I sit, alone, at the dining table of a house I did not want to be in.
We arrived late last night from Canberra, having completed the last leg of a very long haul. Literally and metaphorically. After some more cleaning up and sorting out the monetary gifts which we brought to Melbourne with us, we spent the arvo tracking the whereabouts of Tress’ parents. They’ve been on a whistle stop gallivant with Tress’ uncle and aunt, through the nook and cranny of the west and outer west.
They came to Melbourne all those years ago and could have easily bought somewhere more accessible to the rest of us in the east.
Alas everything is a business proposition for them so they sought out monetary value, forsaking all else. What they pinched and saved, the rest of us pay in the form of time and effort every time there is a family event or when family visit. Groups of people have to make the swinging patterns between the eastern and western suburbs.
I’m in the midst of one of those family events now, having been blackmailed and verbally assaulted to make the drive out west, and despite having already made that shitty drive from Canberra just last night. Yet despite having left Malaysia for years, I’m still enslaved by its customs of unspoken rules of etiquette.
I don’t want to be here now. But I am.
It was a near diabolical weekend, weather wise. (I wont mention the Hawks…) The very wet and windy conditions persisted and this morning I had to leave with full winter gear.
Saturday morning held out for a bit and it only changed for the worse later that arvo. So in the morning while Tress was getting her hair done at Simon’s, I cleaned the windows and fly screens of the bedrooms, before I vacuumed the house and wiped down benchtops, window sill and many other surfaces. Post wedding, the house will see more people using those rooms and other spaces and so cleanliness has to ratcheted up a notch. Those cleaning tasks were for the earlier and most parts, relatively quiet tasks, without noisy tools and machineries. So we could start early – around 8.30am – without worrying about waking up our neighbours on a weekend morning. This meant we could finish the tasks soon after noon, by which time Tress had also picked up the hoop for Kiddo’s gown, from the bridal gown shop nearby. Tress and I then went shopping and other than groceries Tress also picked up some newer and fresher pillows for our coming guests.
Later that night, as we sat on the couch and I watched Bale, Pitt, Gosling etc on that very watchable movie about shorting securities leading up to the collapse of the housing market in the US back in 2007/2008, we fought hard to stay awake even though the movie was very enjoyable and it was relatively early. Both the advantage and disadvantage Netflix were clearly demonstrated that night – we could watch a very enjoyable movie anytime but because we could watch it anytime, we also forgot that we had watched it before. Tress and I had clear recollections of various parts of the movie – we both were pretty sure we had watched it before.
On Sunday morning it was again very wet and it was Palm Sunday so we had a bit of an upbeat start in St Alf’s. As it would be a very short week for us, I didn’t do the usual cooking – we had decided to just pack sandwiches for the couple of days this week, before we head up to Canberra on Wednesday. Instead, I did the ironing as Tress prepped up remaining little tasks before the arrivals commence later that night.
It was still very dark, wet and windy when I finished typing this up a short while ago. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. I hope this means this week will be awesome.
When we were at Kiddo’s home in Canberra over the Labor Day long weekend, I picked up Geoffrey Blainey’s “Tyranny of Distance” from her shelf. What an irony. I was reading PG Lim’s memoir and so I didn’t start this Aussie classic until about over a week ago. I’m just a little over the half way mark.
Last night Tress rang her parents and I think for the first time it hit Tress’ mum just how oppressive that tyranny can be. She sounded shocked to learn Canberra is about 7 hours away by road. We must have mentioned it to her several dozen times before in the many years our lives have been subject to that tyranny but now that people close to her – people like Uncle Jin’s family and Auntie Hooi’ – will be making this trip, it hits her. It finally sank in and she sounded horrified. I had just finished cooking the week’s meals – chicken curry with home made spices – after catching up with some office work, and Tress had just done the brekky after having finished the ironing earlier. So I was a little relaxed as otherwise I would have uttered even louder, what I said under my breath, namely “mum, we have been saying that to you for years”.
Distance is a tyranny for Australia. Even here in Melbourne. Ruth my cousin is technically living and working in Melbourne. Their new home – a farm out at Woodend – is on the fringe of the western suburbs but she works for Western Suburb health so that’s fine. For us to visit her however, it’s a 90-minute drive each way. That assumes traffic flows reasonably well and most Melburnians know that is not always a safe assumption. And so although she’s moved into her new home for maybe a month and a half now, we have yet to visit them. I guess that is partly down to us being busy in recent weeks but the tyranny of distance is the bigger culprit, as our “busy-ness” had included back to back footy at the MCG and meals with the Hipos and Chews and time with our home group, including that very thought provoking memorial service for Elena on Friday arvo, for which I was able to get away from work to attend.
This tyranny of distance is not just for relationships and well-being within Australia. It affects how Australia relates to the rest of the world too. Since moving to Melbourne, our overseas trips have dwindled dramatically. Last winter Tress and I had a quick escape to Hawaii and the warm weather and warm beaches were great respite in the middle of winter. It was a lovely holiday but everytime I asked Tress if she’d like to go again she shuddered at that 10+ hour flight. Our friends have loved travelling to places like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and such other destinations but I have zero inclination to visit. The sheer thought of making those long flights kill any interests I might otherwise have had. My bucket list for travel remains jumping on the Ghan to vertically traverse the Outback and see Ayers Rock. The tyranny feels far easier to tame when one embraces the journey, especially the romance of being close to the red earth and being up close and personal with the monolithic behemoth.
It is hard to embrace the monotonous behemoth that is The Hume Highway however, and Canberra as an institution of federalism and its consequential governmental webs of tentacles around the lives of Australians, remains such an artificial and manufactured place that one needs to be totally philosophical about the journey to deal with the tyranny. As usual, Geoffrey Blainey is such fun to read because what he says resonates with our experience of this vast sunburnt country.