Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Devil Dance of the Difficult Women

 In the early 1800's, the Pallawah women of Tasmania were traded and abducted as wives for the sealers. They were given away as unrequited and misunderstood kinship obligations, traded for dogs and  seal carcasses or just simply taken - right off the beaches.

Pallawah women were famous for their swimming skills. They dived for 'muttonfish' (now called abalone) and all sorts of other ocean delicacies such as crayfish and groper. If they encountered sharks whilst lingering in those kelpy caves full of twitching crays, they covered themselves with seaweed and lay waiting on their reserves of oxygen for the Noahs to leave.
Such women as these are the makers of the mermaid myth.

When the Pallawah women were taken by sealers, they spent their child-bearing years hunting wallabies, tammar, echidna, possums and muttonbirds out on the islands of Bass Strait, between the mainland of Australia and Tasmania. They collected salt from the lakes, they cured seal skins, they worked for these men. They had no choice. There is a strong history of infanticide here. It also happened during the time when slavery was busy being abolished.

In Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) a war waged between the Pallawah and the colonisers. Few history books acknowledge this war. But the writings of the settlers, sealers, explorers and bureaucrats document the burnings of vulnerable outlying homesteads, the Black Line, the abductions of black children and women, the shooting on sight ...  oh fuck it ... it was a war. 

There were quite a few warriors from VDL who would be heroes in today's Disneyfication of world happenings. Aboriginal warriors in Australia tend to be kept rather quiet. Perhaps this is because we are a new country. Eurocentrically speaking, we are still trying to decipher our heroes and where they should be placed in our national 'psyche'. 

The women who were stolen by sealers and taken to the islands of Bass Strait, Kangaroo Island and later Breaksea Island in Western Australia were Pallawah women. As G.A.Robinson, self-proclaimed Protector of Aborigines, attempted to round them up, he began to realise that the sealer's women were "difficult women". He did have an agenda. To begin with, the bricklayer from Britain was evangelistic in his endeavours but then he got offered a bounty - five pounds a head for every Aborigine 'captured'. So in the end, 'Fader' was competing with the sealers for a human commodity. Do the maths. Five pounds a head in 1826.

He got some women back from the islands. They were returned to VDL. Then they found out about their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, babies - dead, hung, shot or crucified. They found the piles of bones on the beaches.They'd already been with those nihilistic, bastard sealers for a few years ...

... the Tyreelore, Pallawah language for 'Island Wives', became a 'significant dissident group.'

Some of the Tyreelore gathered guns from the sealers and went bush with their guerrilla bands after the 'white snakes'. (That was Walyer - more about her later.)
Other women invented the Devil Dance.
And they danced it. 
Whenever and wherever they could.

“Pyromancy or devil’s dance:
 The rite of the TYRE.RE.LORE women consist in devil worship. They affirm that the devil comes to the women when they are hunting on Flinders and has a connection with them, and that they are with child by this spirit and which they kill in the bush. They say that they sing to please the devil, that the devil tells them to sing plenty. These devotees of the devil are excessive in their devotions. They continue to chant their devil song and perform their rites at every opportunity.” * 

* Friendly Mission, The Tasmanian Papers and Journals of George Augustus Robinson, 1829 - 1835, ED. BJP Plomley, 2008, p. 335.

Monday, February 14, 2011

This Place is Not Civilised Yet

The salmon are here! When the Leewin Current burns down from the Timor Sea, turns left where I live and heads along the south coast of the continent, salmon swim against it and into the nutrients.
I've munched down my first fire-baked sweet corn of the year and sliced  my first 'real' tomatoes into sandwiches. Eucalyptus ficifolia have flared their crimson signal to the fish and the fires. It is time for the salmon to run.
Today, sitting on a windy dune, my first sighting for the year.

Seven or eight ton massed in the window of a breaking wave.

Below ... to the left ... that helicopter shape is a pretty decent sized bronze whaler heading for the school. He ambled his way towards the salmon ...

... busted them up, poked a hole in the centre of the school like a sheepdog gone rogue and took off out the other side with a nice fat salmon. That's the bronzy exiting to the right, in the picture below.
Yeah ... nine to five has got knobs on it.

This Place is Not Civilised Yet
It is a beautiful thing, to see a green wave rise up and reveal salmon in its window.
There is a boardwalk, toilets, interpretive plaques - but this place is not civilised yet.
On a still night, I can hear the swell from my bed, roaring, a pestle grinding rocks into sand.

The names of the prisoners who built the original stairway are visible on a low tide, carved into limestone tablets. Water boils in sucky holes and the rips stretch a turquoise scar right out to sea.
"Where is the pirate treasure, the skeletons of drowned sailors?" My friend skips across a tiny beach.
We share a mutual goosey moment when we find the white cross poking out of the wild rosemary. Nearby crouches the decomposing four wheel drive that landed there in 1995. Both of us stand in the sand and stare up the dizzying cliff.

Trembling, hundreds of stairs later, I can still see the shoal of salmon. The white lace of a broken wave regularly obscures the black, drifting disc.
A dark shape moves in from the deep. The salmon circle into a solid grain, trying to become impenetrable.
They fail.
The dark shape breaks up the outer rim and wriggles lazily into the centre like the triumphant spermatozoa in that vital moment. The salmon fold away from the darkness, creating a lime green channel in its wake.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kundip Shack # 2

 Suddenly the Japanese garden of reeds and quartz was surrounded by a pad and trusses ...  and then a cedar-ridden shack!

On the other side of the wall facing the sea, we screeded levels, barrowed in sand and then drove off into the night to find some more ...

 Rare earth. Kundip earth glows pink with the magenta light of dusk.

 Centre of the universe.

Melaluca and moort forest communes with corry iron.
A blast from the past looking through my father's old shed windows.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Old Fishermen

The herring are not in the tides as they were of old;
My sorrow for many a creak gave the creel in the cart
That carried the take to Sligo town to be sold
When I was a boy with never a crack in my heart.

William Butler Yeats,
The Meditation of the Old Fisherman

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Goodbye To All That

The Disaster Puppy has returned to his original owner, because as I was reminded recently; "He's not my dog."