Monday, December 31, 2012

Sunday, December 30, 2012

For Anonymous

Just like every soul on the planet who has had access to media over Christmas, I have been sensitive to the ordeal of the Indian woman and her boyfriend on the bus with darkened windows. I've been avoiding the details because they are so unspeakable, so commonplace, so awful. It hurts my heart to go there even for a second. But when I heard the news on the radio this morning that she has died ... well. Tears.

She had not asked to become a symbol or a martyr, or a cause; she had intended to lead a normal life, practicing medicine, watching movies, going out with friends. She had not asked to be brave, to be the girl who was so courageous, the woman whose injuries symbolised the violence so many women across the country know so intimately. She had asked for one thing, after she was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital:
“I want to live,” she had said to her mother.

On Grace

Matilda Grace: the fairy child who made me a grannie two weeks ago. 

I've been resisting the urge to post baby photos. Perhaps my Toa identity has morphed somewhat and I'm unsure of how to inflict my new grandmotherly joy on unsuspecting readers who are used to ripping yarns of fisherwoman derring-do. This is different ... so much bigger than any adventure I've embarked upon before, except for the births of my own children. As I wrote on A WineDark Sea when Pearlie gave birth, this is love. True love ... ambushed by love (actually.)

Matilda, or Gracie ... ("Mum, you can't call her Gracie. I'm having none of that!"
"Pearlie, sorry but I'm pulling rank here. If I want to call her Gracie, I will.") ... is a big, strong booby monster baby. She reminds me of my son Stormboy, pictured below with her.

Stormboy and Matilda were born strong, with long, lanky bodies and real noses, not those little squashed noses most babies are born with. Both of them could hold up their heads and move to peer at the light coming through windows. They both completely cannibalised their mothers in the quest for milk. Yesterday Matilda, fifteen days old, rolled herself over on the play mat. She's a bit of an alpha female, that one.

Matilda, Pearlie and Luke have gone back to their house in the city, after staying with us down south for most of the pregnancy. I've spent the last week or so with them, on a constant drip of baby juice and now I'm home, so happy to be back to the green paddocks, karris and cows.
But I will miss all three of them, terribly.

Shipwrecked Picnic

 Yesterday, myself, Dad and some sisters borrowed the boat and took off across the harbour to visit the old whalechaser. These days the ship is tenement housing for pigeons and the smell of guano is almost overwhelming. The picture above is of the engine room. Check out those piston rings.
Below: Cookie being a fruit, looking into the wheelhouse.

The crows nest. "One day soon, that mast'll come down," Dad said. He used to live on this ship for a while as a caretaker, a year or so before it went onto the rocks at the deep water jetty.

 The foredeck with the mounting for the harpoon up at the bow.

Yes! Mussels! Dad does cool stuff like this. He brought out a little cooker and a pot and we ate the mussels we gathered from the sides of the whalechaser, for lunch.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Travellers Arms

There is a ruin along the highway north to the city, just before the Gleneagle Forest, just where that big bald mountain rises on the right. Surrounded in lush green periwinkles and grape vines, only the footings and a smashed concrete bath tub are left. The place has always intrigued me but I usually miss it because I'm driving fast, trying to avoid road trains and keep a weather eye on errant Commodore drivers. ("Now, that is carist," one of my friends told me once.)

This time I stopped before I passed it and asked the man at the fruit stall how much further it was to the Travellers Arms. He stared down at the bagged cherries on the scales. Then he looked up and I could see a few memories in his eyes.
"Now that was a place ... old Auntie May. Shit. Haven't thought about that in years. She was running girls there and everything, back in the day."

The hotel was originally built as the over night stop after a day's ride from the city. Perhaps they also had a livery service when people were still doing the trek on horseback. Old Salt remembers dropping in there after he and his Dad had sold fish in the city in the 1950s. He mentioned something about it being far just enough outside the city limits that it was legal to drink there on Sundays. Folk would drive all that way for a drink - or two, or three. On looking at the newspaper archives that mention the Travellers Arms, this legal loophole in the drinking laws could have accounted for the amount of disastrous, deadly drives home from the hotel in the middle of the night.

C. 1930
Down the hill from the ruins of the old hotel, I found a little stream and the remains of someone's dope operation. (If you spend enough time tramping around in the bush, you can find these things everywhere.) It's also where the domestic/ferals have inhabited the jarrah forest: one verdant hectare teeming with plum and pear trees, lillipillies, grapevine and lots of rabbits.

