Saturday, June 30, 2012

We are ugly ... but we have the music

Tonight was spent fireside for an hour or so in a house walled with books and paintings, in the company of the sculptor mason Moon, the writer Ursli, her impossibly gorgeous daughter, her impossibly elegant mother and the resident louche Jaybird. Now I know the word louche may have negative connotations in some quarters but let me make up my own interpretation here - disheveled and quite probably disreputable, executed in a lazily attractive manner that belies his integrity beneath - now that is Jaybird all over to me. I haven't been around to their house for a while due to working out of town and forgetting what a normal life is. Sometimes I think I'm probably just not that civilised but recently I decided to start saying 'yes' to invitations, instead of holing up at home and so here I was, with folk I love and have missed terribly lately.

Sudden Ocean friends. People who can talk about a great book and somehow weave work dramas into the same paragraph without pausing for breath. Ursli's Dad was an architect and he remodelled the little Mt Melville cottage into something useful and sprawling and beautiful. There is a photograph on the side board of Ursli's parents riding a Vespa the colour of dove eggs through an Egyptian desert. Two rooms are completely lined with books, the worn Penguins neatly lined according to their colours.

Ursli cracks me up with her sly, gentle wit. Jaybird lounges, fresh from his radio showcase of local garage bands, red nosed and flaky with man flu, rousing himself as the conversation quickens, his new Edna glasses misting with his sniffles and laughter. Ursli's Mum shares shack anecdotes with me (she's a fellow shack builder and rain collector, a woman who understands the need for a bush shack of one's own), Ursli's daughter gives me tight hugs and assures me that LA is much the same as Perth. Moon says 'When I get on the plane for Frankfurt tomorrow I'm wearing my lucky silver jacket and my Italian shoes.' Right now, he's wearing Blundstones that have blown out at the sides and plaster coated jeans. 'I'm getting a haircut too,' he says. The tabby tomcat lay on Gran's lap with his pink paws pointed towards me, his stripy tale flicking against her legs.

On the way home, I stopped at the crossing for wood chip train. I sat there in the blinking of red and yellow lights and this song came on the car stereo. It's not related at all, to anything. Just one of those moments ...

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Poacher's Tale

I've tried several times to upload video of Old Salt telling me his poaching stories by a Pallinup fire. It won't work. There is a conspiracy against me I'm sure. Anyway, here is one transcript.

"So I went down there and it was a very quiet, no, no movement, a very quiet night. Just the shadows of the water and the hills and all that. Dark. Pitch dark and before daylight. I'd gone down so far by motor and then I'd rowed, standing up. And ahh, I'd had a net set by the Floodgates ..."

"Why did you row standing up?"

"Standing up, looking forward, yeah?"
"Oh yeah, okay."
"And um, standing up, and pushing on the oars making no noise whatever ..."
"Did you sharpen the blades of your oars?"
"Oh yeah, I did all that. It all was quiet, very quiet. I even had the rowlocks in bits of garden hose, you know, so they didn't make any noise. And I rowed down there on the eastern side of the inlet and I was right along the shore so nobody could see me. And when the Floodgates started going across, I just started going across.
And bugger me if -"

"- Were you setting net?"

"No, no Toa. I'd already set my net and been over it. I'd ... I'd just had this feeling about it all, yeah?"
"So instead of picking up the net and goin' home, I gone down the river a coupla hundred yards down and then across and bugger me if I didn't catch the Fisheries Department."

(At this point Old Salt started laughing and so did I.)
"They were hidin' out there and I caught 'em because-"
"You caught them!"
"I could hear all this scurrying and rustling and in the end they knew they was spotted so they gave up and they came out and said 'hello what are you doing out here' and I said, 'Ah well I was just comin' down to have a look at the sea, see if she was rough or not, you know'."

And they said, 'Right. Well. What do you know about that sunken net up river?'
I said, 'What net?'
'What do you know about that sunken net?'
I said, 'A sunken net. Well, I'd know nothin' about somping I can't fucken see, right?'
Anyway, by this time, there was two of them there and they said, 'Oh Well ...' One of the blokes he was named Roach, they called him Cocky of course and when I was talkin' to them I was having a shot at them and I said, 'I can hear the sea from here. I don't think I'll bother going down now.'

So they said, 'Anyhow, we'll go and pick that net up then.'
And I said, 'Well, right oh. I didn't see any net on my way down.' So they tried to start their motor and it wouldn't start. And they were tryin' and tryin' and tryin' and they never had any oars. So I said, 'Do yer wanna tow? I'll give yer a tow if yer like.' I was ready to give them a tow because I knew I'd lost my net by then.
They said something about it being the height of indignity or something like that.' "

(Me and Old Salt cracking up again).
"So did you? Did you tow them?"
"No, I was ready to. Eventually they got the thing started and away they went and away I went and that was that ..."

