Wheatbelt/Goldfields Change: The First of the Southern Cross Diaries

So this is my first correspondence for Cool Perth Nights from my new home in Southern Cross, Western Australia. Four hours inland, the population of this place is approx. 650. I live and work in a hotel on Great Eastern Highway, which is the resting spot for truck drivers, miners and tourists alike. We feed local families decent food, and close the bar at 8pm. It’s a quiet town, and, as a result, I have a very quiet life.

I don’t have to worry about food or accommodation because it is all provided by my workplace, and I find the surrounding landscape, desolate though it is, endlessly inspiring. Every day I have sat on the pipeline C.Y. O’Connor designed for all the gold diggers and their families, looking out over the shrub land, flies vying with my cigarettes for a spot on my bottom lip, and I let my mind drift wherever it wants. The hotel doesn’t have the internet, so my internet access is limited to Facebook on my phone, and to a trip to the local library when I have time. I can’t slip back in to research/distraction on the internet mode out here.

As a result, when I’m not working or sleeping, I’m thinking or writing. That is all I do now. Work, sleep, think and write.

I think about the doomed nature of European style agriculture in Australia, about the drought this area has been experiencing for about 7 years, about the exhausted faces and attitudes of most of the people I encounter. I think about the high suicide rates of farmers and miners, about how they battle nature to stay alive and that fact that so many decide it’s not worth it any more. I think about how much I don’t know about the culture of this area, about the lives and habits and careers and families of the people around me, and muse over the possibilities.

The only government building in the town centre is home to Child Protection Services. They’re about to knock down the oldest standing building in town to make way for a Centrelink.

I haven’t been here long enough to learn much. I haven’t met many people, and certainly haven’t experienced any of that Wake In Fright stuff that so many people back in my home cities have brought up. It looks like that film, yes, but I am yet to knowingly interact with anyone who drinks- and forces others to drink- like that.

On that note, I must go and get a bottle of wine. I can feel a niggling feeling of despair creeping up on me, and it’s time to get my drink on. Three things were different about today, three big differences from the previous four days that I’ve spent here, differences that have caused a little jolt in my belly that only wine can help. Maybe. Wine and writing and more thinking, I guess.

Firstly, it has been raining all day. This is wonderful for the farmers etc, and it’s a beautiful respite from the heavy, dry heat that was beating down on the area since before I got here. So, so dry. And dusty. That’s the outback, mate. Dry and dusty and fucking hot. I was standing behind the bar in the hotel, drying dishes and looking out the window at the rain slowly soaking the orange dirt beside the road, lost in the changing colours, and I was hit by how important the weather really is when you’re not in a city. We all know that, sure, but there was something about the way a guest described seeing animals emerge from the shrubs when it started to rain, to take that first drink from the water quickly collecting on the highway… I felt overwhelmed by what this all evoked in my head. Life is hard out here.

The second thing that threw me today was that I met someone I am hoping to get to know better- and I was not expecting to make friends here. I met her at the local history museum when I dropped in there this morning to see what they had on offer. I was looking specifically for titbits about the Aboriginal history of the area, and it turned out the volunteer running the place was an Aboriginal lady. She showed me around, started telling me all about her kids and her grand kids and her great grand kids and her bowls club; about how good she is at bowls, about how the age differences in her huge family make her laugh. She had this beautiful energy and enthusiasm about her, and she just didn’t shut up. It was cute as hell. All I could think about was that I need to listen to this woman talk, as often as possible. She told me she likes to go on walks to explore the bush, and I asked if I could join her. We made plans to go on an adventure on Friday morning. I’ve haven’t been excited about a plan since before I got here, and I didn’t think that would happen again for a while.

The last thing that happened today, the icing on the cake of unexpected happenings, is that while I was minding the bar, an almost complete idea for a novel came to me. For four days, I have been scribbling ideas and thoughts about a thousand different things as they come to me- personal, political, social, environmental and philosophical, all of it- just trying to get it all out of my system after never having given myself the opportunity to do so before. That’s why I’m out here in the first place, to fucking write, and write something good and meaningful.

So then today, this good and meaningful idea hit me. Based on a silly conversation I had with my brother at Midland train station while I waiting for the train to take me out here, for two hours (we don’t get many customers) I was furiously writing down all the things that will eventually contribute to what I hope will be an interesting and readable work of socio-political fiction, maybe even an important Australian novel. Ideally, it would be that. One can only dream (and work at it).

And all these things are good right? Yes. They’re really, really good. The rains are here, I may have made my first new friend in this town, and I have an idea for a novel that I find super exciting to think about. But there is a dread in my stomach, and I think it’s because this is all so new.

I threw myself in to the deep end, in to the deep inland, essentially alone, for the first time in my life. And, for the first time in my life, I am working really, really hard at my goals. I guess I’m scared I’m going to fail? And I think I’m also scared of what will change if I succeed, because it’s so unknown.

I had written an entirely more jovial column about two days ago in preparation for this week’s mail out, but I couldn’t bring myself to publish it. It wasn’t a real show of what’s going on in my brain, of what’s going on in this place. As an introduction to my new circumstance and the direction Steady Eye will be going in in the coming weeks/months, this is far more fitting:

Hi guys, I’m alone in a weird far away place that is forcing me to change my perception of the country I was born in, and it is both the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done, so far. I don’t know where it’s taking me, but I do know that I don’t want to go back to Perth or Melbourne from here. That’s it.

I’m waiting for the rain to stop so I can walk to the library to post this online. It’s possible that the rain won’t stop for a few days, and if that’s the case, then the town will flood.

Imagine the photos I’ll take of that. Fingers crossed.