The North Bank http://thenorthbanktc.blogspot.com/
Sunday, 19 February 2012
It is who I am
I’m sure it’s not commonplace to find yourself driving through the outback with a stranger from Majorca in the passenger seat. But then again, what is commonplace out here? She was standing alone on the side of the highway about a hundred kilometres south of town, thumb pointing boldly up at the end of her outstretched arm. I didn’t really want company – I prefer to drive alone – but I couldn’t just leave her there. People die out here.
And I don’t mean the Falconio-murder-mystery strain of death that feeds hungry media packs and sends a hint of a shiver prickling down your neck each time you pass where they say he died. That is, of course, a risk that sits awkwardly in the back of your mind. One exposing conversation with a weathered local sitting alone at the Barrow Creek pub is enough to lend an uncomfortable plausibility to the Joanne Lees story.
But there’s another kind of death to be found on the side of the highway. A far more insidious killer.
They had forecast a hot day as usual. Forty-two in the shade, but there isn’t much of that out there exposed on the side of the highway where the temperature can push fifty. Standing on the burnt earth, the tops of your feet sting as the sun penetrates through even the thickest of boot leather while the heat rising from the ground beneath easily breaches your protective rubber soles, slowly baking your feet right through. The radiant heat of the bitumen hints that the molten lava at the centre of the earth bubbles not as far beneath the surface as you might think.
In that kind of dry heat it doesn’t take long to dehydrate. You slowly lose your senses as sun stroke sets in and irrational thought overrides all survival instinct. From there it’s only a few short steps to a foolish decision, followed by a stumble into permanent unconsciousness which sneaks up behind and snatches you unaware. No, I couldn’t just leave her there.
Her English wasn’t great and it didn’t even occur to me to insult her with my limited knowledge of Spanish. “Tengo cuatro hermanos” was unlikely to be of particular interest to her anyway. Her sentences were punctuated with phrases that must have been in Spanish, because they sure didn’t sound like any kind of English I recognised. But despite that, through something close to a miracle guided by charades and expressive hand gestures, we connected. Two people from opposites ends of the earth, hurtling down an empty desert highway, sharing culture and passion in broken English.
“I am Majorcan” she would announce from time to time. “It is who I am.”
“It doesn’t matter where I live. In Australia I could be happy, I could live well… but in my gut I would always be Majorcan.” She spoke of her island home surrounded by the crystal clear blue Mediterranean Sea as some sort of paradise. She had a passion for their food that transcended indulgence and a ‘foodies’ pretention. It was a passion that comes from the heart, not the head and it connects them to their homeland, their culture, to life itself in a way that I’m sure I will never truly understand.
“Yes… I am Majorcan.”
Looking through the window at desert passing by, scrub, red earth and hot rock, I saw my own Majorca. That I can understand. That feeling of totally belonging to a place. That no matter where you are, a piece of you is always there. I was not born here in this desert. My ancestral connections lay in a foreign land I have never seen. But I belong here. Where ever I go and no matter how I live, this place comes with me in my gut. The sea of deep red earth that laps against the spinifex covered rocky outcrops is, in its own unique way, my paradise. It is my own Majorca.