Fisherwoman memoir longlisted for Dobbie Literary Award
10th April 2014
Albany author and fisherwoman Sarah Drummond was having lunch with
her current boss, a landscaper, when she got the call to say she was
longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award.
‘We’d had a difficult morning working out levels and angles on some
sleeper stairs. Everything seemed to go wrong, including the angles we’d
decided upon – and then cut,’ said Drummond.
‘After lunch the mood was quite different. As soon as either of us
got annoyed with our self-created debacle, the other would lean in and
whisper “Nita May Dobbie.”’
It’s a typical story from the down-to-earth writer whose debut book Salt Story has been described by reviewers as ‘lyrical and utterly absorbing’ and ‘thoroughly original’.
Drummond said that while the longlisting came as a shock, award
recognition was important to writers who feel they need to have a
conversation with others in the world.
‘To me, awards can be signposts to a reader – here is a writer who wants to talk with them,’ said Drummond.
The Dobbie is one of two prizes awarded by the Nita B Kibble
Literary Awards for Women Writers: awards which aim to encourage
Australian women writers to improve and advance literature for the
benefit of the community.
Drummond said she saw Salt Story as a love story for her region and the fishing culture that had stayed strong throughout the decades.
‘ Salt Story
both examines and busts up the gender tropes in Australian culture.
I’ve always liked doing this – in writing – and in my other life where
work is often physically demanding. I think the link is the poetry, the
beguiling tales, an ear for “voice” and an antenna for provincial
narratives,’ said Drummond.
The Dobbie Literary Award (currently valued at $5,000) recognises a
first published Australian author. Fiona McFarlane, Margaret Merrilees,
Kate Richards, Inga Simpson and Jill Stark also made the list. More
information about the award is at http://www.perpetual.com.au/kibble/ Salt Story
was Fremantle Press’ fastest selling new release of 2013 and is now in
its second print run. It is available from all good bookstores and
Grinderman's song 'Go Tell the Women' has been construed as an anthem to male musicians throwing off the shackles of their wives' anxieties and control freaky behaviour while on tour. Sorry ... if only. One quick read of the short story 'Tell the women we're going' by Raymond Carver will put you straight on Nick Caves' modus operandi. The story ends in a quarry and you can never, ever unread the ending. Here.
Fred's Shop was on the school bus run, on the main road that ran alongside the harbour. Next door to Fred's Shop lived a Maori family who were named after the first canoes. The kids ran up the driveway just as the bus pulled up. Some days they didn't turn up at all. Across the road from Fred's Shop was a mountain rising quick and surprised from the estuarine floodplains. Named after the wedgetail eagles that circled the place once, it is crowned in granite, dugite snakes and the Marri tree home of the sea eagles.
The teenage boys who grew up in the orchard beneath the mountain, well, I remember them as quiet, wild and angry. One of those boys died recently: by then he was a lanky, middle aged man whose trademark bikie beard had turned white. Opiates killed him in increments, as did his tendency for violence, the ongoing disaster of his wrecked boat, a random blight in the family orchard, his conviction for manslaughter and his troublesome little brother.
So, backtracking .. Across the road, Fred's Shop sold milk and bread and lollies. Fred's Shop felt dirty and dusty whenever you went in there. The counter was to the right of the ringing, clanging door. Behind the counter, Fred stood, watching.
When I was eight or nine, my parents commanded, after long whisperings in the lounge room, "You are never, ever to go into Fred's Shop again." It felt like us kids had done something terribly wrong.
This kind of lolly shop apartheid was a problem because Fred had a butterfly collection. He'd collected butterflies from all over the world and the evidence stood in the room right behind his shop counter. We could see the butterflies, pinned to immaculate white boards under glass, whenever we triumphed in our clandestine treks to his shop. We knew we weren't supposed to be there because for some reason this place was off limits, but ... oh those butterflies.
I still think of butterflies as dangerous.
