Travel Tales from the Pathetic Highway

All photographs and text Copyright 2018 Alexandra J Cornwell.

Apparently it’s too long for Google’s facility review to deal with my Macdonalds experience at the Port Macquarie Service Centre last week. I thought my friends could enjoy it anyway!


There are some pretty views along the Pacific Highway like the dawn colours over the Clarence River at the Ferry Park turnoff to Maclean NSW. 

Clean facilities (as expected) and nice renovation work since my last foray along the ‘Pathetic Highway’.

As an aside, like the occassional highway detour, I will say it is improving. Slowly. One day it might even be completed… In my lifetime… Fingers crossed…

Since my car does 900km on a tank of fuel I bypass the now decommissioned Shell at Bulladelah. Coincidental? Not when you multiply me by the thousands who drive (survive) this route every day.  With the longest bridge in Australia #triviafacts completed the allure of a pie at Frederickton is also bypassed.  With significant sections being upgtaded to dual carriageway, the feeling of early onset dementia is real in that, without the Garmin stuck to the inside of the windscreen, I no longer KNOW by the familiar landmarks of over 25 years driving between Sydney and the far north coast of NSW where exactly I am.

Although in some places, I am not alone as neither does the sat nav. At one point I spotted the vehicle icon spinning like a whacky compass while its onboard computer tracked and navigated a supposedly roadless terrain. Time to upload an update methinks.


A section of new dual carriageway on the  Pacific Highway with traffic conditions on electronic warning signs which are still useful when a B-double transport truck comes to grief.

Meanwhile, with the newly opened Oliver’s right next door (a source of such vegetarian staples as avocado noiri rolls that my daughter consumes like candy or ‘toad-food’ as my partner disparigingly refers to my occassional need for a phyto-oestrogen hit of tofu), you’d think Maccas would be on their game about competition in the salad department… Maybe no one orders salads in a bowl from Macdonalds anymore as the young staff dealing with constructing a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad on the Friday afternoon shift had no idea. To be fair, what kid after a long week of high school in the heat of summer would?

Fortunately I was dining inside and enjoying the modern thrill of air conditioned table service in a Maccas. I’d just uploaded the mobile app when it directed me to complete my order by inserting a table number. Such things are not on the table (I looked!) but are on a small disc obtainable from a dispenser that I presume acts as a homing device for the junior waiters with trays tasked with food delivery!

After the prompt delivery of the chai latte in a tall glass (the old dual ordering system has finally been overcome but still the barista service is faster than food!), the salad bowl arrived – with the salad, and ONLY the salad component. Some chopped up iceberg lettuce and a couple of pieces of tomato under a large clear plastic lid. Hmmmm.

Much to the amusement of my fellow diners, my multiple trips back to the counter to obtain the ingredients for a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad provided a laugh.

Trip 1. Grilled Chicken & Bacon pieces. That looks better but still there is something missing. It tastes dry. Ah-ha moment.

Trip 2. Caesar dressing – in a small container (with a side order of complimentary apology from the duty manager). That’s OK – I hope my empathic look said “You’d have to pay me very well to supervise adolescents in a commercial kitchen”.


I returned to the table, ate most of the salad – down to the parmesan shards that had stuck to the bottom and sides of the container in protest at the initial absence of other ingredients they could’ve clung to for warmth, if not company. Even that would require a bit of a shake to mix it all up… speaking of shaking – my mother was barely holding it together.

Lucky I didn’t do drive-through as we’d all required a comfort stop and my mother is not a big fan of the roadside verge or the smelly compost loos. She has 75 years of travel under her belt and I reckon she might know a thing or two (though I’d never admit it!).

By this time she was getting into her trying-to-be-helpful-but-not commentary zone with an innocuous “Are we done?” transmuting into the fully fledged “Why didn’t you just order it at the counter like you do any other place?” Good questions.


I answered with the consumer-participation component of emptying my small serve of fries and the shaker seasoning into a brown paper bag – and shaking it loudly in the air between us. It turns out that was merely a distraction to my noticing the other missing element – a complete lack of croutons!

Unfortunately we’d reached my mother’s limit re time spent in a fast food outlet with her adult daughter ranting about salads, teenagers and shaking a paper bag in her face when her home comforts were calling loudly to her. It’s just not that helpful to the diet when you’re the designated driver on a Sydney to North Coast run – so you end up licking shaker seasoning out of the bag on a french fry dipped in caesar dressing and cursing the lack of refresher towelettes.

