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Monday, May 2, 2011

Hatchlings On The Road To Nowhere, Jacob Edwards

If humanity did indeed roll-start its evolutionary cycle by inventing the wheel, how then should we view the ancestral highway that stretches out behind and in front of us, guiding us through our formative years, leading us on?

Literally, figuratively, it is a question that bears some incubation; so I sit here – in a hatchback, no less – a philosopher to the slaughter as I bleat my way along Lambert Road.

In my mind, the streets of Indooroopilly are cool and lightly overcast. This is the way I picture them now, and this is the way they’ve always seemed, a perception that stems from every second Sunday of my childhood, when we’d drive to visit my grandparents at Chapel Hill.

People actually live in the Walter Taylor Bridge, in little flats above the road, with tiny balconies and drooping plants, suspended up there as the world beneath them changes. Cars have advanced and multiplied. Traffic is congested. The western lane now spasms fitfully à la a piano accordion’s purgative death throes. Vehicles bunch together at the lights, wheeze slowly apart with indomitable ambition, but then compact once more. Big Bang, Big Crunch, Big Fizzle. When viewed from above, this free-spirited calamity must look like the endless, tragi-comic struggle of a large millipede on skates.

But such is the oddly serendipitous nature of evolution: the individual remains proud and resolute while the environment transforms, ticking over with the dramatic poise of a roulette wheel at the end of its run; bestowing favour on heretofore unappreciated minorities; recognising all manner of quirkiness and idiosyncrasy. Mutation is not a reaction to change so much as an uninformed pre-emption. It sneaks in first and then waits with fingers crossed while the numbers of natural selection are called. Evolution, in short, is a gamble in what may or may not become fashionable.

Like Charles Darwin’s sideburns, appearing suddenly out of the misty smog of time and industrialism.

Indooroopilly and Chapel Hill used to be so peaceful, so green, as if untouched by the metal fingers of civilisation. Traffic was sparse – many of the roads were just narrow tracts through bushland – and on the drive home we would cut through Woodville Street and onto Finney Road without encountering a single vehicle; just the mandatory scrub turkey, surging neurotically from the undergrowth and charging across the asphalt with intensely single-minded disregard.

The pulse of the bush; nature’s little electrons.

I remember the scrub turkeys very clearly, for unfailingly there would be one, usually aimed north, a scrabbling, bobbling, demented mass of bones and feathers, held together by loose flaps of skin and rocketing hell-for-leather across the road as if having gobbled for other turkeys to lay down covering fire.

(Even today, a stigma will fall upon anybody unfortunate enough to hit one of these manic bolters, for there is something quite compelling about a scrub turkey’s unpredictable derring-do. It demands a certain amount of respect – a perverse admiration, perhaps – and so cars must diligently give way to these wizened-headed kamikazes of the western suburbs; the closest thing we have to Hinduism’s sacred cows.)

That is how Indooroopilly rests in my mind: cool and lightly overcast; its streets quiet and uneventful (save for the odd rat-a-tat-tat burst of turkey ebullience). The impression is strong and ever so deeply rooted, to the point where it approaches tradition, like a group of Celts trudging the moors and seeking shelter in which to drink beer and sing proud a capella.


But none of that is any help to me today, here and now, where memory and reality collide with a sickening thump and a mushroom-cloud of feathers. Indooroopilly’s streets are sunny and hot. The entire suburb is a sweltering mess. I sit, wilting, in a dark blue Daihatsu Charade, leaning on my elbow, head lolling against a closed fist, the car burning up like a jammed toaster in hell. My feet restlessly balance clutch and accelerator, and I steer with my left hand. There is no need to work the gear-stick beyond first; not at this pace; not while travelling at speeds easily achievable by a moderately-motivated, self-propelled cabbage.

How did it come to this? Why am I here, drifting like untreated sewage through the back streets of Indooroopilly; twisting wry lips; blinking the acrid sweat of self-recrimination; head shaking in helpless disbelief; snarling, as the gormless shitheads in front of me let another four-wheel-drive bully its way into the traffic flow’s stagnant waters. Why? Why? Why?

