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Saturday, 7 June 2014

A day trip to Brisbane

Distance can remind us what is important. For example, yesterday I decided in the early morning to go to Brisbane to see the galleries so I got in my car, filled it up with petrol, and drove the 100km down the highway to the capital, where I parked under the gallery. I ate lunch in the cafe next to the library and mooched around finally ending up in the bookshop in the Gallery of Modern Art where I bought a book on Rauschenberg and one on Francis Bacon - this latter purchase a gift for my daughter - and then headed down to the State Gallery where there was a collection of watercolours on display.

The watercolours all showed scenes of Queensland and dated from the earliest colonial times to the 1950s. The thing that struck me about them is the temptation on the part of the painter to depict the atmosphere. There were dark, cloud-hung views of the Glasshouse Mountains, a steamy, blue view of Moreton Bay with a schooner making way, and an overcast sky above Brisbane and its potent river. I left the gallery, returned to my car, and headed back up the highway. I had only been in Brisbane for about an hour but it was enough to remind me that I belong at home with my mother, that we have a symbiotic relationship, and that it is only with her that I can be at peace. Even though I only spent a little time in Brisbane the sensory overload was too much; there was too much to see and to do.

Usually when I go to Brisbane I visit the bookshop in town but not this time. I felt full with happiness as I headed back north with the traffic making patterns around my car and the road streaming out ahead like a banner signifying rest.

On the way down there had been on the radio a discussion about how to commemorate war and it featured a man who spoke about service and how, instead of inane, knee-jerk celebrations of war we should rather give our time in service such as in a nursing home. So maybe my time looking after my mother enables me to feel what those men long ago felt about the wars they served in. Giving time to someone else in service is a kind of brake on ambition, it slows you down, you are tied to a large, immovable object. It grounds you. It defines you. It also gives you time to dream, though your dreams might be imbued with a substance as slow-moving and dark as the Brisbane River. I walk through this substance and breathe in its essence.

When I returned home yesterday I felt better. It was where I belong, among my books, with my kitchen, and with the routine of meals and phone calls that punctuate and give form to my days. Days that pass one after the other in stately procession. Days of hope, days of small joys, days of quiet despair.

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