Wednesday, December 05, 2007

CABIN FEVER

The fever is beginning to take hold. In a moment of panic, i apply for a transfer. To Albany. The Southern Ocean. To those granite beaches, those tinglewood trees...

I feel my work here is done. There is generational change at work. A subtle, social paradigm shift in the seething microcosm that is Carnarvon. I can feel it. Civilisation is beginning to creep in, like a sombre assassin. I became completely certain of this a couple of days ago, when Louie declined an offer of another drink. Louie. Declining an offer of another drink.

And at the Gassy the other night, one of the teachers thought she'd picked up my drink by mistake. Is this your drink, she asks. No, not mine, i'm on soda water, i say. So am i, she says. And this, a teacher. On a pub crawl. We stare at one another, gobsmacked. The woman next to me shakes her head. It's just not right, she mutters. That's three people i seen tonight drinking soda water. She shakes her head again, in disbelief.

And the isolation. The fact that Carnarvon is around 400km from the nearest town north, and about 380 if you head south. It's five kilometres out to the Caltex Starmart on the North West Coastal Highway, and beyond that ... carry your own water for the next 633km, warns a big yellow sign. The Starmart marks the farthest point of civilisation. Starmart is the equivalent of the edge of the solar system. To a space traveller. And aren't we all space travellers?

To the west lie the islands, Bernier and Dorre, where they used to dump Aborigines with sexually transmitted diseases. Politely named a 'leper colony.' The islands, where some of these Aborigines would simply sit, for the rest of their miserable, lonely, truncated lives, at the edge of that barren island shore, and stare back mournfully at the mainland.

To the east is Gascoyne Junction, across 160km of broken road, then Meekatharra further out, out on the Great Northern. Gascoyne Junction, with its grand population of 43 souls. Including a publican who is owed $20.

And home: my room in a rough-and-ready shack, where sometimes it looks like i'm living in the bottom of a whore's handbag, as Mickey T would say. Still, i'll miss the place. Even Mayhem said today she would miss the place. I'll miss the freedom, she says. Freedom? The wide open spaces, she says. I suppose so, i say. If you wanted to go on a bender, some kind of spree, or just go berserk, well, there's plenty of space to do it in, and not a lot of people to stop you.

My manager comes into my office. Somebody died, she says, and they didn't find his body for five days. I shake my head. It's not news, i say. People die all the time.

And i'm starting to get that feeling of deja moo. You know that feeling you get when you think "i've seen this bullshit before"?

The phone rings. It's Fully. He's come second in some business award, second to some - what do you call those butch lesbians? he asks. Dykes, i say. Yes, Fully says, i was beaten by some dykes. One of them was dressed in a power suit. He sounds miffed. I think back to the last time i saw Fully, steadfastly strangling the national anthem on his bagpipes at the HMAS Sydney Memorial cairn at Quobba, dressed in a kilt.

Well, if you can wear a dress, they can wear a suit, i say, and settle in for the usual long, rambling Fully-embellished conversation, running the gamut from the finer points of international law through to the Rabbit Proof Fence and a number of tangents in between. People southwest of the Rabbit Proof Fence can't get the same price for their grid-fed solar photovoltaic electricity as we can here in Carnarvon, Fully says, And the only reason is because of the bureaucracy.

Is that right? i ask. Yes, he says. Except that Esperance, which is inside the southwest grid zone, has been officially declared outside of it. And Kalgoorlie, which is outside of it, is officially inside of it.
Kalgoorlie is inside? Even though it is outside?
Yes, they ran a wire out there.
And Esperance is outside, even though it is inside?
Yes.
I see. Like West Berlin was outside East Germany, even though it was inside it?
Yes, just like that. And like Babbage Island is not part of the mainland.

Babbage Island? Out where the One Mile Jetty is?
Yes, the Government excised it from the immigration zone of the Australian mainland, says Fully. A few years ago, along with Christmas Island and all the others.
But it's not even an island! i protest. I rode my bike out there on Tuesday. The road runs right across Shark Skin Crossing.
The river runs round it, so it's an island, says Fully.
They filled that in years ago! Everyone knows that!
Well, they don't know it in Canberra, says Fully. According to Canberra, it's an island. And you can't claim refugee status if you land on Babbage Island. You would automatically be an illegal. You'd have to make it down to the Gassy first...

And take your Australian citizenship test...
While downing three schooners and singing Waltzing Matilda...
Hmmm. Question one: Do you own, or have you ever owned, a pair of thongs?
Question two: what is the definition of 'circle work'?
Or Question three: What purple root vegetable, beginning with 'b' is, by law, required to be inserted into a Hamburger With The Lot?
Question four: where can you sell your solar photovoltaic electricity for a price greater than 7c per kW?
North of the Rabbit Proof Fence?
Exactly. We get 15.88c here. And Horizon Power can't get enough of it. Embedded solar PV. It's the way of the future. The Prime Minister's been knocking it, arguing that if a cloud passed across a solar farm, the electricity supply would fail. I mean, fair crack. That's absolute nonsense.

It's nonsense?

Of course it is. It's embedded PV. The mistake people make is assuming that there has to be a centralised solar farm. There doesn't. The electricity-generating panels are scattered all over the place, and the power supply is independent of each individual panel.

Like the internet. That's how the internet works - if any one node fails, it simply reroutes through another...

Isn't it ironic, says Fully, how these bureaucrats are using a non-centralised system like the internet to perpetuate myths about centralised power. It's nonsense. If a cloud passes over one panel, well, it's not passing over another, see.
There's never ever a cloud across the whole state...
Never! And they say it's unreliable, well, ... look at the wind-over-diesel power plant at Coral Bay.
What about it.
Well, they've never even used those backup diesel generators, not since they set it up! And they never will. You know, the first steamships were built with sails, just in case. And they kept building them like that for fifty years. Fifty years! How many freighters do you see these days off Gage Roads with sails on them?
Not many.
Not many. It takes a while for the truth to set in. And people worry about the lifetime of the solar panels!
Do they?
They do. So i tell them, look, the Apollo astronauts left some on photovoltaic panels on the moon, last time they were up there. And they still work fine. And those solar panels have not seen a whole lot of lot of maintenance over the past thirty-odd years.
No, that would be a bit expensive, sending someone up there to change a fuse or top up the oil. But you know what the problem is, Fully? Solar is still seen as marginal. The lunatic fringe.
So the business of the year award goes to — the Bindoon Bakery.
I've been there!
Must be some bakery.
It was ok.
Did it scream out "Business Of The Year Award"?
Well, the pie was nice. Anyhow, Fully, i've got to go. I have to speak to a woman in Shark Bay about some camels.

I hang up.
I'm flying out on the 15th, says Mayhem. You know, Art Director, i'm going to miss this place.
Hmm. Me too. Me too.

1 comment:

DeWsE said...

Wow that really was an awesome peice Mark, you were able to capture Carnarvon clearer then a picture! Enjoy what ever is, and becomes.