Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What About the Pearl?

So the question lurks, "What about the Pearl? Won't she get jealous?" (that comment copyright SpencerCollins).
Well. How long have people been driving past my masterpiece of half scraped nautical history and thought; "She's never gonna get around to fixing that old girl up."? I have had a few lovely Sunday afternoons, fuelled by a half decent late harvest, scraping back paint, filleting fish in her shade and generally just hanging out. She has been the robust source of dreams, fairytales and fey little laughs, probably for longer than I've known her.

Shark and I decided to go halves in her last year, and get her into the water by summer. He still owes me twenty bucks ... But he's always been a good, sound Mole to my Ratty and when he returns the hero, I shall shout him a dinner at Toad Hall. (That's a promise, Shark.)

'Ratty and Mole' by Charles van Sandwyk

There is nothing more fun than messing around in boats, even of the land-locked variety. It is the dream, the idea of launching her into the water one day that holds her to me so. Only recently I saw the Pearl (well, her doppleganger) on an Agatha Christie movie; some chaps in boater hats skimming across the bay in a twenty foot carval-built speed boat with an inboard motor. I lost track of who-murdered-whom. It was just so exciting seeing the Girl!

"But she's got nice lines," I say to anyone who smirks at my folly. And they have to agree. She's the kind of boat that in her time was a leisure/racer, something for people who didn't know what to do with their money. At the same time she would hold her own in rough seas and carvals slide real nice and quiet through wine dark water.

But, on buying the Selkie, she has been supplanted. I am finally admitting what everyone else thought. I am not a carpenter. I am a ... um, well anyway. I am not a carpenter.

So the Pearl needs a new romantic. In two weeks she will be turned into a garden bed unless I can find someone with the same brain as mine, only more practical, who really wants to restore her.
The speccies; she needs 50% of ribs replaced (maximum), the planks are finest N.Z. Kauri and in good condition, she needs recaulking and a new quarterdeck (plywood and short cuts - easy). Then paint. Then motor. The transom will hold up or you can put in an inboard.

And the trailer goes with her. (Ever tried to get a half ton wooden carval off the ground and onto a trailer? I have. Believe me, once she goes on, you wanna keep her there.)

I'm pretty sure the Pearl was either built in Albany or spent most of her life here. She was built around the 1930's. Maybe I was just a momentary keeper, someone who keep her off the grass and dry rot for a year or so. I don't know. She's been gorgeous to have around. I'd like her to go to a good home.
And if she does end up a garden bed, or pond - it's a good home. These gardens are spectacular already. I trust in Mrs Yin and Yang's aesthetic chutzpah to make the Pearl even more beautiful. But I'd prefer to get the word out first.

Another Selkie Story

Text message to Our Sunshine;
"12 foot fibreglass darling dinghy, smicko, licensed trailer, wants 2 grand, I reckon he'll take 1400. That's what scholarships are for, huh?"
"Hmmm, I'd think about that one for a little while, darling."
"Ohhh! But I WANT IT!"
"Yes dear and I'm sure its a very nice boat. You just hold onto yourself for a little while."
"I'll think about it then."
"There's a good girl."
Do you detect a tone coming through, here? "Oh fuck off!" I messaged back, unable to remain rational and considerate any longer.

There's only one thing to do when meeting resistance like that. It's a bit the same as "I want a puppy, Mum," or "Buy me a pony, Daddy." You take said victim to see the said merch. Works with puppies everytime.
We ingested such large amounts of coffee the next Saturday morning, I began to realise I'd actually overdosed and had morphed into a rambunctious, foul-mouthed harridan, wigging out amongst a wonderfully gentile group of writers, philosophers and artists. Far from scintillating company, my state was becoming embarrassing to those around me. There was nothing for it but go to sea. There is a saying; "Bad behaviour on land means bad luck at sea" but I put it to Haimona and Our Sunshine anyway.

"Why the boat?" Our Sunshine was at it again. "Why do you need to buy a boat?"
"Because I WANT it."
"You've got a boat."
"But she's ..."
"Why do you need a boat?"
"I need to buy a boat with my scholarship money, so I can pursue my study of Foucault's The Boat as Heterotopia par Excellence."
Hence I justified a blatant impulse buy with abstract academia, to a cerebrally-inclined Gemini. Brilliant.
"I can work with that," she nodded approvingly. "C'Mon, Haimona, let's take a boat for a spin."