Exiles and Island Wives

“ 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 the coast.”
Government Resident, 1839.

Finding the above quote was the beautiful makings for a paper that I wrote for a Tasmanian history conference last year. Seeing as it's probably not going to be published anywhere, I thought I'd put it up here and anyone who is interested in this kind of stuff can use it as a resource. A golden treasure hunt hint: the crux is straight after the pointing hand. There are references and notes at the end. The pictures are from my original powerpoints.

 Exiles and Island Wives: Southern Ocean Islands and their People

In this paper I describe the sealers and Aboriginal women who lived on south coast islands of Western Australia in the nineteenth century. I am interested in the colonial administration’s response to these islanders and their fears that the offspring of sealers and Aboriginal women could inherit the islands. The state’s desire to control visitations to great southern islands has continued, albeit in changed form, into the twenty-first century.

For at least twenty years before West Australian colonisation, sealers worked the southern waters. The Eastern states sealing industry was fattened upon an unrestrained slaughter, severely depleting the very source of the industry. Some crews moved west, seeking new grounds. The crews that I describe here are those of the Hunter and the Governor Brisbane who had previously worked Bass Strait and Kangaroo Island. These two sealing gangs were abandoned by their owners and living on islands between the Recherche Archipelago near Esperance and King George Sound, for nearly two years before colonisation there. They hailed from America, Ireland, Van Diemen’s Land and New Zealand and included Indigenous Van Diemonian and South Australian men, women and children. In the latter half of 1825, they lived on Breaksea Island, one of two large islands that guard the entrance to King George Sound.  

De Sainson: The Astrolabe's skiff heading for Green Island, 1825.
In October of that year, according to the testimony of Maori sealer William Hook, the sealers took five Menang men to tiny Green Island in Oyster Harbour adjacent to King George Sound under the guise of a muttonbirding expedition.

The sealers and Menang Noongar had worked together before, muttonbirding on the islands and fishing. It is likely that they trusted one another. However all trust was destroyed when the sealers pushed off and rowed away, leaving the Menang men on the island without a boat.

Green Island, Oyster Harbour
With the majority of the local Menang band’s young men effectively imprisoned on Green Island, the sealers raided a local camp and kidnapped four women. Two of the women escaped overnight, their arms still roped together. The sealers took the other two women out to Breaksea Island. The marooned men on Green Island began to construct a raft but this was unfinished when the sealers returned the next day. The Aboriginal men rushed the boat and in the fracas, one of the sealers shot a Menang man dead. The next day, the sealers returned and took the remaining four men out to Michaelmas Island, which lies next to Breaksea. Sealer Samuel Bailey took one woman and a little girl of uncertain origin to Eclipse Island, a wild outcrop of granite beyond the protection of Bald Head and the Sound. The rest of the sealers returned to Breaksea Island.

Eight weeks later, the Amity arrived, laden with convicts, seeds, livestock and soldiers. Major Edmund Lockyer soon discovered the desiccated body of the man on Green Island. Having seen smoke on Michaelmas, he rightly judged that someone on the island required assistance. He sent a boat out to Michaelmas to pick up the marooned Aboriginal men. On their landing back at the settlement, the four men mounted a swift if misguided payback, putting three spears into the fledgling colony’s only blacksmith. Lockyer had been entrusted with establishing the settlement and instead had walked straight into a blood feud between sealers and Aborigines. He wrote in his report to the Colonial Secretary that there had been “some bad work done here.”

In 1839, the Government Resident Grey at King George Sound 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. The colony was twelve years old by this time. Grey’s main concern was that the whalers and sealers were not yet obligated to pay the bond that domestic port visitors had to pay, that bound them to behave in accordance with the colonial port’s regulations.  The French and American whalers, he wrote, were enticing deserters away from the colony and creating opportunities for the resident sealers to smuggle in Yankee tobacco. He also complained that the sealers brought their Aboriginal wives and workers into the settlement where they 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 sealers were engaging 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 of the children living on south coast islands 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.”

In the comforts of my living room and hindsight, Captain Grey’s fears of Aboriginal and sealer’s children claiming a birthright over islands read as a veiled but unsubstantiated threat to British sovereignty and colonial power. His sentiments also reflect the era’s deep discomfort with miscegenous relationships. The sealers had declined to participate in the settlement of land, instead choosing a furtive existence roaming between islands, subsisting from their vegetable gardens, muttonbird, kangaroo and summertime seal revenue. Captain Grey, Major Lockyer and other colonial players described them as escaped convicts and pirates. Sea wolves, the sealers were called. In modern language sealers would be described as feral, anarchic and godless. Surely though, stories of sealers deliberately wrecking ships or claiming a birth right over the islands, was a bit farfetched?

