Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Island # 4

Lichen and metamorphosis.

The original light house keepers residence.

Native grasses.

Looking East.

The jetty.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Things You Need on an Island #3

A Camera ...

Looking East from the original light house keeper's house, towards the two outbuildings. The original is built of limestone, bricks and whatever else was at hand. However it would have been quite a beautiful home once; plastered walls, sash windows, baltic pine ceilings, ornate fireplaces and mantle pieces. The green penny that I found must have spent a century under the floor boards there.

Lugged my swag two and a half kilometres up hill tonight, to sleep in the shelter of the second building. The hill wheels with muttonbirds. There's thousands of them.
The lighthouse optic does not turn, just flashes its warm, yellow incandescent light, the same colour of the rising moon.
flash flash ...
flash flash ...
flash flash ..
Car lights along the beach at Nanarup. The sky is big up here.

Penguin hollows and their tracks, leaving home. I never see them but I hear them cry at dusk and I found two corpses, the irridescent perfection of their wings so precious and gem-like and sad.

Michaelmas Island, named for being 'discovered' on Christmas day. This is where the Menang men were marooned for five or six weeks by the sealers.

A little house at the end of a jetty with no walls, although I'm sure it once did. At night, in the dark, the swell seems to suck in and surge so much further up those rocks, about to engulf me and float me away! In the morning, bleary eyed from communing with dodo-ish muttonbirds, or waking to the distressed-baby calls of fairy penguins, I check out the tide line and it's ten feet below my bed. Just feels close, you know?

I visited the seals every day and rediscovered the phototheraputic value of lying on sun
warmed granite.

An Osprey's Eyrie. I could reach up and touch it. The highest natural point on the island is
a gnarled, stunted peppermint tree

Being alone

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Things You Need on an Island #2



He awoke, wretched and sore, the longest night still not behind him, ashes sodden.
Being in the lee of the island meant no warning of the squall that ripped across the sky, rubbing out the cross of stars.
The stone on which they slept ran with rain and the skies still rumbled. Muttonbirds kept up their crying. The penguins sounded like babies that refused to thrive.
He was waiting for Bailey to return for her. He rolled over and clutched the woman to him, messed up her skins and folded her limbs into his own, held her, peered past her masses of oiled hair into the wine dark sea, looked for a glisten of oars splashing on water. He listened for the grind of a keel against granite and barnacles.
Taraba, that brave brindle curr, whimpered and crawled closer with every thump from the sky.
We live like oyster catchers, you and I, he thought to the dog. Opportunistic, red-eyed bastards, waiting for the tide to surge out and gambling our lives on that moment of its resurrection.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Things You Need on an Island #1

Things you need on an island:

You need to be alone.

People who worked on lighthouse service vessels were unanimous in their version of lighthouse folk. The service boat arrived with bottles of gas, bags of potatoes and powdered milk, mail, sugar ... and deposited them onto the landing jetty. The crew said, that as they left the island and powered towards the mainland, they'd look back to see the light house keepers coming down to collect their stores.

I noticed an island mentality of my own creeping in during my time at Breaksea. When I saw boats coming close to the island, I hid wherever I could, on the bald face of an island that has vegetation at hip height.
This could have been because I was based on the jetty and not right up in the heart of civilisation which is sixty metres above sea level and stone clad, protected by that solid mainstay of the seven seas, the light house.

My motivation in being so furtive was also that I asked D.E.C for permission to stay there, but was never actually granted it. Breaksea Island is not crown land but a rabbit-infested, asbestos-riddled Nature Reserve - which means you need D.E.C's blessing to stay there overnight. Apparently, all islands on the south coast of W.A. are registered as Nature Reserves.

(Get up to the partially restored out buildings and you understand why you are requested to send letters asking permission and why you feel in your water that these humble requests are lying on the C.A.L.M - sorry D.E.C - smoko table, where everyone reads them for a laugh. It's a C.A.L.M - sorry D.E.C - fiefdom up on the island. A private holiday island. Bottles of wine, private kitchens, four wheeler motorbikes ... they don't want anyone up there. Why would they?)

On the same token, I would have been very, very annoyed if anyone else had decided to camp on the island while I was there!

Another reason to hide probably has a more reptilian motivation. The boats that I watched - invariably two innocent mates aimlessly following a fish-finder around the waters between Breaksea and Michaelmas - are the penultimate nasty-bastard-other.

You can't see the whites of their eyes or gauge their intentions until they are on the beach, their cutlasses making that ssschhhting sound. On an island, something happens to your spacial sense of personal safety. It is hidey-hole, tree house cubby and dark alleyway all at once.
The Social Contract ie. 'I won't rape and mutilate you - if you don't rob me in York Street at midday', is a concept totally out of mobile range on a deserted island.

