Sunday, October 30, 2011


'"Get in the car."
I was on the verandah, fuelling my hair with henna mud, when I heard that.
"Just get in the fucking car."
It's a nasty road, no room for a mistakes or for domestics to play out. The voice came from behind the peppermint trees and roses that screen traffic from my life but it was so close it could have been in my own head. I looked through the screen of green to see a blue-hoody-boy sticking resolutely to his path.
"Get in the car, fer fuck's sake!" I could hear the father's frustration ... and fear.
The car revved and stopped again.
"What's wrong with you, boy!"

A door slammed. The car rumbled down to the stop sign. I headed for the driveway to check if the teenager was okay, knowing I looked like some kind of Dogon dogstar-worshipping mud man. He was in the car.  He wasn't okay, his Dad wasn't okay. Their Sunday was turning out a whole hatful of shite.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Tanks

In 1940s northern Australia, the World War was probably seen as a distant disaster that became decidedly neighbourly once the Japanese started bombing. I think Singapore and then Timor were the stepping stones. The settlements of Darwin and then Broome were next. As a teenager, I walked out across the tidal mudflats at Broome to toe the barnacled carcasses of the Dutch seaplanes that tried to escape and failed, during the bombing in 1942.

A young Aboriginal man stood on the engine block with nylon fishing line threaded between his toes, waiting for the returning tide and the mulloway. I thought he was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. (I was 12, maybe 13 ... and perhaps it was also the setting ... but my visual memory still agrees). When the tide turned, I had to jog across the flats to Roebuck Bay to beat the rushing, incoming king tide that threatened to drown me.

Anyway ... the deep south was not considered immune from Japanese attack and this fear is historically backed up with stories about Southern Ocean submarines off the Nullabor and midget subs in Sydney Harbour etc etc. In Albany, the forts were fortified for a second time and gun placements cemented in. But some of the best WWII artifacts in Albany are several kilomtres from the heads: the fuel tanks. They are straight down the hill from where I live, huge concrete tanks that were once used to store fuel (well away from foreshore war targets), with iron pipes that travelled to refuel the allied ships. The pipes are now rusting under railway lines, the new entertainment centre and the woodchip berths.

Some of the tanks have their own eco-systems going on now. Gum trees sprout and lurch for the light. Bullrushes ask the frogs to join them in chorus with tiger snakes, gotu kola and bangaras. In the winters, some of the tanks fill with water and turn into swamps.

A some stage a scrap metal merchant tried to strip the concrete walls of their iron cladding.

The tanks have been ignored by the general population over decades but are these days closely guarded by agents of the fertiliser company owner, whose harbourside toiletries were responsible for a Princess Royal F*ck Up of environmental disasters in the 1980s.

The tanks are still revered by a small minority. This minority are the street artists of Albany. The circular walls ('whispering walls', as a friend noted, when he realised he could stand half way around these massive circles and whisper naughty things to anyone fifty metres away on the arc) host the psychedelic illustrations of those folk. If you are a regular WineDark Sea visitor, you will recognise these pics:

So, a product of World War II engineering turns into a subversive, ever evolving art gallery and - like the shattered sea plane beds of Roebuck Bay with the dreamy man who knew well enough to fish there - a place of beauty, space and peace.

Parikia Reef, by Catherine Gordon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Just a Quick Reminder ...

Back in the bad old days, when the pea 'n' beans processor let their by-product flow straight into the channel, we'd string up a piece of bamboo with some nylon and a hook and go looking for herring.

We stood on wet black rocks with the conveyor belt ladies (the ones who picked out the rotten peas) and men whom we thought then were old - wrinkled knees and Stubbie shorts, fingers flattened and strong with manual work. No bait required, thanks to those rotten peas and bean shells. The herring were nuts. We'd get a bucketful in half an hour.

Around the corner from the creaking, rusting factory, there lies a pristine little cove, secreted away from roads or tracks. It's a funny little spot on the south shore of the channel into Princess Royal Harbour, damp, often hidden from the sun, clad in paper bark trees that grow right down to the briny. Things arrive here, flotsam from the Sound and beyond.

