Monday, 15 July 2013

Returning Home - Yamba 2013

After what had been an indifferent Yamba holiday, we used our programmed extra day wisely and took our time coming home. I say indifferent because it started with Sue on anti-biotics and ended with me on similar. We had our share of rain but, to be fair, when the sun shone it was very pleasant.

Our ill health curtailed our favourite activities, so although Sue went to the beach most days the weather would allow, she only swam once. My dislike of the water which started years ago when Sarah was caught in a rip, has reached the stage where I never swim any more. In fact, there isn't much about the beach I like. We only went for two bike rides but learnt enough on those rides to know Sue is now good to go. The "new" dragster handlebars have done the trick and she can ride with no fear of hurting her back.

There was family time, of course, which is always to be valued. Chris bought Carly and Cameron and for a shorter, yet just as intoxicating time, Sam bought Jacqui. All will be counting the days until next year.

I must admit, we missed Jack and Ava and their parents.

Our last evening was occupied with dinner at Pippy's Restaurant, only the shortest of walks from our accommodation. The chef and owner loves to have a chat and seems genuinely interested in her customers. We had a pleasant but not spectacular meal, the best part of which was the company. If this had been a date, I would have asked her out again.

Sue was as tardy as she always is on pack up morning, although it didn't matter as we had oodles of time to drive back to Tamworth. Despite he protesting and 25 minute shower, we left about half past nine. We have re-booked our beloved Namanula and will return next year for our tenth consecutive winter there and our twentieth consecutive Yamba holiday.

Despite going there most years, we decided to pass up the chance of visiting the location of the former Gibbens family farm, not far from Brushgrove on Woodford Island. Instead, we went into Grafton and down Prince Street to Memorial Park, across the road from the Crown Hotel. The park sits above the high water mark of the Clarence and has beautiful water views across the river to South Grafton and to Susan Island. When Sue was a child, she was convinced that Susan Island had been named after her and played a game  with her siblings as they crossed the main coming into town in the old Woolsley. It was a game she taught her own children. The bridge has a series of iron lattice walls which gave passengers a peek-a-boo view of Susan Island. Children of two generation used to try and say "Susie Island" as many times as they could in the brief second they could see it.

The small cairn in Memorial Park
The park is full of the memories of mostly men who died in all parts of the world, a long way from Grafton, in wars and conflicts. It better than tasteful. It's quiet and peaceful. In the corner of the park, nearest the wharf, stands a small cairn, no bigger than a small boy. I visited this cairn two years ago and became very angry, for this was the memorial to 13 boys, aged between 8 and 10, who needlessly drowned two weeks before the Christmas of 1943. I had researched the story, thinking I might write a poem about it and had spent time with the local historical society. It was as though the story was so tragic, no one wanted to know anymore. Even the internet was scant of information.

What I had found disturbed me and It was clear I would write more than a poem but my concern turned to anger when I saw the state of plaques on the cairn. Hundreds of men were remembered for their choices and their deaths a long way away, their names clear and well maintained on walls, gates, archways and memorials behind me but the names of the 13 dead boys who drowned less than 300m away, were almost impossible to read. I cried later at the graves of nine of them in the South Grafton cemetery.

When I returned home, I wrote the most powerful article of the journalistic part of my career and Grafton's Daily Examiner printed it. Should you wish, you can read the article here. I set out to write a poem but wrote a newspaper piece instead.

Two weeks ago, reflecting on the impact researching and writing the story had, I found the poem I wanted to write all along. It was the poem which had the most impact at my reading earlier in the trip at the Bookachinno, the Yamba bookshop. You can read the poem here.

Two years later, I was going to pay my respects but my sombre mood turned to joy as I approached the cairn. All of the plaques, decayed and hard to read, had been replaced! Apart from a fairly blatant attempt to continue to remove blame from where it so obviously lay in 1943, the wording was empathetic and respectful and on one side, their names were printed in full. A little too formal perhaps. This was how men would write their name, not little boys. I was so thrilled.

We went for coffee at a cafe beside the river at the far end of the park and in the course of conversation with the proprietor, found out that the little cairn was refurbished by council following an outcry from the public. "Some fellow wrote an article which stirred it all into action."

I haven't felt so useful since my teaching days.

After coffee we visited a very pleasant Grafton Art Gallery, which uses space nicely and has a number of impressive pieces, mostly contemporary. Reg Mombassa of Mambo fame is here and some of John Witzig's fabulous surf culture photography. The front of the gallery was originally a doctor's surgery, with some of the older ladies who volunteer sitting in what was his consulting room as they now welcome guests. The Council has built onto the back of the gallery in a way which is totally sympathetic to the original architecture.

After lunch we had to forgo our planned route home via Nymboida and Ebor and instead headed back up the Gwydir Highway, past the Mann River and climbed up the range. We detoured at the former park office of Gibraltar Range NP and drove into Mulligan's Hut, a place we have driven past so many times without ever visiting. Back towards the top of the range, we have descended on the western side to Washpool NP several times and likewise have stopped overnight, further west, at Border Falls, so Sue was keen to see what the facilities were like. We remain hopeful that we might become independent travels again, all be it with different accommodation behind us, so inspections are still necessary.

The picnic area was pleasant, with some very old Xanthoria and the traditional high altitude eucalypts. There was a lack of traffic over the surface of the area, as evidenced by the small moss which was spreading in parts. Sue walked the short distance down to the hut of "Mulligan" fame, gathered some mental images and enough history to entice us back sometime.

We finished our westward run at Glen Innes, regrettably under the golden arches as the cafe at The Standing Stones was closed. Its hard to believe that people use these places because everything is the same.

South now as the sun left us and only a toilet stop at Guyra came between us an a dinner date at the Top Pub at Uralla. There we met Frosty and Cindy, as good a match as you would find. We inevitably talked cricket but quite a few other topics in the mix. Frosty is one of my Waratahs cricket family. We're everywhere but we stay close. It was god to catch up.

Back home to my walls of
photos ... and the cricket
The last hour passed quickly enough and without incident, each kilometre as familiar as the layout of your house in the dark. The house was where we left it and our unpacking done on automatic. We each went about the jobs to be done with little talk and little need to. Is this what being comfortable in your marriage is? I'm not sure I know but felt warm and pleasant and it was good to be home.

The hard part was waking up this morning and not seeing the ocean. I squinted at the park and made muffled vague roaring noises. It was good enough.

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