J’ai seulement l’idée que j’ai fait de me pour me soutenir sur des océans de néant
– Henry De Montherlant
It’s 5am. The great breathing ant nest that is Cairns is momentarily quiet in slumber. Within the hour the most intrepid holiday-makers will brave the comparative cold of 20 degrees in order to beat the rush to do whatever it is tourists do, and the city will respond to accommodate, or indeed, manufacture their desires.
At 130,000 permanent residents and at least half as many blow-ins at any given time, Cairns is no sleepy community. Its vibrancy is intoxicating and addictive, and you’re engaged from the moment you arrive. There is no casual observation possible here. Night markets bustle with trade in the same tawdry crap one finds in any market on the East Coast. Restaurants thrive on a proven combination of great food and crap service, and boats teem with punters keen to add the reef to the notches on their worldly traveller’s belt.
My room looks out over Grafton St – deep in the thick of backpackerville. Everybody is twenty, barely dressed, and speaking in an unfamiliar accent. There is an almost imposed air of informality about the place that is highly infectious. I’m glad I took the advice of a friend and left my suits at home. I have seen precisely one worn tie since my arrival three days ago, and the wearer would barely have stood out less if he was in a chicken costume.
As close as Cairns appears to come to paradise, however, there is a darker, seedier side that you won’t find detailed in the obligatory tourist brochure the motel provides upon your arrival. The imposition of alcohol bans in surrounding indigenous communities has driven the Murrays into town, where you can find them peacefully reposing on every other street corner, or haranguing the tourists for cigarettes, spare change, or just for the hell of it. The police drive vehicles akin to minivans, and one can’t help but imagine that they devote much of their time to rounding up and ferrying black itinerants back to their digs – well away from the public eye. The racism among white locals is palpable, and unfortunately not entirely unfounded.
Last night I dined at a Greek restaurant – the easy equal of any in Sydney. I ate crab, drank Greek wine, and generally made a polite pig of myself. I made the acquaintance of a gay Aboriginal artist who helped me polish off my bottle while regaling me with tales of personal travail and triumph. As far as hardships go, he has had more than his fair share, yet the unwavering tenacity of the man – his sheer joie de vivre in the face of compound adversity was truly inspiring. Unfortunately when the conversation turned to the plight of his impoverished kin he had few answers. He talked of ’empowerment’ a great deal, but didn’t really shed any light on how this nifty word would be actualised. I can’t really fault him. It’s not a question with a simple answer.
I had a similar experience earlier in the day when I wandered into the opening of a photographic exhibition. The photos were mostly beautiful, though a little centred on ecological sustainability. The author of the multitudinous prints was a dreadlocked ranga with a thin, but captivatingly beautiful wife of Hispanic descent. Their passion is self evident, as is the righteousness of their cause. They want to change the world, and all power to them. Sadly, they too don’t have any answers. For all the knowledge they have of individual ecological responsibility, their understanding of the corporate world is non-existent, and until multi-nationals start taking responsibility for their actions as corporate citizens, all the mud brick, grass roofed, self sustained shacks in the world ain’t gonna achieve squat.
All this rambling has a point.
Nah.. probably not.
If it did, however, it would probably be this; something has clicked in me since arriving here, and the Gibbot who returns to Sydney in a couple of days won’t be the same man that came here. Call it a priority shift, or an awakening (no, on second thoughts, don’t call it an awakening. That’s just too ghey). The first thing I’m going to do is re-string my guitar and see if I can’t coax some dexterity back into these stumps that supposedly pass for fingers. The second thing I’m going to do is settle down, with any luck find a girl who’ll put up with me and put down some roots. Then I’m going to use whatever meagre skills I possess to try to make a difference. I don’t have all the answers, but for the first time I think I know some of the questions that need to be asked.