Saturday, January 31, 2009

Breathing Away The Machine

Once, an old lady told me that her people used to take their teenage girls to Waychinicup for healing, to "fix them up when they sick or just sad."

The place has a kind of fey wildness that never fails to infect visitors with a timeless peace and the creeping sense that strange, shy creatures are watching from the breathing scrub and water.

A river winds through a deep, moist valley, darkening with the tannins of tea tree until it reaches the stone-locked inlet. Opposite, the sea squeezes in through megalithic gatekeepers and these two surges colliding create a gentle, breathing tide. Breathe in, breathe out.

Waychinicup is a place to go when feeling jammed between the cogs of The Machine. It's relentless power is irrelevant here, The Machine means nothing at all.

We returned to Waychinicup last night and I brought the girl, Pearlie, set up the tent for her, watched her burrow into a swag and sleep. She slept the solid sleep of the exhausted innocent for fourteen hours.

Waychinicup - Place of Emu Dreaming. Jill Kempson, 2006

Thursday, January 22, 2009

W.T.F. is With This?

It's time to ramp up the rabid nationalism, folks. Is it just me? Am I too cynical? Do I think too much?
Maybe if I were old and male, maybe I'd evolve into the type who erects (yes, erects, that little blue diamond pill being out of reach for most pensioners, gotta have some consolation) a massive gold baubled flagpole in my front yard to proudly display our national emblem this time every year.
If I was young and male, unthinking and yet slightly sinister in motivation, I would drive a Bundy ute, or dodgey Holden commodore all week in the lead-up, festooned with a flag/flags that progressed in size until that Hallowed Day when, with the help of copious amounts of Bundy, my turgid nationalism would explode in an ecstatic emission of fireworks and Two Buck Shop sparklers.

I've mentioned before that I have theories about all sorts of things. Here's one or two...
For the past five years, we've become embroiled in at least two wars and participated in all kinds of global unrest. One response to this is to embrace the good-triumphs-over-evil scenario epitomised by Lord of the Rings and The Narnia Chronicles blockbusters. It was a freaky sense of timing, considering these tales have been around for years and were both written by men who'd experienced first hand the personal and national catastrophes of World War II.

The other response is negative nationalism. Think the Cronulla riots, our shameful silence over the Tampa and Siev X issues, the cars emblazoned with stickers "Fuck off, we're full", or "If you don't like it, leave it," or even better, our national excuse for xenophobia, "Please expline?"

There are immediate consolations. Obama, Obama. Rudd, Rudd, err - Rudd. A new wind is flushing out the darker crevices of the last eight years. Finally. The relief and the elation is palpable in its creeping happiness.
For how much longer will we see these flag-weilding bog laps on the lead-up to Australia Day? I hope it's like Schoolies Week, ANZAC cookies, bratty kids extorting lollies under the guise of 'Halloween', and the 'Howard Battler' - era pieces that dissolve quietly under the whistling kettle of change. Whoo hoo! As Nick Cave and Chris Bailey from The Saints would sing - Bring it on.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Country ducks scatter into the gravel, all ditzy in the wake of wheat-laden road trains. Brings to my mind the kohl-eyed women who move in from desert tents to the crowded city to dance for ready cash, wrists strapped with defensive spikes and ancestral jewels. A dangerous life.
Peppermint trees swish little silver sickles in the afternoon light, buoyed by a chaotic sou-westerly that has been blowing for days.
The red flowering gum fires up early. The water is warmer than I've ever felt it, like blood.

And Bob's mulberry tree, the one he got demolished, to let the light in, just before he died, the one we bonfired at his living wake, has defiantly sprouted and shot to ten foot tall. Just like that. Great big fat, glossy, heart-shaped platters of leaves sway in this mad, mad wind.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Invoking Coleridge in Paradise

It was getting to the stage where we were fighting over the last drops of water. Shark was attempting to catch a fish, seeing as our supplies of food were running perilously low. I searched around for a slaughtered Albatrosses to hang around my neck.

It all began well. Glass off harbour. A mission. A bottle of water and a tasty picnic lunch. A great little motor. "This is a great little motor. Nothing ever goes wrong with this motor," I told Shark knowledgeably. "Even though Old Salt calls all Mercurys 'black anchors' ". (Classic red herring there folks, don't pay any attention to that. Just look at the weather.)

