west of byron bay
Al does firewood.
There is another world west of Byron Bay.
West of the St Helena Road and the ridge it traverses – past Bangalow and it’s smug wealth – over where the western skies gatekeep the Border Ranges and let through all the violence of the storm systems that sweep to the sea from the interior.
Surprising who lives out here, just a half-hour from the metropolitan wastes of Byron Bay and the migrant hordes that crowd its poor streets and overworked beaches.
Out here where dairy farms are twenty-five years in desolation and their intricate stone walls – the result of pioneer land clearing decades ago – are hidden overgrown and tumbled down and overcome by the newcomer wilderness of Camphor Laurel.
Another migrant horde.
A blessing say some, but not those who would wander in the new forests looking for a home or new pasture. Couples let loose from their city prisons who would build on an old pasture, or a ragged sky line.
Al is on the end of the phone, he’s busy, and his message is ‘ can’t come to the phone mate, probably got the bloody chainsaw going, sorry,’
Al lives out at Naughtons Gap, which is a little west of Lismore, a flood-plain town.
Al delivered the wood about 9 pm on Friday night, there was no moon and he had to travel all the way down the gravel drive to the house in reverse.
Tough ask for the old boy, he’s 1944 vintage – a little long in the tooth.
He drifted off course a little on the way down and ran over a tree on the lawn, buggered it for life. Have to chop it out tomorrow.
The night was as dark as a tin of black paint and all we could hear as he rumbled closer to the house was the burble of his 8 cylinder Ute and a whining Bob Dylan singing ‘ Simple Twist of Fate ‘.
Al is a Dylan man, lifelong, plus he has no nighttime eyesight – and his emphysema betrays a swamped puddle of rotted lungs – yet he smokes and smokes. No more choofer though, he leaves all that life back up at Nimbin.
Al is a gentle man and he likes to natter about this and that as we unload the firewood; he is a diabetic and won’t ever have sugar with his tea or take a biscuit – and he is princely with his manners when the lady of the house comes out to say hullo.
The ladies, all of them hereabouts, speak kindly of Al and not a rough word about them ever passes his lips.
He regrets the fallen tree, the lady who planted it – English Lois – rides high in his estimations and her news of it would impair his impossible expectations.
I look at him as he leaves for his distant home; he’s just a skinny little bloke with long blonde hair and the smell of tobacco trails him everywhere.
He looks tired, and despite the rough art of his trade his hands are soft on a handshake – like many of the country men about here he has no need for gyms and weights when every day is twelve hours long in labour.
I won’t need to ring him for a few months now that summer has warmed the air and the penetrated the earth – everything is wet from the monsoonal-belt depressions and Dylan will be in town next month anyway – I should get a ticket and go looking for the old lad.
He’s got to be there.