All in a Day’s Work by Robyn Boswell
It could be a 50-minute journey, but then again, it could be 90 minutes. It’s not far but the road is narrow and hilly with many, many corners and rough tarseal. I only left myself an extra 15 minutes. After all these years I should’ve known better. I pulled off the main road and 50 metres along the winding, no passing road, found myself behind a huge truck carrying a road roller. I just knew things would go downhill from there .... actually, it was uphill for a while and that made it worse. We ground our way to the first turn-off. For the last few kilometres there was a mantra rolling round and round in my brain – ‘Please go straight ahead, please go straight ahead’.... yes – it worked! Just a few kilometres further on I encountered the inevitable roadworks. There were no other vehicles in sight so the ‘stop/go’ guy had left his sign on ‘Stop’ and wandered off down the road to talk to his colleagues. It took him a while to notice me and wave me through. An arrival on time wasn’t looking good.
Around a corner onto a short straight, one of the few on this road, and a hawk had flown down and was feasting on a juicy road-kill possum. Like all hawks in this part of the country it was very road savvy and flew up as it saw me coming. Instantly another hawk flew down and took over the feast, but the first hawk wasn’t impressed and let it know. I missed running them down – just – but wished I’d been there to see the resulting stoush. Around the corner a stoat shot across the road – right under the car, but somehow missed all the wheels and streaked off into the bushes. I almost collided with a big truck parked just around the next corner scooping up branches that had been cut from overhanging trees and left on the edge of the road. Luckily nothing was coming the other way as I had to swing across the road to miss it. Another corner (nothing but corners on this road!) and suddenly the windscreen was filled with the huge shaggy rump of a large bull galumphing down the middle of the road. Yes – I was sure it was a bull – proudly dangling appendages and a magnificent set of horns confirmed that. I tried to get past him, but he kept swinging out in front of me. I wondered who would win the battle between a bull and my little car. Oh well, maybe I could tie the horns of the vanquished to my front bumper? Eventually I managed to ease past him and finally pulled into the tiny country school only 10 mins late.
I met the young teacher who had been assigned to work with me and realised to my surprise that he was a young man I had taught a dozen or more years before when he would have been twelve or thirteen. He was extremely shy and tongue-tied which didn’t auger well for the afternoon. It was a sweltering afternoon around 30C, and I was shown to a tiny office with one small table and two chairs in it and no aircon or fan. It quickly became apparent that the young teacher hadn’t bathed for quite some time. It was way beyond warm afternoon sweat and I had to exert every bit of self-control I had, not to react. The young man was monosyllabic and was obviously the wrong person to be given responsibility for their gifted students. I pulled all my not inconsiderable facilitation skills out of my bag of tricks and could still get no response beyond ‘Yeah’ or just a grunt – so much for those open-ended questions.
The malodorous afternoon stretched forever and then I had to make a presentation to the whole staff – all four of them – after school. A data-projector and a screen were set up for me in one of the classrooms. The screen was actually a large, very wrinkled blind dangling from the ceiling that billowed in the breeze like a ship under full sail. Oh well, it lent a surreal quality to my PowerPoint; almost like the old movies. The principal, who had a reputation for being a bit of an eccentric, sat with his back to the screen for the whole session, staring at me disconcertingly. Thank goodness for the rest of the staff who really engaged with it and made my trip worthwhile.
I headed for home, back around all those corners. I nearly bowled a very large turkey on the road and wondered how many nights that would have fed me for. The roadworkers had moved across the road but left a large, sticky, muddy stretch to be carefully negotiated. I had a smooth run at last…until I came upon some old farmer heading in the same direction as me at 60kph on a 100kph stretch of road. Didn’t I mention before that there’s just nowhere to pass on this road, even in a zappy little car? We trundled along at a frustrating speed until we were almost back at the main road. Suddenly, I realised how fortuitous the slow journey had been when we rounded a bend and there were two little boys of about 8 and 6 riding their bicycles right on the road. One was wearing his jandals (flip flops) and the other his gumboots; not very conducive to safe cycling.
State Highway 1 at last – yeehah! The old farmer guy pulled out straight in front of a truck, taking his life in his hands. I got stuck behind it – yes, one of those slow, square little trucks that are the bane of my life and it was belching enough black smoke to make the world run out of oil double-quick. We got to the passing lanes at last; I zapped past the truck then tried to pass the old farmer guy. Oh no – he sped up. Foot down – ouch – I was suddenly at 110 to get past the silly old fool.
I finally made it to town right on the rush hour. Of the three ways to get home I made a bad choice; thirty minutes to do a ten-minute trip. In the door at last …. where’s the gin and tonic?
But hey – on the way home there was a guy talking on the radio and he said that we need to stop and take stock of how lucky we are to live in such a special part of the world and you know, he’s right – and I’m so lucky to get to see so many of the best and most fascinating places…and tomorrow I’ll do it all again just in another direction!