Friday, December 19, 2008

And it's a Poguemahone Christmas to Yer!

I would post a Christmas song for you, my very most bestest favorite, if I could navigate the link thing! (I will work on that one again, when past the Luddite-rage stage.) The song features Kirsty McColl, in a duet with his sodden handsomeness, Shane MacGowan, who collects together aviator sunglasses, his usual random assortment of bad teeth, and that mad genius Celtic/punk ensemble that are The Pogues - to sing The Fairy Tale of New York.

Kirsty McColl died eight years ago in a scuba diving accident, when she was run down by a Mexican supermarket millionaire driving a speedboat. Shane McGowan usually looks like he is three days settled into morgue ice but is still quite alive.
Happy Christmas friends, stay safe, may your wake be straight, watch out for scuba divers and eat as much yummy food as you can stuff down yer gullet!

Seashell and the Horned God

He is my new friend and one day soon he will return to my home. He is the strong silent type but not adverse to creating controversy. I don't know what his lineage is, I don't even know his star sign.
"I think you are the only girl who will really appreciate him," Seashell told me, as she presented him to me on the doorstep one day. Good call, Seashell. We left straight for the bedroom, this horned God and I.
"My goodness me," my step mum exclaimed. "How can you keep him in the bedroom?"
"Pretty easily really," I leched. "Anyway, there's just nowhere else he should be. Imagine one of my kid's mate's mothers seeing him, when they dropped by? He has to stay in the bedroom."
I kinda got used to him being around. He was like my mate. I'd wake in the morning and there he was, my boyfriend by proxy. It is to my great regret that when I found someone else, the Horned God had to leave, exiled, his existence compromised by jealousy and insecurity.
He can draw a strange reaction from men. Bob had problems with him. Old Salt reckons he's disgusting. During his exile to a friend's house, my horned god had a sarong draped around his hips and finally was turned to the wall, to avoid offending the other house males. Now, why is this?

Like his mate Pan, perhaps the Horned God only really exists when people believe. Seashell lovingly painted him into life during her Minotaur stage. For a while he was lonesome except for other minotaurs and exquisite monsters, until he found someone else who really loved him, which was me. Sometimes, he is just too powerful but I kind of miss having him around.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cairn Man

I am in danger of becoming my nemesis school teacher, the history buff, that woman who glared at me over her weird glasses and decided that dead people were far more interesting than us squirming and very much alive 8 year olds. (She threw a duster at me once. She could have read my obituary and finally approved of me, if she'd been a better shot.)
Okay, not quite that crusty. But history grabs me. It grabs me the same way a good tale hooks me out of the present - which according to all the lotus-legged existentialists is where I should be - and back into Enid Blyton land, a far more pleasant place.

I've been reading about the initial European forays into our area lately. Their prepossessing assumptions that the land was theirs for the taking, classifying the plants, measuring the 'indians' and climbing mountains to view their new territory is quite astounding. Says I, with my computer and a car out the front, sitting in a tidy cottage overlooking the very same bay. It's difficult to remain indignant when we are so bloody compromised by our comforts and ancestry.
Anyway. I wasn't going to write about all that. No, it was cairns actually, those beautiful, ceremonial piles of weathered stone that humans need to build, and a particular character of these parts whom I shall name only as Cairn Man.

Vancouver had his men build two cairns, one atop Point Possession and one on Seal Island, adjacent to what we now call in peacetime, 'Whale World'. They built sealed bottles into the heart of these monuments, with notes inside advising of the HMS Discovery's visit.
After an English hiatus of ten years, in 1801, while William Westall sketched the island and the others killed seals, Flinders climbed to the peak of Seal Island and searched for this cairn. Everything was gone, the staff, the sealed bottle. Even the stones were gone.
Looking at Seal Island, I think that the stones would have been rolled by a bored sealer or Frenchman (after they discovered the promising bottle only contained a shitty piece of paper) down the smooth, streaked granite and into the sea. That would have been fun.

Maybe there's more to the disappearing cairn.

Reading this stuff brought to mind Cairn Man's plight. Aussie and I were sunning ourselves at gorgeous, deserted Whaler's Cove, when a fit-looking young man came and lay about fifteen centimetres from our camp.
Aussie smirked at me, because she just knew. She knew me well enough to anticipate my next sentence - "Hey mate! There's a whole beach here!"
"I always come to this spot," was his reply. "There's less march flies up this end."
For the rest of the morning he subjected himself to our snorts of laughter, every time he slapped one of those bloodthirsty march flies off his body.

A few weeks later we saw him again, at another little cove nearby. He waded shirtless through knee deep water, carrying two basketball sized chunks of black basalt. He looked amazing, if a little ... um ... demented.
"They've just knocked down my last one," he explained angrily.
I'd seen it. The cone of black basalt rose from a granite monolith surrounded by snow white sand. I'd even taken a photo. I told him this, forgetting all about the march fly incident, I was so impressed.
He laboured back through the water to get more stone. "Where are all the stones from the last cairn, the one they knocked down? Aussie asked.
"They're gone," he said. "They always put them back."

It gets better. Cairn Man built cairns all over the place. He told us some names and they were far and wide, east of Albany, to the islands and all over Torndirrup.
They get dismantled regularly and the sum of their parts scattered or placed back where they came from. I could tell that it absolutely infuriated him. In fact, it made Cairn Man so upset that it had become his mission to regularly revisit these 'destroyed' cairns and rebuild them.
I also realised that on the day of the march flies, he didn't camp next to us because we were the only humanoid females on the beach. It was simply his spot.

I walked away from Whaler's Cove that day with more questions than answers and I've been wondering about it ever since - in my Enid Blyton moments, usually when someone is saying my name over and over. That afternoon, Aussie was plagued with my text messages.
"Maybe he needs people to knock them down, so he has something to get angry about, a life purpose?"
"Who puts all the stones back? Why?"
"Why does he build them? Art? Beauty? Post-pissing?"

That was about eighteen months ago. I haven't seen any of his cairns for a while. I haven't seen Cairn Man either.
A few months after that day, Aussie and I climbed down into the cave at The Gap.
It's just past the Natural Bridge and you have to know how to find it. You have to trust, to squeeze through the narrow passageway and wriggle through the next. It's very claustrophobic and there are moments of real fear.
Then, suddenly, you can stand up and walk into a cavern the size of two classrooms. Graffiti going back to the 1950s is daubed all over the granite. The surf booms in your ears and you feel way below sea level, even though the flat earthen floor is bone dry.

We lit some tea lights and looked around us. As our eyes became accustomed to the light, we both laughed wonderingly at the complete cairn, right in the centre of the cave.

Post Script: Maybe I have not been looking hard enough. I found the cairn pictured above, today out at Torndirrup. And just as interesting, I found this carving in the stone beneath it.
"C. Keyser. 1957"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Breath of the World

Swollen golden moon rose over Mt Martin and dwarfed a container ship that swung on its anchor, waiting.
The flathead of legend chose not to offer itself up to the wily entreaties of Old Salt, yet again.

Gawain is out checking his leather jacket pots. He bends over the beam, red anorak illuminated by the dangling fluorescent light. The wind drops. Water heaves with the breath of the world.

We pick up nets with rows of whiting heads and fish rendered utterly unrecognisable. Stingray.
I like stingrays. I like to stand in the water at Whalers Cove and watch their dark shadows fly by. But then I ate some one day and I never again felt the same compassion to tip them out of the net.

Staunch tugs nudge the Kwan Yin with her cranes, into the timber. The Goddess of mercy and motherhood once had her iconic place on dash of my car. She now distributes super phosphate all over the earth.

Wheat laden silos, smooth-plastered chrysalii amongst the preying mantis gantry, chugging conveyor belts, orange lights and steaming hot woodchips, waiting for those vessels high on the water, out near the islands. Ships in, ships out. Breathe in, breathe out.

