Friday, May 22, 2015

Yesterday

Yesterday I climbed on a bus and went to Cocanarup, near Ravensthorpe. Overlooking the old farm that was worked by the Dunn brothers in the 1880s, Noongar and Wadjela held a ceremony to open the Kukenarup Memorial and Walk Trail.


This area of country has a harsh, complex and sometimes contradictory history. Many Noongar people were killed here, and all that death and the Apartheid-like 20th century legislation meant many of our families were never able to return and reconcile themselves to what had happened. Kim Scott.








Idealogues in tha house


so this happened today ...
@geofflmon
and so some artists did this ...

@BenEltham
 ... as the Feds ripped a heap of money out of the Australia Council and put it, um, somewhere else vague and called a National Program of Excellence for the Arts. As the minister in charge puts it, "Arts funding has until now been limited almost exclusively to projects favoured by the Australia Council." That's the mob who decide, in a peer-review system independent of any government interference, who gets what coin.

Now the Arts Minister gets to administer the new program himself ... but until Brandis gets his muppet act together, everything has stalled. Those of us who have spent quite a bit of time preparing submissions for arts grants and gathering letters of support (read: prostrating thyself for critical judgement as opposed to pulling out weeds for cash, and around the country, estimated to be worth about 50,000 arts workers' hours) were sent an email today effectively saying, "Sorry guys. Withdraw your applications. Cuts effective immediately."


Monday, May 18, 2015

Late to Mothers Day

In the wee hours last night, while entertaining the monkey mind with endless hypotheticals, separating wishfully rejigged reminiscences from the more authentic ones, searching out patterns, inventing story lines, and generally making a complete ass of my circadian rhythm again, I somehow brain-trekked back to Mothers Day. Yes, I know it was a week ago but just indulge me the title of this post. Thanks.

I had received a text message from Stormboy's Dad, wishing me a happy Mothers Day. The next day I rang him to tell him I appreciated it (plus something could he fix the tray-back on my ute something something). "Oh, yes, it occurred to me that Father's Day didn't happen last year," he said, because all good things must begin framed in the negative, right, "and it made me realise that it was you who always made sure it had happened in the past."

A survey recently detailed women's frustration with partners who do not honour them on Mothers Day nor support their children to do the same. When mothers mentioned their grievances to their husbands, they often answered, "But you are not my mother!" A friend of mine complained to me of the same answer in the same week, in an unrelated conversation.

Personally I think "But you are not my mother" is a valid response for both its genealogical logic and the generally unsexy places where Oedipal complications tend to end up ... but anyway, more about that later.

Maybe my own ambivalence is due to the fact I've been trained well by morbid circumstance not to expect too much on Mothers Day. Pearlie's father died when she was very young. (The painted pasta necklaces from kindergarten were gorgeous. The picture of 'My Family' with the father figure hastily scrubbed by the teacher out was not.)

Stormboy was eight months old when he, his father and I awoke in our bed, the night lightening into day, in the front room where the huge sash windows looked out to the rose garden. Stormboy's father lay still and quiet. It was not light enough to see his eyes but I knew he was awake. "Hey," I nudged him. I wanted a rise out of him, for him to laugh and hug me. He'd been so distant lately.
"Hey, it's Mothers Day."
"I know," he said, and of course he knew and that's why he was so still because he'd woken and remembered it was Mothers Day, because he'd woken and remembered that his mother had just died.
So receiving his text message last Sunday, after seventeen years of radio silence on Mothers Day, was kind of lovely.

007 drove his van out to Pallinup a few years ago, to visit our fishing camp. He used to do things like that: just take off for a few days and stay somewhere different, talk to different people, just for the experiences. He wanted to come out in the boat in the morning, to see what it was like picking up nets before dawn. That evening Old Salt, 007 and I sat around the fire drinking Stones green ginger wine. The cold was brutal. The cold rolled down the snow-capped Bluff Knoll (no kidding, I think it actually did snow up there that night), into the Pallinup system, where it crept along the river, around to the river mouth, over Miller's Point and straight into the back of our kidneys.

