52. Random Drops
If I come across a place I like and happen to have a spare bit of Brian on hand, it can feel like the right thing to deposit him there. These are not places on The List and it might sometimes be a stretch to find any relevance to the man, but I usually can manage a connection…
28 March 2016: Van Diemen’s Ice Creamery, Elizabeth Town, Tasmania
Brian loved ice cream. As the parameters of his diet kept shrinking he had to exclude anything too dry, too hot, too spicy, too grainy, too chunky or too chewy… and that just about left the throat soothing cool of ice cream. So when the SNOTs ate and drank their way around Tassie the chocolate / raspberry / ice cream delights of Christmas Hills demanded a visit – and we scampered to the call. After some serious sampling of the varieties on offer from the Van Diemen’s Ice Creamery (Pepperberry Leatherwood Honey – burp!) I waddled out to the garden to scatter him across some climbing pink roses. He had no fondness for roses – he’d enthusiastically ripped out the ones at home – but it was a beautiful resting place.
27 October 2016: German Memorial Fountain, Orleans Square, Savannah, Georgia, USA
When my sister Abby flew over from her home in California to meet me in Atlanta it was the start of a fantastic week exploring the Peach State together. Our formerly volatile relationship has settled down to appreciating the joys of our shared craziness and we had loads of fun, but we really wanted out of Atlanta and to see Savannah. We drove the 248 miles to the coastal city, stopping in at Macon and the Southern wiregrass town of Soperton, then lashed out on accommodation at The Stephen Williams House. While we’d never say no to its supreme hospitality and luxury, the maid standing to attention in the dining room and the history of the slave built bricks in our bedroom made us feel like we shouldn’t be enjoying our Gone With the Wind getaway quite so much. It didn’t all go smoothly anyway… our lack of breeding showed when the toilet overflowed and we were doubled up with laughter trying to corral the stray turds that went flying all over the bathroom floor. We finally had to call the manager, who turned up full of apologies and carrying a plunger – and wearing a deluxe bathrobe and cravat. Now that’s class. We wound up our time there exploring a Jewish temple and the brilliant Savannah College of Art and Design, then strolled through Orleans Square. When the impulse to scatter Brian took hold we obliged at its lovely fountain and though there were no bunnies present, a stuffed frog was plonked inexplicably on top of the spout. For some reason that just didn’t seem weird at all.
31 October 2016: Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
Brian would have loved the friendly university town of Charlottesville and its vibrant mix of students, art and history. Outside the C’ville Arts Cooperative is a colourful mosaicked bench made of sculpted polystyrene and covered in a variety of tesserae donated by local artists. Visitors are encouraged to photograph themselves on it for the gallery’s blog but I didn’t scatter Brian there in case there wasn’t enough of him for subsequent drops so he never got out of his little ziplocked bag. I propped him on the bench and we copped a few curious glances, but people probably assumed I was some earnest artist crafting a multi-sensory piece with all sorts of layered meaning.
From the beautiful old Dinsmore House where I was staying I could explore the campus and town by day and night – even in the dark pre-dawn with few people around it was not (subsequent white supremacist rally aside) a place to feel afraid. Charlottesville has great bars and eateries, priced to appeal to students, and the one called The Virginian had some significance to Brian. When no immediate spot suggested itself, I scattered him surreptitiously down the back of a bench while waiting for Loaded Potato Soup to go. Many of the drops have to be done on the sly but in a restaurant there was the added health aspect to consider. The Virginian’s relevance? Most of Brian’s final weeks were spent in the cosy back room where he slept in his recliner and I eventually moved a small mattress out there too. With his constant breathing problems he needed me close by but he also craved company so my day naturally adapted to follow his sleeping patterns. We were longtime fans of westerns and early morning programming then included one of our favourites, The Virginian. We got right into the corny cowboy tales and these were good times for us, just relaxing together and laughing and talking about nothing much… precious memories. I doubt I’ll ever get to the official Virginian Museum in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, so a bar and diner of the same name will have to do.
