Thursday, July 11, 2019

Maori blessings and mislaying the month of May

I ended my last novel with: Be strong! Be brave! Be of big heart! In Maori.

Before it was published, I gave the manuscript to a Maori man to read. I wanted him to check that Wiremu’s words were okay. (I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to write another book with foreign language in it. Singular words are easy enough but sentences are damning to the uninitiated.)

My friend left the café and, in the carpark, he shouted to me the same blessing.

Ahakua nga uaua, kia kaha!

Kia toa!

Kia manawanui!

I signed so many books with this blessing. Be strong. Be brave. Be of big heart. Then my signature. I thought I was writing it to the people who bought my book. Tonight I realised that for the last three years since The Sound came out, I have been writing that blessing to myself, over and over again.

To be strong and brave has multiple layers. I am strong and brave in some ways and sorely lacking these attributes in others. As a mother I’ve watched my children grow and suffer. Sometimes their growth or suffering is due to my engineering/mistakes and sometimes it is just dumb fucking luck. In the ensuing catastrophes I think I have to be strong and brave and maybe I just have to possess a bigger heart. One of the worst things is to see my children in pain and know that I can do nothing to alleviate that. The Maori blessing seems to founder at this point. Strength and bravery get thrown out the window along with teabags and baby’s bath water.

It appears I have lost a month or at least several weeks of my memory. Careless, Oscar Wilde would say, if he saw me searching for the month of May behind the couch cushions or under the hallway runner where a sadistic house gremlin had swept it.

This situation makes me quite unhappy. I’ve only just realised what has happened. The phone bill I told myself I’d paid in May came back threefold. The emails and tasks that I’d checked off in my mind came back to tell me that, actually, I hadn’t done any of those things I was supposed to do. Yet I’d told myself that I’d done them. Apparently. our brains can shut down memory to protect us from trauma. Well, yes, it’s been a little bit freaky, this brain mine. My son’s father died at the end of March and I’d spent April running around doing stuff. Maybe by May, I was all too exhausted. I don’t know.

Yesterday I talked to an ex copper who retired from the force with ptsd. ‘Is it normal in periods of intense stress to forget stuff?’ I asked him. He was onto me immediately. ‘Yeah, of course, mate. That’s what happens. I’d put jobs aside in my mind just to make space for everything else in my head. Tick that one off. Done. And then I’d forget that I hadn’t even done those jobs.’

It’s weird because I know that I existed in the month of May. I was a real, breathing human being but I just can’t remember being there. I made decisions, sent emails and text messages, spoke to people, went to the supermarket and bought food, marked essays … I was a real person, I’m sure. But I can’t remember much of that month at all.

It’s the most strange, frightening feeling.

                                           Haemadoracea spicatum, the bloodroot.

                                                    Carnivorous droseras


Friday, July 5, 2019

Traps of stone and wood

The Aboriginal fish traps appeared again recently. They've been underwater for two years as the rain threaded through the karris and into the inlet.

According to an archaeologist the stone traps were built around seven thousand years ago, when sea levels rose and inundated what was previously a forest. He carried out radiocarbon dating on some tree rings in the middle of the inlet to work this out.

Back then, the inlet was tidal all year around and the sand bar blocking the inlet from the sea didn't even exist. The fish traps worked this way: fish swam over the rocks at high tide and then were stuck behind the stones at low tide. Easy pickings. What I love about Indigenous hunting techniques is that they tend to require little energy and not involve carting stuff around. Lizard traps are based on the same principle. The calorific exchange - the amount of calories garnered versus the amount expended to get those calories - is always a pretty productive ratio.

Eventually the sea level rise settled down and the sand bar began to form. At this particular inlet it is guestimated at about three thousand years ago. I guess the traps became less viable then, or perhaps they were used more as holding pens for fish after a mullet-herding session. (As a mullet fiend and fisherwoman I can testify that yes, it is possible to herd mullet.)

The sides of the trap would have been built up with brushwood and spars to make fish yards.

Above is a similar fish trap at Lligwy beach in Scotland. Built by ancestors with the same ingenuity and simplicity as the Australians.

 Image by Richerman - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A most gentlewomanly adventure

I've been busy the last few days helping clean up an old estate for a new one. Yesterday I began burning, stacking cardboard and twigs into a fire drum. I thought, yes I hate burning plastic, I won't do that, but by mid afternoon I was chucking anything into the flames that I wouldn't have to reef out for the tip later. It was cheaper, I reasoned, to burn the plastic milk bottles and cool drink cartons, than to pay the rubbish tip fees. It's a compromise borne of desperation. It was unseasonably hot and I found myself seeking shade with a lemonade a few times during the exercise.

I've cleaned out a few deceased estates for friends but this one is the mother of them all. By day's end my hair was cloaked with acrid smoke and there was still rubbish lying around. Cleaning out the detritus and treasures of generations on the one property is humbling, confusing and really bloody infuriating.

