Sunday, July 27, 2014

Interview with a pigeon fancier #2

It seems that I am now the proud owner of a book about pigeons.

It all started when I found the remains of a racing pigeon, plus the ring that had once encircled its leg, in a gnamma hole at the top of Mount Waychinicup. The ring had a hutch number and that night I googled the owner of this pigeon and entered into the strange world of pigeon fanciers.

Recently a West Australian publisher asked if I'd contribute an essay to their anthology and given that my little pigeon obsession had been incubating nicely in the mean time, I decided to write about the great southern pigeon racing fraternity. So I went to interview the local pigeon bloke, the one who had been raising and racing them for more than seventy years. Random interiews with people can be great in that interviewees can stray into a bigger, better stories. There's a bit of witchery going on there, but also, people have more pressing stories to tell when they know someone is interested enough.

He didn't want to talk much about pigeons. He showed me his birds, loaned me the above-mentioned book and then said, "Now I'd like to tell you about the Kalgoorlie Race Riots of 1934." What he told me was a raw and first person account of what happened in Kal in the 1930s. I recorded it and posted the transcript here.

I rang him about three weeks ago. I begged for a longer loan of the pigeon book because I hadn't finished it yet, and said I'd drop in a copy of my own book Salt Story.
"Well, I've been a bit sick. Just been in hospital," he said on the telephone. "That'll open yer eyes, won't it? Can you leave the book on the back veranda? I don't want to go outside today. It's too cold."
I parked in the driveway and went round the back of his house, past the garden gnomes, potted geraniums and cast iron garden settings and left the book, wrapped in a plastic shopping bag under the clothesline.

A few days later, his name was in the death notices in the local paper.
This kind of passing away, someone whom I'd had a cursory but ... what is the word ... instructive... enlightening? I'm not sure. He wasn't a loved one to me. We never even shared a cup of tea. But he told me about the race riots because he was there as a six year old and he wanted someone to record his story. He said he was the last one alive to witness the event. I'm not sure if he is right about that, but I reckon he'd be close.

He told me of standing at the window with his mum, watching the Italian and Slav women walk out of Kalgoorlie pushing wheelbarrows full of their belongings. Cooking pots, tents, clothes, food. "Their faces were as black as the clothes they wore," he said. "From the soot, you know. [Their houses had just been burned down] That'll open your eyes, ey?"


  1. Messenger pigeons, and what a message. Nice to see you back, Sarah.

  2. Absolutely ... and thanks Tom. It's not so hard is it. Seemed to get more and more difficult the longer I was away.

    1. I'm guessing you are working on book 2, so may have been putting out a lot of words anyway?

  3. Yes, I have been. Normally I can blog and write other stuff but I just ran out things (that were remotely interesting) to say!

  4. Wow, what a great epitaph. And what a great way to go...still living in his own home, hopefully while still quite functional. And so wonderful for you to have caught his story, just in time it seems.

    Re the absence of blogging: you may have noticed I dropped off the airwaves towards the end and after the writing of my thesis too. I still haven't recovered......and I don't quite know why. I think researching and writing the thesis fuelled the blog somehow. But now, echoing your comment, I feel I don't have anything interesting to say.

  5. Yes, that is the word, epitaph. I think he was at home when he went, or at least he was when I rang him the day or so before.
    Sometimes I feel like this doctorate is just sucking all the juice out of me. I can't wait to find it again. A colleague said that when he finished his, he thought he would never write another word in his life. Two months later he had completed a novel for his young daughter.
    So there is hope. I also don't want to waste precious blog time whining about the whole process. I'd prefer to write something funny. Just don't feel that funny!

  6. What was the book like?
    The first post you made about that old man was really good I thought, the passion and spit of his recount. Sorry to hear he has gone and yes, as above, lucky and fortuitous, strangely poignant and maybe even divinely designed that you met him when you did..

  7. I still haven't finished the book Ciaran. I've been back to the history books for my thesis lately, but Pigeon is beautifully crafted. It's time to get started on this story proper methinks.

  8. Might write you a letter I think..

  9. Nice story Sarah. I've been on the road with limited or frustrating computer access so I haven't been reading anyone else just happy to swear a lot and get a couple of my pieces up. If you've been away I didn't notice but it's nice to read your lovely work again. Writing breeds writing eh? As do encounters with people. I've had some good ones lately. I've been reading Robert Dessaix's "Night Letters" as I've been moving and writing and have learnt something from him. He injects himself and his musings into his writing so well - I've learnt to acknowledge the gaps as well as the facts of stories. Best of luck with the thesis. Luckily I'm past all that. Not even tempted.