Saturday, May 14, 2022

My life in May

 On my knees before the hearth, it's a nightly ritual of prayer and matches. I like to arrange the kindling in a pyramidded grid over the cube of firelighter. 'That's cheating,' a friend said to me once. A lazy critique, since I was the one holding the axe and the match. I could use newspaper, I guess, but having to twice light a fireplace as the sun goes down sets up a superstitious dread in me. The spack and cackle of a happy fire bodes well for an evening.

The swans have left for the inland paddocks. This year there were hundreds of them, summering out in the inlet. All night I could hear them chatting to each other. Now there is the owlet nightjar, squawking her coordinates as she begins the hunt. Driving to and from work, the sun is always low and bright, strobing between the trees, blinding me suddenly on the hairpin bends through the forest.

Selkie's best mate Sexy Rexy is back. His humans are over at the bush camp behind my house. He's part dingo and lives in a rubbish bin - just like Oscar the Grouch but much nicer. I do love this dog with his black points and dingo habits but damn does he have to piss on everything? Even my mosquito net is not immune. He turns up at daybreak and my outstretched arm tells him to get out. So he does ... but not before Selkie slinks off after him and they disappear for hours. I'd love to put a go pro on her collar to find out their travels.

The commercial fishers are back with the beginning of the inlet season. And some old surfer/yachties camped in the hollow just near my place. There's me - circling around the idea of being alone, circling, circling and then finally settling into my nest like a dog - and then sitting around a campfire with people who are happy to tell me stories.

A prescribed burn across the inlet was going on and the evening opened with clear skies and glassed off blood red water, a true wine-dark sea of fire and light. One of the commercials gave us some flounder and we cooked them up. Fell upon them like kelpies, crunched through the crispy skins to the sweet meat, sucking white flesh from robust rib bones. I haven't eaten flounder for an age.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Gentleman John

 He is a quiet sort, Mum's neighbour. A sturdy man with a soldier's gait. One day I pruned the bushes on her driveway and the only good it did was to expose Gentleman John's majestic marijuana growing on the other side of the fence. For the next month, Mum had to see it every time she did the dishes. We all knew he was a good gardener but this was next level.

I'd be chopping her wood and he'd stop by the asbestos fence and say gidday. He'd strung up a dead crow on the apricot tree. There's a riot of dendrophilic orchids bouncing out of a dead marri stump too.

When I worked in the cafe, he came in for a daily coffee and paper and rang his son every Saturday morning. Because he was partially deaf, John was a shouter. The whole cafe was filled with people trying really hard not to eavesdrop. A blow by blow rendition of every show he's seen on TV that week. Every Saturday. Yes, this an obituary.

He was a Vietnam vet who 'never left a man behind', according to another ex-SAS local. When I asked about why he pulled his socks over his trouser legs, he said 'condoms while sleeping too, my friend, those leeches get in any way they can', and who in the depths of his worst PTSD sleeplessness, would walk around town with a backpack full of bricks, checking locks, securing the stations. Once he'd done his nightly round, he could sleep.

I really liked John. He was a cool guy. Two weeks ago he died of Covid and I went to his memorial today. He didn't want any fanfare. From what he said to Mum, he was ready to go. Apart from his pulled-up socks, I liked his hat best of all, how he always called me 'friend', gently, and how he drove through town, looking straight ahead.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

An Iteration of Moby Dick

I've been listening to Moby Dick, read by Phoebe Judge, during my long drives to the city and back. Judge also works the podcast Criminal and she's always blown me away with her quiet and polite laying out of an outlandish story. I'm not one to fall asleep to true crime podcasts and I still avoid Criminal as a go-to-sleep option - but I absolutely love her work.

Reading Moby Dick was a wade (sorry) for me. I tried it as a kid and then even as a groan up I could never get past the bit where Ahab held up St Elmo's fire and declared to all onboard that he was after the white whale and that was all there was for it. From there, on reading, the book seemed to descend into intricacies. Ishmael's voice was lost and even Queequeg's harpoon lost all its bearings.

What I discovered on listening to the reading recently was that this is one of the best books ever written on 1800s sea whaling. Melville's diversions into manila rope, the roles of seamen, of Pip offering up his very bones to Ahab, of boys black and white moved from ship to ship, of how to dismantle a whale at sea, of how to boil them down into barrels, of the cooper and carpenter, speak to a whaleman's experience in a time when they were three years at sea.

