Wednesday, June 3, 2020

On piggers taking control of a zoom meeting

It was a while ago now but I keep on promising this story so I guess I'm going to have to put out at some stage. I've been off grid for five years and adapted my life to work and home. Some people would see me as a comrade living in North Korea: sitting in the dark with a wind up radio. That is pretty close. Candles are nice. I've had a single solar panel powering what a solar tech guy recently called a motorcycle battery, in not wholly admiring linguistics.

So, given that the campuses had shut down and we ran all our tutorials and meetings via zoom, it was a time for maximum exploitation of tech and time. I got onto it pretty much a week before anyone else (except the insurers) because I'd been working remotely for years anyway.

Apart from the laundromat and my friend's back veranda, both with power point and internet access, this was my most common teaching room. I've run it from my car.

It's my in-range spot and a great place to make calls, five kilometres from my home. This is also not a great place to call anyone during a storm. Ten days ago ... see below.

photo courtesy of OzStory
 I've spent several hours at a time on the phone at this in-range spot, while the original pandemic stuff played out and work meetings went online, full of peering administrators trying to work out who was there. Some meetings were funny and joyous, particularly with students, and others were like aghh.

During this particular meeting, I was still feeling smug about having a work meeting in a karri forest rather than the bedroom or cramped office that I could see everyone else zooming in from, when a 4WD full of people and dogs stopped beside me. 
'Are you okay?' one of the blokes asked. 'Not broken down or anything?'

It's the nicest thing to do and something I've noticed a lot when I'm in my in range spot in the forest recently. I'm having a work meeting and people stop to ask if I'm okay. The problem with this occasion was that they were pig hunters, I had my dog on the back and I was intently listening to how someone had just run a 'virtual field trip' while the campus was shut to students.

Yes, all hell broke loose. Their dogs spilled off the back of the ute (pig hunters leave one side of the cage open so their dogs can smell wild pigs and get started) and started trying to attack Selkie through the open window. My dog went ballistic and the worst thing was that I'd forgotten to turn the mute off my mic during the meeting. I'm shouting, they are shouting, all the dogs are shouting, everyone is shouting. A bit of cursing.

The only people not shouting were my boss and colleagues, staring from their living room desk tops. I'd pretty much shot down the whole meeting. Lesson for the day? Turn on your mute button before the pig dogs take over your zoom meeting and assume total control.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Sound of a Podcast

I'd almost forgotten what a ripping yarn this is. Rosemary Puddy who runs thebookpodcast has rerecorded my interview with her from a few years ago. Have a listen. It's great.
Here is the link:

Monday, May 18, 2020


I just love this album Spinifex Gum. It's a collaboration project between the Gondwana Children's quoir and Felix Reibl from Cat Empire and includes contributions from Peter Garret and the rapper Senator Briggs among others. Most of the songs are framed around our north west and issues like mining and land, river course usage and native title.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Working (vulnerably) From Home

So I have the inverter, humming like a tuned-up tractor, beside me. Actually it sounds like a suburban neighbour's leaf blower on a Sunday morning, but who am I to complain about having internet at home?

Today I'd like to talk about iso injuries, that is, the injuries sustained by a planet of humanoids isolating in their homes for a sustained period. No, not really, just little ol' me confined to work from home, or the local laundromat, or Flame's back veranda. Wherever there is internet anyway. I'll list this litany of personal injuries not in chronological order but based on the fact that they are all related to my own state of mind due to lockdown.

Nora Ephram once wrote that she was raised to understand that "all painful things eventually turn into funny stories." I can't agree more with the woman who was once married to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein and who also said "everything is copy." She went on to write a savage take-down of the end of their marriage in novel form. Like she said, everything is copy and pain, on later reflection, can be pretty bloody funny.

I was watching my dog limp. Selkie is one of those unber-healthy dogs with a glossy coat and bounces around like Tigger. Seeing her in pain was awful and it looked like she'd broken a bone in her foot. She has a round, every morning in the place that is dog heaven. Just before dawn she takes herself off for a run along the beach, heads into the bush and returns forty minutes later, panting and chuffed, often with a kangaroo bone. She is a dog without fences or roads. Imagine that life for a dog. This particular morning she returned a bit subdued and limping badly. It was in the first week or so of our Australian lockdown. I had the sniffles and decided not to travel 200km to video conference a Noongar elder for my teaching job.

Instead, after 24 hours of spinning out about my injured dog and how far we were from the nearest vet (100km), I went all Dr Quinn Medicine woman on her and administered comfrey to her foot and bound it up. By the time I got her to a vet, he took one look at her, rotated her back knee and said, 'Well I won't do that again. It's obviously causing her pain. It's her cruciate ligament. Here's some anti inflammatories. If she's not better in a week, it's surgery.' He threw my bandages and unguents aside. My brain bled, with dollar signs leaking out my ears, as I lifted the 40 kg rottweiler cross back into the car.

