Friday, December 31, 2010

MMX, 2010. Well, this year I started my doctorate and spent six months trying to avoid that pesky Program of Study that I should have handed in earlier, terrified by the idea of laying out three years of work in a single document (It wasn't that scary, a bit like a tax return, getting it done feels real nice).

In January, according to A WineDark Sea, I spent a week feverishly researching who was responsible for hiring Australian planes to the Japanese whalers to spy on Sea Shepherd's whereabouts, including refuelling the planes at Albany's airport.

The lovely 30 hp Mercury shat itself and Old Salt replaced it with a noisy, smoky, cheap 15 hp two-stroke. This Toa was so unimpressed. Flogging across the harbour into a headwind took on epic proportions. The throttle handle was too short to stand up and drive. Old Salt bought an extension, about a metre long. When we fitted it, I stood up near the bow with a stupid piece of plastic between me and the clunking motor. "They had shorter ones but I thought the longer the better," he told me helpfully. "Doesn't matter how big it is, if it doesn't fucking work then it's no good to me," I said. He replaced the extension with the shorter one.

Had my fortieth birthday party, a guerrilla party at the Tanks. Wicked fun, beautiful friends, guitars, fire, art.

Continued stalking William Hook.

Jumped up and down about the plans to fill in The Cove and dump dredging spoils inside King George Sound by the Albany Port Authority and mining company Grange Resources.

Indigo published two of my stories, in March, I think, Volume 5 anyway. Carmen Lawrence decided she loved 'High Times at the Hotel Desiccation' and people seemed to enjoy that tale of skimpy barmaids, catharting Roebourne cops and alcoholic camels. However, no one has looked at me in quite the same way once they read 'Toxicity' and I discovered that double-edged blade of publishing honest, revealing words. Recently I talked to a Famous Writer and mentioned my Old Salt stories and how they'd morphed out of A WineDark Sea. "Oh yes, I've read your blog," he said. "It's very brave." I wandered off thinking, 'What the hell does brave mean?' Later I was informed that it usually means foolish.

Drank lots of red wine.

Gave up cigarettes for a few months. Got sick of being fat and angry. Started smoking again. Still fat and angry.

Spent two or three days a week during the commercial estuarine season at the salmon shack at Peaceful Bay, netting Irwin's Inlet for whiting, mullet and black bream.

 Created a serious discussion on the origins of the term 'No Wuckers'.

Got busted by the most handsome Brad, Super Fisheries Officer Guy, for fishing after dawn on Good Friday, due to a public holiday/weekend confusion. Everything got confiscated, court sessions attended, massive fines imposed, all rather tiresome. This Christmas season, Old Salt asked the department which days he could fish. "Not on Christmas morning," they told him. "It's a public holiday."
"No, it's Christmas Day," said Old Salt. "The public holiday is on Monday."
So Fisheries had to ring Perth and Perth had to ring Canberra and it turned out Old Salt was right. "I want that in writing," he told them. So Old Salt and Sarah Toa got to pull nets and crab pots out of the harbour before dawn on Christmas Day just so Old Salt could live in the hope that someone would ring up and dob him in. Joy to the fucking world and the Goddess of Lost Sleep.

My story 'High Times at the Hotel Desiccation' was selected for the anthology Best Australian Essays 2010. Pretty exciting really when considering the company I was keeping. I got a chance to thank Robert Drewe for selecting the story when I met him at the Sprung Writers Festival.
The next day, I was booked to do a reading with him. Unfortunately hubris kicked in at the Poor Poets Pub Crawl that evening, that red wine guzzling hubris ... danger danger ... I spent about four minutes trying to ride my bicycle home before I realise how bloody dangerous it was.This was precisely the four minutes before I hit the kerb and made quite the butcher's picnic of my face when it connected with bitumen. Yes, I have an unerring nose for self sabotage opportunities. Gotta get on to that one Toa. What is with that? Spent the rest of the year wondering within a comforting condition of denial and an excoriating condition of embarrassment.

Edited the Old Salt stories with Our Sunshine, wrote some more, edited some more, wrote some more, edited some more, wrote some more, edited some more ...

Saw a decades-long crush disappear, flower laden, into the crematorium.

Taught the disaster puppy to be a fisher-dog.

Said Happy 2nd Birthday to A WineDark Sea in September ...

Met some new friends in the blogosphere who live all around the world, including Vencora, Friend, Tom,  Nat Hall andTree Shadow Moon.

Okay, I'm gonna wrap up this year now. Lots of other things happened of course but maybe your attention is wandering. I don't blame you!

