Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Wild West and a Writers Festival

Hi, I'm heading west next weekend to the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. I'm really looking forward to catching up with the sisters and other writers and everyone who comes along. Strangely, I don't feel nervous or apprehensive about public speaking this time around. One festival I appeared at, the organisers had me slotted in for two hours, talking on my own! I drove there with a pit of terror in my stomach. I lasted an hour on stage and by then the crowd, who'd been wheeled in from the local nursing home, had mostly fallen asleep. I generally have a great time at these gigs and often, after a festival session, I walk out of the room and can't remember a thing I've said.

I'm in good hands at MRRWF it seems, and there will be friendly faces in the crowd too. It's being held at the grassy, grapey expanse of Voyager Estate. Germaine Greer is speaking at the launch on Friday night and oh my god I am so bloody gonna be there.

Friday morning I'm doing a session with novelist Holden Sheppard (see the side bar for a link to Holden's blog) and poet Elizabeth Lewis about what makes a writer want to write. And more importantly, keep writing. Oh dear. That's me, stalking around my lap top like it's going to bite me if I get too close. Maybe it will bite me, or maybe I'll just produce a mediocre bit of writing. Self loathing or self doubt is both poison and fuel for writers. Then there is laziness and a house to clean or possibly even restump. We are introduced in the program as a motley mob, which is kinda funny as I gave the programmers my scruffiest but favourite author photo:

Things get salty in the afternoon when I get together with the brilliant Amanda Curtin.

Her novel Elemental begins in the early 20th century with the herring girls, girls who followed the herring fishermen as the fish ran down the coast of Ireland. Their job was to gut and clean the fish. It's a wonderful novel that ends up in Fremantle. Amanda and I have done sessions together before and both of our books are oceanic with all of those myths and superstitions attached to that way of life. Fellow inlet-dweller and fisherwoman of legend Ms Mer has my copy of Elemental and won't give it back, it's that good.

On Saturday, I get together with Liz Byrski, Jodie Moffat and Susan Sullivan to talk about the anthology we produced Women of a Certain Age:

Also at the festival will be Kim Scott, Germaine Greer, Anna Funder, Michael Leunig and Germaine Greer and heaps of others and Germaine Greer. Here's a link to the program:


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Light and Shade #2

  Out of some really dire stuff can come moments that are funny or wondrous. I never thought I'd be having a discussion on inter-generational male violence with a senior member of a bikie gang, but there you go. We ruminated on this topic at his kitchen table for an hour or more. Or the copper, a man who I went to school with. standing outside the morgue and patting my shoulder. He always seemed too nice to be a copper and maybe that's why he is so good at it. However all I could think, as he patted my shoulder, was how I wrecked his racing bike when he lent it to me thirty five years ago. Brought it back with the gear cog all mangled and he wouldn't let me pay to get it fixed.
  The funeral parlour scene, the final viewing of his body, fraught with politics, a family feud, a tiny red dress and the First Wives Club. The Mothers Us, steering ourselves away from the rather magnificent spectacle of genuine grief inside, having a smoke in the car park together. It turned into a kind of black British comedy with someone threatening to push someone else into the coffin and 'shut the lid'. Ethical me is sitting back and thinking, 'Now stop it Sarah, this is a very sad and confronting event' and Writer me is thinking, 'This is absolute gold. This is great copy.'

Monday, April 15, 2019

Light and Shade

I've had these crank phone calls since I identified his body and gave my details as the mother of his son to the police. 

'Please ring this number regarding the estate of your ex husband Mr Drummond' ... (he was so not a Drummond) ... or 'We are ringing regarding the insurance on the car crash.'

When I press the callers on details, they hang up on me. After the third call in the two weeks after he died, I began to feel a bit paranoid. I've never had such targeted calls before. Normally, they just want to tell me that there are problems with my internets. Was that form I filled out in the morgue compromised? I have no idea. Maybe it really is random scam. Dunno. There is not much normal going on anymore anyway.

