Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Mountain Man, the Fugitive and the Whales

"Pick up any hitch hikers lately?" Old Salt asked me when I arrived at the inlet.
It didn't help that Nick Cave's Murder Ballads had been on repeat for the long drive. I'd also passed three police cars on the highway east and that made the road unusual and slightly fraught. The Bad Seeds carrying on about general human nastiness only made me jumpier.
Old Salt told me that a fugitive from Perth was on the loose in these parts. He'd escaped police custody in a town near the inlet and had taken to the bush. They'd put out the planes and dogs after him. "He's without his meds," Old Salt said, looking at me meaningfully. "Better keep the cars locked up."

To make things more interesting, Mountain Man has moved back to his perch right next to the only toilet in the isolated fishing camp. His setup of a ute and mini caravan would be sweet if he didn't swathe the whole circus in a shambolic mess of white canvas. Last time he was here it was the same. At first I thought he was drying out his annexe but it was sunny for days. His camp shines white through the trees from every angle on the point. But my main beef is that he's a shouter and he completely freaks me out.

Last time he was camped here, he shouted at me at 5.30 in the morning when I was bumbling up to the loo. I got yelled at to go and live in the Tanami if I wanted to wander about with my fucking dog. I thought then that he'd be better off in the Tanami Desert, or as far away from me as possible, or least a bit further away from the only available toilet if he really wanted to do a Greta Garbo.

So this time around after we set nets in the evening, I sat on the toilet and could not persuade any of my bodily functions to function. Why? Because it was getting dark and I cannot leisurely eliminate when someone is yelling next to the corrugated iron wall, "Told you not to put yer fucken nose in there you fucken cunt of a thing put yer nose in the fly net mosquito net if you put yer fucken nose in there again I'm gonna get fucken mosquitos biting me and I'm gonna fucken flog yer you hear that I'll fucken hit yer I'm sick of it I've had enough of the lot of yer, yer fucken cunts ..."

I rarely see the Mountain Man. Even when he yells at me, he keeps out of sight. I may see his thin neck and his head crowned with a colourless beanie peering at me from the windows of his car, or I may see a wisp of smoke from his camp fire behind his car, or the pointed ears of his long suffering yellow-eyed cur dog.

I sat on the toilet with no door, completely unable to piss whilst the Mountain Man continued his rant.
I studied the signs written in black Artline on the toilet wall.
(It's a complete failure of a compost dunny and is filling up at a rather alarming rate.)
I gave up. He was still shouting. I watched for his shadow in the doorway, saw it was clear and walked out, avoiding looking towards his camp. Don't make eye contact. Don't make eye contact.
Then I realised I'd forgotten to shut the lid.

Back at our fire, I said to Unruly and Old Salt, "I think I'd prefer to die of fecal impaction before I use that dunny again."
Old Salt snorted, "Yeah, it's fillin' up, girl."
"Not, it's the Mountain Man, he scares the crap out of me. Well, actually my crap's too scared to come out while he's yellin' at me."
"He's yellin' at his dog," said Unruly.
"Oh. Well. He's creepy."
"He's pretty harmless," said Unruly kindly. "Just took too many trips when he was young. Lives around all these beaches, he does. He was at Bremer last week. Or maybe Normans. He won't hurt ya."

When I unzipped my tent door that night, I shone the torch around before I stepped in.

In the morning an early nor-westerly struck up a tune on the water while I picked out the undersize crabs from the net and shook out the coral. Old Salt backed along the net into the wind, keeping the propeller off the cork lines. He tried cracking a few jokes but was getting the silent treatment from me because of his abhorrent behaviour the previous week. (Nothing funny, windswept or interesting to say about Old Salt today - you know when perceived grievances turn a sane person into a paranoid dictator who then manipulates the truth of the situation to justify their behaviour in a really ordinary form of temporary sociopathy? Okay. Sorry. Enough already. Rant over.)

