Friday, May 18, 2012

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.


  1. Hoping the kids wouldn't wake up in the still, the moonshine-still. Still moonlight, still water?

  2. Describes my home town of 2 years perfectly, just a few years on. Already the rot is starting to set in in a coastal paradise. Similar issues - in the end the sheer pressure of people all wanting destroys what they came for.

  3. You're right Tom, I should fix that still.Margs is the same MF but the long term residents work around it all. My Byron perpective was an exhausted traveller's one.

  4. Beautiful images and intriguing. Hope this one has another installment!

  5. Thanks Ms PoW. I'm not sure about the next installment. It all got pretty heavy from there on.