Monday, November 3, 2014

Love and War

Well, from a grumpy old woman who was going to leave town, I managed to stay right in the beating, bloody heart of Albany's ANZAC commemorations for about four days. There were two ways I managed to achieve this 1) my bicycle and 2) my lovely quiet little blue room at the uni, right next to the main stage. Most of the time I was oblivious to the chaos. I could hear helicopters, loudspeakers, shrieking kids, music, the grunts emanating from the interpretive dance troupe, helicopters, air force flyovers, bagpipes, fog horns, laughter, kids on skateboards, someone playing a violin.

I wrote a lot. Occasionally I'd head out along Stirling Terrace and wonder at this town. At some stage I'd like to mention Peter FitzSimons' red bandana but I'm guessing that because Gallipoli, it's not appropriate to do this right now. (Oh wow. So I right click on the wriggly red line under Gallipoli and spellcheck blogger gives me 'Megalopolis.' Gets better.)

On Friday, my Dad finally retired his working life with a last blast from the cannon he's been nurturing for quite a few years now. It was the opening ceremony.


Later he told me he'd been hit in the guts by the cannon's recoil, because the television crews wanted the shot firers to stand to attention directly behind the cannon.
"You did well Dad, to stay on your feet. I never even noticed."

Just before he lit the fuse, I told him that his grandson's other grandfather had died the afternoon before. I felt bad about that later. I knew it was Dad's moment but I also knew that he understood the legacy of war and that his one shot, that one across the harbour with the police boats and barges and television crews, was all about wars.
Dad and I have clashed over war for years. He's a military historian, a gunsmith and a black powder man. I'm an old hippy. We agree about a lot of things : history, literature, politics: but the history, politics and literature of war often divides us.

Anyway ... Stormboy's paternal grandad died on Thursday. Stormboy's Dad rang me not long after he'd found his body. He died in his sleep, he said to me. He'd been eating tinned fruit, SPC fruit salad, put it down, turned over and just bloody died.
My ex-partner was dithery, drunk and quite distressed. He wanted to know how to tell his son.
"You know," I said to him on the phone, "this whole war thing this weekend and your father dying today ... I know he wasn't a soldier. He was a farmer ..."
"Oh yes," he said. "But he was a product of the war alright."

Stormboy's great grandfather fought that WW2 campaign in North Africa for nearly four years and by all accounts he returned a different man; a violent, angry, drinking man. Every family has a story like this one. No one in his family escaped the beatings. When Stormboy's grandfather was fifteen, his father rolled the car, killing himself and several of his children. Stormboy's grandad had to leave school and work to support his Mum and sisters and brothers. It sounded like he hated school anyway. Stormboy's grandad always struck me as a hard little bastard. The first time I met him, soft and in love with his son, he shocked me with his swift, nasty up-and-down and the 'get the fuck out of my shed, woman' look.

I hadn't really thought about all this lately, until the other day. And there is my Dad, firing off his last salvo at the opening ceremony of the ANZAC stuff. The last time I saw Stormboy's grandfather it was a reconciliation, on both our behalves, a knowing each other for who we are as people.

I spent the whole next day under my doona. It was Saturday and all the parades were happening. The warships were maneuvering around the Sound. Prime Ministers gave speeches. Apparently it was amazing. I didn't want to look at anyone. I cried, a lot. There was other stuff going on ... I've found this ANZAC to be an intensely emotional experience.
For me, it's been about men; about watching my son's stoic, quiet response to the news of his grandfather's death and wondering about that. He was so quiet. As a woman, I will wail and fall to the floor, or get too drunk or smoke too many cigarettes, or start a fight.
Don't worry. I'm not pushing him. I know his grief will burst out sooner or later.

Last night I danced with sailors who were shipping out this morning.A local band played Irish music and sailors danced like they were at any club in the world. It was getting lumpy. The bouncers circled after a kid who looked about twelve years old skulled a jug of beer. I could have given birth to any of these kids, I thought, they are just babies. A couple canoodled in the corner. They'd been deployed on different ships for nine months and last night was their only night together.