In 1842 a Perth Gazette journalist wrote: “Rather than be at the expense of living at the settlement and going to work, some of these men prefer leading an idle life on one of the islands with their black women and children, entirely excluded from human society and sleeping away their existence. They require only a little flour, all the rest ... supplied to them by the bounty of nature.”

De Sainson: Sealers at Westernport, 1825.

This account depicts the life of a sealer as almost Elysian, as opposed to Grey’s vision of wreckers, rapists and smugglers. The difference is in the vocation and viewpoint of the writer; one a journalist depicting a new romance of the Southern Ocean, the other a colonial administrator intent on controlling his jurisdiction and the people who lived on islands.

Boxer Island in the Recherche Archipelago near Esperance was named after an Aboriginal man who was imprisoned there. Using Recherche Archipelago islands as a gaol for “incorrigible sheep stealers and other native outlaws” was common practice in Esperance prior to 1876. However before the Recherche islands were used as prisons, they were home to sealers. Archaeologists and local historians recently examined a cave on Boxer Island and ‘rediscovered’ a nineteenth century abode of sealers. Unique for its preserved diorama of a single man’s domesticity, the cave was complete with what appeared to be a wooden bed, neatly rolled seal skins, tarpaulins or sails and a sailor’s chest. There is also a wooden shelf set into the limestone above the bed. 

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 extracted the oil. I am unsure whether any of the three wives were Palawah but, given the regularity of Tasmanian women moving from east to west during that period, it is possible. Families like Bob Gimble’s were most likely the target of Grey’s concerns about resident islanders.

What Grey originally sought in his letter to the Colonial Secretary was to:
extract customs from all visitors to the port of King George Sound,
to curtail the nefarious activities of foreign whalers,
to control who entered the port
and licence and restrain those inhabitants of the islands. 

The colony, situated on the remotest edge of the Southern Ocean highway, lived a precarious existence and he knew it

In 1846 an ordinance by the colony of West Australia was extended to regulate the temporary occupation of crown lands and offshore islands. By the 1880s police regularly visited the Recherche Archipelago islands as part of their beat that covered hundreds of kilometres. It was a difficult job you can imagine to police all of the islands. Legislation compensated for that. Some islands around Albany were closed to unauthorised landings, and still are to this day. The act, which made it illegal for people to live without government authorisation on crown land, effectively circumvented the laws of proscription, or adverse possession. The regulating and removal of human inhabitants from south coast 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 Mer Islands. My point here is not to compare the Mabo decision and its Native Title ramifications, with the (non-forthcoming) claims of nineteenth century south coast island communities, but to assert that Grey’s anxieties proved to be historically and legally justified. 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.

My impetus to write about the colonial anxieties regarding birthrights of south coast islander children developed from the day I asked the regional manager of the State’s environment department if I could camp on Breaksea Island to continue my research on the sealing gangs. He told me that I would have to write a letter requesting permission and that the department may or may not decide to let me camp there. Most offshore islands in Western Australia are registered nature reserves. He explained that some are set aside for the rehabilitation of endangered species and most islands have fragile eco systems, so camping on islands is prohibited without permission from the government.

It did not take me long on Breaksea Island to realise that the species really thriving there were rabbits and noxious weeds, with piles of asbestos and rubbish lying around in the bush. There were vague plans for an eco resort reported in the local newspapers. The state of this spoiled nature, and the fraught bureaucratic journey that it took me to see it, began my wondering about the limited access to West Australian offshore islands. Most islands around Albany have signs posted on the shore advising visitors that, as a registered nature reserve, human visitations are not advised or legal.

Breaksea is five nautical miles from the mainland and skirted by massive, barnacled granite rocks. The jetty is the only safe place to disembark. Due to the tides and rough swells, the jetty is about eight metres above sea level. As we edged the dinghy into the jetty, I grabbed the ladder and climbed, swinging, up to the landing. As I got level to the jetty timbers, I saw a sign tacked into the wood. Despite the age of the sign, the message was clear. “This jetty is hazardous. Do not climb on or around this jetty ......” 

The very nature of islands means that they are microcosms of worlds. The element of water constrains island inhabitants to a strongly delineated space. Cut off from the mainland by water, islands are only accessible or escapable to those who possess a mode of access. An island can offer safety from predators and an intensified state of environmental sensitivity, of social interaction and finite resources: ... or punishment, captivity and isolation.

