Iso in Oz

A retrospective of the first two weeks of my recent trip to Australia…

Day 1. Starting iso
I arrived in Gunnedah after having spent a night in Sydney, where they have been dealing with the tail end of a COVID outbreak. Anxious not to become a super-spreader responsible for a Gunnedah cluster, I drove directly to the motel-style unit where I could stay for two weeks in self-isolation – ‘iso’ in Australia. COVID, super-spreader, cluster, self-isolate, iso… none of this would have made sense last time I was here, a year ago.

Day 2.    Direct to boot
To get groceries safely I tried out the supermarket’s contactless ‘direct to boot’ – I can order online, drive to the supermarket, and have groceries delivered to my car. Making choices took longer than anticipated – some products are different from NZ, so I ended up reading quite a few labels. It was disconcerting to discover the difference between ‘fragrance free’ and ‘unperfumed’ – evidently ‘unperfumed’ or ‘unscented’ actually means that the perfume/scent has been masked. Surely it would be more honest to call it ‘de-perfumed’, or perhaps ‘re-perfumed’? Order made, payment made, and I arrived at my designated pick-up time. It went well once I realised that I had to back into the parking space, rather than drive in. Obvious once you know.

Day 3. Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
Since Australian Eastern Standard Time is two hours behind NZ, I can become a morning person for a few days when I cross the Tasman. In my early morning walk I recorded a magpie, which in NZ’s most famous poem says ‘Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle.’ The local Gamilaraay name is burrugarrbuu, and assuming it is at least partly onomatopoeic I’m trying to decide which captures the song of a magpie better?

Day 4. Wandobah Road
If I ruled the world I would ban the use of ‘heights’ in naming any new suburbs. Especially if they are on gently sloping land. There is a housing development going in at the back of the unit where I am staying. The new Mornington Heights suburb leads off Wandobah Road, which is a Gamilaraay word with wanda, meaning ‘ghost’, or maybe ‘white people’, and -baa meaning ‘place of’. In a post on Instagram I wondered whether it is from ghosts or white people. A Gamilaraay friend said definitely ghosts – later she told me there is a spooky feeling in the old camp there.

Day 5. Calendar
I’ve been working on an editable birthday calendar for teachers to use in their classrooms. There were no traditional Gamilaraay words for months, but in a meeting some years ago Elders suggested names based on what is happening in the country at those times, and then we add a suffix from gilay, ‘moon’. January is gayn.gayn, ‘desert lime’, which is ripe in summer. As I know I have never seen one – something to try when I leave iso.

Day 6. FMD
I did a bit of following up on some of the people who had forwarded our Facebook language posts to see how they are being used. One page had the comment FMD which stumped me. A quick search came up with Fibromuscular dysplasia, but this was definitely the wrong context. A further search came up with ‘F*** Me Dead.’ This was not a response to the post on our page, BTW.

Day 7. A sunburnt country
I went down to see the new silo art mural painting of Dorothea Mackellar, with the most famous stanza from her poem ‘ My country ’ written in the early 20th century when she was in England, homesick for her time spent on family farms near Gunnedah.

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I lover her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

Day 8. Zooming in
Zooming used to be something I did on my camera. Now it’s the way I attend meetings and birthday celebrations wherever I am, as long as I have my laptop. And now I’ve learnt a Kiwi development, the Zooui –  a hui (‘meeting’ in te reo Māori) by Zoom.

Day 9. But officer, I am self-isolating
On my way to an early afternoon boot delivery, I was pulled over by a police car conducting random breath tests. I pulled over and put on a mask – which would be more appropriate in this situation? I chose the black silk over the blue disposable. I wound down the window and spoke to the young officer in my politest voice.

‘I’m self-isolating.’ He backed away, lowering the breathalyser.

‘I’ll leave you to it, then!’

Day 10. Mates
I arrived at the drive-through COVID-testing station for my second test. The (female) nurse greeted me with ‘How are you going, mate?’ A change from Darlin’ in the supermarket – neither of which I ever get in NZ.

Day 11. FLOTUS
The current FLOTUS gave her final speech last night. I’ve never understood why POTUS would voluntarily use this acronym – it’s a strange cross between ‘flatulence’ and ‘lotus’.

Day 12. NAIDOC 2021
The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week in July (from National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) has just been announced: Heal country! I asked the expert descriptive linguist for a possible translation to put on Facebook so that people can start planning. He has suggested Walaaybaa maaruba-la! from walaay (‘camp’ and -baa ‘place of’) and maaruma-li (‘fix, heal’, with hand).

Day 13. Chanelling David Attenborough
One of the joys of summer in Gunnedah is the presence of frogs in the bathroom. I no longer worry about them and take a ‘live and let live’ approach. However, this morning I noticed one hopping around in the kitchen. I caught it and thought I’d try and identify it by looking up frogs in the Gamilaraay dictionary, assuming that it would have been also common back in the day (although not in bathrooms, obvs). I found words for ‘bullfrog’ (warrungan), ‘burrowing frog’ (galgalbanaa), ‘tree frog’ (garrarr), and ‘an unspecified frog’ (dharran). I checked pictures, but none looked quite like my little friend. I set him/her/it free outside. A few minutes later I saw a peewee swoop… I couldn’t look. What would Sir Dave’s commentary have been?

Day 14. Iso finished
Over and out!

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