I had been fidgeting in the outpatient waiting room for a couple of hours; ever since Susan walked through the heavy duty, high impact, traffic doors. I remember when all there was in waiting rooms to while away the time were uncomfortable chairs and out of date magazines. It was the days before identity theft and privacy protection laws, and the address labels were still on the magazines. The doctors and nurses who subscribed to Australian Outdoors, Women’s Weekly, TV Week, and Modern Motor didn’t seem to care who knew about their reading habits; and you always felt a little more comfortable when you learnt your gastroenterologist subscribed to the Australian Home Journal. But now instead of reaching for an out of date magazine we sit in a strange limbo staring down at the glowing screen of our smartphone; aimlessly tapping, scrolling, swiping, and pinching at the screen; though waiting rooms still have uncomfortable chairs. And then my name was announced. A nurse appeared and beckoned me towards the opened high impact traffic doors; I made my way into the prep and surgery recovery area.
There were small chairs with hard plastic seats and back rests in all of the prep and recovery cubicles. A mobile cart holding a laptop was alongside each chair; standing in the main corridor as if they were on guard. As I sat down on the chair a nurse started tapping on keys on the laptop keyboard. She continued to tap on different key combinations, and while still looking at the keyboard asked “has the doctor been to see you yet”.
Me: No, not yet
She turned and reached for a collection of papers that somehow had appeared on the mobile cart, passed them over, and asked if I could sign where indicated. I quickly glanced through the papers; they included a summary of the procedure just completed, colour images, date and time of follow up visits, expected behaviour for the next 24 hours, list of current medications, and cautions of what to avoid for the next 24 hours. I was mindful my accent could present misunderstandings so I maintained a pleasant and courteous tone as I started a slow pitched verbal tirade about the futile waste of paper.
Me: Have you ever thought of where we would be without the richness of the forests; all this paper is killing the trees faster than they can heal. And don’t start to talk to me about recycling programs and sustainable actions; you should be telling me about the number of trees that have to be destroyed so you can give me a handful of paper that I’m just going to throw away. What if when you looked up there wasn’t a sky filled with clouds of green. Birds won’t have anywhere to build their houses. Let’s take a few seconds to think about what a world without birds would look like.
I handed the signed sheets of paper to the hospital nurse, and asked the man sitting in the chair in the opposite cubicle “when did you go Down Under; where did you go?”
Man sitting in chair in opposite cubicle: We took some prize bull semen down there. I’ve got prize bulls in Iowa. 1986 it was; we were in Sydney. You’ve got a lot of good bulls and cows down there.
I was standing in the middle of the corridor that separated the two long rows of prep and surgery recovery cubicles. A man wincing in pain, and lying prone in a bed was being wheeled toward me so I excused myself from the man sitting in the chair in the opposite cubicle, and made my way to the general waiting room; never to find out if he and his wife had scones and jam at the Royal Melbourne Show.
I wondered, as I settled into an uncomfortable chair in the waiting room, if a few vials of high quality prize bull semen from Iowa could have produced Australia’s biggest steer. Knickers is a giant seven year old Holstein-Friesian and hangs out at a farm in Myalup; a town about an hour and a half south of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. According to his owner, all of Knicker’s 6 feet 4 inches and 3,086 pounds, saved him from the abattoir; he was too big and heavy and wouldn’t fit through the processing machines.
Now I’d be the first one to jump up and say “Australians love big things”. On any road trip Down Under you’ll come across an oversized something; a Big Banana, Big Prawn, Big Potato, Big Murray Cod, Big Ned Kelly, or a Big Gum Boot. The big things are built just outside of small towns in the middle of nowhere, in the hope that you’ll stop and spend some money. And you can even climb into some of the big things. It was twenty or more years ago and we were driving down to Canberra from Sydney when the oversize fifty foot tall concrete Big Merino enticed us to stop the car. Imagine climbing up stairs into the head of a giant sheep and looking out through it’s eyes. A souvenir shop alongside the sheep sold stuffed koalas, and border collie stuffed dolls. Years late I learnt the Big Merino got moved when the Hume Highway, Goulburn bypass was built. And now it towers over a highway off ramp surrounded by a Bunnings, a petrol station, and a Subway.
It was a cold, overcast winter’s afternoon when we stopped at Murray Bridge, South Australia, for a late lunch. As we followed the Princes Highway down the coast a drizzly rain started and water droplets splattered the windscreen. Soon the drizzle became a downpour and the wipers laboured to keep up with the thick sheets of rain; even when squinting it was difficult to see ten feet in front of the car. Then, between the swishes of the wiper blades appeared a red smudged outline; and the red smudge grew bigger and formed into a giant crustacean. We turned off the highway, and skirted the big red lobster and parked outside of a desolate building. It was a deserted restaurant. As we walked up to the counter a lady appeared from a door behind the counter and asked if we would like to order something to eat.
Me: A cup of tea would be good, and if we could just sit and wait out the rain.
Lady in deserted restaurant: No worries.
Me: Could you tell us about the big lobster outside.
Lady in deserted restaurant: He was intended to attract attention and to get people to stop at the restaurant and visitor’s centre. He’s always been called Larry. He’s built of fibreglass. Twenty two pieces of them bolted together; he’s over 50 feet high and 50 feet long. They say that when he was built, tourists would arrive by the busload and sometimes they’d even be queued up through the front door just waiting for a table. And they all got their photo’s taken with Larry.
The crustacean has sat on the Princes Highway just outside of Kingston, South Australia, for the last forty years. Unfortunately you can’t climb up into into Larry’s head and look out through his eyes. The rain had softened and the late afternoon was wrapped in winter’s special cold and faded light. Larry slowly disappeared from the rear vision mirror and into the pale light as we headed for Port Fairy.
If there isn’t a giant highway structure built to honour the memory of Knicker’s I think there are a couple of options worth considering.
Phar Lap was a champion racehorse who dominated Australian racing, and captured the public’s imagination, during the early years of the Great Depression. His mounted hide is displayed at the Melbourne Museum, and his unusually large heart is on display at the National Museum of Australia. Perhaps, when the time comes Knicker’s, or a suitable Knicker’s organ could be preserved, and put on display at the New Museum for Western Australian. A second option could be a Vegemite sculpture. Since 1911 a sculptured Butter Cow has been displayed at the Iowa State Fair. It’s said there’s enough butter in the cow for about 19,200 slices of bread. Most of the butter from the cow is recycled and is reused for up to 10 years. Every year a Royal Show takes place in each of Australia’s states. A sculptured Vegemite Knicker’s could be displayed in a 40 degree Fahrenheit cooler together with companion sculptures and shared between each of the state’s Royal Shows. And the Country Women’s Association café could serve Vegemite toast with a cup of tea.
There’s no question that now I need to go to the hardware shop and buy some chicken wire to start a Big Dim Sim sculpture for the front yard. I think the tourists would be queuing up to get their selfies taken with the giant dimmie.