2 November 2016: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, USA
Political history was a passion of Brian’s and when my two day stopover in Alexandria didn’t work out as planned, I decided to take a short train ride to Arlington Cemetery to see the grave of John F Kennedy, a leader he’d much admired… especially his focus on civil rights and liberal vision with a drop of fiscal conservatism thrown in. I didn’t actually plan to sprinkle him anywhere near Kennedy’s burial site and assumed this would be impossible anyway, but as I got closer to the Flame of Remembrance my oppositional defiance (and the big hedge) inspired a “why not?”. Under the pretence of grabbing a tissue (a few visitors were dabbing their eyes) I retrieved the bag and leaned against the hedge, emptying some Brian into the prickly leaves as the tomb guard was looking in the other direction. I edged away but when I looked back the ashes stood out against the greenery like anthrax, though no one seemed to be taking any notice. Flown with success, I moved over to Bobby’s grave – Brian liked Bobby even more – and sprinkled him right in front of RFK’s footstone. There was a tiny bit of ash left so poor old Teddy – his grave didn’t seem to be of interest to anyone – got a light sprinkling as well. A guard started walking towards me but rather than bolt I walked up to him and asked some diversionary question. He just wanted a chat though, then told me to have a nice day and ambled off.
15 September 2017: Nea Kameni Volcano, Santorini, Greece
Just being on Santorini was enough of a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming experience but when Ken and I saw how reasonably priced were the day trips to nearby islets, well we owed it to our wallets to sail off to somewhere special. Forget romantic sunset cruises – here was a chance to climb a live volcano and even his gammy foot was on board with this option. The day didn’t start well… a mashup of vague directions and the country’s disdain for timetables had us on the wrong bus and being dumped a fair way out of town, then running/hobbling back to Mesaria to catch the right one to Athinios Port. Our cruise included an optional swim in the hot springs off Palea Kameni before we stopped at the almost barren Nea Kameni, where we climbed the gravel path to the rim of the 130-metre-high volcanic crater that is still steaming slightly, though it hasn’t erupted since 1950. It isn’t expected to pop again any time soon but as I mingled Brian’s ashes with the crumbly grey soil, I thought how cool it would be if it does erupt again in my lifetime. I’d love to know my dear old mate got to ride the lava.
On the island of Thirassia we lunched at Captain John’s, surrounded by pebbly beaches and the aroma of anchovies and rustic boatsheds with peeling sky-blue paint and it was all so truly Greek that the only thing missing was Demis Roussos warbling about his friend the wind. Back on Santorini, even though his foot was getting to the painful end of the day, Ken opted out of joining the crowds riding donkeys to the top of Oia to watch one of the island’s legendary sunsets. Big tick – I was so glad he didn’t feel right straddling one of those poor sad-eyed creatures… and yes, donkeys always do look depressed anyway but I can’t imagine that being expected to haul lazy-arsed tourists up a steep path would do anything to lift their mood.
20 September 2017: The White Tower and boardwalk, Thessaloniki, Greece
This city’s a corker and our Kinissi Palace Hotel was smack in the centre of the action. Thessaloniki lies “at the crossroads of human development between the Aegean and the Balkans” and the archaeological digs and centuries-old monuments sit alongside the modern-day bustle and nightlife. It also claims to be “the capital of Macedonia”… and conflicts over the rights to that M word have a background story that will do your head in if you try to unravel it. We learned more about its fragmented history later in the museum in Xanthi but for now just went with the flow and fell in love with the place and the people – enough that we booked to stay there again on our return journey from Lemnos 10 days later. I wanted to leave Brian somewhere near the huge Alexander the Great Monument as he seemed to share a lot of qualities with the A Man: leadership and respect, a taste for winning (Brian sometimes lost an argument with me… but then I can’t say I always play fair), and a strength of character that belied his lean physique. There was no viable drop spot around the monument though so I sprinkled some of him off the nearby boardwalk into the Aegean’s Thermaic Gulf, and also into an alcove on top of the city’s iconic White Tower. The 15th century Ottoman garrison was constructed to enhance the harbour’s defences, and was also used as a prison known as ‘the Tower of Blood’ – or Red Tower – until it was whitewashed, c1891, and renamed The White Tower.
24 September 2017: Fortress of Kavala, Kavala, Greece
Kavala was just as an overnight stop before boarding the ferry to Lemnos but it immediately rivalled Thessaloniki as our favourite (mainland) place in Greece. Its colourful buildings and harbour compelled us to take heaps of shots and our cheery Russian airbnb host Eva directed us to the town’s best eateries and attractions. At the archaeological museum we oohed over prehistoric finds from excavations at old Kavala and other parts of the region, and shuddered a little at the contorted depictions of not-very-fun-looking bonking on the unearthed pottery and wall art.
Wearing the consequences of Eva’s tasty cooking and our pants-popping lunch at Nemesis, we were inspired to climb Panaghia Hill to the narrow streets of the old town and explore its historic buildings, including the famous Fortress. Like many Greek historical sites the rambling structure, built with local granite, marble and bricks, has hardly any restrictions on where visitors can go and what they can touch. We roamed its polygonal tower and ruined walls and checked out the magnificent views from the courtyard, which encloses a modern open-air theatre where drama/music events are held. I don’t remember it ever coming up in conversation but I’m really hoping Brian likes castles (fortresses/acropoleis) as he’s now in several of them, including this one.
