A World Ablaze
Finding myself in the desert.
My first encounter with the ancient inhabitants of this timeless land was during that first summer in Robinvale picking grapes for a farmer named Jim. Many years later, I still often refer to it in conversation. I could still see that extended family group of Aborigines of all ages, from a silver haired and bearded elder to small children in their mother’s arms. They sat silently on the fence, and it seemed strange, that such a large group of people did not chatter one to another as they rested, sheltered by the shade out of reach of the hot afternoon sun.
Little was I to know then, that I would spend some of the most memorable times of my life conversing with them and learning from them the value of keeping silent when one has nothing important to say. I realised through their example, long before I studied psychology that there are other means of communication, preferable to the often deceptive yapping of meaningless syllables we Europeans so frequently tend to indulge in.
And when I came face to face with the desert, I also met some of the natives living on its edge. Like I myself, those I met were also working in the railways. Some of them were Bahá'ís like Rosalie and her family. My wife and I sometimes visited a young Aboriginal couple with three small children at Carrieton, where they too, had a house provided for them by the South Australian Railways. They were one of several families living right next to the line on which they were employed. The ladies talked, mainly about the children, while Jack and I went out hunting for kangaroos. Alas, we did not even get to see one. Nevertheless, and luckily for me, the Carters having anticipated our arrival, already had one in the drip-cooler.
It was my first taste of its meat. It was a little under cooked, lean and tender and very tasty. I relished it then and continued to enjoy it whenever I had a chance. I often said that it is better, than the best venison served in any restaurant of Europe. Rosalie, who was born in Australia and like most Australians who were born here, did not share my enthusiasm, especially since the meat at that particular time and place was not as thoroughly cooked as she’d prefer it. Rosalie did not eat very much generally, and on this particular day she ate even less.
Having met and married Rosalie in Adelaide, in time, although I was not born of this land, I learnt to appreciate its unique charms by looking at it with my spouse’s gentle patriotism and through the subtle warmth of this love I began to discover for myself the soul of this timeless continent. At times when the hot desert wind blew it was almost as if it was God’s own life-giving breath enkindling and burning my own soul.
Some of my happiest years were spent living on the very edge of the desert. Going out with the kids at first with Mark, then with his brother David. (David himself was born at Peterborough, South Australia) to get dried out wood for the stove and for the chip heater in the bathroom. We often made a primitive barbecue on bits of rusty tin we would find in the bush. We propped it up on stones while we sat down on the rocks or on fallen trees next to a tiny creek under the shade of a huge gum.
Mark was the cutest little boy one could imagine. There is nothing in a man’s life that exceeds the value of the unabashed admiration and warmth of his own little boy, who takes part in and tries to imitate everything he does. An unending flow of questions about things one haven’t at all considered, or for years never thought of: questions about everything and anything.
-Why is the sky blue?
-Why is water wet?
-How do cows make milk? Etc. etc. etc.
Rosalie and I decided shortly after he was born, that he needed a playmate, but it was not for two and half years after Mark’s arrival, that our second son, David, also made his entrance to this world. He was big when he was born and liked to sleep a lot. Once he started walking, he too eagerly “gave a hand” gathering wood for the fire and getting some tinder-dry gum leaves to get it started for our barbecue in the bush.
I worked mostly from a one-man cabin with just enough room in it for a built in wooden seat, that some thoughtful person cushioned with leather padding stolen from a railway carriage. There was a telephone attached to the side wall that was used to tell the Signalman which way was the train coming from, and my job was to go out into the “Yard” and “set up the road” for the trains come down on. I had a couple levers outside to operate the “sticks” (signals) just outside of my little cabin.
An open steel brazier in front of this rather primitive structure provided some warmth on frosty winter nights. The wee hours in July-August were sometimes so cold, that I simply had to put it inside the one and a half square meter shack and shut the door to stop me from shivering. The slow thaw out that followed, was giving me so much pleasure, that I really did not care much at all about the possibility of falling asleep and and even dying from carbon monoxide poisoning from this flue-less stove.
At work I sometimes experienced such terror that the blood seemed to freeze in my veins, when a train drawn by a huge Garret (steam engine) thundered down the rails at much more than the permitted maximum speed, on the “road” I previously set for her among the hundreds of wagons parked on other tracks. There was no interlocking (safety equipment) at all: I had to be absolutely sure that I turned all the right “cheese knobs” (switches) in the right direction or else, there could have been a nasty accident It did happen to poor Claus DeMoor, a chap about my age. He did not check the switches on the “Passenger” and ended up having the Broken Hill Express “off the road” right in front of the station. Claus could take either the lectures that would be sure to follow, nor the humiliation. He went home leaving everything as it was never to return.
Another, at another time sent the same train, the “Express”, the most important of all, to the good shed on the opposite end of the yard. Nevertheless, despite these moments of anxiety, I loved that job. On night shift, before the crack of dawn the air was often filled with the fragrance of cinnamon rolls cooked in the town bakery. The job also gave me a chance to enjoy reading - that is, between trains and the switching on and off the warning devices over the road crossing for the Shunter.
