Rain has recently turned the southern Flinders Ranges (South Australia) green – a lush green contrasting with warm earthy tones of sand and rock. A beautiful landscape of craggy hills, silver-grey eucalypts and tall tussocks of desert grasses slid by like a slow-motion move as the steam train chugged along at a snail’s pace.
Narrow-gauge rail carried the restored historic Pichi Richi train from Quorn to Woolshed Flat and back again. A single row of upholstered bench seats flanked each side of the carriage, meaning everyone got a window seat. The chilly autumn breeze on my face was fresh and filled with everything I love about nature’s breath, along with the odd speck of soot from the engine.
Our car attendant was a witty, bushy-haired senior high-school student. He warned us that he was not a train fanatic, and pleaded with passengers to keep the questions easy. My guess is that he volunteers on the train rides simply because he loves people and life. He was an absolute delight.
Back in town after our fun-filled, yet relaxing train ride, we browsed a second-hand book store heavy with the wonderful smell of old books. Of course I bought one. Then we sampled one of the local quaint cafes, treating ourselves to a slice of homemade quandong cheesecake with a generous dollop of quandong syrup, and obligatory scoop of ice-cream. Delicious!
Quandong (sometimes known as native peach) is a locally produced native ‘bush food’, and locals showcase the product. We’ve been trying out local produce as we trip around the country, and surely that’s one of the pleasures of travel.
As I sit outdoors back at the caravan park to write, the familiar scent of wattle fills the air. Together we recall the favourite parts of our day and chuckle about the humour of the young lad who obviously loves life and community.
We all touch the lives of strangers, whether we do so deliberately or not, simply by being social creatures. A genuine smile and passing greeting might well be the highlight of that one person’s day. We will never know.
Many years ago, at a time when I was struggling to keep my life together, I found the inner strength to make a positive contribution to one stranger’s life.
While walking through a carpark, I heard the sound of a person sobbing. Initially, I walked past the sound, too afraid of my own inability to cope with anything other than what constituted my own survival, to contemplate offering assistance. But I backtracked, and found a young intellectually impaired man sitting on an outdoor seat, crying into his hands. An older man, his friend? or carer? was trying to console his charge, to no avail.
I sat next to the young man and casually put my arm around his shoulders. He dropped his head to my shoulder, and sobbed. No words from any of us. The sobbing subsided, and he got up, turning to his male companion. They walked inside the Senior Citizens’ building to whatever function was underway.
That’s when I dissolved into tears. I strode off as swift as I could, desperate to avoid speaking to anyone.
I walked home alone, and lonely, in disbelief that I had actually managed to do something worthwhile for a stranger. Helping a face that I would never see again, stayed with me, and inspired me.
Twenty years ago, on 14 February 1997, the newly formed group of birdwatchers had their inaugural outing. Ten birdos gathered at Arkarra Lagoons for a morning of bird spotting, recording 32 species.
Local bird enthusiast, John Knight, presided over the meeting, but there have never been any official office-bearers. Twenty years later, John still endows the group with his passion for native birds and habitat, recording sightings from weekly outings.
Now, between 25 and 30 members gather early every Wednesday morning at one of the 80-odd venues in the Fraser Coast area, splitting up into small informal groups, the more knowledgeable always offering assistance and expertise when requested. For me, it is always a learning experience as well as an enjoyable social occasion.
Following two hours of birdwatching, everyone meets for morning tea and some socialising. Then it’s time for the bird count. Those who wish to stay for another bird spotting wander, do so, and then meet for lunch.
To date, the group has identified about 300 bird species in the local district, with the usual weekly count between 50 and 80.
As the first meeting was held at Arkarra Lagoons, this was the choice for the anniversary meeting. More than 50 members and visitors celebrated the milestone with morning tea and a cake.