The moon is swollen, fecund, bigger than seen in years, closer to the earth. She's right here.
The oceans rise up to her siren song. It's a huge tide. At the jetty, after only a few hours fishing out in the Sound, the briny is swilling all over the wooden planks and gently but forcefully, as water is wont to do, urging our return to land.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dorothy, Dorothy

Dorothy Porter has just died, of breast cancer at age 54.
She was my first verse novel. She writes (she wrote) spare, telling novels that you can read in an afternoon and then again the next afternoon because you just don't want to leave. A lesbian detective genre set in Sydney, the grotesque, nightmarish reign of an Egyptian Pharoah, a madhouse run by the rapist doctor.

Like Borges (although the bar is raised here and how to compare anyone to Jorge Luis Borges?) Porter could deliver a novel in a few pages, tightly drawn, poetic, rhythmic - and yet as dense and as intricate a tale as 70,000 words.

My first time; The Monkey's Mask. It was an epiphany, that moment when I knew exactly how it should be done. This is how to write, this is how to deliver a tale. By cutting it back and cutting it back until the bare bones are released and bleached stark with the sun's light.

She is an Australian Great. I still feel a bit stunned to think there won't be any more words from Dorothy Porter.

Verse Novels

Akhenaten 1991
The Monkey's Mask 1994
What a Piece of Work 1999
Wild Surmise 2002
Eldorado 2007

Photo. Steve Baccon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big Cloud Town

This afternoon, steam rose from the bitumen roads.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Little Girl

Eclipse Island
A little girl, strayin' from the East.
It is the 1820's.
Our Allegiance-
India, England and
Not a white woman to be seen.
Sealers, they say
Are the scum of the Earth
They sailed her here,
This motherless child.

The lost child - painters love that theme. Led away by the twittering Gidaichy birds, deep into the bush, never to be seen again.
Sealers stole this lost little girl and took her to the ends of the earth, so far away that no one knew the sound of her name, and they dropped her over the edge.
She may have hailed from Van Diemans land, stolen with her mother for wives and divers of crayfish.
It is 1827, wild days. Allegiances were with India and England. Gangs of sealers roamed all along the south coast, dropped off by their boss on some godforsaken island with three months of victuals and told to await the return of the schooner. They could be waiting eight months, a year, forever. They found things to do with their spare time, like mounting violent raids to steal women from the mainland.

In Albany, sealers from the Hunter, a Hobart owned schooner, slid into the harbour in their dinghy to find the Amity and Lockyer waiting for them with a few questions.
"Why is there the body of a man on Green Island with a bullet through his side?"
"And why are there four more men marooned out on Michaelmas Island?"
The Major didn't know about the girl yet.

They were a colourful assortment, the gangs of the Hunter and the Governor Brisbane. Thomas Tasmin was a 'Blackman', as was Robert Williams, probably African Americans. William Hook was a Maori, Pigeon - a Sydney Aborigine. This was back in the Wild West days, long before the administration got bored enough to fiddle in eugenics or introduce a White Australia policy.
Not that the sealers would have taken any notice. These men were feral, pelagic like the Great White sharks that roamed the same winedark seas, well outside the jurisdiction of any fledgling nation state.

Hook confessed to taking the men out to the island, because he'd been asked to. The Aborigines wanted to go muttonbirding. I don't think they expected to have to swim back and it seems that they were quite dismayed to see the boat leave for shore again.

Four other sealers must have been feeling opportunistic with some of the tribal men away and, armed with cutlasses and guns, had left on a foray at 5 a.m. and abducted four woman from Oyster Harbour. Two escaped. The other two were taken to Breaksea Island.

On discovering this, Lockyer checked all the other islands around the Sound for women and culprits. On Eclipse Island, that craggy dinosaur of granite and low scrub that lies off Torndirrup, Lockyer found another woman, in terrible condition, "who had obviously suffered much at the rough hands of the sealer," Samuel Bailey.
The little girl is almost an aside when D.A.P. West tells the story in The Settlement on the Sound. After all the drama and public floggings to appease justice and assure the local Nyungars that they were Nice Ghosts, Lockyer "himself escorted the unfortunate woman and a small girl who had been Bailey's unwilling slaves."

A small girl.
The locals welcomed back their women but indicated that the Sydney Aborigine Pigeon should take the child home to his people. She wasn't Nyungar. She didn't belong with the two Tasmanian women, Dinah and Moonie, nor the woman stolen from the mainland opposite Kangaroo Island.

Lockyer wanted to keep Pigeon as he was a worthy interpreter. (Interesting huh? 270 language groups coast to coast.) So on the 24th of January 1827, three days after he officially annexed the whole western third of the continent to the British, he put the little girl aboard the Amity and sent her to the Governor in Sydney to deal with. He also put her persecutor Samuel Bailey on the same deck, to stand trial in Sydney for the murder of the Aboriginal man on Green Island, and sent the Maori, William Hook, to testify against him.

England's stake in the whole of Australia had been proclaimed and the work of the Amity was finished at King George Sound.

And the little girl? What happened to her? Did she survive? I think about her sometimes and wonder. The stories of Aboriginal women and children stolen by sealers are usually only documented in the form of begging letters requesting flour rations from the colonial administration. Maybe she is somewhere in the state records of New South Wales. I'd like to find her.
She is a lost child. She is folded back into history, stitched like a wraith of smoke into the inky night.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bad Fairy

Miss Tooth Fairy has gone too far. I should have known this frail relationship wouldn't last until the molar stage. Now she wants hush money!
"You don't want his heart broken, do you?" She flexes some brawn on my doorstep and thumps her fist into her other palm. "Fifty dollars a month in this bank account will fix everything."
She is Good Fairy gone Bad, embittered by an identity crisis only the mythical can suffer, being told she does not exist, being told she does exist, supplanted by greedy parents who insist on keeping teeth themselves, then being blamed when they get drunk and forget to drop the cash in the jar of water.
"'The tooth fairy must have forgot!'", she mimics me. "I heard that, you know. I'm over it. I'm sick of being nice and forgiving. Just hand over the cash, bitch."
She won't accept peanut butter sandwiches, Anzac biscuts or counselling. She wants money or she will tell all, even where the stash is.

This makes me especially nervous because my ownership of these glossy, bloodied little pearls is dubious at best. I have been hoarding them, hiding them, bringing them out in secret late at night, just to look at them. One day I would like to make a necklace from them.
When I plead poverty, she says, "Okay, well just hand over the teeth and we're square. I can make a few add on sales somewhere. Come on, you owe me."
"No way!"
"Look darling," she levels me with a jaded, flinty eye. "Heaps of folk just chuck them out. What's the problem?"
"You are the problem!" I say, getting rather pissed off now. "Just tell him then! Go on! Break his heart. Santa just dropped in a few days ago and laid the hard word on me. So we might as well get the whole lot done in one shitty week!"

Friday, December 5, 2008

$How Shall I Spend Thee?$

It's official. I don't have to sell the children for scientific experiments until at least January.
Working a lot has been good for the bank balance but having a "child that attracts Family Tax Benefit Part A or B" makes life even better this week. My rigorous genetic selection criteria has paid off yet again. It's great having attractive children.

Sooo... mmm a thousand bucks, how shall I spend thee? It's a calculated move by the Man, delivered with all the same benevolence of Roosevelt's Resurrection campaign during the Great Depression. Imagine handing over a thousand bucks to every cashed up exec? It would be stashed under the bed quicker than your neighbourhood Casanova. Rudd knows that those on the bare bones of their arse will spend, spend, spend and right before Christmas too. Doesn't really matter what on.

Rough estimation time (and it is very rough because I'm having problems downloading Census data) - a population of 28,000, an ageing demographic who are likely to be as attractive as my children + 3,000 primary school children, fifty percent of whom are attractive.

