The End of All Our ExploringFriday, 24 March 2017
Travel, relationships, India and McLeod Ganj at Dharamsala, Australia, Burma, they all feature in Catherine Anderson’s The End of All Our Exploring, a wrenching memoir about her intense, but sadly truncated relationship with the writer and photographer Angus McDonald.
I should have met Angus on a panel at a travel writing festival in Melbourne in 2013, but he died a few weeks earlier. He left behind two books, in The Five Foot Road: In Search of a Vanished China he follows the tracks of ‘Morrison of Peking’ who travelled from Shanghai to Rangoon in 1894.
India’s Disappearing Railways tells the story in text and photographs of the country’s enchanting narrow gauge railways. Edited by Catherine Anderson the book was not published until after his death and I played a very small part in the exhibition of his railway photographs in London and later in Melbourne and Sydney.
Catherine first bumped into Angus in the Dalai Lama’s Indian Himalayan retreat, but their relationship never went further than friendship and her life there even included a rather disastrous marriage to a Tibetan refugee. Then, living in England and working for British Member of Parliament and Afghanistan expert Rory Stewart, the relationship with Angus was unexpectedly rekindled. Soon they’re flying, from opposite sides of the world, to meet in Thailand and from there moving in together in Sydney. Why didn’t we do this a decade earlier is the question they both seem to ask, but almost immediately Angus is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and from there it’s a case of living for the days until suddenly and almost without warning, on their way back from a brief visit to Burma, he dies at Yangon airport.
Catherine has a way with words, whether it’s bringing her travels and the places she and Angus visit to life or underlining the huge emotional shock of his death. I seemed to find myself saying ‘oh yes’ whether it was exploring McLeod Ganj or the back streets of Sydney, where even Harry’s Café de Wheels makes an appearance. ▼
I could even relate to their escape to Pretty Beach, north of Sydney. While Angus followed in the footsteps of Morrison of Peking for his first book, and Catherine is planning further journey on his trail. I’ve had my own journey following (in much greater comfort) Rory Stewart’s adventurous trek across Afghanistan.