Things have been stationary in Peterborough for decades. Railway towns like this were among the first to catch the malaise of the Australian countryside. It resulted in a weakened condition that made time in country Australia stand still, while the masses, immigrants from overseas as well as Australians who were born in the bush, were pouring into the big cities.
Caused mainly by a lack of employment opportunities, the younger generation in the bush had no other alternative, but to leave the place where their parents and their parents’ parents lived and to try their luck in the “big smoke”.
Although I, even after this experience, spent most of my life living in a sizeable city, I always remembered the years spent in the heart of the land as some of my best. A place where after many years I began to regain my faith in the One who is often forgotten in the big cities, but Who always lives in the deserts. I rediscovered Great Being there in the solitude of the desert and made my peace with Him in the midst of hot sand as I walked on little used tracks, surrounded by sun-baked hills.
I often went further out into the desert country to Cockburn just on the South Australian side near Broken Hill or to Manna Hill. I loved that country and loved the delicious, generous serves of country cooking in the hotels where I stayed at, with all expenses paid by the railways. I was particularly awe struck by the country near Yunta, where I often worked in a little railway siding called Paratoo. After my long, up to twelve hours shifts, I would go for a walk towards the hills and see the outline of mountain goats standing perfectly still on the rocks. I would frequently meet with mobs of up to 30-40 kangaroos, quietly grazing in the shadows, without showing either fear or recognition of me, a human being invading their territory.
There is nothing in the whole world that compares with a walk alone through the desert country. The sand under my feet was sometimes so hot, that it could be felt through the sole of my runners. In front of me there were the seemingly endless plains, dotted with marble-like stones and embraced by a wreath of rocky hills. The whiteness of the quartz gave the impression of an endless graveyard, as if during the eons of time monuments were erected to the species of animals and people who lived in complete harmony with all, for five hundred centuries.
I dreamt once that on these plains embraced by the rocks once stood an ancient city. It was as different from anything I ever experienced, as if it was on another planet. The buildings were of rocks, rugged and appeared solid and enduring, suggestive of a community life, the values and practices of which were in essence similar, but also different in its details from settlements of all other cultures as we now know them. It was not long after my dream that I read in a newspaper that traces of buildings and occupation by an ancient people, dating back fifty thousand years, were discovered by archaeologists excavating in the same area.
To the right and left then ahead of me, as I walked on, the outline of sheer cliffs could now be seen. They reached half-heartedly, as if exhausted from the heat, towards the vivid blue skies and sweltering Sun. They were like lovers of truth reaching towards a heaven of unreachable ideals.
The quartz crystal rocks on top of the earth resembled graceful monuments of white marble for the graves of aeons of darkness and of light. An infinite process from the age of the rise of time and matter, from the dawns of infinity until the end of the endless cycles of births and of deaths...
I wondered about the myriad forms of ever-changing fauna and flora over eons of history, the fossils of which lay buried here. I pondered about lives and possible varieties of plants, of beasts and of men as they struggled for existence, thriving, declining, perishing, persisting, recharging and revitalising. They survived and became stronger, wiser and better.
Each time they were cast in a more perfect form as they evolved with the passing of the trails and trials of time. I thought of the One Who planned, guided, fashioned, moulded it all, with mysterious processes set up in an unfailing and perfect sequence. I was awed by the manifest might of the giver of light and of that infinite love that makes possible the rearing of giants like the dinosaurs, whales, pre-historic marsupials and primates, finally reaching the present, our time: the day that still promises a continued progression towards infinite perfection of creatures of all types. All this and a myriad more mysteries for the sons and daughters of men of this generation and their future descendants.
Everything around me was still. It was as if the infinite powers that I could sense, laid dormant around him, were restraining their powers, holding on tight, building up pressure, until they could be finally unleashed, released, unfettered in raging, razing desert storms, with mighty gusts winds blowing, spinning, throwing about tons of sand and dead plants...
Here I was, on the plains of Winninowie, at a deserted little railway siding in the middle of nowhere. It is an unknown place: I who is mere speck of dust in a little known land, the continent of Australia, on one of the smallest planets of the solar system, a minor planet orbiting a mediocre star called the Sun, in the galaxy of the Milky Way of an infinite universe.
-Would it be here? Could it be here, that after so many years, that I was beginning to feel God among a group of houses left long ago by their forgotten tenants?
There were no longer any traces of those who once lived here and the shifting sand, have been undisturbed by human beings for some years now. The cottages built of concrete, wood and galvanised iron now stood empty like a dried up flower arrangement discarded on a dump by some finicky sweetheart or bride. With their windows nailed up, they appeared to be both deaf and blind as if they attempted to preserve themselves against all odds and braced against the hammering onslaught of merciless of desert winds.
Long ago I heard the story that these houses once inhibited by railwaymen and their families. There is nothing to do for a man who is not interested in anything else in the desert, but to exist in the world of matter alone. To alleviate boredom as much as the circumstances would allow it, there was only the numbing effect of alcohol. Otherwise, there are no distractions to make one forget the meaninglessness of an existence that is devoid of a purpose, other than material survival.