25 September 2017: Castle of Myrina, Lemnos, Greece
Our week on Lemnos was a chance to kick back and enjoy village life without the tourists – Lemnos is where Greeks go to holiday and its cruisey lifestyle was just what we needed. The clear blue water of the Aegean finally worked its magic on Ken’s foot and we were up for some serious walking. We explored the back road into Myrina and mostly un-named streets of Platy (the cabbie had such fun finding our airbnb apartment) and hiked up to the Byzantine castle ruins to find another suitable drop spot. I was so happy to be sharing part of my ash journey with someone who’d been such a good friend to Brian, and who had an imagination bent enough to appreciate that black humour was part of my grieving and meant no disrespect to my beloved husband’s memory. Which was just as well because apart from the standard sprinkle off one of the castle walls, I also left some ashes in a little cave where the goats obviously gathered to mate and fire out piles of their pellets. We’d been told there were hundreds of deer around the site but only saw the goats, beautifully feral and not at all interested in our mission. Attempts to goat-whisper them a bit closer were unsuccessful so we left them to their munching and pooping and made the precarious trek across a crumbling wall to the flagpole. The castle was built in 1186AD and despite our clomping tread, not nearly nimble enough for good traction, and a wind that was determined to blast us over the edge to our deaths, we survived to make the downhill hike back to Myrina undamaged… adding goats to the grizzlies, sharks, crocs, crabs, parrots and other wildlife that have featured so far in Brian’s resting places.
3 October 2017: The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
We’d been warned many times of the dangers of Athens and I was a bit uneasy about staying there… until we did. It presents all the challenges of finding your way around a strange city but we can honestly say we never felt any qualms for our safety – and we had the added pleasure of meeting and being adopted by Ken’s brother’s wife’s cousins, the hospitable Filitsa and Spyros and their beautiful and talented daughters, Maria and Eirini. And Mama – Filitsa’s tiny, turbo-charged mother who rained hugs and kisses on the very receptive Ken. Naturally the Acropolis was on our list and though we were assured there would have been many more people there in season, it was packed tight. This ‘most magnificent creation of Athenian democracy’ holds almost 2,500 years of fascinating history in its massive ruins and provides pretty impressive views all over Athens… but not many opportunities to stop and sprinkle a bit of my boy. There were signs asking visitors not to touch the monuments (the sweaty yellow patches on accessible parts of columns said not everyone takes notice) but nothing to outlaw the depositing of ashes. You never know how people are going to feel about human remains being left in certain places and while that isn’t usually a reason not to do it, a bit of discretion is not too big an ask. So I did the sidle-scatter thing up to the front of the Parthenon while Ken photographed the event from over near Athena Hygeia. Brian sat snug among the ancient white gravel while we mooched around the monuments and finally rejoined the queue on the narrow downhill path. The crowds were generally compliant but there’s always one, isn’t there? They pressed insistently upwards against the descending tourist crush and we muttered as loudly as anyone else at these trouble-making mavericks flaunting convention. I can break the rules, but it’s very annoying when someone else does.
5–6 October 2017: Dubai Airport, UAE, and Emirates Airlines Flight EK434
I liked the idea of adding Dubai Airport to the list of random drops after a memorable first visit there with Brian and the boys in 2009, on our way to the UK. Sam was to play in the FFNC Rep Squad in England and Scotland and along with the 20 or so other players and the managers and coaches and Dan, we disembarked at Dubai – me carrying a bag of Benny’s puke after he’d spent the last couple of hours hurling up chunks of plane food and insisting there was more to come. Once inside the terminal it was apparent that there was nowhere suitable to dispose of this nasty little package so until Brian took a shaky Ben to the Men’s room (and didn’t he take his time getting there), I continued to ferry the kid’s regurgitated stomach contents around. My stepmother credentials peaked.
One does not invite negative attention in UAE so my salute to Vomitgate ’09 could only come up with a pot plant as a discreet receptacle – with all the glass everywhere else was too open or too closely patrolled. It wasn’t a very exciting location but I like to think of it as karmic payback for leaving me literally holding the bag all those years ago.
A plane is not a mode of transport the ashes have got to rest in (the joy flight over Kakadu doesn’t really count – stray particles aside, most of him went out the window of that one). I’m assuming Emirates gives its aircraft a good clean between journeys so squishing him down the back of the seat, as in the Uffizi, was the only option if I didn’t want him vacuumed up at the end of the trip. I wish it was in Business or (dream on) First Class, but at least for a few years – or however long it is between seat replacements – he gets to ride the skies from the rear of 45A Economy.