South coast islands such as Breaksea and Michaelmas were such places of refuge and captivity for sealing gangs and Indigenous men and women. As Captain Grey’s letter reveals, south coast islands were also highly contested spaces, reflecting the state’s anxieties about sovereignty -  and they remain so to this day.

1. The date of the abductions is exact, according to the statement given by William Hook to Major Lockyer. The indigenous men were marooned the day after the French expedition ship Astrolabe departed King George Sound after a stay of several weeks. Rosenman Ed. D’urville, p. 51
2. Menang is the name for the Noongar people of Kinjarling, King George Sound, Albany.
3. Matthew Flinders reported that Green Island, which had been planted with vine cuttings, watercress and other seeds by Vancouver ten years previous, to his disappointment that “the vegetation now consisted of tufts of wiry grass, and a few stunted shrubs, supported by a thin layer of sandy soil, which was everywhere was perforated with rat holes” These ‘rat holes’ were most likely muttonbird burrows. Stephens, Robert, Green Island, Oyster Harbour, Albany History Collection, 59 M, Notes and Letters.
4. Amendment to the Occupation of Crown Land, State Law Publisher.
5. Rintoul, J :the Esperence police also visited the edge of the Nullabour to break up ‘large gatherings’.

Historical Records of Australia, Vol. 3, pp464 -
Colonial Secretary’s Records, Acc 36, Vol 73, Folio 75, Albany, Nov. 17th, 1839.
Helen Rosenman, Ed. Voyage to the South Seas, Astrolabe,  1826 – 1829.
Robert Stephens, Green Island, Oyster Harbour.
Tiffany Shellam, Making Sense of Law and Disorder. and
Shaking Hands on the Fringe.
State Law Publisher, Amendment to the Occupation of Crown Land.
John RintoulEsperance Yesterday and Today
Plomley, BJB Ed. Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of GA Robinson.
Rebe Taylor, Unearthed, the Aboriginal Tasmanians of Kangaroo Island.
W.N. Clarke, Perth Gazette, October 7th, 1842.
Images: Louis de Sainson, Dan Cerchi, Me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Conference of Crows

Two crows meet in the paperbark tree outside my tent every morning. In the gloaming - those still, cold moments before the sun rises over the cliffs, when the wind breathes in before she blows - they stop for their daily conference. By dawn they are gone, to deal with matters of the day.

Someone told me that crows once wanted to be our familiars in the way of cats and dogs. The story went that we rejected them for being too clever, for walking on two legs and that, for avian critters, they resembled our own undertakers a bit too much for comfort.

For a while I lived on crow mountain, home of the local crow moiety. It was there that I finally understood and grew to love crows. One crow I know perched on the rainwater tank and chatted to the black cat. She's a bit Siamese and she talks. This crow always answered her and had something further to say and the conversation ambled along. I've always wondered what they talked about.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Train Ann (Contains images of deceased folk)

 Mary Wheeler. 
C 1925.
Was a shepherdess for Hill's Butchers of York St, Albany, protecting his sheep from the dingoes. Quite a good horsewoman. Often seen riding her sway-backed horse down York street.

Hansen Moses. 
C. 1925.
Sold clothes props around Albany. Believed to be one of the last Emu Tribe from around Albany, Esperance and Eucla.

Train Ann. 
C. 1925.
Aboriginal woman as named because she liked to ride on the Albany to Mt Barker trains.
She and her small daughter died of typhoid.
Believed to be one of last of the Emu Tribe from around Albany, Esperance and Eucla.

Watercolours by Brenda  Holland. Restored by Bridget Pears. Albany Bond Store.


Apparently the word has more to do with speaking deceitfully than a particularly eloquent form of fellatio. I don't feel brave enough to say fallaciloquence out loud but that is probably because there's no one around of quite the right mindset to try it out on. I came across the word written in pencil across a bird cut from a page of an unknown novel  ...
         "It doesn't matter," Justin sai
"It's only been one day, and it's a public high school. If you've got a local address they're required
       you. This way, Tessa can be pregnant and nobody will  know    
                difference. She can hide it, 'cause nobody will know what she really

... and pegged to a table number stand that I stole from a quiz night and carried home, stuck to my bedside lamp to remind me to always speak my truth, as eloquently as possible.

