Friday, September 24, 2010

Wild Man

Today I heard a horse galloping up the hill towards town, iron shoes clanging against the bitumen, going hell for leather. It made me wonder if Johnny Chester was back in town.

When I was a kid, we camped in a bush hut by Broke Inlet. The door was unlocked and there was a pile of firewood by the grate. We stayed there for a few days. I asked Dad about the name carved into the wall near the table. "Ahh ha. Johnny Chester," Mum and Dad laughed together and Mum said, "So he's still on the loose. He must have been holed up here. Cocky int he?"
When we left the hut, Dad made us kids collect some firewood and leave it by the fireplace.

In 1976, Johnny and another man bombed the brand new WA Chip and Pulp Company's terminal in Bunbury, to protest against the Government-sanctioned logging of old growth forests for woodchips. "I will fight and die for the right to give nature to my children," he said. 1,000 sticks of gelignite, a stolen sawnoff and one trussed up security guard later, they managed to do a bit of damage and not hurt anyone. People felt that blast ten kilometres away. A week later Johnny and his mate were tracked down and arrested. I suppose now it would be tried as a serious case of sedition or even terrorism. They both got three and a half years.

About twenty years after the bombing, I met Johnny. It's funny, despite those Ned Kelly-style stories from my childhood of a fugitive, wild man bomber on an environmental mission, I only recently realised that I'd met him. He used to ride his horse into town, stay a few days and then head back out to the Porongorup ranges where he had a camp. I ran a market stall selling clothes and stuff. He brought in things for me to sell: little moss gardens that he'd planted in hollowed-out wood, necklaces made from fox's teeth and fencing wire. He always wore a filthy khaki beanie with rosella feathers stuck all over it.

He would ride one horse into town and lead another, plus he had a speckled cattle dog and a brown kelpie trotting beside him. He rode right down the main street, with his horses and dogs and his wares. Lovely.
So today, I heard that horse galloping up the road towards town and I thought of Johnny Chester. He's still around, somewhere, I think.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Whalesong From Galicia

 "The Whale is in an old whale factory in Galicia that nowadays is abandoned and waiting for speculators to build a shopping centre over it. The wall is like a reminder of the all the corpses that rested, not in peace, inside that factory."

Click if you want a better image and/ or go to

Seal Rock

Seal Rock, Albert Bierstadt, California, 1872.

Breaksea Island Native Title

"  In 1839, the Government Resident at King George Sound expressed apprehension in official circles that illegitimate children of the sealers might claim a birthright over the offshore islands."

So, in the 1800's the colonial authorities were already worried about Native Title. Some descendants of the sealers and Tasmanian Aboriginal women live in Albany even now.

* Encyclopaedia of Western Australian History, p. 799.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

National Threatened Species Day

Now, on the day we finally get a Prime Minister after two weeks of a hung parliament, the fact that it is also National Threatened Species Day is ironic. I'm not sure why - but I know I could have more fun with that. However, tonight it's all about TIGERS for me.

This day for the threatened species of flora and fauna in Australia began as a recognition of the death of the last known Tasmanian Tiger, who died in the Hobart Zoo, September 7th, 1936. Of course, stories still abound of the Thylacine roaming certain parts of Australia ...
... but I wonder if the optimism and joy people experience when hearing about positive sightings saves us from feeling like stupid bastards for annihilating the tigers. I've said before that colonial Tasmania was a crucible of violence and the extinction of the tigers symbolises this violence.

Tigers used to exist on the mainland of Australia too and its likely that the coming of the dingoes about three thousand years ago saw to their demise. The last thylacine and the first dingo remains so far discovered on the mainland are radiocarbon dated within a few centuries of one another. Sea levels rose before the dingoes arrived and so they didn't make it to Tasmania.
Next is a story for you about Tasmanian tigers and dingos. I posted it two years ago and it is time to give it some light again (because I like it!) Tigers and dingoes have resonated with my personal dreaming since I was a kid and the archaeologist in the story is sort of based on one of my idols, John Mulvaney. In his eighties now, Mulvaney is a man who crosses the disciplines of history, archaeology and anthropology. In fact I think he may have even excavated a thylacine on the Nullabor at some stage, the very territory of this tale ...

