Here & Now with S Sorrensen - Apr 8

The Risk, NSW.
Monday 5.40pm:

She’s a good driver, there’s no disputing that.

And I, um, wouldn’t dispute that right now even if I wanted to. Something in the set of her shoulders; something in her absolute concentration on the winding road ahead; something in the tightness of her lips, lets me know that disputation is not a good idea right now.

I look out the window. And hold on.

We have crested the Queensland/NSW border on the Lions Road and are now swinging down through the heavily forested southern flanks of the Macpherson Range where the road twists and writhes like a snake in water before reaching Kyogle.

She’s a good driver. She’s throwing the Barina (my Barina) into the tight corners, flipping back to third gear (sometimes second) to do so. But it’s not her usual more relaxed way of driving. It’s more like my way. There’s, um, a tension.

I shouldn’t have said anything. I know that now. Just one comment as we pushed up the Queensland side of the range and now silence cloaks us like oil on water.

The Lions Road is a great drive through lush mountain country. Being Easter Monday, she and I had decided that we’d take this route back home from Brissie. The coastal highway is madness on macadam at the best of times but during this celebration of the resurrection of the chocolate rabbit’s egg, it’s more crowded and ridiculous than the coal expressway that runs through the Great Barrier Reef.

On the Queensland side of the range, we’d crossed ugly new concrete and steel bridges that have replaced the pretty old wooden ones. The creeks, full after the recent rains, tumbled under them. The setting sun’s yellow light fell like amber liquid across the creeks, halo-ing trees and lighting up the western faces of the hills.

Some people, avoiding the crowded Easter camping at the beach, had set up their tents on the creek banks. Grey smoke with sausage smell spiralled up into the cooling air. Two kids skipped stones across a creek and then waved as we barrelled by.

Sometimes the Barina went offroad so huge 4WDs with trailers and laden roof racks could get by without leaving the bitumen. They looked a little overdressed for these smooth roads and new bridges.

Crossing a cattle grid near a sign warning of unfenced roads, she’d hit the brakes hard as a cow leisurely strolled across the road to chew the cud with some mates.

“Sorry,” she said.

“Well, you have been going hard,” I said, a little brusquely.

I instantly regretted it. I shouldn’t have said anything. I know that now.

It’d been going so well. We’d stopped at the Rathdowney pub (the Queensland start of the Lions Road adventure) for a vodka and tonic. I suggested she have a drive. Laughing, we drove into the mountains, sun was sinking in a clear sky. Two magpies hassled a hawk above us.

Forget your flags, your anthems, your insincere politicians, it’s the environment that makes me Australian. And the country here is strongly affecting.

But then I wrecked it. With one little comment.

Passing under a huge concrete pillar supporting the railway line, I sneak a look at her. Sure, her lips are still sealed tight and her shoulders still set square, but her eyes sparkle with the last reflected light.

She’s lovely. (And a good driver.)

She doesn’t look back but I know she knows I’m looking at her.

With the sunlight almost gone, we hit the The Risk and I take one.

“You’re lovely,” I say, the long silence shattered.

Her lips twitch, then her eyes smile.


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