Artist: Birdbath

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Drymen on the Ridge and Arabella Drummond

"My mate in Margs is a Scot. Duff ... Duffy," my sister was on the veranda in the evening and telling me that the last time she caught up with Duffy, our Dad was there too.
"Are you one of the Murray Duffs?" Dad had asked him.
Later, as he was pulling out of the driveway to leave for the south, Dad said to my sister, quietly like, "You know, wayback our mob massacred them, the whole lot, in a church."

It was all to do with cattle and land apparently and when you think about it, the cattle and land massacres are still going on today. (Belgians, Hutu and Tutsi, anyone?) However this event in 1511 would have been a mere eviction skirmish but for some Campbells, who rocked up as the Murrays were retreating, with their own grievance against the Murrays. So the Drummonds and the Campbells hunted around together for the Murrays who had holed up in a church with their families. They probably would have stayed safely ensconced in the church but for one Murray Duff who shot an arrow out of the window and killed a Drummond. The Drummonds piled brushwood against the church and burnt the place down, killing everyone inside. Reportedly (don't you love that word?) they died to the accompaniment of a piper.

The piper at my grandfather's funeral did me in and to this day, bagpiper's have the same effect. When my baby daughter was born, Dad gave me the clan brooch. It has an eagle in the centre and the motto encircling the eagle reads 'Gang Warily.'
We gave Pearlie my own family name, partially because my father had only daughters and it would have spelled the end of our line otherwise. And I've always like the idea that women could inherit their mother's maiden name and that perhaps it should begin with the mother who decided that. Women's lineage is so dependent on who they marry. In Scottish tradition the oldest son will gain their mother's family name as their middle name but not it is so for the daughters.

I guess this has all come up recently given that my only daughter has just given birth to her daughter. If you have read this far (and I know from experience that other folk's genealogies can be fucking boring so I'll start spicing it up) this is a good moment to segue to the most wonderful Arabella Drummond.

Arabella Drummond! Pirate Queen! Jilted lover and freer of African slaves!
Oh, alright then ... Arabella Drummond also has a contemporary presence on the intertubes as a rather sexy tattooed woman who channels our fellow ancestor as her muse. If you can pay enough attention, note her top right shoulder.
The original Arabella was born a Mary and ran away to sea dressed as a man to escape an arranged marriage. She was rumoured to be either Blackbeard's sister, cousin or his lover. Nobody seems to be really clear about that relationship. So anyway, she sailed for Gibraltar where they were attacked by Barbary corsairs and the crew turned into galley slaves, pulling oars for months on end. In 1716, her captors boarded an Italian ship and during that raid she gathered the other captives and together they commandeered the ship.

This seems to be the moment when Arabella Drummond morphed from runaway wife to full blown pirate. After that, she commandeered several vessels, including the Dutch vessel Pheonix that was carrying slaves to the West Indies. "Do you want to stay with me or do you want to go home?" she asked the slaves. Having spent months or years as a slave herself, she was sympathetic to their plight. Most opted to return to Africa but some decided to stay with her. That was when Arabella Drummond finally declared herself to be female and challenged anyone who had problems with her being in charge to step up and say so.

She went looking for Eddie Teach, or Blackbeard. She turned up on the coast of North Carolina and found him at the Orcacoke Inlet, or at least his severed head hanging from the bow of Maynard's ship as a warning to all other pirates. That was in 1718. After seeing his decapitated head through her telescope, Arabella Drummond took to the seaways. She plundered along the coast, even robbing the Governor-in-chief of Massachusetts. Her ship, which she had renamed the Bold Adventure, was last seen by whalers off the coast of Nantucket.

A ripping yarn ... a Drummond after my own heart.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This is Love

I take a breather in the hospital car park where a four wheel drive has dropped to one side on its slashed tyres and the black easterly blows through the sheoaks. The coffee guy near Emergency impresses on me his work on the coalface of humanity. "Sometimes I'm not sure which Tiny Teddy biscuit to give customers. The ones with the legs broken off? Or half an ear missing? What happens if I give the wrong someone a Tiny Teddy with a sad face?"

At night the place is deserted. It's a still, quiet break for me. I wouldn't get that break if I were the one in labour and my daughter has been in labour for fourteen hours now. I go inside again. It's after midnight and I come up against a closed door.  The night nurse bails me up to ask me my business.
"I'm nearly, nearly a Grandma," I say, as I hoppityskip across the industrial carpet and he grins at me as he pings open the door.

"I can't do it!" she screams.
"But you are doing it!" I say.
The midwives at her feet are looking and nodding. "Yes, you are doing it fine, there's plenty of time .... now ... Go."
"I can't! I can't do it."
"You are. You're doing it. You are doing it, darling."

