Clarence River – June 2010

You don’t have to travel far out of Brisbane to feel like you’re in the country. Take the Mt Lindesay Highway through Beaudesert, and there you are. Rolling hills, dairy farms, and typically improvised country architecture. The occasional odd coloured house – purple, aqua, pastel blue, a more common sight in a beach town, somehow dislocated. An enormous, twice extended undercover area attached to a farmhouse becomes a shed minus three walls. And on the road, the quintessential bucolic driver, riding the brake, grossly under the speed limit. These are not drivers who have accidents. These are the drivers that cause them.

The highway wiles and wends its way through the Great Dividing Range, passing north of the Mt Lindesay plug (pic). This section of the Mt Lindesay Highway is very windy – you won’t want to be in a hurry!

After Woodenbong, the next major town, and the last town before our destination, is Urbenville. Urbenville is decidedly un-urban. A small town: a clutch of dwellings, a newsagent cum gift store, a general store, a petrol outlet, a small hardware store. We happened upon the newsagent, after a newspaper, essential material for starting the fire in our Clarence River cabin.

The ‘newsagent’ – rather overstated in the case of Urbenville – provides a selection of typical newspapers, and magazines which develop the female mind: New Idea, Women’s Weekly, Dolly and Cleo. For those wanting to maintain mental activity, there are several editions of That’s Life and other puzzle books. In Urbenville, this is the centre of local knowledge. Stories are shared, some under muted whisper and past the back of fingers. The unexpected bonus was ‘Glad’ [not her real name], who seemed to be the owner. Glad wore a fleecy top, track pants, a cigarette, and a hacking cough. Face riven with years and tinged with nicotine. Hair, died badly red, grey regrowth and tied back, almost severely. The shop was permeated with Glad’s second hand smoke. We guessed that staying too long would mean the presence of Glad would be taken with you for the remainder of the day.

An electronic bearp, another customer: “Does anyone know where I can get any kittens?”

The shop assistant calls across the shop and down the hall to Glad, who is sitting in a not terribly easy chair, watching TV, “Glad, do you know anyone who’s got any kittens?”

“Anyone who’s got what?” rasped Glad.

“Kittens! Anyone who’s got any kittens! You know, little cats.”

Glad’s cough axes through the room, and then. “Nope. No idea…”

“Sorry, no idea who’s got any kittens” announces the shop assistant, with no thought to the superfluity of her words.

“Orright then, thanks” says the customer. And that was the end of it. Why anyone would be asking about kittens in an Urbenville newsagent did not seem to matter.

We left, with our newspaper, thinking about Glad. Wondering why she doesn’t think about presentation, the impact of all her smoke on anyone who walks in, and so on. Our thought was, that’s just how life is for some. This is their life. A day to day, hand to mouth movement, making just enough money to stay ahead. And we thought of how it might have been. An inviting shopfront, a few chairs, some good coffee, and no smoke. Any visitor would still get all the information. They could buy the paper, the magazine, the map, whatever, and they also would be met with a small oasis of life, even in Urbenville.