On Friday, I left my house tucked neatly in the urban forest of inner Canberra and headed to my local cafe.
On this slightly crisp but sunny morning, I encountered a pack of the new arrivals. I love seeing these new arrivals. They are a small part of what makes living in Canberra that little bit special.
On other days, I may take breakfast and coffee with KRudd and his lovely wife. Well, to be more accurate, I have an uncanny knack of sitting right where KRudd then finds a spare table. We are on nodding acquaintance, just like locals at any local hang, and we have spoken twice. Once was nice and pleasant, one was not so. He likes being told he is doing good things and he hates being accosted with anything not so.
Anyway, he was not there this day.
Instead, I saw the new arrivals.
You can tell them from a mile. Well, I can and that may be because I have seen so many of them.
They all look the same while looking as different as possible. They are always husband, wife, and two or three kids, usually around eight to fifteen years old. They are always dressed to the nines.
You can just smell that they have just come off the boat, so to speak. Actually, they have just come off a big airplane, probably in the preceding day.
They have settled within a few kilometers of Manuka. Indeed, the have settled into a home and conditions that are right up there in not just Australian standards. They have settled into some of the most opulent circumstances going on the planet.
They have been posted as a diplomat to Australia, meaning that they live within a few clicks of Manuka.
Hence, over the past twenty or so years that I have frequented Manuka, normally around 3-4 times a week, I have had the pleasure of witnessing many of these new arrivals first outing in their new homes.
You can just tell, or at least I can, that is the first outing. The wide eyes of the whole family, man included, outs them as freshly minted.
I have often given into my searing temptation and asked. I have been right every time. I rest my case.
So today, I saw them coming from down the street. They were surely brand new. Part of the fun is trying to guess where they come from.
I was at first thinking the best possible outcome. You see, any person that looks like they come from Papua New Guinea. I always talk to them. I want to find out where they come from and explain that I am Tolai. I hail from Rabaul. They always love meeting one of their wantoks, as is the case so far from home, in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of skin colour.
So, this mob looked to me like they might have been from Bouganville. Black as you can get. So amazing looking and so much a part of my childhood memories.
I thought it through. Surely not. It must still be too early for a Bouganvilian to be posted as a diplomat.
As they got closer, I realised that we would be talking Africa.
As is often my luck, they settled at the table right next to me. I was overcome with excitement and that familiar feeling of amazement that comes with such luck.
I again thought about the specialness, if that is the word. Imagine where they have come from. You can see the truth etched into their travel weary faces. They have arrived in some secret paradise. Over the years I have had the good fortune to talk to several of these new arrivals who have lucked on a pass out from war-torn nations. You can smell the relief and amazement that comes with such luck.
So, this week, I listened in. Quick assessment was South Africa. Accents fitted. I listened in as they considered as a family an impossibly large tourist map. I got more interested as they narrowed down to the Glassworks not far away. Then a thought struck me. This is one of those moment where evil triumphs because good men stay silent.
OK, I am being silly. Of course, the Glassworks are a great place to go.
But this day, this Friday, I needed to avert the great danger. So, I butted in with my usual “excuse me”.
They, as is always the case, were lit up by this encounter with a native. I love that. A simple hello from me really makes their day. It sort of caps off the strange new experience they are having. At least that is what I read in their very attentive eyes.
Anyway, within a few seconds I had confirmed South Africa. Arrived late the night before. The first journey out in the land down-under. Yep, I love being right with things like this.
So, I have to tell them. This day, there is something much more important. They must go directly to the National Gallery, do not pass go, do not collect 200 bucks.
The mother looks taken back. No, this had ended. She had read about it. She had so much wanted to go. She burst out in a word perfect description of what was so significant about the exhibition they had missed. It’s the same speech I have delivered to many Canberrans. It is straight forward, these are iconic paintings and it is only through great luck that we have them here. They will never again leave where they live, in Paris.
She looks sad. The father also looks sad. The two kids of about eleven and fourteen (who had no idea how popular they are going to be with their funky braided hair and pretty as faces) look like they have been spared a fate worse than death.
So, I ruin their special day.
No, the exhibition has been extended. This is the last weekend coming up. This day is the last non-weekend day. They are open 36 hours straight.
She can’t believe what she is hearing. The decision is made. They will go. The kids roll their eyes and I pounce. I explain, this is that starry starry night painting. The oldest admits, she actually does like the painting. See, I tell her, here is her chance to see it live. Both girls look more interested.
So, my job done, I do the usual check on schooling. Yep, Telopea. I tell them my girls went there, it’s one of the best in the world.
Their food comes out, I wish them well. They wish me well.
End of story.