The lights have gone out. I blame the electric kettle which browns the place out every time I switch it on. The rest of the street's houses are firing away which makes me feel a bit singled out and depressed. The rcd's and fuse wires are just not playing. I could write a nostalgic piece about the day the lights went out and how we lit candles and ate dinner in their warming glow and how when the lights came on, the whole family was a bit sad and joyous all at once.
Nah, I'll spare you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Solstice Song for You

June O'Clock at Pallinup

This morning was nasty cold.
Old Salt said, "It's bad gettin' out of bed. It's bad even thinking about gettin' in the boat. But you know, once we get in the boat, everything will be great."
He looked at me for confirmation. I just nodded and snuggled closer to my cup of coffee. The rain started, again. Both of us looked down the hill to where the dinghy lay in the water.
Old Salt began the lengthy process of donning his waders.
I could hear Unruly start up his outboard and buzz out to the rivermouth.

byzzzzerrrp ... then blurp blurp blurp ... as he lifted his motor up over our net.

There is firewood galore since last week's storms because most of the trees that went down were rotted through their trunks and whole limbs of dead wood crashed into splinters through the camping grounds. We only needed to go a few metres from my camp with the chainsaw to find enough fuel for the night's cooking and warmth. Old Salt cut up the branches in the headlights of the four wheel drive after we set nets last night. We lit a fire. I stood with my back to the flames, looking at the stars as they come out, thinking about what to cook for dinner, my bedroom at home, the warm funk of my woolly doona.  The wind (actually it is not even a wind, it is a creeping cold that seeps down the river from the chilly heights of Bluff Knoll) worked its way right into my kidneys or my chest, depending on my orientation.

This morning's wind worked into my wet gloves, making them behave like a Coolgardie safe against the meat of my hands. Old Salt backed along the nets and I picked up, handing him the close-to-undersize black bream to be measured and the tangled up surf crabs. The sky, far from a brilliant shepherd's warning, was the colour of cold steel. We worked in silence. The nets were easy to pick up because there were no fish and this situation usually calls for silence - even when Old Salt and I are getting on okay. There were no mullet songs from me this morning but here is one I prepared earlier:

Mulletty mulletty mulletty joy
'Tis a mulletty morning, this dawn.
All shining and bright
'cause they meshed in the night,
cowl-eyed, those mullet o mullet
are a fisherwoman's
briny delight.

(Blogger still doesn't recognise 'fisherwoman' as a legitimate occupation in its spell check function, dammit. 'Washerwoman' is my only option apparently.)

Anyway. Nasty cold it was and not enough fish.
"Do you wanna go home today?" said Old Salt.
"Oh yes please. But first let's see what the river mouth net gives us."
There was not much going on there either.

We pulled in beside Unruly as he packed fish into the back of his ute on the shore of the inlet.
"Yep, it's all over," he said, all swarthy and weathered and grumpy.
The wind rips into this side of the point. I'd watched Grievous' brother load his boat, nets and boxes the previous day. He'd said he was over the inlet. Until more rains came to wash the fish down, or something else happens, he was off squidding, he said.

Unruly filletted a big yellow eye mullet on a length of wood at the bow of his boat. I commented that it was an eyeless yellow eye. "Yeah. I reckon the crabs took 'is eyes. I'll get no money for this one. Breakfast. Damn good breakfast too."

He didn't scale it first. He cut off the fillets in smooth sweeps with his knife, threw the frame to the pelicans, cut out the ribs, then slid the knife along the underneath to remove the skin. He washed the meat in the waters of the inlet. Then he set to work on the finger bones.
"I know where all the mullet have gone," he said. "They've gone right up the river, by the pools there. They won't be back for a while."
"Where are you fishin' next week then?" asked Old Salt. He likes the idea of having the inlet to himself.
"Dunno. Maybe Irwins, if the undersize crabs have settled down. Maybe squidding. Give us a ring on Sunday mornin'. I'm usually home then. By Sunday arvo, I could be anywhere."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow

The black swans have gone from the inlet. I'm missing their talking cries as they fly overhead. I'm missing the strobe flash of the white beneath their wings as they rise from the water in a noisy pack and take off for another side of the inlet.
"They've all gone inland. They like those paddocks flooded with water. They'll be nesting soon," Old Salt said.

Dab chicks move in vast rafts, glittering in the late sun. They hold their own wake across the skin of the inlet. They are furry, almost like ducklings until I see them up close, their grebe beaks diving under the water and plopping back up again. The whole mob cruises in a single direction. I've seen them fly over the water,  just touching the surface.

Terns work the water wherever they see the dab chicks. All the birds want the anchovies coming out of the river with the new rains The water swells into the rock cliffs, obscuring every piece of beach. At Millers Point there are crows, pelicans, honey eaters, magpies, blue wrens, splendid wrens, spoonbills, snowy egrets and black swans, muttonbirds, Pacific gulls (when they feel like it).