This is obviously not an iso injury but it made me feel really vulnerable. I sent messages to my son who by then lived across a closed border from me. 'Let me look after her, I'm closer to the vet' he replied. 'There must be a way to get a dog across the Frankland river. I'm about to kill a sheep, so I can get some chops and potatoes to you at the same time.' Blessed Stormboy.

At around the same time, some friends went picking field mushrooms and gave me a mass of them chopped and wrapped up in a happy christmas tea towel. Any of you who know me well know that I love eating mushrooms and I do know a bit about which ones to eat. So I set about making a cream of mushroom soup and that night I ate the lot. So yummy!

The next morning I woke up with a fever, I was shaky and then I started vomiting. I felt like I'd been poisoned and poisoned I was. Once again I felt terribly vulnerable. I was 100km from the nearest hospital. Could I drive there? Would I have to park my car on the highway ten km off the dirt track, put on my hazard lights and hope for a passerby to help me out? The roads were so quiet. Normally I'm quite the mountain woman but times like these make me feel inconsequential. My nearest neighbour is 25 km away.

I cured myself with red gum resin made into a tea. Worked a treat. Then I swallowed half a cup of petrol due to an unfortunate and aborted internet installation. Then I rolled an ankle wading through the water to pick up a net full of mullet. Then I sprained a thumb on the next week's mullet set. "What the fuck is that Brown Thing in the net Boo?" "It's your Croc Sarah. It seems to have come loose from your foot." "Oh ... good. Whoops!"

Sprained thumb.

You'll be happy to know that my lungs (from breathing in petrol), my stomache (from ingesting petrol and poisonous mushrooms) and my dog are much better now. My rolled ankle and my thumb still hurt a little bit. However I think that, while I'm normally pretty good at looking after myself, especially in the isolated areas where I often live and work alone, I've been a bit slap dash on the personal safety front lately. My next post will be about the pig hunters and their dogs who upended my zoom meeting with my boss.

Hope you are all well bloggers. Stay sexy x

Friday, May 15, 2020

Moon Landing

Hiatus, a missing period in time. The geological origins of the word describe a period of time in a rock record that is missing. There's a gap in the chronology. It's also a gap year of bad hair cuts, burns from heroic attempts at baking sourdough bread and people proclaiming daily that they've always been good at isolation. I'm one of the latter, though I gave up early in the game as too many others who live in suburbia were saying the same thing. By now, all our lovely seedlings are sprouting after the last great vege seedling shortage. Either that or they've withered in their egg carton trays and nurtured only by the tears of frustrated first-time gardeners. I'm smug to report that I now have a grazing bed of rocket and coriander outside the front door and the purple beans are shooting up the karri hazel sticks like the proverbial beanstalk.

Okay, so enough of the hubris. I've been putting it off, but here is my proper post in a bloody AGE. As a result of a federal government initiative on internet blackspots (and I'm in the mother of blackspots here) a technician turned up a few weeks ago and put a satellite dish on my roof. While he was trying to boot it up, and while I was a little bit obsessed with the fact that there was actually a man in my house, he realised that my tiny solar panel in the shady forest would not give us sufficient electricity. 'Shall I start the generator?' I asked. I know genny surges are not great for digital equipment but he'd driven a hundred kilometres and then another ten along a bush track to get here. It was the generator or nothing. Five minutes later the engine ran out of petrol. I had some more in the boat motor and prayed that marine oil in a four stroke generator wouldn't do it too much harm. I got a hose and started siphoning. Yep. I swallowed about half a cup of fuel and realised later that night I'd also inhaled some into my lungs, as I was breathing air in and petrol fumes out. What was even worse, at the time the technician was watching me and saw the whole thing. We still couldn't boot up the internet and eventually he left in disgust, saying 'I'm gonna have to come back,' while breaking out in an anxiety rash and kicking my dog out of his car.

Three weeks later he came back. I'd organised an alternative power source. The solar power company in the nearest town have been ghosting me since they realised how far away I live, so I'm on my own when it comes to setting up a decent power system. Anyway, the technician returned and within fifteen minutes, he'd pulled up the Bureau of Meteorology website on my laptop. It was the strangest feeling. For five years now I've lived off grid and out of range and there is the latest weather on my computer. 'I would give you a big hug ... if I wasn't about to give you a terrible disease or something,' I said. He took a step back and said, 'Steady on there,' but I could tell he was pretty pleased.

The first thing I did online was send an email to the people who own my house. First White Woman in History Sends Email From Broke Inlet. 'Oh wow!' she replied. 'This is like the moon landing.'

Indeed. My next post will be about the various and bizarre iso injuries I've managed to inflict on myself and how a zoom meeting with my university bosses in my in range spot in the forest (pre moon landing) was hijacked by a mob of pig hunters and their dogs.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Time? What's Time?

The bush fires were a long time ago now, and there are those words *time* and *now*. Back then I said to a friend that I felt our national psyche was injured. A summer of anger and hurt and death and culture wars. When the rains came, relief was palpable but the toxic run off over scorched country killed aquatic species. Pollinators were rare now and thousands of people moved into tents and caravans. Others organised food drops for surviving wild animals whose habitats were destroyed by fire.