Being the mother of a recently turned 21-year old male I automatically retrieved a wad of serviettes (in case anyone else wants one) and retraced my steps to the bathroom to wash my hands again. Shaker seasoning on the steering wheel isn’t my idea of comfortable driving.

Meanwhile aforementioned son (who’d ordered and eaten his KFC at the outlet furthest away from Oliver’s in the time it took me to upload the app) had put his ‘ears’ in.  Seeing me head for the toilets was his cue to amble back to the car. He’d had enough of his mother’s excitement and consoled himself with alternating front seat occupation while his grandmother’s D-Jaying (CD changing is the passenger’s designated job in my car) meant random CD selections like my Pink Floyd – The Wall and a rogue Violent Femmes – Best Of interspersed between K.D.Lang and the soundtrack to Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

It’s how we roll… some of the time.


The ordering instructions all make sense… as I’m leaving…

Back to getting on the road! By some miracle I’d reached my step-goal for the afternoon – and if I’d had the GPS tracker turned on my phone there’d be a heavy line between the seat at the unnumbered tables and the counter of Caesar salad reconstruction bracketed by the shortest routes to the ladies toilet.

If I ever do a drive through order here I’d skip the bag-shaken fries (in the intetests of road safety) and the super under-constructed salad (’cause I don’t want to be coming back to the drive-through window 4 times before leaving the carpark) and I’ll order the chicken wrap instead! Just like my mother did.


How was my experience?

Until next time I’m back on the road.
Happy travels!


Alexandra J Cornwell
Poet, Author, Foodie, Tourist, Mother, Chaffeur – and food critic!



After the Burning / Comes the Rain (Two Drabbles)

The sweet essence of milled sugarcane washes over me. I’ve wound the car window down as I drive beside the river, inhaling the echo of sugar that earlier waved from a patchwork paddock.
Exercising sun salutations in Winter’s stillness triggers the emergence of torchbearers.
Circling the crop molten flames drop.
Centrifugally forced, bush rats and the diamond skinned  pythons who feed on them sizzle together in death’s burning trash.
Crematorium smoke columns upward against the winters clear sunset. Green burns orange, black ash tapers.
The valley’s bedspread lies wrinkled. Cooling breezes stir… Soon night will shadow dance in the caldera.


Wollumbin the ‘cloud catcher’ provides no view today.
The boy-child, born within sight of this geological fixture, takes possession with a long-armed swing, the incline on legs of a teenage man.
The girl-child waits patiently for her mother.
It’s been more than twenty years since younger legs raised her from palm filtered gullies, into the open forest and through the ancient beeches where moist moss curtains shiver.
A white backdrop with needle-leafed grass trees in silhouette. Rocks slippery with falling water, The muddy sponge of composted leaf matter compressed by passing feet.
After Wollumbin’s cool embrace, we dry fireside.

Alexandra J Cornwell


After completing the 9km return Mount Warning summit walk with my teenage children on 26 September 2015.
*Wollumbin was named Mount Warning for the presence of offshore reefs by Captain James Cook as he sailed northwards up Australia’s eastern coastline. It is the volcanic core of an ancient shield volcano that has eroded over millennia to form today’s mountain-edged caldera. Sugarcane grows on the rich alluvial floor where it is often inundated by flooding from the  Tweed River.

No Name… and Particularly Unnamed


Road to nowhere
Where are you on the map?
Some side street,
Nothing important
The ignominy is to be, but not be named
The lesser evil is to make it official

Even when labelled and thus captured
(And this is no conspiracy!)
My computer recognises your status
Strange alliance

May it be witness protection
Or some other greater good
Where the ones with a conspiracy bent
May gravitate to relocate….
Nowhere in particular

Alexandra J Cornwell

12 September 2015

2018 Update

Byron Shire Council has since named this road Eucalyptus Lane, which I think shows an extraordinary lack of creativity akin to being told ‘applicable’ is NOT applicable as a password.

