A Short Ride to Nowhere

I went for a bicycle ride this morning. Our town is in lockdown accordingly we may exercise within a 5km radius of our homes. I did not know where to ride. Without a thought I headed north-west to the graveyard. On the way I pedalled along the street where all the Aboriginal families live. I like that street because the people sit on verandahs and in their dusty yards. They look up with interested faces, often they smile and return my wave. They acknowledge me as I pass by. Most Australian suburban streets are dead, populated only by cars and people aggressively controlling vegetation.

Broken Hill detail from the Map of Barrier Ranges Mineral Fields from around 1882
Broken Hill detail from the ‘Map of Barrier Ranges Mineral Fields‘ from around 1882

The graveyard is huge for such a small town. Then you read the gravestones and see names from every corner of the world. The stories of the boom-times and the slow decline are told here. The divisions too are apparent. I stopped when a magpie attacked me on the furtherest extent where the gravestones gave way to the desert bushes. I was in the jewish section off alone. I turned back through the jostling stones of the dead citizens of Broken Hill.

Back on the road I cut across the north of town. A woman struggled with a teenage child in a wheelchair across the rubble outside her house. A large SUV slowed as it passed me, faces peering out. On the outskirts a police car did the same. Wary of my 5km limit I turned south weaving through the maze of dusty roads. I passed a cluster of cypress pines. I breathed in their fragrance thinking of the Remembrance Gardens I had passed in the graveyard, the dead diggers and the Turks. I remembered arriving in Israel 30 years ago and breathing the same scent.

We had our first COVID fatality in our little town a couple of days ago. The streets were mostly empty. A woman stood at her front door watching me pass. It occurred to me I had forgotten my mask.

I spun down-hill and bypassed the main street. The railway crossing began to clang as I approached. A diesel engine thundered slowly into view. The driver must have thought I was going to try and bolt across the tracks. I could see his mouth moving as he glared at me and worked the horn. I gave a reassuring smile and a wave and dutifully stopped. The freight wagons trundled past rusty, dented shipping containers many tagged with bright graffiti; shiny tubular tanks with chemical warnings ; flat empty trays, wheels squealing, I imagined running alongside and jumping aboard to see where I might end up.

A loop around the south of the broken hill of mining waste took me back home. A short ride to nowhere.