Not the Greatest Country in the World

It’s Australia Day. 26 January. And I am very proud of my nation.

But let’s get one thing straight – Australia is not the greatest country in the world. We like to pretend it is, because if we didn’t we’d be accused of being un-Australian.

I don’t know what ‘the greatest country in the world ‘ even means. Greatest at what? Every nation on Earth has something they can be good at, I guess. But greatest at everything? I doubt it. Greatest at inventing things that need inventing? Greatest at making war? Charitable enterprises? Football? Give me some parameters here so I can make some comparisons.

We pride ourselves on our ‘mateship’. Do we really? Who are our mates? Our real friends? The guy down the road who makes too much noise with his car on the weekends? Every other Australian? The myth of mateship supposedly engendered at Gallipoli in World War One is a farce today. We don’t stand up for all other Australians. And we never did. Just look at the Stolen Generation for an answer to that. Sure, maybe the conscripted soldiers who served in Vietnam looked out for each other, but the treatment they received from other Australians when they returned home was nothing short of repulsive. We didn’t treat those vets like our mates.

We are, as Donald Horne put it, a lucky country. But lucky is the wrong word. We are fortunate. We have wealth, freedom, resources, natural environment and determination. We have powerful friends (whose interest in us mainly stems from our geographical location). Australia is, in a very real sense, an Asian country. But it’s people aren’t.

We’ve made mistakes. The White Australia Policy was not something we should look back on with any pride, although it did serve its purpose at the time. We’ve done some things right, other things well, even contributed to the welfare of other nations. We have great inventors, scientists, artists, actors, writers, builders, engineers, doctors and so on. Just like every other country on Earth.

That doesn’t make us the greatest nation at all.

Australians on Australia day rightly celebrate our nation’s place in the world. But we have a problem: we are in love with an image. And we know image is so important these days – just look at all those selfies out there. That’s image.

The image that we worship is that of the Aussie larrikin, the ‘little Aussie bleeder’, the yobbo who acts like a moron because he is one, the fighter who keeps getting back up because he’s too dim to realise when he’s been beaten. And we do get beaten. We are in love the idea of our ‘convict past’. Although only a fraction of people in Australia today could actually link their family tree back to a convict past, we seem to have taken that on board as who we are. Criminals.

This idolisation of an image means that we have to live up to it. Which isn’t always a good thing.

Australia has an inferiority complex. We want to be as good as everyone else, and we don’t have faith in ourselves because we’re a bunch of yobbo convicts who don’t let anyone tell them what to do. And that’s holding us back.

There is no greatest nation on Earth, and there shouldn’t be. Every nation has a valid contribution to make, and should be encouraged to do so. Tall poppy syndrome here in Australia means as soon as someone achieves something, rises above the herd, we pull them down. We don’t like people getting above everyone else in our classless society. So we stifle those that set out to achieve greatness. Good on us.

We have to get over ourselves. So do a lot of other countries. Being proud of your nation is good – nationalism, in the sense that one nation is better than all the others, is bad. That started World War One. And World War Two for that matter.

Have a great Australia Day. Kill a fly for me (it wouldn’t be Australia Day without killing a few flies) and drink to your pride in our country’s achievements.

But don’t act like a prick. You’re better than that.

 

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

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Things I Love About Brisbane

If you aren’t an Australian – and I know there are some of you out there – you may not have been to, or even have heard of, Brisbane. It’s the capital of Queensland. Other than that, some people know very little about it.