9 May 2018: Dan and Heidi’s Wedding, Malolo Lailai Island, Fiji
Being with Brian through his dying time was a confronting experience but was never going to prepare me to lose anyone else, especially not my dad. Mentally strong men both of them, it was more than cruel that as their bodies broke down, their minds charged on. But while Brian was desperate to stay alive, Shep just wanted to go. By the time that happened we were in Fiji, only two days out from the wedding of Dan and Heidi, but I’d known when I said goodbye to Dad a month before that it would be the last time I saw him.
We were determined that the sadness of losing him was not going to take away the joy of seeing these two finally wed, and all the tears were happy ones. Dan had already decided that both his grandfather and Brian – who he’d fondly nicknamed “New Daddy” – were to be an integral part of the day, and pinned to his shirt were medallions with the images of his two beloved role models. After the ceremony there was the Fijian tradition of planting of a small palm tree, and Dan further honoured Brian by asking me to scatter some of his ashes around the base. (Fiji was the first country Brian visited post-mortem that specified ‘cremated remains’ as one of the items to be declared on its passenger arrival card. I was a bit uneasy as I hadn’t brought one of my Plan B ash-grouted discs in case the bag of Brian was confiscated, but I duly ticked the box and answered a few questions from the border control officer. She nodded us through said something about declaring it to the biosecurity officer at the next checkpoint as well, but what with all the confusion around the luggage carousel…)
23 July 2018: Silverton Tramway, Silverton, NSW
This dessicated relic of a town was the perfect setting for the post-apocalytic Mad Max II. Most of the locals were given a walk-on part in the production and a dedicated museum celebrates this splash of fame, but Silverton’s reinvigoration is mainly due to the colony of contemporary artists that has replaced its former population of miners. Their quirky artworks add colour to its bleached out landscape and with a diabolical wind blowing the day I scattered some of Brian’s ashes there, they were certainly the main attraction for me.
The settlement of Umberumberka was renamed Silverton in 1883 and when it grew to 3,000 people, the rail line to Cockburn, SA, was extended over the border into Broken Hill. Silverton was about halfway along the new line and gave its name to the Silverton Tramway Company, which operated it until the station closed in 1970. I deposited Brian on the lines just near the disused platform, but while the railway story was interesting and we enjoyed learning about it at the Sulphide Street Museum in Broken Hill, more relevant to our boy would be the area’s significant union history. The Sharkey family are prominent trade unionists, many of Brian’s relatives having held top positions in several industry federations. Silverton has been called “the birthplace of trade unionism in Australia” after a public meeting there in 1884 formed the Barrier Ranges Miners’ Association. Under the banner ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ it pushed hard for workers’ rights and two years later formed the Amalgamated Miners’ Association of Australia.
28 July 2018: The Oodnadatta Track, SA
By the time we pulled into the sandy clearing somewhere between Callanna and Alberrie Creek, traffic on the Oodnadatta had thinned to nothing. The semi-arid desert country around there was fairly same-same, more of the repetitive blandness we’d had since we left Marree at the beginning of the Track, but after we set up camp and the sun went down, there was incredible beauty in the still night. I’m not sure which of us first heard the voices – murmurs, male and female, like a low-volume radio – but at about 3am we clearly did. Though we weren’t aware of any other campers arriving (and a check outside confirmed there was no one around) we heard them again a bit later. Sound does carry at night, especially in the cold, dry air, but the land to the horizon was empty. I liked Ken’s “ghosts” theory but despite my runaway imagination I wasn’t spooked. The Oodnadatta passes through the traditional lands of the Kuyani, Arabana and Arrernte people, and since European settlement a heap of drovers, cameleers and goldminers had been through there as well, so the restless spirit idea seemed entirely feasible – or would if I really believed in an afterlife. Despite the premise of this blog and some eerie episodes since Brian died, I have my doubts, but was still happy to scatter some of him in the sandy creek bed… where he may or may not have company.
6 August 2018: Redruth Gaol and Girls Reformatory, Burra, SA
I’m not fond of being a cliché but have to admit that with husband #3 I definitely married a man like my father. Brian and Shep had very different histories but were so alike in values and temperament – especially that legendary stubbornness – that their mateship was instant and enduring. Dad’s tales of his “gaol years” (always on the right side of the bars) piqued Brian’s interest in all things prison and in 2012 when we flew to Perth to scatter his father’s ashes at Mandurah, he insisted we do the Fremantle Gaol tour as well. Just like Shep, he peppered the guide with questions but his interest was genuine. The trip would have been way better if his health wasn’t ailing… and if we’d remembered to take the ashes.