Everyone was getting pretty pasted by the wine and the fire and the frozen kidneys. 007 had this way about him, maybe it was just around women, I'm not sure, but he softened and often his conversations were fuelled by a more female sensibility, like someone had surreptitiously rubbed estrogen cream into his arm. Amazingly this night, it seemed to rub off on Old Salt too, notorious for his bluster, sharp tongue and tough guy bravado.
They began talking about mothers.
"You know," Old Salt said tentatively, like he was bracing for ridicule, like he had realised for the first time in his 70-odd years, like he was imparting a great secret, "when Mum died, I think I began to see my wife as my mother."
Both men stared at each other.
"I believe you are right," said 007. "You are absolutely right."

Not long after that, with a dearth of sweat lodges and bongo drums, we all took to our respective swags. I only had to get up once to throw rocks at 007's Maltese/Shitsu who was keeping me awake with his yapping. Okay, I didn't chuck rocks at him, but I did scoop him up, slide open 007's van, throw in the dog and slam the door shut again, hearing muffled grumbles as I stamped back to my tent in my socks.

The next morning was bitter cold and we were hungover as fuck. Even the fisheries officers turning up in the pre-dawn gloom with their headlights turned off didn't merit much interest as we donned beanies, gloves and fishing boots to wade through the shallows to the boat.




Friday, May 15, 2015

Come, said the girl

The tent glowed pale orange in the night like a lantern as he walked towards it.

He could not knock, there was no door, and so he eased the zipper open and wondered at that noise, a zipper opening in the night. A tent, a swag, a dress, a pair of jeans.  
Let me in let me in let me in.
She was sitting cross legged on her swag, reading a book by the light of a head lamp strapped to her forehead. He could hear the sea. She was expecting him and she laughed at his rude head butting through the tent’s door, breaking the meniscus.

She wore no pants and a fur-lined hoodie. Her feet were bare. A fragrant candle guttered in glass and the speckled hound beside her raised its head and thumped its tail on the canvas floor.
A generator throbbed, somewhere..
Come, she said.

He opened the zip a little further and wriggled in along the floor until his feet were through and then he shut the zip and crawled onto her swag.
Hello.
Hello. Let me read to you what I’m reading.

She took the brilliance of her LED glance away from him, focused again upon the pages of her book. It’s about when Matthew Flinders met Baudin on the Southern Ocean, she said. They both thought they were alone in the ocean, both men were tired and their crew blighted with scurvy and anyway, France and England were at war and they should have avoided each other really. When Flinders saw his ship and their white flag, he still showed Baudin his broadside. He ordered his crew to go about and present the Investigator’s guns.

She read aloud, laughing at the two sea captains and their clashing egos while they ogled George Bass’s charts. She threw down the book, curled one arm around his head and drew him close. Her underarms smelt of sandalwood or something else and when she kissed him her breath tasted of tobacco and fresh garlic. She wriggled her free hand into the tight hem of his pants and her hand was warm. He breathed in, quickening.

He struggled out of his pants and drew the fur coat over her shoulders until her nipples were hard in the cold. He said, blow out that candle, we don’t want no shadow play for the rest of the camp. She switched off her headlamp too and still it butted into his belly. The candle smoked nastily. She stroked his chest. She stayed on her knees. She suckled him like a calf, hungry, drawing down his milk with every stroke, until his plummy knob was thick in her mouth and pulsing with life. The dog licked at her salty, sandalwood armpit but she didn’t seem to notice the dog.

He gripped her hair in his hands and threw up his head to the starfish dome of the tent. They fell, side by side. She read him some more ... something about a yellow spotted snake and the drowning of a man. She shared a cigarette with him.

This is a good tent, he said.
It was my home for a while, she said. Yes, it is a good tent.
They lay there for a time, quietly. He began to fall into the beautiful hole of being with her, the timeless nothingness of being with her, in her bed.
The generator stopped.

Did you hear the generator stop? he asked.
No, she said. Who hears a generator stop anyway?
A crunch of footsteps towards the tent.
She’s going to the toilet, she said. She can’t see us. It’s okay.
He could feel the nerves crawling in his belly as he heard someone slam down the seat on the composting toilet next to the tent.
Shhh. They will hear us.
So what? she said.
I should go, he said. So I’m back in the bed I’m supposed to be in when they get up at dawn.