That was January. By my 50th birthday mid-February, I think we had our last gathering of more than two people. Now I have a list on my fridge of things I have to do every day to maintain a routine. ‘Please Sarah! Go for a walk, write something, finish your mentoring job, read, sort out the mullet nets.’ In February, I was still going up the mountain every day on fire tower duty. I was preparing around then for the beginning of my uni classes at the Resource Centre. One morning on my way there, I stopped at the hardware to buy a gas bottle. A fighter jet buzzed the little town. The man helping me get the gas onto the back of the ute said, ‘that’s the fourth pass he’s done this morning.’ And as I strapped the gas to the aluminium bars, the jet did another pass. Odd.

At the Resource Centre, the work farm trusties set up the function room for a meeting. After big hello smiles, they continued moving about chairs, tables, plugging in the urn and laying out a table full of cups, teaspoons, sachets of sugar in little bowls. Dressed in their prison greens, they arranged cakes and slices into dainty piles. Over the clinking of crockery and quiet murmurs of the trusties, I heard the jet again.

Each day they ride mountain bikes from the work camp to town. They trim the gardens and water in new plantings at shire council and state government premises. They clean up sections of the hiking trail that snakes 500km from Albany to Perth. These guys are minimum security and approaching parole and theirs is a ‘soft entry’ back into community where once a week, there is a rush of green-clad shoppers wielding trolleys in the local supermarket, the guard standing by the ATM and watching them.

After setting up the function room, Marley (not his real name) sat beside the photocopier. The weekly community newspaper spewed page by page from the machine and he carefully folded each page in half. His job is to collate the newspaper and then distribute it around town. Marley is Iranian Australian. When he first arrived at the camp, he was aloof but polite and spoke quietly. I remember him talking to one of the other prisoners about world peace in his odd, nasal tone. Adenoids, I think. As he grew to know people in town, he warmed to them. These days I’m likely to see him stopping in for a chat with the mechanics or the librarian on his newspaper round. Other prisoners come and go as their sentences are served but Marley remains a green clad fixture. He is wrapping up a ten-year sentence for people smuggling; a one particular voyage that ended catastrophically.

There was a kind of buzz going on at the resource centre this day. The place began to fill up with uniforms. Local police, parks and wildlife, fire and emergency services. I went outside and sat on the bench under the peppermint tree. A hire car whipped past. I saw the driver do a double take at the centre, turn around and come back. Then a hire four wheel drive, then another. People began spilling from cars with cameras, laptop bags, talking on mobile phones. City clothes and the gait of a mission.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked the young man at the front desk.
‘Minister for Corrective Services’, he said. ‘Apparently they are making an announcement today.’ So maybe the Air Force jet was scoping?

Eventually the minister turned up and while I studied the new lectures and printed out class lists, the room next door crowded with various apparatus of the law, making media announcements regarding the justice system, and Marley stayed by the photocopier, collating the newspaper in his prison greens.

*Time* That scene was from another life. I haven’t seen the work farm trusties for three weeks and I assume they’re in lockdown. When I mentioned this to Flame and wonder about sending them books or postcards, some kind of support, she said, ‘Sarah, we’re all in lockdown now. It’s just … those guys are used to it.’

Time must operate differently for them, I think. The need for routine must be paramount. I too have a list on my fridge now. We all suffered the shock three (?) weeks ago when so many people lost their jobs and were forced home to contemplate. Time now seems to operate in graphs of curves and daily new infections. Time now works in blobs and spirals and pools. Back when the rain put the fires out, I would never have believed that dinner parties would soon be declared illegal or that citizens would actually consider installing a government tracking app on their phones. That having too many cars outside your house could mean a visit from the police. Driving the river bridge is now a crime where I live, unless you have an exemption. Linearity of time has been shown for the western furphy it is. Any historian can tell us that. Time is more like blowing apart a dandelion seed head with your breath, watching the individual seeds travel off on their own trajectories.

Sometimes I do an exercise with my students to demonstrate the ‘everywhen’ connectivity in Indigenous life. We stand in a circle and each person represents an aspect of Noongar culture. Katitjin/knowledge, Moort/family, Lore/law, Nyitting/Dreaming, Boodja/country, Gorah/time/long ago. We have a single ball of string and, holding the piece of string, throw the ball to the person who we feel is connected to what we represent. For example, I as Moort could throw the ball to Boodja, and so on. No decision is wrong. When the ball of string is completely unravelled, we are holding a complex, messy version of a cat’s cradle. Everything is connected.

I read somewhere on social media, an epidemiologist used to wonder as a science undergraduate why they were forced to do some humanities units – sociology, anthrop, philosophy etc. And they said, ‘I get it now. STEM and the humanities are connected, intimately.’


These days
Back then
Long time ago
Weeks ago
Maybe tomorrow
Next week
Maybe in Spring