Sourdough Pete

Way out in the Gibson desert, not far from Lake MacKay, at the end of a long day crossing the desert at an average speed of 20kph, I came upon an old man sitting by a campfire . His back leaned against the tyre of an ancient troopy. He was cooking something that smelled good. It was kangaroo stew and damper.

He introduced himself as Pete, and invited me to join him for a meal, which I accepted cheerfully, bringing out some canned fruit and creamed rice from my stock as a dessert offering.

His stew was really good. His damper was unexpectedly extraordinary. It tasted like the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had. Damper is usually made from self raising flour or using baking powder. I complimented Pete on the bread, and he told me he used raisins to make a starter dough. It seems the yeasts naturally found on the dried fruit were perfect for making bread. The starter fermented all day in the hot car as he travelled and was ready to bake in the camp oven at the end of every day.

He showed me how it was done. He opened an old pack, pulled out a bag of raisins, mixed some with flour and water in an old Tupperware container, and put it on the bonnet of his Troopy ready for the next day. Then he put the raisins beside the container on the bonnet. We sat down to share dessert.

As we ate, there was a whir of wings and a large crow landed on the car. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag of dried fruit and flew away with it.

Pete watched the bird fly away with the resigned acceptance of one who is used to the vagaries and tragedies of life. “Ah.” he said philosophically. “There goes my raisins for leavening”.

The Times, They Are A Changin’

Bribie Island Caravan Park is closed to people wishing to camp or who want to rent a cabin. Only we permanent residents remain. The pool, kitchen, tennis court and common room are closed, as are half the ablution blocks. Visitors are discouraged. Social distancing is encouraged. It has been suggested we have a “social period” now and then in which we sit outside our own homes and talk to our neighbours.

The doctors at my practice are now doing consultations by phone in all cases when the patient does not need to be physically present. My next consultation, to discuss my last pathology lab test results, will not require me to make the usual two hour round trip.

Federal Police are confining international travellers in motel rooms and standing guard. The first person has been jailed for breaching self-quarantine requirements three times in less than a week.

Body bags have been delivered to remote communities in anticipation of an outbreak there, which, if it happened, is expected to be far more devastating than among the general population. Some see it as sinister that resources for body bags are more easily found than for sending free supplies of soap and sanitising chemicals and cleaning equipment.

Unemployment has spiked since so many businesses must close.

The cost of food has spiralled out of control. Especially in the outback. Drought, fire and flood have no doubt contributed to this.

Grey nomads have been requested to forego travelling to remote areas. Their response so far has been selfish, along the lines of “But we want to visit the Argyll diamond mine before it closes down”.

The public pools are closed. Hotels, clubs and restaurants, also. Only takeaway fast foods are open. Gatherings of more than two non-family members are forbidden.

Sales of duct tape have skyrocketed as shops and banks and pharmacies mark out queuing areas and 1.5 metre spaces with lines and crosses.

More and more old people are appearing in public wearing masks. No one makes a fuss as they did over niqabs and hijabs. Yet these folk terrorise supermarket checkout staff in a manner unprecedented over matters completely beyond their control.

Goanna still drops by…


I have lived among the broken people
They sent me there
Repairman for their faults
As if good will
A football and a meal
Might mend many generations of pain.

Massacre and Murder still in memory
Birthright and right denied
Who can soothe such wounds
With just a token?
And though I tried, god knows I tried,
I, too, ended broken.

I truly tried my wage to earn
I could not help them, merely learn.
They cannot help, who once betrayed
And raised a debt that can’t be paid.

© 2020 ARF


Every traveller in Australia has, or aspires to have, an Engel.

With Japanese technology and made in Thailand, it is as iconically Australian as the Holden. A brand on the verge of becoming a generic term here.

The Engel is a portable, dual voltage refrigerator/freezer that runs on 12 or 24V battery, or mains power. In the less expensive models, such as the one I could afford, the refrigerator/freezer option is an either/or choice. The unit I bought has a single 38 litre compartment. Larger costlier units can do both at once.

It operates incredibly efficiently. I am running mine on my secondary solar panel and battery. Even overnight, my battery voltage didn’t drop below 13.1 volts. I found that remarkable. The fridge in my caravan can only run on 12v from the car when the van is being towed. It needs a motion sensor to turn it off when the car is parked, or idling at the traffic lights because it draws too much current. Should you stop for fuel, or to shop, it’s possible the car won’t start again.

The Engel is silent. The only way you can tell it is operating is by touching it and feeling the faint vibration when its Japanese motor is running, and by the green LED on the panel. Also, by the fact its content is nice and cold. Something my caravan fridge struggles to manage even on mains power or gas.

It is strongly constructed and can handle being bounced around in the back of an off-road 4WD in desert temperatures. It even operates for a time even on an angle of 30 degrees.

The Engel is not cheap. It is far more expensive than other brands, even its closest rival, the Waeco. But it has a solid reputation for strength, reliability and efficiency in even the tropical outback. So when I saw my small one on special discounted offer for less than $800 I was waiting outside BCF for them to open at 8:30 the next morning. My Christmas extravagance this year. Possibly the most sensible purchase I’ve made since I bought the caravan, apart from the bike.

Returning Alone – Haiku 2

I go to the bush

With my black dog on a leash

I return alone.


The other day in the changing room at the pool I met Julius. Fit, firm, muscular and tanned with a shock of grey hair that rivalled mine before I cut it, he looked much like I aspire to. My casual “How are you going?” unleashed an expletive – laden account of depression and unhappiness that caused a conversation of over half an hour. His life had no purpose. His family no longer needed him, he had no job satisfaction. He was getting nowhere. He’d lost a lot in a property settlement. He wanted to be dead. Whenever he saw a report of someone being killed he wished it had been him. And so on.