I knew a friend of a friend from Sydney once who hated Brisbane. Sydney was better than Brisbane in every possible way, he said. It was livelier, had more entertainment, was faster, bigger, more interesting. He had definite opinions about this and expressed them to visiting Brisbaneites such as myself on a continual basis. I could hardly say anything in his presence without him disputing me as an ignorant Queenslander who really had to be pitied for not living in the greatest city on Earth (Sydney).
One day I asked him when he had been to Brisbane, since a lot of his information was out of date. “Oh,” he replied with a straight face, “I’ve never been there.”
He said it proudly, as if visiting Brisbane was like catching malaria.
He had all those opinions, based on no personal experience.
There was another man I knew, many years later, also from Sydney who hated not only Brisbane, but Queensland generally. Everything was better in New South Wales. One day we were standing in line waiting at a work-related barbeque (Australians are good at barbeques, and waiting in line for them is an art form). He was behind me in the queue drinking a particular brand of Queensland-brewed beer. He took a swig, made a face, and looked at me. “Even the beer is bad here,” he said. I made no reply, but he no doubt caught the look on my face and he shut up. I later commented to someone else that if he hated Queensland so much, why didn’t he go back home? Eventually he did, but he stole teaching materials belonging to other teachers and the school in doing so.
Now, I have nothing against Sydney or New South Wales. It was mere coincidence, I’m sure, that both of these Brisbane-knockers came from there. They are just the other side of the tick gate, after all.
(The tick gate is the wonderful border between Queensland and New South Wales that prevents Queensland nasties like ticks and fruit flies crossing over south. Like a gate is going to stop them doing that. It’s probably as effective at keeping out unwanted alien bugs as the US/Mexico border is at keeping out Mexicans.)
Anyway, I’m not wanting to maintain what Brisbane has over Sydney, or any other place for that matter. Brisbane is its own soul. May as well compare London and Lima, or San Francisco and Seoul. They both have people in them, that’s about it.
What I would like to do is list some of the things I like about Brisbane. I’ve lived a sizeable chunk of my life here, and there are some things, places, institutions and attitudes I’ve some to love. So here they are:
1) The Thomas Brisbane Planetarium.

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This is such a cool place it features in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’. You can lie back inside and see the night sky outside. It’s educational and awesome at the same time.
2) The way public transport passengers say “Thank you” to the bus driver or the ferry deckhand as they leave. That’s nice.

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3) The Brisbane River.

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We are known as The River City. I’ve written about the City Cat ferries before. They are a great way of seeing the place. But the river itself is also very scenic and immensely practical. It floods more often than is desirable, but the city is built on a river plain. It’s remarkably flat and, yes, a wide river flowing through a flat plain is going to flood with monotonous regularity. But the old Queensland-style house, up on stumps, is designed to deal with that. Pity they don’t make those anymore. And while on the subject:
4) The architecture.

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Queenslander-style houses. The Banana State’s contribution to house design. Brisbane is a mix of old and new. I know a lot of cities are, but here we have places like Spring Hill that resist the new to the death and give the old a lovely charm.
5) We beat New South Wales at football every damn time.

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Sorry, I had to slip that in. Queenslander!
6) Mount Coot-Tha.

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This is the highest point around this flat river plain. They put the TV transmission towers up there and they make a distinctive skyline. The mountain is also full of bush walks and waterfalls, etc. And besides, how many other cities have a mountain with such a weird name? Mount Coot-Tha. It’s actually pronounced ‘Mount Cootha’. You can tell who the tourists are.
7) The Story Bridge.

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Another Brisbane icon, also featured in my novel ‘Plato’s Cave’ – look, why don’t you just buy a copy? The bridge’s distinctive shape is eye-catching.
8) Queen Street Mall.

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It’s not large, it’s not the best in the world, it’s not awe-inspiring. But it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by. I frequently do. People watching can be a great pastime. Street entertainers also make things…well, entertaining.
9) Moreton Bay.

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Coochiemudlo Island in particular. We have had a holiday house there since the early 1970’s.

10) The weather.

brisbane_weather_420-420x0Carlyn Bee and Fiona Gelin from Switzerland at Southbank.brisbane2

A few weeks ago, in the depths of what passes for winter up here, someone wrote to the local paper complaining about Brisbane people rugging up against the “chill”. There is a bit of a chill here in winter (which usually occurs on a Friday in July). He was from Canberra (which is REALLY cold) and thought we were a bunch of weaklings for dressing like it was cold and complaining about the temperature being below 20 Celsius. Well, you see, the temperature isn’t often below 20, so when it is it makes a real difference. Our weather is great. Warm, sunny (except when it rains, and then it really does rain. Remember that flood-prone river?) and a little hot in summer, but then that’s when all the southern people come to Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, so they mustn’t complain about that too much. But Brisbane’s weather is amazing no matter what it’s doing. Sunshine, storms, rain…it has it all.

There are things I’ve left out, but this is just ten off the top of my head.

Remember, I’m not saying Brisbane is better than anywhere else. It isn’t. But these are just some things I like about it.

And if you want to complain, just go back home.

Russell Proctor – www.russellproctor.com

Tunnel Vision – Brisbane’s Clem 7.

