Mel eases his tow truck driver

Mel eases his tow truck driver closer to my moribund Hyundai rental car, assessing its plight with the help of his headlights.

It's the wee hours of Saturday morning on a rough bit of fire trail beside a now abandoned city dump. A full moon on a still, cloudless night had inspired me to hike to a favourite lookout in the Blue Mountains. Maybe it was the the virile sense of accomplishment of a two and half hour hike but driving back I dared to forge straight through the small lake I had cautiously skirted on the way in. Three days after flooding in this part of Australia made headline news, my front bumper was jammed into the upper ridge of a watery trench, my tires helplessly spinning and squealing like panicked pigs. 

One of my writing rules is to never start anything with a taxi anecdote. It's cliche. I'm making an exception this time.

Yesterday, with my meetings and language lessons finished, I had time to burn so I took a taxi. To get anywhere fast in Jakarta traffic you go by scooter. I flipped open my journal and noted the time -- 2.32pm. Reveling in my air conditioned comfort I estimate I wrote 300 words -- longhand -- in one particularly bad patch of traffic while the taxi. Stood. Still.

Helen McCabe, a former nurse on the St Vincent's Aids ward. - See more at:

This year, no other interview stands out for me than a two hour talk I had with Helen McCabe, a former nurse on the St Vincent's Aids ward.
Helen had come from Adelaide in the early 80s to Sydney in search of excitement and quickly found a job at the vascular surgery unit of St Vincent's Hospital because of a shortage of nurses at the time. The ward was also the early home for first Aids patients before they had their own unit.

"I just thought 'oh I'll give it a shot and see how I go.' Soon after I started there was a steady stream of patients."

What struck her most during her three years on the unit, Helen told me, was the sense of presence most of the young men had. Many were in the their late 20s or early 30s. Some would leave the units briefly to go home to arrange their funerals and then come back.