After the rain, I watched an Illuminart show projected onto the Town Hall and then rode home on my bicycle through moonlit puddles. It's so thrilling riding a bike at night with no lights. I chanced death last night. Yeah. I chanced death. On my bicycle. Hunched over the handlebars and thinking about those baby soldiers who were the same age as my son is today.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

They Are Coming!

Apparently three of the major supermarkets in town have just run out of milk. Petrol is beginning to look scarce and all residents are urged to conserve their water, lest we run out of that too.
Aussie pointed up to the mountain where the town's water supply sits in a huge green tank. "That's it, yes? And what about the sewerage? What will sixty thousand extra poos per day do to our sewerage system? Can we cope with so much poo? Oh my God! Can we cope?""

No, it's not the apocalypse, nor is it an invasion of barbarians. This is a town where men used to kill and dismantle animals the size of double-decker buses, so we have no problem with dystopian scenes and we totally understand those barbarians. The fact that the Prime Minister is turning up on Friday has nothing to do with anything at all.

It's the ANZAC Centenary Celebrations and it's happening here this weekend. The amount of people surging into Albany to participate has been wildly speculated upon, argued about and rumour-milled, until someone nailed that algorithm based on the success rate of grass seed germination in chicken entrails and came up with sixty thousand people.
Sixty thousand people. 

There has only been about a hundred years to organise such an event and for ages I felt rather cynical about the whole thing and decided as a grumpy old woman that come October 31st, like a lot of the other locals, I was going to get the fuck out for three days. You know ... the war thing, the ANZAC thing, how we only embrace our war histories after enough soldiers and nurses are so dead they can't remind us of the reality thing, the 'do I have enough milk because Woolies has sold out' thing.

The 'thing' is, I've been watching the townsfolk put so much energy into our streets, shops and ANZAC centres, that I'm starting to feel terribly proud of them all. Stirling Terrace is the old sailors' precinct; originally the pubs and restaurants presented their welcoming facade to land-sick, desirous seafarers, whalers and fishers as they sailed into Princess Royal Harbour. Since we began travelling by road, rather than by sea, places like Stirling Terrace have been neglected and left to struggle on in an interminable morass of southerly winds. Stirling Terrace was starting to look like those old gone-broke gold mining towns, the memory of boom time reflected in its grand architecture ... all peeling paintwork and tired, leaning verandas..

The last few months, I've watched workers and volunteers pave new footpaths and steam clean old ones. They've replaced verandas, planted Flanders poppies, and sanded back and painted all of the old facades along Stirling Terrace. The place looks absolutely beautiful.

This afternoon, there was a traffic jam as the first influx came into town. Oh Wow.The locals seem a little bit freaked out about how big this 'thing' is, but it was not a lust for revenue that I saw on the street today. It was pride, a gathering excitement and a hope that everything will go okay. The most common comment was "I hope it doesn't rain."

I so hope it doesn't rain.

And a word of advice to visitors ... if you are coming into town:
Buy a rain coat.
Avoid the roundabouts.
Bicycles are so excellent.
Point Possession is a hike but it's the best place to see those warships steam in, and possibly less congested.

Finally, there are no photos tonight but I promise, I'll start posting as it kicks off.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Choice

Today I drove to the auto shop with the oil light on my Mum's van blinking furiously at me. Mum's one of women who follow the creed espoused by whoever wrote When I grow old I shall wear purple. Consequently she was comfortable buying a bright purple, hand-painted Mitsubishi van from some backpackers who were leaving the country the next day. I've been driving her car around because my own four wheel drive's radiator, along with the clutch, shat itself recently.

So I walked into the shop, looking for oil, with no idea of how to lift the passenger seat to put oil into said motor and was met by a perky nineteen (or something) year old girl.
"I'm looking for motor oil for a petrol Mitsubishi."
She immediately headed for her computer. "What year is it?" she asked.
By the time she'd negotiated various algorithms of brand, car make and oil required, I'd cruised the aisles and found what I was looking for.

