Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rejuvenated/ Destroyed

After being burnt out and then flooded by the inlet for weeks on end, this paper bark tree is starting all over again. Burning the bush is all about rejuvenation or utter destruction in Australia - usually depending on whose idea it is to burn it!

I hear a lot of news reports about acres of bush land being destroyed by wild fire and always smile to think of Old Salt's response:

"Now look at that tree! Has it been destroyed? No, it's still bloody there, innit! I'm an arsonist y'know. Well, I used to be anyway. Used to walk all around the country and chuck a match here and there, when the wind was right. Patchy fires. Fire just brings up everything all green and nice, gets rid of the kangaroo's ticks and gives them a bit of fresh feed. They won't be feedin' around that bush for a while though, 'til it all dries out. They'll be up in the hills, away from the foot rot."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Where Two Waters Meet

The frictions between salt and fresh ...
The bar hasbeen opened at Irwins Inlet
and salt water surges in on the high tide.
Kelp finds its way to the river mouths
and the two waters push against or under or over
each other.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tree Ladies With Portable Roots

About ten years ago, the Darwin City Council announced that it would cut down the old Poinciana trees in the city centre. These old trees with their flaming red flowers dropped mess all over the footpaths and were way past their expiry date.
But there were some protests - mainly from the local Aboriginal community, who claimed that the Poinciana tree was part of their heritage. It was a sacred tree, home of the Poinciana Woman.
"Bullshit," said several horticulturalists. "The tree was imported in the 1930's."

For me, this story began a meandering of thoughts about ripping yarns, urban myths and the Aboriginal Dreamtime. Assuming that Dreamtime ended when white folk turned up here was an arrogance of mine that mingled with complete ignorance. Myth and culture are still evolving, none of stays in stasis and as Joseph Campbell once said, "The beauty of myths is that they are ladies with portable roots."

I first heard the story of the Poinciana Woman as a curfew story. In the years between 1905 and 1962, the White Australia policy was in force across the country. Unfortunately for the authorities and racist engineers of this policy, Australia is a rather big place and above the 26th parallel, it's pretty much a different country. Darwin, Broome and towns in North Queensland were already home to Malays, Macassans, Japanese, Javanese, Chinese and others. Territorians tried to ignore the southerners from the cities and their impractical policies but, during and after World War Two, the curfew against 'coloured people' was implemented anyway.

Poinciana Woman was a bogey story, invented by mothers to get their kids home on time during the curfew years. She was a beautiful woman, who wore a white dress and sang children away from their mothers. She lived in the Poinciana trees and if the children strayed too far after dark, she'd get them. She was very, very pretty and she had big breasts - those mothers knew their teenage brown boys were the most likely to be arrested after dark.

Poinciana Woman, in one version of the story, was a local woman who'd been raped by American soldiers during the war and, deranged with shame and grief, hung herself from a Poinciana tree when she found out she was pregnant. In every version, she is some ethnicity other than European. She is Japanese, Asian or Aboriginal. In one story she is a "beautiful brown-skinned Asian woman who was raped by a group of Japanese fishermen at East Point ... She became a wraith who stalks and kills men at night. she entices them by initially appearing as a beautiful, white robed, long haired woman but then transforms into a hideous wild haired, eagle clawing hag just before she eviscerates her victims and feeds on their steaming guts ..."
So play nice, boys.

Roland Dyrting has written a great essay on the Poinciana Woman. The link to his essay and other prize winners from the 2009 Northern Territory Literary Awards is here.

'Poinciana Woman' by me

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Breath of a Whale

The town of Albany has more than the average quota of people who know how to kill whales. It may have been thirty years since the last land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere operated here, but those guys are still around.

For four days now, a young humpback whale has been dying on a sand bank in the harbour. The Department of Environment and Conservation have decided that the whale will die naturally. At twenty five feet and seventeen tonnes, it is too big to shoot. It is said to be 'winding down'. How long this takes is anyone's guess. "I don't feel right about this either," Mark from Fisheries told me. "But Peter from DEC reckons his hands are tied."

It seems that the young whale has been separated from its mother and, lost, hungry and pining, ended up on a sand bar in Princess Royal Harbour. 'Winding down' may sound like an innocuous term for dying slowly in the sun but it actually holds some truth. Apparently when young whales strand, their internal clocks turn backward, to inevitable death.

DEC's instructions to the public are: stay away - "closer than 100 metres to a whale and you will be prosecuted. The whale will die 'naturally'". This means no wet blankets to soothe its blistering skin, no company, nothing.