More than one person had recommended Burra to Ken and me as a stopover on our way to Kangaroo Island and even though the weather was crap, the town didn’t disappoint. We hired a key from the Visitor Centre that gave us unsupervised access to local museums and other tourist attractions, including the gaol-turned-reformatory that I decided was an ideal ash drop spot. Redruth was opened in 1856, the first gaol in SA outside Adelaide, and closed 40 years later. It then operated as a reformatory for Protestant girls from 1897 to 1922, when they were transferred back to Adelaide after a riot. Many of the original cells and fittings remain and in 1979 it was used as a filming location for Breaker Morant. That’s a bit of trivia that Brian, from his resting spot in the fork of a tree (olive, I think) in the exercise yard, would find impressive.
20 August 2018: Dog On The Tuckerbox, Snake Gully, NSW
I couldn’t go past this Aussie icon and not leave some Brian there. The legend of the loyal doggy, waiting on the tuckerbox for his master’s return, had relevance for him… loads more than for me, thanks to a father who never let us own one. Shep was a prolific storyteller, who believed any good yarn could only be improved by the inclusion of a dog, but he grew up on a farm and insisted “it’s cruel to keep them in suburban backyards” whenever we coaxed/dragged home a stray. Brian’s childhood, deprived in so many ways, at least included a furry faithful. He had moving memories of his pooch tenaciously waiting on the corner for him after school, and at the bus stop on busy Victoria Road when he’d arrive home from work. I can’t recall the breed or name (Bluey? I want to say Bluey) but with all the qualities of every great human-hound love story, their connection was a local legend. Ultimate heartbreak was probably inevitable and when the dog was not there one evening and was nowhere to be found, Brian was shattered. No one knew what had happened to him but as there was no sign of an accident, abduction was suspected. It was for sure that, like the mythical one that guards his master’s tuckerbox “five miles from Gundagai”, Brian’s little mate would not have left voluntarily. (It’s not certain that the dog actually existed outside ocker folklore and songs – Along the Road to Gundagai and Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox, Five Miles from Gundagai – but you won’t find many Aussies who’d argue the narrative.)
4 & 8 April 2019: Hadrian’s Wall Walk, Northumberland and Bowness-on-Solway, UK
Walking the Wall, 143km or thereabouts of varying terrain, was quite a cracking achievement and for most of it, Brian was along for the ride. I wanted to scatter him somewhere significant and when the mudmap indicated we were at its northernmost point, it seemed like the place. Flaw in the plan: my map reading sucks and we were not even close. It was a bit later on that day, when we lost and then found the wall – several times – that we came across the actual marker of that point. Brian had already been sprinkled into the abyss… well, crevice, but this oversight soon took second place to getting lost and separated from Lisa, who I’d chosen to walk with that day. My toes had been sobbing for mercy that morning and I thought it best not to hold up the others with my hobbling. After that episode and our scheduled rest day, I determined to stick to the other three regardless of what my feet were doing. At times every step was a killer but three days and 71km later (wrong turns and backtracking not included) the four of us limped towards that tiny shelter on Banks Promenade in Bowness-on-Solway, the traditional end point of the trail. We felt it all – head-swelling pride, the delirium of winning, a “We DID it!” comradeship we knew would last a lifetime… and for me, the delight of unexpected mosaics. It was the perfect place and moment to scatter some more of a man who knew everything about perseverance and pain.
13 April 2019: Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh, Scotland
Making the most of Scotland is easy – its laid-back friendliness just invites you in, and we’d enjoyed getting to know much of it in 2009 on our family tour. Brian had already been there but only briefly to the north, and it was there we loved most of all… Aberdeen and Loch Ness especially. This time with the walking buddies we had four nights in Edinburgh as well and that there is one full-on city. Our Hadrian’s injuries had not altogether faded and the cobblestones didn’t help, but we gave the tourist trail our best shot. Top of our pre-trip wish list was the World’s End pub – t-shirts optional – and the castle, but by our final few days together we were a might castled out. We did dip into history with a ‘Dead, Doomed and Buried’ ghost tour and the informative hop-on-hop-off bus, and Jane and I opted to do a self-guided walk around Britannia, now decommissioned and berthed in Edinburgh Harbour. Brian was most definitely not a monarchist but he sure deserved the royal treatment, and he liked yachts, so I’m thinking he’d have no problem with his latest resting spot/s.
