Push

Nearing the end of my three months in Katherine, NT, I had the crazy idea of riding my bicycle on a 60km journey to Katherine Gorge and back — this is coming from the most unfit person ever. Totally inexperienced, I got a flat front tire only a little while into my journey, and without a puncture repair kit.

I decided, young and unthinking, to push on instead of turning around and going back. So I pushed and pushed my bike, up and down hills on a seemingly endless highway that led me on. Asphalt beneath my feet, surrounding me was mostly just grass, and nothing much else. But along the way I dropped into an isolated farmhouse, into a tourist helicopter pad, and an Aboriginal village that came my way. Rose was a nurse who happened to work in Katherine Hospital whose husband ran the farm and had an air compressor. Neil was a young man looking bored behind the counter by himself who fortuitously could find a small air pump amongst other random stuff in the storeroom. This Aboriginal village — I don’t know why it had an air compressor, but it definitely did, and thank God too. The Aboriginal man who helped me operate the compressor (and I can’t remember his name) didn’t smile or talk much, but it was ok. Each time with my tire filled, but not patched, I would ride for a short while until it became flat again, then pushed, and pushed my bike until I found my next help.

In retrospect I must have pushed for almost 20km in the noon sun with 2 litres of water in my backpack. At the time though I had absolutely no idea where I was, how far more I had to go, or whether I would be able to make it at all — I just pushed, and pushed, for hours. And I learned, amongst other things, perseverance. Just pushing on.

In the end I reached the Gorge, intact. It was a good feeling. When evening came later, I took the bus finally back to Katherine, and with the manager’s permission I could carry my bicycle along too.

I remember a few things from that day.

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When the world was ghastly shook with news of the tsunami in Indonesia in 2004 and the earthquake in Sichuan, China in 2008, I counted my blessing to be living in New Zealand, tucked away safely in a tidy corner of Earth’s colonisation.

Many other natural disasters continued to occur throughout the world, of course, and I later crossed the Tasman Sea to move to Australia just after the earthquake in Haiti hit in early 2010. It was then the anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires that licked up a huge part of Victoria the year before. People were recounting the horror stories over radio.

Then the major floods in Queensland happened only a thousand kilometres from where I was staying, followed by Cyclone Yasi sweeping the northern parts of the same state. This time I had actual friends and people whom I knew who were in the area. Cyclone Carlos followed shortly after to hit Darwin in the Northern Territory — and I have only just been to the place earlier in 2010! The photos in the news were scarily familiar — yet now barely recognisable with the flooding, fallen trees and flattened houses on places that I have just stood in not too long ago.

And then the earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand, just yesterday, this time levelling the city area, catching all of us completely off-guard. My two brothers are there, and it was amazing to hear their first-hand experiences of the hospital blacking-out, being evacuated, and the general destruction of the city. It is unthinkable to imagine Christchurch without the century-old landmark buildings now — the day surely is history-changing.

I was flicking through my phone’s text messages when the earthquake happened, and the happy text messages only from a week ago of a friend finally finding a job in Christchurch, and of my brothers inviting me to play a game online together with them, suddenly seemed so distant and irrelevant now. Oh how things can change in a blink of an eye.

It is amazing too how these happenings seem to be getting scarily close both on Earth and in heart — in neighbouring states and in places I have grown up in. It is even more frightening, however, to think of how I can turn my eyes away from the news, walk along streets of Melbourne suburbs and immediately so easily get hypnotised by the calmness here.

I can’t help but to think it is not evitable that a disaster will strike my location one of these days. It almost feels like a guilty conscience! When and how would that be? Would I have a family of my own at that time? Who knows it will come when I least expect it.

It crossed my mind that if someone said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” again, would it make more sense now? It is a crazy time we live in these days, how far is this going to go?

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Alright, to nitpick, the toilets were somewhat dirty and the nights were freeezing, but the atmosphere was totally vibrant, the people were amazing and the culture was so rich!

We had a fantastic weekend camping three days and two nights at the Barunga Sports and Culture Festival. To be able to participate in one of the most significant celebrations of Aboriginal culture, art, music and sports is such a privilege – it is something I will remember (for a while).

Two days later, at least three of the eight of us came down with a head-cold (yes, I am one of them). Sore throat and runny nose. Good times.

Here are some photos:

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