I dug a bush toilet for myself in a nice quiet non shouting space. Later, when I was packing the bream into boxes and icing them down, the radio announcer said that they still hadn't caught the fugitive. He repeated that the man didn't have his medication.
At least I can live through and beyond Old Salt's tantrums, I thought then. Relatively benign they are, compared to today's climate.

At the shop, fifty kilometres away, I bought some fuel for the boat and the woman at the counter volunteered a photocopied A4 picture of the runaway prisoner. He didn't look like the fugitive from Great Expectations. He wasn't whiskered and gnarly with bad teeth and nasty eyes and a pocked nose. He was a nice looking young man, slim, pleasant, even given the police ID board he held in front of his chest - from another police station to the one where cops had botched his latest arrest.
"But apparently his hair is shorter now," she said. "And he's wearing shorts and a T shirt."
We were both quiet for a moment and then she said, "Poor bugger. I hope he's okay. It was really cold last night."

He didn't look anything like what I'd seen of the Mountain Man but that wasn't much of a relief  because it meant there were two freaked out folk wandering around. The inlet is a good place to slide like a needle into the veins of country and never be seen again ... except by people like us living there.

Before dawn the next day, I lay in my tent listening to the swans and the ducks and the grebes awaking. Then there was a new sound ...
A trumpeting, a blow like someone breathing through an amplified didgeridoo, then the slapping of huge wads of flesh and skin against the skin of the sea.
The whales. The whales are back.

I was climbing into my wet weather gear, struggling to fit the plastic pants over my boots, when a silvery grey four wheel drive cruised past all kinda sharky, no lights in the gloom before the sun. They drove onto the beach, turned around and went past our camp again. Plain clothes, looking for an escapee, I thought. Maybe. No doubt. Cops.

Old Salt turned on the radio. The fugitive had handed himself into a farmer last night. He'd been taken to hospital. Mountain Man had finally quit his hollering too.

The whales. I could hear them from where I stood at the point drinking my coffee, looking out to the sand bar. I couldn't see them but the dawn air was so still that I heard them like they were right in front of me. They sang for hours this morning. Ten or fifteen whales, breathing the story of their return from Antarctica.

Shepherds' Warning

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bombie and the Beast

I once experienced a violent earthquake, and my first, immediate feeling was that I no longer stood on the solid and familiar earth, but on the skin of a gigantic animal that was heaving under my feet ... It was this image that impressed itself on me, not the physical fact ... these effects anthropomorphise the passion of nature, and the purely physical element becomes an angry god.   
Carl Jung, 1978.
(thanks MF)

The Stirrup Iron

One day I took the dogs Gypsy and Jack and walked along the cliffs to Sandpatch. I drove the ute for the first part, along the limestone tracks behind the prison, the race course and then to where I once thought I'd seen a thylacene.

What I'd seen was probably a monster feral cat but its stripes were distinct and the animal was bigger than any cat. It loped across the track two hundred metres ahead of me and its tail was  kangaroo straight and hanging down. Maybe it was a fox that I saw. Maybe I imagined it. I was only eleven.

This day, the dogs went ahead, past the Water Corp compounds fenced off with hurricane mesh, along skinny tracks flanked with peppermint trees. Towards where the white witches lazily turn on big whispering arcs, I came to  the place where I'd lost the stirrup iron.

I was eleven or twelve when I took tourists out for horse riding tours over the coast hills to Sandpatch. They paid extra to get to the coast but for a half rate I'd weave a ride through sweet-smelling stands of boronia and paperbarks, then over to where the limestone springs fed the orchids and purple flag. Boomers and their families, sleeping in the groves, would wake as we trod past them, springing out of the bushes and bounding away. Sometimes then, the horses would spook and gallop off home without their riders. Public litigation wasn't so much of a problem as it is now.

The day I lost the stirrup, I led a group through a lowland red gum forest and then headed up to the coast hills. Now, I can't remember the moment when one of the horses finally threw it in, said "I quit" and buck jumped the hapless tourist off his saddle and into the black sand, but I remember the aftermath. We were near the cliffs where the Southern Ocean roars in to hit the limestone. The tourist had to sit behind my saddle on the way home and I led the recalcitrant horse by her reins (once I'd caught her). We returned to the riding stables with everything and everyone except a single stirrup.

