Life on Mars

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The world was a swirling mass of red dust, unnervingly eerie and alien.

It could have been anywhere and nowhere and the driver of the small white Barina hatch-back, crammed with as many of her worldly possessions as a car of that size could hold, knew she wasn't in Kansas any more Toto.

Hell, she wasn't sure she was in Australia or even still on earth. If someone had suggested this was Mars Poppy Fraser would have believed them.

She always knew that her life would change now but this really was another planet. So different from the coastal village that it was hard to believe she was still in the same state.

This held little resemblance to the place where she'd grown up, where she'd trained to be a teacher and learned to be a dancer. Right now as she drove down what passed for a "highway" out here in the west Poppy couldn't help wondering what the hell she was doing with her life.

There was a drought out here, she'd seen it on the television often enough, had a "Parma" for a farmer at the local pub on a number of occasions with her uni friends and her family – any excuse for one of those ubiquitous plate-sized chicken parmigiana offered up at every pub and club around Australia. But here as she drove the car formerly known as snowball (and now probably resembling an uncooked rissole) through what she could only believe was a pretty wide-spread dust storm she was coming face-to-face with it for the first time.

The world was so red and wild that she had to pull over at the nearest rest stop and hope that her small car wouldn't disappear completely under the metres and metres of wild red soil which had now been turned loose on the world by the lack of vegetation.

In this alien world, she suddenly felt incredibly homesick and she hadn't even arrived at her destination.

Her destination, her new home for the next year – maybe more if she took to it, if she didn't get a better offer somewhere closer to civilization, was a small dot on the map. A dot so small that she was now heartily sick of the "where's that" question anytime she mentioned her first teaching position.

She was straight out of university and straight out into the bush to teach, dancing after school if she could, and primary students through the day in a town whose population was little more than the average dance school – probably smaller than her own back home.

Ngurang, southwestern NSW, pretty much nowhere somewhere in the wheat and sheep belt of the south-west slopes and plains. Town population pushing the 240 mark on a good day with another 100 out in the farms around town.

Everyone had to start somewhere and for Poppy, it was there, a little speck on the map no one had ever heard of. With any luck, two years out in nowhere 'Ville NSW and she could get a posting close to home. Either that or another audition for a ballet company somewhere a little more civilized. Somewhere where people outnumbered sheep!

That's if this dust storm ever let up and she could actually see where the fuck she was going!


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