The plan: spend some time aboard the wrecked whale chaser, an excellent opportunity for Shark to shutter some of his photographic wizardry and for the rest of us to behave like shipwrecked heathens for a few hours, then pop out the channel and across the Sound to frolic in the azure waters at Mistaken Island, lie on a warm rock in the sun and use that quiet moment of sun-soaked salt to make some sense of our individual journeys through life. Then putter back around the corner to Fisheries for a splendid picnic of crackers, cheese and avocado with lashings of Eggplant Kasundi.

We motored out to the Cheynes II, skimming across an impossibly blue briny, all set for a boy's and girl's own adventure aboard the old whale chaser, Sonny, Shark, Catherine the Great Artist (CGA) and me.

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe:
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

I wanted to show them the whale chaser's cabin that some of my clan had actually lived in, before the ship was towed away in disgrace and deposited upon a sandbar. Now the jarrah and velvet four poster bed is covered with pigeon poo. That new feathered clan have claimed the ship for their own, bursting out of the wet, metal caverns as you enter, like the bats in Darwin's street trees.

Exploding pigeons can be unnerving but it was such a beautiful day, it didn't faze us. Other boating types just couldn't help themselves but butt in. They hovered around the Cheynes II in pleasure crafted blowflies, trying to make it look like they were angling. "Piss off," I muttered uncharitably. "This is our cubby."

The first plan went awry when my skull managed to break Shark's camera's fall from a great height. No actually, my skull just broke his camera. Disemboweled it, so to speak. At about this point: See Below.

The second part of the plan, at Mistaken Island, was a great success, the bit where we got to lie in the sun and work out our lives, for Shark anyway. CGA and I indulged in shallow gossip and frittered away any chance of transcendental, existential or ordinary mental advancement. Sonny fossicked and swam, as he always manages to do for hours at any beach. Shark got it all sorted in his mind - until called into the office a few days later by the smiling assassin himself, wearing that 'we need a little chat' kind of demeanor.

I didn't tell anyone about the shark I saw ambling through the channel, days before. It was only little.

We headed off, feeling the salt dry on our warmed skin and the wind gently caress our hair. Cohen once said to Lou Reed, "You know, all the good work comes when lacking a caress." Like that Nouveau-Joycian genius ladies' man would know bloody anything. He does have a point about the erupting creative emissions of the sexually pent up artist - but why does it have to come from the man who is still sexy at 72 and not Woody Allen? I mean - wouldn't Leonard Cohen be getting caressed all the time, by Suzanne and Joni and Adjani. It's just annoying ... Sorry, where was I?

"All the men shall be sailors then, until the sea shall free them."
Perhaps it was my fault for singing Cohen out loud, at sea. But I'd prefer to blame Shark, because he brought a banana on board and any Salt, old or otherwise knows that this faux pass can mean the end of a sailor - an end almost as dramatic as that brought on by lighting your cigarette from a candle. The missing premise in this argument is that I have form for both these crimes and nothing ever happens.

The motor began to sputter. This usually creases the brow of any pilot or sea-going creature but when this fishergirl has just got her skippers ticket and this is her maiden voyage without the benevolent tutelage of Old Salt and she is also a Warrior Princess who suddenly realises she doesn't know what the fuck she's doing and then the wind freshens up onshore and the motor chucks a right tanty and gives up altogether ... it gets bothersome beyond a simple frown.

"You should never have said that nice thing about the motor," Shark told me.
"Just fix it, Shark. You like fixing things. Can you fix it, please?"
"Sounds like fuel's not getting to the motor."
"Pump it then! Pump."
So Shark pumped the fuel line and she started again, only to flag and fail a few minutes later.

We limped this way around to Fisheries, weighed anchor out of the wind and had a little think.
"I can row," said CGA. "I love rowing."
I bet she could too, she's a strong girl ... with a proper set of oars. Every time I step on one of the oar paddles whilst hauling out nets, they split. Now the paddles are much less voluptuous and a more anorexic, toothpick style.
"Maybe we can ring Old Salt."
"I don't want to ring Old Salt." I told everyone firmly. "So ... um, let's have some lunch."
"When are we going home? Can I have a drink?"
"Now we are marooned and we have a whingeing kid!"
"How much water is left?"
"There's squid jigs! I'm gonna catch some squid."
"That a sensible idea. After all, we only have two plastic shopping bags of victuals. And we may be marooned, like forever."