Researching rapacious sealer alpha males and being a lone girl toa does not hinder this kind of paranoia. It only makes the whole experience a little bit more interesting.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Some Bad Work Done Here"

This story keeps getting better and the Honours supervisor has her work cut out for her, keeping me tethered to the twenty-first century.
Eight weeks before Lockyer sailed into King George Sound there was, in his own words, "Some bad work done here."
For twenty years no legal entity other than tribal law and the cult of the alpha male had jurisdiction over the country between South Australia and Albany. The seas and islands all along this wild coast were peopled by a -

"complete set of Pirates going from Island to Island along the Southern coast from Rottnest to Bass Strait in open Whale Boats, having their Chief resort or Den at Kangaroo Island, making occasional descents onto the mainland and carry off by force native women, and when resisted make use of Firearms with which they are provided; amongst themselves they rob each other, the weak being obliged to give way to the stronger; at Kangaroo Island a great scene of villainy is going on, where to use their own words there are a great many graves, a number of desperate Characters, runaway prisoners from Sydney and Van Dieman's Land."

Journal of E. Lockyer. 17/2/1827. Historical Records of Australia.

The Maori, William Hook, signed his testimony to Lockyer with an X.
He told of the day when he was ordered by the boat steerer Randall to take five Menang men from Oyster Harbour to Green Island to catch muttonbirds - and ordered to leave them there.
Whilst the men were marooned on the island (Menang people did not swim, although there was the beginnings of a raft found there later), Randall went inland, armed with guns and cutlesses and captured four women. Two escaped that night, even though their arms were tied together.

Two days later, Hook was ordered back out to the island with a keg of water for the marooned Menang, but they rushed the boat and he pushed off again. The next day, the same, but this time a man was shot through the chest.
Randall then went himself to Green Island and the local men went peaceably into the boat, probably knowing it was their only chance to return home.

The thing is, they were not taken home. Angry Menang families stood at Emu Point awaiting the return of the whaleboat and their menfolk. There was no way the sealers would have volunteered to a death by spearing.
Instead, they kept rowing. They rowed through the Emu Point channel and the shore was lined with angry, mourning Nyungar Menang. The boat glided by and headed into the chop of the channel mouth there.
Imagine the stink of fear in that little boat, armed sealers watching the bleached white sand with the black line of Nyungar above the high tide mark. The northern curve of Middleton Beach must have fairly bristled with spears.
So Randall and his crew took the men out to Michaelmas Island - a long journey from the channel by whaleboat but they were used to covering this kind of distance, as they'd been holed up at Breaksea and Seal Island for some time. (Seal Island?! It's a rock! A miserable, windswept rock!)
It's possible the sealers marooned the four Menang men on Michaelmas Island for five or six weeks, whilst they camped next door at Breaksea with their wives and daughters.

No wonder then, when they returned to their families courtesy of Lieutenant Festing, the four men, some bearing the scars of cutlasses across their necks, marched down to the shore where Lockyer's convicts were watering ...

"As they passed Me, I looked and tried to stop them; it was no use, their looks convinced me there was something wrong." Journal of E. Lockyer. 27/01/1827.

... and put three spears into the bathing blacksmith Dennis Dineen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Learning It

And I've not spent all my time here writing. Most of it has been spent sitting on a rock watching the water, watching the sky, stars, clouds, sky. Cleaning out my belly button in the sun. Listening to Radio National on my mobile phone. Thinking about my life, how to let things slide off me, how to get laid, how to be a better person. Making coffee. Picking my toenails. Singing to astounded, smelly seals. Crashing through waist high scrub. Falling down muttonbird burrows. Looking at rocks. Wondering how the island was made. Watching the water ...

I discovered that five days existing outside with very little shelter means you can watch the water and the sky all around the non-existent clock, track the sun and the moon and the stars, watch the light change on the water and see the subtle difference in the swell that rolls in from the East, the way it curls around granite and sucks in deep, readying itself for the next surge.
Counting the flashes of the lighthouse, her solar powered glow the same yellow as the rising moon. Finding a green penny, Queen Victoria. 1892.

Watching the schools of fish tracked by the petrels and the turning wind that stands up waves and turn the tips all creamy. A loose piece of tin. Eating that plain brand fruit cake 'til I tripped out on sugar. A rock that rocks (klonk) with every rush of water. Lichen. Learning it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Drama Drama

I thought the washing sounded clunky. I thought, maybe I left something in the pocket of my jeans. Now ... where's the mobile phone?
"If we knew why we did stupid things when the consequences are so catastrophic, then we would know the answers to the Universe," Our Sunshine sagely said to me, in the kitchen, where I am scrabbling through the bits and pieces drawer, looking for a phone that may be okay a year after emptying a bottle of red into my handbag.
I go to the island tomorrow. Agghh!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Electric Starfish

Check this critter out. Sunset, at Mistaken Island.
Apparently they come out at this time of day to feed off the submerged rocks.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Monsters and Fire Faeries

This morning before the sun showed and after we'd picked glowing nets out of the inlet, Sonny the boy and I ran along a wild, deep beach. Lacy teal dumpers crashed into the sand bar and we discovered the beach shack all of us dream about, where you can 'spit on the southern rights from the verandah.'

