‘Waiting on Locusts’ by student Tim Loveday was developed in Building a Strong Narrative in 2020.
Melted street signs. Their plastic font blistered. Thousands of blackened trees. Ghost gums and stringy barks, near leafless, emaciated. Twisted, discoloured heaps of corrugated iron. Sheds. Homes. Stumps, gold-yellow and black, a half-hacked coronation.
A firebreak on the fringes of a town once known for gold.
A single road that twists. One way in, one way out. Misshapen reflectors, bases dry-brushed with ash, pass time as if it’s meaningless. Between the scabs of trees, shallow ranges. Scrub land of ink etchings.
Apocalyptic? No. Tufts of leaves on the limbs of trees that seemed dead two weeks ago. Febrile properties on the peripheries. New grass so green it seems sent from a dream. The earth, tin coloured, is moist.
In the hotel they drink and wrestle out words. You can tell they like to talk but aren’t used to it. There’s moments of pause amongst friends that seem to span centuries. When it isn’t work-talk, it’s picking shit, it’s telling tall tales, its coming events. There’s a trail ride next weekend: a camp out and piss up. On Sunday, a fundraiser for the RFS – a town-hall friendly with slabs of beer and pots of stew. Chuck a few bucks in the bucket. ‘After all,’ the publican says, ‘they saved our arses.’
This is the sort of place where the licensee is a political figure – an authority on everything.
Nerriga Hotel, last throb of hope. Maroon slat edifice. Corrugated roof. Veranda pillared by stained tree trunks. Monochromatic photos of old diggers, of local identities, surrounding doors. The bare timber bar – sweeping right hook. Gluey stink of spent hops; felt in the fingers, mutated with varnish. Kelly and Garrett moaning – there’s only six beers on tap! Carlton, Tooheys; dry, draught or mid. The far wall: a fireplace and flu, adorned with ram’s head.
Today’s special is lamb shanks. There’s so much space on that board, it seems like a sign.
Out the window, a Ned Kelly helmet perched on a giant stump. Below, a hand-written sign: Thank Firies for your Merry Christmas.
It’s hard to feel hopeless here. My van, it’s some k's back bleeding coolant. ‘Never buy private,’ says the towie, before a story about a bloke who burnt half his arm off escaping town.
‘The water tanks,’ he says, ‘they’re fuckin’ plastic puddles.’
The publican’s so proud of the paint job in the can, he leads half the bar out to bear witness. By half, I mean me and the towie.
The urinal’s been boarded up with ply. No cocks out at this time. On the way back there’s stories about plots of dead animals. What it must be to hear a thousand screaming cows, to return home to paddocks of blackened teeth and bones.
Course, I’d heard about Nerriga. Its population just 72. Its east-end town hall white and steepled like an unmarked church. A few shops, off-white fibre shacks – ‘for sale’ signs sitting in the windows.
Irony really, breaking down in a place that’s just survived. After the fires, weeks of floods. Thunderstorms forged from all that smoke. Reports you couldn’t see to the end of the road. The locals ushered from town hall to hotel. Final refuge.
‘Total darkness,’ local firefighter Dave Vanessen told The Canberra Times. ‘It's like the last day of your life.’
It’s one of few stories that’s made it further than the Goulburn Post. The wiki page, less than A4 sized. The biggest news in the last ten years: road upgrades and boundary disputes. Despite the years of drought stealing yields. And the flash floods pouring ash into the rivers, devastating generations of fish.
No one in the city really gives a shit.