When reflection becomes incredibly important to your own survival and well-being, it suddenly gets a huge priority boost. I won’t claim that without it I would literally have died, but for the period that I worked on the pearl farm, I might have come close.
I’ll explain where I was, and what I was doing, before giving the rationale behind my reflective process on the events.
My final exam had concluded on November 6th, and I was ready for a break. My plan was to work for the next 8 months then move to Canada to begin university, but at least for the next week I was going to kick back and chill. That all turned to shit unfortunately, when my good friends father offered me a job. The terms were as follows;
- At least 8 weeks, maybe more
- Work on a pearl farm, doing manual labor of one variety or another
- The work place is an isolated farm in the furthest reaches of the Northern Territory, in a bay 3 hours from the nearest town by boat in Arnhemland, called Gove (Nhullunbuy).
Of course, this would mean living there, without good phone service, for a period which included my 18th birthday (the legal drinking age in Australia, so an important one), Christmas, new year, Hannuka, and Australia Day.
My decision was made 3 years prior to this however, when I decided UBC was going to be my university, so I said yes. Dave, my friend’s dad, went into another room, and – in his usual manner—immediately booked a flight without telling me.
Cut to 50 hours later and I’m sitting in a dongle, sweating profusely in the North Australian wet heat, wondering how on earth I got there, writing in a journal. This is where my self-reflection suddenly became so incredibly important. What I’ll do now, I think, is give a brief account of a few points of reflection which I still have with me, and which I immediately put to use out on the farm.
- Be a 0. Don’t try, when you aren’t sure of your own ability, to be a +1, because inevitably, you will be a -1. Here is what happened to lead me to this conclusion. I was on the boat as it was pulling out of the harbor to make the 3 hour journey from Gove to camp. It’s a big ship. The ropes holding it to the wharf were as thick as a man’s thigh, and probably 25 meters long. The call was made to pull them in, and a woman covered in tattoos was dragging one up onto the boat. I was standing around like a limp scarecrow, and desperately wanted to prove myself. With that in mind, I rushed over to Kerry pulling in the rope, and also got a grip on it and tried to pull. It immediately stopped reeling in, so I pulled harder. Kerry told me to “fuck off”, and I suddenly realized that I was pulling the rope at an angle that caused it to jam up against the side of the ship, preventing it from moving. From then on, I stood back until I knew I could have a positive, +1 influence on a situation- which can only come about through this process of self-reflection.
- Never, ever mess with animals. This one is less of a personally reflective concept, but I think Mengzi might approve. Animals, in the outback of Australia, want you to die. It’s like the combination of heat, misery, desert, and hunger makes them furious, and almost always out to murder you. Here are a few cases where that turned out to be incredibly true. When I first arrive I was told, “watch out for cigarette snakes. They’re everywhere. We call ‘em that coz if you get bit by one, you just wanna si’down, roll up a ciggy, and ‘ave a smoke, coz… well, it’s the last thing you’ll ever bloody do.” It turns out that the anti-venom only lasts for about 2 weeks, and it’s very expensive- so they just don’t keep it on camp. The venom from these snakes takes about 25 minutes to paralyze a grown man, and with a helicopter, you still wouldn’t make it to hospital in time. I couldn’t believe it when, a few weeks later, I walked out of my dongle to see a 6 foot 4 Estonian bloke staring at a 3ft snake right in the eyes. It looked like he was in a trance, and frankly- so was I- until someone else saw him and screamed “get the fuck away from it! That thing’ll kill ya!”. So I was taught, both through practice and self-reflection, to stay well clear of anything in the bush or water that moves.