Suicide Attempts at Freshwater Beach

June 10, 2007

Reflections written on winters day, overlooking Freshwater Beach, Sydney. The character’s name is Ahmed. He was deported and found himself imprisoned, then exiled for his faith when he returned home from Australia. He was seeking political asylum. Written Winter 2004.

The wind whips around here without any savagery. But it thrubs and beats at everything in its way. The ting ting ting of a rope against a flagpole is percussion to the softer swishing of the wind in the saltbrush, flax and beaten up tea tree which line the cliff top. In visual sympathy the sea throws itself on the broken sandstone below but the beat of the wind drowns out the sound of the water. Waves suicide in great gushes of foam and exclamation but do so silently. Across a blue green ocean, sprinkled with points of white the occasional sail tacks without progress into the breeze while others appear so quickly and vanish in moments as they travel with it. It seems there is no possibility of a speed in between. Above it all, smiling and kissing all it surveys drops the sun, lending to the scene light and life and vibrancies not found in an overcast winters day. Today is clearly God’s day and he is jolly well pleased with what he has laid out for us.

He used to come here when thinking about his family. Or about his immigration application and the many years the government had found apparent good reason to ignore his pleas. He told me the place offered him some solitude, away from all those who promised, and even delivered help but who clearly were not able to advance his cause. Here the wind was his friend and he would stand here and scream into the gales, shouting obscenities in more than one language at his creator, demanding more clarity in his life than the elements or his funds could offer. Pushing his body into the breeze he would hang a foot out into space and tempt God to switch off the updraft and drop him to the rocks below. The wind would continue to blow and eventually he would carefully withdraw his foot, quiet his voice, creep back to a park bench where he would weep the tears of the grief-stricken. And then the tears of the penitent for he firmly believed his God was his friend. And then the tears of a child, uncomprehending tears and those that flowed in the full knowledge that, regardless of the shouting and yelling the world would keep turning and nothing was about to change to his advantage in any time soon.

After the tears came the most difficult part of the communication ritual – returning to his lodgings where he faced the quiet serenity of his landlord and the quite obvious lack of empathy. Worse, his lodgings were temporary and reminded him of the boot camp existence of his previous life, twenty years earlier. Single bed, no decorations which hinted at a family or friends. Back then the dormitory existence had a reason. He was there to fulfill a national calling. And he was among friends who suffered, enduring and exhilarated with him. But here, in a foreign country he had a single bed in a single room, a single faded photograph of a distant brother and none of his wife or sons and daughters.

He told me once that even though his yelling and shouting at God was, after the event, something he was ashamed of, it was at the very least a form of communion, a time when he felt that someone out there was listening and saying “I know how you feel.” In so many ways the most difficult part of the communion in God’s windy temple was not the rage and despair but the leaving of the place, to return to an abode symbolic of his seeming empty lot in life and in which he was not able to vent any of his despair. Back he would trudge, pause at the front door, square up his posture, fix on a smile, then ease himself in, hoping not to encounter any other tenant or his kindly landlord. They were all beyond words in these moments. This was not home. Home was on the other side of the world in a regime that professed constitutional freedom to a person like him who wanted to believe in God but which separated him from his wife and children the moment he confessed to holding to that belief. The repeated tests on the cliff tops above the beaches of north Sydney were to determine if the God he worshipped was going to claim him. He never did, in that suicidal sense, but claimed him in the end in a more comprehensive way. Ahmed does not live the life he expected but lives it now more fully, by his own admission, than he ever expected.

When I pass it, or on occasions that I stop here, like today, this cliff top is a reminder of his life and friendship in Sydney. Especially on a windy, winters day.

Farmer Suicides

May 2, 2007

In the early summer months of 1984 we drove 3000km north to the tropics for a holiday. Yup, pretty crazy. On our second day we drove into a wall of dust near Dubbo. It was a wall not unlike this one pictured in 2002 near Griffith. The outstanding difference was that in 1984 there was not a blade of anything green in sight and the country was gripped by a serious drought. We crept along in our little van in a dangerous activity of driving from one white dash on the road to the next. We could not see any further than that. The occasional swirl in the dust suggested a vehicle had passed us going the other way. It took an hour to clear the storm.