I wish they'd washed his beard, the first time I saw him, after the last time I saw him. His beard used to be red when he was young. It hasn't been red for fifteen years. His beard had greyed over the years but it was red last Friday. A false youth stained with his own blood. I wished they'd washed his beard, as I slumped against the wall in the morgue, looking at him. Police waited outside with forms and frowns and nods and hellos. I'd been to high school with one of the coppers and wanted to hug him and say sorry for his racing bike whose gears I'd derailed and destroyed in the 1990s.

There was an insect like a midgie flying around the face, around the bloodied bandages and his skin and his tattoos and the cardiovac stickers stuck onto his chest where they'd tried to save him. I like to think he'd brought that midgie in from the bush and it had stayed with him. We kept trying to shoo this bug away and it wouldn't go away. 

We met later in the hospital cafe. All of us were thinking Fuck. and now ... what to do. What do we do next? What do we do?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Let it Ring

When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken,
Do not clutch it:
Let the wound lie open.
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt,
And let it sting.
Let a stray dog lick it,
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell,
And let it ring.

Michael Leunig

Thursday, March 21, 2019


There's an eagle in there. It's the first time I've seen her land on the mountain. She must stand two or three feet tall.

My doorstep lizard who gives me a fright every morning at the tower and to whom I feed blowflies.

The car park below the mountain yesterday. Nothing to see here. I went home instead.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Three Valkeries

‘Had the records of the Colony not been preserved with fidelity and care ... it is not improbable that some future writer might have extolled Walloa, the female native, into a heroine, as the defender of her native woods against the aggressions of the British and placed her on a level with the British Red Queen who, it is said, resisted the Roman Arms for nine years. Speculation as now regards VDL is quite out of the question – and forever so.’  Jorgen Jorgenson.

And so the last king of Iceland got in early and declared with all the authority of memoirist and Roving Party officialdom that the Pallawah warrior woman Walyer (aka Tarenorrerer) never be compared with Boudiccea again. Standby Jorgie, I'm about to do just that.

This morning I was reading some great stuff from the fabulous The Raven Report about Lilith and Boudiccea, and so on International Women's Day, I'm heading over to the dark side to where, when a woman is seriously wounded by being presumed born unequal to man, some really nasty shit can go down. *Says brightly* Happy International Women's Day folks!

Walyer was born around 1800 to the Tommeginne people in the northwest of Ven Diemen's Land. She was initially abducted as a teenager by the Punnilerpanner people of the Port Sorrell region on the north coast of Van Diemen’s Land and sold to Bass Strait sealers.1

Aside from the sealers’ kidnapping of women for labour and sexual purposes, warring tribes whose territories were being squeezed by the white settlers, also kidnapped Pallawah women from other tribes. The kidnapping of women by rival tribes and sealers in Van Diemen’s Land could be viewed as an act of reproductive warfare; wherein women’s fertile bodies become the site of conquest.To paraphrase Lyndall Ryan, to take ten women of child-bearing age from a Pallawah band, takes away the future of the band. This act of war was practiced by both white settlers and internecine tribes.

Walyer spent the next decade on Bass Strait islands. She was probably subjected to a harsh regime of violence for minor misdemeanours such as stealing food, and she may have been traded between sealers for sex and labour. Despite the hardship of her existence, Walyer exploited the relationship between Tyreelore (island wives) and sealers to her advantage. She learned to speak English, to handle small boats, and most importantly, Walyer learned how to use and maintain firearms.

Walyer escaped the sealers in 1828. She returned to Van Diemen’s Land in the middle of the Black War,* where she gathered together a band of guerrilla fighters, mostly Tommeginne people including two of her brothers, Linnetower and Linnlikaver.2 She taught other Pallawah people the use of firearms, knowledge she’d gleaned from the sealers. Her organised attacks are said to be one of the first occasions of Aboriginal Tasmanians using muskets against the colonisers.3 During these attacks, Walyer was described as carrying a fowling piece and standing away, often on a high hill or rock. She would call out to her victims in abusive language, a woman goading them out of their huts to face her spears and if they did so, her warriors shot them. 

Walyer by Julie Dowling

Like Boudiccea, like Lilith, Walyer was not to be fucked with. All three had been supplanted, cast out, abused and underestimated. Lilith, in the Judeo Christian tradition was created equally from the earth with Adam but turfed out when she tried to assert this status. Boudiccea was seen as a soft target by the Romans once her husband Prasutagus died, leaving her in charge.

