Blue Eyes tells us he is in Argentina this week. He and his Mrs travel the world a lot, visiting corners of faraway lands even my imagination can’t reach. The photos he shares are exotic, and I don’t mean just of women. From Panama to Lima, Penang to Danang, sometimes he’s even back from Edmonton for some badminton. A few days ago, he called us on Zoom to say he met a young female doctor at Iguazú Falls.
“She hails from Adelaide,” he said in a strong Canadian accent. It wasn’t quite the Eh-d-laiied that I am used to.
“You guys might know her,” he said, gesturing to Chip and the old man.
“Apparently, she’s finishing up her stint at the hospital. Took three weeks off and ‘lone-rangering’ in Argentina & Ecuador before she heads back to Adelaide.”
“A brave lady! Travelling alone!” Chip said.
“We’ve noticed a growing number of young women travelling solo…….. equipped with just their mobile phones,” Blue Eyes continued as he switched his eyes to look at the old man. The subject of his attention was brazenly using his finger as a spade, digging something out of his nose.
The old man returned his gaze with a simple shrug of his shoulders before pasting the sticky stuff onto a used envelope from the bin. The world that he thought he knew very well was no longer the same. He arrived in Adelaide in 1977. Back then, the front doors of houses were closed only to prevent blowflies from entering. Daw Park, the inner southern suburb, boasted dry and hot summer days and mild Mediterranean nights in winter. Absent of the mature gum trees found mainly in the eastern suburbs or the European deciduous varieties that drop their leaves in autumn up in the hills, the roads in Daw Park had no need for road sweepers. Aussies in those days had not yet learned to litter the streets or throw cigarette butts anywhere they liked. It was customary to see bronzed Aussie blokes in their Hard Yakka boots and checked flannel shirts holding onto their empty Farmers Union iced coffee cartons till they come across a roadside bin. Kids could go anywhere they like, whenever they fancy. The creaky rusty Hills hoist was their merry-go-round and the Victa was not just a lawn-mower but also their pretend truck. The ‘burbs were as safe as a doona in bed. Apart from the three Beaumont kids who went missing from Glenelg Beach in ’66 , the crime rate was virtually zilch.
“You could go to bed without worrying about locking your front door,” the old man said.
“Sometimes, I’d wake up to find my housemates had even forgotten to shut it, so careless were they,” he said.
Streets were quiet back then, even during peak hour traffic. For a very long time, Adelaide was known as the 20-minute city because almost anywhere was just twenty minutes from the city centre. Traffic jams were foreign to the commuters till much later, maybe after the end of the 20th century. Residents would wake up smelling the salt from sea breezes from the west or the fresh fragrance of eucalyptus from a nearby park. Exhaust fumes were as foreign as the sighting of Asian kids. Every Chinese boy was assumed to be a disciple of Bruce Lee’s. Curries were horrible if at all available in the restaurants.
“I don’t remember ever seeing an Indian kid in school,” the old man told me.
Adelaide was a Holden country, the king of the road was either a Kingswood or a HQ Monaro. South Aussies were parochial. The old man said it was probably because the Holden factory was in Elizabeth, a satellite city north of Adelaide, named after Queen Elizabeth II. The Falcon XY GTHO Phase III was also a brute of a car but it was made in Broadmeadows in Victoria, so had a lot less traction in Adelaide. The ‘Kick a Vic’ campaign began in earnest after the Vics canned the State of Origin series. The AFL is weighted heavily with Victorian clubs and little is known that Aussie Rules football was a South Australian invention, first played in 1840.
“For some strange reason, young women these days have no qualms about travelling alone, even to Woop Woop,” the old man told Blue Eyes.
“They have no fear,” Chip chipped in.
Single, smart and confident, young women feel they are in total control of their lives. Perhaps, they were brought up by their mothers whose mothers had fought for women’s rights in the 60s. Or, maybe they have learned not to do as their mums say but do as they did. These were women who burned their bras in the heyday, and smoked weed and peed in their pants. Freed by the pill and randy with LSD, they embraced the sexual revolution with gusto.
“One of my sisters often used that popular phrase ‘make love, not war’ but she probably didn’t know what making love meant, back in those days,” the old man said.
“We were not even in our teens yet,” he explained.
The old man has trouble understanding young people today. Maybe the theory of evolution is somewhat over-used to explain animal behaviour. We often attribute human characteristics to our inherited genes. DNA-based reasoning cannot explain why these young women of today do not appear to have any concerns for their personal safety. It is as if the world changed suddenly and these women no longer worry about ‘The laws of the jungle’ and presume that even for the very feminine ones amongst them, the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is as applicable to them as to the tough and burly rogue they were likely to meet out there in the middle of some god-forsaken land. It is an accepted fact that evolution ensures that the best genes are passed on to the next generation thereby perpetuating the aggressive characteristics that will always select the option of war over peace to satisfy their greed and power or to force their hegemony over other nations. But, is it not also true that the genes that enable us to select self-preservation choices are also inherited rather than the DNA that encourage the indulgence of reckless adventures and taking undue risks?
