Saturday, July 31, 2010

Champix and Chewing Gum

Finally, after about twenty years of sucking on coffin nails, I'm attempting to dodge the bullet using drugs and chewing gum. Those drugs are amazing. I've got eight weeks left and I want to take them all the time forever... they are so much more fun than nicotine. Vivid dreaming is flowering my nights -  and most of my days too, because I'm getting pretty tired from all that nocturnal therapy. Other than the drugs, things have been strange and weird, a few limbs missing from the body of my life, crutches thrown away, drinking habits ditched and I'm busy trying to channel my bubbling rage about anything and everything into good and not evil.

Too many bad metaphors?
Don't take my metaphors away from me too.
I've been so good.
Just let me keep the bad metaphors,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Guest Post by Chris Pash

Ed (Eduard) Smidt

Born: Haarlem, Holland, October 7, 1946

Died: Saturday, July 17, 2010

By Chris Pash

Ed Smidt recorded the major events and the community heart of Albany, sometimes putting himself at risk to get that perfect news photograph, for several decades.

The press photographer died aged 63 at home in Albany from a brain tumour. His funeral is at 11am Friday, July 23, Allambie Park.

Ed Smidt was equally comfortable cajoling a pop star, such as Marcia Hines, to perform for his lens as he was climbing a chimney to get one last shot or running into a burning building or swimming through storm waters to a stranded ship or helping a friend pull his boat from the water during the long night of Cyclone Alby in 1978 and still getting that defining photograph.

As a boy he loved to watch the whale chasers at the Town Jetty. As a photographer he went with the whalers to hunt sperm whales many times, starting in the 1960s and to the end of whaling in November 1978.

His photographic record of the people, ships and whales is unmatched. Fifty-four of his images are on permanent display at Whale World in the Colin Green Heritage Gallery.

He won awards (Provincial Press Photographic Award 1972) for the Albany Advertiser and created headlines.

Following his personal interest in the natural world, he convinced a local fisherman to be an accomplice in one of his many planned adventures; a drop off at Eclipse Island, a dangerous job even in good weather.

After a few days photographing the island’s wildlife, he waited to be picked up. And waited. The weather was so bad no boat could get close and a helicopter couldn’t land for almost a week. His plight made the front page news. He later said the mutton birds were starting to look tasty.

He also gave to written journalism. Many cadet reporters went on to long and successful careers after being guided by Ed in the art of gathering news.

Ed Smidt had a wild man image, throwing himself physically into his job and life. But he had a gentle way of connecting with people. The news came to him because people knew he was one of them, understood them and that they would get a fair hearing.

Later in life when a heart condition barred him from the stress of daily press work, he quietly used his camera to capture images for future generations such as the district’s old shearing sheds, local characters, the grounded whale chaser the Cheynes II and wildflowers.

He came to Western Australia as a nine-year-old on January 10, 1956, from Holland with his father Geert, his mother Aagje (ne Sluis) and older brother, John. They settled in Albany because the sponsoring family, also of Dutch origins, lived there. His jobs included wood cutter, night club bouncer, apprentice mechanic and driver of an algae harvesting boat on Princess Royal Harbour. He taught himself navigation and twice sailed a yacht to South Africa and several times to Tasmania.

Ed Smidt is survived by his partner Lynn Tulipan whom he met as a child at Albany’s Lockyer Primary School and Ingrid Smidt, his daughter from a previous relationship with Karen Sigley.

(Chris Pash worked as a cadet reporter with Ed Smidt at the Albany Advertiser 1975-78.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Not About You At All

Tonight at scrabble, Haimona told a story. I think I've heard him tell it before but it struck a true chord this time.

His  work colleague, in the land conservation department, spent a week each year working on an island. After his last trip, he said to Haimona, "There was one bloke. By the time we were on the boat home, after a week of working with this bastard on the island, I was ready to hit him.

And it was on the boat yesterday when I realised that every year I go out to the island - and it's been eight years now - there is always one bloke. There has always been one guy who pissed me off to the point of fantasising about violence. It's just a different one each time."

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Coming of the Dogs #2

Having an outside dog move into our living area this week has turned my sense of domesticity upside down. After a week of 'prima donna ing' the privilege of the severely injured, Disaster Puppy kicked Pearlie off the couch, attacked BobCat for eating her own food and insisted that I head out into the winter dark to chop wood for his fire.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating but in reality, this dog has turned into the kind of creature that Rick from the Young Ones would describe as "a complete bastard." He has a limp and a nice pink scar between his eyes. He stretches out in front of the fire and the cat, whose natural habitat it is, lies warily a few metres away. Like a domestic violence victim, she is awake 24/7 and ready, anytime, any place, for the impending assault.

But this whole, distressing episode has reminded me that every time a dog leaves our household, (and dogs tend to leave either young and violently, or by old age - it is the way of dogs) the place feels just that little less safer. Ours is always a household that is left lockless, ringed with a force field of faith and barking dogs.

