Photo by JENNY FRASER
Sally drank the coffee too quickly, she realized as she felt the warmth in her throat. It smelt great, the comforting pleasurable aroma followed by the sharp pain. She needed that coffee, though, to wake up quickly as she had been up to the early hours of the morning, chatting to her family and friends and stressing about what to pack.
She moved from the kitchen to her bedroom. What a messy room it was, not like the way she would normally keep it. Her clothes were in piles, on a chair, her suitcase, spread open on the unmade bed. A quick look made her realise that until she had done a final pack, it was going to stay that way for a few more hours. She could already feel the warm summer air in the house. It was shaping up to be a hot summer. The flowers were already in bloom, and the grasshoppers had started their march into the house early this year.
Feeling ready to tackle the packing again, she brushed her dark curly hair away from her face and got on with the task of sorting out her clothes for her trip and left the cleaning up for just a bit later.
Sally was born on Thursday Island or Waiben (meaning dry well), a tropical island in far north Queensland. Thursday Island is an island in the Torres Strait, so that meant she was an Australian citizen. However, if she had been born on Daru Island, another island to the northeast of Thursday Island (T.I.), she would be a Papua New Guinea citizen. She was pretty happy she was born on the right Island, she loved being an Aussie, but she loved her island home as well.
Thursday Island is a small island, one of 17 inhabited islands in the Torres Strait. The Torres Strait is comprised of a variety of islands, some mountainous, volcanic with good soil and others sandy, muddy and low-lying. In between the islands are many reefs, coral cays and sandy beaches. It is beautiful with blue waters and blue skies, yet dangerous with sharks, crocodiles and strong ocean currents.
Today the Torres Strait is also known as Zenadth Kes, and the islands bear island names as well as English names. Thursday Island is known as the jewel in the deep blue sea. It was Sally’s tropical paradise home with family and friends, and she loved it dearly. Images of colourful hibiscus, delicate orchids and palm trees came to mind whenever she thought of home. Walking down the street and meeting people you knew was a daily occurrence. You knew everyone, and everyone knew you.
Sally often wondered how Thursday Island got its name. Who would have thought to name an island after a day of the week? Quickly in her mind she answered her own question, Well, unless you were an explorer and had already named islands Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday then the next name had to be Thursday.
She remembered one of the many yarns that she heard from her Aunty, growing up about the history of the Torres Strait. In 1606, Luis Vaz de Torres, a Spanish explorer, had sailed through the Strait that separated Australia and Papua New Guinea. Of course he had given his name to the passage of water. However, it was not until much later that one of the British explorers came through and named the islands, from Monday to Friday.
At school the Catholic nuns taught her and her classmates the history of white Australia and all about the explorers. However, what resonated with Sally were the exciting adventures of the explorers on the sea. As a kid she longed to be one of those explorers and yearned for the same adventures.
Slowly she brought herself back to the present, wow, had time gone by since then. She had travelled from a small girl in the Torres Strait to studying in the big city in Brisbane. She was in the same state but had moved from its northern-most point to the very south. Same state, yet miles and worlds apart. She was now in her early twenties and while she felt young, there were times when she felt much older, with a heavy burden on her shoulders.
This burden was about studying at university and graduating. Sally had to stay and complete her higher education for better employment opportunities. She missed her extended family while she was at university, yet she wanted to make her parents and her family proud. Her parents did not complete high school, so having children who went to university was seen as impressive by the rest of the community. She was carrying the expectations of her family and community with her, and these expectations were a heavy burden at times.
Pulling herself out of her melancholy mood, she realized she was excited as she did her last minute pack. In a last minute effort to pack her bag she threw everything in her suitcase out and then proceeded to repack half of everything that lay scattered on the bed. As she was repacking she remembered this was a travel tip that her flatmate, Michelle, had shown her earlier that year when she was getting ready to travel overseas. Michelle had said to, ‘Throw everything in that you think you might need and then leave it overnight. When you come back to it the next day, take everything out and be ruthless by culling it again by half.’
Sally thanked her lucky stars she now heeded her flatmate’s advice. This process really made her think, did she really need a pair of jeans over the hot summer? They might be ok for going out in the big city but not really for T.I. She didn’t think that she would be going out much anyway so she decided that jeans weren’t going into the suitcase. Sally knew she would be too tired from catching up with family and friends, going fishing and just plain old relaxing, for her this was going to be the best holiday yet.
