Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Tall tales

There are many odd stories about the inlet where I live. Some of them fade into myth and the truth is rarely in service to a good ripping yarn. Clarkie's Camp was named after a man who lived here as a hermit from the late 1920s until the 60s. It was rumoured that he was here under an unofficial witness protection after he testified against his mates in a gold-stealing ring. They'd shot dead two gold squad detectives in Kalgoorlie and Clarke had helped cut up the bodies and hide them. His friends Coulter and Treffene were hung and Clarke disappeared.


A kind of folk mythology surrounds Clarke’s presence at Broke Inlet.

‘Didn’t someone live out his days at Broke on the run from the cops?’

‘Dad reckoned he was a spy and the government hid him there.’

‘Wasn’t Clarke that butcher? With the big knife?’

The most common story is that Clarke was stashed at Broke Inlet by the state government, and that, once a month, a policeman would leave him supplies at the turn-off from the main road. 

From 'Living at Clarkie's Camp' in Women of a Certain Age, Fremantle Press, by me. 

Back in the 70s, a journalist friend heard the rumours and published a story in the Sunday Times called 'Living in the bush in fear of his life'. He said to me recently that this story still haunted him as the one he got totally wrong and that the next day, three separate people came into his office to say Herb Clarke and Evan Clarke were very different people. Bum steer, you could call it.

Anyway, keep that info about the two dead coppers in mind because I've just happened across another ripping yarn about the inlet. 

Thomas Hughes, known as the last of the bushrangers in West Australia, was born at sea aboard the Corona (oh yes) in 1866. He was the son of a pension guard and this too plays out later. 

It seems young Tom fell into some bad company. He was caught attempting to steal explosives and other munitions, went to jail, escaped and the manhunt was on. On October 1887 Hughes was charged with the murder of Constable O'Connell and the attempted murder of Constable Carroll while resisting arrest. (Carroll died later from complications due to his injuries.) This story is a whole basket of oddities. O'Connell, on having his head wound examined by the doctor, failed to mention that Hughes had also shot him in the chest. The doctor declared O'Connell's head wound a mere flesh wound and sent him home, where he died a few days later 

Hughes was sentenced to life in prison, later reduced to a much shorter sentence, possibly due to public sentiment and romanticism over Ned Kelly's recent hanging and the fact that Hughes and O'Connell went to school together and were both the sons of pension guards. He was released from prison on a ticket-of-leave in 1896, granted conditional release in April 1898 and was given permission to carry firearms later that month. So ... nine years for shooting two coppers, bashing a prison guard nearly to death and stealing munitions, and then they give him back his guns. This tale is so weird.

So Thomas Hughes, now a sort-of free man, caught a train with his brother to Bridgetown, where they then walked to Perup (something a modern day Bibulmum track hiker may appreciate in effort). He and his brother went into ticket of leave service for some local farmers in the area. One farmer was a Muir, part of a large family of land holders whom I sometimes refer to on The WineDark Sea as The Meadowmen, Muir or Moir deriving from the mere, or meadow in old English.

Every year, these families ran cattle down to the coast at Broke Inlet. Apparently it was a rowdy debacle, with every third cow wearing a bell and occasional stampedes through the main street of Pemberton. A lot of the old roads around here were made by cattlemen droving down to the coast. Place names like Poison Point alerted them to where the gastrolobium bush grew, deadly to grazing cattle. They built huts to stay out the summer in and some of those hut folk are my neighbours now.

It was on one of these cattle runs that Thomas Hughes and his brother Edwin first laid their eyes on Broke Inlet. If it was anything like my first experience, I can understand why he was so transfixed. For me, it was late afternoon. The wind had dropped and the inlet lay out before me like glowing sheets of silver paper. My heart and brain said, 'This is where I want to be. This place. This place. This is Boodja.'

 
 At the time, they apparently didn't have to apply for land tenure. Broke Inlet was off the edge of the colonial world and so the brothers stayed here, squatters on Aboriginal-owned land.

In 1939, Edwin Hughes was granted a conditional purchase lease. He had thirty two years to pay it off in tiny increments but he died in 1940 and by 1944 the land was transferred to his brother Thomas, the bushranger. A few years later, he died too and the property where I live now was inherited by, yes, a Mr Herbert Sydney Clarke. This is the only piece of private property now within the massive Dentrecasteaux National Park, a tiny enclave in a park named after a Frenchman, once owned by a bushranger and cattleman and then a man rumoured to be under witness protection.