It was like the puppies. I once took a Toa sister all the way out to Boxwood Hills in the Bedford van - whose rusting roof was perilously close to peeling back and giving us all blow-waves - with the express purpose that she talk me out of buying a brindle Kangaroo dog. I needed her objective, hard-nosed, sensible-sister advice. She's a dead reckoner with old Valiants, but when this Toa sister was faced with eight mangy puppies that looked just like joeys in a brindle snarl sprawled over a stack of roo tails, the wolf-mother nearby licking up the blood from a slaughtered goat, she just fell apart and whispered "Oh, just buy her!" I learned something that day.

We piled into Our Sunshine's very cool $500 panel van (So cool, it's nearly as cool as a $500 Bedford van) and drove out to the suburbs, where this little daisy of a boat sat on the side of the road, everything painted, varnished, polished and just so bloody gorgeous. The puppy theory worked.
"Ohhh," Our Sunshine and Haimona breathed. "She's a darling!"
When I asked the owner if we could take her out, he took one look at my deeply needy demeanor and caffeine twitch - and asked for my handbag and pin number.

Everything went well until Haimona tried to start the motor and fuel went just everywhere. However, a strong Kiwi with long arms is much handier anyway when there are a set of oars around. I wish I had a camera. Visualise this; Our Sunshine and myself in long, white, fluffy dresses and parasols (dressed for the Saturday morning philosophy saloon, of course), reading novels and letting Haimona row us all around Oyster Harbour.

Consequently, I had their blessing. Well sort of. By the next morning Haimona was still working on me to give it up but he knew it was a lost cause. Especially when he'd proved so damn good at rowing. And so the Selkie came home with me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just Before the Storm

Okay, really I just want to show off to the whole universe - myself rowing my gorgeous, pretty, little blue NEW BOAT!!! These pics by intrepid shipmate Our Sunshine ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Invocation of William Hook

(For those not tangled in my endless loopy skirts, I am writing an honours thesis on the intersection of fiction and history. This navigates the story of sealers and Menang Aboriginals in King George Sound in 1826. When Lockyer arrived here to proclaim the area as part of the British crown, there was already a small colony of reprobates, consisting of two African Americans, a Maori, two native Van Diemonian women, a 'Sydney Aborigine', a little girl and several European sorts, all living on Breaksea Island.)

I saw a man in the supermarket the other day, a shearer. Tall, scary, bags under his eyes, hook nosed, hard lived, dark. He flashed at me, "Is this your shopping?" This was William Hook, he was all there. I knew if I approached him on a real human level, he would just dissolve but the set of the shoulders and that kind of sailor/shearer arrogance said, "Do not transgress this."

Right now I'm enjoying Willian Hook too much in a creepy kind of way. And so the question: "What is it in sealer's mind that allows them to do what they did?" Well.
What is emerging is a process, a method of invoking character. It's witchery; like really good cooking. I begin with the story that Lockyer related in his journal and the testimony of William Hook. I read 'The Historical Records of Australia, Vol.3' and also found some extracts from D'Urville's journal, whilst he was anchored in King George Sound in 1826.

There are questions immediately - and not enough answers. No-one is here to tell me the tale. Most of my questions regard motivation - why they did what they did. Why did he do that? Why didn't they keep her with them?

To understand our unknown character, we enter our lizard brain, the reptilian recesses where all our formative experiences are stored. This is where the motivation lies, with supposedly dormant memories that have been subjugated into silence but manifest themselves through our state of mind and therefore, ultimately, our actions.

There is no better way than unabashed fiction to access the reptilian mind of a person who lived one hundred and eighty years ago, one who wrote nothing down for posterity. Fiction is the vessel of truth for a writer, assuming that the human state is universal and subject to the same outcome to stimulus and experience, as anyone is, in any era.

So, rather than research their genealogy right down to those little wriggly taddies, I do what B. T. told me once during her workshop on local history narratives. 'Speculate, elaborate, embroider.' Find out enough to write creatively, do the research and then leave it behind.

William Hook's background is on the page, my prerogative as blatant fictionista. Spending six months as an exchange student in Dunedin didn't hurt either. Wanting to know this man incited a William Hook infatuation on my behalf. It was the mystery of his motivation in testifying against his co-worker and sealer Samuel Bailey that hooked me in. All I had was his name and a nationality but now I have decided this boy is Ngai Otaku. In 1817, he watched Australian whalers saw 42 of his father's boats in half with cross saws. Then they burnt the village to the ground. (This bit is true.) And there you have a formative childhood experience.