But today, a putrid wind blew and the culprit was the rotting carcass of a mammoth leviathon, long dead but not long on this shore, rolled about by the swell.

We thought it was probably a sperm whale. Further along the beach, a fresher morsel, a fin perhaps, jutted out of the surf occasionally. And then, the skull of another.

Last night we drove through banksia scrub for long enough to find our way to the paperbarks on the quieter side of the sand bar and roll out some swags. We set nets much later. The wind blew over the bar and the stars shone just brilliant for someone who normally sleeps under an orange street light.

We rowed out into the inlet. I had a moment. I'm not big on reincarnation. Perhaps it's the missing God Spot in my brain, or maybe it's the fact that my life is usually dramatic enough without invoking an Egyptian priestess or an African slave.
I stood on the rear thwart of the tiny tinny and used an oar to pole the boat over a shallow, coral-encrusted sand bar. The only noises were the swell outside (immense and all encompassing but incessant enough to forget after a while), the odd startled call of a wood duck and the ripple of water against the aluminum sides of the boat.
I was the tallest point in the whole inlet and above me the stars blazed and the quarter moon glowed the water into stainless steel.

"I've done this before! At night, on the water, standing in a little boat with an oar, poling over a sand bar." I was a kid, (and not the same kid as the one who had to go fishing with Dad in the harbour at dawn - all because children under twelve got a free netting license, and therefore I was finally earning my keep!)

Not that kid. I was brown boy with dark salt-encrusted hair, who worked on the water at night, perhaps a river.
And that's it. This is who I once was.

It's the right place to have such a revelation. It's Australian Gothic, this place. Even with the sun or the stars blazing, there is always a moody stillness here. This Country appears to offer up her booty and yet her legs are always closed. Lightning storms hang on the horizon for days, illuminating the strange cliffs and ghostly paperbarks, the greys and olive hues of water ringed with emerald samphire swamps. It's windy and still all at once. There are secret corners and the silence is shadowed by roaring swell. The ocean throws up sad, lumbering monsters.

"Get up. There's something in the water," Old Salt told me this morning . "You gotta see this."
I sat up, swag and all. "Is it five yet?" My alarm was set for five.
"Close enough." He was standing by the shore of the inlet.
The light flared from my mobile phone. "It's fucking 4.30!" I flopped back down into the sand and grumpily tried to justify half an hour's sleep in the face of some amazing natural phenomenon.
He was standing just on the edges of water and strange blue lights shot out of his toes. Hot blue bullets rocketed away from his legs.
"Fire in the water."

There was more phosphorescence than I have ever seen. Each step into the water as we pushed out the boat created a flaming turbulence of motion. Every stroke of the oars created a sparkling rush of Tinkerbell fairy dust in the inky brine, and then the dripping airborne oars traced arcs of wild colour beside the boat. Shrimp became tracer bullets.
Still dark and starlit, with the moon gone, it was what Old Salt termed a 'piccaninny sunrise', a little sunrise, no light but a sparkle in the eye of a new day.

I felt like I'd crossed over some kind of earthly threshold, so surreal was the night. I remembered (again) that chapter in The Wind in the Willows; 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn', when Ratty and Mole went hunting all night for a lost child and instead, lucid, exhausted and utterly reverential all at once, encountered their God, Pan.
The wind ceased its harrying but the swell still thumped outside the bar. Fish torpedoed away from our boat leaving a comet tail of phosphorescence in their wake. Old Salt rowed and rowed, straight past the stake in the sand that held fast the net and neither of us noticed, until we were well out into the centre of the inlet.
"There won't be many fish tonight," he told me. "That bloody net is lit up like a disco ball."

(After we'd set, eight hours earlier, we went back to the stake. He held the corkline out of the water. "Hold this."
I took the corkline. I felt the fish hitting it, a sharp tug like when they bite a hook. So I knew there would be a few.)

The nets were pure Disney to pull up. I could see every single mesh illuminated, coming up towards me and swooping down into the water in a glittery fanatasia.
We caught a few, yes, some nice fat, healthy fish. By then the sky was lightening and all the fire faeries ran away, 'til the next time. It was time to wake the boy, who'd slept beside me on the beach, still wearing his school uniform, and head over the bar to the bay.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Light House Keeping Duties

and after all that whingeing about rednecks, the economy, getting older and going fishing, an opportunity has arisen for me to go stay on an island for a week. Old Salt is seriously unimpressed at the sudden loss of a deckie (but secretly he is envious, I just know it).
I've got The Key to the lighthouse. I've got Our Sunshine, who pings me with this plan on a leisurely Saturday morning coffee - "Why don't I look after the kids and you go and live on an island for a week?"
"That's a terrible idea. You know I'd feel really uncomfortable about that. Mmmm, damn, YES, okay."