Thomas Hughes, in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, was said to have died at the Claremont Insane Asylum, and someone once told me that Herb Clarke had gone out in much the same way. It's not boding that well for us residents! Obviously I'm wondering if the stories of these two men have been mixed up. An Evan Clarke definitely was involved in the killing of two policemen in Kalgoorlie and a Tom Hughes was definitely charged with the killing of two policemen in Fremantle. It doesn't surprise me that both of them may have ended up at Broke Inlet. Their histories are only 40 or 50 years apart and who is willing to sort out the facts that will get in the way of a good yarn?


 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Fire and Lightning

On tower and I think it was Tuesday when we had a schedule 5, the highest fire danger rating. We were expecting rain, lightning even. As the afternoon wore on, I watched the rain radar on my phone and strange bugs came to visit me. Check out this critter. She's lime green, including the lacework of her wings.

 

An interesting distraction, this bug, as I heard the spotter pilots from other districts begin swapping details on the system bearing down on them at four in the afternoon. 'Yeah, there's a cell to the north west but haven't seen any lightning yet.' 

I was watching the cloud formation gather and work towards me. I rang the office and asked them to look up the 0 -2 hour strikes to the west of our area. I can't get it on my phone. By five, I was sitting at the top of a granite mountain, with a comms tower beside me and a huge motherfucking lightning cloud right overhead.

It must have looked like a funny Adams Family cartoon, if I wasn't so terrified. I rang the boss. 'I'd like to go home now please,' I said in a small voice and to his credit, he asked me to call him from the car park when I got back down the mountain.

That night, I sat up in bed and watched lightning charge around the inlet. Rain ... deep heavy drops of rain fell all night. Selkie is not a thunder-hider-under-the-bed-kinda-dog. She spent all night bolting out through the mosquito blinds to sort out this thunder and lightning thang. I didn't get much sleep (and was ambushed by mosquitos. So, thanks Selkie. 'No worries', says my dog. 'Just protecting you from that thunder monster.)

The next morning I got the message that it was schedule 0 because of rain. 'But I still want you up there,' said my boss and I knew it was because of the lightning. Below is a map of the lightning strikes that occurred that night. 


Here's one for where I live:

 

I climbed the mountain and the forest smelled amazing. It was the smell of a hot and dank forest under stress, quieted by a summer rain. Scents of rot and death and germination. Frogs and cicadas chanted and I could feel the relief of every critter there. Lightning rain holds the super power of nitrogen. No tiger snakes either, which is a fringe benefit, for me.

Still, it was a hard climb. I'm quite fit this far into the fire season but this day was hard on me because of the heat and humidity. By the time I got to the peak, I had to wipe my face and catch my breath before radioing in.

As I watched, the neighbouring districts chimed in. It seems they got the lightning but not the rain. By 1100 hours, I heard the spotters calling in smokes:  'Attention required, lightning strike ... attention required, lightning strike', over and over again.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Cloud Jail

 A change in the weather would be an understatement. Three days ago, tower folk recorded 38 degrees and 10 percent relative humidity and today I recorded 16 degrees and 95 percent relative humidity. Cloud clung to the mountain. For most of the day I couldn't see anything, leading to what I call an emotional existential crisis: 'Why am I here? I can't see anything, let alone a bushfire. Why do I even exist at the top of this mountain?'

It's a wondrous thing to be up so high that cloud systems have their own personalities and rhythms. The wind swung south west over night after an excruciating (and scary) few days of it charging in from the north west. The spotter pilot gave up this morning and went home. Despite the weather, it's still a high fire danger due to the past week, so I knew I was stuck up there for the rest of the day, looking at white.

Here she comes, rolling in from the south west. The tower windows face the four points of the compass.


 

Going, going ... looking north


And gone. (East)

For a while, I sat in cloud jail, listening to the radio, waiting for the front to pass. It didn't. The cloud just sat there. It does tend to send me into a sad funk, when my job is to look for smoke.I doom scrolled through the US pandemonium and virus updates on my phone, and doodled ditties in the plotting book.

A great big bunch of kids turboed up the final lot of steps. Children always rip up the mountain, followed by their more circumspect and breathless parents. 'How many steps did we climb?' Yelled one to me through the open door of the tower.

'Didn't you count them?'

'Nup!'

'Three hundred and three, I think. Not including the ladders.'

'Wow. Dad, there's three hundred and three steps!'

They started running around on the granite peak as the clouds tumbled and rolled around them. They held out their arms, their caps blowing off in the wind. 'I'm touching the clouds! We're all touching the clouds!'

Friday, January 8, 2021

Father and Son

 Recently my son and I got a bit drunk and finally we talked about the funeral.