I saw the whale this morning and it hadn't 'wound down' much from when I visited twelve hours before. The whale was still breathing regularly and moving, trying the get off the sand bar.The Department of Planning and Infrastructure motored out to the whale in the Fisheries boat. They met the Port Authority tender out there - both just checking they didn't need to tow away a dead whale. When they ascertained that the whale was still alive, they left.

If it was dying on the town beach, instead of out in the middle of the harbour, would DEC investigate ways of euthanizing the whale?And now that we all know that a whale is dying slowly in front of us - is letting it die 'naturally' the right thing to do? Surely once we are aware of suffering, then ignoring it is cruel, not 'natural'.

I look out the window and see the yellow markers, the curious boaties and the persistent spray, a little cloud above the choppy water, misting to the east ... the breath of a whale.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Baby Humpback Needs Help

This whale is dying in front of me and maybe in the morning, at dawn when we go back out to pick up the nets, it will be dead. I rang Fisheries in a teary funk and asked Brad what the hell they were doing about it, this Humpback baby dying on a raft of weed in the middle of the harbour in the middle of town.
He told me DEC have known about it for three days. It's been stuck there, dying for days while people wonder what kind of paperwork or gelignite they need. In the mean time, they've put markers around it, in a "this vehicle has been reported" style.
It breathed in my face. It's skin is peeling off in the sun. I poured buckets of water over it's tattered skin and the whale shook its tail. It wants to get off that bank but the tide is so low. I think what I am finding so offensive and upsetting is that the whale must be suffering and nobody is doing anything to ease its pain or hasten its death.
Is that alright? Should we just leave it alone?
Don't baby whales make mistakes sometimes? Maybe we could assume it's just fucked up and gotten wedged on a sand bank in the middle of the harbour - not gone there to die because it was already sick. Anyway, after all the dithering, now it's really sick. In a harbour full of tug boats. I just don't get it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Apocalptica Atwoodia

Apocalyptic dystopias have always excited me since I was a pimply teenager. You know, there's a boy and you're the only girl left on the whole planet and after  he's saved you from the zombies who used to be human and are now seeping green blood and scooping up their eyeballs if they run too fast, you both get to break into houses full of dead people to take the non-perishables they will never need, and live in the bedroom section of David Jones so you can start working on creating a new, much better human race ... Don't tell me you've never gone there.

I'm on a bit of a run of apocalyptic novels at the moment; Cormac McCarthy's The Road, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and now that wild witch of past and future Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood. Like Ursula le Guin's work, Atwood's futuristic novels tend to be an uncomfortably close study of our own society. Our dysfunctional mores continue just as they are today, until humans are facing extinction and still they want to kill and rape each other and everything else.

Call it survivalism, call it nihilism ... in the end the vegans are eating the gene-spliced purple goats, despite their rigid moral structure. There is still beach plastic and out to sea stand the twelve story monuments to the stupid beachside real estate deals of the early twenty-first century. Here, I nod my head, knowing and righteous. See, I knew that would happen.

This sentiment is the honey trap. Righteousness. In some ways, The Year of the Flood smells of hand clapper righteousness. The story centres on a subculture called God's Gardeners, who requisition empty buildings to live in and build their rooftop gardens. They are practising vegans, abhor using all animal products and their unofficial leader Adam One gives sermons throughout the book about humility in the face of nature, how to conserve in a rapacious society and ultimately how to survive his predicted Waterless Flood.

About three quarters through the tale (and this is not a spoiler) you begin to realise that God's Gardeners, or at least Adam One, have got it all going on. After all the sermonising, hymn singing and bad clothes, they saved themselves by reducing one's carbon footprint, paying attention to which brand of coffee was destroying the habitats of song birds, protecting the world's bees from disease and not caving in to the corporations.

Interesting, I thought, that Margaret Atwood auctioned the names of some of her characters for charity. I've not heard of this before. The kick-ass Amanda Payne, a bit of a Lisbeth Salander, was also in another of Atwood's novels, Oryx and Crake. Her name was auctioned and the proceeds went to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. Rebecca Eckler's name in the book was auctioned for Walrus Magazine Canada.