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Membrane Between Two Worlds

I have come to take your place, sister
At the high fire in the forest's heart ...
Anna Akhmatova, 1912.

If I could take your place, daughter,
to relieve you of the quickenings at midnight ...
to rise, put on the kettle and wake him from his slumber.
To ignore the 3am bustle of midwife and husband
and the sleepy, friendsome dogs as they stir.

And when amniotic rushes to the bathroom tiles,
to look in the mirror and to see your eyes changed from blue to bright green,
to experience the veil between this world and another fall away.

to feel your drum-tight belly ripple like sheet lightning
and your cervix stir deep within you.
To drink bittersweet lemon and honey tea,
to feel warm hands on the small of your back,
to know that all your bones are parting ways,
to think that you are actually going to die,
and finally, in the crisis, that it is just not going to fit!

If I could, daughter, I would take the pain away.
But I can't. It's your turn now. This is the way the world has always rolled.

And so, instead, I take the kitchen stove apart, scrub the oven, polish the stainless steel sink and sweep the gum leaves from the doorway. I wash clothes, evict the spiders and flies and stock the fridge ... and all the while I am heavy of breast and feel a strange, old ache in my womb.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Paul Keating's Redfern Speech

Tomorrow it will be twenty years since the Prime Minister Paul Keating's iconic Redfern Address.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spring Carnage

A hot day and then the sudden cooling of evening ... I was standing in the driveway and heard the big trees crack. Three or four of them cricked and cracked in the still, cool air. Then their limbs began to fall with shuddery crunches, landing in the forks of other trees or crashing onto the grass. I've never seen this phenomenon before but for the rest of my life I will know that eerie sound of a tree's branches exploding after a change in the weather. I will definitely run to open ground. No wonder they call certain eucalyptuses 'the widow makers'.

My brother in law came down to clean up the mess. Since then, we've saved/orphaned three baby parrots. Mum's been taking them to the wild life carer up the road. We didn't save the honey eater's shattered eggs and slimy, beaked fetuses, or allay her frantic flying about after the chainsaws stopped.

Tonight Mick spotted the brindle dog heading down the paddock with that look. "Hello. He's onto something."
Wolf returned with a baby king parrot in his jaws. Mick gently extracted the parrot and put it in his pocket. Later he handed her to me. She clung to my shirt with long sinewy claws and I could feel her heart beating. Her belly was beginning to turn purple but the rest of her feathers were green, with a red stripe above her beak. I put my hand above her head to shade her from the veranda light.
"She's probably had a rather bad day," I said. "She'll be very tired, Mick."
He agreed and put her back in his pocket.
"Int she the most beautiful thing you ever seen?"

The Honey Tree

Yilgar and her crony Gimbuck, had come up for a talk one afternoon, and I strongly suspected a cadge, for the camp was in disgrace.
The women the day before had all been sent to collect and drive some sheep across the river and on their way had found a honey tree, that is a big tree in which the wild bees had made a hive. What were sheep in comparison to a find like this? So they were left to their fate while all the women set to work to burn the tree down and smoke the bees out.

Now that takes time, so the sheep wandered off where their own sweet wills dictated while the women and children camped by the honey tree and made fires round it smoking the bees with green bushes, and burning so the tree should fall in the right direction.

Meanwhile at the homestead my husband was getting more impatient and worried at the non arrival of the sheep. At last, after some hours had passed from the time they ought to have appeared, a native on horseback was despatched to see what could be the matter.

He arrived just as the tree was about to fall, of course he had to assist them when it was down, examine it, see the size of the hive and taste the honey. Then bark had to be found and stripped from the trees, bent into shape to put the honey comb on to carry back to the camp. What were sheep compared to such an interesting and unexpected find? And all this sort of thing takes time, besides a native never hurries himself.

Meanwhile the homestead was getting more and more agitated over the non-arrival of the women, sheep and messenger. Something serious must have happened. It was getting near sunset and nothing had turned up, the women had been sent before midday, and the sheep were only three miles away.

At last my brother mounted his horse and rode off. About a mile from the homestead he met some of the wanderers laden with honey in bark baskets. But where were the sheep?
"The sheep? Oh we lose 'em," was the chorus "but look master, what lovely honey. Taste some. It is very good."

Ethel Hassell, My Dusky Friends, C.W. Hassell, Fremantle, 1975, p. 83.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ranger and the Exiles

 Ranger, for seven years she roamed the island, avoiding the sealers and their families. At night they heard her, Ranger, creeping through the dark waving grasses to the cottage to try the front door. They heard her leave again without entering the house. She spoke to the dogs in English to quieten them, one summer's night in 1837, "Go along, go along then."