In the end, the trusty tinny wouldn't start at all. Shark pulled the motor hatch open, fiddled with a few things, and put it back. I started pulling up the fuel line from the tank to the motor but it was so loaded over with net that I gave up. We checked everything I could think of.
I was convinced that the adjectival crud Old Salt had been finding at the bottom of the fuel tank lately had finally migrated to the carby. Everything else was fine.
"I really don't want to ring Old Salt." It was a serious matter of pride, after all and such things as pride are worth nurturing in the most desperate of times.

Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross

About my neck was hung.

To make it more interesting, another commercial fishing boat played out net adjacent to our sorry situation, (fishermen are worse than those op shop ladies for gossip) and the pleasure craft I'd had so much fun telling to piss off recently floated nearby too - laughing, fishing and drinking beer.
We weighed everything up. We could limp home, (possible), but with the wind coming up we could also end up being barnacle fodder at Point King. Lighthouses would not save us today.
I had to ring him, dammit.

Mobile phones. Where would we be without them. That's a comment on the state of the us, not a rhetorical question. The other day I caught up with one of my besties who returns to the Homeland over Christmas. We spent the usual couple of hours trying to catch on the last two years and my phone rang the whole fucking time with inane, bullshit calls. I would have turned it off, if only I could have found it in the bottom of my handbag.

So we lay around, getting sunburnt and fishing for squid, our bellies full of Eggplant Kasundi and crackers. You can tell from the photos, we were having a terrible time.

And then! On the horizon! A Quintrex with the rooster tail wake of a boat on a mission! Saved!

Oh! dream of joy!
Is this indeed
The lighthouse top I see?
Is this the hill? Is this the kirk?

Is this mine own countree?

Long after the carby was pulled apart and put back together, it was found that the collar of the oars - under the pile of nets that we stood on, or lay on, or ate upon - pinched off the fuel line. So simple. So fixable. Of couse I thought that all along. Mmm. When you get two air signs and two water signs in one little tinny, there's sure to be a few bubbles in the brine.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Stone Crop

It's been a pretty exciting festive season in blog world. Shark attacks, people getting sacked, marooned, falling in love, unrequited love, great recipes, road carnage etc, etc. I feel under immense pressure to come up with something more controversial, more hard-hitting, more topical. So here it is: LICHEN.

Those colonisers of extreme stress habitats, the war zone journalist of the natural world, are a radical mix of fungi and algae (the algae's penchant for photosynthesis provides vital rations
to the fungi).
Like the Bedouins, lichen always manages to look beautiful despite living in some of the harshest climates on the planet.
How am I doing?

"They laced themselves together against a warm rock in the sun, her hair oiled and sleek, her fingers clutching at the sulphur flowers of lichen that crept over the granite. The day the boy was made, granite imprinted its nature upon her breast." Earth Law Body Law.

It is a habit of mine to get dropped off on a deserted island or beach somewhere, as the sun is going down. We could be jigging for squid or doing something else productive. But these moments
alone, with my feet in warm water as the tide changes and the light becomes golden and the wind drops, are manna for the

I find myself comparing species of lichen and taking mobile phone photographs of their 'creeping flowers', expanding in concentric circles like mycelium in a fairy ring of toadstools.
In each area, their colour and form changes. Gull Rock's
colonies are predominately marigold orange and there is a little orange path of stepping stones through the weeds. Alarmed petrels wheel

At Pallinup, lichen frosts the paperbarks with pale green fairy fluff.
At Quaranup, the colours of lichen change from one side of the
point to the other. There is a secluded little cove where you
can pick native spinach. It spills out of the hill, its brilliant
emerald green pouring down, Celtic hues stark
against the bright orange stonecrop. Lichen Magic.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I Wanna Be A Narnian

"Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day, in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so you'd never know which were which?" Lucy.

Ovid, cast out for being a clever pain in the arse at the Emperor's court, is exiled to a mislaid outpost of the Roman empire, the civilians there too busy surviving to think about philosophy, poetry and art.
Adding to the brutality of their white winter, these people live with the constant Damascus sword of invasion hanging over them. Whooping swathes of horsemen swoop down upon their small village every winter when the great moat fortress of a river is frozen over.

Maybe these frights are the origins of the Centaur. People who'd never domesticated a horse were over run with murderous beings attached to the bodies of beasts, moving as one, sinuous, swift and just too powerful.