This equates to at least one eighth of this town's population being in the aisles of Kmart by Wednesday next week. That's three and a half million dollars, a conservative estimate, injected into this town's retail sector in a matter of days.

A friend says, "Why don't I get a thousand bucks? I could do with a thousand bucks."
"You're a single, white male," I tell him, suddenly feeling heady and arrogant due to ingesting too many economic stimulants. "You don't have to pay the tooth fairy her hush money."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flotsam #3 Rubbish

My son arrived on the long, hot toil home from school, ambling past the road side chuck-out and collecting bits and pieces as he went. Originally, it was bicycles he was intending on rebuilding but it is rapidly degenerating each day into defunct barbeques, sofa lounges and old men's suitcases.

"But look, it's got a waterproof covering!" he cried, giving me the remnants of a busted umbrella. "It's got that famous artist all over it." Van Gogh's Sunflowers. "I brought it back because I thought you would love it, Mum." Hmmm. What to do.
It calls for diplomacy, humility and the love only a mother can give, on the day you are presented with a broken umbrella by your son because it has Van Gogh's sunflowers all over it. "Take it out to the verge, son!" I tell him. "It's really pretty and I've trained you well but ..."

The city of Albany is entering a new phase in the art of recycling rubbish. Every couple of months they throw everything out of the tip shop and into the dump. It's strange policy for an administration that is trying to avoid landfill. Their next strategy is even better. It's called 'Waste Minimisation.'

Have you tried to give away a television lately?
Oven? Computer? I mean actually give it away, no strings attached. Ask your neighbour/best friend/policeman/day care lady/guy on a park bench if they want a free TV/oven/computer/printer/scanner/microwave. Odds are they will say no because they bought a you-beaut piece of shit for $29.95 just the other day from Hardly Normal, because it's cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the ink cartridge. Either that or they are hocked up to the eyeballs on G.E. Finance, trying to pay off something a whole lot more expensive.

I discovered this recently, when having to clear out two whole households of functioning electrical debris. You can't give it away.
The next step for me is to ask the Op Shops. No. Everything electrical must be certified by an electrician as being safe to use, due to State government legislation that came in about six months ago.

I finally found a nice old lady at one Op Shop, who said she would take the bedside lamp, computer monitor, scanner, television and breadmaker on the condition that she would ask for a donation only and not make a sale on the items. Blessed are the resourceful elders, hey?

The Albany Tip Shop won't take anything electrical, any soft goods such as mattresses, clothes, couches, shoes, gas appliances or toys. It has morphed into a sad arrangement of failed pottery careers, oversized,wooden balinese salad spoons and wardrobes with Lego stickers all over them. This is all down to the city's 'Waste Minimisation Strategy', something that primary school kids visit these days as part of their educational experience.

Strong words? Do you know how heart broken I was to sit two perfectly good televisions and a gas stove upright in the rain at the dump and hope that someone would take pity on them and give them a good home? Meanwhile the landfill grows at an exponential rate due to a window between the availability of cheap, expendable crap and the council's inability to deal with the resulting effluent.

I also have a grudge. This is the girl who has letters after her name, due to an unfortunate incident where I was banned for good from the tip face for 'scavenging' two dozen pots of Cymbidium orchids. I don't know anyone else who has been banned from the dump, which is why I appropriated the letters for myself. Sarah Toa.BFTT.(Grad Dip.)

(I think after that spray I will have to find a use for the Van Gogh umbrella.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Ode to the Humble Valencia

I'm not really impressed with Valencia oranges. Navels are my favourite. I love gazing at navels. However this is a story about a Valencia orange moment.

I was on a cross country mission from Albany to Byron Bay in a 1976 CF Bedford, with some of Grandma's money and an agenda to sort out a rather pressing family mystery. (We did sort it out too, thanks to a Welsh hippy in Mullumbimby, but that's another story.)

I drove from the South Australian/ Victorian border to Echuca in one character building, moonlit night, where jack rabbits launched themselves bravely into my roo bar and rice fields glowed like a scrabble board with gridded irrigation drains. I drove all night in a kind of wasted, exhaltant, post Nullabour daze to meet up with Our Sunshine and party with the heathens at ConFest.

It was the day of the Tsunami but we missed that.
For the next week we were out of mobile range, bereft of newspapers, television, alcohol or clothes. Well, not bereft of clothes, it was a matter of choice. My daughter observed that at this particular festival, "only folk between eight and eighteen actually wear anything."
It was hot and there were rules about cameras.

I cuddled my Our Sunshine at the gates. She showed us the beautiful camp she'd set up for us all and then we indulged ourselves in a whole week of not driving, of massages and yoga and life drawing and swimming in the river and dancing and chai tents and mud baths and body painting and heavenly music and perving on naked men we'd seen on TV before somewhere and weaving dream catchers.

On the sixth day the January heat settled into the dried out floodplain at 41 degrees. The chalkboard workshop itinerary announced that on this very day there would be a class called "FRUIT APPRECIATION."
Our Sunshine and I looked at each other. "Fruit," we said in unison. Iced watermelon. Grapes. Cherries. Apricots.

We signed up, or rather we thought we'd drift along, which is how workshop registration worked in these parts. The kids, by now having formed a tribe of opportunistic little ConFest ferals, (think 'Lord of the Flies' with the parents all being the 'littluns') decided it might be worthwhile to turn up as well.

We all sat in a circle, in the sun, at Midday, waiting for this class to start and greedily dreaming up our own orchestral platters of fruit. Kind of like the ones in those opulent paintings, or scenes from the era of Julius Cesear or Cleopatra.

He was late. One hour late. He finally walked into the centre of the circle, a bandy legged hippy with a feather in his hat, carrying a plastic shopping bag full of Valencia oranges.

I know the difference between Valencias and Navels on sight at fifty metres - even through a Woolies bag. I groaned to Our Sunshine, "I fucking HATE Valencias."

We were so hot. We were not allowed to sit in the shade. We all had to tell fruit stories. One man spent half an hour elaborating on his adventure as a fruitarian. It was a set up. The fruit guy was eyeing off the topless guitar siren and trying to concentrate on his lines. The orphan brood that had attached themselves to me in the morning were dissolving into heatstroke cases and all trying to sit on my lap.

Finally we had a Valencia placed in front of us with great care and reverence and for ten minutes we were allowed to look at this orange. Then we were allowed to pick it up but NOT SNIFF IT.

You can see where this is going. This is the bit where the oppressed becomes the oppressor, where Amin and Mugabe go psychotic, after all that power for the people stuff. This is the bit where the hippy with a feather in his hat starts calling himself Milgram and quotes from 'The Perils of Obedience'.
That's what I was thinking anyway and I muttered as much to Our Sunshine.

But when we actually got to taste that Valencia!! Oh My! When we bit a hole into her leathery hide and sucked her dry, ate her whole, ate her from inside out! Oh My! Oh!

I got it. I got it the next day, when we cranked up the Bedford with jumper leads and drove out of the ConFest flood forest and halfway along the winding track back to civilisation, we saw an ode to the Valencia - an orange standing atop the rotting plinth of a stump - a single citrus fist in the air to the joys of a Valencia on a Mad Dog Day.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Archival Songsters of Pelagia

You can be driving around aimlessly on a Sunday, looking for something to look at. As you do the curve on Marine Drive there are a bunch of people standing together, a large bunch. This is obviously no evangelising soap box sermon, even though this town has been demonised before as a festering haven of God Botherers.

When you pull up to find out what all the fuss is about, you see the strangest combination of citizens. The hard nosed real estate salesman is holding hands with the Nyungar elder. Night nurses yawn and rub their care worn paws against the Health minister's brand new Chanel suited back. A couple of teenage girls actually smile at their mothers and the mothers actually smile in return, before looking back out to sea.

Alright, I'm making most of that last bit up. But I'm quite sure this scene has happened once or twice on the wild shores of the South West.