Thank you for reading A WineDark Sea in 2010. 
See you next year.

XXX Sarah Toa

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Islands, Linq Journal

A copy of Linq journal's Island edition arrived in my letterbox yesterday. This literary journal is published from James Cook University in Queensland and this time, I'm in it! Here is a link to their website.

The idea for my story, 'Dead Reckoning; The Breaksea Islanders and Me', came from reading about a certain governor in King George Sound who expressed consternation in official circles that the offspring of sealers and Aboriginal women could claim a birthright over the islands in Western Australia. I'm still niggling away at the idea that even in the early 1800's, the colonials were already worried about native title issues and also about the ownership of islands. Combine this with federal anxieties over lighthouse security and those modern day gatekeepers, the Department of Environment and Conservation, there is a nice, curly story and just the kind I like.

Top Image:  Linq front cover, Blue water Lagoon near El Nido, Palawan by Tommy Shultz
Other Images: Breaksea Island by Sarah Toa

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010


It's mine. A strange thing to say for someone who believes 'property is theft'. Perhaps I appropriated Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's refrain having grown up in a little hamlet by the sea and saw the property boom driven by real estate agents, speculators and sea changers. Perhaps it is a grumpy reaction to the realisation that unless I marry a lawyer, become a FIFO* miner or write a best seller, I would seriously struggle to afford a home in the place that nurtured me. The latter grumpiness is more plausible.

But the speculators did help our Great Southern Land double exponentially in price over the last few years and the real estate agents (or at least the flunkies who really wanted to sell houses but got stuck with dirty, filthy renters) held the roofs over our heads in their sweaty, bargaining palms.

If I sound a bit wild, that is because I am, or have been. It got to the point in the early part of this year where I was beside myself with crankiness about my situation. So I went for a drive east, past the strange magic of the Fitzgerald and found a place for sale, for an amount that was 'gatherable'.

I fell in love with the white quartz country there. The last night I camped there, possums clicked in the trees around me and I listened to ABC's Port Augusta. Mary McKillop had just been sainted in Rome and South Australia was all abuzz. I discovered later that the township of Kundip is the home for three species of plants that are endemic to the area, including two that haven't even been named yet. Kundip is near Hopetoun and the Cullen Inlet (handy for a girl with a penchant for mullet). Twice the town has thrived with people after gold and twice the town has died and all its building dismantled and taken away. My block is the site of the old green grocer's shop. Down the track is the ruins of the pub's cellar.

*FIFO: Fly in Fly out: Western Australian language for workers who live down south and fly north to work in the mines. The work usually involves a shift of two weeks on, one week off and the workers live in 'dongas', transportable accomodation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Tim

The first time I met you, you blew me off at the bar because you were a Famous Writer who was just trying to have a quiet beer with your mate. I spent an hour preparing my eloquent speech, then roared into your blokey clinch saying, I've written you so many letters and never sent them. But your work means so much to me.

This gush met a fairly frigid response (fair enough, on thinking back.) You stayed impenetrably polite under the quizzical gaze of your friend. I said, Well, you tell these stories and we read them. It's a one way communication. You never get to see us. (So here is Me.)
You sparked at this but that's when the one way conversation ended because it was my turn at the pool table and anyway, I felt like all of my words had just run down the inside of my legs.

I've read The Turning, five years on, for the third time. That one-way conversation thing that I talk about is bullshit really because in that book I see people like me. I wonder if I am there sometimes, talking back to you;  freckly, fat-kneed, sitting cross legged like a hippy, drinking blackberry nip for the first time on the beach at the high school end-of-year party at Massacre Point. The Turning is a novel of short stories about the place I grew up in; Albany, or Angelus as you call it. I see the starboard train track of this parallel universe you are shaping - White Point, Angelus, Scarborough - crashing into the port's Honest Copper's Son as catalyst. Poor bugger.

This was the town that made a living from killing big creatures, whales, cows, horses and sheep. I'm a decade younger but I remember when the whaling station closed and the whaling heroes' hearts attacked themselves on their brown couches, or else they headed for the meatworks. I can still see the tightening of our own household, those close looks, more cabbage than meat in the pressure cooker. That's when we started netting the harbour, to eat.

I don't remember heroin ripping through the town and teenagers dying in toilets, because I had the protected status of being a kid. Twenty years on, heroin became a new reality when I was adult and two lovers died within months of each other and the inquest at the courthouse spilled out onto Stirling Terrace with angry parents in denial.

