We booked the one-hour local aboriginal cultural tour at 16:00. It was a circuit of 5 minute explanatory stations: how different seeds were collected, what colour ochres were used, displays of central Australian spears and boomerangs (different to the designs we were used to in Western Australia) and examples of bush tucker, which included live honey ants and witchety grubs. The sun was beginning to set and the wind was picking up into big, long gusts. Flies continued to buzz about and tickle my sideburns. Our guides, Christine and Peter, recited succinct interpretation scripts which were easy to follow, gave concise information and allowed for questions. If only other museums and cultural experiences we’d been to developed content which such precision toward the target markets!
This morning we woke before dawn. I gritted my teeth and resolved to stop giving Daniel free reign to book all of our holiday activities, or at least more closely scrutinise the options presented to me for sign-off. I had thought myself clever when I figured out Dan’s method of getting me to agree to a slightly expensive option – accommodation, flight, transfer, activity – by giving me three options: the first cheap but terrible, the second the slightly expensive but much better than the first and the third ridiculously expensive and out of our price range. Of course I’d chose the second, middle ground option. It was the best of three! I now have to add to the approval criteria: 1. Does it involve waking up before lunch time? 2. Does it involve snorkelling or any boat? 3. Do I need to wear shoes? 4. Why is there no alternative where I can sleep in, not put pants on and not get seasick?
We forced ourselves to eat some protein, low energy carbohydrate and omega 3 fatty acids while avoiding high energy carbohydrates as we’d not yet been physically active. At the resort reception we met our tour guide and the bus driver, a full sized tour bus for just us two. Nobody else had booked the full Kings Canyon Rim Walk. It’s billed as a 3 to 4-hour Level 4 hike around the canyon rim, best started at dawn before the sun and heat closed the walk. Our guide, Marcus, was literally joyous that he had two youngish fit-looking men to guide, instead of geriatric hip replaced women. He bounded up the first hill, and we kept up, though I started to wheeze and wished I’d packed Ventolin. We did the entire walk, completely with rest stops, short divertissements to see ancient fossils and a wild waleroo, in 2.5 hours. We got back in time for me to log in to the free wifi and absolve myself of almost 24 hours cut off from the internet. Nobody had noticed we’d been missing. Nothing important had happened.
Our guide spoke botanist and geologist jargon but translated to common names as well. He explained the feature film, Priscilla Queen of the Desert (I think I was 16 when I took Dad to see it), had filmed on location and the V-shaped formation ahead was known as “Priscilla’s Crack”. We took photos. We saw three fossils, including one of the first land-life form from something like 450 million years, just exposed to the sun and rain and erosion of passing tourists. Where the star and constellation descriptions had made me feel physically insignificant by the scale of stars in our galaxy alone numbering more than grains of sand on our planet the timescale of the canyon around us made me feel temporally insignificant: we were standing on the top of a 60 km thick centre of a tectonic plate that was sedimentary rock formed from ocean beds, fossils in which recorded life from the transfer from water to land.
I was surprised to see the broken sandstone was almost white inside: the gorgeous orange-brown hues in the sunrise was actually just staining and dirt. Should Daniel’s Aunt Mandy come by with her mop and scourer (we paid her to clean our kitchen last week; I had no idea the sink strainers could shine metallic ever again) the whole canyon would resemble the Taj Mahal after cleaning. It was like looking at medieval churches in Europe, the black air pollution staining previously white rock.
The bus took us back to the resort and I read a few more chapters of my book and had a nap.
Dan drove us from Yulara to Kings Canyon today, about 300 km and 4 hours according to Google Maps but we got there in 3 hours. I offered to drive half way, after rousing from a nap in a fit of sneezing. I’d like to think it’s because of the dust but it’s a head cold from run down with lack of sleep. Daniel played A State of Trance and I levelled up in Candy Crush, before reading more of, “The Bone Clocks”, another incredibly confusing novel by David Mitchell. Our cell phones picked up reception two or three times on the way and I’d receive updates on WhatsApp from the former Toronto Breast Fellows group; Supriya is at a conference in Goa on breast imaging with several former fellows. Sounds like Anabel is there as well.