She was looking forward to eating her Aunty’s fried scones. She remembered how they smelt as she watched her Aunty cooking in her tiny kitchen and how they tasted so crunchy on the outside and yet so soft on the inside when she bit into them.
Already her mouth was watering, but she couldn’t stop there. She could see herself putting equal parts butter and golden syrup on a plate and swirling them together with a knife, then dolloping this wonderful mixture on top of the warm scone. It was pure heaven. She was very much looking forward to that.
Sally picked up the letter she received early last week from her Aka (grandmother). Aka was old, and each time Sally visited her at her home on Thursday Island, she hoped it would not be the last time they would be together. Her Aka had always been there for her, from a young child, through her teenage years and now as a young adult. Sally wanted her Aka to be with her forever and valued the time they spent together. Yet she knew that was not possible. She re-read the letter again.
Happy Birthday to you! Yes, it’s your birthday and I didn’t forget about it, even though I’m old (smile). I hope you have a nice day and enjoy a party or two. I want you to know that I chose these words carefully for you. This letter is my wish for you and I hope that you will treasure it and one day reflect on it.
So these are my wishes for you:
Travel – You will take a leap and go somewhere different, both domestic and overseas, because you can and so you should. Travel broadens the horizon and that was something instilled in you by your parents from a very young age. You loved to travel as a child and as a young adult and I can see that reflected in your face when you visited me and described the adventures that you have been on. I’m telling you to go on and have some more!
Now as an adult you can choose your own destination and have some control over where you go and for how long. Sometimes it is best to travel to the unknown and choose somewhere out of your comfort zone. This is a great thing to do so you can learn and appreciate another town, country and its peoples. Experience their culture and enjoy their food. Learning more about others also allows you to learn more about yourself.
Health – Look after yourself! I know that sounds obvious but sometimes you need to be reminded and a lot of reminders at that. Go visit the doctor and even the dentist. Listen to their advice. Exercise daily. It can be a walk in the park or joining a gym, just try it, or dare I say, Just Do It. A lot of our family are dying young and not even making it to 50 or even 40 years of age, your health is the number one important thing.
Stick to the things you like, yoga and tai-chi, it is very relaxing for you. Have a massage once in a while as a treat or maybe the occasional visit to the day spa if the budget allows. It’s nice to spoil yourself. Get outdoors during the day and enjoy the weather, sun, rain or cold. You will feel alive and refreshed. It is grounding and forces you to step away from what you are doing and always focus on – you. Remember you matter. Take care of yourself. Don’t forget to eat properly, too. Do not make me growl you now.
Family – Tell them you love them and tell it often. Make it part of a daily mantra, so they know it and you know that they know it. Make time during the year to spend with your family. They live all over the world and all over the country so it shouldn’t be hard to plan a trip. You know you’ll always have a bed to sleep in where ever you go. This ties in nicely with the travel topic too. Nice, see how I did that, to make it easier for you (smile). Also, call them, skype them, Facebook them and even write a letter. Just stay in touch and check in with them from time to time. These relationships are important and you have a lot of family and extended family so this should keep you busy for quite a while.
Friends – Make time for your friends too. After all that is why they are your friends, right? Go and do something together, whether it is to exercise, visit the art gallery or see a movie. Spend some quality time together and make some fun memories. These will bring a smile to your face. Memories are always important in your maturing years.
Culture – Treasure your culture, for that is what makes you different from others. It is your home, your foundation stone, your touchstone. It centres you and makes you whole. Learn as much as you can, while you can. Take the time to listen to elders, sing the songs, do the traditional dances and read and see as much as you can. Absorb it all.
Hobbies – Last but not least take up a hobby or interest, whether you like to read a good book, write some poetry or listen to music. Why don’t you try singing your favourite songs out loud or take some photos of your favourite things. Look after yourself and do something fun, these things go hand in hand.
So my dear, use this as working guide. Refer to it from time to time as a gentle reminder, and not as a growling. Remember, it is my wish for you. Finally, in the words of our ancestors, I leave this special poem for you.
A Prayer for my people
To live on
Silently she held the letter to her chest and closed her eyes. She let out a deep breath. The moment passed and Sally gathered her things, ready for the adventure home.