If you go back to a place laden with its fond memories it can be disastrous or it can be marvellous. In the 1970s I had drifted down the Darling River in western New South Wales. An eighteen month trip in a ten-foot boat with no motor. I had adventure, found love, and experienced a personal awakening (sometimes referred to as a breakdown). Then in 2010 I returned to the Darling. I paddled a fifteen foot canoe from Menindee to Wentworth and just in case I missed something, I did the same trip in 2012 and in 2013. All three trips went beyond marvellous. In 2010 the river was low and I relived memories, created new ones and made a life-changing decision. I decided to retire from teaching and write a book about the seventies trip. And as well as the adventures and the solitude, even though they were tempered by deep melancholy, I went searching. I wanted to find God and I thought I had done so. But there were still questions of doubt. In 2011, South-east Australia was pretty much under water and I rode the flood down the Darling. But there were dangers; not particularly from brown swirling water, wild pigs or snakes, but from ants. Camp sites were only available on the outside bends and bulldog ants were in charge. And they weren’t happy to share. Give me aggressive pigs and snakes any day. I also changed my view on the God I thought I had found. The moments of divine ecstasy came without a reference to a religion and these changed into a deeper spiritual feeling. I couldn’t stay away and in 2012 I paddled the same section of the river. Even though the canoe could find its own way along the Darling, each bend brought a new experience. It was a trip of characters, birds and of water-rats. And it was also a trip of letting go and accepting life as it unfolded. This brought the feeling of the 1970s Darling, (albeit then a quieter slower paced era), into today’s fast-paced world, into today’s digital and ever-shrinking world, because spirituality and meaning, although personal, can be found anywhere. Maybe I should plan another canoe trip down the Darling just to be sure?
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About the Author
Tony Pritchard was born in Dubbo, New South Wales, in 1952. He has travelled extensively and rates the Darling River as the best place in the world. He currently lives in a shed in Brisbane and is sometimes home to feed the chooks, water the chokoes and to make more lists. His wife loves him.