“Next Stop Fassifern!” – the tinny recorded voice over familiar on NSW public transport heralds insistently.
The quiet carriage is mercifully quiet as we trundle past abandoning manufacturing yards filled with rusting stormwater pipe and graffiti-tagged concrete drains. The marshland interjects itself reminding the people-folk that their reclaimed land – rehabilitated for housing developments after mining – has depleted the earth of all that it deems useful. The mounds of coal sits in piles. The train glides by a steel works, still operating from the looks of a couple of workers in bright yellow button downs.
The bushland shows its history. The old rusty stock floats decay in the yards of tumble down weather board homes with detritus. The odd fibro piece or a rusty wheel rim litter the yards. A goat is tied up on a long rope. Maybe it is meant to eat the grass. The land tells its story: a fire came through here recently. Maybe last year. The charred and blackened bark and telltale brown leaves testify to the scorching heat, yet the green shoots show the possibility of renewal, of group, of life.
The lady who was knitting in the seats across the aisle – pretty blue & pink & white skeins – has fallen asleep, intently, with her needles clutched in her hands before her. She nods in sync with the side to side movement of the train carriage. We cross rivers and go by roads with names like “Stingaree” and “Maclean” and “fishery point road.” We pass by Gosford and Woy woy and Cardiff. There’s something peaceful about sitting amongst the old ladies and their papers and knitting.
Public Transport is expensive and, outside of Sydney, irregular. Being within a kilometre of a couple of different bus stops actually puts me in quite a good position for catching buses – relatively speaking. I certainly miss being up the hill from a bus stop where there were up to 7 buses an hour heading where I wanted to go – oh for the town bus which took me to my office within 10 mins. Here I’m doing well when it’s once an hour.
It’s been 12 months of catching the blue and white buses. “All day, please” I force through an attempt to smile. It hasn’t always been pleasant, but it hasn’t been all bad. I’ve had bus drivers help me find a lost laptop, bus drivers take me a block further late at night so I don’t have to walk so far in the dark, give friends and I a free trip because he worked out we were catching the bus to church.
But I’ve also seen all manner of bodily fluids. The smells from the bodies of other public transport passengers can make you smell funny all day. I’ve witnessed racism on numerous occasions, I’ve heard and seen bullying by young people of other young people. I’ve seen the effects of drug use and alcoholism. I’ve seen the challenges faced by teenage parents who catch the bus with children in strollers, and talk loudly about how hard it is to negotiate Centrelink and what it’s like to take care of their little ones. I was present on a bus where the driver had to call an ambulance for a passenger who was badly taken ill with chest pain. Another passenger said that in his time on the buses he had witnessed a woman go into labor and a man have a heart attack (obviously not on the same bus). He described it as a microcosm – the cycle of life exposed to the willing observer on a daily basis.
Public Transport is indeed a microcosm.
I’ve seen communities caring for each other, more often in the poorer parts of town. I’ve heard their chatter as they ask after each other. Litter and objects may be strewn about those streets but there’s no doubting that the people, in their banter, look after each other.
Living by the sea has been an educational experience. Especially so if you grew up a good five hours from the ocean, like this girl from the bush. Oh sure, I was taught how to read waves to find rips on those twice yearly visits to the ocean but nothing can prepare you for the sounds, smells, and strength of the ocean waves and ocean breeze as a daily experience. I fear it means that I forget sometimes just how close to the ocean I live, until the smell of the salt air or the roaring sound of the waves on a rough day remind me.
The sound of the fog horn booms through the afternoon air irregularly. No matter where I am in the inner city I can hear it’s acoustic rumbling. Just as the sound of the early morning kookaburras remind me of Canberra, and the train whistle in the early morning hours takes me to Waco, the fog horn will be a significant sense memory of this port city.
Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. You can follow her adventures on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. For more domestic things take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.