It's a good place to play, catch whiting, and watch the schools of salmon trout meander by.

To get the massive Cape iron ore ships into Princess Royal Harbour, the Albany Port Authority and Grange Resources will dredge a channel from the harbour, straight through the middle of King George Sound.

The seagrass beds in the channel and the Sound are able to look after themselves, apparently. They still haven't recovered from the best efforts of the fertiliser plant to destroy them on the western shores in the 1970s, but the EPA and the Port Authority are confidant that seagrass beds can adapt to any mining boom.

As for The Cove, the spoils from some of the dredging will be used to fill it in, to create a berth for the iron ore ships. The Cove, the last piece of natural coastline (apart from Pelican Point) on the north side of the harbour, will be gone. I was asked recently what will happen to The Cove after the Albany Port Authority and Grange Resources have taken residency. 
It's a no-brainer really. It just won't exist any more.

The Cove will be replaced with this:

These last three photographs were taken right next to The Cove. Already the old fishing goat tracks have been covered over to prevent public access. The dredging is due to start next year. Sorry to let such a bucolic tale turn so nasty ... but it is the tale for this little corner of the world.

Wild Man

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Black Irish Hair

Our Auntie reckons we've got Black Irish in us. She's white, white skinned and blue-eyed, and then some wayback gene bestowed her with ebony hair- a whole helmet of fuzzy - kinked like a Papuan's heirloom, busting our Auntie right out of the O' Sullivan clique . She's often wondered about her origins. One of my sisters is the same. She has skin that peels and dies in the sun before it will tan, and hair of any South Pacific Indigene. The rest of us have ringlets at the pre-kink stage; mad, woolly, reddening curls and freckly, Australian skin that borders on the swarthy.

At fourteen, Stormboy is struggling with his curls. "But curls get the girls!" I've been trying this line for a while. I tried to explain the link between curls and testosterone, about genetics and how lucky he is. I conveniently forgot that at his age, I was curvy, curly and near on six foot and I desperately wanted to be everything else but. He has taken to hair wax and the straightening iron. He's got a kind of Bieber thing going on. Fruit of my loins, child!

Pearlie denied the Curl too, at fourteen. I think she owns a straightening iron for every year she's existed in her present human form. The anti-frizz, 'gliss' and smoothing muck spouting the sexy-straight-hair-jargon has been clogging our bathroom ever since 2006.

Some sociologists reckon that by the time kids reach their late teens, they return to the core beliefs they were raised with. I'm just hoping that my kids' curls will find their rightful crown.

That said, I've got a pharmacy of the stuff now, thanks to the said teens. Taming days are my weakness, especially when this frizzy old wild witch o' the west is about to be subjected to a job interview with Someone Important. I still fall for that. I'll spray or wipe the stuff into my hair in an attempt to look respectable. It usually turns the whole bird's nest into a dirty mess. Then I tie it into a bun. On my way to the job interview, folk will stop me in the street and ask if I can score some drugs for them.

Whole-egg mayonnaise, honey, olive oil, not letting a (straight) hairdresser near me and no brushing after washing are the tried and true formula for dealing with Black Irish hair. As I age, I'm getting to better understand my locks.

I walked into a hairdressers in my late teens and asked the man to cut my hair. He looked at me and started cursing in Italian. Then he produced a fine toothed comb and dragged it through my hair like I was some kind of heretic Lilith visitation. He was ripping my hair out by the roots and still cursing. By then I was getting cranky because it was really hurting me. The whole experience was quite unpleasant for both of us.

His apricot tree fruits every year out the back of his shop and they are so fucking yummy when he is away on holidays. I always remember that comb and laugh as my witchy hair snags on one of his branches.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

By the Seashore

Here is a moment from one of my favourite poems ...

I was friendly with the fishermen,
Under an upturned boat often
When the rain pelted sat with them,
Heard about the sea, and stored it up
In secret, believing every word.
They became used to me.
If I wasn't on the quay
The old fisherman sent a girl
To shout to me: 'Our men are back!
We're frying the flatfish.'

'By the Seashore', Anna Akhmatova, in Selected Poems, Penguin Books, 1988, p. 32.