Des and Jock checked the busted stirrup leather and conferred. They got on their horses and took me back out to find the stirrup. It was one of the last times I saw Jock riding a horse. He took his Palomino stallion that day. They wanted me to show them the country between the tourist getting chucked off and when I caught the horse. Thinking back, they probably were enjoying an excuse for a ride but the afternoon was also spiced with a peculiar competitive nastiness between the two men. (There was a woman in there.)

When we arrived at the cliffs, they both started questioning me about the exact spot when the horse had dumped her rider. I couldn't remember. Jock and Des rode around, looking for the stirrup. They were annoyed with me and their language was ... well it wasn't threatening but yes, it sort of was. I was flustered with their pressure and wondering why the stirrup was so important. I was late back from that ride anyway. I was afraid of Des. I'd always been afraid of Des, and him wheeling and turning his quarter horse through the scrub and coming back to glare at me with his loose blue eyes and grilling me again over a stirrup just did my head in.

I can say that now, "did my head in," It's a groan up term but I was so young then that the phrase didn't mean what it does now.
We never did find that stirrup iron.
I took the dogs out there recently and stood in the spot where the tourist was thrown. I wished I could find the stirrup under a shrub, or see the loose sand of the track fall away and reveal the edge of its iron tread.

Friday, May 18, 2012


You can read a bit about Daisy Bates over at Bob's blog, Kiangardarup (here). The self styled 1890s anthropologist married the horse thief Harry 'Breaker' Morant as a dewy-faced immigrant and then married again, bigamously, while Morant was executed in Pretoria for shooting unarmed prisoners. Daisy took off for the desert and lived with the Aborigines, where over the following 40 years she recorded genealogies and wrote several books. The main criticism that I've read of Daisy Bates is that she used her theory of 'smoothing the pillow of a dying race' to further her career (and funding) as the primary documentor of the Aboriginal peoples.

In the papers I've been reading today, Bates writes about social organisation in north western and south coast Australian Aborigines. She goes into matrimonial traditions, circumcision and subincision, birthing rituals, complex kinship systems and who could marry whom according to their moities. Then she starts on sex. Despite being a serial bigamist, she was no Lady Chatterly (or a D.H. Lawrence more to the point ...) She was able to describe in graphic detail the subincision procedure, infanticide and childbirth but when it came to sex, Daisy Bates resorted to Latin:

Hic mihi enarravit quomode se ponant mulier videtur corpus it ponit ut vir, genibus suppositis, manibus lumbum prehendere posit, unde fit ut genitalia quam proxime conjungur: so modo fieri potest ut semen in vaginum introire poss it.

Section III,  Social Organisation, Part 4 (1), Paper on Marriage Laws and Customs, read before the Glasgow Medical Conference, Folio 13/64-79

West to East

To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.
Dorothy Porter.

 I killed an owl that night. It rose up from the roadkill it was picking at and hit my windscreen with a wet sound. I thought the glass was broken but it was only a mark like a sweaty hand, an owl essence spread across the screen.

We drove for miles and miles through yellowed fields, the yield lopped off to leave acres of buzz cut. The moon rose and the constant crosswind that had been with us all day dropped away and everything became calm. I stopped at a closed petrol station and the owner came out and granted me and the jerrycan enough fuel to carry on when I told him where we were headed. I drove a thousand kilometres that night. The children slept in the bed of the Bedford and I drove the back roads through rice fields lined with river gums, through a few states. Jack rabbits launched themselves bravely into the headlights. I filled the car with the jerry by a darkened weatherboard house on the side of the road, hoping the kids wouldn't wake up in the still.

Byron Bay: We woke in the morning by the town beach barbeques. Everyone else but us had been kicked out by the ranger. Maybe he'd taken pity on our WA number plate and the ancient van while he walked around thumping his fist on the roofs of all the other illegal campers. After that long day and night of driving, Byron embraced us with dripping trees, humid, silky air, adventitious roots, water dragons on the beach and athletic, tanned people doing yoga in the sunrise.