The old man has two nieces whose mothers are often worried sick by them. One of them is a sister’s daughter and the other is a sister-in-law’s daughter. The English is quite imprecise, the word is ‘niece’ in both cases. Niece One, a medical doctor, loves deep-sea diving and has driven a motorhome all by herself from Woop Woop via Truro to Eh-d-laiied. In Truro, she stopped in front of a run-down cottage in the dead country town and asked a couple of blokes who were sprawled on their canvas outdoor folding chairs having beer on their front yard. The only green on the yard was a pile of empty Heineken cans, everything else was either brown or yellow and parched dry.
“Say, do you fellas know of any place I can rent for the night?” Niece One asked. She had gotten behind schedule, hungry and tired, so she decided to stop there to rest and maybe explore the next day.
“Sure, pretty girl. If you don’t mind the mess, you can have our place here for fifty bucks,” the bloke with buck teeth replied. His friend with a hairy back simply looked with mouth open.
Niece One said, “Thank you! You’re mighty kind. Can I have a look around first?”
The place was unliveable. It felt eerie as soon as she stepped into their kitchen. Haunted, she was sure. Her eyes did not miss the layers of dust everywhere, and the cobwebs!
This house must be crawling with spiders!
She turned on the tap, hoping to soothe her parched lips. But the brown water didn’t appeal to her.
“Hey guys, this place looks like it has not been lived in for awhile,” she said.
“How did you guess?” Hairy Back asked before the two of them broke into loud guffaws.
Luckily, Niece One made the correct decision. She thanked the guys and decided to resume her journey to Eh-d-laiied instead. Many days later, the old man told her she was incredibly lucky to be alive to tell the tale. That was the house where the Truro murderers lived in.
“Oh, uncle. You’re too imaginative,” Niece One said.
Niece Two had a similar adventure in Africa too. Still not yet hitting 30, the pretty and smart woman is also a medical doctor. What is it about these two medical doctors who know no fear? Maybe they have seen too many deaths and handled too much blood in their work. They do not seem to be fazed by anything or anyone. Niece Two loves to spend nights in the outback by herself. The idea of sleeping out there with nature, with only the light of the moon to guide her and the twinkling stars to entertain her, fascinates her. It is nigh impossible to invite her for a dinner on most weekends, as she would be out there in the sticks travelling solo in her Veedub Kombi.
She was in Africa a few years ago, working as a volunteer medical officer near a war-torn town in Ethiopia. Upon her arrival that night, she got a sim card so that she could call home to ally her parents’ concern for her safety. Her conversation with her mum began cheerfully enough in the brightly lit convenience store. As mother and daughter chatted and exchanged news, the daughter decided to make her way back to her room in the nearby hotel. Deep in conversation, Niece Two was unaware that the streets were poorly lit and emptying of people after dark. An easy measure of the wealth of a place can be ascertained by the distance between the street lights. “The closer they are, the richer the country is,” said an Indian taxi driver in Doha.
“Mum, there is a gang of youths right behind me,” said Niece Two.
“What should I do, mum?” she pleaded.
“Don’t run! They will outrun you,” her mother said, her voice broken with fear.
“Mum, I have to hang up now. They want to talk to me.”
Luckily, Niece Two returned home safely a few weeks later.
“Oh, all they wanted to do was talk. They were curious that I wasn’t afraid to be out in the dark by myself.”
Jeremy Griffith, the Australian biologist, in his book Freedom: The End of The Human Condition argues that the Genesis story of Adam and Eve was wrong. Humans are ‘born sinners’ from the moment those two disobeyed God and ate the apple in the garden of Eden. They were cooperative, selfless and loving until they took the ‘fruit’ from the ‘tree of knowledge’ and for that ‘sin’ they were cast out as bad and evil children of God. Here, he is arguing that instead of DNA-based natural selection, humans hereditary traits are nerve-based and from theis nerve-based conscious understanding system, we developed a conscience or inner ‘voice’. Our fully conscious mind began to thirst for knowledge and started to think for ourselves; this conflict between our natural instincts and conscious mind puts us in a dilemma and from the inclination to disobey, a defiance of instinct, our decision to manage our conscious mind, to learn and experiment, is met with criticism and self-doubt from our instinctive self, which we have to learn to live with; this is the path that led humans to retaliate against their inner voice, or ignore it, but the result is we humans become angry, egocentric and alienated or in other words, psychologically upset. Once we understand that we are not bad and evil simply because of our inclination for learning, we will have freed ourselves from the guilt of defying our natural instincts. Perhaps, it is this nerve-based consciousness that is driving the young women of today to pursue outside knowledge and experiences.
Coincidentally, I watched Rust Creek a few nights ago. It was about a college girl who, failed by her phone’s GPS, made a wrong turn on her way to a job interview. She ended up deep in the Kentucky forest, all alone facing her mortality when two hilly-billies tried to rape her and having failed, they tried to kill her. Those two could not organise a chook raffle in a country pub, so dumb they were that they would not be able to find a bum in a nudist colony. Hounded like a wounded prey, she was found unconscious by a cousin brother of the would-be rapists. He was a meth cook with a head on him like a toilet brush. Who should she trust? The meth cook or the sheriff or his deputy? In Rust Creek, she was up the creek without a paddle. But, don’t be fooled by her sweet girl-next-door looks – just when you think she couldn’t fight her way out of a paper bag, she would surprise you!