I glare balefully at the rear-view mirror, squeeze a few metres from the Charade’s most recent, pitiful spurt of momentum, and then grimace to a halt (à la the brothers Grimm upon reading back an early translation of Kinderund Hausmärchen and discovering that the ‘r’ and the [space] have been left out of ‘Frog King’). On one level, this entire nightmare is my own fault. After all, I’m the one who hopped into the Daihatsu and decided, rather whimsically, that it would be nice to avoid Moggil Road and instead take the scenic route from UQ to Indooroopilly Shoppingtown. I’m the cast iron, 24-carats ninny who suffered a salmoning convulsion of the brain and forgot all about school traffic.

(Hark! Hear the anguished howling of spirits damned! – massage eyes; rub cheek; twist upper lip – Clip-clop, here we go, clip-clop, a beastly procession of aimlessness. School traffic! Clip-clop, clip-clop, the knackered old Clydesdale of the Apocalypse!)

So yes, there was an error, but – animalistic rage and snarling antagonism returning – if we were temporarily to disregard this unpardonable breach of good sense, this senseless slip of sensibility, if we could just move on for a moment, then it would become evident that, yes, on one level this is all my fault, but on another level, a higher plane of existentialism, this whole fiasco is really just an appalling reflection on modern society and the evolutionary pinnacle to which mankind aspires to shimmy up and nick off with the flag.

The Daihatsu inches past a sign proclaiming 40 km/h between 2pm and 4pm. Talk about your mis-placed optimism. My fists clench. My jaw muscles ache. The blood rushes to my head, but then...then...


Of course. It was always fated to end that way. (It’s the kind of realisation where profanity gives way to profoundness, where Stop Making Sense starts to make sense.) There’s just nothing for it. I exhale a deflatory, dejected, dying breath, and let my ambitions expire. My once-proud, belligerent aspect sags in upon itself, muscles instantly atrophied, and melts away to merge with the sickly black asphalt. Roadkill and Despair. Dali would have been proud. I experience a strangely peaceful release, as of the soul, a sudden sense of belonging, of oneness with the dysfunctional madness. Cars line the street, and society grinds to a halt as I’m given my very own, personal welcome to Purgatory. Whereas just moments ago I was on the verge of something quite, quite terrible, now I am merely nowhere.


Unencumbered, relaxed, smiling even, I now sit back and remember last Friday’s David Byrne concert.

David Byrne has re-invented himself. Here was a man who used to be all about incongruity – jerky motions, urgent guitar scratchings, wide-eyed stillness; a bizarre kind of evangelical neuroticism – and yet now he is at peace with the rhythm over which he presides. His eyes are shut so as better to feel the music. His arms rise and fall in a conductor’s dance. He is his own marionette in an invisible big suit, moving wheresoever the music takes him.

“Thank you,” he notes, as the Latin beat sashays to a halt and the orchestral strings fade away to gossamery remembrances. The words are immediately thrown back at him: “No, thank you, David!”

David Byrne has moved on – David Byrne has evolved – and so now, if he chooses to jut his neck forward a few times, turkey-like, it is more an act of nostalgia than one of necessity. David Byrne is his own man, and yet, David Byrne has embraced his past. David Byrne is everything he was but more, running on the spot in time to Naive Melody and waiting for natural selection to strike.

That is how I remember the David Byrne concert, and it is of every help to me today as I ease Veronica’s dark blue Daihatsu Charade through the shimmering heat-haze that enshrouds Indooroopilly’s 3pm exodus. School traffic? I shrug one shoulder and purse my lips with new-found tolerance; a certain, bobble-headed wisdom. C’est la vie.

And that, with serendipitous if somewhat graceless panache, is when the baby scrub turkey lurches out in front of the Charade, hesitates for a second as if chemically imbalanced, then darts twitchingly across to the far side of the road and disappears into the undergrowth. It is the grounded equivalent of a chick learning to fly. Scrabbling steps, bulging eyes, an ingrained sense of direction, fixated but ineluctably erratic.

Today’s hastily launched conker is tomorrow’s loose cannonball broadsiding the good ship Evolution.

So godspeed the scrub turkey. When greeted with such a spectacle, the modern day Charles Darwin would probably suffer a major coronary – sputtering incoherently in the heat while nearby ambulances wail their impotence – but I find the sight curiously uplifting, and in my mind the sunny streets of Indooroopilly begin once more to cloud over.

Past, present or future; the road will always be with us.

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