Monday, May 30, 2011

Dreams of Freedom the New Bondage (An Aquarian Conundrum)

 Revisited after the latest New Romantic asked for crew on his Recherche Archipelago-bound yacht. (Bah!)

Today at the jetty, South Australian deckies unloaded milky-eyed, flaccid orange roughie into bins.
"I just want to get on a boat and go to sea," I said to my friend.
Of course, my WineDark dreaming is thwarted by more mundane, everyday oceans.

I wanted to get on that boat and go to sea. Like I did at eighteen. Stepped off the planks of that very same jetty and sailed to Tasmania. Like I did at two - naked but for a rucksack, teddy bear and gum boots, heading for the pier at Port MacDonald. (I still remember the blisters, the crunch of the Kingswood's tyres on blue metal, the car door, my Dad's face when he found me.)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Feathered Brethren

 Before the sun rose, we punted the boat across the shallows to the island, passing columns of black swans ...

Geordie came out of the rivermouth and motored slowly across the inlet.

 That's our net. I can see its meandering under the murky waters. Fishing pelicans give its position away.

Later, as the water gets too deep for them to duck down to the net, ripping out mullet and whiting or just stripping the scales clean off the fish, they hang around the boat, waiting for trumpeters.

Happy Sea Dog

 Old Salt chucked the first buoy over the side and I asked him which direction we were setting in.
"Dunno." He looked around the inlet, checked the wind and then said, "Just head in the direction of that dog over there."

The Disaster Pup spent this week with us out at Irwins and he didn't fall overboard once. For him and me, it was like he'd never left. Except the staying dry bit ... Hauling him over the gunwales by the scruff of his neck was getting near on impossible anyway, once he'd reached his adult weight.
What a joy happy sea dogs are!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I AM the Phantom, K?

This picture has been sent to me at least three times now. It never fails to make a cackling, dismayed mess of me, having walked into much the same kind of living room, usually my own, at least once in my life ... and look, the little bugga has even started on the couch! Anyone tell him it was ceiling paint? Like, for ceilings?

Several years ago when Stormboy was this age, he thought the Phantom was The Bomb and so I bought him a Phantom suit. (It was just a little bit too tight because how can you put a kid who thinks he is the Phantom in  baggy, purple undies?)  His Dad was going away to work at about that time and gave me his camera. "Just take some photos of him while I'm gone."

Two months later, I handed him back the camera with the film inside. I know that the photographs were of Stormboy in the back yard, painted pitch black all over, including his hair and the soles of his feet (his big sister's doing, that. Definitely not mine), dancing around a bonfire starkers but for the sparklers attached to his underpants.
I'm a bad, bad  mother and the camera will not lie about that.
I've never seen the pictures and his Dad has not mentioned that film again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Southern Ocean Islands and their People

Here is part of my paper on islands and how they are subject to state ownership and the laws of proscription and adverse possession ... I think the paper was born during my fit of pique, when denied access to Breaksea Island by the powers that be.

In 1839, the Government Resident Grey at King George’s Sound (now Albany) wrote to the Colonial Secretary listing his concerns about foreign whaling vessels working the coast, and the sealing crews who lived on islands between King George Sound and the Recherche Archipelago. 

His main concern was their lack of a ‘bond’ that domestic port visitors had to pay and find guarantors for, that bound them to behave in accordance to the colonial administration’s port regulations.  The American whalers, he wrote, were enticing deserters away from the colony and creating opportunities for the sealers to smuggle in Yankee tobacco. 

He also complained that the sealers brought their Aboriginal wives and workers into the settlement where the women mixed with the local Menang population and exercised a “most contaminating influence over their characters.”

Captain Grey backed up his bureaucratic grievances with allegations that some of the islanders were involved in piracy and wrecking – that old and bloody practice of misleading ships to crash into reefs and headlands in darkness so they could be plundered. 