The Roads and Maratime Services (a NSW government department responsible for roads and other submersible things) is busy constructing a koala-proof fence and grid system to deter an animal that I’ve NEVER seen in that area from straying out of the urban environment of Brunswick Heads’ cafes and Air B’n’Bs or the Bluesfest event site at Tyagarah onto the Pathetic/Pacific Motorway…

Judging by the local wildlife warning signs in town, the humble koala may have to go radical (in a drop bear kinda way) or hitch it’s way out of town.

*Note: the only koala I have EVER seen in Byron Shire was in early August 2015. It was perched about 3 metres up a sapling paperbark in the far corner of the Byron Writers Festival car park at West Byron/Belongil. I remember because I did the tourist-guide thing and pointed the sleepy fellow out to guest author Chigozie Obioma as we were crossing the car park and dodging a pair of nesting plovers – which I assured the then 29 year old Nigerian national and Man Booker Prize nominee were far more dangerous than drop bears. (He had the good sense to look suitably worried, although I think he had been cautioned on Aussie humour by someone else!)

Maybe the RMS hope that the aforementioned koala has passed on some literacy skills to their friends and all will and head down Eucalyptus Lane in the hope that there is more on offer there than paperbacks and the roadside leftovers of free-campers who’ve been chased from the pothole-ravaged beachside car parks?

If I ever see a koala in the area, I’ll mention it here.

I promise!


Alexandra J Cornwell



Stepping in red soil countryGlazed Waterfall
past Minyon’s weathered drop
clay-smoothed hands cup a bird’s bath portal
iron furrows over silent rail bridge timbers
blinks into promised sky where tumbling rush of pebbles
recycle the ground and veins pummel
a sound like no other, tumbling gems
whose scales flash within

A shovel-scraped hill gathered grindings
from creek’s serpentine edge
skeletal framed fences sagging with rust and time
slow snake of earth’s leavings
ochres ores and dragon’s muddy scales, leaf littering the skies

NudeAloft in hillside’s clearing
a man tethered by creative urges
communal and solitary drifts between working
wheel and elastic flesh
pounding above the valley’s meandering
resting a moment in the afternoon’s enquiring sun
on a sofa watched by a reclining nude between drying racks
glazed nipples and legs apart, her forever wink

Slipped in the molten shadows
a cleft where the moisture of Gaia’s mouth
patters from the corrugated sky
feeds the umbilical scar and scatters
amongst her discarded clothes, the drying prints of his handDrying

Wire and wood embed where coarse nails
gently combed her knotted tresses
cedar and teak made way for pawpaw
frangipani reaches knotted arms
supplicants to the seasons overhead
he toils stacking the goddess offerings
chargers for the master’s trestle table
blank platters serving coils, salvers

Twisted kettles sake cups and gourds
each waiting deliverance, to be touched
by the devil’s driving breath
a seasoned hell of his own making
each firing an experimental in exercising controlMelted Teapot

On the red-scarred terrace
transformed seasons beyond winter’s crackled dryness
summer’s airless heat makes anew
tempered earth glistening with molten glass
hues unreadily returnable once scavenged
from the grounded one’s plumage
borrowed and mixed
in the pharmacopeia of his mind

Anchored in patches between the relentless rainforest
the potter-gatherer hews shapes of wood and iron
nets of marine steel silvery shoals of spot welds planted in the hillside
miles from high tide anticipating the winged catch of flying fish
above the river reeds’ spear-bed

In gathering mode she walks carved terraces to the eyrie
past night’s erect lanterns
casting the unfamiliar shadows of sundials
on entering his sanctumNude Busts
fingers the arc of lighthouse’s wooden beams
encircles the landscape of caldera’s hills
she follows all the women who’ve gone before her
stumbling at the threshold

Arriving too late for Alice’s silent tea ceremony
cobweb empty platters after guests depart
where clay landscapes
repose in fractured reflection
against the corrugated iron wash house walls

Without him here her transaction must wait
for today he’s gone fishing in the skyBirdbath
for lightening’s elemental glaze
harvesting late winter’s morning flower
she places red petals on the birdbath
leaves a pencilled message in a journal of dusty ideas
then departs via the hillside path
into the dappled day, she’ll write again

Alexandra J Cornwell
16 August 2015 (edited for publication 12 September 2015)

After visiting various ceramics studios on the ‘North Coast Mud Trail’ as part of the Australian Ceramics Open Studios weekend on 15 & 16 August 2015. The photographs are from the grounds of Suvira McDonald’s studio at Goonengerry in the Byron Bay hinterland not far from Minyon Falls.