One often sees such houses on the old, now disused narrow gauge railway line through the desert towards Broken Hill. There are some adorned with mountains of beer bottles disposed of by the “head” of the household. Some were very creative with these bottles: they lined flowerbeds or the edges of paths leading to the houses, there were some who built their front fence entirely of bottles laid on top of one another in their hundreds, and there were others who smashed them against the wall or rocks in their anger against their fate, themselves or towards others whom they blamed for their troubled life and unrelieved frustrations.
There is a feel of God in the desert that everyone senses at some level. Some in the peaceful state of mind welcome this others try to kill it with an alcohol induced numbness.
The story about these cottages was about a man of the latter kind. Adding to his feelings of futility, was his wife. His drinking to excess, caused him to be less and less sensitive, then brutal towards those around him, his wife’s love for him transformed at first into a feeling of concern, then gradually soured into ineffective nagging, that was hurtful to both. It was a tragic and futile attempt by her, to try to stop the man she once loved from destroying her, himself and their marriage. This was the unfolding of a tragedy: a time of indescribable suffering. An ordeal indeed, because she was so far away from her own family, that she became completely dependent on him, her once loving husband...
One day in a drunken rage he turned on her and shot her through the head with the gun he kept in the house to shoot rabbits and the occasional kangaroo or wild goat. They buried her somewhere in a desert town, at a desolate graveyard in the bush and took away her husband to a distant gaol in Adelaide. And that was the last anyone ever saw or heard of This tragedy spelt the end to an already struggling little community: No one took the chance of meeting her ghost that was said to be haunting the neighbourhood of her house. They left, deserting the cottages, leaving the little siding and station unmanned.
The wind began to blow now, slowly at first, then it gathered strength. It was whining, whistling among the dangling telegraph wires between decaying, wooden posts. The sound they made were like the wailing and the screams of her lost soul. As if she was talking to me, - the only human being alive and present on the scene for forty miles. She was relating her story, the sparse joys and many hardships of their lives, while they lived together, here in the desert. I felt her pain and I lamented her hurts.
I was awed, and humbled by this feeling of both oneness and of absolute solitude, that seemed to overwhelm me. My soul was reaching and yearning for the silence beneath the roar of the desert wind. I felt wiser and older as I sat down under a stunted tree: A weary human being among the rocks and like them I too, began to reach towards the unreachable Strangely, perhaps it was there that I first felt, after many years, at one with God and His creation: One with the Beloved, the one and only God, the God of all religions, the God of this country, this continent, this planet and this Universe. We were alone yet we were together: The universe and its God, the rocks and the sand of the desert and the man who came from another continent, me: in my subconscious search of finding myself...
Beyond the music of the wind in the desert I thought I could faintly discern an ethereal symphony. “–Is this the symphony of the universe?” A sense of peace previously unknown to me descended upon me and time stood still.
Darkness Before Dawn
"The victim of any action that is less than good is ultimately the whole human society. I intended the title for this novel to be somewhat shocking and attracting maximum attention, this why I initially decided on the title "Killers in the Darkness", for the second book of this trilogy entitled "Lights and Shadows".
But after all things were considered, important as it is, mental health issues are just one of the many sets of problems we are facing. There are other wrongs to be righted and above all, there is always hope. Although the world still seems to be enveloped in darkness there is hope. After the darkest nights there is always the rising of the Sun that will illumine the world with light: hence the new title: "Darkness Before Dawn".
I always had this nagging need to become a more useful member of human society. In keeping with my ideals I had for many years, and a I as a Bahá'í must be a servant of all, who works for the good of mankind, I felt that I must use my God-given talents somewhere where I could make a real difference. Being an ex-refugee, and without help from anyone, I was unable to complete my education in order to become either a doctor or an architect, or even an engineer as I would more than preferred.
To top all this my wife Rosalie and as well as myself loved to hear the patter of little feet, and before we even realised we had ourselves a rather big family. So my options to further my career were rather limited and, it seemed that this might be my only chance to make something of myself - I became a Psychiatric Nurse and I had a ball! Sometimes the dreams you may have are not as important as what you will do with what is possible for you.
This book among other things as you may expect, touches on the topic of mental health. It is one that needs to be considered by all people of good will and common sense. My purpose was to bring forth loud and clear the the story and the plight of both the victim and the assassin. Both are victims of processes less than good."
Rainbow at Dawn
But to the other half He did not see, He gave them nothing. They were condemned to wander about, not welcomed by anyone. Having no livelihood, some took to thieving and other crime and they were loathed by everyone. These people were the Gipsies, whose descendants continue to wander about in many countries and between countries, cursed by some, feared by many, as well as envied for their freedom and unbreakable spirit.”
The Gipsy Anthem
Let God's mercy be upon us
our people have suffered enough
You cursed, punished & made us
Into ever wandering nomads.
Green are the hills and the forests
our luck comes and vanishes
You cursed, punished & made us
into ever wandering nomads.