the Idiot. That narrator sings with an impassioned insistence that no matter how bad things are, he'll always scrabble for his independence and give a finger to the handouts of a corrupt and mollycoddling government. I could see now the nightmare that the sacrifice must have been for the miners and factory men that chose to leave NSW and move west and build mines and factories and farms. It is not a decision to be made lightly, but it is one I'll always respect.

Coming in I had a remarkable view of the city, and I wish I had had the good sense to have my camera in hand, even if they would have been shots through the plane window, which I typically hate and avoid taking. The Opera house and the waterfront were bathed in a the stark gold of late afternoon in winter, and the city looked like a thing touched by divinity--a shining glimmer descendant upon it in the waning light of day. Brightly illuminated clouds seemed to cling in the sky, reluctant to wander far from the site, as if they might evaporate outside the radius of its influence. It was a view worth savouring.

So come all you fine young fellows who've been beaten to the ground
This western life's no paradise, but it's better than lying down
Oh, the streets aren't clean, and there's nothing green, and the hills are dirty brown
But the government dole will rot your soul back there in your hometown

I called my hostel when I arrived, and they told me a shuttle driver would pick me up, and I climbed into a small van with a curtly polite mid-eastern driver who barreled through the streets of Sydney like a man who has just learned his mother's been hospitalized. Two other girls, a Perth native and a girl from Redding, UK, were also staying at this place, and they said it came highly recommended.

When I got there, I found it was the kind of meandering, interesting building that makes a really great large hostel, with a huge kitchen and open courtyard and PAY BY THE HOUR WIFI.


But aside from that it was actually a really neat place, and after going out for a bite to eat and a couple of beers (an absolutely top-hole steak sandwich and some draught of which I didn't catch the name, at a local place called Roy's) I spent the remainder of the night relaxing in the common areas, washing clothes and reading. Tomorrow, I plan to wander Sydney for a bit.

So bid farewell to the eastern town you never more will see
There's self-respect and a steady check in this refinery
You will miss the green and the woods and streams and the dust will fill your nose
But you'll be free, and just like me, an idiot, I suppose.

lyrics: Stan Rogers - The Idiot

1 comment:

Lee Gonet said...

This was always one of my favorites. All of Stan Rogers songs say so much about life: its huge struggles and tiny sweet victories.