I drove from the Pallinup to the trucking company compound that takes our fish to the markets in Perth. The gates were locked. Saturday. They weren't expecting us but the storms had put all the fishermen (and women) back a day or so. Unruly, whom I'd followed for the last 100 km, and Grievous' brother pulled up beside me. They both pulled the bungs from their ice boxes, standing out of the way as the mullet and bream and ice water pissed out all over the road. Less water, less weight on the trucks they had to pay for.

I rang the trucking company.
"It's Saturday!" a driver said said. "Fuck. Okay, I'll come down. We're not taking fish up to the city til tomorrow though. You'll have to put them in the chiller overnight."

He turned up within the half hour, spinning around his fork lift with pallets for the three of us to load up with the fruits of our labours. I filled out a consignment note and stashed it under the  paperweight. He weighed the fish and nodded to me.

I went home, the fishy clothes and loaves of bread and tomatoes spilling from my army surplus bag as I lurched out of the car. I knew my Mum was up on the veranda and waiting to say gidday but I wanted to just sit in my own spot for a while, make some coffee, return home, pat the black cat ...

On my pin-up board was the ticket to Handel's Messiah. 2.30pm.
Oh, Handel, give me a break, I just want a hot shower.
Honestly, when it comes to priorities, a hot shower after four days living in a fishing camp shits all over Handel's Messiah.
Then I remembered that Haimona was singing bass, and that I was supposed to turn up.

I had a shower, washed my hair. I even put on a frock. Can I leave out the middle bit? The bit about the society news; of who was there and who was not?

The thing that grabbed me about The Messiah is that everyone knows the narrative and everyone knows it will end badly. It's a bit like Ned Kelly or Mr Wolf or the story of any other bad ass in history.
So I'm reading the itinerary and thinking, "well, I, err - I know how this story ends."
It's the spectacle alone, yes? This should be as good as the story. Such is the endurance of such talented folk as Handel.

I was drowsing with the tenors and altos.
And roused with the chorus.
And then that soprano made my teeth hurt. It is quite amazing to experience a real soprano singing straight into your body ...
This all sounds like I was having a terrible time at the end of a very long day, but I wasn't.
It was just great. It was great.

When the choir kicked into "Hallelujah", I closed my eyes and leaned back on my pew. I could not hear them with my eyes open. It was possibly one of the most gorgeous moments in my life. Unfortunately I forgot that King George the 3rd had set the precedent for everyone to stand up when the the strands of 'Halleluja' rang out.

007 and Haimona's girl both poked me.
"Stand up, Sarah. Stand."
So I stood.
So tired. Eyes closed.


She will break

At the camp we wait for the day when the bar breaks. More westerlies, more heavy rains and another mammoth swell like the last one and the whole game changes ...

Inside the Mind of a Whale

'It would appear that we are more willing to consider the possibility of other intelligences on distant planets than we are on our own.'

Keith Howell, 'Consciousness of Whales', in Oceans, 55, vol.10, no. 4, San Fransisco, 1977.


Sand and Sea Trees

Monday, June 11, 2012

once upon a time

Mr Wolfe and the Valkyrie

We all know the dangers - our mothers told us - of tripping through the deep, green forest alone with a basketful of goodies, dressed all in red.
He sees her before she sees him. He sees her basket of fungi, of carnelian tinted armillaris clotted together in bunches, a killer of trees so as to live from its rotting wood for decades.

"They are lovely mushrooms", says Mr Wolf as he steps into her path.
He knows she always wears red into the forest. She is a fresh blood red splash against the emerald green leatherwood trees. He watches her every time she ventures into the cervix of feral blackberries and treads a quiet path leading through the forest where weeds cannot find purchase.
She's a polite young woman, just like her adopted mother taught her ...but still, much of her mother's other advice is brushed away with a flick of brown fingers and a magpie's curiousity for dark and shiny things.

"Will you take some of those mushrooms to my wife?" the hunter asks her. "She is in bed with a chill and needs sustenance."
"Don't be afraid," he adds, thinking she may take flight and leave him alone again with ravens and rabbits.

She considers the stranger, a shaggy man with carnivorous, apple green eyes. She would rather wander through the forest to the other side and out into the sunlight but these two are perhaps kin in their opportunism and so she takes her basket of fungi to his wife's bedside instead.

Trees flash by him. The honey eaters sound alarm calls. He treads stealthy and quick, leaving prints in the moss that spring back softer and greener than before. He told her to take a trail that meanders and weaves - a stream to cross, some bullrushes to circumnavigate. His way along the spine of the mountain is much quicker and he can look down into the valley and occasionally see her scarlet.