"I hope I haven't fucked up those songs for you forever," I said to him .For some reason I ended up organising the funeral.  His Dad was so into the Doors and Cat Stevens that I thought we should play them at the funeral. At the time, texts to and fro normally finished with my son asking 'what do you need me to do mum?' He was so flat out dealing with cattle breaking fences, the funeral, the neighbours, his father dying.... his head simply couldn't take on a funeral play list.

So I had a song list by the Doors. Roadhouse Blues. 'Keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes upon the road.' Nup. Not so good for a car accident fatal. How about Jim Morrison's 'There's a killer on the road. His brain is squirming like a toad..?' Nope. The man comes around' by Johnny Cash?

 'And so the four horsemen came and they were followed by DEATH.' No. Just no.  It was pretty tricky. All the good songs were taken out via context. By then we'd got the prelim coroner's report, it was a few days around the funeral day, and we were getting emotionally smashed all over again.

In the end, my son agreed to this song at the funeral:

We even did a bit of Johnny Cash. My son said that night that he had a greater investment in these songs since his Dad died. He said I hadn't wrecked those songs for him. He just understands them a little bit better.

What an amazing young man he is.


#offgrid compared to #vanlife

After a ten day stint on fire tower and radio support in the office, I've just had a joyous few days off. I did my washing:


I did the dishes and just hung out at my place. Kyabla sent me a box of honey from our last hive rob at Kundip. My colleague on the tower recorded his lowest relative humidity and highest temp ever today.He's been doing this for decades so it's a precedent. No more bits of kangaroo turning up via Selkie from the beach, although there were two tusks and a hind leg on my doorstep this morning. I've been busy prepping my lunches for the next swing ... safely stashed in a gas fridge that is on the blink. 

#offgridliving is the very opposite of #vanlife. Perhaps I should link up my life to their Insta account.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Rockhopper

 This morning we had word that a stray penguin had been found on the beach opposite the inlet where I live. I was thinking, okay a penguin ... when I was commercial fishing we'd hear the fairy penguins as they came home to roost on the islands. It would always be dusk and they sounded like crying babies.

The flurry of activity from the rangers and ecologists in the office about a stray penguin struck me as odd. It turned out that this one was a northern rockhopper, not a fairy. Northern rockhoppers are endangered and if they turn up on our coast, they are often exhausted and malnourished after a long diversion from sub-antarctic islands. Check these guys out: They are pure penguin bling.



 Normally they live on islands such as Amsterdam or St Paul, outpost islands between Australia and South Africa. They are severely weakened by their yearly moult, when they lose about a third of their body weight. The recent south easterly blow may have caused this young lady rock hopper to wash up at the inlet and, as she was so weakened by the journey and her moult all at once, she was taken to a wild life carer to save her from feral foxes and cats.

I was able to have a good look at this interloper. Her feet are solid, fleshy rockhopping feet. They are not the firm, skinny feet of most avian species. The rangers said she was quite friendly and that she literally hopped about over the rocks. We piled towels and rain jackets around her. She was itchy and trying to scratch away her superfluous feathers because of her moult. It was quite a special moment seeing a bird-child who should have been thousands of kilometres away.

For some reason, her story reminds me of Laika, the first dog in space. An exiled critter subject to the whims of climate and humanity. I wish her well for the return journey.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Y2K2D

 This is my 4th (5th?) day of work in another 10 day stint and today I was in the office on radio support. New Year's Eve was a quiet night, watching some streaming stuff and going to bed early. This morning I turned up to find the digital clock we use to record smoke reports had stopped.

'OMG! Y2K2D!' I yelled, to nobody in particular as the office was deserted. I don't think anyone would've got my joke anyway, had they been there. But then the internets turned on and the the Bureau of Meterology site loaded. I realised that world hadn't been infected with a deci-millennial bug after all. The digital clock just needed a new battery.

So ... I printed out the weather reports, checked which campers were where in the national parks and then settled in to a quiet, low fire danger day. Rain is a beautiful thing.

Invoices came through and I duly printed them out but when I went to date stamp them, well, there was no 2021 on the stamp. Obviously those people who make the stamps that stamp the date, had made the date stamps to date until the 31st of December 2020. After that apparently, there are no more invoices to stamp. Ever again. Is this a sign? Are analogue stamp manufacturers and digital clocks agin me? So yeah, only halfway through another marathon stint and my thinking is already batshit crazy. Stay tuned for when I head up the mountain again on Monday. Until then, I'll be in the office all weekend pondering conspiracy theories about Y2K.