Monday 20 July 2009

Moon Day

Forty years ago today I was crouched uncomfortably on the floor of Avonside Girls' High School hall, listening - yes, listening - to the crackly broadcast of the moon landing coming over the loudspeakers. It lacked a certain sense of occasion, to be honest, although having 1200 girls squashed into the hall was an event in itself. Even seeing the grainy b&w images on our tv that night, I didn't really feel connected to the accomplishment, though I did look up at the moon in the sky and try to whip up some sort of wonder that there were two men on its surface.

Watching the Apollo 13 movie the other night was much more helpful in realising how much raw courage was involved; and, looking at the basic equipment, how much luck.

I used to have a problem with the full moon: for a start, I could never see the Man in the Moon, only a rabbit, and it wasn't till I went into the northern hemisphere and saw it the 'right' way up - and realised that they meant just a face, not a whole body - that I understood the idea. And then, I always found moonlight spooky, not romantic - that whole white, colour-sapping effect, not nice.

But now it seems that whenever I travel, the moon is full - bit of a bugger when I'm in the Outback wanting to appreciate the stars, but still, it's beautiful in that vast and empty setting; or rising, huge and sepia-coloured, through the Dickension dust and squalor of Juliaca in Peru; or hanging above a glittering tropical lagoon in Tahiti; or competing with the lights of Manhattan; or glimmering, pale and insubstantial, in a daytime sky high above the phenomenal blue of Lake Tahoe. It's got now that I've come to expect it, to associate it with new places and adventure, to be glad to see it. The full moon is my friend.

>>> ... Although it was created for tourists, the two-yearly Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive is not a frivolous event: it's based on the practical experience of people like Darryl (60), Randall (49) and Whitey (77), who have spent more nights in swags under the stars than in beds. They are old hands at droving huge herds of cattle through the remote desert to the railhead at Marree, back in the hard days when even the cattle had to be shod to cross the stony plains: eight shoes per animal. Before motorbikes, helicopters and trucks, a ringer spent months at a time in the Outback relying on his horse and his mates to muster the cattle and move them south. "When you move at the pace of a beast,” said Darryl, “you have time to connect with the land. You learn respect.”

Whitey had no illusions. “She’s a hard country,” he told me, stroking the nose of his horse Blackie (a grey, naturally). “Droving’s finished now. The young men are all going to the mines. That’s where the money is.” But even today, money isn’t everything, and Nick (25), motorbike musterer turned builder, had jumped at the chance to experience the old ways: riding close to the cattle, cracking a stock-whip to move them on, able to hear them snatching at the saltbush above the shuffle of two thousand hooves through the sand; and knowing that all around, for hundreds of kilometres in every direction, there was space and silence.

It was exactly the same novelty that we city-slickers were enjoying, mounting up each morning on our docile horses to follow the herd over salt pans, round unexpected puddles, through sand and stones, past flat-topped hills and astonishing bubbling mound springs. We chatted companiably or sat in peace in the saddle enjoying the sunshine. On the day after the storm, we yawned.

When we returned at the end of that day having moved the cattle a further 14km down the Oodnadatta Track, the sandstorm had been wiped away. The tables, the toasters, the toilets, the tents: all were clean and shining again. There was a choice of three roasts for dinner, with pavlova after and happy hour before. Afterwards we sat late into the night around the campfire with wine and marshmallows, singing and laughing under a three-quarter moon that outshone all but the Southern Cross. Good times.

[Pub. Listener 29/12/07]


the queen said...

I love the idea that a travel writer would need to be amazed at the ultimate travel adventure. "Journey to the the moon? How nice. Did I mention, I've been to Peru?"

TravelSkite said...

Yes, it is a bit pathetic. Maybe it's down to that tunnel-visioned teenage self-absorption I've been so hard on in another post. I'm amazed now, honest. Well done, guys!


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