Alexandra J Cornwell – on location!

The Place Where The Dreamcatcher Hangs

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At the back gate where the frangipani struggles
against the predations of passing samplers
who want a piece for their garden
without asking, or caring that the cumulative
effect is the snipered dwarfism of gnarly limbs

where I dismount from bicycle to lift the latch
there is a sound, of tinkling glass
taken out of context in the windy day
mirrored fragments in a jellyfish’s trailing tentacles
against the blue of winter sky
where the last season’s leaves have dropped
and next summer’s have not yet sprouted

some devotee to the higher power of dream
has suspended the catcher of my attentions
a devotion to the recycled
my second-hand dreams for the flower
that is yet to unfurl its peachy pinks
like a myriad of sunsets or summer cocktails
resplendent with grenadine against horizon’s bow

then one can see – it has already worked!
my dreams fluttered there
caught in the moment of suggestion…
I lift the latch and wheel the bicycle in across the lawn
tinkling sounds of dreams snared thus behind me


I wrote this one last month and unfortunately the universe that inspired someone to decorate our backyard tree with a beautiful dream catcher has compelled someone else to move it on.

Even if it was something that my mother would not have put there, and knowing that she has previously offered it to my sister to take home with her,  she swears she didn’t touch it!

Oh well. It was nice while it was there and it did give me some inspiration every time I left the yard or garage. <AJC>


Update: My sister says that for the record she has never been told to take it home with her. The plot thickens! <AJC>

River On Fire (Haiku)

Brown river echoes

the war birds’ distant thunder,

shadows on water.


On Saturday afternoon my daughter and I traveled to Brisbane to see Riverfire – the major concluding event of the city’s annual festival. On the way to an early evening fireworks display I reflected on how the WWI Centenary celebrations have flavoured many public events this year.  For example, just two weeks earlier we’d seen am over-sized  khaki-and-slouch-hat decorated koala on Currumbin Beach as part of the SWELL Sculpture Festival.

DSC_7444 DSC_7722On the way to secure a riverfront position, we passed a display of modern tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the piazza, then a recreated World War I encampment complete with a command post tent and live nurses with their red woollen capes and impossibly white hats and aprons  (we’ve been watching the recently aired miniseries Anzac Girls on ABC1 and I suspect the mud of the Western Front was not so good for the laundry).  Nearby I lost my daughter to a close examination of how tight the girth-strap was on a fully kitted-up (static) Lighthorse standing patiently beneath a knotted cord fly veil, listening to his handler under the hat with the emu feather plumage.


There were also museum displays of artifacts, ration books and other memorabilia. The label on the 9-foot long Vickers Machine Gun ammunition belt explained the term: “to give them the whole 9 yards”. Ahh!
The evening drawcard was a half-hour long fireworks display from a number of barges set along the river between bridges that span the reaches of a mangrove-lined estuary.


As ever, the Brisbane River was brown under uncertain skies. We used to joke that the river traveled upside down. The grounds of arable soil from the salad bowl of the Lockyer Valley caffeinate the lethargic beast. Low pressure weather systems saturate the watershed and rouse the beast from the lazily curving course to the sea. I also suspect that the alluvial load that feeds the ecosystem of Moreton Bay makes the local mud crabs that much tastier.

There is a certain humidity that is the Spring evening’s foretaste of subtropical summer nights just around the corner.  I licked my lips and remembered the saltiness that came from the exertions of early mornings and late afternoons training with four other university students for the inter-college rowing. Starting in a wide-bodied ‘tub’ we were more than a little worried when we converted to the streamlined and egg-shell thin racing hull. We were blessed with an enthusiastic cox (now a senior environmental planning lawyer) who memorably encouraged us with the following:
“Girls, when the boat is perfectly set up and you are all rowing in time, it will be better than sex!
To which we responded: “Ian! What would you know about sex?!”
From the position of stroke I recalled the non-enviable achievement of ‘catching a crab’ when my oar became stuck below the surface of the water during one of our inter-college races. Rowing also developed hardened callouses on one’s hands, so it became memorable for all the wrong reasons!DSC_7821