I thought about William Hook a lot. I remembered the pitiful amount of Maori words in my vocab and found more. I discovered that the Menang girl could communicate with the Maori through the names of fish. I read an ethnography of southern Maori, published by the Dunedin City council and Otago University. I realised that whilst William Hook was in Albany, Te Rauparaha was tearing down the East coast of New Zealand on a nightmarish rampage, bloodying the waters of Hook's home.

And gradually, after a few months of falling in love with and mentally stalking this non-existant person, he is being built, gollem-like, into existence. He is almost here. Once he is fully fleshed out, made real again so many years later, William Hook will explain to me his motivations, why he testified against his sea-dog mate, his deepest fears and his greatest strengths.

At first, as I delved into this story, I worried a little bit about myself and my obsession with a man who has been dead one hundred years.
Mmm yes, still worrying but I'm beginning to get it. He is the first one and there are more. He has nearly arrived fully formed. Next is Samuel Bailey, then the little girl from the mainland of what is now Esperance (yes she has an origin now, thanks to the French explorer D'Urville's journals), then the Menang woman, stolen from inland Albany, perhaps in the region of Wilyung, then finally Lockyer. He turned up in the Sound with his son from his first marriage, his new wife busy halfway through birthing her eleven children to him.
There's a few heads to climb into ... My next project is Samuel Bailey. I'm beginning with this image. Whaddaya reckon? Pirate? Politician? Sealer? Child abductor and general all-round Bad-Arse?

(Actually he's from the History Collection. Apologies to anyone who recognises him as their uncle, father, husband ... sorry 'bout that.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Check This Girl Out

Recently I clicked on The Songlines (Bruce Chatwin) on my profile, just to see who in this blogosphere would come up. (It can get interesting ... imagine the Blogophiles who'd show if you entered Home and Away, Harry Potter, or something really, completely ordinary). Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flannigan throws up some nice surprises.

Recently I clicked on The Songlines, that tale of nomads in general and in particular the nomadic people who moved inside and around our centre - did you know that when Chatwin wrote The Songlines, he was cruising central Australia with Salman Rushdie? -


I clicked on this. She's a gorgeous new find. Esp. look at the Six ways to kill a Rooster series. Enjoy this girl.
The picture below? Well, it appeared on her blog and struck a (spinal) chord. Don't we all have a Frieda day?

The Flayed Angel from Gautier D'Agoty and Joseph Guichard Duverny, Myologie Complete (Comprehensive Study of the Muscles), Paris, 1746.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Samuel Bailey and Her Dog

Samuel Bailey knew just how he liked his dogs - hungry, mean and obedient to a glance. This ballsey old yellow dingo, his shabby white blaze from fang to arsehole, had two of the former blessings but none of the third, deferring only to the girl.

It seemed the dog was forever between Bailey and Moennan until kicked aside. A protective barricade ringed the two of them. He'd seen her lay the dog on his back, smear fat in his ears to rid him of ticks, take an ember so close to his old balls and burn the parasites off, the shock scent of singed fur, the dingo's sulky submission to her administrations.

The Van Diemonian women laughed at her indulgences. They called him Taraba, painted ochre stripes over his haunches, adorned him with their necklaces of tiny white shells. He was old and bore the humiliation well. His teeth were worn down to stumps and brown like a seal's teeth. Part of his chest was heavily scarred from cornering the wrong kangaroo. He'd been slashed by the violent brilliance of an angry and doomed young buck backed against a tree.

On their way to the island, the dog growled at Bailey for the last time. Hardly a raised lip but enough. Bailey looked over to the girl, grabbed an oar and it fell behind the strength of his rowing arm across the nose of the yellow-eyed cur, a killer blow for the old dog who fell to the bowels of the boat, silent, his gnarled paws twitching.

The girl shrieked and went for Bailey, pulled on his rough shirt and bloodied his nose, whilst he was one-armed trying to stow the oar. His fleshy thud into her face flew in amongst all this. A creamy slop rocked the boat, broaching it sideways. The Maori Hook fell to starboard against Thommo, who swore at him, trying to bring the boat about and head back into the chop.
The little whale boat fairly throbbed with grunting, shouting men, the bloodied girl and the dead yellow dog.
"You ain't nobody's dog but mine now," Bailey said to the girl.

p.s. from sarah toa: Does anyone know if kangaroo ticks were introduced? And the pic of the whaleboat is courtesy of Albany History Collection.