We have some traffic tunnels under Brisbane that aren’t very popular. One of the big ones is called the M7, or the ‘Clem 7’ as it is popularly known, after an old, much-loved previous Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Clem Jones. www.clem7.com.au/
The company that runs the Clem 7 is going broke. It seems a lot of people don’t like paying the toll ($4.16) for a one-way, 6 minute trip. The thing is, it’s worth it, as you avoid heaps of  traffic lights, duck right under the central business district and save a lot of hassles.
But here’s the thing: recent events showed that Brisbane drivers hate paying tolls so much they would prefer to sit for hours in traffic instead of taking the easy way out and pay to use the tunnels.
Yesterday there was a very bad accident on the Story Bridge: a four vehicle collision, with one woman in a critical condition as a result. It’s easy to have an accident on the Story Bridge. It’s three lanes each way with only double painted lines to mark the change in direction. Putting up a barrier is apparently too expensive and would increase the congestion because it would reduce the lanes to two each way.

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The Story Bridge is a popular bridge, and not just for traffic. It’s a Brisbane icon, part of the landscape. It features in one scene of my novel ‘Plato’s Cave‘ where being able to do a U-turn on the bridge is a vital plot point. Less creditably, it’s been the scene of a number of suicides over the years.
But getting back to my point. The accident yesterday caused major hold-ups for commuters. Traffic was delayed for four hours, with the gridlock extending for kilometres, involving many thousands of vehicles.
Now, the Clem 7 plunges under all of this chaos and provides a quick, non-congested way to avoid stuff like that. But, according to the Courier-Mail, only 3000 extra vehicles used it that morning.
Only 3000 motorists thought, ‘Stuff this, I’m taking the Clem!’
Am I missing something here? The many thousands of people who did not make that simple choice were delayed for up to four hours because they didn’t want to pay $4.16.
How many man hours of work were lost as a result? How many tempers flared? How many incidents of road rage, because people didn’t want to pay?
Now maybe I’m in a better position than some. I use the tunnels all the time, not just the Clem, but I can claim the toll as a tax deduction. A lot of people can’t, I guess. If you were a regular commuter to town, using the tunnels everyday would add up.
But I’m not talking about every day: I’m talking about one day when things were horrendously bad. On this really bad, congested day, only 3000 people decided to make things easier for themselves.
The Brisbane City Council has been trying for years to keep cars out of the central city area. They have boosted public transport, made parking fees in the city astronomical, and Brisbane’s complicated system of one way streets is no doubt designed to discourage the faint of heart. It’s even illegal to stop and drop off or pick up a passenger in the central city. So the Clem offers a way to avoid the city. If you are a city worker, you are encouraged to park in the suburbs and commute in on public transport.

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Obviously, a lot of people still don’t. They would rather have their cars with them. They would prefer to pay the huge parking fees to have their vehicle nearby.
Recently I was leaving a client’s inner city apartment and had been able to park in their building’s basement for free. As I tried to leave I was almost prevented from doing so from the huge peak hour traffic congestion at the top of the car park’s exit ramp. It was thousands of vehicles refusing to use the tunnels and drive home above ground.

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Why? To save a few dollars?
Brisbane’s traffic problem will not be solved until the drivers learn to use common sense.
–    Russell Proctor   http://www.russellproctor.com

Walking the Riverwalk

Nothing to do on Good Friday, so I headed off to walk the length of Brisbane’s Riverwalk – one side of it at least. This is a pathway you can use to walk along the river (hence the name). It’s quite popular not only with walkers, but also cyclists, rollerbladers and so forth. It’s also a good way to see the city.

Since I live in Hamilton, that’s where I started, at one end of the walk, heading for Toowong, 11 kilometres away.

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The first park approached is Newstead Park, with historic Newstead House in it. This is the oldest surviving residence in Brisbane, dating from 1846, and occupied by Patrick Leslie at that time. Also here is the charmingly named Breakfast Creek. Apparently this is where early explorer John Oxley paused for…well, for breakfast. The story goes that a curious aboriginal stole his hat. I’m glad they didn’t name it Someone’s Pinched My Hat Creek. But it obviously made a deep impression on Oxley, who decided to memorialize the incident by naming the creek after his bacon and eggs.

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There are some lovely Poinciana trees in Newstead Park, along with a whole lot of other plants and flowers. People also spend a good deal of time here fishing. I wouldn’t be eating anything I caught out of the Brisbane River, though. Occasionally people even swim in the river, but they don’t usually do too well afterwards.

