By John Dickson

    Our new house for an old suburb has been completed in a factory nestled at the foot of the Dandenong Ranges, where, according to the brochure, open green spaces boast abundant nature, and well-connected walking paths, cycling tracks, and world-class sporting facilities bring pleasure to people of all ages. We chose this construction method because it is not affected by weather, allows much finer building tolerances, circumvents supply issues and is much faster. Now we await the delivery of this architectural marvel to our block by a wagon train of large trucks [five in total] where a large crane will wait to hoist them over power lines onto the space we prepared earlier. We now await suitable weather, the tolerance of neighbours to their street closed for the day, the supply of an appropriate crane and the slow five-hour journey from factory to site.


    Bestie went down first. I dutifully followed two days later. Despite being vaxxed to the max, the spicy cough had found us at last.

    It was not too much of a burden. Unless you describe five quiet days in front of assorted televised romps, shallow dives and gibberish a burden. We coughed occasionally, compared aches and obediently assaulted nostrils with cotton tipped sticks, eyeing the white plastic oracle for the single red stripe which never came. Apparently, you can test positive for some weeks post-recovery without being a threat to the rest of humankind. 

    Hourly, we interrogated each other with the pressing question, ‘Are you feeling any worse?’. Well, no. Except from some unwelcome brain fog and general fatigue that went on far too long. 

    One moment of light disrupted the drear. Dotty dropped by with a casserole for us. 

    She stood two metres from the door, dressed in coveralls, pink oven gloves, trouser legs tucked into gumboots, and her Tibetan beanie pulled low to her eyes, nearly meeting the industrial-level spray painter’s respirator that converted her voice into that of a dalek. She wielded the giant spray bottle of disinfectant she carries with her wherever she goes and soaked down everything within a radius of four metres. She wasn’t taking any chances.

    Dotty heard about our parlous state on the grapevine and thought she should share, nay ‘had’ to share, a cure for our ‘troubles’ that she had seen on TikTok. ‘Curry, lots of curry’ she buzzed,’ will wash away your infection.’ To this end, she offered a casserole made almost solely of generous amounts of the stuff, joyfully anticipating our speedy recovery with the zeal of a missionary as she spun on her heel and skipped off down the driveway.

    We yelled thank-yous to her departing back and later drank to our very good health long after we had given the casserole a decent burial.

    Tuesday week

    That’s when we went to Queensland. It was time to get out of Dodge and open our dwindling selves to the sun. 

    Townsville is a military town. There are air force folks here and there is army. But the predominant uniform in this delightful town that turns its face to the sea, is the fishing shirt. I had not previously encountered the fishing shirt in my sheltered life, but here it was, brandishing its clumsy braggadocio and dad-humour sloganeering. Made without a natural fibre anywhere in sight, this clever piece of chemistry creates a fabric that allows images of any kind to be printed onto its surface. So, they are.

    We saw ‘Master Baiter’ over a background of the splash of a photo-real leaping fish; ‘I’m a Hooker!’ with the double ‘O’s converted into crossed eyes; ‘I fish because my wife won’t follow me there!’, on the front, a photograph of a woman, arms akimbo, scowling at the viewer from beneath hair in rollers, as the wearer walked away; a teenaged stripling wears a photo of a body builder’s torso, tattooed with ‘Women want me, fish fear me’. A range of football club brands accompanied by images of beer and its consumption paraded about, and the inevitable slew of green and gold nationalistic rantings [‘Oz: love it or leave it’] lurked in the shadows.

    Made from a range of polyesters, nylons, rayons and elastane, these garments keep the wearer nice and toasty. Ideal in a climate that boasts an October daily temperature averaging 30degC, accompanied by humidity north of 70%.

    The Wednesday

    On the Wednesday we took the 20-minute ferry ride to Magnetic Island. Here is paradise. Time seemed to slow to accommodate any whim at the most languorous of pace. For three days we drifted from bay-to-bay [there are twenty-three] sometimes walking, sometimes catching the reliable bus service, once circumnavigating the entire island by boat, always slowly.

    The boat trip introduced us to a local propensity for sinking large ships. Dotted about the coastline are a number of wrecks, mostly deliberate and all accessible to divers [we are keen snorkellers] had the easterly wind not turned the sea into a sandy soup allowing only 10 centimetres of visibility. The hulks were mostly sunk to create breakwaters and protect investments made by early settlers against the sometimes fierce weather coming from the east.

    We did see some beasties. An unlikely dugong surfaced near the boat as we paused in Rollingstone Bay, a sea eagle plucked a fish from the hand of one of our fellow passengers and turtles galore pottered about. 

    When we stopped for a dip at the northern end of Five Beach Bay, a two-metre blacktip reef shark cruised ominously near, feeding on the small mackerel being washed out of a tidal creek as the water rose. Asked whether the shark was a threat, Jonas, the boat’s skipper revealed that the blacktip was largely harmless, unless it is feeding. 