We woke early to repeat the central Australian tourist daily ritual: get up as early as possible to get to the hiking location and hike before the sun gets too high in the sky and the walk is closed due to high risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and death. I really did not want to wake up. Selecting foods appropriate for our 12-week Metabolic Precision lifestyle change was not difficult, as the range was appropriately varied. I felt sad not to indulge in a hot croissant with butter and marmalade but we’d not just exercised and it wasn’t time to eat high-energy carbohydrates. I ate scrambled eggs with mushrooms and tomato and a slice of dried-out bacon instead. I forgot to have a Krill oil capsule.
It was a short drive West of Yulara to reach the multiple domes of Kata Tjuta. The hike was rated as Level 3 and Level 4 in difficulty. After having rolled my ankle (and torn my anterior inferior tibiofibular ligament) hiking in Karijini on a Level 3 descent into a gorge I was cautious. Dan traipsed off ahead like we were in customs at Heathrow; without a backward glance he was quickly far in front. I carried the backpack. We had about 6 x 600 mL bottles of cold water, protein shakes, grapes (A$12 a kg!) and two small tins of tuna. There were no toilets. The flies were few. The sun was warm but not hot. The wind was gusty.
We hiked the Valley of the Winds two both lookouts, but not the full circuit. Achieving everything on offer is no longer important to me, but Daniel suffers from Fear of Missing Out. I quite happily offered to take the blame and be the reason we did not hike around the entire circuit. I refused. Thankfully Dan wasn’t super keen. We passed a very large school group, that caught up with us at the second lookout. One teenage girl exclaimed, “We aren’t going back that way are way? Because if we are, I will literally cry!” I unsuccessfully hid my laugh at her outburst. Going back was easier than going forwards. They had 7.3 km to go; we had 3 km.
I have probably missed observing a lot of beautiful forest in Canada, frozen landscape in Iceland, gorgeous gorges in Karijini and many other things in life because I focus on the path in front of me and don’t get distracted by my peripheral vision. By comparison Dan managed to drive to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta with his head turned 90 degrees to the right, exclaiming, “Look at THAT!” I would look up from my ebook, heart in my throat at the very real possibility of a terrible car crash ahead on the road but see nothing except solid white lines and bitumen into the distance. Meanwhile Dan has noticed an eagle or another view of Uluru peripheral to where he should be paying attention. On the hike into Walpo Gorge Dan saw a perentie. It was a juvenile and trying to cross the path. We took photos. Non-English speakers hikers did not understand our excited mime-explanations of “There is a LARGE LIZARD next to the path!” One woman walked past, looked back and shrieked.
We reached the Kings Canyon Resort at 15:00. I’m not sure what criteria qualify the use of the word “resort” but in the Northern Territory it so far equates to “remote and expensive but still the bathroom mould smells like a sewer, so close the door”. We’d booked an inclusive package which the Duty Manager seemed to know nothing about when he checked us in. When he gave us our key and began to close the check-in without any explanation of our Dinner Under the Desert Moon, Kings Canyon Rim Walk at 06:30 tomorrow, how we redeemed our included breakfast, lunch and dinner at the restaurant or booked the local Aboriginal experience I returned to the car, retrieved the itinerary our travel agent had provided and thrust it at Dan to liaise with more civility than I could muster.
There were two other couples at the Under the Desert Moon dinner tonight. Just like our last two nights we found the conversation with other tourists was easy, and continued beyond the usual “where did you travel from?” and “where will you go next?” Superficial identifiers. One couple, in their 70s, were from Brisbane but had flown via Darwin to Alice Springs, drove down to Uluru and had spent 6 days there. The second couple, from Melbourne, were going to support their son’s choir tomorrow in Uluru, and had let their three daughters in the resort restaurant, only mildly concerned about the chance of encounters with a dingo. We had seen a dingo under a picnic table on the drive over. It was hot and I felt bad we hadn’t found it some water but, according to the signs here and tonight’s chef’s explanation: they’re wild animals and feeding or watering them changes their behaviour and dependence and is punishable by a $77 000 fine.
Must sleep early tonight. A 4-hour hike tomorrow around the rim of the canyon. Why do I keep forgetting this is what happens when I let Dan organise our travel plans!? Thankfully there is no snorkelling with wildlife this trip.
