South Grafton has a main drag full of fine buildings suggesting they once had a gold rush that lasted a week. One grand survivor styles itself as an Emporium. They do rugs, spices and have a quaint old thing called an Internet Cafe whose sign proudly notes with fine abbreviation '(incl. Wireless)'. They also do double espressos, good ones; which is great for an addict like me. Coming back from the Newcastle gigs last weekend I stopped at the pool in Grafton proper to feed my other addiction: swimming. That complex has a diving pool; with fixed and sprung platforms. Old school class! But the Year 10 kids running the kiosk didn't know what an espresso was and thought they were ripping me off serving me such a tiny cup. 'Don't you want water?' they said. Their heads exploded. Urban career options presented themselves in an instant of coffee knowledge.
Apart from this, I know little about Grafton other than its pride in the jacaranda. Driving around Australia is to be reminded how little we know of our own country. Maybe I shouldn't generalise but hey we're spread so thinly across the surface of this place how could we know that much? Or maybe it is just me. So I zoomed in my ludicrous station wagon, a recently acquired, 4 year old Volvo, through big towns like Glen Innes, Armidale, Tamworth. If pushed I could declare a whole paragraph of knowledge on each of them. I'm a shallow tourist in my own land. I don't even know the names of the First Nations out here, not without checking and certainly can't speak the original languages. I'm a bit of a joke. Australian? What's that even mean.
Aiming for Dubbo to break the trip to Melbourne, I get off the highway and pass through smaller towns like Werris Creek which I remember as a stop on the old mail train. Does the train still stop there? It looked like an old encyclopaedia entry for 'dying country town'. If this was our Age of Innovation, the email hadn't arrived in Werris Creek. Just the other side of town I approached the scar of a quarry or maybe mine. The site was ringed by huge dead felled trees, grey torsos that looked aghast at their demise. Abandoned, no value in even logging them it seemed. I didn't stop, nor did an improbable grim faced cyclist in full Lycra heading the other way. How can you stop for everything that gets you curious, that might lead to knowledge of some kind?
Within the hour the sun was setting, in a 'Australian' huge sky with salmon streaks through long cotton clouds, above a field of sunflowers with unexpected black heads. Next door was a coal mine. No mistake. There were protest signs about. This was farming land. Sheep and cattle. But the money was on coal it seemed. I was ignorant of the battle going in these parts. As darkness soon fell, a train surprised me, looming up, slowly, in the trees. The twentieth century on the tracks, dirty and analog. I overlook it then stopped to behold it, its familiar wagons full of black carbon cargo. It took five minutes to pass from earshot. This was just near a village called Caroona. Where? What? I stood there until the rusty couplings eventually left me in a quiet broken only by crows and crickets. Then I drove on to Dubbo, listening to Lucie Thorne and the footy. Swans won. Roosters lost.
Maybe all we can hope for is impressions, a knowledge of images, in the way we live in, passing through, this place. Or maybe I should try harder. A cascade of surface images will pilot me to sleep. And they'll return in the morning over a hardcore ristretto which I know you can get in Dubbo!