    I stopped swimming halfway up the beach.

    Much to Bestie’s chagrin, always a stickler for clear speaking, she became increasingly irritated as I fell into the local habit of ending each sentence with a high rising terminal ‘a’. Apparently, this vocal tic, also known as ‘upspeak’, is a tell of the speaker’s insecurities.

    To prove I was confident in my pronouncements, I gathered up my wallet, put on my going-out hat and said, ‘Let’s go and watch the cane toad races at the pub, a.’ 

    She agreed, provided I no longer spoke to her.


    As the great philosopher, R. Gervais ruminated: ‘I have 12 million followers on Twitter. When I tweet, it’s just a general statement. It’s not directed at you personally. I don’t know you. It’s OK to just go, ‘well that’s not me’ and walk right past. So, if there is a giant sign in the town square offering guitar lessons, and you don’t want guitar lessons, walk on. Don’t stand there screaming, ‘I DON’T WANT F@#@#G GUITAR LESSONS!!!!’.

    When @geoffreyisright urged tweeters to join his spray protest that targeted, in no particular order, vaccines, lockdowns, abortions, trans folks, gay marriage and a clump of imported conspiracy theories courtesy QAnon, I replied [and this is where it went terribly wrong], ‘Cookers yell at clouds day…’.

    Should have walked past. Didn’t.

    @geoffreyisright became quite cross with me. Replying in all caps, he insisted that I should confess my part in the ‘traitor’ Dan Andrews’ treacherous innings in the big chair, the planet’s shadow government that put him and ‘all commie flunkeys’ in positions of power, the ‘secret’ contents of vaccines that will cause us all to zombify on a particular day [Monday, 10 October], and why it was raining today if the climate was ‘allegedly’ getting hotter and drier. He also had some insightful offerings on gender and sexual identity. He thought them ‘bullshit’.

    He was coming for me and I had no place to hide.

    So I replied with: ‘Going out on a limb here,
    @geoffreyisright. Guessing you have ‘done your own research’ and no matter what I say, you will continue to flap about in the paranoid, doom-laden, conspiracy-ridden, empty-think shallow end of the pool.’

    On reflection, that might flag a need for me to stay away from Twitter altogether, or, at the very least, seek some professional guidance as to where boundaries might lie. 

    1. @geoffreyisright immediately blocked me.

    Sunday night

    His name is Craig. When he says it, as he does a number of times, it sounds like Crek’. He talks about himself in the third person, as in, ‘Crek needs food today’.

    Two more things on his talkage: he has a lisp and speaks very quietly. Just above a whisper. This because if he speaks too loudly his words are carved up by his catarrhic coughing fits. Craig smokes 30 cigarettes on a day when he’s not even trying. Forty when he is. That’s around $350 a week. Craig loves to smoke. 

    Craig lives behind our New Suburb renter. His is a shack. Strapped to its back end with wire, string and hope, is a wide lean-to facing the fence we share. The lean-to is five strides deep and about 25 wide. It is full. There are tools alongside fridges bulging with food, bought but never eaten. There are tables strewn with doodads, collected from here and there and never ever discarded. Over there, racks of books – door stoppers bought from op shops by the kilo – lined up like the village library. Craig is a voracious reader of the output of mediocre scribblers. When he is not smoking, he is reading. A particularly engrossing bit of tosh allows him to do both.

    Grimy glassware salvaged from pub clearance sales spills from cardboard boxes ruined by insolent weather. A bar resting on bricks displays a complete range of ‘acquired’ spirits of varying tide marks. The bottles, never poured by Craig, are almost black from the greasy smoke that spews forth when he fires up his preferred cooking device – a barbecue resting on stacked besser blocks with a cooking surface of criss-crossed reo. He fuels it with whatever in his yard needs burning, enhanced by injudicious splashings of flammable liquids. It has never been cleaned, the goo from a thousand incinerated steaks providing extra tang to the nightly grisly feast.

    Craig lives alone. He prefers his own company, but occasionally will begrudge us a visit for a decent feed that contains vegetables, something he has never understood the need for. 

    But that’s not what he wants. Because he lives mainly in his own echo chamber, Craig has developed a worldview that is somewhat skewed. He always brings to the table a random series of outrageous proclamations – often sexist, sometimes borderline racist and, from time-to-time, the odd full-blown nutjob conspiracy theory which he offers packaged in a pitchy defensive bluster. 

    He does this to test his place in the world. 

    That’s when Bestie steps in and gently works him over with a bit of a reality check. Which is precisely what he was after in the first place. 

    Craig was at our table tonight. You can tell because it’s the only time we dust off an ashtray. He makes immediate use of it. Within twenty minutes there are three butts lined up and a burner perched on its edge. He is downcast and twitchy.

    ‘I’ve been tweeting,’ he offers. ‘Not as me. God no. I use my middle name. Geoffrey.’

    Bestie takes a deep breath, looks at me, and raises her hands and eyebrows in unison…. 


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