Daniel had the unrealistic expectations that we’d:
- Wake up before dawn.
- Traipse around the entire perimeter of Uluru (over 10 km).
- Not get burnt alive by the searing central Australian sun and then eaten by flies.
In reality we:
- Slept in (until 7, which as we’re in a different time zone was actually waking up early at 05:30).
- Joined the 1 hour 1 km Ranger-guided Mala walk.
- Eventually decided walking around Uluru under the midday sun was not worth the kudos of the achievement when the car had both air conditioning and shade.
- Took some great photos of the permissible areas for photography.
Two days ago I messaged my specialty college (RANZCR) on Facebook, after having noticed yet another medical specialty college post a press release of their board’s support of marriage equality. The AMA gave public support 20 May 2017; they’ve run member surveys for months. My friends in Emergency Medicine, Critical Care, Physicians and then even the bloody obstetricians and gynaecologists were all able to share their specialty college’s social media statements. My college was completely silent on the issue. It hadn’t been raised at the recent state AGM (a three-hour meeting on a week night) so would the Board even be on top of it? I asked whether the RANZCR board had an opinion, expecting the answer to be, “What?” or something along the lines of the Carlton Football Club, where explicitly not supporting is exactly that: not supporting it.
I waited 2 days without any reply. The RANZCR Facebook account in the interim posted an update on the Annual Scientific Meeting coming up in October, for which I really need to finish my talk on placental imaging. Most disgruntled with indignation that I hadn’t even received any response I thought back to lunch time conversation on Monday, sage advice from a senior colleague, to a junior consultant about a perceived malign from another department: “Expect incompetence, not malice. Nine out of ten times it will be incompetence.” I am a Facebook Admin for the private practice where I work and patients infrequently will message requesting appointments, or direction. We always reply within the hour, even if it’s a redirection to call the office during office hours. I considered that at the recent state AGM only 5/24 present were female and 1/24 present was living openly in a non-heterosexual relationship (me); we probably don’t have a gender or diversity policy let alone a media release for a current political topic that all the other colleges were publishing statements about. I’d probably caught them on the back foot. Maybe they just weren’t even checking their Facebook account.
I resolved to write an offical letter along with suggestions for possible solutions, just as soon as we were back from circumnavigating a giant rock (and sacred Aboriginal site) in the middle of the country. As we heard our Aboriginal (Queenslander, not local) guide explain why the climbers descending the rock were being disrespectful to the local people I fumed at the disrespect of having been ignored on Facebook for 48 hours. I’m a half-white Australian so maybe I was just feeling a loss of privilege and needed a bit of perspective. I swatted the flies away. The strangers we met last night at dinner were all clamouring support on hearing that we were married in Canada three years ago. I needed to conquer a metaphorical rock in my path. I didn’t have to climb it to do so. As the signs say, “Look and listen.” When we got back to the car, and back into cellphone range I had a notification of response from my college, the President and CEO (not the board) have finally issued a media statement and it was also in support:
We didn’t get back to the Visitor Centre to sign the register of visitors that Did Not Climb but I’ll use my free time now to email the Tourism Australia to request that we invest in alternatives to climbing the sacred site. We didn’t climb over Stonehenge or the Parthenon.
We arrived in Ayer’s Rock markedly sleep deprived. Thankfully our room was available just before 3 and I crawled into bed and passed out for two hours. Our travel agent had booked us “A Night at Field of Light” – an experience upgraded from coach transfer from hotel to the installation to include a buffet dinner under the stars and a brief star-gazing experience. We enjoyed the spectacle and, surprisingly for me especially, enjoyed the table conversations with complete strangers. Next to Dan was a mother and daughter from coastal NSW, on a hard-worked holiday trip but where each had very different and conflicting expectations of the holiday. Next to them sat a heterosexual older English couple from Newcastle. Next to them and on my right were two British junior doctors, currently working in Cairns, on a mid-week break. When I told Sam, the JMO on my right, that I am a consultant radiologist he literally shook with fear and awkwardness. It was like he’d been sat next to an executioner. Past experiences requesting imaging had not been pleasant and now he did not look forward to dinner. I hope we made up for it.
