Saturday, April 01, 2006

Making the Freeway, Chapter II

Here, again (mostly) below the fold, is chapter two of the piece of writing I was mentioning before.

II: George

Curious George — Capt. Logan explores, climbs mountains — George, the map freak, before the accident — a riverboat ride — "...the finest tract of land..." — a parent's dream comes true — non-danger signs — The accident.

George was a psycho nutjob with a serious drug habit and an acquired brain injury. He lived with his mother in Loganholme. He spoke his mind — constantly — but his mind was crazy...

George was not always like this, of course. Before the injury was acquired, he was an active, inquisitive boy with an interest in cricket and cars and the world around him and, basically, in doing what boys do. And he also had a developing interest in Logan City — where he lived — and Captain Logan.

Captain Patrick Logan was the commandant of the Moreton Bay Penal Colony from 1826 until the time of his unsolved, but undeniably unpleasant, death in 1830. He was an avid explorer who discovered the river than now bears his name — although in the custom of the time, he named it the 'Darling' after the Governor of New South Wales (which is where the river would be for another two decades) — and thus gave his name to the area.

Logan liked watercourses and climbing things, once trekking along Oxley Creek with Cunningham, another explorer now with his name on things around South-East Queensland. On one of his inland excursions, Logan became the first white man to climb Mt. Barney. By the accounts, it was a difficult — possibly even dumb — climb. Other experienced climbers in the party gave up and waited the five hours it took for Logan to return.

George was immediately interested in Logan from the first time he heard about him, at age 12, before the accident. By that time, George already referred to himself as a 'map freak'. So did his friends and family. He liked to know where he was; he liked to relate it to the pocket street map he always carried.

George especially liked travelling on trains while tracking his course on his map. Roads and buses went past the front of people's houses; trains often went past their backs. It wasn't that George wanted to see people's sordid secrets; he just liked the new perspective on things this back-to-front view gave to his world. Trains also went through empty ground and farmland that roads didn't reach. Another chance for a new vista.

It was on a riverboat ride he had received for his twelfth birthday that George first saw the view from the river.

The riverboat was sailing in commemoration of the boats of times past which used to ply their trade up and down the Logan River. George's parents, who, having been pestered for maps as Christmas and birthday presents for years, were well aware of George's passion for seeing things from new viewpoints, had saved for the trip ever since they read in the Albert and Logan that such an opportunity was upcoming.

George was inspired. The river gave him the chance to see things he hadn't seen before; notice details obscured by the speeds of the vehicles — even the trains — in which he'd previously been travelling. He saw how the features of the land, like the Tanah Merah hill he'd trudged to the top of many times, affected the course of the river. And he listened intently to the knowledgeable lady from the local library who provided commentary on the journey.

George had been brought up in an era when road transport ruled. It never occurred to him that the river; that flash of water seen between the railings of the concrete cattle-run of the freeway bridge at 100km/h—that river; could once have been at the heart of everything. But on the riverboat ride, George heard about local history and about how the river had once been at the centre of it all; transporting timber, sugarcane and, of course, passengers and everything else it took to sustain a nineteenth century frontier community in the midst of what its European discoverer, Logan, had once called "...the finest tract of land I have seen in this or any other country..."

And, on that day on the river, George finally heard about Logan himself: the commandant, the explorer, the mountain-climber. It was when he heard about Logan's (probably incorrect) claim to have seen the river from Mt. French that George realised height provided the opportunity to see his world from yet another angle.

Not long after, George's social studies class at school began looking at the history of the Logan. This had two effects: first, it reinforced George's interest in the subject, almost to the point of obsession; second, he aced that exam at school.

So, his parents were happy. They had always encouraged George, providing gifts or matching funding for his map and street directory purchases. They were pleased when his interest in knowing where he was developed into an interest in knowing where other things were and then into knowing how those things and places came to be there in the first place. And when it helped George's grades at school, his parents were ecstatic.

To George's parents, the fact that the interest continued after its utility for grades at school ended was no problem: this was how people found out what they wanted to do for a living. That the interest escalated into requests for funding for 'topographical' maps — aerial photos with little lines drawn over them indicating the height of the land — was harmless enough. It seemed to George's parents that knowing the history of an area and knowing its landforms were related disciplines.

And teenage boys can always use a little discipline.

George's parents didn't see any danger when their son made it his mission to walk to the tops of all of the high points in the local area. He was 13 by then and he had been going to the top of the rock at Tanah Merah since he'd been given a (secondhand) bike at age ten, but mostly just to ride back down really fast. His parents listened with some pride, but mostly boredom, as he described the view from Eden's Landing, North Hill in Cornubia or the Kingston reservoir.

On George's part, he hoped his parents didn't know the reservoir too well, or they'd know he'd had to break-in to see what he had described. Maybe 'break-in' was too strong: there was a two foot gap in the wire security fence where it joined the fence of the house next door. And to see some of the other sights he'd had to trespass in some pretty posh places, too.

To George's parents, it was a natural extension when he wanted to travel further afield to see what he could see— Daisy Hill, Springwood, Wineglass Park at Hillcrest...

By the age of 16, George had an intimate firsthand knowledge of the place of his birth. He knew where everything was and every way to get there. He knew the history and the people. But he also knew that Captain Logan had done things he had not, besides order all the floggings. Such as to follow Oxley Creek overland, or to climb Mt. Barney.

So, it was on Mt. Barney a year later that George's accident occurred. He had taken along photocopies of books containing information about Logan's climb. He had already once insisted on a more dangerous route based on what he considered to be Logan's "true path" that he had discerned from his reading.

He was walking along a narrow ledge, apparently reading a map, when he stumbled and fell.

This was the accident in which George acquired his brain injury. Along with his overwhelming interest in Captain Patrick Logan, the injury caused two more effects: a need to know exactly where he was at all times, and a pathological obsession with safety.

© 2006


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