Dirtiest dozen behold the blase 40 in a clash of ennui and awe

In Kakadu a light on the truck dashboard went from green to red, subtly indicating we were rooted. We were never going to make Jim Jim Falls. The farmers among us triaged the engine and we limped back to Cooinda.

Illustration: Robin Cowcher

Illustration: Robin Cowcher Credit:

With a day to kill we booked a cruise on Yellow Water Billabong. My friends, that dirtiest dozen, filed aboard ship and sat up the back, from habit, and got talking to our captain. As a cruise operator Mark was perfect; he was brimming with knowledge, appreciative of the wonder of his world, and hadn’t succumbed to the temptation to make the tour a stepping stone to a career in stand-up, as so many guides do.

I don’t like organised tours, but Mark had me feeling relaxed. That is, until our 40 fellow passengers shuffled off a bus and aboard ship with their shins jutting from three-quarter-length pastel pantaloons.

It’s a common indulgence to see yourself as being apart from the crowd. I am, according to me, and to no one else, a big-brained leopard moving stealthily among shabbily dressed marmots. You are too, I guess, according to you. It is not true as a rule this leopard/marmot dichotomy. We are, you and I, one of the crowd. Yet travelling with this sedentary 40, I began to lick my forearms and purr. They seemed, all of them, to be mourning something. Perhaps their younger selves.

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