It's myth of the same gestation as those dastardly Fin-Folk, who invaded the Orkneys of the far north in kayaks, paddling so far across the strait that their animal-hide canoes absorbed water and still floated. To the lookout on land, they looked like half-human, half-seal creatures that rose out of the sea, sodden and hungry, and they stole the young women away.

Perhaps new mythology is borne of new technology. There is another arterial theme too, the marrying of the cerebral and the physical, civilisation and savagery, enlightenment and intuition.
Most of us want a nice car, whilst also feeling the need to howl at the Moon on the weekend.
There's Chiron, the kind Centaur who tutored Apollo in the arts and brought up Jason, Achilles and other children of the ancient Glitterati. Yet it was the Centaurs in the same neighbourhood who got into terrible fights and were definitely not to be messed with when on the wine. (They made for rather unpleasant drinking company.)

Ovid dreams of the Centaurs:

Suddenly, not out of the dust of the plain but out of the swirling sky, a horde of forms come thundering toward me - men, yes, horses, yes, and I thought of what I do not believe in and know belongs only to our world of fables, which is where I found myself: the centaurs.
But these were not the tamed creatures of our pastoral myths. They were gigantic, and their power, the breath of their nostrils, the crash of their hooves, the rippling light of their flanks, was terrible. These, I knew, were gods.

In whom I also do not believe.

I stood silent in the centre of the plain and they began to wheel in great circles around me, uttering cries - not of malice, I thought, but of mourning. Let us into your world, they seemed to be saying. Let us cross the river into your empire. Let us into your lives.
Believe in us.


My own infatuation began with Ancient History 101, meeting Chiron and moving on to reading four Harry Potters and all of the Narnia Chronicles out loud. (The italics mean I'm just a little bit proud of that.)

There were four great Centaurs. the horse part of them was like huge English farm horses, and the man part of them was like stern but beautiful giants.

The zenith of my Centaur appreciation arrived when we sisters took the boys to see Prince Caspian. I wanted so much to be a Narnian. I would have put up with all privations of war and no public toilet and the Telmarines and the snooty Peter Wolfsbane, just so I could hang out with the Centaurs of the forest.

Here Trufflehunter called again, 'Glenstorm! Glenstorm! and after a pause Caspian heard the sound of hoofs. It grew louder until the valley trembled and at last, breaking and trampling the thickets, there came into sight the noblest creatures Caspian had yet seen, the great Centaur Glenstorm and his three sons. His flanks were glossy chestnut and the beard that covered his chest was golden red. He was a prophet and a star-gazer and knew what they had come about.

It was at about ... oh ... this moment in the darkened cinema that my sister and I swivelled our heads to look at each other, paws desperately fanning our heaving bosoms.
"Phwooaar!" Said I.
She whooped a low wolf whistle, not quite under her breath.
It was not missed by the whole row behind us, who collectively cracked up, despite the grim themes of statesmanship and betrayal.

For ages I carried around a photograph of a Centaur skeleton, created from the bones of a man and a shetland pony. (The derogatory phrase Small Pony Syndrome hadn't been coined at that stage.) The skeleton is now on permanent exhibition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

I lost the photo. No, actually I gave it to a Sagittarian. You know ... half great philosopher, half back end of a horse ... I thought he'd appreciate some evidence of his planetary origins but he didn't get back to me on that one.

Speaking of planetary, the word centaur is a mix up of 'ken' (I kill) and 'taur', which, moving right along, or actually back a moon or so, conduits to Taurus the Bull. 'I kill the bull'. Sagittarius wipes out Taurus with less wine and more finality than Hemingway, year after year in our WineDark skies.

MiCheLLe, Centaur.
Arnold Bocklin, The Battle of the Centaurs, 1873.
David Malouf, An Imaginary Life, Picador, 1980, p.24.
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe, Geoffrey Bles, 1951, p.117.
C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, the return to Narnia, Geoffrey Bles, 1951, pp. 114 & 75.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Summer Holiday

They were one of those couples I imagine indulge in subversive sexual practices. All that was missing were the neck braces and the wife suckling a piglet way past its weaning age. I write 'imagine' coz I don't really want to find out, I just enjoy projecting thoughts like that onto unsuspecting happy campers who epitomise the nuclear family daydream.
Jaded? Not me! There are some strange people out there, guys. There's no better way to find this out than to go camping for a few days on a sun drenched beach, blown to bits by the easterly, sharing a drop dunny with forty or fifty other punters, all of whom are determined to see out 2008, whether 2008 likes it or not.

