Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Notes for the Model

Get undressed before you enter the room. Bring a bath robe so that you can cover and uncover yourself as desired. Stretch. You need to be fit. The paintings make you look like you are just laying about for hours. Don't believe the images. It's hard work. You will be in pain the next day and you won't be able to hold a pose unless you are strong.

If you are standing absolutely still for more than eight minutes, raise your heels occasionally, like a soldier when on parade. If you are pregnant, raise your heels constantly throughout the pose. Otherwise, when staring out the window of twelve panes; the trees, the sky, the brick paving outside will pixillate your vision and rush towards you. The blood will fall from your brain and you will stagger against a table, a chair, the wall and the artists will become alarmed. "I saw your colour fall like the tide!"

Enjoy those negative spaces, between your elbow and your waist. Tie up your hair so they can paint the lean of your neck.

 Despite the pay, small artists collectives are the most rewarding work. They are eternally grateful for your naked self. They may gift you their pictures. Fat artists will paint you thinner than you are. Thin artists will paint you fatter. Sometimes you will be beautiful and other times your frown of concentration becomes your whole self and your breasts will look like two sockfuls of sand. But then they will cut for a break and offer you cups of tea and home made cakes. Don't be intimidated by the arts centre administrator trainee who fumes at your bare feet whilst you are sipping tea in a flimsy bath robe. They got their job through Work for the Dole. You are the muse.

When you model for master classes, listen to the master. Try to ignore the summer blowflies that hover around your thighs and the sweat that gathers under your breasts. Break a pose just before it becomes excruciating, just before your limbs begin to shake. Tell the artists you are going to move, rattle out your whole body and then return to exactly the same pose. Ask them if your return is correct. They'll tell you. Some will swear. Others will break charcoals. But they will happily tell you where to move, if you ask them.

You will go to your favourite artist's funeral, one day. Maybe the other models will go as well. You will sit in one of the rows behind the family.

Don't let them touch you.
Some elderly male artist tells the class an anecdote about his sculpture group in the city, where they will 'pose' a model, leaving their wet clay fingerprints over her chin and her feet and her hips. The artist women will snort and shake their heads. You remain impassive, because they are drawing your face at the time.

People's shoes will become terribly interesting. They narrate whole novels. The blanket you lie upon, face down, weaves last night's dreams before your eyes. Yes, you will remember all of your dreams and maybe future ones too when lying still and staring into the weave of a blanket. It's called scrying in some cultures. The optic nerve switches off after prolonged staring and the subconscious takes control. Be careful.

On one of your first jobs you will be summonsed to the state education centre where the only people present are three sixteen year old boys who didn't finish high school and an aging, unsuccessful artist-come-teacher. The boys will be utterly terrified of you. They'll mask it with guffaws and flickering eyes. The teacher will appear relaxed in making conversation with you but you can tell that he dyes his hair black and that he is sweating. Those boys will have never, ever been given overt permission to examine a woman's body before. Porn perhaps, but not a live body and nothing like you, with all your stretchmarks and flaws and womany smells. By the end of the session - and they will only get one session of life drawing in their whole year of training - you and they will realise the beauty of the gift you have handed to them. Years later you may see one of the boys on the street and he will recognise you and something in his eyes is respectful, thankful and remembering.

In your travels you may go to a week-long festival and gravitate to the art pavilion, where models walk in after swimming naked in the river and sit down on a bale of hay and pose for random painters. You will sit too for the artists.

On the third day, you find some paper and some water colours. A beautiful woman will walk out of the river and sit in front of you. You lay strokes of colour and black ink onto the paper. You remember the master's words: "Find the line of the body. The essence. Paint that line in one sure stroke. It may be the spine. It may be a curve of her thigh. It may be where a crease cuts her body in half. Find it."

And by some strange process of osmosis, you know the bodyline the moment you spread the ink up the paper in a sure, single stroke. The sound of the brush on paper will exhilarate you. You know what you are doing. You have absorbed the lessons of all the artists and masters you have ever modelled for.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


 Yesterday we made our way to Dunsky's to catch whiting, past the cliffs ...

Past "The Eyes" at Forsyth's Bluff ...

Past the murder scene, where the burnt out four wheel drive landed, crouching on the granite ...