Fred never let me see his butterfly collection up close. I could smell his disgust with my clumsy, girly-scented presence in his shop. He would sell me a twenty cent bag of lollies and shoo me out of the place like I was a blowfly. But at around the same time, something happened. Neighbourhood gossip and anxiety heightened and within the next year, Fred's Shop was burned to the ground. The Maori kids moved out. Fred just disappeared. The quiet, wild boys across the road started acting up and carried on like that for the next twenty or thirty years.
I still don't know what happened next or who burned down Fred's Shop but when it burned everyone breathed out. Perhaps the burning out of a man who'd identified himself as something deviant to a 1970's white bread town would be construed as a different crime these days. Maybe someone got rid of Fred because he was the recalcitrant creep in their street who traded their sons' futures against cash, lollies and butterflies. Dunno. I only remember the mountain and finding Noongar camps; their mattresses and enamelled cooking pots stuffed into deep clefts of granite, and a sea eagle buzzing me on the road as she flew back to the Marris with a fish flapping in her clenched fists.
The sight of those butterflies.
They were all the colours of the rainbow - magnificent, perfect chrysalii - fresh, brilliant trophies pinned against a white board in the back room of Fred's Shop.
Apparently Japan's whaling regime in the Southern Ocean has been deemed by the International Court of Justice to be unscientific.
Now who would have thunk it?
I've had plenty of arguments with Old Salt about modern day whaling in the Antarctic, but my final answer came when he tried to explain that it was a 'cultural thing'.
"What. With diesel powered gunboats? Thousands of nautical miles from their traditional hunting grounds?"
It's rare for 'cultural things' to dress up in a sciencie frock to justify a commercial industry, but this particular frock has been doing the hokey pokey in the Australian Whale Sanctuary and getting away with it for ages*. So it was with a glad heart that I learned the ICJ has ruled that Japan's whaling program over the last decade or so has been carried out for commercial purposes. Not scientific ones. Therefore, the court has ruled, no future permits will be issued for the Japanese to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean. There is to be no appeal.
Here's the news: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-31/ijc-japan-whaling-southern-ocean-scientific-research/5357416
*Did you see what I did there? The shittiest sentence ever, dressed up in a frock with fractals. And it has whales in it.
It's called requeening.
When a queen isn't working, the hive does not thrive. It's weak. It's susceptible to invasion and disease. It's like a plant that hasn't been nurtured by food and water. And there is no honey either.
He's walking out into the paddock in his dressing gown, chuffing the bee smoker at his side with one hand. He's grizzled and grumpy after nights awake moving hives across the country.
"Here's your nukes," He poured smoke into some boxes with bees buzzing at the entrance, and resolutely shut the grate. "You gotta let them out as soon as you get there, okay?"
Then he handed me a yellow plastic container, with air holes. It was small; the length of my palm.
"And here is your queen."
Off with the lazy Queen's head.
Decapitate her. Drop her head and her body into the hive so all the workers and drones know that their Queen is dead.
I arrived at Kundip mid afternoon and the first thing I did was put on my sheepskin boots and veil to set up the new hive boxes. Then I set down the nucleus boxes in front of their new home and opened the grate. They were probably starved for air and water by then. They swarmed out of the small nucleus boxes and wandered confused, three hundred and fifty kilometres from their home.
By the time I'd finished it was hot and so I took off my boots and went to check out my shack. I opened the door and walked in. It's built with cedar and smelt beautiful and looked just like I'd left it, a month or so ago. I could hear a the sound of a bee caught in a web; a throaty, hissing kind of noise. I got closer to see - and
Oh J@%#s F%&#ing Christ!
A tiger snake raised its head and had a lunge at me.
"It's about time you left," the snake spoke plain, as plain as only a snake can parse.
On my way out the door, I stumbled over my thongs, tripped, galloped away, and then stepped back on the veranda to have another look.
This was fucking outrageous. I bought this land. I built this shack. I have rights, yeah?
The snake glared at me.
