Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Coal and Cane

Loading Coal
After Roma I flew further north and to the coast, to Mackay  for two more weeks , right by The Great Barrier Reef,  Hamilton Island and the Witsunday Islands and fabulous sailing  grounds. However, unlike Roma I did actually work every day and all day in Mackay which is a much bigger centre. I was on call on the weekend I was there as well so didnt get an opportunity outside work hours to do much more than read about the history of the area in the local Tourist Information Centre. The City is surrounded by vast fields of sugar-cane, and I was informed that originally the cane cutters were imported "South Sea Islanders" a description I found curious, as it effectively homogenised and de-identified these people who no doubt in times past were an exploited work force. No body I asked was very sure where exactly they had come from, but in any case those days are long gone, huge harvesters now replacing them. I heard on the radio that there is a group trying to maintain the traditional cane harveting skills with annual competitions, but each year there seem to be fewer and fewer entrants. To make matters worse the Committe members are arguing with each other about how the Comp shold be run so it doesnt look like traditional cane cutting will be seen for much longer.

The other mainstay of the Mackay economy is coal. Coming in to land we flew over a conveyor pehaps a kilometre long stretching out into the sea, filling two ships while a dozen more were anchored off the coast waiting their turn . The coal mines were 40 or more kilometres inland, and obviously employ lots of young men as it seemed every second antenatal patient I saw in Clinic had a husband employed out there.

One other excellent thing I did in Mackay was buy an Amazon Kindle e-reader. It downloads books from Cyberspace and many of them you can get for free. I can now take hundreds of books with me, including medical texts which are usually  too heavy to lug round.

From Mackay I went back to New South Wales and worked in Bathurst for three days, and now I am packing for Ethiopia.

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