2020 be damned

The sounds of cicadas and gushing water fills the air. The chattering others have moved away and I am standing alone on top of the sandstone and concrete fifty-seven metre high wall of the Cordeaux Dam south of Sydney, free to engage in my own thoughts.

We are taking our new Mazda CX30 for a first drive. We only picked it up from the showroom yesterday. Alex wanted to go to the zoo, but with a renewed wave of COVID-19 in Sydney we need to find somewhere outdoors, away from crowds. Apart from a Muslim group at the picnic grounds further up the road we are the only ones here. The dam design was supposedly inspired by Egyptian architecture, popular at the time due to the recent opening of Tutankhamen’s Tomb. The entrance has grand columns, as does the water outlet far below.  

My relationship with water, this water, is not a pleasant one right now. The Cordeaux Dam is part of the Nepean Gorge catchment, the source of the Hawkesbury-Nepean River system. Four days ago we drove northwards to St Albans, crossing the Hawkesbury River on the Wisemans Ferry and following the gravel road to the tiny township.

After a scrumptious lunch of barramundi, lobster and chicken at the historic Settlers Arms Inn we returned across the river along the tarmac main road and the Webb Creek Ferry. We congratulated ourselves for coming early when we saw the long queue of cars waiting for the ferry in the opposite direction.

Then we returned home to find Kita, our dog and family member of fourteen years, floating in the swimming pool, drowned. 

The water gushing below me was now a river of tears, the reservoir behind a reminder of a much smaller, but just as deadly pool, of the guilt and sadness that remains dammed inside me.

2020 be damned. 

So far as travel is concerned this has been a terrible year. It began with a tough drive down to Geelong in Victoria, through the choking smoke of Eastern Australia alight, along with Kita. Had we known what lay ahead, maybe we would have done something more ambitious, but at least we gave him a new experience.

There were a couple of nights down in Wollongong for me, a karate camp, but by the time the next school holidays arrived we were in lockdown due to the pandemic. Before travel out of one’s suburbs was entirely restricted I had an opportunity to watch Qantas’ last international 747 flight arrive into Sydney Airport from Chile. 

Finally, from late May, the restrictions eased a little and we could venture out on drives to the Southern Highlands, the Illawarra and closer to home, Kurnell, to watch the whales, and Woronora Dam.

During the July school holidays we made it down to Canberra, in lieu of Alex’s cancelled school camp, saw the War Memorial, Parliament House and the Qantas 747 farewell flight from the nation’s capital.

Five days later and it was the real thing, Qantas’ last passenger 747 VH-OEJ, flying out of Sydney to retire in the Mojave Desert, one of too many sad farewells this year.

I rediscovered virtually flying in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2020, but the actual skies were altogether too quiet, with international travel banned for most and even domestic travel severely curtailed by border closures.

Our travel continued to be within New South Wales. We drove up the Bells Line, through mountain bushland devastated by the summer’s fires, to the gorgeous botanic gardens at Mount Tomah. During the October school holidays it was further north to Coffs Harbour, where we bushwalked through the Dorrigo National Park, paddled canoes and visited a miniature Netherlands and Japanese garden.

Since then it has just been a case of travelling the world via food, particularly through Malaysian cuisine.

So far as I can recall this is the first year that I have not flown since I began flying again in 1991. It is the first year since 2004 that we have not visited Japan, the first since 2002 that I have not travelled overseas at all. Even train travel this year was practically non-existent.

There is no doubt that I have missed travel, trains and flying in 2020. Work and family duties have been unrelenting. Travel offers you a sense that you are doing something productive even while escaping your regular life and staring out the window of a train or plane, watching the world go past, is therapeutic. 

We currently have flights booked for Rockhampton in January, but as 2020 comes to its whimpering conclusion there is another COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney and the borders are closed again, with little chance they will be reopened in time. 

I am not complaining. I’ve known for a long time that a year like this may come and that each experienced must be savoured as if it could be your last. Instead 2020 has been a year to appreciate what you have close to you at home, to treasure your family and those your love most dearly. The water in the dam can give life and it can take it away. No matter how much you try to dam and channel it, sometimes it will overcome and carry you away where it will. You will have no choice but to go with the flow. 

May the new year wash away the stain of the old. Farewell 2020 and good riddance.