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Today's quote:

Sunday, January 24, 2021

"Your coming here would give me a new lease on life"

The main street of Mount Perry, circa 1956, when it was still in its heydays

 

It is possible, I suppose, to construct hypothetical circumstances in which you would be pleased to find yourself, at the end of a long day, in Mount Perry, Queensland - perhaps something to do with rising sea levels that left it as the only place on earth not under water, or maybe some disfiguring universal contagion from which it alone remained unscathed. In the normal course of events, however, it is unlikely that you would find yourself standing on its lonely main street at six thirty on a warm summer's evening gazing about you in an appreciative manner and thinking: 'Well, thank goodness I'm here!'"

So wrote Bill Bryson in his book "Bill Bryson Down Under" in chapter 12 about Macksville, New South Wales. I took the liberty of quoting from it, only substituting Mount Perry for Macksville, both of which I know, Macksville because an old accountant-friend from my days in New Guinea had opened an office there, doing little more than helping cow cockies fill out unemployment claim forms, and Mount Perry because my best friend, also from my New Guinea days, had settled there sometime in the early 1980s when I was still working in Athens in Greece and started receiving letters from him postmarked "Mount Perry Qld 4671".

That was years before the internet and I had no way of knowing where Mount Perry was or what it looked like. That eye-opening revelation was left until mid-1985 after I had returned to Australia and, unable to find work in Townsville in Far North Queensland, I moved down to Sydney and visited Mount Perry on my way south. By that time the last traces of some former mining boom had disappeared, the picture show had been closed for years, the local mechanic had just moved to Gin Gin, the only shop in town hardly ever saw a customer, and the post office which had postmarked all those letters seemed on the verge of closing. In fact, my friend who waited for me in town to guide me to his lonely plot of land, had parked in front of it, and his was the only car in the main street.

He'd sent me this photo while I was still working in Greece and after he'd just bought himself this small prefab on a five-acre plot. It was the sort of place where you went when you had little money and life hadn't been too good to you and you needed time to lick your wounds:

 

Noel's prefab on his five-acre plot. As he wrote,
"It's as isolated as it looks, but plenty of crows and wallabies for company"

 

Following my return to Australia due to a misdiagnosed case of home-sickness, life hadn't been too good to me either, and I was also licking my wounds in Sydney when my best friend invited me to join him at Mt Perry. "Your coming here would give me a new lease on life" he wrote - words from a quiet, lonely man who had sought refuge and become stranded. He had stayed away too long, and everyone had forgotten him. It was the nearest he'd ever come to admitting that his own home-coming after a lifetime in New Guinea hadn't worked out the way he'd hoped, and he was feeling lonely and in need of like-minded company.

My friend's cri de coeur - for that is what it was - never quite registered because, while I'd experienced my own bouts of loneliness which had always been cut short by the excitement of forever chasing work around the world, I still had another twenty-five years of work ahead of me.

As so often happens, the story had a happy ending for both of us: I left Sydney for Canberra where I was able to establish my own practice, and Noel could sell his isolated plot with "plenty of crows and wallabies for company" and resettle on the edge of Childers, within walking distance of shops and pubs and medical facilities, where I revisited him in 1990 to spend our last Christmas together before he passed away in 1995.


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