She rang up my purchase and I asked the man next to her: "Do you know how to open up the motor? I know I have to lift the seat. I just can't find the latches. It's not my car and I can't contact the owner."
"Sorry," she said, "this may seem silly, but have you looked at the user's manual? Maybe it's in the glovebox or something."
The two men in the shop were reticent to come out to the carpark to look at my car. She followed me out the door and together, we fiddled with the car seats until we'd worked out how to access the motor.

"How are you liking this work?" I asked her.
"I love it. But I don't know anything. I have to look everything up on the computer."
"You'll learn it. You'll be fine."
We propped up the seat against an oil bottle.
"Have you thought about going into mechanics?" I asked.
She laughed. "Oh yes I have. I'd love to be a mechanic, but an apprentice's wages won't pay my way. And women, girls, they just cop it. They have a hard time."
"My sister is a mechanic. She did her apprenticeship in the late 80's (as I said that I realised she wasn't even born then - how much has changed?) She got a really hard time. She had to be better than everyone else, all the time, or else she got even worse than the usual hard time."
I was warming to my subject now. I was in full feminist flight about women's entry into male dominated workplaces. "You can do whatever you want to do," I said.

"You know what? I just want to have babies but my boyfriend is not coming to the party. That's what I want to do."

One day a tall stranger appeared in the land


Monday, October 20, 2014

Boom! and Beggar Grandmothers

I've been a bit wary of Goggle since their latest incursion into social media but this week my other browser seems to have forsaken me, along with a frightening moment where my whole computer turned blue and white and spewing words like SHUT DOWN across the screen. I didn't even have to spill coffee on it this time. Anyhoo ... apologies to anyone who receives an email saying I'd like to add you to my circles. I've got my own circles thanks, as you do too, so I'm not being desperate (honest), just commandeered.

There are some meanderings ... but firstly I'd like to talk about what it is like to drive 350 kilometres to rob beehives of their honey.

Tyrant Queen

Kundip bees are hard. Kundip is hard. It's all quartz and mallee and hard history. Every time I get out there these days to a) shore up the shack against resident snake b) rob hives or c) engage in a long ranging argument with said tiger snake, I think to myself, "Why is this so hard?"
When I returned, my Mum said to me, "It's always been hard out there, Sarah. It's just a hard place."

I'd requeened hive #2 because the original queen was slack and not cracking the whip enough (see this post). This was about the same time the tigersnake told me to get the hell out of my own shack, who just went me as I walked through the door. Now hive #2 is ruled by a furious, over-producing tyrant of a queen whose workers just went me as soon as I opened their box and then the buggers stung me twice through my veil, totally altering my facial profile for about three days. My chin wobbled like an old woman's wattle for a week, but we got a lot of honey out of that hive. I am learning that angry bees make more honey and She is now the alpha queen of Kundip and that my requeening effort worked. It's a real shame that I wasn't quite as attractive on my drive home but I'll take those blows in the best interests of honey.

Ubud #2

The first time I came across a beggar, I found it terribly confronting. It was my first day in Indonesia, ever, and I needed to buy a SIM card. Suddenly, she was right at my feet looking like some kind of ghoul, her hands at her mouth and then outstretched to me. A baby sat on her lap. I had only big notes and no idea what they were worth.
The only way I could step around her was by leaping the huge hole in the footpath, where I could see the town's effluent flowing beneath.
She was terrifying and I felt disgusted at myself for being afraid of her. Her baby watched me as I walked away, and I had to pass them both on my way back.

But as I watched them over the next few days, I began to see the women were actually grandmothers, not mothers, and that the babies were sleeping in their laps by eight o'clock and that it probably doubled as a baby-sitting gig for them. Or maybe they pay for a baby prop. Not sure. After that I started putting all my small notes into a different section of my bag, so I could reef it out without sorting through my strange cash on the street.

It's just a job, a living, and I guess the service they were providing me with in return for my pittance of small change, was the story, a memory, an experience. It's an honest transaction. At dusk, the street ceremony ended and I walked behind the four grandmothers. They were walking up the hill towards the writers festival venue, joking with each other, their babies in slings suckling from milk bottles. They were pointing out their beat beyond the ceremony ... and by eight or nine, they were the starving wastrels with sleeping babies and limp, grasping hands who scared me so on my first day.