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Then it’s further along the Riverwalk , past the rather expensive-looking apartments in Teneriffe. This is an old warehouse section, and remains of docks and port facilities remain. There are still a lot of warehouses (wool mostly) along here but they have been converted into apartment blocks, retaining the outer facade and interior wooden beams etc. A mix of old and new that doesn’t always work, I have to say.

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Lourdes Hill College is a Catholic girls school in Hawthorne. I only put this here because I did my teaching Internship there back in 2001.

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Another bit of personal nostalgia. Here we are in New Farm Park, further along the walk. This is the rotunda I got married in. I’m not married anymore, but it was a great wedding. We had a string quartet and a swan made out of ice, which really wasn’t a great idea n the Brisbane heat, as it soon looked more like a lump of ice made out of ice.

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The walk continues through New Farm Park around a major bend in the river, heading to Merthyr Park.

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One of the City Cats (I’ve written about them previously – see my post “Cats and the City”. Here we are at Sydney Street near Kinellan Point.

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It is here that the Riverwalk stops for a bit and we have to take to the streets for a while. During the floods we’ve had in the last few years sections of the walk were washed away. Most famous of these incidents was a 300 metre section that broke off and was narrowly stopped from drifting out to sea under the Gateway Bridge by two quick-thinking men in a tugboat. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/weather/riverwalk-becomes-300m-floating-missile-20110112-19nwp.html

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Just before the walk resumes, and above the place where the large section was washed away, we get a great glimpse of the city centre and the iconic Story Bridge. It was going to be called the Jubilee Bridge but when it was opened in 1940 it was named instead after John Douglas Story, a public servant who had pushed for the bridge’s construction. It is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia. Unfortunatley, it has been associated recently with two grisly murder-suicides and suicide barriers are being contructed.

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We also get a look back along Shafston reach of the River. Yes, we’ve come all that way since we left New Farm Park. On the left is New Farm, on the right bank is Kangaroo Point. Unless someone has a pet, there haven’t been any kangaroos there for a long time.

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Merton, soon to be Brisbane’s tallest building, arises beyond the Story Bridge. Actually, we have height restrictions for buildings here. There are some concerns about planes coming into the airport and having problems if the buildings are too tall. That doesn’t stop developers scraping the limit though.

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Then we pass under the bridge. The rumble of traffic overhead is quite loud.

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…and we emerge into the central Business District. The riverwalk continues to skirt the city at the water’s edge. Lots of retaurants. offices and shops along the way.

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People live here, too, in the towering apartment blocks. River-front views and handy to the city, but I can’t say that the lifestyle appeals to me much.

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Brisbane is not as large as other metropolises go (population just over 2 million), but it has a few buildings worthy of the name skyscraper. The skyline has certainly transformed since I’ve been around.

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Leaving the city behind, we continue on to skirt the Botanical Gardens at what is known, appropriately, as Gardens Point. we are heading now to the Queensland University of Technology, where I got my Masters in teaching.

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The tide was in during my walk, the water almost up to the footpath. Being tidal, and situated on a flood plain, the Brisbane River is prone to flooding quite easily. Even a moderate shower can produce flash floods in low-lying areas. It has a heavy silt content, too, and has to be dredged out for the shipping in the lower sections.

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There are some wonderful Moreton Bay Fig trees near the Queensland University of Technology.

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Being a public holiday, Southbank, opposite the city centre, was crowded. This was all warehouses and wharves until 1988, when it became the site of World Expo ’88. After the expo was over, the area was converted into a recreational park that has been the scene of a lot of entertainment. I performed five years in a row at entertaining crowds in the week leading up to Christmas. One year I headed the parade as a prophet – the next year I was relegated to one of the Wise Men (Mr Myrrh if I remember correctly). Our Mary that year had an accident when the donkey she was riding baulked at a pattern in the sidewalk tiles and both she and the baby Jesus (a doll) went off the front of the animal. Fortunately, she was able to catch him before he hit the concrete. Well done, Mary!

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Meanwhile, back on the north side of the river the walk continues under the Riverside Expressway. We are down on the river bank looking up at historic buildings: a contrast of old and new.

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The underworld: the cycling and walking path under the Expressway heading out to Toowong.

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This part of the river has five bridges in quick succession: The Victoria Bridge, the Kurilpa pedestrian bridge, the William Jolly Bridge, the Merivale Bridge (railway only) and the Go Between Bridge. Further downstream are the Goodwill Bridge (pedestrian) and the Story Bridge. Finally, just before the river mouth, the Gateway Bridge. Apart from that, we also have the Clem Jones Tunnel (affectionately known as the Clem) going under the river as well (under the Story Bridge). There are also ferries plying back and forth all day and long into the night.