He warned the Colonial Secretary that the sealers were living with Aboriginal women who had been carried off from their families in the east of the continent. As a result, many children lived on the islands who had European fathers: Grey wrote, “this half caste breed, reared under circumstances which must eventually render them the most lawless and worthless characters, stand a fair chance of inheriting in right of birth thereon, the various Archipelagos on this Coast.[1]

... Bob Gimble lived on Bald Island, forty kilometres to the east of Albany in the 1840s. Gimble had three Aboriginal wives and some children. The women were his companions and his crew. During the summer months, when the sea was swollen and chopped by the easterly winds, Gimble and the women killed seals, salted their skins and tried out the oil. I am unsure whether any of the three wives were Vandemonian but, given the history of the Vandemonian women moving from east to west during that period, it is quite possible.

In 1846 an ordinance by the colony of western Australia was extended to regulate the temporary occupation of crown lands and offshore islands.[1] [2] By the 1880s police regularly visited the Recherche Archipelago islands as part of their beat that covered hundreds of kilometres.[3] Some islands around Albany were closed to unauthorised landings, and still are to this day.[4] This act which stopped people from living without government authorisation on crown land effectively circumvented the laws of proscription, or adverse possession.[5] This point is the crux of this paper – that the removal of human inhabitants from islands was (and still is) a state ownership issue.

One hundred and sixty years after Captain Grey wrote that letter to the Colonial Secretary, his fears of Aboriginal children inheriting the islands were realised in another state, Queensland, when Eddie Mabo demonstrated his family’s continuous working and living on the offshore Mer Islands. My point here is not to compare the Mabo decision and its Native Title ramifications, with the (non-forthcoming) claims of clandestine south coast island communities, but to assert that Grey’s anxieties proved to be historically and legally correct. His letter shows that in the 1830s, individuals within the colonial administration of West Australia were already considering continued Aboriginal occupation as a legitimate legal obstacle to state ownership of the islands.

[1] CSR Acc 36 Vol. 73 Folio 75. Albany, Nov. 17th, 1839.
State Law Publisher.
[2] Amendment to the Occupation of Crown Land, State Law Publisher. Accessed.
[3] Police also visited the edge of the Nullabour to break up ‘large gatherings’.
[4] Robert Stephen’s letter re access to Rabbit/Mistaken Island.
[5] Details are available at the State Law Publisher website.

[1] Images - Louis de Sainson

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Autumn Dreaming

Last night I dreamed of lying in green grass. Beside me a bulb sent its first leaves out of the earth and into the light. I touched the surge of spear-like leaves, hard and pointed and I knew it was Autumn. "Easter lilies," I thought and yet even in my dream I knew this was not true as Easter had gone by already and the lilies had flowered and fallen over in the chookpen.

In the last two weeks, the black king skinks have moved out of the house. Their absence, as I wander into the kitchen at midnight looking for a cup of rosehip tea, was not something I noticed at first. They scare the crap out of me as they crash away from the cat food and scurry under the fridge. Perhaps this fright is something only people who live with tigersnakes can understand.Sometimes their black, snake-like tails would hang out from the fridge door - "I can't see you, so you can't see me" style. 

King skinks are territorial critters, so when they move out to hibernate under the piano, the caravan or the heaps of old car tyres, rats return like prodigal ... rats. The house is now full of different noises and it comes squeaking and rustling from the ceilings and the walls.

Last night Bobcat brought in a rat the size of a small kelpie. She tore off the back of its head and left its carcass on the kitchen table for my approval. It rained again too, as it does in Autumn, at night, after a clear sunny day. Autumn in Albany is a perfect ratio of sunlight to rain. The salmon are still coursing the beaches, the herring are fat. The peppermint leaves stick to my feet in the mornings and the black dust is settling. Rain cleans the sky so the mountains are sharp against the horizon and the dropping wind clears the sea to the meadows below.

And this morning, I sat on my veranda and in the garden I saw that the broad leaves of a long dormant bulb had pushed through the ground overnight, like a mushroom, pushed its leaves like a spear through the earth to the light.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


After completing a rather curly veranda over the space of a few days, with numerous "sh*t, f*ck, b*stard" moments that beset the beginner builder, I attached the guttering with some wire to a piece of wood on the roof and improvised a drainpipe of sisal rope. It is always a case of how many days I have out there. All I wanted to do this time was get the rainwater happening. Note the gypsyed-up rainwater tank - a thousand litre drum previously used for hydrogen peroxide, now painted camo and used for a completely different purpose that it was intended!

