Thursday, October 4, 2012

Getting Bailey Down in the Lookout

Old Salt was in his caravan, reading the paper and eating lollies, waiting out the day until we could set nets again. I asked him if I can take the dinghy out to the sand bar. I wanted to go exploring past Cag's Camp, around the corner to Groper Bluff. And could I take the dog too? He nodded, twice.

The real reason for my coastal hankering that day was not to explore but get a handle on how to write Samuel Bailey kidnapping a seven year old girl off the beach on this same stretch of coast. I'd been intending to do it for weeks and kept putting it off. A day in Bailey's company is no fun. Writing in the quiet blue room can be an insular experience and invoking Bailey just makes me squirm; the twisted shit he'd done. (In case you have not been following this tale, Bailey and the little girl are real people from the 1820s.) When writing Bailey, I'll sometimes go across the road to the pub and buy myself a bottle of wine just to get through it.

After anchoring the boat in the soft sand of the bar, taking care to shelter where she wouldn't blow onto the sand and get stuck (a real bastard when I'm the only one to push off - the dog is never any help), I headed for the gathering of salmon shacks perched above the sand dunes. Wandering along the track to Groper Bluff, I was thinking about snakes and my bare feet and the flowers and saw those amazing mushrooms that bounced out of the barren soil like optimistic aliens.
And then, I came across the whalers lookout ...

Oh boy. Was this one of Cairn Man's depredations? The structure looked 'worked on' ...too tidy for a 19th century job. I really hoped it wasn't Cairn Man. In the end, I deduced that it was an original that had been fixed up a bit. There is a whalers lookout on Cheyne Island, adjacent to Cape Riche, which is very similar in structure, although a little bit more ragged. Stormboy found it when I dropped him off there a few years ago.
"Mum, I'm feeling really sick ..."
"We've still gotta pick these nets up."
"Get me off this boat! I wanna go home."
"How about I drop you on a deserted island for an hour?"
He nods vigorously, "Please Mum, please."

(Call me a bad mother if you want but I still find it hilarious that my son preferred being dropped off on an island, all alone, as a ten year old, rather than hang out with me, providing berley for whiting.)

Shore based whaling east of Albany predated the colonial era and many of the whalers were Americans or from the Eastern states. They chose beaches like this one to flense the whales, setting up their trypots and reducing the leviathans down to mere barrels of oil and bones.

I sat inside the shelter on a flat stone that some kind soul had prepared earlier. Suddenly, I was warm, the sou-westerly at my back. Of course it was a whalers lookout. Sou westers are the season for whales. The utilitarian nature of the structure all made sense. I looked out to sea and thought a bit about what it would have been like.
Samuel Bailey and the little girl just swam straight into my head. I wrote down the whole scene as fast as I could, before the march flies found me.


  1. Brilliant way to write. I completely get how these things, these themes or 'images' inhabit one's psyche - it really is a facing up to the dark side. Good onya. I really look forward to reading about it.

    I've just recently spent days repainting a third of an image (painting) that has inhabited my psyche for decades, and this particular painting for 6 years. I SO didn't want to go back there - the power of images can't be overstated.

  2. The funny thing was, it was dead easy, MF. A bit like channelling, the story arrived fully formed. All I had to do was write it down.
    Nice work on your behalf too!

  3. That's the way to do it. Totally real.

  4. Going back to your original Cairn Man post in 2008 (great, by the way..) I recognise the name Keyser (the 1957 inscription in the stone by the cairn). Keysers were from Bussleton. Alice Keyser married William Dunn of Woodburn, Porongarups. John Dunn's older brother. Charles Keyser, her father, arrived around 1850 in an American whaler and settled first at Vasse, where he had a family and later at Esperance. There are Keysers aplenty, I'm sure some in Albany..

    1. That is amazing, weird and more than a little bit serendipitous Ciaran. Connections like that have been happening to me all week. Thanks for that.