By eight am the beach was busy. A school of life savers in Speedos ran by as the three of us dipped our toes in the eastern seaboard for the first time. They stopped and insisted on having their photograph taken with us. (It's one of my more strange holiday pics.) The sand was light, golden crickets chanted and the waves were gentle and perfectly formed. It was a lovers' town, a Babylon, a parody of itself.  The car park filled with people and by eleven, the luscious morning had broadened into a glare and the bearded dragons fled in disgust. A perfect bikinied Diaz walked up the beach carrying a surfboard on her scalp. The graffiti on the point she paddled out to said 'locals only'.

The locals all go to Brunswick Heads to swim. The streets in Byron teemed with trudging folk, blank faced but looking around. Shop keepers were jaded, tired of smiling, of dealing with the mess of humanity. People didn't seem to know or care about each other. It's just after New Years Eve, I kept reminding myself. The mangroves and lush rainforests and turquoise waters and lithe pythons ... this old hippy/mill/whaling town groaned under the weight of sea changer expectations: crowds and money and real estate. Anyone could buy surfboards, sunglasses, board shorts or towels but try finding a litre of milk or a loaf of bread or a moment of peace in the main street.

On the way to the police station we were caught in a gridlock of January holiday traffic. At the counter, on saying why we'd driven across the continent, I was met with a blank look. The policeman who was there the day he died had been recently transferred to Sydney. And anyway, the harried officer told me, you'd be best off heading for Mullumbimby. There was no police station in Mulli but somebody there might remember what happened.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Anthrop 101: Westralian Culture

Pete F has taken some beautiful photos of the west coast but I reckon this one surpasses anything I've seen because it addresses themes of culture, structure and agency.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pearl at Middleton Beach

Notes from the diary that survived 2004

I woke early in the morning light offering up my face to the mosquitoes, slept and woke again with my nightie twisted around me, sweating. Blue paint and olive oil in that dream, three bodies, then just me and him. For a while I was in my old house, then a bedsit flat in town where I could be alone with him. His hair was spirally and fell like a horse's tail. Then we were in an open sided shed. He was soft and real and he liked me.

When I pulled into the dentist's car park to pay the bill
I nearly cleaned up the opened door of a Commodore sedan.
An old Aboriginal man sat in the passenger seat,
nodding away to Bruce Springsteen's
The Promised Land on the radio.

She goes to pre primary and comes home with a picture titled "My Family".
It's a collage of different fabrics glued onto a template.
The third figure had been carefully erased.
When I quiz her teacher, she said, "She told me she didn't have a Dad."
"I thought every kid has a Dad?"
"It's a bit sensitive sometimes. She just wanted you and her in the picture."

The fat state prosecutor sits astride a confiscated Harley Davidson on the front page of West Australia's only daily. Today I drove the south coast highway with a Spaniard hitch hiker who wanted to get dropped off on the corner. Drove down to the East end at Cosy. A man stepped out on to the road.  There were police lights flashing and cars all over the place. Five squad cars spread over the corner. An ambo too. It looked like a bus crash.
A cop stepped up to my van.
"Hello! What's happened?"
"Not too much, M'am. Just some bikies running amok up the other end."
When I got up the hill to my friend's house, he said Baz had been down to the camp a few times, blind, in his unregistered bomb with an old pistol that had the bolt taken out. Legless Bazza, teeth missing, handlebar moustache, waving his dodgey pistol. He's not afraid of dying, is Bazza.
Bazza came up to the house later all hyped and said one of the cops had been talking to him at the corner; blonde, swept back hair, ice blue eyes, Nazi Youf if ever he'd seen one, he said. The cop was really checking him out. Bazza was sweating out mull and wine and illegal firearms until he realised the cop was just smoothing out his hair in Bazza's aviator sunnies.
"Three days without a bathroom mirror ... those poor bastards don't know how to live rough," Bazza said.

