When he was born we were up on the Atherton Tableland on our way to Adelaide for his birth via the Gulf of Carpentaria. We thought we had plenty of time with another two months before he was due. I used to ring Jo each Sunday (no mobiles
then - 24 years ago - almost the dark ages). This particular Sunday Gerry answered the phone and said "Where are you? I've been trying to find out where you are so I could get in touch. Jo is in hospital and they are performing a caesar on
her tomorrow morning." Well, that was the gist of what he said. He speaks very quickly at the best of times and, being in a highly excited state at the time, it took a bit of sorting to get the whole story. Gerry is Irish and at that time
had no other family in Australia to which he could turn. We were travelling around, Jo was in hospital and his agitation was understandable, just not quite what he was saying. To tell the truth I still have trouble figuring out what he is
saying on the phone as he still speaks quickly and I'm a bit slow. He only has two speeds in life, flat out or stopped. Nothing in between. He has no time for slow. Mothers in law are probably better just getting out of the road anyway.
It turned out Jo had, on her way to work on the previous Friday, gone to a routine appointment with her doctor when he discovered she had pre-eclampsia and sent her immediately to hospital. When the doctor examined her in hospital he told Gerry that
he would give the baby three days on medication to help his lungs mature and then do a caesar on the Monday. Gerry probably told me about the pre-eclampsia at the time although he probably didn't know what it was and I certainly didn't know.
As soon as we had spoken to Gerry we packed up and set out for Adelaide. There had been floods all through Central Queensland the year before and the roads were dreadful, that's where there were roads. Round about Charters Towers they had been
washed away completely. Luckily there were workmen all along those highways and for this we were thankful as at least they would have been there to pull us out if we got stuck. Thankfully we didn't have to call on them but the travelling was slow.
We kept in touch with Adelaide where we could and were told that my first grandchild had been born, a tiny little mite 3lb 10oz (or 1640 grams). Both mother and babe were doing well. We hurried on.
One camp was on the Darr River 26 kilometres
from Longreach. It was a lovely spot in between the railway line and the road and there were a few fishermen camped there as well. We actually camped closer to the railway line which was a good two or three hundred metres from the road. The
black soil was dry here and we set up our tent on a small rise. The next morning we were up early and on our way. It was July and the days were short but we made the most of the daylight hours we had.
About halfway to Barcaldine Himself
discovered that he had lost a gold chain and cenltic cross that he had been wearing. We stopped, unloaded the tent and put it up enough to empty it out. The cross was retrieved but not the chain. We packed up again and headed on our way.
There was no time to go back and see if we could find it. I used to think about that camp every now and then and where we had the tent and I could see the chain lying on that dry and cracked black river soil. It was quite clear.
out of Augathella we passed an old ute trundlig along and commented on the fact that he had to be a local he was going so slowly. We weren't actually breaking any speed limits ourselves as we had quite a load in our little 4-cylinder Camira but we were
on bitumin by then and just kept going making quite good time although it still took us five days to reach Adelaide. We stopped and ate periodically or had a cup of tea and the Man from Augathella would pass us or, as in Cunnamulla, we stopped
in the town for whatever reason and he must have kept going because we then passed him on the road again somewhere between Cunnamulla and Bourke. We started singing Slim Dusty's song He's the Fella from Augathella, they call him the Augathella Fella
each time we passed him. When you're travelling constantly for five days it doesn't take much to amuse you. Not that we were short of music. One thing Himself has acres of is music (although I don't think he had heard The Fella from Augathella
before). We had cassettes in those days - just one generation ago things were so archaic. How quickly technology has changed the face of everything we do.
On reaching Bourke we discovered there had been two inches of rain between there and
Cobar and at that stage the road was not bitumin. It was mid afternoon but even so, decided to tackle that road instead of going the long way round on bitumin to Nyngan and then Cobar.
It took us four hours to cover the ninety odd
miles (don't know what it is in kilometres - just remember that from the olden days). The road was dreadful, the red mud slippery and ready to catch the unwary unawares and we slid along at a snail's pace all the time hoping that the Fella From Augathella
was behind us. You can't stop when the roads are like that, just keep going no matter what. If you stop, chances are that's where you''ll stay. There were no other car lights on the road either in front or behind us. The lights
of Cobar never looked so good!!!