 It sounds macabre and it was so. Ahab's obsession with the white whale is but a sideline hustle in this book. It's like an instruction manual, a pretty accurate oral history and a call of warning to landlubbers before the great wars.

Vali Myers, Moby Dick, (1974)

Sunday, March 27, 2022


 Today I was spared from the tower due to rain covering huge areas of the south west. (Awesome!) Awesome because I've just injured my back in a freak bull ant incident.

I came down with a head cold a few days ago and I'm sure the office staff were wondering what was going on with my new dulcet, throaty tones on the UHF radios, calling in smokes with the gravelly firetower version of a certain community radio announcer. I did myself a few rapid tests just in case, all clear (how does anyone even catch a head cold right now?) but I felt like shit and it was a hard climb up the mountain on Friday.

Yesterday was my first day off in ages. As every year, and now ramping up due to climate change, the fire season is extending - and my other job at the uni is seriously overlapping the fire season work, where it was once a comfortable transition. I've been working an insane amount of day/weeks straight this year and last.

So ... had a day off.Some neighbours came by to drop off their boat and we stood chatting as they unshackled the trailer. We talked about the Donnelly fires that are reddening my every sunset and then I felt the bull ant bite just above my belly button.

'Hang on,' I said, trying to brush the critter away. I felt another bite on my upper arm. This fucker must have jumped up onto me! Another one on my forearm ... I looked around desperately for baby bracken furls to cure the pain radiating from my skin ... nothing. Fuck.

'Okay guys, sorry the clothes are coming off,' I said to my appalled visitors. They stood by the boat, not knowing what to do as I ripped off all my clothes in the driveway, trying to find the bull ant.

In my hectic Maenad dance to rid myself of my clothes, I felt the lower left lumbar area of my spine ping. Like, a muscle in my lower back just literally went PING!

My neighbours drove away, probably shaking their heads, and I've spent the weekend on voltaren, Netflix and other anti imflammatories, trying to fix my back and the numerous bull ant bites that are spreading over my flesh like lava.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

A Little Eagle

Today I saw an owl as I climbed towards the tower. It flew out of the bushes towards me and gave me a good hard owl stare. I'd followed a white breasted robin as it hopped along from limb to limb just ahead, leading me onwards up the mounatin away from her nest. One step, two step ...

This afternoon a little eagle and its partner flew around and around the tower, shrieking at each other and the nesting birds that yelled back at them. Then one landed on the fence about two metres away and eyed me off.


Sunday, February 6, 2022

Birds Reign

Oh this rain is wonderful and such a welcome reprieve to the last week or so.


It's been so hot and scary-dry and out-of-control-bushfires are getting called in every day. Evacuation centres set up and the heli-taks are filling up with water on the school oval. A woman is walking around town looking for her cat. Her house burned down and she was staying at the backpackers, she said.

As I drove home today, the rain has created that 'shedding' phenomena that I mentioned about the same time last year - the karris suddenly shed their bark when it rains after a hot spell. The roads were covered in crunchy tendrils of tree skin where ever I drove through a karri forest. These skins look like snakes in that they curve and move on the road. 

Over the hot days, I've put fresh water out for the birds and animals. I never feed them here. My thoughts are that they've survived fine without me for millennia, but I know they just love fresh water. They get so excited when I fill up the old enamelled pot. Yesterday I watched a sacred kingfisher come in for a drink, then a wattler which in keeping with its thug reputation, had a glorious bath for fifteen minutes while the king parrots waited patiently. Red robins, silver eyes, spotted pardolotes, firetail finches and thornbills. Then, early this morning, a Carnaby landed. 


This cockatoo seemed to like the general idea of water but was so bloody huge and couldn't work out how to actually bathe in it!

Saturday, February 5, 2022


 Okay so this view to the south is where all the shit gets real for humans re bushfires. If you've been following, West, North and East of the firetower are largely national park areas with little or no people living in the area. To the south of the firetower however are roads, farms, towns and primary real estate.

Because there are so many more people living or moving in this area, our tower job is kinda obsolete. We will spot, plot, report and then forget all smokes we see to the south. We know heaps of people and the brigades will be on it already. But I've spotted three or four bushfires in the north so far this week and they haven;t been half so sexy in the media.