A Tyger Tale

He was alone when he excavated the first tiger, 25 years ago. It lay under beds of ash, interred and then cremated, almost as though to sterilise or negate the soil that it lay in.
A few days before his find, he'd taken pity on the team. With a dearth of artifacts the students were hot, bored and his young colleague's wife was expecting a baby any moment. They packed up their desert camp and left him out there alone, where the Southern ocean bit off the country and little black stars fell to earth.
He returned weeks later to the city, triumphant and bore with grace his colleague's jealousy and regret. His name was instantly cemented in professional circles, subject to an intense scrutiny of process and umbilicly connected to a pre history with no written word, only songs.
Now he needed to revisit the desert sands that formed the plinth of his career.

She was born with teeth, little needle canines. Her mother refused to feed her and considered exposing the strange baby, whose eyes remained glued shut for half a moon.
A young man who saw her teeth knew there would be trouble. It didn't stop him from presenting food, skins and flint to her parents and he continued this betrothal promise faithfully for thirteen years.

This was the time after the coming of the dogs, when everything changed. A barren woman, who carried a ginger pup strapped to her belly, told the girl her Granny’s story of the strange men who sailed in from the north. They wore spiked helmets fashioned from stonefish and breast plates of thick, felted coconut fibre that repelled even the death spears. They brought the dogs with them to eat and to hunt and they wore the toothed necklaces of the ones they'd eaten on the journey.

These dogs without pouches were welcomed. They didn't compete with the people for food, like the tigers did. Dogs hunted in teams and brought food to the camp, where they sat on the outer rim of firelight, their jowls resting on their paws, ears cocked, waiting their turn.
With them came a new mammalian knowledge of fatherhood and birth. That's when things began to change, the woman told the girl.

Nights when the moon was full, the dogs left the camp silently in rows like militant wraiths. Then the cold, dry air thickened with the smell of terror and blood. They yipped and howled as they sniffed out den after den of tigers, tearing apart the marsupial bitches in their cramped little caves and devouring her babies.

He tracked her out into the scrubby mulga, always careful that she didn't see him. He was curious about her absences. She lay in a sunny clearing with tigers. People spoke of tigers as the Dreaming, since that lifetime of bloody nights.
The brindle tiger joeys sprawled over her dusty brown skin and chewed on her hair. The girl suckled from the bitch, her face obscured by the furry pouch. He could smell the warmth coming off their coats. Her fingers stroked the stripy pelt. Her fingers stroked and scratched and kneaded and then ...froze.
She whipped around to face him, grinning at him with her sharp little teeth dripping opalescent milk. She was daring him to say or do something. He knew then why the dogs never liked her. He stood, habit, like a tree. And then they were gone, the whole mob turned into the country, including his promised wife.

The reason for archaeologist's return was to impart something to his old colleague and to follow up a rumour. He knew the thylacine he’d found twenty five years ago had been buried, probably by human hand and then a fire lit over the ground. Radiocarbon dating on the charcoal was three thousand years. Twenty five years of research crossing all disciplines and he was still guessing the rest. He was running out of time. At seventy five, it was time to hand over his baby.
"You need to get some people down here. You have to work out where the circle begins and ends," he rustled a bunch of spiny grasses in his palm. "I think there's more."

Around a frugal flame, the elders sat for three days and discussed the business of the girl. Nobody saw the dogs leave. The dogs ran silent and hungry across the earth, teeth bared, nostrils flared, their long red tongues flicking against their jowls with every bound. It was the next night, a frozen five-dog-night, when the people realised they were gone. All but one man curled up with their backs to the fire, grumbling with cold and tired from all the talking.

The old patience of a dedicated bone digger was deserting him. He slapped a switch of mulga leaves at the flies and paced. A new generation of students straightened their backs in shallow trenches, watched him and then glanced at each other, eyebrows raised. They knew the history. He walked in circles, always circles, always trying to find the centre, muttering "Tyger, tyger, burning bright..." and slamming his canvas hat against his thigh.

She ran for the sea. She could smell it getting closer. She ran in a short choppy gait, jogging along with the very last of her totem. They stopped at the night well and drank and then ran again. She chewed sweet red flesh from the berry tree and spat out the spherical nuts. The flesh she savoured in her mouth and it sustained her for hours. They headed for the caves on the edges of the ocean. She would light a fire there and be safe for a little while and perhaps her kin could be too, for a little while.