Whales do these things to people.

When whales appear, rolling off their barnacles on the white sands of Middleton Beach and parading their babies, people who would normally stride past each other, avoiding eye contact on their power walks, actually begin to commune. They lend each other binoculars and stand close enough to feel the warmth coming off each other's bodies. Everybody and each individual within a few hundred metres knows in their water that the whales are here to visit us.

Old Salt came back from a cruise out into the Sound, all misty eyed and converted. "It was just great," he told me. "They swam straight under the tinny and all around us. We could have touched them." This old whaler said it was the closest he'd ever been to a whale, "in Peacetime."

Native American tradition says that whales are the record keepers of the earth. I like this idea. Those pelagic archivists, closer to us in structure than their fellow fish, are said to have witnessed times when the earth went through catastrophic change - more catastrophic than Bush and Howard both being elected a second time. This was really bad. The oceans of the world rose and their Motherland - Mu - sank beneath the waters.

I think when we see them, we intuit them as our record keepers. They remember where we came from.

With a memory like that, no wonder the locals are aghast, in love, blown away and humbled by these leviathans gracing us with their presence. It was only thirty years ago (this week) that the last whale was harpooned in Albany waters.

Photograph courtesy Dr. Louis M. Herman/NOAA

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Droog extra? Fisherwoman?

It's pouring with rain. York street is a river and the concrete stairs on Stirling Terrace are efficiently washed straight into the Tourist Bureau car park by the deluge. This is very cool, coming from a woman who gets excited about the weather. I saw a matronly patron dance in the river outside HangleFeds at midnight. The taxi drivers watch her, muddy water swirling around their axles.

There is thunder and lightning, there are French refugees fresh from Esperance, huddled in a leaky van in York street, as the Southern Spring hammers down five inches overnight.

(Yesterday, in some cafe with Shark, we spy a generic white van with the 'Backpacker' insignia. "What is with this?" I say to Shark. "They are not backpackers. They are driving a mini van." "Yes," he mutters sagely. "They are one step away from the Winnebago.")

I'm not sure what this is all supposed to be about. Well, a few ideas. a) The Weather. d) Becoming a fisherwoman. c) Drinking butterscotch schnapps on a day that is looking increasingly unpromising except for a great musicians party looming this eve. d) All of the above.

All of you uni buffs know that in multiple choice questions, if you are well and truly stumped for an answer and you are sweating under the steely gaze of the INVIGILATOR, it is statistically most likely to be c). BUT, if the answer d) 'all of the above' should rear its ugly head BEWARE, think about your mother and what she would do - and if that doesn't work, just put a big fat cross on d) anyway.

I just rang Old Salt. "This is nuts. Do we have to go out?" As I keep reminding people, I am a fair weather fisherwoman. (Why does Microsoft object to 'fisherwoman' and not 'fisherman'? It is pretty sexist really, for a mindless interface.)

When I talked to the snow capped Birthday Boy at Cosi's this morning, he said, "I hear all these people who have bosses and are so unhappy in their work. I've always worked for myself, it's the only way to go." He mentioned that one of his jobs was as a Droog extra on Stanley Kubrick's 'A Clockwork Orange'.

We all stared at him. He's a DROOG? Fuck!
He said, "You know that scene when he rapes that woman in the snow? I was one of the droogs, in a top hat and clapping as he did his bit."

It's a less than safe life being a Droog extra, a roadie or a fisherwoman. You have to hustle for cash and get off your own arse to find it. I discovered this in the gardening round part of my life. It's not so difficult really, if you know what you are doing.

I realised, this week I think, that fishing has become my primary income and that I have officially become a fisherwoman (through CentreLink, bless them), instead of someone who just goes fishing.

Old Salt is saying, "Why don't you get some bins in your own name?" His point being that if separate fishers present their wares to the markets in Perth, the price is best with their first bin in auction and degenerates from there. So if we have two names, we make more money per bin. That's his logic. Mine is, I just like the idea of sending bins to Perth with my own name on them.

There are other reasons why I like the idea so much. One is the Hemingwayesque angle, the fishing and writing thing, that beautiful interplay of words marrying the cerebral and the physical. (Forgive me, I'm reading Hemingway at the moment.)

Writing about my other jobs as courier driver or kitchen hand don't conjure up the same kind of sexy. Henry Miller would probably disagree, with his treatise on his job at the Cosmo Coxcic Telegraph Company, probably translated as 'The Asshole of the World Telegraph Company', a celebration of the mundane within the relative exotica of Paris.

Myself, I find it hard to wax lyrical about consignment notes or the amount of marron I've boiled alive in one afternoon. When you get out on the WineDark sea at night and hear whales that you cannot see, except for their phosphorescent meanderings, and listen to Old Salt's poaching tales and experience those biblical occasions like The Night of the Flathead, when the boat is threatening to sink at midnight under the freakish amount of fish you've caught - that is a writer's paradise.

Still today, the pot belly is cranking and there's lightning all around and a bottle beside me and Old Salt wants to go fishing. My wet weather gear is, well, WET. It's only gonna get wetter. We haven't made much money this week and yet, to look outside makes me feel quite flaky. I'm just not that tough. In fact I'm feeling decidedly girly in the best sense of the word. I have the red dress hanging by the pot belly drying out and am trying to work out just which pair of high heels I'm going to wear to this party.

Old Salt rings again. "The weather's easing up. Let's go and catch some King George Whiting."
"Is it really?" This is me, who lives looking out to the South where all the weather comes from. Dammit. I like this fire. I like my red dress and its potential, (another theory, wait for it). Dammit.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rotting Thorbryn

Yes, she's been up before, this post.
Yes, I'm a bit lazy and
Yes, I like this story enough to drag her back up to the front!

She was born of the detritus of World War II. Dismantled tanks, trucks, railway track were melted down into billets and blooms, beaten out into panels and riveted together to create a new monster.
She was an apocalyptic, piratical vision for the protesters of 1977, men and women who lurked in Zodiacs behind Michaelmas Island in the predawn gloaming. They saw the whalechaser steam past, her high Antarctic prow bristling with the barbed spine of a cannon, and Johnny Lewis said to his partner in the fight against whaling, "I don't care if I have to swim 30 miles back from the Shelf. There's no way I'm ever gonna get on that ship." *

In the 1860's, Svend Foyn, 'model puritan capitalist' citizen of T√łnsberg and nearing retirement, designed an innovative ship that revolutionised the whaling industry. The slower, more bouyant Bow whales were now becoming scarce in Arctic waters. The ‘Captain Ahab’ style hunts - stalking whales in wooden whale boats, with hand held harpoons and the mother ship under sail nearby - were unsuccessful with the quicker whales and those who uncooperatively sank to the bottom upon killing.

Foyn wanted faster, steam powered chasers that were quick enough to chase down those open ocean cetaceans that had so far escaped the eye of the gunner. He invented a cannon fired harpoon with an explosive head and winches for playing and hauling in the kill. For his troubles he was granted a ten year monopoly by the Norwegian government.

"Revolutionising the industry' is always a graveyard epitaph when hunting animals, certainly it was dark days for the whales. Within thirty years, the whale population in the Finmark region was decimated. Thus the Antarctic epoch began in earnest.

The Norwegians commissioned Thorbryn and her sister ship Thorgrim to be built by the English. With the fleet of chasers and a factory ship, they worked the Antarctic grounds every season for fifteen years, travelling from the northern hemisphere to the white south and back again.

Thorbryn ended up here in Albany in 1963, purchased by the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company and renamed Cheynes 2. Theirs was a daily hunt, rather than the months at sea. They chased down and harpooned the toothed sperm whales that cruised the deep waters off the Continental Shelf.

