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If our sky wasn't so dangerous it would be beautiful.

Summer in Goulburn, Australia: if our sky wasn’t so dangerous it would be beautiful.

The chooks are panting.  They’re holding out their wings as if they have sweaty armpits – this despite the fact the coop and run have for weeks been covered in an old tent fly.  Outside the coop and run the birdbath is a dried-up clay-pan.  The large wattle adjacent is yellow, not from flowering but its tiny stressed leaves.  The dirt, it’s sandy.  The clematis around the front of the house, planted at the end of spring and for much of the time since has been growing vigorously up the verandah post, is now limp, fading.  The two standard white roses beside the front gate look like miniature street-trees in autumn – they’re leafless.  Inside the house it’s dark, all the curtains and blinds closed even though it’s the middle of the day.  When eyes adjust, the cracks in the walls are obvious as the ground shifts and splits.  There’s no breeze coming through the hallways and rooms because the doors and windows are shut tight.  The skylight’s honeycomb covering is drawn across, making a cave out of the loungeroom.  The corrugated-iron roofing creaks like a ship keeling into the ocean (if only).  Sometimes the mad and maddening whirr of a trapped-in blowfly.  The fridge motor bravely trying to keep up.  The Old Lady of the House dragging herself from one place to another, head down and puffing.  The coolest place, she knows, is in the writing room, because its only window faces east – the room is protected from the worst of the afternoon.  There she finds a writer in grey gym shorts and white t-shirt.  Look at the blackened souls of his feet.  Beside him is the six-fin bar-heater, dusty, silent, switched off but plugged in.  The heater is waiting for cold rain.

The life and death of spring? (Illustration: Jim Pavlidis)

The life and death of spring? (Illustration: Jim Pavlidis. Source: Canberra Times, Fairfax Media.)

It happened only a week ago. There I was, working away at my desk, when, coming from somewhere at a distance on my right, the east, there was a sudden airy whoosh, two of them, in parallel, blasting past my window, above, high above, then the briefest of silences, a nano-second, before this in the west: one explosion, two explosions.

Down below my office, on the sun-drenched terrace outside the café, young men and women stopped concentrating lazily on their lattes and cappuccinos and looked into the sky.  An authoritative shout went up and the young men and women, helpfully already in uniform and camouflage, got to running, sprinting.

They knew, and so did I, because the sirens made it clear: we were – our country was – under attack, we were being invaded.

Except we weren’t; my imagination was simply getting carried away with itself.  Two jet planes, some kind of fighting machine, did indeed zoom through the sky above my room, but – thank the deity that is yours, or just your lucky stars – there were no explosions; it was nothing more than one of those fly-pasts, celebrating something or other that I didn’t know.

But those young military men and women: they were real enough, they are real enough, because I’m currently spending three months at the Australian Defence Force Academy.  No, it’s not the most bizarre holiday you’ve ever heard, nor am I lurking behind bushes like some kind of spy.  It’s just that, courtesy of the University of New South Wales, my spring is committed to a place I never thought I’d even visit let alone allow myself to become immersed, enthralled, besotted even.

Some – many, most – may consider it odd for a writer to spend spring in a place that, in essence, is teaching people how to invade and maim and kill and destroy, all for the greater good, a kind of lofty, lofty cause, one that isn’t always entirely obvious (or true)…

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Keep reading over at The Canberra Times, which commissioned this piece and published it on 11 November 2013.

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