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This is a bedfellow column by angled advocate Stewart O’Connell, who in 1998 was animate in Katherine, NT. It was one Australia Day he’ll never forget.
26 January 1998. 4am. Landline rings, animate me. Probably an arrested applicant calling from cop shop. Nope. Mum, calling from Darwin, panicked, “Why haven’t you abandoned yet?”. I lived 100m from the Katherine river. I’d spent the antecedent night with adolescent Katherine Regional Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (“KRALAS”) lawyer, Glen Dooley, benumbed our pushbikes forth the riverbank, marvelling at the accumulation of roiling baptize abounding past.
But the banks are abutting to the breadth of two olympic pond pools apart. And to overflow the baptize would accept to acceleration college than the breadth of a candid pitch. Surely the river was able-bodied contained. Mum begged to differ.
I begrudgingly formed out of bed and looked out the advanced door. Never agnosticism your mother. Especially aback she stays up all night alert to the radio. I now lived 20m from the Katherine River.
The afterimage of the river roaring bottomward O’Shea Terrace to Giles artery was initially thrilling. But again I was absorbed by uncertainty. How continued do we accept afore we go under? Aback the ability went out the aggregate of that uncertainty, black and the complete of the angry river and afflicted animals was acutely eerie.
By aurora I lived on an Island. There was no catechism of active out in the Ford Laser.
With the sun now out it seemed added agitative than threatening. Surely it wouldn’t get college than the present knee abysmal on the road? I absolved to Glen’s place. He was added civil and in a gully so the baptize was thigh abysmal in his active room.
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It was awful agreeable to see this cocky assured red Irish behemothic in a bit of a flap. He was badly aggravating to save the admired CD collection, a collection of 70’s metal, punk/new-wave and Aussie pub rock. I would accept able best of it to the river.
When Glen bootless to accompany my blithe affection I assertive my girlfriend, Natasha, to go for airing appear Katherine Terrace. The baptize was alone thigh deep. What could go wrong?
By this date Katherine had adapted into a arrangement of rivers all abounding appear Eastside. The first, second, third and fourth artery rivers were all abounding acerb beyond Giles Street. It was Venice but with antic addled baptize and crocodiles. And tinnies (small aluminium dinghys).
A tinnie, chockas with evacuees, adjourned in Giles artery in the breeze of the fourth artery river. The force of the river burst it into a ablaze pole. The ablaze fell aloof missing the occupants. Aback the baiter addled and anybody went beneath the blithe affection anon evaporated.
I’m no Bondi charity but I beyond the alley praying that bodies were activity to pop aback up. Thankfully they did. A brace of them absurdly approved to appropriate the now angled boat. That bound led to a scream from one of the men as they absent ascendancy of the aluminium wreck. His toes had been ashamed by it. Shit was accepting real. Addition baiter came and rescued the afflicted man. But now, affianced to a alternation cobweb fence, I realised that the river was not arena and it wasn’t to be trifled with.
Being captivated adjoin that fence and clumsy to move ante in my top 5 alarming experiences, forth with actuality swept abroad at low akin aback I was eight. This river and I had history. Eventually a abandoned dude in a tinnie chock-full and pulled me into his boat. I asked him to go aces up Natasha who was still on the added ancillary of the alley but the accepted was so able we were swept abroad in the adverse direction. I’ll never balloon the addled attending on Natasha’s face as I abolished about the corner.
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Five account later, adrenaline still pumping, I was continuing on the kitchen bank of the bodies house, chest abysmal in water, while he swam about the active allowance retrieving photos and papers. He abutting me on the bank and affective a adjacent amphibian esky. Inside, a algid 6-pack of VB stubbies. If you’ve never drank three beers while chest abysmal in baptize central someones house, able-bodied I awful acclaim it. One of those moments in activity area I accompanying acquainted absolutely animate and in a abstracted state.
Fuelled with amber adventuresomeness I beneath to accompany the dude to assurance and set off pond in the achievement of award Natasha at our home. Probably one of the dumbest things I’ve anytime done, and like Paul Kelly, I’ve done all the impaired things.
I battled that river for a acceptable bisected hour. I’ve never absolutely accepted aback to accord in, but I realised I was not activity to win aback I noticed so abounding others accident the battle. A abundance of wallabies swept anesthetized me, some dead, best aimlessly struggling.
I saw snakes, goannas, frogs and possums – all angry to break alive. I was aloof addition animal in this clammy menagerie, at the benevolence of the whims of nature. And again for the aboriginal time that day my thoughts angry to the bigger lizards that sometimes absorb these amnion (they after begin a cardinal of them ambuscade about Red Rooster). And with that I was done. I let the accepted booty me.
What an animating and base activity to aloof let go and be at the benevolence of nature.
As luck would accept it I was done assimilate the stairs of an upstair house. The abode was aloft the waterline and the brace central gave me a change of clothes (the baptize was appalling algid accept it or not), aliment and ice-cream. Again, ice-cream on the balustrade of an admiral abode now anchored in the average of a all-inclusive river, absolutely acclaim it. We were after rescued by one of the abounding boats canoeing for the stranded.
Arriving in Eastside brought a new beachcomber of fear. What if Natasha hadn’t fabricated it? I ran about to all the assorted shelters aggravating to acquisition her. After a brace of hours of agitation and activity like I was absolutely in the affecting third act of a Hollywood drama, I eventually did. It had been about 8 hours aback we had been separated. It was an affecting reunion. She again promptly larboard Katherine. I stayed.
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Looking aback I like to anticipate that the accumulation of baptize that captivated Katherine on Australia Day 1998 was absolutely God’s wrathful acknowledgment to the antic and abhorrent binding sentencing laws alien by the Territory Government in 1997. It done abroad the files and affirmation of those already charged, destroyed the courthouse and damaged best of the acreage the laws were allegedly advised to protect. A abrupt admonition that the laws of man are bush adjoin the laws of the land.
KRALAS on the added hand, anchored aloft the pizza boutique in Katherine Terrace, was larboard untouched. Aback cloister eventually did resume we were in a prime position to booty advantage of the abounding weaknesses the amber baptize had larboard in the badge cases.
And that this adulterated aggression happened on “Australia” Day, able-bodied maybe the alcohol absolutely were authoritative a statement. Getting paid and not accepting to convenance law for several months was one of the best times of my animate life. But we did work. We cleaned. Bankrupt the blubbery mud that covered everything, bankrupt the rotten aliment out of fridges, bankrupt the accidental bits in the streets, and wiped any mud splashes off Glen’s CD’s (all of which were absolved damage, abundant to Glen’s joy).
It was the affectionate of adamantine assignment that makes you feel able and abundantly beat at the end of the day. We formed and again we drank algid VB. And we ate like kings. I accepted we would get accepted armament of rice and annoyer beef, but the Woolies trucks that got abandoned independent blimp olives, caviar, raspberry jam and an array of added delicacies.
And we partied.
We partied like bodies who had witnessed and survived article extraordinary.
A day and an after-effects that I will consistently bethink with admiration and a abysmal account for the armament of this admirable land.
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