The road meanders through the outlying areas of northern Beaudesert like a loosely coiled carpet snake, and if one is lucky, a sunbaking specimen may lie in the grassy knolls on the sides of the highway. I can imagine most tourists would give these ancient creatures a wide berth, but perfectly harmless, they are likely to be more scared of us then we are of them. Rolling hills and peaks slowly pass by: The Great Dividing Range signals the Queensland border is within reach; but, that is not our destination today.
As we near the township, we pass rural holdings: a sawmill, a hobby farm, fields of shimmering gold and green, and old Queenslanders, badly in need of paint. On the right is our destination: Wongaburra Nursing Home. It is set in hectares of landscaped gardens, expanses of manicured lawns, flowering Jacaranda, Acacia and Poinciana trees, and rockeries splashed with a rainbow of colour and variegated greens - depending on the season. A brightly coloured and indigenous-themed sign at the entrance identifies the residential village, and we enter a wide pathway that slopes down towards the main building.
The lowset rambling brick complex is usually a hive of activity; today is no exception and the visitor’s book is full of arrivals on this Sunday. A number of the ambulatory residents sit in companionable huddles in the foyer as they surreptitiously become voyeurs of the entering throng. Today appears to be a day of family visitors and the shrill laughter of highly buzzed youngsters bring an atmosphere of jollity to the usual muted reflective mood. This dramatically changes during meal times, when the clatter of cutlery and rattle of plates compete with the loud raucous conversations of the mostly female citizens, amplified by the ill-adjusted hearing aids and selective deafness of those who fail to turn them on, or just detest wearing them.
The lounge room is a sunny room that overlooks the sloping fields at the back of the centre. This room is usually filled with grandmothers watching or dozing in front of the television. Mum is quietly dozing in the corner, almost hidden within an over-padded armchair in a paisley blue pattern, and I approach her with quietened footsteps on the slate-tiled floor. “Hi Mum,” I say as I approach so she isn’t startled; ninety-one-year old ladies need no extra stress on their hearts. “Oh, Karen, I didn’t know you were coming today.” Poor Mum, if I had told her even this morning, she would never have remembered.
We decide to go out into the gardens today, the level terracotta pavement allows easy access for her wheelie walker and we slowly make our way to the terrace. Once seated, we talk about family and health, and I bring out the electronic photo album, full of the antics of the family in the preceding few weeks. “Is Danielle still in Thailand?” she says. As we sit next to the rockery under the dappled shade of the trees, I look at the massive blue hydrangea, clearly of ancient origin, and reply in the affirmative - she has only been there since January 2017, but short-term memory loss is a regular visitor in my mother’s mind. We will have this conversation again, and again.
The breeze, slightly insistent earlier in the morning, becomes an impetuous banshee and creates dust devils and litter bombs in the courtyard. Making an exodus into the calm of the air-conditioned dining room, we see the fire-place - which I’ve never seen lit, unfortunately - peeping from behind a gaggle of wheelie walkers, like a trolley traffic jam at Costco. We navigate around the tables and find her seat, the table is already set with utensils and crockery, and she takes her allotted space while I add her walker to the steadily growing ‘jam’. The muted noise increases - chairs scrape across the tiles, staff bring out the midday roast, tea and coffee is poured, bibs are fixed, food is cut up, late arrivals are seated, and conversations cross the tables, hit the walls and reverberate up and back from the ceiling to the ears of everyone. I need a mute button.
Time to go and we walk to the foyer - Mum loves to wave - and we look at the crafts they sell; made by the wonderfully gifted elderly in their well-equipped workrooms: A colourful wooden cot for a doll; letterboxes in brown, green and terracotta; a wooden train with tracks; crocheted baby clothes; handmade cards and stationery; even a dog’s house. I buy six cards with flower motifs, some raffle tickets for a fund-raiser, and chat to the friendly receptionist while I sign out of the centre. We say our goodbyes, and Mum waves until I get into the car and drive away; I can’t see her do this, but I know she always does and I smile. Wongaburra disappears in the rear-vision mirror as I turn the corner, the road ahead is clear of traffic and I leave Beaudesert.