Beth Spencer

Doing the Rock : June 1984

the bus took off without me and I was missing you
[flashback] drinking gin on the flight from Cairns

– ‚trash can?‘ said the American across the aisle
– ‚rubbish bin‘ said the hostess and pointed to a paper bag

had the plane to ourselves our postcards and politeness the biscuit-baked land followed us red as your thumb [now] the American smiles sitting next to the driver caught them up at the camel farm fists full of meat pies and Big Bill with the cowboy hat and the bus between his legs [later] when we reach the motel they book a room together quick work! I smile back [now] spinifex and wild melon and the well-beaten track and a haze to go with the six a.m. high / the big trip / doing it / ‚Get to know each other‘ Bill drawls into the mike so I pretend to examine the view and make a list instead: 1) two young men in the back seat propped up with a can each one of them reads the tour guide the whole way and forgets to look out the window 2) a Canadian couple with a baby – babies: dingoes – the mind’s corny as it slides to the association but what can you do they look so straight and you wonder how old it is why they’re here (why the baby never cries) and then 3) an English teacher with large friendly thighs who’s seen more of Australia than I have which isn’t difficult and up further 4) two old ducks Rosy and Else laughing and talking the whole way making the most of it and 5) a lonely man (there always is) [later] he shakes everyone’s hands with tears in his eyes [now] up front Big Bill with his hand on the American’s knee and his grin in the mirror says ‚Get to know each other folks fun’s only what you make yourself‘ which is true I suppose but I’m not having fun and my sneakers bought in Alice are too tight and I’ve no suntan cream because it’s winter in Sydney

– and I think of your warm bed and cold room
– and Elaine walking up the stairs with a loaded needle ‚helping you out‘

so maybe Bill’s right or maybe fun’s only what you left behind miles and miles and I’m not even sure which direction ‚out there‘ and ‚home‘ make much more sense on a plane here there is only the track (always the same one) and the band of travelling tourists visiting the rock like visiting Grandma that same sense of duty and boredom and just maybe the thought of something unexpected but there was nothing unexpected not really we saw the rock and climbed it (Rosy and Else took a helicopter) we took photos and watched slides and oohed and ahhed as the sun painted the rock colours that it hadn’t for us and we bought postcards of those colours and played pool in the motel that the truck went through (had a plaque on the wall, I lost) and then the English teacher took photos of little black kids playing in the dust that is theirs and she cried when she read about Marilinga

nothing unexpected except this: the Olgas (Katajuta) were magic and

on the way back we all sang ‚pack up your troubles‘ and ‚you are mysunshine‘ and best (and loudest of all) ‚beautiful  i brown eyes‘ while the road followed us into town and the desert creaked towards night

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