So I went for a walk up the hill into the forest to think quietly about it all.
Pull up a frame and look for the queen. All of the bees will head for the base of the frame. Pull out another frame. And another. Look in the bottom of the box. You will be hot by then in the mid day sun, with your ugg boots, extra shirt from the op shop, your gloves and your veil. The smoker may have stopped working. Get some more newspaper and matches and try to light it with your gloved fingers. Stuff pine needles into the smoker. Try again. Watch errant match heads fly off into the bush. You must find the queen because you have to kill her.
The queen bee is longer, blonder and quieter than the other bees. As soon as you see her, you cut off her head with the blade end of the metal hive tool and dump her body in the bottom of the hive. The hum rises around you, and your sweat smells as sweet as adrenalin and honey and sheoak smoke.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.
I slept in the car that night. The bed, my beautiful bed, my shack, my beautiful shack, had been taken over by a tiger snake who wouldn't even let me in the front door. So I put the car's passenger seat into 'recline', turned on my head lamp and had a rather uncomfortable night reading a fictional account of Irish genealogies and beekeeping manuals. All of my bedding was inside the shack. I put on my coat and my socks and slogged out the night. As I warped and wefted in and out of sleep, cramped and cranky, I heard a heightening of activity in the back seat. The queen bee in her tiny yellow cage was being fanned, fed and kept alive by her five workers. The buzzing grew louder, then quietened again. They did this several times that night.
I was woken by the birds and the light. I drove into town looking for a snake handler, especially one who works for the shire council, because you know, my rates are paid and I don't even get a tip pass.
"Ahh. I'm new to the job," he said. "I don't have the training to catch snakes but I'm coming into Hopey today. What kind of snake is it?"
"Oh bloody hell. Okay." (We all laugh.) "I'll drop in."
Within twenty four hours of killing her, you need to requeen the hive. Wrap the queen cage in exactly five squares of toilet paper, preferably scented. Break the tab on the queen cage. Plug the hole with one square of toilet paper. Place the package in between the fifth and sixth frame in the brood box. The bees will see this intrusion and work to clean it out of the hive. They will break away the toilet paper over a few days until they get to the plug. Then they will let out the queen. Hopefully they won't kill her.
The ranger arrived while I was in the middle of packing the queen cage between the frames and advised me that hobbyist hives must be at least three kilometres from the nearest apiarists reserve. He looked surprised when I said that Road Eleven was three point two kilometres from the shack. He got out a crooked stick and some pincers and proceeded in good humour to take my shack apart. He shone a torch under my bed and behind the stove. He poked his snake sticks around the filing cabinet. He lifted the mattress of my lovely bed to reveal the three live mice and two frogs living in the slats beneath.
Well, I wouldn't sleeping there tonight, not with that kind of bait under my warm body.
"So, is your ... er ... structure sealed against reptile invaders?" The ranger asked.
We stood in the centre of the room and watched the beams of light come in. His apprentice stayed respectfully outside.
"Look, you've gotta seal this place up," said the ranger.
After his wrecking the place for snakes he said that I should bait for rats and mice to keep tiger snake food at a minimum.
"But what about the pygmy possums who live here too? I don't want to poison them.""
"They are nectar feeders, so they won't eat mouse baits. You won't have to worry about that snake tonight anyway, love. It's definitely not here. It won't be back. If it does come back, the old people say put flour on the floor, so you can see its tracks in and out. And you know that tug rope? The stuff that washes up on the beach?"
The apprentice nods. "Yeah."
"Well the old people put it all around their houses. Apparently snakes don't like crawling over it because of the bristles. The old people say that. And the flour trick. It's a good trick that one."
"Well good," I said. "That's good advice. Thanks."
"Glad to have helped."
After the ranger left, I walked back inside the shack and saw the snake folding itself back under my bed, its yellow, striped stomach curled into black, like a Celtic spiral.
For the second night, I slept (sort of) in the front seat of my car.