We loaded the non-burnables onto the back of my ute. Today at the tip, I'd forgotten my gloves. I was on my own and had a wool sack, a wheelie bin and a metal crate full of rubbish that needed to be offloaded manually. I found all sorts of things in those bins. I asked the worker if I could chuck the beer cans. Normally I'm a recycle freak but the whole operation had become so overwhelming (see above) that I just wanted to bin everything and the tip hand agreed.
I was throwing everything into the skip bin. I came across birthday cards, beer cans, boxes, stickers, prescription packets, bottles, dead animals (yes), more beer cans and plastic straw bale wrappers that caught around my arms and legs. A pale frog leapt from the bottom of a bin and into the day. I threw an unidentified small animal carcass onto the tip at the same time as I realised I'd cut my fingers on some wire.

After I'd paid my dues to the tip, all I wanted to do was wash my hands with soap and water. My fingers were bleeding but this is a good thing, right? A bleeding wound will surely purge the germs. I drove to a servo and filled up with diesel. The toilet was occupied. I paid for the fuel and hung around for a while, hoping that whoever was in the toilet would come out, so I could wash my hands.

They didn't. I began wondering if whomever was in the toilet was okay. I mean, what if they've died in there or something? My wounds potentially infected with a dead cat or fox were kinda inconsequential in this particular situation. Still no one came out.

I had to meet Aussie and a writer at a swanky cafe ten minutes later for an edit and review meeting for the writer's latest book. I gave up on the servo's toilet and headed for the cafe. Hair coated in plastic-smelling smoke, with bleeding fingers and a strong scent of old beer, random rotten carcasses and defeat wafting from me, I scrubbed my hands clean in the very pretty ladies bathroom of the said cafe.

If anybody noticed, they didn't say anything, so maybe I pulled that meeting off. However, it is also possible that I'll never work in this town again.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Southern Solstice

Pics by Hannah Lily and me x

Monday, June 3, 2019

Things to make smiles again

Apparently, juvenile Snow Owls have such large heads that they find it difficult to sleep while roosting ... or perhaps that is, to stay upright on their roost while asleep. They often fall from their perch high up in a barn and then they go back to sleep on the ground, face down. No really. This is not a dead owl or even a drunk owl pictured above. It's a live, sober baby owl who reckons it's safer sleeping on the ground.

Last week I received a text message from a stranger who'd lost his phone ... and his thumb. I reckon he was having a rather bad day.

 I spent a few fruitless hours thinking about a random person on the continent nursing a reattached thumb and how can you scroll or write text messages with no thumb anyway and what happened? I mean how do you even lose a thumb painting houses? Maybe he lost the phone because his thumb fell off? Was the lack of an opposable digit the reason for his haphazard spelling and grammar? Does the lack of a thumb mean more simeon than sapien? Yeah, I dunno either.

I found this on the interwebs and sent it to some mates, because who knows how to do this thing called life. It just boggles me most days. Quality instructions like the ones below remind me that waking up face-down in a barn or losing both thumb and phone in a single day are events that we are not taught how to navigate, let alone avoid.

 And finally, some things that fuel every day warm fuzzies; a squirrelling pile of tingle wood and a grinning sun dog in the sweet spot.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Wild West and a Writers Festival

Hi, I'm heading west next weekend to the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. I'm really looking forward to catching up with the sisters and other writers and everyone who comes along. Strangely, I don't feel nervous or apprehensive about public speaking this time around. One festival I appeared at, the organisers had me slotted in for two hours, talking on my own! I drove there with a pit of terror in my stomach. I lasted an hour on stage and by then the crowd, who'd been wheeled in from the local nursing home, had mostly fallen asleep. I generally have a great time at these gigs and often, after a festival session, I walk out of the room and can't remember a thing I've said.

I'm in good hands at MRRWF it seems, and there will be friendly faces in the crowd too. It's being held at the grassy, grapey expanse of Voyager Estate. Germaine Greer is speaking at the launch on Friday night and oh my god I am so bloody gonna be there.

Friday morning I'm doing a session with novelist Holden Sheppard (see the side bar for a link to Holden's blog) and poet Elizabeth Lewis about what makes a writer want to write. And more importantly, keep writing. Oh dear. That's me, stalking around my lap top like it's going to bite me if I get too close. Maybe it will bite me, or maybe I'll just produce a mediocre bit of writing. Self loathing or self doubt is both poison and fuel for writers. Then there is laziness and a house to clean or possibly even restump. We are introduced in the program as a motley mob, which is kinda funny as I gave the programmers my scruffiest but favourite author photo:

Things get salty in the afternoon when I get together with the brilliant Amanda Curtin.

Her novel Elemental begins in the early 20th century with the herring girls, girls who followed the herring fishermen as the fish ran down the coast of Ireland. Their job was to gut and clean the fish. It's a wonderful novel that ends up in Fremantle. Amanda and I have done sessions together before and both of our books are oceanic with all of those myths and superstitions attached to that way of life. Fellow inlet-dweller and fisherwoman of legend Ms Mer has my copy of Elemental and won't give it back, it's that good.

On Saturday, I get together with Liz Byrski, Jodie Moffat and Susan Sullivan to talk about the anthology we produced Women of a Certain Age:

Also at the festival will be Kim Scott, Germaine Greer, Anna Funder, Michael Leunig and Germaine Greer and heaps of others and Germaine Greer. Here's a link to the program: