Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Morn

This morning I was six minutes late to launch the boat and pick up the black bream nets. The phone rang on the last stretch to the boat ramp and I ignored it because I knew it was Old Salt hurrying me up.  I backed the boat trailer down the ramp and watched in the lights of the rear view as he messed around with the ropes and winch. Then, after dumping the boat into the black pre-dawn water, I drove up into the carpark.

I was just zipping up my wet weather gear when I was surrounded with police cars.

At six in the morning and boat ramping, I did a stumbling mental inventory: trailer lights? Check. Current car and driver's licence? Check. Have I done anything BAD lately? Um .... No. Check.

They leapt out of their cars. "We've got a situation," said one policeman. "There's a bloke out there." He pointed out to the sea grass banks where a solitary figure stood like a stump in the middle of the harbour, his shouting and screaming spreading across the water. "He's going off. Can you see him?"
"We need you to take us out there and get him in."

Suddenly my projection of a morning of pulling in nets, watching the sun rise and whingeing about a dearth of black bream began to look pretty ordinary.
"Does he actually want to come in?"
They looked at me.
"Okay. You'll have to ask Old Salt. He's the skipper. He's the man to decide whether or not you drag a crazy guy into his boat."
The policemen walked out to the boat to talk to Old Salt.
They came back to me. "This man may not want to come in. He could have a gun. There may be a bit of a struggle. You might get wet."

Old Salt and I both looked at the coppers.
"We try very, very hard not to get wet," said Old Salt.
"Not getting wet is the most important part of our whole operation," I said.

Everyone began to look uncertain. Then Old Salt asked the question that changed the course of the morning. "What's his name?"
"Peter Jackson."
"Peter Jackson? Aunty Jack?" I said.
"Do you know him? How do you know him"? The coppers turned their alpha-male-on-the-job glare on me.
"I went to school with him. He's nice."

I walked around in circles for a while. Aunty Jack has always been a gentle soul, even when off his meds. I walked back up the jetty to the boat and the tight cluster of uniforms. "How about I go out and pick him up?"
"Without us?"
"Yeah, we'll go out there and ask him if he wants a ride back. If he says no, or we have trouble, we'll come back and get you."

The police were all wired up to requisition the boat, which would have been funny because that two stroke is a passive-aggressive fucker and that is before Old Salt gets hold of the tiller. Plus, uniforms in a commercial fishing boat give it a whole new look. Plus I knew their shift finished in an hour and their boots were still dry. I could see all this stuff ticking over in their collective minds too and then they looked to me and gave me the nod.

"He's not in any trouble. We just want to get him to hospital," said the policeman Bird. "Let him know that."

Old Salt fired up the two stroke and we roared out to the bank. As we got closer, he had to lift the motor so we could get onto the shallow grounds of harbour. The man who stood waist height in the water was a stranger. Far out, I thought, We are picking up someone I don't recognise after all. I don't know what I am getting into here. Ooo -wee.
Finally, I realised it was him.

"Aunty Jack! Aunty Jack!" I called. "Do you want a ride?"
His face was a skull with huge black holes for eyes. He looked like he hadn't slept for a fortnight. His long hair dangled in wet brown strands. I reckoned he'd been in the water for a while and was probably hypothermic.
When he recognised me he seemed to get higher out of the water and his eyes got even darker.
"Sarah Toa."
I didn't know whether my name was welcome or curse.
"Just get in."
"I saw you on the school bus."
"Get in."
"They shot my mother."
"Jump in the boat, Aunty Jack. C'mon."
He climbed into the boat in a quick move, straight over the gunwale. Son of a fisherman, he sat on the thwart and I wrapped smelly shade cloth around his shoulders.
"Can you take me over to Emu Point?"
"We're going in just over there," I pointed at the boat ramp.
"The cops'll shoot me, Sarah. Take me to Emu Point. They've bin taking pot shots at me all night."
"We'll look after you, mate," Old Salt said. "Just hang tight. If they make any trouble, we'll take you out and make you pick up our nets."
"They'll kill me."
"They killed me Mum."
"Yer Mum's alright, mate. I heard. She's okay."

The conversation went on like this until we pulled into the jetty. The police had drawn their cars behind my ute, so their lights were just showing over the bonnet. Being used to Fisheries ambushes, my antenna was truly buzzing when the paddy wagon wasped into the car park. I didn't know what Aunty Jack was going to do but when I looked at him, he sat huddled into the shade cloth and seemed cold and blue and tired.
"We'll stay here and keep an eye out for yer, mate," said Old Salt. "We'll make sure you are alright."
"I'm really scared," he said.

Aunty Jack climbed onto the jetty. He was missing a shoe and his clothes were torn up and wet. He shambled along to where the policeman Bird stood waiting on the red gravel. Bird put his hand on Aunty Jack's shoulder, quite gently, and the other constable sauntered, alert. At the paddy wagon,  policemen and women patted him down. Then they stuffed him into the white plastic capsule, slammed shut the hatch and drove him away as the sun rose over the hills.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

1940s and '50s Salmon Camps

Images from the Westerberg collection at the Local Studies Collection, Albany and the Battye Library, Western Australia.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

State of Grace

Between Pine Creek in the Northern Territory and Adelaide lies The Best Op Shop in the World. Before I hitched into central Australia I didn't really understand the night cold. The cold cruelled away from the coast and into my landbound body like a nasty rumour by the time I hit Tennant Creek. A dearth of inland water at the roadhouse showers meant a new kind of torture - pinholes shot at my body mercilessly until the timer stopped after four minutes. Then I was stuck with no clothes on, in the freezing cold again.