It gets a bit like tenement housing around the salmon camps this time of year. Things become positively Dickensian in our deep south paradise, especially when the toilet fills to the brim and wafts its ripe aroma around the cooking fires.

The ranger is absent. There are no 'interpretive plaques'. Tick.
There's a bunch of teenage p-platers next door, busy gidgying inedible fish and stoking up their bonehead bull mastiffs. They are nice. They took some of our empty beer cans and plastic bottles back to their camp.

There's cooked chook and blood-soaked watermelon and coleslaw and chops in the esky. Tick.

There's a couple of crusties, all thorny toes and wrinkled ochre knees. 'Sunbirds' who fish all day, play 6VA on their car radio and give the kids party poppers and whistles for New Year.

Then there's the snooty school mums in their new Landbruisers, whom we don't like and only ever choose to hang out with in the real world when our children are too young to just drop at birthday parties and run.
There's the other crescendo of teenagers, hurling around an axe in a world record attempt at drunken wood chopping, to the strains of doof doof and breaking glass.

There's the Mexican festival of inebriated guitar-playing derelicts staggering across the dunes, stopping occasionally for a 'little rest' in the soft, soft sand, and then invading en masse somebody else's modest New Year bonfire, crossing arms with them all and insisting on singing Auld Lang Syne. (Oh, hang on, that was us.)

Past BeachCamp Neighbours of Note.

There was the good wife who knitted beanies for a living and home-schooled their peer-starved only child. The husband killed sheep.
Things began to get strange after the smoke did a few circuits. "I know where there's some sheep," said Hubby. He got out his knives and left for an hour.
During his absence, his wife quizzed me on my relationship with my friends there. She was one of those people who just won't listen once their mind is decided and sniffily told me that she thought it highly inappropriate that I was married to so many men all at once. Her knitting needles fairly clacked with disapproval.
Hubby returned with a sheep of dubious origin that he proceeded to butcher in front of us, in the most inept and macabre fashion I have ever witnessed. It was getting close to midnight. Limbs, bits of wool and strips of fat and flesh dangled from the carcass. These bits he'd slash at with an intensity that flagged with time (even though he held a knife in each hand), gripping a fag in his twisted little sphincter mouth, stopping only to neck more straight Bundy.
The baling twine broke. Mutton hit the dirt. He stayed up the rest of the night, muttering, shouting and guarding his kill from the dogs.

There was the Magpie Man, doing laps of the continent in his orange Kombi with a pet magpie and a broken anvil in the back. He told tale after tale and not many were true, most were probably lies but he held me in thrall and I think that is the point.

There was Pricilla, queen of the vision quest, who disappeared for days up Mount Manypeaks, found her way to the iconic nipple and met her Familiar, returning craggier and more spaced out than ever.

There was the couple who arrived at Cosy Corner for the local square dancing convention. Their caravan had - electric stove, electric lights, electric television and dvd player. Oh and did I mention the electric hot water system? They hated us because we tried very hard to make more noise than their thumping fucking genny, it whoomped all night. On the ground. On a piece of corrugated iron. We failed.

I could go on and on. Yes. Pauly. I was never sure whether Pauly was Aboriginal or Lebanese but he talked like those guys from Pizza, so he was most likely the latter. That urban, toothless, snakey flatterer, one eye on me and the other scanning our camp.

There was the old man at Cosy, who spent weeks there recovering from an intestinal disease he'd caught during his ten month stay with a family in Brazil. He sat perfectly upright in his Coaster bus all day and just looked out to sea. When we finally got to talk to him, he made the kid's eyes bulge at the photos of those Rio Mardi Gras women. He was kind, he told lots of stories and I think they were plausible.

And the Subversive Sexual Practices Couple? Well that was another outrageous Sarah Toa hook, I'll admit. He was actually a mortgage financier from Sydney, fleeing the carnage that he could well have helped perpetuate, driving with his family to out-of-the-way places in their black Mercedes four wheel drive. Quiet places, anywhere out of mobile phone range.
His wife was a handsome sort with impossibly gorgeous breasts, quite probably a product of the pre-economic meltdown. And no, she wasn't suckling a piglet. Sorry.