Catherine Gordon on Paros

My friend Cathy is on the Greek island of Paros doing an artist's residential. 
Here is some of her latest work!

Friday, October 14, 2011

I Want to Get Off: Advice is Welcome

How do I delete myself from FaceBook? Permanently?

I thought I'd dived under the radar two years ago, only to discover tonight that my homepage is still up and running and 30,000 people (well, okay, not quite) have since tried to 'friend' me.I don't like FaceBook and the magic delete button is mysteriously missing on the settings page. Another thing I don't like is that this 'private company' is collecting information about me and selling it to other companies/prospective employers/ex boyfriends. If that kind of behaviour came from the Australian government, you'd think Big Brother, riots in the street, or maybe even a tax file number.

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get me. I disabled the gps on the my phone the same day I bought it. I found out recently that my mere fumblings will not waylay the reptilian instincts of NASA or Google Maps. Those guys will always know where I am so long as I own a mobile phone (even if it is switched off). I discovered a website where you can stalk your ex for less than ten dollars a month by entering both your mobile phone numbers. Aghhh! Give me country gossip, a strange man following me home from the pub at midnight and the acknowledged inconfidentiality of social services in a small town any day. I'd prefer that. At least I can counter that with letters, fisticuffs and a chance meeting in the meat section of my local supermarket.

Apparently if I'm not breaking the law then all observation is benign and kinda friendly. My, how we have evolved since Bentham's panopticon.

I dislike my car's number plate being broadcast on the internet in the front yard of my home c. 2010, when the grass needed slashing and the geraniums could have done with some water. If I want to tell you about my lacklustre gardening, what time I turn on the kitchen lights or where exactly I am in the continent, I'll let you know on A WineDark Sea.

And there is the rub.

But I still want to remove myself from Facebook. Any suggestions?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

'My Dog Gave Me the Clap' (No not me, it's ... oh don't worry about it)

Personally I feel sorry for the dog. Maybe dogs don’t care about these things but if someone gave me the clap, I reckon they’d be mortified if I wrote a book about it. Thankfully, Adam Morris deals with Feathers the dog and his main character Saul’s ‘green wang’ problem early on in this hilarious book. Feathers exits stage left at the end of Chapter One and the reader can breathe, smile with relief and move on to Saul’s philosophising about how easy it would be to get laid if he were gay, his negative thoughts about his negative thoughts diary and a series of rather nasty ‘incidents’ involving Akubra hats, shotguns, Russian dancing and a chookhouse.

Saul’s list of desirables is a job, a girlfriend, a car and somewhere to live other than his mate Ralph’s chookhouse.  He had a good job relief teaching once, until a regrettable Hunter S Thompson moment. Thank goodness the students had left or he might have been arrested and sacked. For his next job interview he wrote eight pages of performance criteria on “... learning grids, appropriateness, guidelines, equivalent experiences, team leaders.

Where had all the men gone?”

His last girlfriend was three years ago. Now Saul has difficulties hiding his erection in the welfare office queue. He's getting flashbacks of the porn he watched the night before and pondering on the sex lives of the oddly unattractive couple ahead of him. “Maybe one of them had persuaded the other to do something regrettable in the bedroom last night, maybe there was an embarrassment in the air neither could stomach bringing up ...”

If Saul sounds like a sad, loser, anti-hero, then that's because he is. This is the Australian version of the White Male F*ck-up Novel after all. Underlying most of Saul’s problems and nasty incidents/accidents is alcoholism and the accompanying depression but Adam Morris is deft and subtle enough in his writing to avoid mentioning these clangers. He just concentrates on the disaster area.

 I can recognise some of Saul’s ‘incidents’ (but not the dog one) - his fumbling interior monologues on trains, his disconnect with community - and it makes me wince, just a little bit. My Dog Gave Me the Clap is a very funny book – a giggle-helplessly-in-the-dentist’s-waiting-room kind of funny. The problem with laughing at Saul’s f*ck ups is that any schadenfreude is followed by an uncomfortable niggling feeling that we are a mere shandy away from Saul’s hopelessness. Halfway through a moment of cracking up over another of Saul’s mid-trip, delusional balls-ups, I am suddenly sobered by a vague memory of the day we took those strange pills, went to the buskers festival and offered up our bodies as props ...