In the morning I walked into town to find an op shop that sold a woolly jumper. Friendly truckies pointed me to the place. Inside, a weathered man who looked like he'd been driving trucks or droving for a lifetime handed me a stick of incense with the friendly gesture of a sister. He sold horse harness, clothes, urns, camera film, spare tyres, artifacts and woolly jumpers. When a man like that hands you a stick of incense anywhere, let alone the hard highway town of Tennant Creek, you will remember him. 

He had long diamante earrings reaching to his throat. He wore a camo army surplus jacket and a mini skirt. His legs were lanky, brown  and sinewy and his hair blonde. He told me that he'd lived in Tennant Creek for twenty years. He looked tough. I certainly wouldn't have brawled with him. He approved of my woolly jumper choice and kissed my cheek with leathery lips. I've still got no idea whether he was trans this or that. No one else in the town seemed to know or care. He knew who he was and that is all that matters.

I left Tennant Creek and hitched south. I spent the next six months in a comfortable parkland conversation with Adelaide academics and a sideways sleazy knowledge of the Mile End Cock and Bull.  My only memory of Tennant Creek now, the highway town smacked into the middle of our country, is that awesome op shop and the one man who knew who he was.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Carval Knowledge

I've had a few great ideas for the Pearl. The first one was to patch her up, install a diesel Lister and go fishing. My last great idea was to upend her above a mud brick plinth so she could crown a shop full of great books in the middle of nowhere.

This was long after I had given her away. So I reclaimed her in another fit of wooden boat self-flagellation. All the people who had fallen for her siren song shook their heads but they understood. My new plan was that the Boatshed Bookshop could be a go-to destination. Like a drive from Port Hedland to Broome, it is the journey through the desert that makes the oasis so gorgeous. Imagine driving for days and then finding Another Roadside Attraction (thanks Tom Robbins) in the form of the best boat shed bookshop ever, out the back of beyond. Poetry.

However nice the idea was, the reality of getting the Pearl out there started to do my head in. (Yes, I really was quite serious about the book shop in the desert thing, This is not another WineDark yarn.) The trailer chassis was rusting through. The wheel bearings were, well, not bearing up. I needed a truck with a tip trailer and a winch. Once I got her curvy half-ton self out there, white ants had to be kept at bay with rock salt or something harder.
Then I had to replace all the ribs, because they were rotting into the stringers and terrible things would happen to inhabitants of any bookshop she roofed. I don't know how to steam and bend 98 kauri pine ribs of a 20 foot 1920s carval. If I did, and I had the time, I'd steam the bastards, put the Pearl in the water and go fishing.

I guess the moral of this tale is that if you fall in love with the Siren of Wooden Boats, you should be a rich, retired carpenter. Do I sound jaded or just a bit tired? Yes. She has nice lines this girl but her witchery is cruel. I'm worn of old wooden boats. Give me an ally hull and an outboard any day.

Tonight, under the cover of darkness and some illegal  borrowed hastily-attached number plates and lights, I took her to the tip. The plan was to miss peak hour traffic while I negotiated the major roundabout with her hull creaking and rocking behind me. I completely forgot about Thursday night shopping. Crazy. Anyway, Greedy, who works at the dump, wants to turn her into an installation, surround her with sunflowers and cover her in poetry. He is the right kind of siren lover - one who does not go to sea.

So, the Pearl has returned to where I found her three years ago.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Unpacking the Witch Thing

Whilst halfway through my slide in the car, I heard on the radio yet another rally of rabble rousers protesting against the carbon tax and chanting "Ditch the Witch, ditch the Witch."

Admittedly, I was rather busy at the time, thinking about such things as kerbs, tyres, life, death ... you know. But I keep getting flashbacks and the chanting is the soundtrack. Like a bad 'Tour of Duty' companion CD to the war.

Why Witch? Is it because our female Prime Minister has red hair and a long nose? Or because she is female? While on the female thing - how do interviewers and slangers such as this lovely character below get away with calling her by her first name and then stretching it out to a school bully taunt?

Sometimes the supposed Aussie egalitarian ethos gives me the shits. This egalitarian sentiment only activates when peering up to the roost above, not down to the socio-economic equivalent of the chicken hutch floor: that's for the Bleeding Hearts and Do-Gooders.

When Kevin Rudd lambasted an RAAF air hostess, provoking princess tears all around, for providing him with yesterday's newspaper and feeding him meat, Australians jumped up and down at his arrogance and cruelty. Like who does this prat think he is - The Prime Minister or something?
Perhaps Rudd could have been more dignified in his response. Perhaps the RAAF could have noted that Australian Prime Minister was vegetarian and would like to read that day's paper.He is their boss, after all. Duh.

Anyway, to pull my Australian egalitarianism whinge back to the Witch discussion, I'll put myself out on a limb here and suggest that the Witch thing goes beyond sexism or just plain bad manners. It is engaging in popularising misogyny ... an exercise in keeping the woman in 'her place'. A crowd of people chanting ditch the witch reminds me of a bunch of flat earthers holding rakes and pitchforks - those delightful folk who, if they could actually find enough firewood after burning witches for the last thousand years, would happily harry another red headed, unwed woman (and thank goodness she is not a midwife) to the stake.

I'm quite politically ambivalent. Yet I find this recent climate disturbing: that the opposition leader is okay with standing in front of the blatantly homophobic and misogynistic placards in order to whip up some popularity for himself - and that our women leaders are so publicly disrespected on a personal, rather than a political platform. Maybe it is just me.
Is it just me?