The installation met expectations: standing in a field of fibre-optic lights that gently glowed a range of colours. The cooling night air alternately wafted by punctuated by gusts of hot air. We spent the dinner batting a range of bugs out of our drinks. Small flies, dragonflies, a cricket and a few moths.
The stand out of the night was not the amazing food or the generous drink pours. It was the star gazing experience. Keera, our guide gave a well structured presentation that was audience targeted, stayed on message and did not vomit up exhaustive information volumes. Instead she opened by explaining the theory of the Big Bang, the current perspective of Earth to the Milky Way, then orienting a few landmarks, stars and constellations. The mood was light, spoken in an Aussie drawl and peppered with so bad they were good jokes. Keera shone a torch at a star. “That’s Alpha Centauri. It’s 4.3 light years away so its light takes over 4 years to reach us. It could have died but I still get to talk for the next 4 years. Talk about job security. Over here, that’s East-ish…” Sagittarius was the best: the arm, the head, the arrow and, over here is meant to be a horse (torch light criss-crosses a segment of sky).
Early to bed tonight. Circumferential walk around tomorrow. We also had “Sounds of Silence” dinner booked which, I’ve just read, is the same dinner we had tonight, but without the additional walk around the lights! We booked the same thing twice. Oh well.
I don’t remember the last time we took a red-eye flight. One of many disadvantages of living in Perth is that there is no direct flight from Perth to Uluru. For this long weekend we decided to visit an Australian site, one that every Australian probably intends to one day visit, but never actually gets around to it. Daniel booked the flights: overnight Perth to Sydney, a four-hour limbo then a flight back West to Uluru. Thankfully our minimum bids to upgrade to business were accepted and we’ll get to lie almost horizontal and sleep after take-off. Today Radiology published my second Canadian fellowship research project. Daniel’s 94-year-old grandmother’s Marriage Survey postal forms arrived (mine still haven’t). We watched another two episodes of a new TV series, Harlots, then caught an Uber to the airport. One more hour and I can sleep.
It’s been a long week. We spent the weekend at consecutive family engagements and I’ve been rostered in CT reporting every day except Tuesday. Somehow scrolling through thousands of consecutive images per patient demands disproportionately more concentration than single-image plain films. And, of course there’s the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey and the “respectful debate” of public mud-slinging. Part of my evening unwind is to check Facebook and Twitter updates, see what family and friends are up to and watch pointless videos of cats or worms. This week I’ve had to close my laptop and put down my phone because of the inescapable off-topic and increasingly aggressive opposition to the question of marriage equality in Australia. I regret ever moving home.
The desktop pot plant of cacti and succulents I made a few weeks ago is not dead yet. This is great because I frequently forget to water it. The fern is almost dead, despite Dan rescuing it from the window sill.
I keep making the mistake of reading the comments, and replying. I feel I should stand up, if not for myself, for those who can’t. It is futile. Even when somebody writes, “I’m asking a genuine question nicely…” my best attempt at politely pointing out their question was based on a huge generalisation based on inaccurate stereotypes it quickly is met with, “They are being feral… they love the word ‘stereotype'” I was being polite. I wish I had been feral, to deserve the accusation. I don’t know how politicians and celebrities have the stamina to stand up every day to constant negativity. It’s like attempting to negotiate with the Borg.
I am curious that most supportive colleagues at work repeatedly give unhelpful advice, much like suggesting a cancer patient try a new fad diet, or a grieving person to “cheer up”. For instance when I voiced sadness and frustration that my carefully selected online social media (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) was repeatedly linking to distressing tangential arguments to the issue of marriage equality in Australia the immediate response is, “Well have you tried not checking Facebook?” Of course I considered that. Then I considered that telling a woman who was raped while jogging in the park not to go jogging in the park blames the victim for having put herself at risk. The problem is the environment and society. I’ve un-followed or blocked content and people that I find needlessly hurtful. I don’t want to isolate myself by going offline completely. It’s like picking at a scab; impossible to resist.