We know it is a trap - but it is neat as a nest, this little house. A copper kettle steams on a warm stove, herbs and chillies garlanded above. A goblin feast of cherries and potted cheese goes offering. A clock ticks. It is all one single room in a deep, green forest, divided by a heavy velvet curtain.
"Is someone there?" a querulous voice asks.

She pulls aside the mossy green velvet to reveal a brass double bed entwined with wildflowers. There lies his wife with her broderie anglaise covers pulled up to her pink chin. She breathes heavily, like she has been running.
"Oh, dear girl, you've brought something - mushrooms! Well thank you so much! Come closer."
She steps closer.
"Let me look in the basket."
She steps closer again and shows the wife her basket. The bedridden wife takes a golden orange mushroom to her nose and inhales deeply - a musky, secret scent.
"Can you comb my hair, my pretty?" It does seem a strange request but anyway, the wayfarer girl combs twigs and lichen and fleas and feathers from the wolf wife's shaggy mane. The wolfwife smiles. She never shows her teeth.
"Now, fetch yourself in alongside me, dear. I have a chill and need more warmth."

Of course, we know this story. "My! What big teeth you have!" says she dressed in red, when the triumphant hunter reveals his canines and his maleness in one lecherous, lupine grin.
He gathers her squirming body against his, peels her like a ripe, opening fruit and says, "All the better to eat you with!" Ha Ha!

But he doesn't know all about her yet - Miss Lupa, deadly flatterer and a war monger's daughter - he is just as pleasantly surprised and only slightly chagrined when she behaves so agreeably.
He menaces, "I am going to eat you!" And she is acquiescent to this pleasure. She is eaten whole, raw and from inside out and still she is unafraid. She is only afraid of one thing in the universe and that is falling. He is not capable of dropping her right now.

He eats her alive, all gravelly tongue and ivory tooth and when she is sated, she spills like umbrel seed across his belly, listening to the breath of the world beneath his tawny flesh. She hears birds and rabbits squirming inside his stomach and then she lifts her head and calls him Master.
"Master, you are not done with me yet!"
It sounds odd to call him Master when what she utters is a command but this is how it is.
She binds him down for her own unholy joy. She binds him to the polished brass with creeping tendrils of wildflowers. She kneels back to watch them weave throughout his fingers and toes, bedevil themselves around his extremities. She suckles him then, like a thirsty fawn, hungry for milk, her cheek lacquered to his curly hazelnut pelt, her fingers tormenting his brown, fat nipples. She makes her own self his one single dwelling in a deep, green forest. She plants herself in all his nerves.

We know now that it will probably end badly for Mr Wolfe. Someone will arrive with an axe very soon. Mrs Wolfe is likely to stove one through his belly, fatally venting her rage against her infidel husband, as is the Woodcutter, a compulsive rescuer who has always been in love with Miss Lupa.
Both have the passion behind their grasp of the haft and they are masters at swinging an axe.
Deary, deary me. Just wait.

Mr Wolfe is subject to base witchery as his tendril-flayed skin sprouts fur under her fingers. She strokes their mushroomy juices all over themselves and draws out soft new hair with her hot palms. She sings to him. It calms him. All prickly wildflowers release their hold. He rolls all over her and she cradles his great animal body and her skin flickers with heady delight.

Mrs Wolfe is returning home with a brace of fat river mullet swinging from each meaty fist. The Woodcutter, work weary, his axe balanced across his shoulder, sees the Wolf's little house with its gently smoking chimney and thinks he might drop in for a cup of tea.

They come from different directions and their minds are engaged in their own unique and tangled peace that a deep, green forest day may present. But they are smashed out of their reveries when they see a Valkyrie go shrieking naked into blue sky, sunwards, her mad hair streaming brazen red and riding on the tousled back of a magnificent grey wolf.

She is only afraid of one thing in the world and that is falling but Mr Wolf will never drop her now.

Otago Diary

 I bought the journal from a woman at the Denmark Markets. She'd made the paper herself and bound it with kangaroo hide.

I punched a hole in the hide, wrapped twine around the book, locked it with the tooth of a seal that washed up at Cosy Corner, and took it to Dunedin.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bombie and the Beast #2

Full moon eclipses, wild storms and transits can make for strange times for some people. But just before all that excitement, something happened to me, or maybe I happened to something and I've spent the last few weeks trying to work out how to situate this experience. To work out anything freaky, I usually have to write it down. So I'm writing it down.

I walked along a wide, white beach east of here. The place was zinging with oxygenated energy from the wild sea. Above the beach was the shack to dream about; rusting corrugated iron walls and a hessian sack for a door, a veranda that looks out to a magnificent sea and the place is so wild and lonesome that you never want to leave.