In December 1830, G.A. Robinson wrote about Walyer:
"By these men [the sealers] she has been tutored in all sorts of mischief. She became so desperate – and possessing a great deal of cunning – she was not only dreaded by the whites, numbers of whom have been massacred by her, but she was a terror to all the natives she came in contact with, a great many of whom this Amazon caused to be killed."4

Robinson was also the subject of one of Walyer’s attacks:
“On another occasion he was tracked by an escaped lubra Tererenan or Walyer, “the Amazon”, who, at the head of some desperate Aborigines, declared a war of extinction against all Whites and any Natives who were friendly with them.”5

When the situation in northern Tasmania became too dangerous for Walyer due to her attacks on neighbouring tribes (including the one who'd sold her to the sealers) and the Black War intensified in its ferocity, Walyer returned to the islands – and the sealers. Her two brothers and two sisters also went with her. 

“It would appear that Walyer ran away from the natives and made her way to the sealers in consequence of one of the black men trying to kill her. One of the women informed me that the black man beat her and broke her back with a waddy (Walyer states that her back was broke by a fall from a tree but this I don’t believe), and intended to have her killed but she got away and made her way to the sealers, with whom she had formally cohabited and where she considered she would be safe.” 6

For two years Walyer lived with a sealer John Williams on Penguin Island, working, sealing and muttonbirding between Penguin, Bird and Forsyth Islands with several other Tyreelore. In December 1830, John Williams and seven other sealers were wrecked off the Low Isles between Clarke and Penguin Island. They were marooned for eight days and survived by drinking a seal’s blood and eating the flesh raw. Williams and John Brown made a little boat out of seal skin and tried to cross the ten mile passage to Clarke Island to get help. They were never seen again.

Whilst the men were marooned, G.A. Robinson sent his agent James Parish to Penguin Island. He wanted the Tyreelore to be taken from their sealer husbands and sent to Swan Island, the first of Robinson’s ‘exile islands’, as he had promised the island wives to their Pallawah countrymen to pacify the men into submission. Walyer was one of the women captured that day. “The straitsmen who had survived their ordeal returned to the comfort of their island homes after being rescued by James Parish. However Parish took away all of their wives to Swan Island,” writes Tyreelore descendant Patsy Cameron.7 Apparently, the sealers were very pleased to give up Walyer, indicating further her fearsome nature and that she was no passive kidnap victim.8 

Lisbeth Cheever-Gessaman. Boudica. 21 century.

On Swan Island, Walyer’s identity was quickly discovered despite her changing her name to Mary Ann. The Pallawah man Peevay saw her recognise and call to her old dog Whiskey. Three survivors from one of her attacks were also on the island. Walyer dealt with this situation by attempting to create Anglophobic panic among the inmates of Swan Island, claiming that soldiers were coming from Launceston to shoot them; that they would be chained or gaoled. This wasn’t an unrealistic claim, given that martial law had just been called in Van Diemen’s Land, meaning it was now legal to shoot or capture Aborigines who entered the ‘settled districts’ of the north.9 But the resulting anxieties were enough to justify Robinson exiling Walyer further and isolating her from the other Tyreelore. In March 1831 he evicted the sealers on Gun Carriage Island and moved the captured Aborigines, including Walyer, into the empty sealers’ huts. 

Walyer died on Gun Carriage Island in June 1831, from complications of a common cold.

Walyer, who had witnessed first contact with Europeans and the Black War in her lifetime, came from a culture where women were not traditional leaders of war parties. “The emergence of such a female leader, at the time an unprecedented event, says much about the way Tasmanian Aboriginal society was breaking down. Throughout the island, the traditional power structure was collapsing.”10 Women fought beside Walyer, including her own sisters. G.A. Robinson claimed that other Tyreelore women were apparently present with Walyer at the Thomas/Parker killings.11

Walyer’s attacks on fellow countrymen and women make her a problematic character in a narrative of internecine battles during a third party invasion. McFarlane writes that she returned from the islands with guns and therefore wielded “an inordinate power over the relatively defenceless Aborigines who still inhabited the coastal region.”12 That she possessed firearms and readily taught others how to use them quickly inverted the power structure of Pallawah society. Walyer has been criticised in historical narratives for attacking rival tribes already on their knees due to disease, the sealers’ predations upon fertile women, attacks by the agents of the Van Diemen’s Land Company and the toll of the Black War.