Daniel doesn’t seem as glum as I feel today. He’s been busy with work. I’ve been busy with work too, but I suppose not busy enough to continue working throughout the evenings. I’ve stopped playing World of Warcraft. The gameplay has changed and the group of friends I used to play with have dispersed, moved on or died.
We’ve decided I’ll take a month of Long Service Leave next June. It’s a little exciting to plan an around-the-world trip. We’ve made time this weekend to catch up with friends and family. I’m so glad we have so many supportive friends and family. We’ve really needed them this week.
It’s September. I’m not sure what happened to the year. Is this what getting old will be like? Working one Christmas and thinking, “Oh I must get that thing on my list of Things To Do done in the next few months…” then blinking and it’s September. I have no idea what I did for my birthday. It was months ago already. Today I fly to Melbourne, for the weekend, a very privileged thing to do. As a child I was allowed A$20 a year to purchase shoes, we weren’t poor but we couldn’t afford to travel interstate. Now, after spending half my life studying towards a well-paying job, I can enjoy the teasing of my colleagues that I’m “never at home”. It’s true. Two weeks ago I went to Brisbane for the weekend, to join Daniel at the RWA conference. In three weeks, we’ve booked a trip to visit Uluru. I’ve lived in Australia almost all of my life and I’ve not even visited the sacred rock in the Red Centre.
Life at home in Perth has become both comfortable and intolerable. On one hand we’ve spent even more money on the house, purchasing the largest couch known to man and I finally assembled a desktop succulent/cacti pot plant for my study. Our home has become even more homely. On the other hand the Liberals announced a postal survey about marriage equality and the very vocal, rabid and hurtful opponents have gleefully splashed about and confused the issue. I know I’ve become tired of the tattered political football the request for equal recognition under law has become; I thought it would all be over while we were overseas but instead the Prime Minister ate onions. I told my GP I was at times struggling to cope with the daily barrage of twisted negative opinions. Australian marriage laws have nothing to do with procreation and fertility. My Friday procedure list is not booked out with HyCoSy to confirm tubal patency and fertility assessment pre-marriage licensure. Infertile heterosexual couples are not prevented from marriage in Australia. My grandfather re-married with much support from family and friends but nobody shoved a speculum up the bride’s vagina to check her post-menopausal uterus could bear more children as a prerequisite to walking down the aisle. When I voice my despair at the lunch table, with my well educated and well paid colleagues they miss the point. They don’t perceive the injustice that I feel, they rant about how marriage isn’t relevant to them, so why is it important to me? They placate with unhelpful reassurances that, “It will happen.” So does death. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be soon. At least I hope to live a long while longer. I am about to board a plane and I’ve become increasingly terrified of flying (ironic, now that I’m Platinum).
In the Uber to the airport I wondered why I invest so much effort to maintain a respectable professional online presence. I never spoke up about vaccination. I didn’t want an angry anti-vaccination zealot to cause a fuss and report me for voicing opposition. Yet now the first televised “Vote No!” advertisement has a Sydney GP, who promotes conversion therapy. She’s still registered with AHPRA and still practicing. If her actions have gone without consequence then I’ll post my views publicly too: Vaccinate. Vote Yes.
It was a last-minute decision to travel to Hong Kong, for a 2-day intensive breast MRI course. Flights were available; there was space on the course, and I could get leave. Daniel didn’t want to take more time off during the week, so I brought Mum instead.
Day 1 Lor Mai Gai
The Grand Hyatt Breakfast Buffet provides a delectable selection of Western and Asian foods for breakfast. We had lor mai gai.
We arrived very late, as our plane was initially delayed overnight, then diverted to Bali after a medical emergency. We had time to walk outside into the 30 degree humidity and explore.
Mum’s directions are similar to Daniel’s Mum’s idea of following signs in France that read, “Tout directions”: we turned and turned and walked in circles but eventually found food.
The cab from the airport to Hong Kong island was almost HK$400 and, unlike every other country, didn’t accept credit card payments.
We stayed at the Grand Hyatt, behind the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre. The view of the Bay is gorgeous, except when it’s raining.
The course was well catered. There was a Nespresso coffee machine available throughout the day.
We caught the star ferry back across the Harbour. It was humid.
On Saturday we caught up with Freddie. It was good to see her again so soon.