 Past the turquoise of Shelley Beach and into Dunskys Bay.

We set some nets and watched as the smoke from a fire at the Cape suddenly obscured the sky.

On the way home, mutton birds and albatrosses worked the whitebait and sardines. The big ocean birds waddled across the skin of the water after fish, took off into the sky, settled again. Mutton birds buzzed the boat, sheared so close to me that one nearly touched my hair.

"I'll do the next season at Pallinup," said Old Salt. "Then I might just finish up. Though pullin' up these big bastards of whiting makes me think I'll hand up me boots when I hang down me head. Days like this I wouldn't call the king my uncle."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Joy of Text

I had a very nice veranda conversation with Nemo this eve, talking about the visual versus text and men and women and what gets us all off. The subject came up when I waved Krissie Kneen's new book in his face. "I've been up all night. I haven't slept. I've read this book, three novellas, in one session ... look at me. I've just been shagged by text. Buy it for your wife!"

He opened it at page 84 and read a few lines. Closed the book. Opened it. Tried to find page 84 again. "We are visual folk, we blokes. But this stuff ... every page I open ... it's all going on. Far out."

I understand the instantaneous excitement of the image because I've experienced it myself. It is like a direct feed of amphetamines to the root chakra. The obvious outcome is that the rush is just that: overwhelmingly exciting, intoxicating, climax, satiation, desensitisation, deflation.

Today I ate chocolate, something I rarely do. Within half an hour I was a giggly, wriggly motormouth and half an hour after that I fell into a kind of slow acting depression (and still had to ride my bicycle home).  I decided I needed a coffee to sort myself out, which in mid summer Australia is probably not the greatest idea, given that coffee makes you expel more fluid than you can afford to lose in weather like this.

Anyway, where was I? Text. Yes. Apparently women respond sexually to erotic text more than men do, tending to be creatures excited by visual stimulation (a rash generalisation, sorry to those who work differently). I'd never really thought about it until Nemo brought it up this afternoon. Then I thought back to my journey through Henry Miller's carnal adventures at the arse end of the earth, the Cosmococcyx Telegraph Agency and Anais Nin's Henry and June, Little Birds and Delta of Venus, when those two literary pornographers were writing stories for a dollar a page for an anonymous buyer ...
Discovering Colette ...
As a small town girl, I just ate that stuff up. It was like an early morning sun ray surprising both my tongue and bared throat.

Text has always got me there, to put it coyly. Nothing but love and skin does it better. It is still my favourite medium. And why? Because I have to work for the image. I am forced make the stuff spring off the page and wriggle under the bedsheets, to imagine the image, to sensitise the sensation.

 All that said and done, there are some exceptions to the rule ...

Katsushika Hokusai, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, 1814.

For Seashell and Co.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Sometimes, late at night, the only other fishers around in the Sound are Grievous, and Gawain checking his leatherjacket pots. Catching leatheries is not his day job though. Gawain is also the director of a local seafood company. I see Gawain and Kilpatrick at the Sunday markets every week but the source of the creamy, salty oysters that they sell has always been a bit of a mystery to me. 

The first time I saw the oyster farm I thought it was conglomerates of old wire fences that a farmer had built into the sea to stop cows from crossing paddocks along the beach. I had no idea it was an oyster farm. Then, one morning picking up nets on the east side of the harbour, I saw the barge out there and the figures of men in bright orange rain coats moving about the ‘fences’.

I asked Gawain if I could go out on the barge with them and he rang me at six o’clock one morning. “We’re leaving in twenty minutes, Sarah. Are you coming out?”
I drove down to the Emu Point ship yards where ancient wooden boats lined up with newer steel jobs, past the seafood restaurant, the chandler’s shop and the slipway manager’s sheds. Gawain had the tractor hooked up to the barge. Men donned wetsuits, getting ready for the trip.

“Sarah, have you met Diesel?” Gawain introduced me to the crew: Diesel, a bluff, hulking, fisherman sort, Turk, tattooed with sunnies and a long beard, Jason whippet lean in his sealskin, beanie and sunnies. The two German backpackers in bright orange sou-westers, Chris and John, nodded hello. Kilpatrick was staying to shuck in the shed.