Right now our farmers are enduring one of the worst droughts on record. At least in the eastern states of this country. A sad result of this drought is the high number of farmers and others in “the bush” committing suicide. Depression is a major issue with these men and I understand as many as two a week are opting out this way. To help encourage these men and their families, and to draw our attention to the problem the Salvation Army had a local story teller, Murray Hartin, write a poem which is doing the rounds in this part of the world. I have copied it here below but you can find it on the author’s website here. If you like some original bush poetry check his videos where he recites his own material. It warms the heart. But none more than this one below.

Rain from Nowhere

His cattle didn’t get a bid, they were fairly bloody poor,
What was he going to do? He couldn’t feed them anymore,
The dams were all but dry, hay was thirteen bucks a bale,
Last month’s talk of rain was just a fairytale,
His credit had run out, no chance to pay what’s owed,
Bad thoughts ran through his head as he drove down Gully Road

“Geez, great grandad bought the place back in 1898,
“Now I’m such a useless bastard, I’ll have to shut the gate.
“Can’t support my wife and kids, not like dad and those before,
“Crikey, Grandma kept it going while Pop fought in the war.”
With depression now his master, he abandoned what was right,
There’s no place in life for failures, he’d end it all tonight.

There were still some things to do, he’d have to shoot the cattle first,
Of all the jobs he’d ever done, that would be the worst.
He’d have a shower, watch the news, then they’d all sit down for tea
Read his kids a bedtime story, watch some more TV,
Kiss his wife goodnight, say he was off to shoot some roos
Then in a paddock far away he’d blow away the blues.

But he drove in the gate and stopped – as he always had
To check the roadside mailbox – and found a letter from his Dad.
Now his dad was not a writer, Mum did all the cards and mail
But he knew the writing from the notebooks that he’d kept from cattle sales,
He sensed the nature of its contents, felt moisture in his eyes,
Just the fact his dad had written was enough to make him cry.

“Son, I know it’s bloody tough, it’s a cruel and twisted game,
“This life upon the land when you’re screaming out for rain,
“There’s no candle in the darkness, not a single speck of light
“But don’t let the demon get you, you have to do what’s right,
“I don’t know what’s in your head but push the bad thoughts well away
“See, you’ll always have your family at the back end of the day

“You have to talk to someone, and yes I know I rarely did
“But you have to think about Fiona and think about the kids.
“I’m worried about you son, you haven’t rung for quite a while,
“I know the road you’re on ‘cause I’ve walked every bloody mile.
“The date? December 7 back in 1983,
“Behind the shed I had the shotgun rested in the brigalow tree.

“See, I’d borrowed way too much to buy the Johnson place
“Then it didn’t rain for years and we got bombed by interest rates,
“The bank was at the door, I didn’t think I had a choice,
“I began to squeeze the trigger – that’s when I heard your voice.
“You said ‘Where are you Daddy? It’s time to play our game’
“’ I’ve got Squatter all set up, we might get General Rain.’

“It really was that close, you’re the one that stopped me son,
“And you’re the one that taught me there’s no answer in a gun.
“Just remember people love you, good friends won’t let you down.
“Look, you might have to swallow pride and take that job in town,
“Just ’til things come good, son, you’ve always got a choice
“And when you get this letter ring me, ’cause I’d love to hear your voice.”

Well he cried and laughed and shook his head then put the truck in gear,
Shut his eyes and hugged his dad in a vision that was clear,
Dropped the cattle at the yards, put the truck away
Filled the troughs the best he could and fed his last ten bales of hay.
Then he strode towards the homestead, shoulders back and head held high,
He still knew the road was tough but there was purpose in his eye.

He called his wife and children, who’d lived through all his pain,
Hugs said more than words – he’d come back to them again,
They talked of silver linings, how good times always follow bad,
Then he walked towards the phone, picked it up and rang his Dad.
And while the kids set up the Squatter, he hugged his wife again,
Then they heard the roll of thunder and they smelt the smell of rain.