My mind came back to the present scene – a vantage point along the river bank opposite the city centre towers and the intertwining liana vines of the riverside expressway.  Overlooking a sunset against storm clouds threatening from the south, my daughter and I stood amidst strangers who turned out to simply be friends we hadn’t yet met. Over two hours we chatted… A softly-spoken woman with a girl a year older than my own from Jakarta, a relatively new resident to our country. Another mother nursing a grizzling three or four year old blonde-haired girl, for whom the two hour wait until the seven o’clock launch was much too long. A man from Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand with a massive zoom lens on his camera with whom I swapped places to take a better variety of shots. The aroma of hot popcorn jostling sensory input with the noise of a radio jock compering from somewhere along the riverfront blaring from nearby speakers between the assault of audio commercials. Keeping my security-searched backpack within viewing distance, my daughter walked alone through the crowds to buy an ice cream. I thought back to Expo ’88 when strangers who found themselves in long queues to look inside the various country pavilions got to talking and sharing a little of their own world with other random visitors.

Standing on either side, a community of people is built from sharing a time and space.


Instead of the F1-11 jets of my youth, Super Hornets unzipped the pink-tinged sky before the blast of moving sound swept over us.  Later helicopters buzzed in a choreographed dance above the downdraft whipped water. The Police Pipe Band played on gallantly aboard the grey hulled launch as kilts lifted against the helicopter’s deflected windprint, sporrans (thankfully!) anchoring their modesty.

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My child, innocent of war but of an age to be developing a social conscience, clutched my arm and leaned close to tell me something over the soundtrack of modern music. I thought of mother’s in other places for whom the camouflaged bird in the sky is far more sinister than disoriented fruit bats that winged their way in confusion across a wet-bottomed corridor suddenly transformed from benign back street to multi-laned highway.  The flock of white birds seeking a quiet roost for the night were just as disturbed and the candy-lights of police cars on the approaches to the bridge halted traffic ahead of the impending fireworks.

Soon enough there was the sensory assault of unzipped jet engines, pyrotechnics, gunpowder smoke drifting in a thickening cloud and the strains of the perennial synchronized favorites in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody,U2 and Pink Floyd.

DSC_8026 DSC_8069    DSC_8055

Ahh I am a child of the Brisbane of the 1980s, for I went to boarding school for five years not more than 800 metres as the crow flies from where I stood. Many an evening had been spent looking out the dormitory windows over the lights of a country town that was busy morphing into a metropolitan city with a new suburban skirt of brick and tile emerging between the vernacular high-set timber cottages.  Evenings with my eyes drawn to the spire of ringed lights atop the MLC Building indicating temperature changes now compete with the fuchsia pink up-lights that stain the solid sandstone facade of the Treasury Building that was somehow transformed into a casino along the way.


Brisbane, we have both grown older in the years that I’ve been away. Still I bring my child to wander on your sandstone edged banks. These days there is a large wheel that turns clock-like ticking off the hours, marking the ebb and flow of tides.


Beneath the clearing smoke as the crowd moves off to their night’s roosts to the sounds of The Choirboys’ “Run To Paradise” and revel in dreams of a peaceful world reflected in the city lights that still dance on your brown waters.<AJC>


Time For Tea

in donated items
a tiered cake plate
one of
three Wedgewood ghosts
cleared out for a handful of dollars
ownership of time simply transformed
from aloft
a small tierd petit fours plate hangs
empty of delights but full of movement
softly ticking off the hours until it is time for tea

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Sea Rogue’s Song

In quiet tides time snagged
roped to ocean’s floor
instead of raising the sea’s bounty
trawling white flesh bounty
sweet fleshed fish and prawns
you were taken before
grey skies and blue rays
distilling propellers’ hum
schooling empty windows
ghosting hollow nets
with ascending breath
underwater angels visit
shadows fifty metres below
the aquarium’s hulled home

Silhouette In Salt Air


Afternoon sinks behind notes of a single warbling magpie
memory collected in shadows along road’s ribbon
recall the times we waited for this spot to reveal
a vista of sea and rock and lighthouse
before descending from macadamia quilted hills to the coast

I have come home to country the long way ’round
the view behind the fence a snapshot from the edge
where once we watched hang-gliders launch
a heart’s echo touching Icarus
while we remained grounded behind wire and gate and post

the song collected notes marking day’s end
the voice a memory of a friend