“Where’s yer boots?” Diesel said to one of the Germans. “You got any gumboots mate?” He looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Wellingtons? Galoshes? Ahh. Whatever. You right then, everyone? Ready. Let’s go.”

Once the boat was launched, Gawain jumped in and Diesel dropped the propeller and started her up. We backed into the shallow waters around the service jetty. “Tide’s still going down,” muttered Diesel. “Better get a move on.” Despite the early hour, a wind blew in from the east. Two men stood in the water on the sand bar with fishing rods. We motored towards Green Island.

Diesel and Turk lit up tailermades in shelter of the cabin and then put on their white cotton gloves. Diesel looked like he had always been a fisherman. He has been working the oysters for ten years now but before that he was a diesel mechanic. I looked at his boots. He wore diving boots with white gumboot tops elastic banded around them, like gaiters. “What are they all about?” I asked him.

“I invented them myself,” he said. “You see, all the stingray wounds I’ve ever heard of go in at the ankle or the top of the foot, or the sides. Never the bottom. So this is my protection. Don’t know if the theory’s right but I’ve never been barbed yet.”
“We get those little purple stingrays,” Gawain explained to me. “those buggers with the pink undersides. They’re the worst ones.”
The men shuddered in unison. “We don’t talk about cobbler.”

The oyster racks are lined up in hundreds of rows in the still shallow waters of the eastern side. There is something very beautiful about their barnacled repetitions. Held together with sticks the size of tomato stakes, black rubber bands and rope, the racks reminded me of bamboo pathways through some kind of Asian water village. Their rickety regularity and the olive-hued beauty of tidal Oyster Harbour make the structures a kind of art.

The barge was loaded with seeper cages of oysters that had already been graded for size and were being returned to the racks. Diesel steered the barge into a channel just wide enough and killed the motor.

“Watch out for blue rings,” warned Gawain.
I’d forgotten all about the blue ringed octopus. When we were kids swimming at Emu Point, much mention was made not to fiddle with underwater containers or grottos where the deadly critters lived.
“Do you get many here?”
“Yeah, we get a few. Years ago, we were getting ten, twenty a day in the cages. Bloody awful. Then that hundred year flood came through. Remember that? All the fresh water coming out of the rivers got rid of them. But they’re coming back now.”

Diesel, Turk, Chris and Gawain jumped overboard into knee-deep water. Chris held the barge in position against the wind. Jason stayed on the deck with John and started throwing out the seeper cages to them. The three waders clipped the cages full of oysters onto the racks.

“Hey, Gawain, did I tell yer about my blue ring dream?”
I would not recognise Jason is his civvies. His wetsuit, beanie and sunglasses made him a deckie creature. “The night after I got that one on me leg, I dreamt there was one on me arm and I kept trying to shake it off, flaring up its bastard rings all blue at me. Shit. What a dream.”
“Sounds like a nightmare,” Gawain sighed over a broken seeper cage clip and said, “lacky band, please.”
“Oh, nah,” Jason said, handing him an elastic. “Nah, just a dream.”
“I’ve never seen one before, and I’ve lived here all my life,” I said.
Turk handed me a stake with a blue ringed octopus clinging to it. “Here’s one.” The  tiny, slimy creature with electric blue marks jumped off the stick and slid into the sea around the legs of the men.
“Lacky band, please.”


The deckies threw the seeper cages and lacky bands to the waders until the deck was clear except for remnants of broken cages, barnacles and algae. Turk kept straightening up in the water and rubbing the small of his spine. I could see he suffered the same back as Salt.  Once the seeper cages were done, the oystermen turned to harvesting. Diesel started up the motor again and moved the barge into another row further to the west, where the burnt out hill loomed brindle against silver water. He dropped into the water and counted the oysters in a random tray. “Forty five.”
Some swift mathematics flew around between the crew.
“Forty five per unit?”
“Four dozen.”
“Fifty dozen times four dozen is ...” Jason was onto it.
“Nah, fifty times forty five!”
It was all too fast for me. Within minutes the crew worked out how many units they needed to load for the Perth markets.


Black bream swum around Turk’s feet, feeding on the nutrients that his movements were stirring up, amongst the ferny brown weed and sea grass. “They’re a good size too. Should get that line out!”
“Turk, you gotta fisherwoman on board! Don’t tell her where the bream are.”
“Do you chuck a line in ever?” I asked, trying not to eye those fat bream any more than was respectable.
“Nah,” Turk said, grinning at his boss. “We’re here to work mate, not go fishing.”