The sealer John Scot lived with his two Vandiemonian wives and three children on King Island, Bass Strait. He was one of the few sealers who kept a journal. Sporadically, he wrote of the enigma who was Ranger, the mysterious Pallawah woman, who lived on the island in her own little hut and eschewed company. As woman who was stolen from her family, put to work on the islands and subjected to unspeakable brutalities, Ranger was now disciplined, resolute in her solitude. Scot never laid eyes on her.

One day Scot came across her hut on the far side of the island and Ranger wasn't there. Perhaps she watched him from the bush, saw him approach, open her front door and peer inside. In Scot's last diary entry before he drowned, he described going into Ranger's home and finding the single room festooned with clothes from all the shipwrecks to clutter King Island's shores. She'd been collecting clothes cast onto the beaches like they were seashells.

Apparently, after Scot drowned in 1843, Ranger came out of isolation and went to live with her two countrywomen. Whether she died on the island or was taken to the Aboriginal settlement at Wybalenna is uncertain. She is a mystery ... a Vandiemonian spectre.

Five or six years ago, Dr Julie Gough came to Albany as part of a West Australian foray into the life and incredible journeys of one of her ancestors. Woretemoeteyenner was taken from Van Diemen's Land with several of her other countrywomen, across the entire southern seaboard of Australia in the 1820's. They ended up stranded in Rodrigues, near Mauritius for a while when the ship's owner left them there. That is another story ... Julie exhibited some artworks about Ranger and the stories of this King Island exile. It was the first time I'd ever heard of Ranger and she has stayed embedded in my storyperson brain. Here is Gough's exhibition catalogue for "The Ranger."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To evict the bees from her shack, she first makes a list

Somewhere to explore, during the day, while the bees work
Cigarette lighter
Uzabeeware hive smoker 
Flea bombs
Bee bombs
Fishing boots, a pair of gloves and
Gaffer tape
Overalls, a veil and a broad-brimmed hat
Mortein, a sharp knife and an airtight box
Spare undies
A thermos of coffee, some pickled octopus, olives and bread
Swag and
A tent with no holes

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Now ... nestled in between the bit where Badger recruits Ratty and Mole for the recalcitrant Toad's intervention and fails (Toad subsequently getting twenty years for car theft and cheeking the police is an intervention failure by my book), and the bit where Toad chats up the gaoler's daughter (a good hearted and pleasant wench by anyone's book), there lies a chapter in the very centre of The Wind in the Willows called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Do you remember Ratty and Mole's midsummer  epiphany - the bit where they encountered God?

It's a funny thing that whenever I mention The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to folk who have read The Wind in the Willows, they frown and then sort of smile and say. "No, I can't recall reading that bit."
It is the point where Kenneth Grahame diverts from his Toad/Ratty/Mole storytelling and goes completely trippy in the most wonderful fashion. Pink Floyd certainly thought so. I do wonder if Grahame had partaken in nefarious substances whilst writing it, then woken up in the morning to read his previous day's work and thought, "No, that is still good, dammit. I'll stash it somewhere in the middle."

I see the Piper at the Gates of Dawn chapter as a fugue state, as experienced by both Ratty and Mole in the story when they encounter Pan - but also by the reader, who often forgets even being there. The fact that so many readers 'disremember' the night passage upriver on a search for the lost baby otter Portly, to the veiled island, to the irresistible song of Pan - just as Ratty and Mole later forget the whole thing is, well, kind of weird and fascinating to me ...

'Clearer and nearer still,' cried the Rat joyously. 'Now you must surely hear it! Ah— at last— I see you do!'
Breathless and transfixed the Mole stopped rowing as the liquid run of that glad piping broke on him like a wave, caught him up, and possessed him utterly. He saw the tears on his comrade's cheeks, and bowed his head and understood.

Oxford's psychiatric definition of a fugue state is when a person 'steps off', they lose their identity and the state is "often coupled with a flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy." People reemerging from fugue states often have no memory of where they have been or who they were.  

Wouldn't it be lovely though to enter the fugue without those ailments, or to define the fugue as a geographical and spiritual location, a place both temporal and spatial. I read a spec fiction book years ago that had a Pan or Green Man character in it and he could be visited by entering the Fugue through some kind of portal. I'd like to go there, sometime.

'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror— indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy— but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. 

Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. 

