I’ve still got a week and a half of it ahead of me, but for the past week I’ve been working at a refinery in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia. It’s deep in “country” territory – at least in terms of the sort of country areas I grew up in. That may have been on the other side of the country, but it’s remarkably similar.
Being country territory, you’re talking about long roads with little traffic on them. Accidents can happen on any road, and per capita of course they happen more in the cities, but there’s something particularly dangerous about country roads. Larger wildlife – Kangaroos and Emus – people who think the speed limit is just a suggestion, and people who get distracted or tired on long, boring stretches.
These days, safety is a pretty serious topic in most businesses, and in industries like refineries and mines even more so. Even just to be able to work in an office I had to do 5 hours of site induction training. Some of the contractors had a week of it ahead of them for their full site access.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, during induction it was revealed that fatalities almost invariably came from road accidents – people coming and going from work. Within the space of 10 minutes, the instructor rattled off a half dozen incidents: this employee was clipped on his bike, that employee fell asleep at the wheel, that other employee missed a corner, and so on.
And in each case there was a roadside memorial.
It was something I began to notice acutely on my afternoon return trips from the refinery. A uniform wrapped around a tree. A bike, sprayed white, chained to a tree. Seemingly dozens of crosses. The ~50km drive has roadside memorials in abundance.
I think we all hope to leave a lasting impression on the world, if only even a small part of it. Some stride the world stage, having a global impact. Others captain multinational companies, having their own influence on the world. For those of us with smaller ambitions, the lasting impression we hope to leave is often simpler. Many people consider children to be that lasting impression – a legacy that will outlive them. I’ll never have children, so for me I hope my lasting impression will be memetic. It’s part of the reason why I write: in the hope that I foster change or understanding.
Indeed, for most of us the legacy we leave behind is in the memories we leave behind. If people remember us, then part of us lives on.
I think after this past week I finally understand roadside memorials, and the shadow memories they entail.