Boom!

At Five Fathom, after running the spinnaker from Gull Rock, Happy said, "Right. Let's jibe."
"What am I supposed to be doing?" I asked him, earnest about my role.
"Nothing. Just sit there."
So I sat.
Then Happy said, "The runner! Who's doing the runner. Sarah. Sarah! Do the runner."
I stood up and on that jibe the boom swung down and smacked me across my nose, my jaw, my ear, my skull. It felt like a truck hit me.

Then I was looking at the winch. People were shouting at me.
Which way do I wind on the rope?
I took off the rope and looked at the winch again.
People were still shouting at me.
I wound it on anti clock wise, took it off and looked at it again.
More people shouting.

Finally a friend looked at me as I stood there stunned, staring at the winch and said, "Are you okay?"
"Got hit by the boom," I said. "Am I bleeding?"
I asked this because I felt it was obvious that blood must have been pissing out of my face at that stage and that  everyone on board would have known that I'd been walloped by the boom.

"She got hit by the boom," my friend said to Happy. "She got hit by the boom."
"Jesus, Sarah!," said Happy to me, as he straightened up the boat. "You have to tell me if you get hit like that. You've got to tell me, for fuck's sake!"
At that moment the rest of the crew understood what was going on and Dave came straight down from Adventure Land at the bow and laid three fingers in front of me.
"How many fingers are you seeing?"
"Oh, fuck off Dave," I said, wavering, watching his fingers blur, thinking he was re-enacting that 1984 scene with Richard Burton. "I'm fine."

But you know, I was on the verge of crying the whole way home. It's the hit on the head thing. Getting hit hard on the head brings up all kinds of history with me. Crew mates gave me rolled up and ready lit cigarettes, Happy let me steer, someone else handed me a beer and still I was shipwrecked from Emu Point to Home, on the edge of tears the whole way.
Home.





Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Missive from the Vandemonian Flanagan

A 'bonza bloke, and my good mate'. That's Phillip Adams' description of Richard Flanagan who has just won the Man Booker for his his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
I woke up this morning with the news on the radio because I'm a Radio National geek but I don't often wake up to this kind of good news. Normally, it's war or car accidents.
A Vandemonian won the Man Booker! He bloody won! He won!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ubud #1



In a small room off Hanoman Street, the tattooist paused his needle from my foot and looked at me.
“You okay, sista?”
I nodded but he had already felt my leg twitching as the gun hit nerves and pressure points. I was sweating, lost in a strange world of low-level, insistent pain.
“We have a quick break,” he said.
It was early evening and scooters, jeeps and taxis beeped and roared. Street side, the tattooist smoked, his bare hands streaked in the powdered flock from his plastic gloves. His little brother came to sit with us on the bench, waved his fist at his leonine dog to squat on the concrete at his feet.
Selemat mallam, guark,” said the little brother, looking at the outline of a crow on my foot.
“Good evening, crow?” I asked him. “Is that what you say?”
“Yes, guark, a crow,” he smiled. He was softer, younger than his brother. “I like birds.”
“What is your best bird?”
“Pigeon. I have plenty of pigeon.”
“You have pigeons? Do you race them?” He look confused. I said, “You know … ah … competition … very fast?”
“Ahh, yes! All around Bali. Very fast birds. I, when I was little -” he held his hand a metre above the ground “- I have lots of pigeon. My mother say ‘take birds way! Too many pigeon!’ So I took them to the market and sold all the pigeon. The next day, all my pigeon come home!”
“Ha! Homing pigeons. So you had money and pigeons!”
“Yes!” He laughed. “Now, I have fifteen pigeon. I sell them every week at the market. Sometimes they do not come back but most times, I get my pigeon back and I sell them again.”
“That’s so cheeky! Don’t you get pigeon buyer come to your house with big stick?”
He shook his head. “Another man sell them for me.”

His brother, smoking, watching the street with the kind of detached cool that only tattooists possess, stubbed out his cigarette in the Bakelite ashtray and nodded me inside.