The promised husband ran too, his eyes scouring the earth, back tracking, finding a trail again, running, running, always running and searching the ground for signs of the dogs.
It took two days but he found them.
Terrible sounds hung floating, suspended under the constellations, shot through by the sharper, piercing screams of the straggling tiger joeys as they died. He ran faster into the night towards the noise, expecting his exhausted body to betray him.

He saw the tigers crouching in a circle, facing the dogs. They protected the girl who stood in the middle, teeth shining like the white stone in her hand. He saw the dogs stalking around the largest male tiger. Their yellow eyes glinted hard and sure as they took him down. One of them yelped as the white rock glanced off him. It was not an orgiastic flurry. It was quick, merciless and brutal. He saw her search the barren soil for another stone.

The dogs split into groups of three or four and quickly killed the other adult tigers, the leader of each pack picking a tiger up by its neck and shaking it lifeless.
He was running towards her when the dogs hit her as a deadly circular body, with a shattering single thump of flesh against flesh.

The helicopters bristling with cameras arrived. The news was satellited around the world within hours. A perfect circle, twelve metres in diameter, of human-interred thylacines is news. Television camera crews and journalists rolled out brand new swags in the student’s camp. The old archaeologist could not stand still for interviews. He still thought there was more. He let his colleague do all the talking. The students put both hands to their faces often or knelt on the ground and felt the earth, amongst all the activity of the media.

Later in the evening, he invited his colleague out into the field. The stars were brilliant, despite the generator lights, the celebratory bonfire and the full moon. "I'm going home in the morning," he told the stunned man. "But I know there is more. There’s something here, right where I stand, in the centre. It's your dig now, friend."

The promised husband knew that she was the last one and that the new order of dogs had begun. But the dogs would not have her. He buried her first, very deep, with all the tiger joeys laid over her belly. He buried the adult tigers where they fell defending her, facing outwards to protect her forever.
When he lit the fires, the dogs waited, uneasy and triumphant, at the edges of the light.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How Excitement!

Two exciting things have happened, well perhaps even more but I'll let you in on two ...
Today I learnt how to make Freedom of Information requests and it is so easy, I can't believe I've never gone there before! Why is this so exciting? Because now when I'm writing something important and investigative (just like in the movies) I can get stuck into the government agency files. Oooh yes.

The second exciting thing is that in about six weeks Storm Boy and me are crewing a huge catamaran from Albany to Esperence! So I get to hang out on islands a lot, sail out to sea and commune with the seals again. I know the skipper/owner well from boat ramp chats and totally trust and like this guy.

Initially Storm Boy wasn't coming because he gets sea sick (I know - son of a fisherwoman. He doesn't even eat fish but he still loves the ocean and all its critters). I hadn't considered asking him if he wanted to come, organising some care for him instead, along with the dog, chickens, cat and students. But now we've decided to overcome the seasick thingy somehow and so he is coming too!

                                                                           Image - 'Fisherwoman' trunk label.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Bum Steer

(or 'Strong Woman Furphy')

I'm of the age where I've seen a thing or two
but not quite the age where I can accept these things.
I'm of the belief that if I leap off that cliff knowing the Goddess will catch me
then she usually does.

She's seen me drive across the country to introduce my child
to the man who  discovered the body of her father in the bush.
She's seen me stand over the grave of my childhood abuser
and decide not to add my own DNA to his, in the form of my spit
and she's scooped me up me every time, in free flight, arms outstretched.

Yes, there's been a fair bit thrown at me
but, being a bit of a scrapper, I've managed to throw a bit back.
What's bugging me is that being created a strong woman
is not always good for us women.

Sometimes I think that bringing our girls up to be strong, capable and proud
is to teach them that no man is ever gonna step up for them.
Sometimes I think it would be a safer life
to be brought up pretty, flirty and a bit useless.

See that woman on the side of the road
in the middle of nowhere, car bonnet up?
That's me. People fly past - "She's handsome, she looks capable, she's okay."
Well I'm not any of those things. I'm fucking not okay.