21 June 2021
Travelling is always an interesting time. If travel is by plane. all ones daily needs are put into a bag [or bags depending on your ability to sort]. There is a need to sort out what is essential and what is extra. Anything that can be smeared, sprayed or poured is placed in checked luggage and we place ourselves in the hands of unknown people who have designed and maintained the plane, checked the fuel direct its flight path, prepare the food and travel with strangers whom we hope, have the wish to arrive alive at the destination. I always assume that the crew and the pilots share that desire also. I also assume that the companies who run airlines also recognise that it is simply not profitable to lose planes or passengers enroute.
Trust is a large part of this process. Yet amazingly large numbers of people, some of whom will not trust their neighbour at home, are happy to go through the process of discovering their clothing has hidden metal and stripping off belts and shoes in front of sympathetic queues, squeezing into a seat designed for a mythical minimum person for maximum seating and sit without complaint for ridiculous length of time in order to get to a destination.
In a small plane its even more obvious. We travelled in a Piper Chieftain over Cape York Peninsula. Dawn was breaking as a small group of people gathered. The start was not good, obviously something was bothering the pilot. A pilot's worried face is not a good look for travellers who are putting their lives in his hands. We had to be weighed, and the fuel calculated so we didn't end up somewhere in the vast snake infested forests of Cape York - if you want remote this is it!
We flew low over the reefs and atolls of the Great Barrier Reef, the pilot pointing out the shapes where previous flights had failed. World War 2 has left many wrecks on the beaches and in the forest but also more recent disasters involving flights like ours. We were told we were going to land at Lockhart River, an old WW2 airfield. Our stop apparently could be for two hours or 15 minutes depending whether there was anyone around to refuel for us. I watched as the fuel gauge moved towards to red line.
Travel always brings surprises. We landed at a large tarmac runway, where one small petrol tank and a small cluster of huts stood waiting. Noone was around. The main access would have been by sea and plane and I think there would have been a few hundred kilometres of tough 4 wheel drive track [impassable in winter] if one really wanted to come overland.
Here, in this remote place there was a memorial, to the Americans who had lived and died, far from home, in this hot, tropical forest . From here planes had taken off to join in battles in the Solomons and Papua New Guinea and it was clear that many had not returned. Away from the noise of the plane. the strangers travelling together were able to talk, to share how they reacted, to tell stories and find where our lives interacted, we acknowledged the direct impact those who had been at war here had on our lives. The refueller appeared and we went on our way.
Travel changes perceptions. The jungles below, over which we flew, and dipped and turned, now had a fragile human history within it. Very small indigenous communities, and old airfields carved out of the forest and reclaimed back into its depths could be seen
We arrived at Bamaga.
Travel brings to light places and things we simply did not know about. The enormous airfield, built for the big bombers seemed superfluous for just us. Bamaga had been the centre of life for thousands in the final stages of the Pacific War. Men and women had lived and died, ordinary people had found depths of courage and prayed and lived though hell in this place.
Travel gives perspective. The unused end of the huge length of tarmac, the plane wrecks and the signs of occupation were disappearing fast under new growth, and down the road the future moved on and the Australian army had built a new township for the local indigenous people and a Torres Islander community flourished.
We left our walking shoes in the four wheel drive in Bamaga. No doubt they are going walkabout with someone who needs them. And we returned on the journey, refuelling on the way and trusting that the pilots wanted, like those young men of 1943, to return home.
Our faith journey walks side by side, interwoven with our physical and mental journeys. Living requires trust, and we are made to journey, to discover and to enter into new perspectives. It is not by accident that the Bible talks in terms of travelling with God. For when we journey with God we are then also equipped to journey with others. As a congregation we are called to travel together, to trust that God will bring us safely home. We are not left to travel alone, for Jesus is the pilot who travels with us, through life, through death and through life beyond death.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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