I don't remember the 'demons', the detectives from Perth who nurtured this town and precinct as their dropping off point and broke the legs of anyone who got in their way. In retrospect, they are certainly not 'myth busted' but 'plausible' because I do remember the tuna boats before the quotas and being told never to go down there. I remember the drug stories. I remember Boner McPharlin but like you wrote, he is dead now. His broken legs and busted heart made his mind quite crazy and he died never telling. Occasionally, a journalist will dig up that story. Someone else wrote a book about it recently, called it fiction because he couldn't get around the lawyers. Old Salt remembers all of it. Whenever we drive past the lay-by that bears Boner McPharlin's real name, I hear the whole lot.

I was Meg. I was Slack Jackie. I was the girl who you wrote of who gidgied cobbler in the mudflats of Cockleshell (Little Grove) and that mouth-breathing, hitch-hiking hippy on the road up north, and the broken, flawed girl who would let everyone and no one near her. I was the one who saw the sandstone degree as a way out. I was the girl who returned to see her neighbourhood gentiled into concrete tilt-up cliques, cluttered with unfriendly school mums who see freedom and beauty as an epitome of threat. A new age of real estate and blue gum plantations blooms, falters in the bright sun and goes to seed.

Perhaps this could be a rave for the next time I ambush you in a bar, Mr Winton.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tree Wind Fish

 When the gums flare their danger red in Western Australia, salmon fly in feeding swathes through southern waters.
(Eucalyptus ... or perhaps these days Corymbia ficifolia)

When the gums flower wedding dress white, sea mullet come to gather up the wind-strewn nights into the estuaries.
(E. fasciculosa)


When the Christmas Trees shine all golden and bright, the flathead swarm through the channel and into the harbours.
(Nyutsia floribunda)

This week down the markets I saw the European connection with my seasonal, piscean bondage to trees and the wind. Two new arrivals. The Asparagus Lady turned up looking to swap her trade for my black bream. And the Berry Man gave me twenty five dollars and a punnet of black berries for flathead fillets. I haven't seen either of them for eleven months. They both work out in the back country, farming. Then the Christmas Tree flowers and the flathead run ... and all the other vendors return.

Friday, December 10, 2010

American Jihad

It's funny, I remember sane people being alarmed at extremists who threatened to kill, dismember, imprison or financially destroy journalists or writers who published something subversive.
Thanks for staying sensible about where responsibility for the leaks lie, Rudd, even though you got burned too. No thanks to our Prime Minister. Her views on an Australian citizen (who may motivate the world to 'play nice', even behind each other's backs) immediately and unthinkingly toadied to a powerful U.S. government interested in protecting their own little power enclave. Hopefully she has been rethinking her position as of the last few days and will actually start to lead and stop following.
It's a great opportunity, Julia Gillard.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kooky Beauty's Dark Past

 No fisherman likes to lose good rope
to propellors running over their nets and buoys.
But the big problem with good rope lost
is that it will never break down and become one with the sea.
Good rope lost will cause problems
for generations of seals, sharks, dolphins and whales.

I made these baskets out of ropes and nets found at Peaceful Bay, Doubtful Island Bay,
Point King, Point Anne, Pelican Point, Princess Royal Harbour.
The green rope is longline, for attaching hooks to. I found it at Point Anne, where the whales come to play every year. Most of the grey and pink rope is from crayfish pots.

The Sympathetic Cow Murderer

Cow Murderer

By Richard Davy
Book Launch and exhibition
6pm, 17th December, 2010
Kalyenup Studio
Albany Entertainment Centre
Toll Place (off Princess Royal Drive), Albany
exhibition open: 10am – 4pm, 18th – 19th December, 2010

Richard was born into a dairy farming family near Albany on WA’s southern coast in 1967. In the late seventies his family moved further east to a farm near Cape Riche, Richard still lives and works on the same property. It was certified organic in 2003.

A trip to Africa in the early 1990’s profoundly changed Richard’s approach to life. Dismayed by the wide spread apathy he witnessed on his return to Australia, he started to question, study and write. He also developed his long term interest in photography, documenting his travels and his rural existence in striking images- beautiful, quizzical and heartbreaking.

By the turn of the century Richard could no longer see a future in modern day farming practices, and began implementing new ideas on the land. He studied biological soil science, then holistic resource management. It switched a light on for him, fuelling both his farming enterprise and his creative pursuits. He remains optimistic that there are alternative ways to live and farm in harmony with the land.

In 2001 he held his first exhibition of photographs and written word in Albany.
Since then he has continued to explore the world of multi- media, combining film, stills photography and spoken word to create miniature movies with a poetic slant.
This latest offering is a collection of writing and photography from the early 1990’s to the present.