January 6, 2016

The tyranny of distance

It was the time of year when you realise all over again that christmas in subtropical climes will never be right. When for weeks you want time to accelerate; and then stall; but naturally it does neither. When passenger planes giveth, and taketh away.

The worst part of that last bit is when you've dropped your precious cargo off hours prior to long-haul, and they wait apprehensively in Departures while you sit forlornly in an oddly silent lounge 15 minutes down the road. Can't bear that interval.

Our family's norm is a half-planet separation. In this continent of vast proportions, even the Great Ocean Road contingent is a major mission from Brisbane: at least two hours' flying time, then a one-and-a-half-hour drive. There's no popping down for an impromptu Sunday lunch. Our mutual christmas gift was ten days' togetherness.

A phrase often heard in Australia, The Tyranny of Distance (How Distance Shaped Australia's History) is the title of a book written by Geoffrey Blainey, first published in 1966. It's a must-read for an Australian education, like The Lucky Country, The Australian Ugliness and A Secret Country*.

These days, it often describes the tribulations of large-hatted Independent federal MPs who work in Canberra but represent sparsely distributed constituents in regions of Queensland larger than an average European country. Or long lonely journeys through hitherto unimaginable and inhospitable remoteness, which some folk actively seek but others avidly avoid.

And the emotional angst of expats briefly reunited with nearest and dearest before being brutally wrenched apart again by an inevitably untimely farewell.

In the days before the first arrivals, clutching many to-do lists during countless shopping forays, I tripped across town to collect a real christmas tree. I asked if I could linger awhile in their yard, inhaling pine nostalgia. I hadn't realised how much I missed it. Some things never leave you despite the best of adventures in new lands.

We were blessed with cooler-than-hot temps and lower humidity than usual for many of the ten days, but the passions of close family members deprived for an unacceptably long time were not to be dampened by the temporary absence of Queensland's summer. All was not trauma and tears, however: long-overdue tellings evolved from confessionals; we were all aMaezed; and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make; they say.

Then the aftermath… once-busy rooms stripped of bedding and joy; decorations down three days early; borrowed extras returned; and hours of escape into 700+ pages of the 2015 Man Booker shortlisted A Little Life.

Normal service will resume shortly.

* by Donald Horne, Robin Boyd and John Pilger respectively

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