When a dog dies in our midst, there is a strange silence and a feeling that we are completely vulnerable to all the manifestly nasty human endeavours that exist.

"Dogs are the best people," said Old Salt.

Imagine the entry of mammalian dogs into a community of people who'd only known marsupials as their 'other'. Imagine those long nights spent awake, the family listening for the soft pad of the invading tribe. That all changed when the dogs came to protect them. The cultural change was as huge as the coming of electricity, but the polar opposite. The evenings stretched into periods of creativity, song and dance ... safety.

And the Disaster Puppy - it's about time he went outside and left that black cat alone. I cook him up roo meat and basmati rice on the gas stove and feed him the bones sourced from a slaughterhouse near me.

"You're not gonna kill this dog with an axe." The vet told me this while he felt the dog's body over for 'crunchiness'. His fingers were firm and brutal "He shouldn't have survived this. Take him home, light the fire and if he survives the night, let me know about his spleen, his bladder and his bowels. Let me know, if he survives."

Two weeks later, I scratch the dog's back. He leans his big fat head against mine. Fur on hair.  I know very well where this dog's allegiances lie.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bob and the Coming of the Dogs

I sat in Bob's kitchen. He was sitting somewhere near the refrigerator, tired, wasted, animated and giving Shark and I the rave about his imminent lecture on the coming of the dogs. He thought that as the dingoes made their way south three thousand years ago, local technology changed to the point where it changed the whole Menang culture - from a matriarchal culture to a patriarchal one. He talked some more and Shark listened intently. I wandered outside to commune with the chickens and get scratched up badly by Bobcat (who always does this when she is lying in the sun, I later discovered.) I thought I'd heard it before and had plenty of Bob time left to hear it again.

He never lived to give that third public lecture. The second one created a groundswell at the Albany library. Bob was pretty sick by then and his physical appearance shocked many people.

Two years ago today, he died. I haven't stopped kicking myself, for many things, but mainly not staying in the kitchen that day and listening to the rest of the story.

Photo by Shark, May 2008.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Breaksea - Home to Slaves, Refugees, Convicts and Warriors

This year, and the next, and the one after that, I'm writing the story of the sealing gangs who lived on Breaksea Island, near Albany, in 1826.
Right now I'm at the stage of researching the Aboriginals, African Americans and Maoris who worked and travelled as part of the crew. It never ceases to blow me out that before 1826, when most think the only people around Kinjarling (or King George Sound) were the Menang Nyungar, there was a strange convergence here of refugees fleeing injustice from all over the world.

Breaksea islander Richard Simmons possibly had a personal history as a slave in the Massachusetts area and escaped to a little, grassy island offshore from New Bedford that was called Nantucket. (I say 'possibly' because I'm speculating given a lack of evidence but I'm willing to wager this one. It's good odds.) Here, the anti-slavery Quakers protected him and sent him to sea as a 'greenhorn' whaler. Many African Americans thrived in this community and set up their own boat building, caulking or chandler businesses. Others used this safe base to argue and promote the abolitionist cause. Nantucket and New Bedford were often a station platform on the Underground Railroad.

As the age-old story goes, men got better and better at whaling; the whales got fewer and fewer, and the whalers went further and further afield. So, just like the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research of today, the whalers of Nantucket ended up in our Australian waters hunting their prey. Somehow, Richard Simmons and another 'black man' who told d'Urville of the Astrolabe that he was from Canada and spoke French, arrived in King George Sound, to camp on Breaksea Island.

With them lived the men who'd felt the lash against the cold stone of Port Arthur, having been transported from their native Britain for some paltry crime. Inside that story is the emergence of a police department in Britain, combined with the return of masses of men after The Wars, desperate and destitute. The other residents on Breaksea were some Pallawah women of Van Diemen's Land, refugees from the excoriating war between black and white that became a crucible of violence and horror.

... and William Hook, the Maori. While he lived on Breaksea Island, Te Rauparaha and his Ngati Toa roared across  the South Island, leaving his family's Ngai Tahu heads on sticks, a nightmarish vision/reality. Hook was probably sent by his chief father on a sealing expedition to gather experience of the world, seeds, agricultural knowledge and guns, but while he was gone, his people were slaughtered. And he would have heard about it because sealing and whaling ships moved between New Zealand and Western Australia regularly.

In mid 1826, it began to dawn on the sealers of Breaksea Island that they'd been abandoned by their schooners. They'd been here with only small boats and few provisions for eighteen months. One of the schooners was in Timor, presumably pirated, and another was offered for sale in Mauritius by the owner who'd been scammed and gone broke.

It was at about this time that the sealers of Breaksea Island destroyed the trust and friendship of the local Menang people, with whom they had hung out and fished for a year or more, and begun to rape and kidnap and kill.