The men were hard, pragmatic, multicultural (in a white kind of way). They were top of their game - well disciplined, high status, fat wallets.
It all fell to bits not long after soldiers came back from Vietnam and sometimes I think they must have felt the same way, redundant from the jobs they were most respected for and being derided for doing it in the first place. World opinion had turned against them. It's just the way it is.

Cheynes 2 had a stint as a star exhibit at Hobart's Maritime Museum until maintenance became an issue. She was 'requisitioned' on a scientific expedition to Heard Island that was beset with drama, documented in the movie The Ship That Shouldn't Have. She returned to Albany under sail.
She became the Boy's Own wet dream for several entrepreneurs who just wanted to save her - and rightly so. Who wouldn't want to own a decrepit Norwegian whale chaser?

The stairway you can see is where I first met Bob. He was the 'strange long haired man playing guitar'. This is the stage when Cheynes 2 was to be converted into a floating restaurant in time for the America's Cup and went spectacularly broke instead. Bank repossessions followed.

Then one day, when everybody seemed to have thrown up their hands about the Cheynes 2 - tethered to the deep water jetty in a shameless state magnificent dilapidation, complete with the grand velvet booths and a stainless galley restaurant kitchen, a four poster velvet and jarrah bed in the wheelhouse and the rivets rusting off her sides - she broke her moorings in a wild storm and landed on the rocks.

After that, her destiny was ordered by the harbour master of the time. She was towed straight across a major shipping lane and laid on the sand bar at Quaranup where she still is today. Thousands of pigeons call her home. The engine room is full of water. You have to be careful not to step on eggs and chicks, or to put your foot through her crumbling decks. One day she will fold in on herself and dissolve into the sea.

*This quote paraphrased from Chris Pash's book 'The Last Whale.' I'd give you the page number but I've lent the book to Old Salt!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Diary Liability

I've kept diaries for twenty years. At some stage I tried to call them journals and coveted Bruce Chatwin's manly buckram covered, grid paper journals, complete with the elastic strap. However when I actually saw them in a book shop in Dunedin, sold as the 'real thing' by some enterprising publisher, I found them too small, too gridded and altogether too wanky. Am I gonna garner that man's roaming storytelling genius by buying the same journal as he wrote in? No.

This post is really about self censorship, the problematic exercise of diary keeping and its modern day equivalent - blog casting. Many of us who blog may never have been so secretive and precious as to keep a diary. The whole thing is an antithesis, instantaneous publication versus the furtive habits of the angst ridden, purging diarist - but then again many of us are animals of the same species. There is fire in our bellies. We have something to say. We wanna write it down.

'Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or
sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.'
~Madeline L'Engle, writer

Shark wrote once that it is in poor taste to slag off one's ex on one's blog. I don't think I've stooped to that yet but I'm about to now.
The first one (there are a few) I won't stoop to slagging because I still like him, yummy, difficult piscine creature that he is. In a moment of masochistic self immolation I said to him, "Well you really want to know what I write down? Go for it! Take three." I gave him three diaries and sent him away. He returned a few days later, kind of twitchy and pale, saying, "I want more." So I gave him another three.

He returned with them, wanted more and so it went on. Then for the next six months I fed him various lines, defending the motivation behind my innermost, nastiest little outpourings. And some of these moments were sordid. Poor guy, he was flabbergasted.I was writing myself out, trying to wrangle out the bullshit from the maneuvers I'd made that were totally beyond my own understanding. Why did I do these things? I didn't really know until I'd worked it out in print. Then I knew and then I evolved. Unfortunately those who read them were on the page where I hadn't, and did not understand that I was no longer the same person.

I don't actually regret that one, even though I got chastised by a bestie, "Why the fuck did you do that? You NEVER, EVER give your diaries to a boyfriend. You are asking for trouble, you self flagellating great genius bitch." Or something along those lines.

The next one was not my doing. In the throes of engagement and the lushy, gorgeous moments that gave him license to be totally exploratory in his loved one's life, I returned home from work, to find my fiance sitting in a circle of my journals on the bedroom floor and breathing strangely.
"It was under your bed," he wailed. "In a suitcase. How could I not possibly read every single one?" He splayed his fat sausage fingers over my written words. "How can I even like who you are, when you've written all this ..."
This was a big problem for him. A girlfriend, no - a fiance - who actually thinks and writes all her feelings and mistakes down on paper. After several hours of protracted arguments during which time he decided he no longer wanted to marry me, I decided the diaries were an unnecessary ball and chain I was dragging.

So I burnt them. Fifteen years worth. That night, with a bottle of lighter fuel and copious tears, I set fire to locks of my babys' hair, favourite recipies, memoirs of the elders and teenage angst. It was an act of bloodymindedness taken to that extreme, purely because I knew I could not keep this man and my diaries in the same house. I made the choice.

In retrospect it was not a good one really. Days later I went to visit him and there were charred paper remains in his fireplace. It took me a little while to cotton on. I got a strange chill when he read me his handwritten list of people (men of course) I should have known.

He'd salvaged my books out of the fire, while I was busy in tears, taken them home and read the rest. He even made a few names up, just to fuck with my head. I found the rest of the burnt charred offerings, took them out to the rubbish truck as it chugged to a stop outside his house and threw them in. By then I was so completely over the drama that years worth of diaries created, I was glad to see them go.
I saved one. It is wrapped in silk and has the status of a religious relic; Notes That Survived the Fire.
Aussie said to me recently, after a few hours of walking in the wild sandhills, "I am so pissed off at you for burning those diaries." And I said. "So am I."

It took me a long time after that to learn to write without feeling someone was looking over my shoulder. I didn't feel like I could tell the truth anymore. Everything I wrote (if I wrote at all) was in abstract or codified within an inch of its life.

And that's where blogging comes in. This is different, not quite so angsty and if you want to purge or bitch or whinge, you have to be a little bit careful and consciously so. Strange. It is open to the Ether so we are all the more careful of what we produce. Rather than an inward process, it moves outwards of our minds and is written to be read by others.

But it must still ring true and resonate a certain chord within the soul or else it just doesn't work. It must come from the heart and not be some kind of trite and pretty observation. And thats where all writing threads back to the diary, to cannibalise and poach its labyrinthine reaches. But how do we tell those opportunistic and nasty little print stalkers to stay out of our suitcases and not judge us harshly or get horribly jealous over our sensuous and dastardly outpourings?
Oh...okay. Make better choices. Yeah okay. I'm evolving hopefully...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Graves in the Paperbarks

"Green sap of Spring in the young wood a-stir
Will celebrate the Mountain Mother
And every song-bird shout awhile for her;
But I am gifted, even in November
Rawest of seasons, with so huge a sense
Of her nakedly worn magnificence
I forget cruelty and past betrayal,
Careless of where the next bright bolt may fall."

Yesterday I dropped in a garage sale, whilst trekking out to see a lawnmower friend. I intended to ask him to tame this mass of weeds that has sprouted with all the nitrogen rich lightening rain and sun over the last week.
I walked out with three electric whipper snippers for ten dollars! Two of them work, which is still a bargain. But the real find was the garage sale lady's magpie intuition when it came to collecting books. All religions, Authurian tradition, architecture, nature, academic disciplines, fiction, rune stones, tarot decks, bird watching bibles - everything!
Finally, there was a modest edition of Robert Graves' The White Goddess. And it is Spring, and it is Beltane (as Tim reminded me on Saturday) and the Goddess is out and about. Sometimes the arrival of spring feels like that moment of ovulation or conception; a split second where it all begins and you just feel it. Something shifts. What a time to indulge in Graves, who is unapologetic to the ignorant, the compromised and the ordinary.

"If you are poets, you will realise that acceptance of my historical thesis commits you to a confession of disloyalty which you will be loath to make; you chose your jobs because they promised to provide you with a steady income and leisure to render the Goddess, whom you adore, valuable part time service. Who am I, you will ask, to warn you that she demands either whole time service or none at all?"
Spoken like a true hippy methinks.