He imagined the morning then, as the fishermen filed into the shack to make porridge and begin the day’s lookout for the fish running into the bay. The men seeing him stumbling back from the strange woman’s tent as the dawn broke over the mountain.

He wriggled out of the tent and walked between the shacks and trees and tractors to the shack he was supposed to sleep in. Its doorway faced out to the open ocean. The moon was blossoming. He poured a beer from a big brown bottle into a mug speckled with Christmas and sat on a chair beside the corrugated iron. His first sip spread froth over his hairy lip and he licked at it. He looked at the sky and the mountain.

Three falling stars. One. Then another. Then another.
Strategic and infinite, a casting out across the night sky.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Winter in Walpole

Good morning ... and now I shall present A WineDark Sea's inaugural GUEST POST. 

I am throwing opening the publish button (but not the password, heh) to my blog for the WineDark month of May, because
a) sometimes I am lazy
b) the pointy, bastardy and bloodied end of my PhD means I run out of juice here occasionally and
c) sometimes I am lazy.
Oh okay, one more thing, d) I really want to share some south coast yarns other than my own on the blog. So ... Michelle, Boy Wonder, Nemo, Anne, Crispin, Ciaran, Rellie, Kyabla and others, bloggers or not, if you would like to share a story, a painting, a photograph, a rant or a poem on A WineDark Sea during May, I'd just love you to join in. Go on.

The first guest poster is Tim from the Pole. That's Walpole for the uninitiated: a wild little town nestled between ocean and tall timber. Tim is a field biologist who manages the fragile equilibrium between life and style in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Fire away Tim!


I’m not a local. I wasn’t born here. A number of years ago when we moved south I was teased by locals who said “you won’t survive the Walpole winter, you’ll be gone within two years if not sooner”. On the contrary, it’s the winter, not the summer that keeps us here.  In fact I’ve now been here longer than anywhere else I’ve lived as an adult and the gypsy urge has been suppressed by the south coast. 

Aaahh…..bliss, a cold front blowing up from the Southern Ocean on a Sunday afternoon in June. The sort of weather that sends tourists packing and locals strolling off to the wood shed or pub.  Some ‘south coasters’ do the opposite. Invigorated by both the weather and the solitude that winter brings, we go to the beach.  The air has that clean sharpness that may bring hail. Maybe some bruised vegies and another power cut will result but there are plenty of candles so it’s a small price to pay. The holiday homes that surround us have been vacated so we can hear frogs, owls, mooing and the distant rumble of a big swell. 

It’s rough, bleak and splendid as I stand high above one of my favourite nameless wild south coast beaches watching the weather unfurl, Windy Harbour fuzzy on the horizon. A mate and I had our weekly fish here recently. My wife likes to call it “Tuesdays with Gary”.  We saw an elephant seal. He popped up his massive grey head with black bulbous eyes from behind a dune and bellowed at us. We were startled to say the least and giggling tried to hide our fright, but we also felt truly privileged. It was a David Attenborough moment. We both stared at it for some time mesmerized and speculated in silence about what this animal has seen in its sub-Antarctic life. Diving deep in dark, cold waters for an hour at a time hunting for squid, rays even small sharks. 

It’s the rips and king waves however that makes it dicey on this beach, not the fauna. I need that alone time and on a day like this where else would you want to be? Somewhere outdoors but not walking under the karri in this wind. Some would say that’s nutty. You should be in front of the fire with a red wine and a good book, maybe Facebook, maybe a milo. Well perhaps later.  

I think one of the attractions of the south coast is that looking out to sea you know there are no people. Perhaps not at all till Antarctica except for maybe a crew on a distant ship beyond the horizon. You’re on the edge of the abyss. If there are no boats or swimmers, there are no people, simple.  That seems evident, but where you have land, even in the most isolated and secluded mountains, deserts or forests, people often turn up. I’ve experienced this working in the bush as a field zoologist. Someone will surprise you by appearing in harsh and isolated areas, when you were convinced of your solitude. Many people find a remote and unoccupied beach, especially in squally weather, a forbidding place. 