July & August 2019: Brian’s and Ken’s Excellent Adventure
Until Ken headed off with his brother Nev on their trip through the dead heart of Australia, I’d never considered handing over the ash-scattering reins to someone else. But as their plans for following the rugged Ann Beadell Highway and Canning Stock Route came together, and Ken promised to take his old mate places he’d never otherwise get to, it was clear my outback ambivalence would only deny Brian some rare and remote resting places.
28 June 2019 – Emu, SA: The lads were travelling most of the way in convoy with three other vehicles and six fellow adventurers, and a few days after they’d all hooked up in Coober Pedy and headed north- west, they arrived at Emu township. The Brits had conducted the Totem I and II atomic tests there in 1953 and concentric blast rings are still visible at ground zero. The RAAF controls access and the campers had been granted the written approval required to visit there, but while the others made the bone-rattling drive to the blast area, Turtle II’s suspension (not to mention Ken’s) couldn’t quite handle it. He opted instead to leave some Brian about 18 kilometres away at 11 Mile, the location of the test observers’ original camp site.
16 July 2019 – Hickman Crater, WA: After they’d completed the Canning Stock Route, seeing this landmark was one of the main attractions of the trip. Back in the ’70s Ken had worked about 35km away in the mines at Newman, but even with its proximity and size – 260 metres (853 ft) wide and 30 metres (98 ft) deep – the crater’s existence was not officially known about then. Indigenous knowledge aside, Dr Arthur Hickman “discovered” it in 2007 – via Google Earth – but it is estimated to have been formed 10,000 to 100,000 years ago when a meteorite between 10 and 15 metres (33–49 ft) in diameter smacked into the earth and left a bit of a dent. Like the Emu Blast Site, access permits are required. This time the boys went the distance but work commitments for some of the others meant the convoy had split by this time. Turtles I and II travelled down inside the crater, where the four remaining campers spent a night under the stars (and left some Brian) in the middle of that amazing and primitive landscape.
28 July 2019 – Steep Point, WA: I’d initially planned to meet Ken in Port Hedland after he’d had his fill of the desert, but getting our ducks in a row proved too difficult so he and Nev travelled the 2,000+ kilometres down the coast and our rendezvous happened in Perth. Halfway there they detoured to Steep Point, the westernmost point on the mainland and part of the Shark Bay World Heritage Site and the proposed Edel Land National Park. The surrounding waters are internationally renowned as home to a rich marine life, with over 320 different species of fish (including 28 types of shark) identified so far. Access to the Point is via tracks through the sand dunes so high clearance Turtle-type 4WDs – and again, permits – are essential. Because of its far west location, Steep Point is also known as Australia’s “final sunset” – a nice touch for an ash scatter and one I plan to balance with a sunrise drop at Cape Byron, the country’s most easterly point.
15 August 2019 – Albany Gaol, WA: My brief interruption to Brian and Ken’s three-month adventure took in some very picturesque forests and coastline in the south-west corner of the country. Nev had flown home from Perth and I had hoped to keep going to Adelaide before I had to do the same, but an unavoidable medical appointment cut the plan off at Albany. Didn’t matter – my love affair with that town was instant and its ubiquitous mosaics were a bonus. There’s so much to Albany’s backstory – it’s the oldest colonial settlement in WA and still has plenty of evidence of its early military, whaling, shipping, timber and agriculture industries. It was the last port of call for troopships departing Australia during WWI and an impressive ANZAC memorial overlooks the city from Mount Clarence. We checked out most of the heritage buildings and all the art that contributes to its healthy tourism but of course the old gaol was a favourite. I left Brian in a few interesting spots there, rounding out his previous prison experiences in Tassie and South Australia.
22 August 2019 – Wigunda Cave, SA: After I left Ken in Albany (see above) to fly back to Brisbane, he met up again with Turtle I and friends Les and Cheryl and followed them east for the homebound journey. After checking out the rugged magnificence of the Great Australian Bight – the landscape in those photos ticks all the boxes for me – they backed away from the clifftops and, four kilometres off the Eyre Highway, pulled up at the big hole in the ground that surrounds the entrance to Wigunda Cave. Caves have been almost as popular as castles on Brian’s random drops but Ken didn’t climb down into the cave itself, instead sprinkling the rest of his share of the ashes near the rim of the cutting. It’s always hard to write about a place I’ve never visited and I can’t find much information on Wigunda except that it’s in the Nullarbor Wilderness Protection Area and is 59 metres above sea level… so in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
30 October 2019: Moeraki Boulders, Koekohe Beach, NZ
NZ’s scenery is always a visual feast but as we’d just flown out of a country ravaged by drought, the wet green of Otago and Canterbury was such a glorious contrast to the crackling brown that I almost got religion. Our airbnb was a tiny rural cottage on the Banks Peninsula and the drive from there down to Dunedin took in a variety of intensely coloured landscapes, most complete with a horizon of snow-capped mountains. We had two must-see destinations on the return trip – a friend’s farmstay at Oamaru and the Moeraki Boulders – and even after the very photo worthy Otago Peninsula, neither disappointed. I’d reserved some Brian from the Larnach Castle drop, knowing I’d find somewhere special on the drive back to Christchurch… and the spectacular spherical boulders of Moeraki were definitely it. The markings on some look like soccer balls (say no more) and many are riddled with deep fissures. I scattered a bit of Brian into the hollowed crevice of one of the larger boulders and on to the intact shell of a lone, smaller one, sitting well away from the main cluster.
