September 14, 2023


by Victoria Clayton in Australia0 Comments

I have an uneventful night in Ararat and do a quick grocery shop before heading off to Nhill. Coming into the town, I continue through the big roundabout with the turnoff to Kaniva, past neat yellow-brick houses with well-kept gardens and cross the railway line. I continue for about three kilometres, spying in the distance, over dry paddocks, two steel hangers. Another turn and I’m approaching the aerodrome, excited to be staying in this interesting free camp recommended by my brother.

Two young people in a campervan slam their door shut and drive away as I approach and I have the pick of the small dusty area, semi-shaded by a few eucalypts. I pull up so that my door is facing into the centre of this area; the cabin pointing towards the driveway. I watch the campervan moving beyond the paddocks, way out on the horizon.  I eat my sandwich sitting outside and then spend the afternoon reading.

After dinner, Dougal begs to go outside for his evening wander. It’s part of his  cat nature; he gets all active and twitchy in the early morning and early evening, springing up on the bed then down again, pawing at things on the floor. Then, in the day, he settles on the passenger seat and sleeps for hours, and in the evening, just on dusk, he goes out for a little mooch about. 


I’ve watched him out there. He digs a little hole, does his business and covers it over. He’s not particularly neat, gouging in the earth and shoving it haphazardly around with his short chunky paws, but he gets the job done. Then he lies under the Van.

An hour later Dougal taps on the door.  I open the door and am stunned by the sky. Clouds ripple across the retreating blue of the day, fire bright in yellow and tangerine, softening to a gentle golden glow and as the sun drops over the horizon, the night draws in and the sky darkens to indigo.

Next morning visitors come to the aerodrome, aviation history and small plane enthusiasts.

Albert wears a blue cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a canvas hat and is slowly sinking into his trousers. He comes each day and waters the few small saplings and a square of lawn next to the parking area.  It’s an important job.  The grounds of the Nhill Aerodrome have to be in tip-top condition for the aviation festival later in the year.

For five years during WW2 Nhill was a pilot training centre and there's a terrific museum here ('not a museum, it's a...whatachamacallit...history, no heritage centre.' The octogenarian volunteer explains. Bloody cultural studies courses; what is wrong with the word ‘museum’?)

Albert comes every morning, moves the hose, stares at the ground with his hands on his hips, waves when he sees me, and smiles with his perfect teeth and twinkling blue eyes.

One day he knocks on the door to tell me the biplane is about to go out. The old plane has been lovingly restored and a couple has booked a joy flight. The engine roars as it takes off over the paddocks around Nhill. Albert and I watch the plane swoop around the sky, our heads swooping in time.

That afternoon I go to the museum and then stroll around the grounds, looking at the concrete slabs and occasional low walls of the buildings that once stood here. I’m camping on an archaeological site. An older couple arrive in a ute, a farmer and his wife. We exchange greetings and after I see him and his kelpie shifting the mob of sheep over the remains.

Next morning Albert doesn’t come to do the watering. I pack as slowly as I can but when he still hasn’t appeared by nine-thirty I regretfully leave as I have a long drive ahead of me. The engine sounds loud in the quietness of the morning and I head down the driveway, pausing at the gate to let a small white car turn in. It doesn’t move.

‘Come on mate!’ I mutter, then slowly inch forward.

Then I see it, an arm protruding from the car, waving furiously. I wind down my window and wave back, straining my neck to see him, and smile. Albert toots twice and is off down the driveway to his hoses. Blinking, I drive away from the aerodrome, back to the big roundabout and take a right turn to Kaniva.

About the Author

Victoria Clayton

I write narrative nonfiction, essay and poetry on a range of subjects: archaeology, travel, history, thinking about the past, ancient figurines, what makes a well-lived life?

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