In the first roadhouse we came to we had something to eat, knowing that when we pulled up for the night we wouldn't want to start making a fire and cooking a meal. As we were eating the Fella from Augathella drove
past heading towards Broken Hill, the ute completely covered in red mud. There's a lovely stop about 30 kilometres out of the town and we put the tent up put the tent up and fell into bed. We weren't quite asleep when the Augathella Fella pulled
up and, without much ado, fell into his swag.
The next morning we all had breakfast together and found he did indeed live at Augathella and that he had got himself a job at Port Lincoln and didn't quite commute but came home periodically to see
his girlfriend. She obviously didn't want to come and live in Port Lincoln!!! He was a nice bloke and breakfast was pleasant as it is in the bush.
Although we were all travelling the same way, we didn't come across him again. There
was bitumin all the way from there and we must have done some fast miles.
Adelaide was reached late Friday afternoon and we met the new arrival in a humidicrib. Will put a photo in if I can find it. It was unbelievable to see that
tiny little scrap of humanity struggling to stay alive, his little heart beating quite visibly, unaware of the stir he had created by arriving in the world before he was expected.
We hadn't realised at that stage that dramas had been happening
while we were on our way down. Aidan had been born fat and healthy (as fat as a 3lb 10oz baby can be) and was taken out of the humidicrib after a couple of days and put in what they called "the fattening up nursery". He was on a drip and a mistake
was made with the amount going into the drip - four times what should have been going in!!! The next mistake was that this wasn't checked all night and by morning his little belly was unnaturally distended and he was in a bad way. He was riushed back
to the humidicrib and by the time we got there on the Friday, he was a very miserable looking little specimen.
I can't remember how long he was in that crib but it seemed a long time. After about a month he had another setback by getting a hernia
which I think had come from the fact that his little belly had been so distended at the beginning.
He finally came home around about his original birthdate which was two months after he was actually born. In all that time Jo spent each day at
the hospital looking after him and making sure he had breast milk available. She was totally focussed. She made sure he was well looked after and it was she who found the hernia and drew the hospital staff's attention to it. He was operated
on at 9 o'clock that same night.
He is now 24 years old and his mother the other day sent me a text saying "Look what that little 1640gm baby has achieved" and there was a photo of his Degree in Civil and Structural Engineering which he obtained
with First Class Honours. How good is that? We're so proud but he just takes it as a matter of course and has gone off to WA to make his fortune (we hope, because then he can come back and keep us all in the manner to which we would like to become
accustomed!!!). I am just in awe because I can't even begin to comprehend the sort of mathematics he does. Me, who actually got 8% in one monthly maths exam when I was in 2nd year (year 8) and then 3% the following month!!! I was actually stood up in
front of the class and had these facts pointed out to all and sundry, so I picked my game up and made sure that didn't ever happen again. It wasn't that I couldn't do those pretty simple maths, it was just that I wasn't interested one scrap. However,
being laughed at by the rest of the class made all that change. I even passed maths in my intermediate (year 10), just. I have to say in my own defence, I was fairly good at most other subjects, with English at the top.
The pride with which
his parents view Aidan's achievements helps to assuage the pain at having to see him go to find his place in the world. The pain leaves a space inside you that is never really filled again but you do learn to live with it. Children must fly and
do their own thing. I don't know who wrote that the greatest gifts parents can give their children are roots and wings. Wings, of course, are provided with an education.
It is only when your children grow up and fly that you realise
how your own parents felt and that they feel it again with you.
As an addendum to this little narrative, twelve months almost to the day after this event, we were travelling back near Longreach again and coming close to the Darr River. Himself
said "Will we go in?" "Of course. Why would we not?" We drove in and went straight to the place where we had camped the year before. There had been rain in the area since then and a small flood had come down the river, there had been
fishermen there and there was a pile of horse poo next to where our tent had stood. I looked down into a crack in the dried mud and caught sight of a glint of gold. Reaching down I pulled out of the earth the gold chain with bits of dried
mud still clinging to it. Another miracle. Not as amazing as the 1640gm baby but still a little miracle in its own right.