That Friday night at the Theebine Pub I also met Sheri.
Now Sheri just happens to be married to Graham, our bearded grazier-next-door; and long before I met Sheri I’d heard the story of how she took 27 years to consider his marriage proposal. (It must have stood up to prolonged scrutiny, because accept she did.)
That’s the thread of connection that brought us together out the front of a pub at the end of an evening; but the story that Sheri chose to tell me that night was about another part of her life, in which she is invariably ‘Miss Sheri’. This is out at the school at Cherbourg aboriginal community.
Now I knew vaguely of Cherbourg as a town with history. At the turn of the century, the land was set aside as an ‘Aboriginal reserve’, a place where dispossessed Aboriginal people from all over south-western Queensland were sent by the authorities to be controlled and assimilated. For some time it was a place for the systematic containment and eradication of multiple and varied aboriginal cultures, languages, and customs. Today, the town of Cherbourg and surrounding lands have been made over to the Aboriginal community, but it’s also a town founded on the physical site of immense intergenerational grief.
Sheri works in school administration there, but it’s not just admin and to her, it’s clearly not just not a job. She absolutely lit up when she talked about the kids there – the young ones, early primary school. She told me that was the thing that kept her going back to Cherbourg day after day, year after year: the joy, the life in these beautiful kids.
There are difficult moments, too; Cherbourg has its problems. Sometimes the kids are on the roof instead of in the classrooms.
Come to Cherbourg, she said. Come and meet the kids.
I immediately ditched the ideas I’d been having about leaving on Sunday. I sent a slightly-tipsy invitation to my favourite DR rider in Brisbane to come and fang around the scrub for the weekend, and made arrangements to head out to Cherbourg on Monday.
Every change of plans comes with collateral adventure, and the weekend’s riding was pretty golden. We headed up the mountain behind Kilkivan along a skinny stretch of bitumen called Black Snake Road, which twists along the ridgetop and up into cooler air. We followed some firetrails into valleys where pockets of rainforest smelled damp and primeval.
Out the other side of the town, we went up through the edge of Mudlo National Park and into valleys of new feed and lazy cattle. The recent rain had painted the paddocks a ludicrously beautiful green, but the roads were dry again.
I had that thought there might be a chance of trying out my new Metzeler Sahara 3s in mud, but it was a day of gravel and a little bit of single track through the rainforest. I thought about the 14-tooth front sprocket that was sitting in my pannier each time I tried to stamp down a gear and found myself already in first.
Beastie’s gearing is too high for single track, but I’ll stick with the 15-tooth until I’ve crossed the wide open spaces between here and Darwin. Very happy with the Saharas though – solid and predictable on loose gravel and rocky trails. Sweet.
What a weekend.