Walyer was also criticised by writers during her own lifetime as a pugilistic but inconsequential pain in the neck who shouldn’t be taken seriously. Black Line veteran and ‘Last King of Iceland’ Jorgen Jorgenson attempted to shut down all future narratives of Walyer being portrayed as a female hero of freedom and resistance in Van Diemen’s Land. She was no Antipodeans’ Boadicea, was Jorgenson’s argument, fighting for her “native woods”, “resisting the Roman arms for nine years,” though it would be tempting for future historians and storytellers to portray her that way. Thank goodness, he wrote, for the “fidelity” of colonial records, which made it clear that the warrior woman of the 1820s was no more than a bloodthirsty troublemaker who showed little discrimination between her attacks on coloniser and colonised.

A black woman with guns, a black woman who cohabited (and eventually sought refuge) with the ‘banditti sea-wolves’ of Bass Strait and rallied a guerrilla band to fight for her country is not conducive to Van Diemen’s Land’s settlement narrative or stuff of national myth.This is probably why you may never have heard of her.

“She fought on behalf of her people with bravery and tenacity in a war for which there are not memorials.”13 Jebb and Haebich write that Walyer’s “individual resistance campaign in north-west Tasmania shows that she deserves epic status.”14 Such is the contention between the two contemporary portrayals of Walyer that The Companion to Tasmanian History has not one but two, contrasting, biographies of her.

Australian women rarely feature in nationalistic narratives of warfare. The story of Walyer’s violent revenge attacks upon Van Diemonian and Pallawah people who wronged her terribly has been downplayed ever since, whereas the narratives of wronged-white-man-turned-outlaw/hero, such as Ned Kelly or Ben Hall, have inspired books, songs and film and formed part of our national identity.

As a Tyreelore, Walyer’s response to crimes against her body, her family and her country was extreme and unprecedented. However she was not the only Tyreelore to practise a violent form of resistance. “Some, who had been either coercively taken by sealers or had been sold or bartered by husbands and fathers, occasionally escaped to rejoin their tribes after which, Calder claimed, they could not be restrained from joining in, ‘sometimes leading the attack.’ Walyer was one such leader, who crossed all social borders ...” Those Pallawah women, especially the island women, were fearsome to behold.

* The Black War occurred in Van Diemen’s Land between 1824 and 1831. For more information please see Clements, N., The Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania, University of Queensland Press, 2014.

1. Ryan, L., ‘The Struggle for Recognition: Part-Aborigines in Bass Strait in the Nineteenth Century’, in Aboriginal History, Vol. 1-2, 1977, pp. 27-51.

 2.  Plomley, Ed. 2006, p. 334.
 4. Plomley, Ed. 2006, p. 330.
5. Plomley, N.J.B. Ed., Jorgen Jorgenson and the Aborigines of Van Diemen’s Land, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1991, p. 80.
 6.Plomley, Ed. 2006, p. 334.
 7. Cameron, P., Grease and Ochre: The blending of two cultures at the colonial sea frontier, 2011, p. 130. As well as the women, Parish took sixty pounds of muttonbird feathers and sixty kangaroo skins which he claimed as his own, despite the produce resulting from the labour of the women. Plomley, Ed. 2006, p. 331.
 8. Ryan, L., 1996, p. 150.
 9. Clements, N., 2014, p. 54.
10.  Lowe, D., Forgotten Rebels, Unpublished edition, 1994, Available from (accessed 12/09/2012)
 11. Plomley, Ed., Weep in Silence: A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, 1987, pp. 860-867.
 12. McFarlane, I., ‘Walyer’ 
 13. Matson-Green, V.M., ‘Tarenorerer (1800–1831)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,
 14. Jebb, M.A., and Haebich, A., ‘Across the Great Divide: Gender Relations on Australian Frontiers,’ in Sanders, K., and Evans, R. Eds., Gender Relations in Australia: Domination and Negotiation, Harcourt Brace, Sydney, 1994, p. 40.