This whole time I was at Kundip a lightning storm hung over the Barren Ranges, snagged on the jagged edges. Nights there are always bright because there are no electric lights but the new gold mine infrastructure glows on the horizon. In my shack I can see the eerie orange reflection against the clouds. It is like driving a night time desert highway and seeing the lights of the roadhouse for a hundred miles before you get there. These Kundip nights too were lit up with consistent flashes, the 'sky sparks' coming from way out to sea off Hopetoun.

Daytimes were full of rain, blue skies, then the strange clouds announcing more rain, followed by rainbows - doubled and even trebled on the horizon and then more blue skies.

"The light is different out here," Dad said to me, on his visit. I was thankful for this comment. The light is indeed different to the south coast. It seems more diffused, gentler than the stark blue and white hues of the coast. He reckoned it is because trees on the horizon here part to reveal the sky behind them. It is not the solid scrub of the south. Of course light is different, in every country you enter. But I was grateful because the pictures I have taken of this country always turn out looking drab and grey and it is not like that at all. The earth is rich red or white with quartz and there is water all around and zany emerald native plants. The colours are almost too vivid for the naked eye but for some reason my photographs don't reflect that and I've been confused about this, until he said the thing about the light.

Anyway, after the sisal rope downpipe effort, I packed up my tools and my camp and hit the road, accompanied by a compilation CD of Joni Mitchell, The Pogues and Ella Fitzgerald. I was going 'home' to Albany. But on the way I wanted to stop in at the tip (always a good lurk in a mining town) and get a bit of a drive around the bush. These are some camels on the way ...

At the rubbish dump, I found some gorgeous bridge timbers way too huge and heavy for me to do anything with. After that I inadvertantly chased some emus down the road and got frowned at by the bloke behind me, when I stopped in the middle of the track with my camera hanging out the car.

Across the road from the town dump is the old cemetary.

I went through town and took the next left down the Cocanarup Road. The last time I went down the four wheel drive track to Cocanarup, I stumbled across the bush grave of John Dunn. Finding this was a bit unsettling because I knew fragments of the story. The tombstone's inscription says something akin to "You never know when they are gonna get ya." (Matthew 24:42) In 1880, this man was executed by spearing. His killing sparked a massacre by his brothers and others.

I come to land scoured by a century of farming. It is grim country indeed. Just stones on earth and no trees, punctuated with wire lines strung through holes in jam posts. The original farm buildings sit in stone on a hilltop, windswept, rock strewn. Dunn Country.

Drive down into the Phillips River valley, just across from the old farm and the country becomes salmon gum green. It is a whole different eco-system in the valley. The air is cooler, the light greener. It is here that John Dunn is buried and perhaps also here that a lot of the Old People are buried  - in a mass, hidden grave. People tell the story of survivors from that terrible day driven across the coasthills to Esperence and Bremer Bay. On their way home the horsemen poisoned all the waterholes so the Old People couldn't return to their country.

There is a report in the Albany Library on the Cocanarup massacre and Kim Scott's book, Kayang and Me also has a chapter about what happened there.

I forded numerous crossings of the Phillips River on that drive, to the strains of the Pogues, rolling cigarettes and pouring coffee from the flask. It took me several hours to crawl over sharp rocks and creep through huge forests. And those forests are big, almost like the karris, without the soft understory of leatherwoods. I saw where the now-dry river had pushed branches against the gums to almost three metres high in times of flood. Then I found the pool. Tracked with emus, snakes, bangaras and kangaroos was this waterhole. A remnant of bigger river days.

By this stage, I thought I was probably right behind my block on the Hopetoun road. But still I drove for another hour, keeping the Barrens on my right. Finally I came out at a miner's road and true to call, a miner roared past me in a spin of dust and red flags, his face set purposefully at the steering wheel. I thought I would back-track him and so I turned onto the big road and drove for a while, checking out the silo's and any sign of a town. I could see both the Barrens and the Ravensthorpe Ranges, but after being in the Phillips River valley and the world of the Dunns for so long, I was quite disorientated.

Imagine my laughter and surprise, when I realised I'd circled a massive amount of that grim, stony country and ended up back at the tip!