After about forty minutes of throwing up racks of oysters to the men on board, who stacked them neatly against the cabin, the day’s quota was fulfilled. By then the wind and the sun had opened up the clouds. The men climbed into the boat and Diesel started up the motor again.
“What species are they, these oysters?”
“Sydney rock oysters. They don’t spawn in these cold waters, so they don’t get away. We’re not allowed to use Pacific oysters here because they might get away. But South Australia uses them, so I dunno. These ones we are bringing in now, they’re bistro oysters, a bit smaller. They’ll get graded and sent off today.”
“These are from Carnarvon aren’t they?” Diesel asked Gawain.
“Sydney rock oysters from Carnarvon?”
“Yeah, I think they got bred up there.”
“How many did you pick up today?”
“Two thousand dozen.”

Diesel found his shucking knife. “Grab one of those things.”
I picked out a nice fat oyster. He prised it open while Turk held the steering wheel for him, flicked the top shell overboard and turned the oyster flesh over in its base. Then he handed it to me.

There is nothing quite like a fresh oyster, with the liquor still liquoring and that salty sweet creaminess all going on ... wowwee

Back at the boat yards, Gawain backed the tractor down to the ramp and Diesel drove the boat straight on to the jinker. The others piled out and headed for the hose, past the neatly swept piles of barnacle shells below the sorting racks, to rinse off their gear before their nine o’clock coffee break. 




Saturday, February 4, 2012

Diary of a Silly Young Thing

They discussed it, late at night, over shortbread and pots of tea. What would it be like? To go out, dance, eat, no strings? "If sex happened, that would be good," he added, biting daintily, no crumbs.
Lil nodded seriously, not too eagerly she hoped.
"It would have to be monogamous."
"So that is a commitment."
"To a certain extent, yes. There's commitment. Mutual respect is a commitment."
"And what about work? The other girls?" She lowered her voice. "I know about Eileen ... "
He looked surprised, then slightly abashed. She saw the smile under the dip of his head. His Roman nose seemed to curve over his lips. "That just happened. I didn't realise anyone else knew."
"The girls ..."
"The gargoyles?"
"They look down on everyone," she sighed.
"Well. They would have had a fine time with that one. Eileen's lovely but she's not really my type, not like you. We were at a party, she gave me a lift home. She just pulled me in her front door. It was ... well, I hadn't had sex for six months. When she rang me the next day - Sunday I think, I brushed her off. I wasn't rude but I didn't want to take it any further. She said, 'What's the problem? Didn't you enjoy yourself?' But that wasn't true. I loved it! Just ..."
"She would have felt awful."
"She wanted the same thing as I did, at the time. She's still ringing me. She's pretty upset. The last call was quite abusive."
"May I ask you why you didn't go back?"
 "You may," he smirked. "Okay," when she prodded him. "There was a middle aged desperation about her - "
" - Oooh, ouch!"
"Let me finish. She was divorced a year or so ago. She's at a bit of a loss. Perhaps her husband left her for someone else. She's angry. But with me, she covered it all up. She fell all over me, made herself instantly available, hid all her anger with flirting and flattery. She sabotaged herself so that I'd behave in a way that supported her dislike of men."
"Mmm, tidy. And you obliged?"
"Well, I been drinking that night."

 She used to like pacing his beautiful house, studying a painting, his antique clocks or the philosophies of Marcus Aurelias, while he hummed in the kitchen making tea from the little jars he had labelled according to their variety.

Someone anonymous cleaned for him, another ironed his clothes. Everything in his kitchen was new. She liked the spare life he'd cultured. No photographs, only paintings. She liked his remove from the personal. He avoided intimate references with a card shark's sleight of hand.

They would have dinner and then see a movie or a festival show. He was traditionally attentive, paying for everything, opening doors for her. Later, they had sex, always in his room. Even the sex was a dance of prefigured steps. She knew he was displeased if she broke his code of behaviour. She floundered trying to second guess him. She tried to behave in the same dispassionate manner as he did to survive the experience.

In hindsight, she thought she could have challenged him, shaken his sense of self.

