28.12.2010 - 03.01.2011
The Christmas break brings out the best and worst in Australians. It is the first holiday of the year when the city dwellers [80% of all Australians] are unleashed on the countryside. There is a kind of spring fever in the air, schools are out, and it is party time. The tradition is to go camping and the campsites are packed. All of them. In National Parks, in forests, on the coast, in the hills, you name it.
They resemble refugee camps; a sea of cheap canvas and humanity, together with their kids and clutter. If you ignore the inhabitants [who are mostly too well fed], the only difference to refugee camps is the smell of sausages cooking which is noticeable from kilometres away. More reminiscent of say Africa, is the smell of “long drops” [field toilets, no more than a pit with a toilet seat] where the contents were piling up in blowfly topped pyramids approaching the rim. It seems ironic that people leave the city in order to find the great outdoors and end up crammed together in these conditions.
I was reduced to camping along remote country roads for much of the time.
In this part of Victoria there is a little village called Dartmoor, well away from the coastal chaos. I liked the name, as I had spent some happy times on the original Dartmoor in England in a previous life, so headed that way. There was still some room at the free campsite, although the noisy kids and dogs were a nuisance, especially when they had parties where the teenyboppers played the most inane pop music imaginable for hours and hours and the adults pretended to enjoy themselves in order to be the “coolest” mums and dads.
But ultimately I did not mind, it was good to see Australians enjoying the great outdoors, a family tradition continued through generations. A time to have fun with your parents, brothers and sisters. I saw very few glum faces on both grown-ups and kids and it often put a smile on my face too, when I saw them playing together. They have a go at most things; fishing, swimming, playing cricket, lighting campfires, hammering in tent pegs, chopping vegetables, baking potatoes, taking the dogs for a walk or just watching the other campers, like me.
The seaside towns of Victoria have suddenly come alive. I watched daddies launch their shiny new powerboats; boat trailers littering the foreshore. Opalescent squid were being sliced up at the fish cleaning stations. A group of young children looked on in amazement as the large male fur seal balanced on a rocky shelf to catch some scraps, blinking in the bright sunlight. The elegant female twists and turns in the water seductively, hoping for a few crumbs from the fat fella’s jaws. These wild creatures have become tamed by regular feeding and you will find them in most towns on the southern Australian coast. Even the Pied Cormorants are within arms’ reach in holiday season; whereas they are usually quite shy.
It may be holiday season but it is still not warm for me, having recently arrived from South Australia. The banners and Christmas decorations flap in the stiff, cold sea breeze. It seemed to me that this, the southernmost part of mainland Australia seldom gets really hot, for the countryside is very reminiscent of Europe. The flat bits are like Holland, with long windbreaks of poplars and farms located at regular intervals along straight roads. The hilly bits are more like England’s rolling downland. Paddocks are green and dotted with black and white Friesian dairy cows. I drove past several dairies and cheese factories. Even the weeds are European; Dandelions, brambles, thistles and hawthorns everywhere.
Port Fairy must be the most popular destination in the whole of Victoria. It is a pretty, historical village once the second largest port in the state apparently. The harbour is located in the mouth of the river Moyne and I really wanted to have a good look at this place so tried my luck at one of the four caravan parks.
It was like moving into an inner Melbourne ghetto. There must have been a thousand sites and the other campgrounds are of a similar size, so the locals, if they’re not extinct, are outnumbered by ten to one at this time of the year. Strangely the town itself was not overly full, the families with small kids preferring to laze about in and around the campsites.
There was a festive air about the place and I enjoyed the atmosphere immensely. They were proud of their Irish heritage in this town and I watched a Gaelic band playing in the park. Some children were showing off their Irish dancing skills. After a day exploring on my bike I sipped my pint of Guinness outside an old pub in the evening sun and transported myself to a little place in Ireland...
It was New Years Eve and everybody had been talking about resolutions all day. On the radio, on social networking sites, snippets of conversations around campfires. I began to think about mine; what would it be? It became a process of elimination as the clock ticked towards midnight. I listened to others or read them online. No, I did not need to lose weight or put some on; give up smoking or drinking. I did not feel as though I needed to give anything up or start anything new; perhaps a little tweaking here or there, but not so much that I needed to make a resolution about it.
I was baffled by the notion that resolutions should be made at this particular time of year. I make resolutions nearly every day, sometimes breaking them or modifying them to suit the changing circumstances. Why not make that a resolution; to reflect and make a resolution every day? Also it struck me that resolutions were in most cases about self improvement, which is good but why not turn it around and think about ways to improve other peoples’ lives?
It was nowhere near midnight but I could think of nothing better than an idea which had evolved from the week before, when I was feeling rather down. I had been reflecting about my failures in life and needed something to bring me out of depression. The resolution became almost absurdly simple and not particularly revolutionary; you all know about it:
TO MAKE OTHER PEOPLE HAPPY.
Making other people happy, makes me happy.
If I’m lucky and live until 85, I have only got another 24 years. That makes every year, month, week and day precious to me. The realisation of how transient our lives are [whether someone believes in an afterlife or rebirth is irrelevant to me, because I do not] gives me the impetus to make their day, and will consequently make mine.
It will shape my behaviour when I communicate and interact with people. I’ll smile at them and engage them in friendly, meaningful conversation. A conversation like that can lift peoples’ mood in itself and can lead to further ways of bringing joy. Even those that show initial surprise at my actions may benefit from a little determined happiness. Obviously I will know when not to press those happy vibes too far; it can be inappropriate and even provocative in the wrong situation. I will not be a martyr to the cause. [Sometimes it makes people happy when I leave]
The value of a resolution is in its sincerity and I have tried to apply it to everyone I have met since the New Year. Of course I am in the fortunate position of living a stress free life, which makes it easier. It has led to very positive developments including much less depression for me. Try it!
From my journal
As I was walking to the bush dunny looking left and right at the families enjoying themselves. I heard a shout and saw a man raking in his winnings from a blue plastic groundsheet, which served as a card table for his family. A woman was sitting amongst the players and she was looking straight at me with interest and curiosity. She was about 30 metres away so I was surprised she had even noticed me amongst the crowd, from that distance.
I gave her my first full-on, genuine, resolution smile of the year and she immediately responded with one of her own. Her face lit up and we connected intimately for a brief moment. She looked so beautiful in a timeless motherly way, as though sharing with me her pride and joy in the wonderful family surrounding her. The warmth of that smile will stay with me for a long time and this small incident had a profound effect on me; heralding in the New Year and the rest of my life.