Out at the estuary, we are having a bored day, that time that elastic bands apart between picking up nets at dawn and setting them again at dusk. I am tiring of squeezing fish spines out of my already infected hands. I decide to try again, to find my way through the paperbark swamp to the spongolite cliffs that glow so enigmatically ochre in the afternoon light.

I wandered along a trail through vertical dense stands of flat topped yates where there is no undergrowth, only the grey, green black leaves and ribbons of bark. This country ends abruptly as the track snakes down into the valley. Huge grasses like a native pampas, flowering grasses, the dianella I used to sell at the nursery, the latest 'mass planting' craze, little blue star flowers crowning elegant rush foliage, clumped together under whispery sheoaks.

Then down further, to the paperbark forest. White creamy trees with strips of the soft coating torn off and hanging like antipodean prayer flags. An emerald green carpet of pig face scattered with fuschia-tinted daisy flowers. It is vivid and startling after the grey, green of the eucalypts only minutes before. The change is instant - a wardrobe into Narnia kind of experience.

If it weren't for the masses of mosquitos and silent presence of tiger snakes, I would strip naked and dance like the ageing wood sprite I am, terrified and hopeful in the same moment that a dark-eyed and bloodshot Satyr would stalk me through this creamy forest and ... sorry, maybe that's just the way my mind works.
I couldn't stand still, let alone get naked. I had a romantic notion of settling down into the pigface, against the sturdy velvet of a paperbark tree to write some nature down - and did so, only to be set upon by whining, flying critters thirsty for my blood.
Then there was the tiger snake issue, getting the heebie jeebies after Old Salt's warnings of the paperbark swamp, complete with outstretched arms and expert witness testimony.
Storms have ripped through here and knocked the crowns off the tallest trees, so that the ground is strewn with rotting logs and the sky is sliced by silent sentinels of headless trees.
I know that in that quiet cavern of green and white and magenta, where the only sound is the distant thump of surf outside the bar and the alarm calls of wattle birds, something stirs, something Robert Graves, even with his European sensibilities would understand, whereas I can only feel it in my water ...

Water water ...

I wanna be a fishergirl

This time on my way to the estuary I drove out alone, at night, with a brand new windscreen that I could actually see through - until fuses started blowing and the lights stopped being nice. After that it was the sliver of moon, some white line hallucinations and possibly the warm radiations from Venus that got me there.

I coasted down into the hollowed out basin, a geological anomaly of rainbow layers of Plantagenet siltstone (spongolite rock) washed away by watery millennia, to the drumming music of rain and shot tie rod ends. Old Salt had lit a little bonfire in anticipation. A good thing for a tired soul is a fire spitting with raindrops and a decent cup of tea.

"You've obviously been eating a lot of carrots," was all he said in respect to my dark arrival. Old Salt had already set nets for the night, out in the middle of the barred estuary. It was my job to help him pick up at dawn.

The lightning storms and glassed off water of the previous week were replaced by howling easterlies, constant rain and other rhetoric. It's the kind of misty rain where for an hour or so, I think I am waterproof, until the moment of realisation that I'm absolutely soaked through - a bit like drinking really.

The pre dawn alarm clock jangled some ditzy electronic muzak and I crawled out of my tent to meet the gloaming. The tinny was talking, a metallic splash against her sides with every little breath of water.

We pulled up a lot of mullet that morning. Old Salt reckons it's the wind on the water aerating the sea. This estuary has the highest level of nutrients out of all the south coast estruaries sampled in 1988 and at the time it was attributed to the spreading of good ol' super phosphate on surrounding farmland. (Estuaries and Lagoons of South Western Australia, Number 4, E.P.A, 1988). I'm not sure whether this increases deoxygenation or not.

I just think we are a little bit blessed.
"Mullet!" Comes my refrain when these fat, gleaming, perfect fish splash to the surface. I begin to sound like the energiser bunny's victim an hour later when we are still pulling in mullet. They hit the nets hard too and then roll in them, so they can be a job to get out. "What's wrong? Your battery run out?" Old Salt said. "Oh mullet!" He mimics me. "Look another mullet! Yay! Oh Joy! I just want to know where the fucking bream are, they fetch eight bucks a kilo."

The water is muddy from constant turbulence and silt. Pale stretch marks lace her reaches. Water slopped over the stern. I hate that, it makes me very unsteady on my pins. In the end it was getting so windy and the fish so prolific, we hauled the rest of the nets in and unmeshed on shore. The wake water churned golden olive, boiling behind the boat.

Old Salt started telling me poaching stories while we wrestled mullet out of the mesh and iced them up in bins.
"Pullet, Axel and Nails decided they were gonna shoot the mouth of the ---- inlet. They were all at the pub skyting all about it and then off they went, close to midnight. Pullet told me, 'No one knew who I was coz I wore a balaclava!'"
This cracked me up. Anyone who has ever laid eyes on Pullet knows it is not his face that is instantly recognisable but his enormous girth.

He told me another story about his father, an old school poacher of legend. The fisheries inspector in those days rode a bicycle, with the intention of a silent arrival to witness nocturnal fishing crimes. He rode that bicycle twenty kilometres one night to catch out Old Salt Snr and waded out through the mud of the inlet, the old fisherman watching from the shore, to pull up a whole corkline. No net, just a corkline.
It is in one of the same fishing inspector's annual reports, available from archives in Perth, that the enmity between the two is in print forever.
" - - - came in to pay his fishing license today and threw five shillings on the counter. He said nothing and nor did I."

Some days, mornings like this, I feel very lucky to be witnessing the tail end of these briny dynasties first hand and listening to their stories. After unmeshing, I drove the 150 kilometres back into town and put some bins full of iced down bream and mullet on the truck for Perth. "It's great," I told my Dad. "You get to see all the empty bins of the other fishermen and check out how much they are catching."
He laughed. "You are sounding just like the rest of that bloody mob!"

Monday, October 27, 2008


Blast from the Past

Splinter stepped into our smoker's circle outside the pub, all soulful jarrah eyes, extremely drunk and wanting to converse, despite the obvious impediment of being articulatory challenged. "Sshe's a good woman," he said to Alice, nodding towards me.

I haven't seen Splinter for a long time and never this trolleyed. He stood on the concrete deck and waited for the sea to rise up and meet him again, which concrete decks rarely do without an earthquake. It's the illusion and I wonder, if drunk and at sea, whether you would experience the opposite.

Splinter shambled off down the alleyway between the pub and the bridal salon. "Do you know him?" Tilly asked me doubtfully.
"He's gorgeous, just a little messy tonight."
"Have you ever actually been into that bridal salon? Man it's a hoot, talk about a blast from the past! And what are those feathered thingies, you know, those French ticklers you put in your hair?"
"Fascinaters," said Alice. "They are called fascinaters."

"I've been there," I said.
"I used to live upstairs. It was a brothel in the early 1900s apparently. A secret door existed, a hidden passageway from upstairs at the hotel, across the alleyway and over to one of the bedrooms.

When I lived there it was just a party house inhabited by barflies and me, the white trash star barmaid. I'd jingle down the stairs with trays of middy glasses, to the bar on Monday mornings. The lease was taken by an overbearing kiwi by the name of Kiwi. He ran the flat with a meaty fist and a generous spray of expletives. In the room next to me lived a shattered man who'd lost his family in a car accident. We played cricket in the car park - smashing one of the hotel bathroom louvers was considered a six.
My bedroom window looked out over the harbour, the view broken by traffic, trains, boats and the ships of the wharf. It was a great view.

My sister stopped in once angry and in tears. Dad moved out of the marriage, to caretake the whalechaser. He didn't say why, perhaps he didn't know himself. Mum came, whitefaced, for a cup of tea. I retreated from the imploding family and into Pub World.

