There is a saying, I am not sure if it is Jewish, that whatever does not kill you makes you stronger. I have always been sceptical of the validity of that proposition – with, say, rape or torture – but it did seem be handy for my arrival at the Bungles. The events of the day might even change my attitude to Saturdays at large.
I resolved to leave it until the morning to decide whether I would on the morrow go back to the Park. But when I got up and realised it was a full 80ks to get to where I wanted, which meant about four hours there and back before setting off on the highway, I decided to defer the issue until I was ensconced in comfort in Kununurra.
Breakfast was at 7am – sharp! And you may not want to play games with Storm number 8.
Any chance of some weeties?
This is a cooked breakfast!
This is what logicians call a non sequitur. The result does not follow from the premises. I have had cooked breakfasts all over the world – you even get offered a boiled egg in Paris – but I have never been denied weeties – even as a slushy for the army. It could send a man’s bowels berserk. But the South African lady was soft behind her firm exterior. We compared the Bungles to Table Mountain, where she had come from. There were big cast iron cooking urns around the campfire outside that reminded me of those used for breakfast on safari in Zimbabwe – one of which held curried potatoes as part of the best breakfast ever – which of course started with weeties.
It was a good breakfast, and I was keen to shake the dust from this wadi off my feet, until a friendly looking dude about my age strolled in to inquire about breakfast. I said I thought you had to have a token from the night before, but he might try his luck at HQ. He came back with a big relieved smile and a token that he gave to number 8 before waddling off saying that he could not face breakfast without a newspaper. He came back with a three day old Australian.
Trevor, for that was his name, was most interesting. He said that he had been visiting his sister who was doing community work at Warmun (Turkey Creek) about 40ks up the road. He was sympathetic to the condition of the indigenous people. He had been shown over the school and he thought it was first rate. ‘If we have done the wrong thing by these people, and we have, this is a good start in the repayment.’ He told me that he had visited a memorial to murdered aboriginals at Misery Creek – where a stockman had shot and burned aboriginals eating meat because he thought, wrongly, that they had taken his stock. I told Trevor of my own small part in the repayment, my own little Calvary, the day before, and we laughed. (I need not I think apologise for the religious reference, because I had firmly in mind that the first miracle was turning water into wine – which could cause bloody mayhem in this part of the world.)
Then Trevor said something that told me he might be a lawyer. He said that with mandatory sentencing, the bureaucrats had taken over the job of the judges – meaning that government rather than the judiciary was responsible for the sentencing of those convicted of breaking the law. Up there, you go inside for your third offence. A young man had just gone in for stealing loaf of bread – because this was his third offence – it would have been insane to do that for any other reason. We reflected that we like to think that this is how the white men came here to take this land from the blackfellas – by sentencing people to transportation to here for stealing a loaf of bread. It is a remarkable example not so much of history repeating itself as of our obdurately refusing to learn and being too scared to bend.
Trevor and I swapped cards – I had to go and get mine marked ‘Writer’ – and we had a good laugh about two Victorian lawyers meeting over breakfast in a caravan park at the back of nowhere. It was a helpful reminder of just how lucky we were – so, I left the Bungles area in as good a mood as I had entered it, and a little better informed, if not wiser.
The 240ks to Kununurra was more scenic. There was fire damage all along the road and a lot of dead livestock as well as wild life. I even saw wild horses. You have to be careful in passing very long road trains. I thought that the Nissan lacked grunt in overtaking, and its height did not make me confident on the bends on bitumen. You also have to be careful on one lane bridges – that is something we have in common with the Scots, although the scenery is rather different.
When I got to Kununurra, I breasted the bar of the Visitors’ Centre and politely inquired after the flashiest boozer in town, having even more politely informed them that Florence and I had had a little misunderstanding about the quality of the accommodation booked for me down the road. They took the news with the quiet equanimity that you expect in those parts.
When I first went to see The Sistine Madonna of Raphael at the Zwinger in Dresden, I was horrified to find, after about thirty hours travel, that the gallery was shut for the duration of my stay there – which I had scheduled mainly to see that painting. When I finally got to see it a couple of years later, it left me a bit flat – it just did not come up so well in the flesh. It is famous not just for the Madonna holding the baby, and looking uncertainly into the future, but for the two putti at the bottom, with their credulous or quizzical gazes at a sacramental moment in western art. There is another painting, I think by Pontormo [I now think after checking that it is by Rosso Fiorentino], of two putti – winged cherubim that looked like innocent toddlers – where the two are seated and one of them is leaning across to whisper something confidential about something that they are reading to the other.
It is a phase of life that every parent remembers with comfort and fondness. The children are innocent – they are yet to be corrupted by the world. They are yet to be burdened with the failures of their parents. They are yet to be taught that people can be distinguished by the colour of their skin or by what they believe or by what their parents are. They are yet to be formed by an upbringing that teaches them that there is only one God who chose only one people. Toddlers are not conscious of such differences, whether they are discerned by man or imposed by God. They are still as innocent as the day that they were born. If the terms were not so charged, you might say that they are still in a state of grace undefiled by any notion of original sin.
I thought of the putti at the time I saw the most memorable image of the whole trip. It was at Derby outside a rather battered IGA store. Two young children about four years old were seated on the footpath. One was as black as you can get; the other was as white as me. They were just gabbling on without a care in the world. It is the only example I recall of a completely easy mixing of colour and culture. These kids did not even know what the word race means. We do get conscious of these differences in time, but we rely on our upbringing to control how we express and react to those differences. We rely on upbringing for courtesy and manners.
I thought about upbringing at the Sports Bar at the Kimberley Grand on that Sunday. This is the swish upmarket hotel whose elegant luxury I embraced – and it was not over-priced. The Sports Bar was not in Melbourne Club style, with giant TVs showing about six sports, with pride of place going to the AFL – I watched the start of the Belgian GP there later that evening. Upbringing came to mind when a young white couple, about 25 but already well spread out, came in for lunch with three kids – aged about five, three, and a baby. Both parents were drinking what we call pots of beer while taking it in turns to show the oldest kid the rudiments of pool – which required them temporarily to deposit their pots. The older kids watched the TVs in a desultory fashion, but this was a mother who may choose not to hear a child crying for attention.
I wondered what kind of upbringing this might represent – Sunday lunch at the local boozer. It was different to what the black kids were getting in the barren Halls Creek – but how different?
What about a white kid who was brought up to think that Sunday lunch was time to spend with grandma over the Sunday roast, although World of Sport was allowed into the family and as part of the family when sport was sport, and the whole world was not in your face, and you had to wait a long time after the event to see the Kennedy assassination on TV? What about a kid who went to state school and was sent to Sunday School, and then went on to a public school where he got a scholarship and where the day started with religion, and where he was exposed to literature, the national team sports, and to the army and to dancing class, and he was exposed to an education that equipped him to go into a learned profession, and then go on to sample the best that western civilisation can offer all over the world, and colour in that learning at his leisure in stints at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard for kicks? Was not that kid immensely blessed? Is he doing enough to pay others back for the benefit of so fine and privileged an upbringing? Noblesse is no good unless it is oblige, very oblige.