Anzac Day With a Difference!

When you’re living in lockdown, one day merges into another. We only go out for grocery shopping, for work, for medical appointments and for exercise. Even medical appointments are increasingly being done by phone or video link. When we do go out, we combine trips and get as much done as possible. At home we’re renovating, gardening, cleaning, cooking, working from home. Even the burglar is having to kick in his own door as he also works from home…

We share jokes and, despite isolation, we are connecting as never before by phone, via social media and the new hero on the block, Zoom.

With the pandemic shutdowns and the need for us to remain apart from one another, so much has changed. Big events have been shut down. The Royal Easter Show in Sydney was cancelled, which is a huge thing. Various large open air festivals were cancelled. Vivid Sydney is cancelled. Our choir was to perform at Ironfest in Lithgow — yep, cancelled. Our Writers Unleashed writers festival in August — we pulled the plug on that, too. Monthly open air markets — yep, you guessed it. The child is bored and bound by our gates. She has tidied her room and helped with the gardening. What next? Time to get crafting.

Painting Flanders poppies made from cardboard egg cartons.

With Easter cancelled (and Orthodox Easter the following weekend) it all seems eerily quiet. Even ramadan, beginning today, will be quiet and celebrated apart. We drive (when we must) through empty streets, we wear home-made fabric face masks at the shops.

But Anzac Day — what will we do?

A blurry pic of a previous Anzac Day, people gathering for the pre-dawn memorial. Not this year…

Every year since 1916, there has been a celebration of sorts of Anzac Day. Other countries are also involved every year. At Gallipoli, the peninsula on the Dardanelles in Turkey where the Anzacs first landed on 25 April 1915, our former enemies the Turks are now allies in celebrating not just the Anzac spirit, but the hope that the ‘war to end all wars’ will never be forgotten, never to be repeated. In France they remember the Anzac spirit, often every day in some places. This year we will miss this, around the world people are staying home for their own safety, and that of their communities.

The last time the Anzac Day marches did not go ahead was during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919.

So far, 2020 is shaping up as the year of cancellations. But not Anzac Day.

True, the marches aren’t happening. We will not have the crowds lining the streets to watch the returned servicemen march past. When I first watched this on TV, there were still WWI veterans marching. Now there are so few WWII veterans left that for those remaining, 2020 could be their final year.

But there will still be the televised Dawn Service from the Australian War Memorial. And we are still celebrating in our own way.

Cardboard poppies for Anzac Day.

Tomorrow morning at sunrise, many Australians will go to the end of their driveway to observe the minutes’ silence. Those in the community who play the bugle or trumpet ‘tolerably well’ have been encouraged, by Australia’s most famous trumpeter James Morrison, to stand at the end of their driveway and play the Last Post.

We got the child making Flanders poppies from egg cartons. It was a family effort. This afternoon we put them on our front fence.

Our memorial fence.
‘Remember today… for it is the beginning of always.’ We will remember always.

Whether we get out to the end of the driveway for the minutes’ remembrance, or watch the War Memorial coverage on TV, we are sure we will hear our village bugler as the sun rises over our ocean.

Nobody will sleep in this Anzac Day!

The Ghan — Through the Red Heart of Australia

As I gazed out of the train window at the red earth, the lapis blue sky and the grey spinifex, as I felt the searing heat of the 40C day, I was once more reminded of how difficult it is to dream up the fifteenth century winter of the novel I’m working on.

Writing on the Ghan — there was more room here in the lounge
but my only accessible power point was in the cabin.

Trying to sleep for the first time ever in a train sleeper carriage was challenging. Despite sleeping with ear plugs, the sounds of the jolting and buffeting of the carriages seeped into my very bones. I had chosen to swap ends of the bed so I could be near to my phone and watch, so I could see the time in the night without needing to turn any lights on. Our eyes adapted to the dark and even in the desert night, no habitation anywhere, the sky outside was not pitch black. And when the moon rose, we could see even more.