I've murdered two mice. I hit one with a hammer and he still wouldn't die, pinned under the trap's wire with bulging eyes. The final splash of red blood surprised and shocked me.

Dark side
I covet the tanned hide of a Thylacene.
I have a favourite child.
My body is drawn to those I don't like very much
and I can walk away with only a tiny,
jingly part of their soul attached to me.
In need of drama, I spray Aeroguard on a single platoon of marching ants
to see what they will do.

Dog catcher came today.
I count up the months like a miser over butter portions.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I subscribe to a daily 'overly personal' missive from Stephen of the Rumpus and it's led me to thinking about the new standards of personal communication. He writes (beautifully) of his thoughts while sitting in a park or at his desk or on the dunny for all I know. Dunno where he is sitting. I think he's a NYer, and overly personal to him may mean something entirely different to me.

However, Rumpus have got a thing going where they send letters. Maybe they are a photocopied version of a single letter, sent to thousands of subscribers, but the point is that they are letters.

Letters. Not texts/emails/walls. Letters. I miss letters. My auntie is a renegade letter writer. She's been writing a science thesis in Adelaide for about a thousand years and occasionally I will get a real letter from her. Her curly script and the sentiments within are a gift to behold at the letterbox. Letterboxes, it seems, are not only designed for bills, newspapers and junk mail, but letters.
I miss letters. (Have I mentioned that I miss letters?) The letters I have not written over the last ten years are symptomatic of the friendships I have neglected.

Today my Mum said, "Tell me Pearlie's address so I can send her a letter."
"I'm not sure of the street number," I said. "I know where she is because I've driven there. I know her email and phone. But how to get a letter to her? I'll text her and let you know."
My Mum will send her grand daughter a letter. Hopefully my daughter will put it in a shoebox for 'ron because my daughter is of the generation where letters are an endangered species. Whereas I've got boxes of letters from whanau and friends when I drifted around the country, hitch hiking and getting into trouble. I threw out the most problematic ones, which is a shame, thinking back.

 As an undergrad, I wrote a rather dodgey essay on what happens to the archives, once letters have been disappeared from our society. I think I scored in the mid sixties for that effort. My conclusion was that every banal email ever written will be saved somewhere in the cloud.
So what?
The postmodern literature of exhaustion. Bah .. Setting pen to paper, finding and writing upon an envelope, pasting that stamp, the physical act of walking down the street and posting a letter (and finding a functioning red postbox!).

After my Granny died, I realised she'd kept all the letters I'd ever written to her when Dad gave them back to me. I haven't read them again. They'd embarrass the hell out of me now, but I'd never, ever press 'delete'. How could you consign them to the fire or the cloud? Those letters are worth so much more than carbon or ether.

thy rod and thy staff

Perhaps the existential crisis can be blamed on the catapult into winter, on not being ready for the cold, a lack of chickens in my life or a sudden change to working out of town for half the week ... but I realised today on chatting (whingeing) to a fellow student that expressing self-doubt with vocal regularity creates two distinct outcomes:
a) Nobody really feels sorry for you, because they know you are quite capable of clawing your way out.
b) Sooner or later you will get so sick of yourself that you give up saying "I can't do it" and just get on with the job.
For vindication of section b) please see section a).

MF sent me a link to "The Valley of Shit", after my winedark moan about the thesis blues. Here is an excerpt:

The Valley of Shit is that period of your PhD, however brief, when you lose perspective and therefore confidence and belief in yourself. There are a few signs you are entering into the Valley of Shit. You can start to think your whole project is misconceived or that you do not have the ability to do it justice. Or you might seriously question if what you have done is good enough and start feeling like everything you have discovered is obvious, boring and unimportant. As you walk deeper into the Valley of Shit it becomes more and more difficult to work and you start seriously entertaining thoughts of quitting.