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Then we emerge back into the upper world and leave the city behind at last as we face the final few kilomtres of the walk, heading out to the suburbs.

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On the final stretch below Coronation Drive, which is on the right above and on the other side of the trees.

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My ride home, one of the City cats, 11 kilometres and 3 hours after setting out. A leisurely ride back to Hamilton, passing all the places I had just walked through.

So that’s it, my river walk, showing some of the highlights of Brisbane. It is a beautiful city, and the riverwalk is definitely a must for tourists.

What did I get out of it? A bit of nostalgia. Many of these places I grew up in or around. It was interesting to see the changes made. I’ll do it again someday – and there is always the other river bank to walk on, too.

Cats and the City

If you’ve never been to Brisbane, Australia, you’ve never met the City Cats. It’s not a football team or a group of exotic dancers – although that might be fun. They are the City Council ferries that ply up and down the river: large, powerful catamaran passenger vessels. They are a great way to see the river. Although they aren’t the fastest way to travel in Brisbane, they are certainly the most scenic. You can go all the way from Brett’s Wharf where the big ocean liners dock to the Queensland University, passing through the city and Southbank on the way. Well worth the few dollars it costs.city-cats-first-generation

I took one yesterday to go into the city for coffee with a friend. She and I have these coffee meetings every so often that usually turn into lunch and we discuss writing, life, the world at large and the cosmos in general. We come to some fairly amazing conclusions and have pretty much got it all figured out. We’re just not telling.

It being a nice day, I decided to take a Cat into town.

I love the Cats. You can sit and watch a world that you can’t see from the road. A lot of houses on the river have their own boat jetties from the backyard down to the water. You surge under bridges, which look a lot different from underneath than they do from above. The cliffs near the Story Bridge are quite a sight, with houses perched precariously on top of a twenty or thirty metre vertical rock-face down to the water. When you get into the city itself, the high-rise apartments are quite impressive, too. Maybe not the tallest buildings compared to other cities, but they do for us.

 
What I especially noticed yesterday was the amount of debris in the water, still floating downstream from the floods last week following Ex-tropical Cyclone Oswald. Lots and lots of branches, logs, sticks and other natural flotsam. But there were other things as well.

2050_1231debrisRiver0002At one stop I noticed someone’s hat floating in the water. I wondered what happened to the rest of him. There was a large sheet of polystyrene too, plastic bottles, a tin can that somehow was still floating upright. Other garbage. Not at all what our lovely river usually looks like. 2050_1231debrisRiver0003

The drivers of the City Cats had to take care not to hit this stuff. The ferries get up quite a speed on the long stretches and some of the logs would have caused considerable damage had we hit them.

So I just want to apologise if you are a tourist to my town and think it’s like this all the time. It isn’t, we just had a whole lot of water through lately and things are still a bit untidy.

We’ll be back earning our title of The River City soon enough. Come and “catch a Cat” and see for yourself.

Climbing Kilimanjaro

In December, 2006, I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. I know a lot of people do that, although only a small percentage of people actually make it all the way to the top. I made it all the way, and stood 5985 mteres above the African plains, feeling very tired but very proud.

On the summit.

It was a major challenge, especially since I’d never done anything like that before. I surprised even myself. I can’t say I broke any records but I did achieve a major boost in my own self-esteem at a time that I needed something like that.

 
Kilimanjaro is, of course, the highest mountain in Africa. It is a dormant volcano, which just added to the mystique of it all. It hasn’t erupted for 200 years, but the thought of “doing” a volcano was fun. There is (or was when I was there ) still a glacier on the top, but global warming is doing its part to destroy it. It is a popular climbing target, and the story of my climb was a lesson to me, and carried with it a personal story of loss.
 
So I’ve made my mind up to write a book about it. I’m trying to think of a suitable title: “Climbing Kilimanjaro” is a little trite. I’m not good with titles. Any suggestions? I’ve read a few books about people climbing the mountain in the past, but I’m hoping that my version will have a bit more to it, as there is a background story regarding my father and why I climbed the thing in the first place.
 
I am 3,500 words into it, and so far having fun. I want to work on it each day and get it out early next year.
 
If anyone is interested, let me know. If you have climbed Kilimanjaro or know someone who has, or have conquered some other mountain, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Just add a comment or contact me on rjp@cqnet.com.au.