Eleven thousand people turned up yesterday at the annual Mediaeval Fair half an hour’s drive north of Brisbane. It is on again today. Amidst gum trees and paper barks stretched myriads of period bell tents with long pennants flying under threatening skies. Fortunately the rain held off and the sun shone brightly later in the winter’s afternoon, making the knights’ armour more dazzling. The maximum was forecast to be 22°C which is comfortable for a man in armour or a woman in a long woollen garb and head dress. The air was full of the music from period instruments, madrigals, and jingling bells of Morris dancers mixed with the rhythmic bang and clink of blacksmiths taming red-hot iron with hammer on anvil. Later there was a display of falconry with Peregrine falcons, a kestrel, some owls and an Australian wedge-tailed eagle. During the day there was jousting by knights on horseback and also tournaments between men in armour with damsels in tall coned hats pinning their kerchief on their favourites.
Before their tents and smoking fires were Vikings, Celts, Crusaders, Byzantines, Bulgars, Turks, Saracens, while gypsies in a caravan told fortunes and Celts with displayed silver jewellery and stuff about Runes and the dark arts. There were vendors in tents selling all sorts of wares from furs to weapons, pottery, venison pies and mead and for a while it was not hard to imagine being on a Common in mediaeval England, Germany or in the Holy Land. Somehow the gums trees and melaleucas did not matter as this day revealed that atavistic memory that runs deep in man; the desire to rediscover deep roots in an electronic world where everything seems so ephemeral and superficial. At times I felt like a sane man in a mad house.
Yesterday I woke up to hear another of our soldiers, a Queenslander called Nathan Bewes, had been killed in Afghanistan and a fellow soldier wounded with a roadside bomb. He had bought his sweetheart a diamond only three weeks before and his face was on the front page of the Sunday Mail this morning. Three of our SAS soldiers were killed the week before in a helicopter crash while on operations once night. The Taliban would know through the Internet, his name and see the details of his family; such is the way of the modern world. They can watch his funeral on television and by computer while his killers dissolve into the anonymity of the Afghan populace where friend and foe are indistinguishable as in all insurgencies and guerrilla wars. It is an asymmetric war, what with the rules of engagement when our troops can only fire when fired upon and men can kill with a mobile phone. The irony is that the American Minute Men did the same against the Red Coats and they called them patriots.
We are expecting a federal election to be called soon by our new prime minister, Julia Gillard, the then deputy PM, who ousted the once diplomat and Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd a few weeks ago in a sudden seismic shift by the Labor Party caucus which felt that Rudd was barking up the wrong tree. It happened so swiftly and with such political adroitness, most of us were stunned, but a day is a long time in politics. As our first woman PM, and a former lawyer, she has come across as strong and focussed and with a quick wit, but faces the pugnacious Liberal opposition leader, Tony Abbott who was a Rhodes Scholar and won an Oxford Blue in boxing. It will be an interesting match. Illegal immigration by boat people, greenhouse warming, health, a new mining tax and the economy loom major issues although we have survived the GFC relatively unscathed with a relatively healthy national indebtedness compared to other countries. However, many people are still hurting and many Baby Boomer doctors will not retire as planned as their superannuation has been decimated by the GFC.