After a counselling session with the local priest, Saul's spirit begins to rally. “Saul felt lighter than when the day had started. He felt similar after vomiting from too much drink. That fresh empty feeling, that good empty feeling.”
Sometimes I just wanted to look away. I couldn’t. But I wanted to. 

Saul’s observations of people can be acute and beautiful: the kindness of the lonely farmer who fed him breakfast and told him he was okay after a drinking session/photoshoot/shotgun incident gone horribly awry the previous night: the woman upstairs whose 2 am lover doesn’t argue or put out the rubbish. There is also a strange beauty to Saul’s self immolation. Call it a Flaming Lamborghini kinda beauty, except I don’t reckon he could afford to destroy himself with one of them because he doesn’t have a job right now.

Saul’s creator Adam Morris swears that despite being a musician and lad like Saul, this is not one of those autobiographical first novels. Righteo. Adam Morris’ dog says he resents the implication. Fair enough. Despite these conflicts I found My Dog Gave Me the Clap to be a funny, strange and compelling read.

Adam Morris
My Dog Gave Me the Clap
Fremantle Press

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wooden Boat Tragics

Some weeks ago Aussie rang me from the local arts centre.
"Your boat is here."
"The Pearl? No! I've just taken her to the tip."
"She's here. She's out on the lawn."

A few years ago, I wrote on A WineDark Sea to "stay tuned for the voyage of the Pearl." It seems her voyage these days is less traversing wavy seas than waving clover and now she's bogged in the grass less than half a kilometre from my home as an art installation.
Classic. Pearl's true north always spins south to Toa. She's been following me around town for quite a while now.

At the opening of the Boat Show exhibition, us three past owner/lovers of the the Pearl - the New Romantic, the Mad Frenchman and me - gathered on the grass with glasses of the artists' red wine to toast the Goddess of the Wooden Boat.

We are all still in love with her ... but we three also know that affairs with the Princess are high maintenance and best avoided in the interests of sanity. So it was yet another happy goodbye.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notes That Survived the Fire

In December, Overland will publish my story about a humpback whale who stranded in the town harbour. He was a year old when he swam into the quiet waters, wriggled onto a sand bank and prepared to die. The sun tore open his exposed, eggplant skin. It was a distressing time for us harbor-dwellers.

My best mate Aussie laughs at me whenever my ears prick up, over gin and tonics in her banana tree garden. "Can you have that line/story/anecdote?" She says.  "Of course, Sarah! It's yours! Take it."

This month I've been writing the first chapter of my exegesis about the Tasmanian women who were stolen from their country by sealers - the women who ended up in my part of the world in 1826. I've been trying to argue that they had some kind of agency, of autonomy, some kind of power over their lives. As words go by, I'm beginning to realise they had none, that what happened in Van Diemen's Land and all over this south coast in the 1820s was just fucked.

But the stories still drive me so I write them down. Sometimes they are so dark and nasty (today I did Lyndall Ryan's 'Mass Killings in Tasmania') that I am exhausted by the day's end. I walk and walk and by the the time I am home, I am almost okay. I light the fire, drive the kid's swim club errands, cook something, behave like a parent (guiltily) and fall into bed with a fluffy novel or the weekend's book reviews.

I wanted to be a writer since I was ten. Back then I had a Temple of Doom style story all mapped out but I needed a getaway car. "What kind of car would baddies drive?" I asked my Mum. "A really expensive car?"
"Mmmm. A Sigma?"
So, in my first novel, the baddies drove a Black Sigma.

By my teens, all the Sigmas about town were rusting and driven by unemployed tuna fishermen. I decided that to produce anything substantial, I needed some life experience. So I set about the research. This involved lots of hitch hiking, random sailing events, cross continental bus trips and drinking in strange places with strange people. I bought journals and diaried who I'd slept with, recipes, taxi rides, landscape descriptions, agonised meanderings, concert tickets, locks of hair, photographs and newspaper clippings. Over fifteen years I had several keeping places for these books and they were broken into regularly by jealous lovers.