The bar manager, an imposing ex bikie from Bathurst, bought all sorts of interesting substances from Asian freight ship crew and patrol boats, selling them on over the bar. No one messed with him. Ben made six foot look ordinary and he had a mad flash in his eye. This didn't stop the police from rummaging through his apartment and dragging garbage bags full of wet weed back down the stairs.

Visiting skimpy barmaids and the cook were the only female company I had then, if you didn't count the Philipino bombshell who quietly cruised the bar for regulars on a weekday. She didn't speak much English though. Part of my job as barmaid was to button up the flannelet pockets of regulars who were obliviously displaying four or five foils. Ancient Rosie, the famous deflowerer of virgin boys, danced with her shirt off when the moon was full.

A few months ago, my daughter suggested we go to the bridal salon and try on dresses. We trawled through racks and racks of glossy satin bridesmaid dresses, the ones you'll forever hate your bride best friend for making you wear. "Come upstairs," she said. "There's wedding dresses up there."

The flat was spruced up. The skylight had been replaced in Kiwi's room, from the night he trekked across the roof and fell straight through to his bed. The old kitchen area was clean. Not a pile of dishes or king browns to be seen.

My old bedroom was the new changeroom. I couldn't believe it. The shabby fake wood panelling painted all creamy white and swathed in muslin, a huge gilt encrusted mirror covered the very same wall through which I used to hear the muttering product of the widower's tormented sleep. The view through the long sash window is just the same.

I stood there in a ridiculously frothy ivory wedding dress with mutton chop sleeves and stared at myself in the mirror. Eighteen years. Eighteen years ago, I had sex in this room with that man who just stumbled off down the alleyway. Splinter."

Tilly just stared at me and then down the alleyway. Alice was quite silent for maybe three seconds. "Bloody hell!" He said then. "How on earth did you just pull that story together? You should write that down!"

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Pearl Whimsy

It was another mental health day, one of those days when you just give up, go driving and perhaps even buy something. Some of the things happening at the time were so outlandishly outrageous that I was beginning to feel outpaced in my ability to keep up. So I went for a drive and after buying four top hats, as one does, I ended up at the Denmark Tip Shop.

And there she was, just sitting in the yard in a state of bedraggled magnificence amongst the usual tangle of broken push bikes and three legged plastic chairs.
She gave me a funny feeling in my belly. The squirming babel fish, that one that is responsible for most of my more reckless moments, whispered direct to my cerebral cortex. This babel fish translated from "You are a fucking idiot, don't go there, she'll only suck up all your cash and break your heart," into a siren song of the WineDark sea, a song of pelagic, oceanic fantasies and plied my ego with a very attractive vision of my own self.

"I must have her," I breathed and asked the handsome young feral with arms like a fisherwoman how much.
"Mmmm," she mused. "Forty bucks?"
"She's got a busted spine, for sure," grunted Relic, who seemed to spend the day there for entertainment. (A good lurk.)
"Now don't be so negative, Relic!" She bossed him.
"She'd make a great vege garden," he said, trying now.

I dropped in to see a wooden boat builder on my way home. "Wow! You bought the Pearl!" Matty started giving me instructions on copper nails, steamed ribs (not the pork ones, I discovered) and caulking. He told me the bloke next door would cart it back to Albany for me.
Well, it was really for him, because he saw me coming. Three hundred dollars later she sat in my front yard. And sat. And sat.

In the meantime I focused on making silk purses from the other reckless purchase that day, four top hats. Unfortunately, like my scarecrows, they are attractive only to a selective cliental.
I sold one with an amethyst and peacock feather crown to a singer who put it on and wore it straight on stage. Two more are sitting around at my place and Shark scored the red cockatoo feather one - yes, the one that got him into so much trouble!

Pearl sat on blocks at my place. Getting her up on these presented lever logic problems almost beyond my capabilities. She is twenty foot long and weighs at least half a ton. During the Week of the Herring, when Old Salt turned up daily at work with bucketfuls of herring, Bob and I sat in the shade of the Pearl and filleted, filleted, filleted.
Finally Old Salt got sick of seeing her surrounded with grass and sold me a trailer for $100. Another fisherman gave me a roll of hemp caulking cotton. It really was time to get started.

I felt struck down by this kind of ennui that creeps in when I set the bar too high for myself. What the hell do I know about twenty foot wooden carvels? She sat around for a bit longer, while I moved house twice and subjected myself to a few more dramas.

There are two distinct reactions when I show people the Pearl. One is; "She is so cool, how romantic, what fun, let's get her in the water and crack the champers over her bow, " kind of comment. These people are my friends. The other reaction is; "Um ... are you gonna caulk this endless pit of financial carnage, before you take our son fishing in it?" These people I have no choice but to be related to, much as I love them. (Karmically enough, they have no choice about me either!)

Actually there's three reactions. The third is; "What you need to do is - " People like Matty and my Dad in this respect are brilliant. They love old wooden boats and get all wistful and salty just looking at her, even though they know the work ahead.

Anyway, a few days ago I moved the Pearl to my place! She is perched up on the hill, overlooking the sea and I can wander out to scrape paint whenever I like. It's not that hard, scraping back paint and discovering the nooks and crannies of this shady lady. I'm learning new things every day, in the most enjoyable way imaginable.
Stay tuned for the voyage of the Pearl ...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The View From Here

Full moon over my shoulder and Venus ahead. (My Dad said once, "Venus is the oldest prostitute in the world. First out at night and the last to leave.") Sun sets over sandhills across the water. Wind turbines turn lazylike.

Phosphorescent blue navigation lights - when they line up you are home safe, burning off smoke lays low over the land, car lights track the edge of the harbour. Colours quick silver the glass-off sea.

A bird flies home, coo-ees coordinates.
Washing murmers on the hippy line, basket in the grass beneath, an up ended bicycle. A possum!

Our red flag undulates. The lime tree. Top step outside the chook pen gate - the best view in the world. Sausage curry smell. Black cat. Potatoes. A wheel barrow. Garlic.
My toes cooling.
Evans and Tate on my tongue.
(It's not so bad after all!)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bottle Shop Scenario

Hmmm. Cheap bottle of red? Or a Nice Brown Tequila With Worms? Too many choices. The sisters are in from Margaret River, one of whom I am not gonna see for a few years, as she is off to NZ and I feel ... yes well ... she is a gorgeous goddess-bodied Drummond girl... she may be a little longer than that.
The bottleshop attendant says "This cleanskin, it's Evans and Tate. A very nice red wine."
Don't believe him. It's bloody awful. No wonder they went down. Let's stick to brown tequila and give that wild tousle-haired Toa sister the send off she deserves

Flotsam #2 Possums

Wagyl Swamp
One hundred bucks each. A landscaper's bonanza! Aussie and I laid planks over blackberry briars and lurched into the soggy quagmire of the swamp to plunder feral but lucrative tree ferns.
We woke up a nocturnal ringtail with our graceless incursion and she straddled another feral, the Taylorina, glaring at us with huge indignant and bloodshot eyes. "What the HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING? I'm trying to sleep!"

The Big Storm
It was an all nighter. We'd not seen each other for four years. Our Sunshine drank tea and I warbled my way through two or three cleanskins. The wind began at six am. By that time, we'd sorted out what to do with our degrees, how to make a two bedroom house out of one and elaborated on various theories about dingoes and quadrupeds.
By seven am, whole trees flew across the paddock like witches on broomsticks. The childhood treehouse exploded. We stoked the tile fire and decided the kids were definitely not safe out in the caravan. We also decided to stay away from all windows. The phone and power were out for two days.

Today, at Mum's, I found a possum, a mummified baby hanging from a eucalyptus casualty, her tail still twining around one twig. Ring Tail. Dried out and desiccated.
I thought, two months ago, that storm. I remember that, our warm fire, our bottles of wine, our university degrees, our cups of tea, our comfort.
That night must have been pretty rough for possums, with those trees flying around like they did.

