Once again I am in Rockhampton, the sleepy hot town of my childhood, but not my birth. I am a Saltwater woman; a beach girl, an ocean spirit who lived her teenage years trapped between the inland humidity of Mt Archer’s shadow, and the closed, tired minds of Rockhampton people.
It’s not true to say nothing changes here. It does, but it takes its time. Nothing changes in a hurry.
The Fitzroy River still ambles its sluggish way to the sea. Boats still glide and turn with the incoming tide; their bows facing the current pushing upstream, turning their backs to the bridge. Trains still shuffle along 'the main street of Rocky' – written once by a travelling writer, and often repeated, whether it’s true, or not.
It’s become folklore; people love to tell tales against this city, and sometimes its deserved, often not.
One thing that has changed with my latest visit is only one parrot hanging off the back door. Usually there are two clowns, gaily decked out wearing their feathered outfits, befitting their silly behaviour. Today there is only one, and he shrieks upside down from the red flowering bottlebrush tree in the front garden.
I wonder where his mate is, as they have almost become family pets, greeting my mother and sister each morning with hungry cries for bread and honey. Mum grew native plants for three decades, and flowering trees and shrubs for the birds to feed upon surround the house; so although there are a lot of natural bush foods here for them to eat, they adore their honey, wiping their sticky beaks of the side of flowering pot plants and sneezing with delight!
It’s almost irresistible to not put my hand out to stroke their colourful feathers. Today there is only one parrot. Perhaps tonight his mate will come, stomping his pigeon-toed parrot feet amongst the parsley, chasing the butcherbirds who come to feed on titbits of mince. I’ll watch for him, and rouse on him, scolding him in a motherly way, before placing bread and honey before his feet.
In my mother’s arms, lying across the bed, laying across her chest, I feel her arms wrap strongly around me. She holds me tightly. “I love you Mrs Warby,” I say softly.
She speaks with a strong voice, empowered.
“Some people want to live to 100,and receive the letter from the Queen. I am not one of those people. Enough’s enough.”
She repeats this.
“I am simply being maintained, that’s all you can do at my age. It’s not like I can go to a hospital and have an operation and come out skipping. I’m simply being maintained, and enough is enough.”
There’s nothing more to add to that, and we sit in the cool darkness of her blue bedroom, and hold hands. We don’t speak, but we both sob silently with rage against time, and life and death to come.
“I don’t water the lawn”, my sister says, as she leaves for work. I know why she doesn’t. It’s all time, and money and effort. She has enough to do, enough to think about, more than enough to occupy her time and goodwill. I water the lawn for her, moving the leaking hose (did I say leaking? It’s a bloody fountain, twice over!) every 20 minutes, giving each patch a good soaking. Yes, it’s time and effort and water bills, but shows a generous spirit, saying to the neighbours: “Look, I care. I share this planet and this town with you, and I care.”
The birds chatter with delight; a solo peewee struts within the garden, a picture perfect image of military design in his crisp black and white uniform. A large ant marches backwards and forwards across the top of the stairs, halting and then turning and repeating the action. He’s either keeping the baddies out, or we are all going to be overrun by an army of insects. Whatever, will be.
My mother carries within her red walker; a racing guide, the crossword, and the telephone; all packed neatly with the seat up, in sight. Her silver hair has the permanent crease of bed-hair, no matter how much I comb it for her.
Her gait is slower, and more considered. As we speak, her eyes search for the right word. She grasps and stabs the air with her arthritic finger, digging out the right phrase, the correct word, and the ultimate answer.
I love to drive northwards - crossing the Fitzroy River over the new bridge - whilst watching the wrought iron train bridge to my left. Its elegance, leaping between black rock and black rock, always gives me hope, that one day – with thoughtful planning and an unbounded leap of energy and good faith, others can also escape the monotony of living in Rockhampton. And in leaving, they also leave their gilded footprint of the city and its people. Just saying.