I see it as a chance to watch the kids rugged up, or more often not, bounding along the beach, all shrieks and cartwheels. They’re stamping the first footprints into the sand after all the holiday visitor’s trails have been smothered and washed away. It’s like we’ve discovered a new beach, a clean slate. The kids return beaming, one with a petrel skull the other dragging a netted buoy.


I’m not sure when I developed the small coastal town attitude about space and privacy on the coast or when a visitor’s presence began to diminish the experience. Now a special spot is ‘ruined’ because someone else is there. Crumbs! What have I become?  In an overpopulated world, this is a selfish attitude and we’re all quite spoilt down here. I also realise that the elephant in the room is that I’m as guilty as anyone else of having my presence on the beach affecting someone else’s desire for isolation. This desire to be the first to the beach may sound like competition but it’s more than that. 

It’s not just about getting to the deep water hole for a fish before anyone else snaffles it or discovering the lone nautilus shell, but about immersing yourself in the landscape with spontaneity, unhindered by people. 
It’s deciding to follow meandering plover tracks from the shoreline to the dunes, to see if you can find that exposed and elusive camouflaged egg without walking over someone’s towel or through their fishing line. 
It’s seeing the dark glint of a fossilised shark tooth in the sand while trying to ignore the flash of a smashed stubby. 
It’s about finding that dried seahorse, tail tangled in seaweed, nestled up to a tiny leather jacket with a background of kelp, sponge and blue bottles like a miniature museum diorama or a seafood salad. 
It’s noticing the succession of beached and bleached cuttlefish bones. Some standing half buried in the sand like self-made headstones. It’s then puzzling over the tell-tale imprints of the mystery toothy predator that ended its life. The ragged slashes of an unknown shark, the conical holes left by large fish, dolphins and seals, with only size and pattern left to tell them apart. 
It’s picking over the frame of a grouper, peg-teeth gaping at the darkening sky and wondering how old it is. A fish that could have been swimming out there since the 1950’s. These seemingly fragile relics must be tough because the only way onto this particular beach is via a gauntlet of immense, top heavy and dumping waves. Hence the absence of surfers.   
Although I despise it, even the rubbish washed up here is curious. A half-drunk bottle of plum wine from Japan, a tube of “Lucky” cigarettes from China and a carton of chocolate milk from Saudi Arabia. There’s a long piece of barnacle encrusted bamboo as thick as your leg with saw marks on it – I wonder from where it's drifted. This marine debris is a reminder that the ocean connects us. 

A post-gale stroll is the winters highlight. It permits for a slightly macabre exploration of sea life that regularly succumbs to the violence of the weather, such as a dead seal pup or stranded whale. It allows for ‘poking with stick proximity’. A chance to be familiar with wild animals usually hidden or distant. A wreck of shearwaters. Aptly named as the lifeless birds do look like a fleet of little weather beaten boats, lying miserably in the sand.  Some with wings blown upright, flapping in the gusts like torn sails. The point is, these quiet, often lone and isolated walks shake you out of your routine, clear the head and enliven. This experience for me is diluted when there are visitors prancing around.

What is the solution to a desire for solitude in wild coastal places? Either move away somewhere even more remote, or adapt, share and embrace others in these places. Basically just get over it. I can’t do the former with a young family so I’m accepting the latter. 

In fact this week, as per last, I’m taking a bunch of school kids out to a remote beach with Gary Muir, a renowned local educator, to find tracks, scats and other signs of native animals on the beach as part of their science curriculum. It’s anything but solitude, it’s a cacophony of excited chatter and squealing but a step toward triggering a possible life time of ecological interest for young minds, and it’s rewarding. They loved the dead seal. 

Perhaps I’ve turned the corner. I’m even stopping to chat to beach combing and fishing tourists. I don’t give away secrets but at least I offer advice on what fish are moving or good fossicking spots, in the hope that sharing a passion for the south coast will engender respect in them for the landscape.  

One day I might even look forward to summer. 

Tim Gamblin