Like foxes, cane toads or rabbits, they made sense at the time. If you venture around the (many and irregular) corners from Queenstown to Glenorchy, past the chocolate box scenescapes beyond any landscape you ever imagined and past the iconic cabbage trees and snow mountained greenery and massive rivers of glittering mica, you will come across a little town where there is one cafe, one house and one shop that sells possum skin bikinis.
I had to have one.
At Customs on return to the homeland... I try to explain. These critters are native to our country! But it wasn't the possum bikinis that sent off the dogs, the buzzers, the hyped up airport goons. It was the children. They won't let them in because one has a suitcase full of knives and a school backpack that smells suspiciously of bananas. The other one...I won't say what she managed to smuggle into Australia but no wonder she was a bit twitchy at the air port.

Pure Drunken Confidence
They fly, they fall but always with illogical grace. Possums crash. They do. They crash with style. I clench up and wait for that nasty thud of body on earth but it never happens. They seem to survive that loose "I know this branch will catch me and swing and fling me back up to a better branch" kind of action. It reminds me of my teenage years for some reason.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Day I Changed My Handbag: a feminist critique

This feminist discourse on women's choice of handbag explores the corollaries of body, space and gender, utilising the subtext of the subjective and objective to illustrate the connection between genital dismorphic perceptions and worn accessories in the study of the female psyche.

I hate the brick wall that academia constructs to keep us mere rabble out. Let's start again. I was at Alice's Shed Party the other night, when a little brown boy burnt his hand on the gas heater.
"Has anyone got some Paw Paw ointment?" Came the mother's plaintive cry.
"Ask Sarah Toa to look in her hand bag," Alice the housetruck genius said. "She's an old witch from way back." He is faultless in his ability to insult me and grease me up at the same time. I never know how he does it.

Of course I had a whole jar of the stuff, along with a very sharp pocket knife, some bolt cutters, rego papers, two mandarins, a half full bottle of wine, a lock of hair, some sea shells crushed to pearlescent dust, Henry Miller's Plexus, an empty wallet, two cigarette lighters, a defunct floppy disc, a proper hand forged butcher's hook, ... you get the picture.

Jude leaned over and shouted to me over the music, "You know the theory about women's handbags representing the state of their vaginas." She was half way through labouring this point at the top of her voice, when the band stopped playing and everyone looked at my hand bag in shocked silence - my great big green, miner's tool bag with paint all over it and the pair of bolt cutters sticking out the top.
"That's why you can't find a boyfriend," Alice gave me a verbal brotherly pat with a simultaneous knee in the guts. "Even though you are very beautiful - on the inside at least - your hand bag does not reflect that. You need to resolve this hand bag issue, sister."
I went home and took my violin with me.

I decided to downsize to something prettier, all the while cursing Jude's amazing voice projection and Alice's double psyche major. It's useful to find scapegoats in these moments of of Cuntesian doubt.
Something cute, furry and kind of pouchy that I can tuck under my arm? Too Thatcher Youth. Okay, how about Brazilian leather? No. Black patent vinyl with silver studs? Mmm. Too Vagina dentata.

In the end I settled for beautiful blood red. (Oh please, can I write about my periods on my blog? Please? It's my blog dammit. James Joyce has, with all his mutterings about the tides and the wine dark sea and everyone still thinks he's hot.)
Really, this hand bag is a fave. It still smells of patchouli from the last essential oil incident. It is faithful and beautiful and kind of shiny. It can sit on a sun bleached jetty and a chair at the most expensive restaurant in the same day and still be stylish and fresh. It carries baggage - but not too much.
At the next Shed Party, I might mention to Alice something about big toes and penises, then sit back and watch him covertly check out his own feet. Meanwhile, as Alice is otherwise preoccupied and not doing my head in, Jude and I can discuss our periods, the state of our hand bags and corollaries of body, space and gender in peace.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Flotsam #1 How to build a chookpen.

I messaged Shark this morning,"I've run out of things to write about."
My real agenda was to get out of going to sea. It was hailing sideways bullets of ice and Old Salt wanted to go fishing, as he frequently does when it is hailing sideways.
Shark's response was immediate and comprehensive,not bad considering it was early and he had the flu.

"Rubbish. Write about Albany's nude beach or how hard it is to give away a stove or finding possums or someone who lived in a storage unit or how to build a chicken coop. Or Buswell's announcement that Homeswest homes in wealthy suburbs will be sold off and the people relocated to somewhere more appropriate or what you would put in a suitcase if you had to live in a light house. Or the Shed jam sessions or write a recipe for stingray. Or the warrior painting."

Okay... one thing at a time. I think it is chicken coops today but stay tuned for other subjects on this list to appear.Think of Shark's text as a contents page of flotsam, strange wreckage to be found floating on a wine dark sea.

I come from a long line of chook pen builders. So about ten years ago when the Ranger began his regular visits to my front door,(think Chuck Norris style Ranger without the mustache and a leery eye) I knew it was time to put my birthright to the test and contain those feathered vagabonds.

These chickens were feral. Oscare Wilde once wrote, "If you want to see pure evil, look into the eye of a chicken." These girls roosted on my bread maker because it was warm and it smelt good. They also roosted in the bathroom. A nice time to experience true evil is at midnight, having a grumpy chicken watch you toilet.

I enlisted the help of Our Sunshine,who is also a chookpen construction blue blood. We spent the best day building the most kick ass chook pen you have ever seen, such a great day in fact, that I forgot my sisters graduation and she still hasn't forgiven me.
At the end of the day we shared some beers and looked at our creation, our power tools hanging from our hands, feeling that glow of a job well done and a girls can do anything kind of macho cool."Let's go into business," said Our Sunshine."You and me. Let's take our chookpens to the world."

It was a better business proposition than the one I was working on, creating custom scarecrows. I was trying to educate the public in the kind of scarecrows they really needed but people were slow to catch on and sales were down. Looking back, I think I was the Kate Bush of scarecrows and way ahead of my time.There simply wasn't the demand for scarecrows dressed in petticoats, stockings and high heels back then.

These days the Rangers and I have a jovial relationship based on jokey reminiscences of those days when I tried to exist a block away from the main street with eight chickens and a brindle kangaroo dog who was hip height with raised hackles. There was also a fraught exchange over my 'supposed'ownership of some Damara sheep. (Damaras are like goats in their contempt for fences and their culinary delight in other people's washing.) They were $100 on retrieval from the pound. ("What, are you saying they are MY sheep?") The last time I saw all the Rangers together I was waitressing at the annual dog catcher's convention. Now that was a fun afternoon.

Bob always attacked the building of chookpens with prolific industry. Despite me finding six chookpens here and currently discovering the remnants of more, he and I spent many a happy day crashing through undergrowth, chasing down feral chooks and their babies, trying not to crush them underfoot.When dismantling the defunct chookpens recently, I discovered that most of them were held together with rusting bicycles,baling twine, electrical conduit and double bass strings. Plus the one that leant against the true blue still, of moonshine origins.

I decided to build a new, really great chookpen.
The Secret
Just do it. Buy a brand new roll of chicken wire. Go on.
Always dig your corner strainer posts really deep, so they don't sag inwards.
Always dig in the bottom of the chicken wire, or peg it down.
Always put the top nail too high on the strainer posts, so you have to stretch the wire up to meet it.
Always put the gate posts leaning slightly outwards, like a victory sign. Then.
Wrap some wire between the gateposts, a few layers, and twitch it, just like the snake bite tourniquet used before pressure bandages became fashionable. This pulls the gateposts together until they are parallel and tensions the rest of the fence. Clever huh? Then hang a beautiful gate, something really pretty. Your chickens will thank you for it.

I told my son, the heir to the chookpen throne,"If anyone asks you what your Mum does, tell them she builds kick ass chookpens ... And also mention that she has some surplus scarecrows for sale - on special this week."