The Nudge I Needed
“It’s grown a millimetre,” he said. “We need to look at chemo and radiation. I’ll book you in to see the medical specialist.”
My heart stopped, and I didn’t hear anything else the relieving doctor was saying to me. I sat numb in silence. At sixty-one years of age, I’d been living on my own for almost twelve years, aside from a few short relationships. Panic set in, and it surprised me when the first thought that came into my mind was that I hadn’t done my around-Australia trip yet. It was my motivation, my turning point. I was at the crossroads. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I knew which direction I was going.
I had been on this journey for some time. A small cyst had been discovered in my brain a few years earlier during a routine head scan for some eyesight difficulties.
“Unfortunately, I can’t put a needle into that area to see if the cyst is malignant,” the doctor had explained. “The risk is too high. If I’m one millimetre out, you’ll die on the operating table.”
He must have seen the look of horror on my face, because he had quickly added, “It’s most likely benign, and you’ve had it for a while. You may even have been born with it. We’ll do scans every six months.”
There was nothing I could do. Fortunately, I had no symptoms, so the best thing for me was to get on with my life. I was good at that, pretending that a problem was not there, escaping or running from it. I kept busy and consoled myself with the knowledge that it could be worse and that I was more fortunate than many. Then, every six months, I fronted up to the hospital for my Valium tablet and a twenty-minute scan in the tunnel of the dreaded MRI machine, desperately listening to the relaxation music playing in the background. There had been no change in the cyst—until now.
It surprised me that my immediate thought was about my around-Australia trip. Driving around Australia had been a dream of mine for a very long time. From a young age, my parents had always taken me, my two brothers, Roger and Paul, and my sister, Anne, on regular family holidays. Initially, we would camp in a tent along the Murray River near our Albury home, and we would relax, fish, and sit around campfires. At other times, we would camp on the river banks of my auntie’s dairy farm, where I would collect river stones to use as plates and cutlery while playing mothers and fathers with my cousin Joy. When the dairy cows sometimes popped their heads into our old canvas tent, we would all laugh and chase them away.
I was blessed to have a very happy childhood with a large extended family and many family get-togethers. Mum and Dad both loved a simple, family-orientated lifestyle, and Dad in particular loved being outdoors. I am grateful that they taught me to love Australia and appreciate the Australian bush, its people, and its simple way of life.
Over the years, I became intrigued with Australian wildlife and learning native bush skills. I would know that when I saw the first kookaburra arrive in our yard, that meant that winter was on its way, and when I saw the kookaburras leave and fly up to the cooler mountaintops, it was a sign that summer was coming. But it was more than that. The appearance and behaviour of an animal, would often have meaning for me, and bring me a message. When the kookaburras would break out into laughter nearby, they were reminding me to have a good laugh at myself and not be too serious about life. There was so much to learn in the bush, and I was an eager student.
Later, our family upgraded to a small four-berth caravan that took us on many memorable beach holidays, yabbying in outback New South Wales, and fishing and camping along the banks of rivers, lakes, and dams. We also took it on a few trips to northern New South Wales. To get there, we had to drive through the big city. I remember Dad intensely concentrating with his arms outstretched and hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel of our car, as he towed the caravan through the busy city of Sydney to go north for our school holidays. We all sat frozen in silence, not game to say anything, praying that he would get us safely through the traffic, and he did. A true country man he was, not a city man, but he did it. He did it out of love for his family and love of the Australian bush, even if it meant that he had to drive through a city to get to our bush holiday destination.
My parents’ passion for Australia, its natural wonders, its diverse people, and way of life was cemented in me forever. Once I left home for university, Mum and Dad travelled with friends in a small plane all the way around Australia. Their trip had sewn a seed within me, as it then became my dream, to one day drive all the way around Australia and experience what it had to offer.
It was during a family holiday in a caravan park in south-eastern New South Wales, that I met my husband. Once married and with a family of our own, I tried as best as I could to teach our daughters what I knew about the Australian bush, and we enjoyed many simple family holidays, initially in a tent and then in a caravan. I wanted to nurture in my own children a love and appreciation of the simple things in life, like I had experienced when I was a child. There was nothing more satisfying than enjoying a few sausages cooked on the open campfire in the Australian bush, away