In the meantime, thank fuck for bicycles, good friends and a boat with a motor that starts every morning.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dawn This Morn

A Walk to the Red Cliffs

Tube Shell Heirogplyphs and the Gnamma Holes

 The birds, bream and mullet here feed on the tube worms that grow their nacre like coral upon the trees that are swept down the river, from the storms that batter the Stirlings and beyond, which in turn are fed by systems from the Indian and Southern Oceans hitting Gondwanaland ...

In the night I hear the black swans call each other on their flight path. They are a talkative folk. Dab chicks, looking like rafts of tiny ducks, scuttle under the skin of the water as the boat approaches through the dawn glass off. We pick up nets before dawn, shaking out the coral. Old Salt stamps on the remnants left in the nets, crunching them into a smelly, corally carpet, so that when we set nets in the afternoon, they will not tangle and hamper our efforts.

 "I reckon," he says, "if all those settlers used cow shit and sawdust as floors ... this coral would be okay, ground up, as a floor for a hut ... once you got over the smell of the worms going off."

He's right. It would make a grand floor. No sweeping or vaccuming, and the gathering dirt would become part of it all. Another friend recommended gravel, for the same reason. But harvesting the coral for building would mean (for me anyway) removing part of an eco system. Old Salt is used to that scenario. He grew up with his family using and working with nature. There is no way I would take enough coral away to make a floor for my shack.
Still, there is a box of the net's debris for the next chicken owner that puts up their hand.

Also seen on my travels ... a beautiful gnamma stone, surrounded in nacre text, covering fresh sweet water from the mossy forest above.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

San Patricios

The album 'San Patricio' by Ry Cooder and the Chieftains has been (ahem) instrumental in my understanding of colonialism and standover tactics all over the world. But this particular song is 'sideways' and also a more direct explanation of what happened in America's invasion of 1840's Mexico ...
Goes to show what goes down when you chuck a few Irishmen into the international diaspora. In West Australia it was the Fenians and the Catalpa incident. In America, it was the San Patricios.

Buddhafull Moon and the Thesis Blues

About a year ago I met a woman who was at the same stage in her PhD as I am right now. She burst into tears in front of me and said, "I can't do it. Everything about the Jungian archetypes and brain plasticity that I'm working on has already been done. What's the point? Why am I doing this?"

At the time I was aghast and quite appalled because there were three or four of us postgrads sitting around a table watching her falling apart and I didn't really understand what was happening.
I do now. She has the same supervisor as me, who said, "You are at the two year stage. Yours is a perfectly normal experience. Stay with it."

I've spent all day trying to write and failed. The back of my calves are tight because I haven't walked more than twenty metres since bedrise. I've been stuck on the internet, consuming and not creating. I have two serious essays due in within the next month and their deadlines - instead of motivating me (normally I love deadlines) - are just stressing me out to a point of complete impotence. My hands shake with caffeine. I should have finished with my thesis research but I'm hanging onto it because it is a comfort zone and soon, I'm gonna have to write. I've got nothing to write. Finally, after all the research, I have nothing to say.

Tonight I drove home, the headlights sifting through the lowland's the first autumn mists of the year. Apparently tonight is the Buddha Moon, one of the biggest moons in twenty years but the sky is cloudy and I couldn't see it rise. I'm thinking, given my rampant dreams over the last week, that even though I can't see the Buddha Moon tonight, something is shifting in my universe.

Tomorrow, I will get up and make breakfast for Stormboy and me. I'll send him off on the school bus and then I will settle down to write. Anyone who knows me will know it is a split life ... because by mid afternoon, I'll be heading back out to Pallinup with the San Patricios blaring on my car stereo and mullet on my mind.
What to do.
Just write, my supervisor says.
She's right, of course. She's always right.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dawn of the Season

It must have been an overtired state of silliness - umeshing bream late into the night and laying them neat in bins, icing them down and then stacking the bins onto the back of the ute. Maybe it was the wine later. Maybe it was all the black bream's spines broken off in the flesh of my palms like shards of glass.

