Living out here and doing what I do can mean that if I don’t visit the clinic or the store, or drop by the school or the community office, there may be days on end when any conversations with someone over fifteen are no more than a passing greeting, friendly enquiry into their current state of health, or a probably false response to a reciprocal enquiry regarding my own. Even if I do drop by those places, that may still be the extent of our chats some days.
I used to have one regular visitor; one of the community elders, who would call round for a cup of tea and a chat. He would use my phone quite frequently to speak to his family. Then we would talk about the youngsters in the community, the history of the area, the animals and plants of cultural and culinary significance and such things.
We shared recipes and I sometimes shared some of my fried rice, curry, casserole or baking. He is the only one so far, apart from my old mate Des, to reciprocate in kind. He brought me a cut of meat now and then; of bullock, kangaroo or goat, or some bones for the dog.
After we became more comfortable with each other he shared some of his family history and his take on the genocidal social experiment that was the Stolen Generation. I had already heard a lot about that from Des who was himself forcibly taken from his family and mistreated in a mission until his teens. The stories still fill me with horror. Even worse are the tales of the massacres of whole families that took place out here not so far from where I am now. These are not century old atrocities either. I am talking about as recently as the 1950s and 60s. Within living memory.
We are the same age, to the very month. He is just a few days younger than I yet he looks twenty yeras older. Our life experiences could not have been more different. We found we had quite a bit in common when we turned to the old organ recital. We shared the various conditions and ailments affecting and afflicting our aging bodies, and discussed the medications we had been prescribed for them.
He has moved to Perth now, to be closer to the hospital for treatment. No one visits me at home any more unless it is to borrow the tyre pump or a spanner, request a jump start for a vehicle with a dead battery, or just to humbug me. “Humbug” is a term describing the action of “borrowing” something you know will never be returned. Tobacco, drink, money, food …
So being solitary and alone is not at all about being isolated from other people by distance, but more about having no one to converse with.
Which is why I am very lucky to have the voices.