Monday 30 August 2010

Since I Left Plumtree, Down in Tennessee

Those of you who weren’t lucky enough to have a father read to you from Robert Service’s Tales of the Yukon, might not be familiar with The Cremation of Sam McGee. How’s this for a refrain?

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold,

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The northern lights have seen queer sights,

But the strangest they ever did see,

Was that night on the marge of Lake Labarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

The story goes that Sam McGee, being as he was from the Deep South, felt the cold of the Yukon harder than most. Sam’s deathbed wish was that he be cremated, a wish duly granted by the narrator of the poem (though he confessed it pained him to hear Sam ‘sizzle so’.) When the narrator checks the body (or the charred remains he expects to find), a beatific Sam pleasantly asks him to shut the door because … ‘since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.’

I’ve been thinking of old Sam this weekend because stepping out of the airport in Brisbane was the first time I felt warm since I arrived in Australia. No joke. Two hours’ plane trip is enough to take you to what feels like – not just another country – another planet.

The air is mild and warm, everyone’s in shorts, people are (even now at 8pm) sitting outside bars and restaurants. I love it. I even love having a sunburnt face.

By 11.30 Saturday morning I was in my hire car cruising towards the Sunshine Coast. This was by nature of a pilgrimage. When I had to choose – very spur of the moment-ly – where to spend my 24 hours of free time in Queensland, I decided to go back to Noosa, last seen in 2002.

I got to Noosaville at lunchtime and found a fish and chips place beside the river. I ate my fish and chips

looking at this fisherman,

and this fisherman.

If only Sam McGee could have gone to Queensland for the weekend – he’d have been in a much better frame of mind.


  1. LTBB is mega-jealous and look forward to seeing the pics!

  2. It's so nice to hear you say that; gives me the strength to read Service to my kids the way my Dad did to me.