“I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.”
~ Abraham Lincoln
Sometimes the wrong road leads you in the right direction. When I look back on my life I can see that this one place, deep in the heart of Australia’s magnificent Kimberley region, was a game changer for me. It broke something open in me that I have never, ever, been able to put back in the box. I was taken in and cradled in the Kimberley’s rugged wilderness and vast encompassing ageless energy. And I emerged forever changed. Let me tell you what happened…
Years ago when I was in my twenties, for a time I called a million-acre cattle property home. It hadn’t been my idea to go there, and I was filled with resentment at the thought. This was a time when I was in a failing relationship, I’d been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, and my psychic abilities (which I mostly kept secret for fear of ridicule and rejection) were becoming troublesome and worrying. I didn’t like how my life looked, and all I wanted was to be ‘normal’ and healthy. I felt like I’d ended up in the wrong life somehow.
It took four days to drive across the country, east to west, to get to this place. Along the way my travelling companion and I camped, sleeping rough in swags. Two nights before we arrived, I couldn’t sleep. I was edgy with anticipation, nerves and something more. Just after midnight a barn owl came and landed in the tree above me. I looked at it. It looked at me. And a shiver ran through me.
I felt sick with a sense of something ending, something changing, and I wanted with all my might to run away from my life. But I kept staring at that owl, and it kept staring at me.
I was being stupid. I was tired and stressed and over-emotional. At least that’s what I told myself.
The owl was still in the tree at dawn when we packed up camp and moved on. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. That night we stayed in town. No owls. I settled down. There was no life-changing anything; just another remote-area job I was going to.
It was a long drive in to the station the next day, over a rough dirt road with a couple of river crossings. At the tail end of the wet season that road was still closed, except to locals.
I soon worked out why. One hundred and ten kilometres looked like it should take an hour and a half. But with the road in a perilous condition it took nearly six.
The last crossing, just before the homestead, was quite flood affected. A big yellow grader had driven down the road on the other side of the river, and the driver offered to give us a tow rope to guide our vehicle over. But with gritted teeth and some determination the old ute chugged on through, water right up to the door handles.
On the other side of the river crossing I got out of the car, exhausted, hot and filthy. The grader driver came over, a middle-aged wiry aboriginal stockman. He extended his hand and introduced himself to my companion.
Then he came around the car to me.
I thought he would say hello. Instead he took his bony index finger and thrust it against my breast bone, just above my heart. He poked me so hard it hurt.
“You dat ting,” he said to me. No hello, no how are you. Instead he did it again. He poked me hard with his bony black finger. “You dat ting.” He tapped me twice and said it emphatically. Like it meant something. His eyes held mine. I had no idea what he was saying or how to respond.
And then he ignored me. We followed him up to the camp.
You that thing, he’d said to me. What thing? Why was he so rude?
The whole afternoon and evening the aboriginal stockman ignored me. It was like I had become invisible. That night, after dinner, all the workers sat around a camp fire. The stockman took out his guitar and played and I sat quietly, uneasy, hanging back from the group a little.
An owl came down and sat in the low branches of a tree. No one else paid it any attention. As the evening drew to a close and everyone got up to go to bed, I found myself walking back to my room beside the stockman.
“You see dat owl?” he said to me, turning to face me, his eyes intense.
He showed a sudden interest. “How many fella you see?”
“One,” I replied.
The stockman grunted and walked off.
I went to bed feeling dispirited and very alone. My dreams, when they finally came, were turbulent and haunting. I woke crying, and was sure I’d made a terrible mistake coming to this isolated place. I ached for the sea, and all I had left behind.
To be continued…