The man I was supposed to marry rang me one day at work and asked me to come home. He'd found the suitcase under my bed. He sounded kind of short of breath. He was probably a bit worried about his future. He'd spent the whole day pouring over my journals and when I returned, I had to explain myself. I spent hours backpedalling over my written-down misdeeds. My thoughts later was that he was quite the sociopath. At the time, his suggestion that I burn the lot made sense. So I did, shackles of the past and all.

That afternoon I burnt fifteen years worth of diaries in the back yard. Anyone who has burnt books knows the practicalities. They don't burn like logs of pine. You have to keep stoking them. It was a long night, seeing those locks of hair and recipes and photographs surfacing in the flames and stoking, stoking.

"I was so pissed off with you when you burnt those books," said Aussie.
"So was I," I said to her.

After that event, I stopped writing for a few years. I felt so betrayed that I never wanted anyone to read anything I'd written again. The funny thing is that event shaped me as a writer. Since that day of the fire, I have only written stories for other people to read. I will never write purely for my own navel-gazing intentions ever again, for fear of it being violated. Everything I write now is for the public. Even my journals consist of the workings of new stories.

I still have two of the diaries that I hid where he could not find them. They are wrapped in a silk scarf and I haven't opened them for some time. I transcribed them once. They are on a defunct computer file titled "Notes That Survived the Fire."

I was thinking about all this writing stuff today and doing a kind of fully loaded cost accounting (whatever that means). Here it is: I spend most days on a scholarship writing a thesis on the Tasmanian women. I have a book of creative non fiction accepted by a pretty good publisher. I get stories printed in lit journals a few times a year. I've got three book reviews to write this week and on the weekend I'm talking on a nature writing panel.

I guess that makes me a writer.


We Are Apex Critters, Goddammit

Yesterday a prominent Perth businessman went missing whilst swimming near the Indiana Tea Rooms at Cottesloe Beach. Seven hours later police divers found his shredded bathers on the ocean floor. Another hungry Great White is blamed and today talkback radio is buzzing with locals' anecdotes, arguments and philosophies regarding whether Great Whites have any right to exist in our suburban waters.

The commentary today included that of a champion body boarder who said (and summarising here) that the Great Whites are obliged to share the waters with us and not eat us: therefore if they are eating us they should be culled. This considered hysteria reminded me of Val Plumwood's amazing essay. She wrote it ten years after she was mauled by a crocodile in the Northern Territory. Val Plumwood was an environmental philosopher and her essay Being Prey is a rendition of her experience but also a razor sharp examination of how us humans dislike the idea of being eaten.

This denial that we ourselves are food for others is reflected in many aspects of our death and burial practices - the strong coffin, conveniently buried well below the level of soil fauna activity, and the slab over the grave to prevent any other thing from digging us up, keeps the Western human body from becoming food for other species. Horror movies and stories also reflect this deep seated dread of becoming food for other forms of life: Horror is the wormy corpse, vampires sucking blood and alien monsters eating humans. 
Here is her essay and here is my original post on Val Plumwood.

Alice at Middleton Beach


Summer after summer
Alice lived
in the jarrah house
in the sand dunes
when the equinox blew
beached whales
pushed & prodded
returned with the tide
intent on dying
their bodies lay
along the shoreline
till the dark breath
went out of them
& and they stank for days

the beach was ringed 
with mountains
shaped liked resting emus
low scrub grew up
to the edge of the bay
great ships
garlanded with lights
anchored & paused
on their way to the world

a fishing boat
pushed off
& bobbed like a toy
the light on Breaksea
wavered     went out
& blinked again

Dorothy Hewett, Alice in Wormland, Papaerbark Press, NWS, 1987, p. 30.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Night Fishing

Crusher Balls

A few months ago I technologically challenged myself quite drastically by spilling coffee all over my laptop. You may have noticed a slowing in WineDark posts and a complete lack of new pictures ... sorry 'bout that. Here's the first installment in all the lovely pics I've just loaded onto my shiny new toy.