Many years ago when I was teaching in Western Australia's Kimberley, my friend Judy and I decided to drive along the Gibb River Rd during the Easter break. Packing the ute required careful thought: spare tyres, water, camping gear, cooking gear, first aid kit, mosquito repellent and nets, gas bottles, maps, cameras, film.
We set off early next morning. The surrounding Kimberley country was an ancient coral reef which left convoluted rock formations. Blues, mauves, reds of many hues blended to form a mosaic of beauty. At dusk we stopped at March Fly Glen where we unpacked my lamp. Fortunately, we chose to light it in clearing because flames burst from it without warning. The flames rose upwards and sideways. Judy and I ran in different directions. I was scared stiff, thinking the gas bottle would explode. We all stared at it for what must have been ten minutes, not knowing what to do. Then I remember the ute. I called to Judy, ‘ We’d better move the ute!’
Judy ran back to it, jumped in, terror in her eyes, and drove off! I thought afterwards how noble I was, using the word ‘we’ then leaving the action to her.
After we watched the flames for about half an hour I remembered I had a fire extinguisher in the ute. Once again my intrepid companion came to the rescue, grabbed the extinguisher and aimed it at the lamp and gas bottle. The flames died quickly, leaving a very black lamp. I could never use it again. It would be impossible to turn off because the knob had melted.
We eventually learnt why this drama had happened. The adapter wasn’t tight enough. Gas escaped and burst into flame. This would not be the only time Judy demonstrated her courage and commonsense to me. She and I shared many adventures after that and have remained very close friends even though we moved around the world regularly.
Judy survived breast cancer with years ago. Early this year she told me she had terminal cancer. Being a realist, she brought her 70th birthday celebration forward three months. I was amongst friends and family who came from near and far (Broome and Katherine) to share funny stories and pay Judy tribute. She laughed and cried, as we all did. After several hours at the party, three of her family carried her back to the car to return her to hospital. I am glad I was there. Her daughter has followed her mother’s example and teaches Aboriginal children in remote Australia.
In Issue 28 I wrote about health care needs in PNG and mentioned a Papuan friend, Judith, who had breast cancer. Sadly, she passed away recently. Her daughter Anne couldn’t stop crying as she called our family with the news. We were not able to attend Judith’s funeral, but will visit the grave in Kokoda to pay tribute to a generous and hospitable woman. She looked after not only our family when we visited, but also many trekkers on their way to the Kokoda Track.
Both women are examples of dedication to family, friends and community. Both inspired daughters to teach. Both experienced mastectomies but not health care.
On a different note, It’s about a year since our editor Belinda contacted me and asked me to write a regular column in this paper. I was surprised. 'What do you want me to write about?’ I asked. ‘I looked you up,’ she replied. ‘Anything. You have lived an interesting life.’
I have done what she asked. However, I have had no comments from readers, feedback which I would appreciate.