Monday, September 14, 2009

Some more on whys and wherefores

I got it again today. "Only you would go and settle on an obscure little island."
The subtext read. "You do these crazy things for effect."
Sigh. Yes, B and I have ended up doing some bizzaro stuff. Living in weird houses built by Murphy. Writing Science Fiction. But oddly enough, it mostly makes some kind sense at the time. There are reasons, sometimes even quite good ones. Of course some of them make as much sense as an emu on acid, but the one reason that there really never has been is 'for effect, because its weird'. LOL. The honest truth is I don't care enough about what the world in general thinks of me to ever make that a valid reason (specific people, a different matter entirely). I became a Shark Fishery Researcher not because it was gung-ho, or glamourous or exciting... It was exciting at times, but the truth is I'd been promised a dream research job... and B and I having resigned our jobs so I could take it... it fell through after keeping us hanging for three months. I had gone to a bunch of employment agencies etc... and got nothing. So when I called a friend at UCT to hear if he knew of anything, and he told me the current Shark Fishery researcher had resigned -- I hastily applied. I'd have taken ANY job right then. People kept telling me "you're over-qualified", which has to be one of the stupider reasons I have ever had to deal with. And so I spent three years in small boats messing with things that bite. And so on...

So now why an island in Bass Strait? The truth is - as far as I'm concerned - its disadvantages play to our advantage, and make this possible. For a start, the island is actually quite large - bigger than the Seychelles, or Bermuda, nearly the same size as Grande Comore or Maritius, or three times the size of Barbados. So no, not one palm tree, and some white sand. It's one of a group of 52 islands (the biggest), and has for Australia a fairly substantial mountain, 2480 feet high (and it basically starts at sea level). The climate is cool temperate (it claims to have more sun than the Gold Coast. We shall see.). There is seldom frost, and the average January (midsummer) Temperature: 13 to 22 °C (60 to 71 °F), and average July(midwinter) Temperature: 6 to 13 °C (43 to 56 °F). It rains enough, but it is not sodden. In other words, it's a fairly pleasant spot to be, weatherwise, if like me you really don't like extreme heat or endlessly bitter cold.

So what ARE the disadvantages? Why is going there so unusual? Well, quite simply, it is relatively inaccessible. It's an 8 hour ferry ride, or an expensive small plane flight. And Australia is a huge country with a lot of land and a lot of opportunities. Flinders has a great climate, and is big compared to Barbados... but it's tiny compared to Western Australia. And there is a little farming and a little fishing, and a little tourism in summer ('cause that's the long holiday). Compared to the rest of Australia, unemployment is high. And the population has bobbed around and might be dropping... at around 8-900 people. Barbados by comparison at 1/3 the size has 280 000 people.

For most people - love the idea as much as they might - there is no way they can go and live there. It's not a viable life-choice for a decent working bloke, and for most of the idle rich it's too far from the theaters and restuarants, and for retirees - a bit far from a hospital for comfort, maybe. For us... it may be the only viable kind of choice. Because a mid-list writer like myself earns an erratic living, not a fortune, and Banks (understandably) do not consider us good mortgage risks. So we have to either rent cheaply or find something really, really cheap. And that is inevitably somewhere where people don't want to or can't go and live. Now there are some cheap alternatives in the 'don't want to' bracket. Hot and dry, cold and wet, isolated, or screwed up beyond recognition. But you'd go a long way to find a 'can't' place as pleasant as Flinders Island. And because I can work anywhere... the main reason for 'can't' falls away. I don't take anyone's job and I'm hoping that just that little extra trickle going into the local businesses is a good thing, and B and I are good at fit-in and chip-in. We've fought fires with the local farmers, been involved in various committes and organisations. No, no desire to take over or be the queen bee. Just fit to the place and do our bit. I like rural communities, and I like knowing my neighbours. No, they're not all rednecks.

The other reason of course is a writer's life of feast and famine. I might get two-three cheques a year, and sometimes ( here is the reality of publishing) they can be very very late. Averaged over a year, it's liveable. Paying monthly bills... it can be uncomfortable (especially here with the wild exchange rate fluctuations - you thought you had so much, and by the time it arrives it's somehow, always against you ;-).) So you do your very best not to have monthly bills. Some are unavoidable, but you learn to be careful... and in my case, be as self-sufficient as possible. This is not an option in a rented flat (which also has monthly rent). It's got limits in suburbia. Even here with 5 hectares - about 12 acres, there are limits. Nothing grows here in winter. But the climate is gentler where I am going, and more importantly, I'll be back at the sea, and one that has relatively low fishing and diving pressure. I was born into a commercial fisherman's family -- my dad had two jobs -- as mister mate on the old Bess every Sunday (and sometimes other days - but that was when mostly they went fishing. Not exactly for fun... he'd bring home a sugar-pocket of fish every weekend) I was scaling, gutting, gilling back before I could properly reach the sink -- I still remeber my dad had a wooden soft-drink crate for me to stand on (said W. Daly on the side - wooden crates!). I started diving from about 8... so, unlike most folk I really do have the background to live largely off the sea. We did so for 3 years when I was doing M.Sc. It'll be different and I'll have a lot to learn. But I do have some experience that most people don't.

See, all logical and quite sensible really.

Oh and did I mention that Island has some of the best rock-climbing in Australia?
Maybe not so sensible ;-).
But logical.


  1. Sounds perfectly reasonable. But please don't die of "hospital is too far away" is you can avoid it.

  2. It's a risk. But there is a Doctor on the island and a sort of day-hospital with the emergency stuff. And there are several planes on the island, as well as a daily flight. In emergency you can be in a hospital (unless the weather really closes in) in under 2 hours from the furthest corner of the island.