Sunday, October 17, 2010

At Ease Between Wars

The motor cycle fires and misfires, hesitates, surges ahead, misfires and splutters. There is nothing wrong with it, a new 1948 BSA Bantam. The fault is in the petrol. In all this drought-stricken Mallee, the inside of a petrol tank is the one place that a traveller can be sure of finding water.

I stop to rub my bruised kidneys. The corrugations of these roads are as constant as the orange clouds of dust that rise behind me into the cobalt sky.

Up ahead sits a gallon drum turned sideways and mounted on a fence. A mailbox. Somewhere beyond those trees will be a farmhouse with a corrugated iron tank to the side. The farmer will not deny me some water, however I will not be able to tell whether the grim tightening at the corners of his mouth is in resentment at sharing the precious stuff, or whether it is his normal expression which will grow on any face should it struggle long enough out here.

These are soldier-settler lots.  Dry farms. One of these men, leaning against a red-gum verandah-pole and wearing that grim look, complained to me that he was better dressed when fighting The Great War. “And look at me now!”

Each man I meet out here seems to envy my BSA. Perhaps, as he watches me ride away, he fancies that it is him leaving a trail of dust. One morning he will just up and throw the towel in. And away he'll ride.

But of course he doesn't. And I do. I am at ease between wars. The last one was public - explosions, newsreels - but the next will be private. I have not seen it yet, it is an occasion up ahead for which I am making.

In the meantime this Bantam two-stroke shows me the country. When, that is, the petrol has not vaporised in the carburretor, the spark plug has not fouled, and water is not condensing in the petrol tank.

Perhaps I will not settle. Perhaps I will buy a big Triumph twin and remain at ease. Letting other people fight the battles which I no longer believe in.

No comments:

Post a Comment