16 February 2022: SBS TV Studios, Artarmon, NSW
Brian had made the odd appearance on local television as President of Workers FC and had met a couple of C grade celebrities over the years. He had even had a ‘one degree of separation’ moment when he crashed into Telly Savalas’ luggage trolley at LAX and “Kojak”, a renowned joker, offered to wheel him through the terminal to his gate. The details might have been embellished a tad with each retelling but with none of his fellow travellers around to confirm or contradict, that became a favourite anecdote.
Now this. When a friend alerted me to an SBS Facebook post seeking stories about deathbed confessions and promises for their Insight program, I sent a brief email to the producers, along with the link to this blog. I had a call the next day and from there it was an exciting few months of phone calls and emails and a film crew flying to town to interview me and gather footage… all the time impressing on us that there was no guarantee that the show would go ahead. It was a nervous will-they-won’t-they process but finally Ken and I were flown to Sydney for the taping of the show, and stuff got real. They wanted Ken to be part of it because of his close friendship with Brian and because he’d taken some of the ashes on his desert trips to scatter them in the most remote locations. The Ballad of Brian and Barby was to go national (and wider, via YouTube) but the focus of our story shifted to Brian’s request that after he died, I stay in contact with Ken and support him during the imminent loss of his wife, Maria. Where that support eventually led was promoted as the unexpected but best outcome of my commitment to fulfilling Brian’s wishes.
Amid the excitement of our SBS visit I wanted to try for an ash drop somewhere in the studio, but security was tight and opportunity limited. On a pre-taping break in the courtyard however, Kenny found the perfect spot: in front of the memorial plaque for the late Les “Mr Football” Murray. I’m pretty sure Brian had said he met Murray once, but even if he didn’t, he did admire his dedication to and phenomenal knowledge of the game. It’s for sure that he wouldn’t be unhappy with the location or event.
The editing process was interesting and when the show went to air a month later, Ken – though his face was featured plenty of times during the program – was a bit deflated when his speaking part didn’t make the final cut. I did request a copy of the edited footage and the producers kindly obliged, providing what was to become a treasured souvenir of so much more than our fifteen minutes of fame.
26 October 2022: The Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, Myers Flat, Victoria
Ken and I had planned to do a road trip around country Victoria in the spring of 2022, and he’d been upgrading his beloved Landcruiser and enthusiastically mapping out the itinerary in the weeks before he died. A few days after we lost him a surprise parcel arrived – art trail guides to the painted silos and water towers that I’d especially wanted to see. The booklets were a touching reminder of his thoughtfulness… and of another shared adventure that would not now happen.
Months later, my brother Chris suggested an alternative trip, shorter in time and distance but still covering a decent chunk of the southern and central parts of The Garden State. While sharing a car with siblings can turn us into Mexican fighting fish, there was minimal biting and we enjoyed exploring the towns and attractions, dodging the many places cut off by floods. On our way into Bendigo we swung out to Myers Flat and the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion, and what an intriguing detour that turned out to be. Surprisingly grand for its rural setting yet not due for completion for another decade at least, the 48-metre-high pagoda is modelled on the 15th century Great Stupa of Gyantse (Kumbum) in Tibet, both in size and design.
We were pretty cool with Buddhist beliefs on karma and eliminating greed (they can keep that enlightenment-through-suffering deal though) but the Stupa is billed as multi denominational and besides being the largest reliquary of sacred Buddhist artefacts in the western world, its inter-faith library and expositions will eventually incorporate Judaism, Hinduism, Baha’i, Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and science. We rambled through the Peace Park with its bodhi trees, all grown from cuttings – reportedly from the original Bodhi Tree under which Buddha was enlightened – brought to Australia by the Dalai Lama, and icons and symbols donated by various groups that also support the project’s commitment to religious inclusiveness. Among these was the life-size sculpture, ‘Four Harmonious Friends’… and one of those four was a hare. It’s been a long time between bunny sightings so here was an appealing drop spot for some Brian.