The turn-down service in our cabin happened while we were at dinner in the Queen Adelaide restaurant on board.

We had no concerns about privacy from outside the train, so we raised the blind and let the night sky in. As a result, I could watch the sunrise from my bunk.

Sunrise from my bed on the Ghan.

Our bed was comfortable, if narrow, but on the whole the cabin was cramped. We had to take turns occupying floor space. However, since most of the activity took place in the lounge area and the restaurant car, we had no need to seclude ourselves. The bathroom was a tiny appendix to our cabin, there was absolutely no room for more than one person. However, you could use the toilet and wash your hands at the same time. At one point I sat on the toilet lid to wash my dress in the sink, then washed myself with a wet washcloth and soap.

To shower, you made sure the bathroom door was closed, then you pulled the shower curtain around to cover the door and the toilet. All clothing had to be left outside the bathroom to keep it dry. There was a sealed cabinet which could hold a towel, and a small soap dish beneath the tap. A quick shower was recommended. I did find that showering on a rocking train was a challenging experience, but after a few hours in an off-train excursion, any way to shower was welcome. It was still so hot that after I washed my dress, I simply put it back on, wet. Even though the train was blissfully air-conditioned, I did not feel cold. My dress was dry fairly quickly.

I was unable to write in the cabin, the space was too restricted. But the lounge was ideal. Every so often I would glance up at red earth and spinifex rushing past the window. However, errors do creep in when the train is rocking.

Arriving in ‘the Alice’.

We had three off-train excursions. I’ve already described the Nitmiluk tour and the drive around the town of Katherine. The next morning we pulled in to ‘the Alice’ and we all disembarked. Once again we’d had different trips to choose. Some went for the aerial views while we chose the local wildlife park. Searing sun, flies and humour. Even for us seasoned zoo junkies, this little place had some unexpected treasures. Have you ever seen a baby bilby up close? It’s a cuteness overload, with its long pink nose and rabbit-like ears. All the animals in this place were native to the area, although too many were only to be found in zoos. Programs trying to release these vulnerable creatures back into the wild are being thwarted by too many feral predators.

Free flight show at Desert Park in Alice Springs.

Each off-train trip lasted around three hours, while the train was serviced. All except the last trip, which was late at night, at a siding in the middle of nowhere. We all piled off the train (those of us wanting the chance) to explore the ‘outback experience’. They had set up a large bonfire for us, but in the hot weather nobody wanted to sit too close. Besides, the light from the fire was spoiling our night vision.

Once our eyes adapted to the dark, we could see the night sky with far less light pollution than we get in the city. We still had some light pollution, of course; mostly people who did not know how to turn off the flash setting on their camera. If you’re taking a photo in low light, and the photo is NOT of something nearby, turn off the flash, people! Do you think your camera shutter is going to wait for the light from your camera flash to return to you from Proxima Centauri (over four light years away)? All the flashing was doing, was interfering with people’s night vision. However, we could still see the stars well enough for me to fall into Banjo Patterson mode with Clancy of the Overflow.

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

And at night, the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

The Ghan in the desert night. The train staff supplied glasses of sherry and Bailey’s as a nightcap under the stars.

All too soon, we had to climb back on board and settle for bed.

Next day was our last on board, and, as we approached civilisation in the morning, we had to be more discreet about getting showered and dressed with the blinds open.

While at brunch the Ghan went through a very tight turn and it was possible to see both the front of the train and the back, at the same time. Here you can see the engines through the window.

We had time for a leisurely breakfast and a chat in the lounge with our fellow travellers. The very long train (the longest passenger train of any regular service run in the world) was to be split up into two sections. Each of the sections had their own lounge and dining car, so we sat and swapped travel stories until we were asked to return to our own cabins for the final arrival.

Two of the Ghan staff who looked after us so well.

Farewells were brief as we collected our large bags (not permitted in the cabins, due to space restrictions) and moved on to explore Adelaide.

A new city awaits!