We were tired and crusty in the dawn gloaming, hauling nets out of the inlet with mullet still meshing and others leaping over the corkline or their tails waving against the ropes in the olivey waters. Like the ones Unruly caught after his net was down twenty minutes, these fish were huge, gleaming and beautiful. I lost my balance, nearly fell over the side and I blamed the last mullet thrashing in the mesh. "That bloody mullet nearly pulled me in!" I yelled at Old Salt. "This job's got nobs. I want compensation; for trauma, bad jokes and carpal tunnel."

"Woman overboard ..." mused Old Salt, looking as though the idea appealed to him but not while I was doing all the hauling, maybe later. "Got a notice in the mail from the marine safety mob telling me what to do in the event of a man overboard. Just as well I got that notice. I'd have no bloody idea what to do. (He's been a fisherman for sixty five years now.) Apparently, I should chuck a buoy over and then go back and pick 'im up."
He shrugged. "They're prob'ly right. Guess it depends on who it is in the water."

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Evening of the Season

The rivermouth set on the first day of the commercial season is the prize. When I arrived at the inlet, the three fishermen were standing around their boats ready to draw straws for it. Nails had the twigs of a paperbark tree in his hand and they were arguing about who should draw and who should deal.

"I'll deal," I said. "Seeing as I'm the vaguely impartial one here."
Old Salt's heathen female deckie. Right.
Still, Nails gave me the sticks and I turned around into the wind, breaking them again in my palm because one was so long it travelled to my wrist and they would have seen it.
Unruly got the first one. Long.
Old Salt drew the shortest.
"So that's it then. Old Salt and me get the rivermouth."
Unruly reeled away in disgust. Nails looked at me. "What about the longest one?"
"I made it the same length as the other long one. There was only one short straw. You and Unruly can work out between yourselves who sets the rivermouth for the rest of the week."
They were shaking their heads but I gave them the sticks as proof and they refrained from starting a fight. The draw was fair - it was just dealt by a withershins woman.

An old man sat with his dog on the shore fishing for bream, opposite the island. He said he'd had no luck and soon they'd be taking their caravan back home to Mandurah but "seeing as the track is washed out, I told the wife that I dunno if we're going to get out. May have to stay a few days more." He laughed then. "I love it. Haven't caught a single fish, but what a place."
While I was waiting for Old Salt, I picked swivels and beanies out of the coral and dropped them in the man's bucket. 

We set the rivermouth just past the angler, and then ventured out past where Unruly and Nails were setting their nets to put out some four and a half inch mesh. I chugged through the waters, the motor cavitating over wind waves and getting stuck in sandbars, past the trees swept down in floods past and covered in domes of coral, looking like lines of stromatolite school kids on a glass-off footpath. The tide is low in the inlet, lower than sea level. I could have stood in the water and held up the cork line. Old Salt stood at the bow looking for floats or nets or buoys.

We set out by the red sandstone cliffs. On the eastern end of the inlet there is a sand bar and beyond it the open sea roars and roars. I saw Unruly's boat heading back from the bar and stop beside Nails'. They had some kind of mid inlet discussion. Then he motored over to us, fast. He headed straight for the dinghy and swerved at the last moment, sidling into our gunwale with barely a wake.

I wish I'd had a camera to photograph this image: Unruly in his orange wet weather gear, a bluff, tall, strawberry blonde man with a craggy, cracked face, standing in his aluminium flattie and holding up two of the biggest sea mullet I've ever seen. These fish were as big as salmon, silver and gleaming in his hands and his grin was ecstatic. "Got them twenny minutes after I set net, Old Salt," Unruly always talks slow. "Looks good for the mornin'."

We are back at Pallinup, I thought, fishing for Pallinup mullet. This is gold.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Long Memory

“At Busselton the melok – salmon trout – was represented by one old man, who sang for me the melok songs of the spawning season while he imitated the movements of the great spate, 
and told me the legend of huge cannibal dogs that daily hunted human flesh, carrying men in their mouths to their lair. This legend attained a curious significance when fossil bones of a flesh eating sthenurus were discovered in the Margaret River caves in the vicinity."

Daisy Bates, My Natives and I, Hesperian Press, Western Australia, 2004, p. 69.