,A lot of what he said resonated with me. I told him I had an inkling of how he felt and that I shared some of his experience. I was very concerned not to enable his suicidal thoughts and looked for ways to talk through them. I asked if he had sought medical help. I told him I had found a lot of help with Prozac. It might not be for everyone, but there was undoubtedly something similar that might help in his case. He was dismissive. He did not want to put that stuff in his body. I asked if he preferred to have sadness and sorrow. There was an alternative. I have been on medication for ten year’s over. It helps.

He asked how old I was, I told him.

“Christ, you’ve had eight years of this shit more than I have”.

I could only tell him that it wasn’t all bad, and though I had been right where he was not so long ago, there is another side. I urged him to get help. We talked on for a while. In the end he shook my hand, told me his name and asked mine, then bid me goodbye, saying he was pleased to have met me.

I don’t quite know what to make of that encounter. On the way home I pondered whether there was ever a time when it was ok to decide one had endured enough and there was nothing left in life to give it purpose and meaning. What circumstances would make it a reasonable decision?

From his physical appearance, Julius has no reason for such despair unless he has been diagnosed with something as yet invisible but terminal. From a social and mental health perspective it is harder to comment. There are creative and intellectual considerations. There could be matters of conscience.

Though I have been where Julius seems to be, I don’t think it was ever more than a passing moment of self-pity and self-doubt that was easily managed by an appropriate dose of fluoxetine and a jolly good talking-to.

“On the other hand, there are plausible circumstances that I can envisage. Perhaps, should there come a time when the pain is too much, the prognosis too bleak, and the point has been so completely lost, I may need to think along those lines. If so I’d like to think I shall make the decision rationally, deliberately, and without despair. At such a time it would be wrong to dissuade me. I would not have “so much to live for” any longer. There would be something unpleasant to avoid and nothing still left I’d care to do. Particularly if the cost of doing it was too great. Then the inevitable end should be embraced and welcomed in a manner of my own choosing, rather than slowly, fearfully and painfully. At such a time I would prefer to go gentle into that good night. Joyfully, even, knowing I have done, and had, enough.

This could have been a very depressing encounter. Oddly, in the end I concluded I was ok. I worry about whether I shall see Julius again, and what I should do if we meet. Should I invite him out for a drink and a chat?


Doctors seem to have changed greatly in the last generation or so. Or I have become luckier of late. GPs in my youth were largely impersonal, dismissive, and short on time and empathy. It was rare to have a doctor who took time to listen. The first I recall who actually did was doctor Ah Chan in West Auckland, when I was raising a young family.

There have been others over the years, but equally as many who did not have that spark. If one particular doctor had actually listened to my concerns about changes in my pee, for example, instead of dismissing them as irrelevant, I might have gotten onto my kidney disease sooner. The same goes for the torn muscle or ligament in my left arm that left me partially lame.

On the other hand, I have been well served lately. On top of that, the practice I currently attend bulk bills, which means I pay nothing to see my GP, who is a patient and thorough Persian gentleman willing to take as much time as necessary to examine his patients and discuss their concerns. Yesterday I spent forty minutes with him. As he smilingly put it, I do not have cancer and can remain on the control side of the medical study I’ve been participating in for a year or so. That was good news.

With his support and encouragement, and that of the kidney team at Royal Brisbane & Women’s Hospital I have lost 16 kg in the last six months or so, and have become active after years of moping and allowing pain to dictate my inaction.

I had good doctors in the outback, but the nature of medical services out there meant I never saw the same GP for long. Now I have found one that suits me, I am reluctant to change practices. I live an hour’s drive from Woodford now, but I make that drive willingly. As long as I’m in this region, I shall stay with them. One more reason to account for my reluctance to move on and continue what I initially intended to be a nomadic existence.

I seem to feel a need for some sense of permanence in my life. Now I no longer have strong ties to any one place, nor indeed, to any person, but I believe I have lost the wanderlust that I thought I had. Here seems as good a place as any to settle. I am living on an island. I like islands. The sea is only 200 metres away from where I sleep. I can hear the surf at night.

My weekly rent is supplemented by the Government. My grocery bills are half what they might be in some places, thanks to the proximity of Aldi, where I can go by bicycle, reducing my fuel bills and my carbon footprint. The winter is mild, the summer not as hot as I’ve endured before.

I’ll never have a place of my own. I think I’ll stay here. For a while, at least.

The Difference.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost.

This is my favourite of Frost’s poems.

Learner Pilot

My drone education continued yesterday with a few more flights successfully completed, though that was more due to the quality of the aircraft rather than the skill of the pilot. The first flight over Caroline Pool came up with a high wind warning as soon as the aircraft was higher than 60 m. Then the drone disappeared from my sight just as communication with the controller was lost, so I could not even see where it was on my iPad screen.

I was about to give it up as lost, when it hove into sight and connection was reestablished. Viewing the recording later I could see it had hovered for a short time then plainly concluded that it should head home by itself. Once communication returned I could see it was now in charge. I had only had to watch without interfering as it returned under its own control to the spot from where it had taken off.

The second flight went better. I kept it fairly low and always in sight. However when I told it to return to home by itself, this time it became confused and tried to land in a tree. A warning flashed up that the landing site was not suitable and asking me to guide the aircraft to a better spot. This I did. Smart little machine.

My third and fourth flights were out over old Halls Creek.  There I just practised manoeuvring.  I tried to follow some wild horses, but lost them. I am learning, but I need to remember to turn on the camera to record all the flights.

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