Disappointingly (but probably only for me) we were too early to see a large Moroccan mosaic – the Islamic Council of Victoria’s contribution to the Stupa’s tranquil meditation space – and a return visit is definitely on the cards. Hopefully a proposed installation symbolising Indigenous spirituality, a joint initiative with the local Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung Peoples of the Kulin Nation, will also be available for viewing then.
22 January 2023 – McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Of all the places Brian has been pre and post mortem, the frigid waters around Antarctica were not somewhere we could ever have imagined him resting. McMurdo Sound is only 1,300 kilometres from the South Pole – and a chilly 3,522km south of New Zealand’s Larnach Castle, his southernmost drop spot till that point – so it was not considered a possibility even for my fantasy list. While tourism to other parts of the white continent is becoming more popular, it is limited around McMurdo by the extreme sea conditions. But thanks to our dear mate Alyssa (travelling buddy for the western Canada drops), Brian made it to remote Cape Evans, on the Hut Point peninsula below the south-west slopes of Mt Erebus. It’s where explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s original hut still stands, perfectly preserved 112 years after it was built as a base camp for the British Terra Nova Expedition in the early part of last century.
This Ashes Tour has involved 70+ friends and family so far, and sometimes strangers. So I was very open to the idea when Alyssa suggested asking her friend, who was heading to Ross Island “to work on helicopters”, if he’d mind taking a spot of extra luggage. Graeme agreed, and I grouted some Brian into a tiny card I had made years before in a papermaking class. Mindful of the pristine environment he was heading to, the card was easily dissolvable and contained no toxins, and so –ecological cred intact – Brian set off for latitude 77°50’S, by way of San Antonio, USA.
Alyssa had brokered the deal and I didn’t have any personal contact with Graeme before his trip, but some months later I was delighted to receive a message and some photos from him, confirming he had done the deed and our boy was now sleeping with the fishes… as well as the rest of the Ross Sea’s diverse and very hardy marine life.
I waited until my last day when it provided a gap in the ice at the shoreline. On the 22nd Jan at Scott’s Hut Point… I placed your card in the water of McMurdo Sound, off the Antarctic Ross Sea.
Later updates via Alyssa proved the mission had not been simple and we were very lucky when timing and conditions allowed Graeme a tiny window to achieve its completion. In doing so, he enabled Brian, ever the passionate traveller, to now rest on every continent, scattered in 70-something locations. Proving again that determination – but more than that, a whole lot of good fortune and some very generous connections – can really take you places.
7 November 2023 – Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
Brian might not have beat cancer but so much about the man endured that it’s fitting some of him finds a home with another famous stayer. The last of the original seven world wonders, The Great Pyramid, is the oldest and largest of the nine at the Giza Necropolis and the final stop for King Khufu, its assumed architect. Technology being what it was 40-something centuries ago – and despite Khufu’s reputation as a tyrannical overlord – it took about 27 years and an estimated 100,000 men to build the pointy big monument. Over time much of its white limestone casing was removed, shrinking its overall surface by eight metres or so, but for an astounding 3,800 years it remained the world’s tallest man-made structure.
Brian’s wish list never included The Middle East but I’m sure he would have said yes to this adventure. Though cautious by nature he always admired those who took calculated risks and would have trusted my brother’s decision to go ahead with his plan to cycle Jordan, despite its proximity to the latest Israeli-Hamas conflict. The war’s epicentre in Gaza was just a few hundred kilometres to the west of his planned route – and about the same distance east of his itinerary in Egypt – but he had done his homework and believed the danger was no greater than on many of his previous travels. His confidence was rewarded when he got to experience some amazing events and destinations, and he completed his journey as planned without anything worse than some uncomfortable intestinal activity. By grabbing this opportunity and ignoring the naysayers, he vindicated the view that restricting your life because of other people’s fears is just not living.
Of course in a perfect world it would have been me taking in the Valley of the Kings from a hot air balloon and feasting on Rashtayeh in a Bedouin camp, but at least Brian got to pocket ride through the Wadi Rum desert and the mean streets of Cairo before coming to rest in Giza’s famous landmark. For ease of transport I’d grouted him into another tazo disc, but only one this time so once deposited the fun for him was over. Shame he missed sailing down the Nile the next day but already he’d seen more of those ancient lands than he could ever have imagined.