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"


  1. This guy is a Don Quixote - a romantic railing against windmills - and life. I know how he feels.

    He is also using the element of earth/stone to declare his presence, to locate himself solidly - and aesthetically by the sounds of it. He is engaging in an act of alchemy. He is an artist, making things cos he has to. I like the sound of him. And if he is strange, I am guessing it is because he feels he doesn't belong in a crazy world. I hope his artwork brings him some peace.

  2. Brillantly crafted- thanks again!

  3. Thanks Michelle, that's one half of the mystery answered. And cheers Robin!

  4. That guy really shits me. I put the stones back!

  5. This is me cackling hysterically ... my word verification is 'sille' and I have just solved two mysteries in one day. Brilliant Anon!

  6. I think Anon should declare themselves. I can understand why they put the stones back but I am also supportive of the guy doing art.

    I am also a bit worried about all the lizards and wildlife moving in and out from under these stones. They would just get comfortable in the new 'pad' and some bastard pulls the house down!!

  7. Hey Sarah...are you Anon? Playing a little game with us??

  8. Hey, I know who this guy's Macca Pacca from the Night Garden!!!! making tidy piles of stones!

  9. Have you pressed the wheelchair button? Some freaky shit going on there...

    I love this piece Sarah, we need more urban archaeologists like you!!!

    Oh and my verification word is coldsw, even though it is quite temperate today.

  10. Marchflies that appear in November, green eyed brown bodied things that sing when they come into land to devour your flesh... and the cairn man... "I know a man who goes by the name of the cairn man, he flies the sky... where have I heard that song... I don't know if I would call cairns 'art' what is no damn artistic about rearranging the work of nature's hand and its billion year movement of rocks and weathering? You oughta tell the cairn man to stop cause that's nature's hand of wonder that I want to see, not his!

  11. damn artistic... I meant, so full of Christmas Cheer...

  12. Freaky shit? Where? What world do you live in?

  13. What the fuck is that meant to mean? Are you flaming me Michelle?
    Press the wheelchair button next to the word verification and you will hear voices, some appear to be speaking backwards...

  14. Yeah, I hear them all the time.

    Hey, Spencer Whoever YOU are, I reckon you and I might actually get on OK. Just ask Sarah about me.

  15. Heheh I do know you Michelle, do you remember that nice man at Cullitys who sold you those cover sheets... Twas me... and yes I reckon we could get along very well especially if you hear those voices as well.

  16. press here to experience schizophrenia

    Maybe the wheelchair guy comes up with the words for the word verification. There was a great Denton special on mental health called Angels and Demons where one of the things they did was simulate the voices sufferers experience, not unlike the effect of the wheelchair button.

    Beautiful stuff again Sarah, do you know Douglas Sellick? He lives here and compiled 'First Impressions of Albany' which i guess you have read.

    bodfiar is the word of the day

  17. Yes, I DO remember the nice man at Cullity's. Phew! All sorted. I will definitely try the schizophrenia button - just to compare notes.

  18. This has turned into its own little chatroom and has had me cracking up in increments, the last few days. I'm glad i know what the wheel chair button is now. I'm glad you've all met each other and this little party hasn't been wrecked by a fist fight about freaky shit! And I haven't read Sellick's book yet c.q. but have heard about a lot of his books. Must do it. And who is wacca macca and where is the night garden? from incilac

  19. You fellas have cairns in your heads whereas mine's just mush...