And the moral of the story? Sometimes I wonder if Atwood is cackling away while she bubbles and boils up these yarns. She cooks up some pretty nasty stuff with her genome theories. But the smoke alarms are going off everywhere anyway - sinister pharmacutical corporations and beauty spas with names like HelthWyser and AnooYoo, who pamper, reassure and beautify while the pollinators become extinct and women's lives become worth only their dollar value, the supreme arrogance of farming creatures for meat, humanity's innate but unnatural ability to fiddle, distracted by the next sparkly thing, ignoring all the warnings of the flood.

Regular readers of A WineDark Sea may be happy to know that this book and your (kind and slightly alarmed) comments have spurred me to stay off the fags and dump the Champix. But the book has also taken me back to a space I inhabited years ago and would like to return to. I identified with the God's Gardeners; vegetarian, honey bee-loving, clothes and toy-making, tree people. Somewhere along the line, somehow, I got my own head stuck in my twenty-first century arse and ...  um I'm unsure how to continue with this analogy. But - Go God's Gardeners. Yeah.

Image by Renee Nault, for the LA Times article on Margaret Atwood.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Champix and Chewing Gum #2

Well, I imagine the spin doctors at Pfizer are busy this week, counteracting the news that a side effect of their smoking cessation drug Champix is depression in some clients and perhaps also led to several recent suicides. When it came on the radio news, the kids looked at me like I had something strange growing out of my nose. "I'm okay," I answered. "I'm just fine. JUST FINE."
"Except you've got hair coming out of your nostrils," said Pearlie. "And I don't think much of your mood swings either."

This post is going to be a public patting myself down, okay? I thought I'd list all side effects of my Champix-taking habit of the last six weeks. This way googlers can stumble across it, seeing as Doc is not really interested, unless I stop insisting that she bulk bill me. So here goes.

Last night I solved the world's problems before falling asleep at 2 am. The night before I woke up at 4.30 am and decided it was pointless just lying there, so I got up and started work for the day. My total sleeping hours since I've started taking Champix have been reduced by 25 %. That's right, 25 %. I dream lucidly, vividly, between three and five dreams a night.
Strangely I haven't sprouted hackles or started howling at the moon. Sometimes I am tired but the extra energy from not smoking can counteract this.

I love good food, usually have a cast iron stomach and no allergies.  Now my gut is a cast iron warzone, full of bombs and ... shit. You don't want to know what's going on in there, right now. But I will say that I think my body has developed a sensitivity to dairy and wheat. I am craving sugar and stimulants.

Alcohol does not interest me at all. Champix has been just as effective in suppressing desire for alcohol as it has for nicotine, in fact I suspect it may even make me feel sick, like antabuse or something.

I haven't had a period. In the past six weeks I've gone from a perfect lunar bleeder to nothing. The rest of my girly cycle is exactly the same, just no blood. This side effect is the one I find the most alarming. The others were sort of expected but this one feels like a proverbial canary.

I don't smoke. There's no point smoking when nothing registers in my brain that I need to smoke. Yes, this is weird shit.

I'm angry, angry girl Toa. Like one of those huge freighter ships, I plough on regardless of other craft and take ten nautical miles before I stop. Then I survey all the wreckage and get angry at myself.
I see strange shards of light, on walls or in the air that I never used to see before.
Sometimes I feel, not out of balance, no. Out of kilter, like I'm standing on a funny angle to the ground. It is a strange feeling, a manifestation of emotion and physicality fused.

Am I depressed? Wouldn't have a clue. I do wonder at the suggestion/placebo effect in the news reports about Champix recently. But in reality, after six weeks of not drinking, smoking, bleeding or sleeping, I've got no idea how I feel.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cloud Atlas

Part of my new regime is to do nice things for myself and to not start fights with fence-proud neighbours, Old Salt or police sergeants. My plan is to follow 'The Artist's Way' advice of taking time out each week for an 'artist's date' with myself. So last week after the markets, I packed my almond halva, a bottle of water and 'The Cloud Atlas' and went down to the sea shore.

On one of these amazing winter's days, I lay on soft green moss over granite, actually dry due to the sunshine, read my book and gorged myself on halva 'til my liver packed it in and I just had to fall asleep ...

... I was woken by digger, who'd managed to find a dead squid, it's tentacles dangling from his chops as he eyed me, trying to hide the whole disgusting thing in his mouth so I wouldn't make him drop it. Sneaky bugger. He was covered in white streaks of pelican poo too. Having a ball.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Whale Days

The right whales came again today, to loll in the shallows and rub off their barnacles against the white sandy bottom of Middleton Beach. I love looking at the people, as much as I love looking at the whales. Hundreds of people, standing together, looking out to sea.