He didn't like her to sleep the night. He'd drive her home at four in the morning. On Tuesday mornings when she returned to work, he'd politely ask about her weekend. A look of pleasure crossed him at her hot panic. She had no idea whether, or what he thought of her. Once he told her that he liked the way she moved. She kept telling herself that this was something she wanted: someone who could take her out and satisfy her body, who wouldn't require a restraining order when she decided it was over. It was an experiment, she told herself. She wanted to see if she was emotionally capable of such an affair.

She went alone one night to the old pub at the top of the hill. It must have been the moon. Small town intrigues between men and women were sparking all around the bar. Matured minstrels played Stevie Ray Vaughn, Van Morrison, Dire Straits. Eileen was there with friends from work. Her ex husband was dancing with his new lover.

She shouldn't have been drinking at all. Her head was imploding with a threatening cold and she was bleeding heavily. She had to go and clean up in the toilets. She edged, shoulder first through the crowd of glittering, toothy divorcees and lurching bachelors who stood too close. In the disabled toilet, the one with a sink and a mirror, she wet a paper towel and smudged the blood from the inside of her thighs, changed, washed her hands.

The music roared as the door opened outside. Two women were shouting as they came in and lowered their voices as the door shut.
"I just don't want anything to do with him. He's supposed to have the kids tonight."
"Don't worry about him, love."
"Did you see the boss? He just walked in."
"On the prowl again?"
"You know he's been seeing Lil?"

The toilet flushed next to her. She stood at the sink in her cubicle, frozen. She felt Eileen outside, frozen too.
Then "Typical. She must be his daughter's age. Stupid slut."
The other woman exited and Eileen went in.
Lil flushed her toilet and turned the tap on, again. She stood with her hands in the sink, water running over her fingers and looked at herself in the mirror until she finally heard the music burst through the opening door. Then she turned the tap off.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"I Rode a Horse Up Stony Hill."

She always wore a flowered frock, sensible shoes and a blue beanie, cowled almost to her eyes. Every time I saw Aunty she was in the same uniform. Tiny, stooped and ancient. Sometimes during the winter she may have added a cardigan and some socks.

I feel that the passing today of this beautiful and unique Noongar woman at 91 years of age should be marked somehow but of course just writing about it is troublesome to both Noongar sensitivities and also to the knowledge of how much has already been taken. In Otago, a Maori man said to me, "The difference between the Australians and us Maori is that all of our ancestors are on the page, on the wall. Every marae you walk into, the ancestors are up there, carved on the wall." It's different here.

I first met Aunty in the Centrelink office when she used to hold my babies while we all waited in line. She was an old lady even then. Sometimes I would drive her home from the supermarket when I found her at the bus stop laden with shopping bags. Later, I knew that she grew up working on the soldier settlements east of here. To this day, there is not a lot of credit given to the Aboriginal families who did so much work out there in twentieth century clearing, fencing, shearing and shepherding.

"Mum rose each day at daybreak and made breakfast for us, which was often porridge. She would soak the porridge oats over night so it would be soft in the morning and easy to cook. Sometimes we ate kangaroo meat, onions bacon and tomatoes and damper. We dipped our damper into the juices. Farmers often gave us mutton, tomatoes and vegetables. Mum used to snare rabbits and shoot kangaroos with a .22 rifle when dad was away." 1

Aunty was born and lived through the era of the West Australian 1905 Act, similar to Victoria's Aborigines Protection Act. She may not have noticed it as a kid but her family's life was quite controlled by this piece of legislature.

One day, out of the blue, Aunty turned her milky eyes to me and said, "I rode a horse up Stony Hill." She said it like she'd done it the day before and perhaps in her mind, she had. But later someone told a story about Aunty when she was a young woman. There was a wild black horse that nobody was game enough to ride. Aunty got on that horse. Her hair was long and black. She was wearing a black skirt and a yellow sash around her waist. She stayed on that horse and galloped it all the way up Stony Hill!
Aunty, sixty years or so later, was in the same room as that story was told and she cried and cried. Later, she told me it wasn't true. I have no idea. I don't think it matters.
Godspeed Aunty.

1. Winnie Larsen, Memories of a Noongar Childhood, R.M Howard, Albany, 2005, p. 27