The swell was huge but the sea was a bright and friendly turquoise.
I reached the end of the beach and climbed across one of those sloping walls of granite that characterises this part of the country. The granite outcrops make gate posts for all of the curving, pristine beaches on the south coast.
It was here that everything changed ... and the sea suddenly turned.

I always find this dark nastiness absolutely thrilling. It's like a Dirty Three dirge or a good Cormac McCarthy novel. It's not a need for morbid entertainment. It's something about the ripping yarn and the pathos inside all that blackness. So there I was, standing on the wet, black rocks, doodling about with my mobile phone, taking photos of the bombies.
Old Salt always tells me, "Remember that the waves will go right up to the vegetation. Anything below that is the danger zone."

The wave loomed up just as I'd turned my back to the sea. (Again. Yep.) I caught the flash of white foam. I didn't even turn to look. I just started running. For some reason I'd been feeling a bit fragile in my body that day but adrenaline is a very cool thing to have cranking through your blood when you think you are gonna die. I ran over the rocks laughing and terrified and sat up where the petty spurge and succulents grew around the rocks. From my roost I watched the water crashing in gigantic, messy spumes, sucking back over the granite and straining through barnacle teeth, through churning channels of kelp and galloping back to the bombies.

It took a little while for the ramifications to sink in. I sat there, grew more and more appalled at myself with every wave I watched. It's my Mum's birthday. I've got two kids. I've grown up here. I should know better. I knew folk who have been taken by the sea, trying to catch a salmon off the rocks, playing chicken down at the Natural Bridge, gone off The Gap.

That night, I loaded my photographs onto the computer and the image below puzzled me. I couldn't remember taking it. Then I looked at the photos on either side. Shit.
It's one of the spookiest pictures I've ever taken. That's me ... running.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Do you use a pen or a computer?

I tend to use coffee.

When I got home from the fishing camp today there was a lovely little cardboard box from America in my pile of mail. Inside the box was a cup, wrapped in the sports section of the May 22nd edition of the San Francisco Examiner (which is just about as seriously fucking cool as the cup ... well to me, anyway).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Visiting the Bones

"It's June the 2nd," Haimona said today, when I told him about the whales singing off the Pallinup inlet two days ago. "They're bang on time."

Two years ago when a pod stayed in the Sound for months, rolling away their barnacles and showing off their babies, I sat at a cafe eavesdropping on two men at the next table.
"So, what are you up to for the rest of the day?"
"I'm visiting my Mum, then going back to work. Then I'll see the whales on my way home." As well as work, visiting Mums and whales had become part of folks' daily itinerary. Dontcha just love it?

Over the spring of this year, I've taken to visiting another pod of whales who stranded and died on a beach east of here twenty years ago. It has been a mission to find their graves again and my visits have evolved into a habit of the more nocturnal variety.

 The flex and surge of those spines moved the massive bodies of the whales through oceans. I can only guess at their memories.

I love visiting these whales. They have been long dead but I only have to lay a hand on one vertebrae to hear their journeys. I feel the spine that swam their bodies through whole oceans to Antarctica and back ...


Friday, June 1, 2012


As I was saying ... 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.

Fisheries. Old Salt hadn't seen them and they didn't stop to say gidday. An hour later I watched them chatting to Unruly, as we picked up the rivermouth net. "They're not cops or tourists. Better check where your demarcation point is," I said to Old Salt.
"Well, fuck. I dunno where it is. Must be where I chucked that buoy. Anyway. Let's get this net out of the water, go in and say good morning like the gentlemen we are."

  They measured every fish from every single box.

Even the big ones

Old Salt looked stressed but he had nothing to worry about. Everything was size. "I've been fishin' for sixty five years and never been convicted of nothin'!" He told them. "Betya I don't get charged for another sixty five."

There was a quibble over his license because, like a drivers' license, you have to have it on your person. Old Salt rambled around his glove box and his wallet, his caravan and his dog, stalling and telling yarns.
"Just ring the office and ask them if he's got one," I suggested.
One of the officers walked off to follow his satellite phone around and find some range. Old Salt went into the caravan and made some coffee. I chatted to the other officer while I packed fish. Eventually the first fisheries officer came back, shook his head and they drove away.

They've been watching him for a while now, well for a few decades actually. They would have liked to have got him on a single under sized bream or an overdue license but they were out of luck this day.
Life goes on. New fisheries officers are born, go to school, to university, get a job. The Old Salts of the world just live on, lurking the inlets, getting wilier and smellier every year.