All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
frontispiece from 1913 edition of “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame
illustrated by Paul Bransom

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Chapter 7.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What it was like on Isaac's Ridge that day

This time last year my sister lost her home to fire. A bush lovin' woman, the fires took away all her musical instruments, family heirlooms, tools, vehicles, etc, etc. Ohh, that was a cool house in the forest with its bush poles and magenta/turquoise rooms. There are still good memories of the place. But Annie, being a perpetual renter like the rest of us, was quite uninsured against catastrophe. So was her landlord, as it turns out.

Here is an extract of Annie's compo letter to the guvmint. She wrote it a month or so later. It's interesting reading, if only to learn from the chaos that happens when wildfire engulfs a small town. If you have built (or you rent) a gorgeous hippy house that has not been 'passed' by the local council, at least let the fireys know where your house/shack/yurt/shed is. Make them put you on the map. Today.

To whom it may concern,

My name is Annie. I rented a house on Caves Rd,  Margaret River for a period of six and a half years, paying the rent to XXXX, who’s responsibility it was to maintain the property and collect the rent.  In July 2011 Scotty moved in and October 2011 Rachel moved in and shared the house with me.
During this time I was aware that the property wasn’t fire prepared and I often requested help from the landlord  to clear the trees from around the house and the power lines, and also to repair the extremely degraded and eroded driveway, which was the only escape route in the case of a fire or emergency.
No help was ever forthcoming, and the fire risk became so extreme with the trees around the power lines that I decided to buy my own chainsaw, learn how to use it and with the help of good friends, began clearing the trees myself.  I got a friend to cut down four 40 foot trees from around the power lines and I had several huge bonfires in winter, however I barely dented the surface.  I went to see the fire chief XXXX at the XXXX Fire Brigade to see if any help was available to make the property safer.  He rightly said that the task of a controlled burn in such a highly fuelled area was extremely difficult and that it would have endangered the neighbours’ properties, so I was sent on my way with no real solution.  I would like to stress that I agreed with the fireys, and hold no grudge. 

When the fire on November 23rd came through I was out at Sebbes Rd, servicing a car as I am a self-employed mobile mechanic.  I got a call around 12 from my housemate Scotty.  I arrived at the house around 12.30pm, after a call from my landlord asking if I was out yet.   The fire was approaching rapidly from the north, the wind was swirling horribly and I knew it was bad, but for some stupid reason, optimistically thought I’d be back the next day and everything would be fine.
 I grabbed 2 washing baskets, 2 blankets, 2 pillows, a swag, and the first lot of paperwork I saw.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find my birth certificate. The fire was closing in. I rounded up my housemates, Scotty and Rachel, and my sister Jess and her fiancĂ© Dan (who had come to check we were alright), and bolted up the hill for safety.
We all got out safely and headed for Jess’ house on Gnarawary Rd, where we were evacuated from (again) later in the evening, heading to town to stay for several days at our friend Katie’s house.
I found out that my house was destroyed by ringing my neighbour.

To this day I have not received a fire warning text message from FESA or DEC.  The authorities didn’t even realise there was a house there until 5 days later, when Scotty spoke to someone from the Shire. We were completely unsupported by FESA to defend the house and property. Even in the aftermath of the fire, they were unaware of the house being destroyed and our lives put in peril.  When we went to check out the damage 2 days later, there were still spot fires on the property and no support from the fire authorities.
 While I understand the stress and workload the authorities must have been under, this experience has left me feeling abandoned and distrustful that the population can be protected from this extreme fire threat that the South west of Western Australia faces currently.   

Since the loss of my rental, I have been staying in the backyard of a friend’s place in an old van that survived the fire. I lost the majority of my tools in the fire, as I had recently moved out of an industrial unit I was renting and had stored my tools under the house as there was no other storage room.
 I am currently homeless relying on the generosity of others.
Enclosed is a list of the possessions that I have lost, not including the family heirlooms which are obviously priceless and irreplaceable.  Scotty and Rachael also lost everything they owned.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, November 19, 2012

You Need Never Leave Your Home

Recently on Radio National's Download This Show, they were talking about that internet giant who began selling books and has now branched out into home shopping. So, folk can buy their fortnight's essentials and have it delivered to their door. They don't need to go mix with the rabble for anything. Food? Water? Toilet paper? Hell, just work all day, go home and relax in the home theatre. (Now ... that is weird. Is it just me, or is the 'home theatre' incorporated into every Australian McMansion just really, really strange?) I quite like leaving my home to buy food and entertainment. It's part of my hunter gatherer impulse. Apparently having a house in Gemini means that I just love arguing with my family about politics and philosophy but sooner or later, I may find they've relegated me to another home. (Cue the hunter gatherer thing.)

I suppose the irony is that while I was listening to RN's 'you will never have to leave your home again', I was driving the 150 kilometres out to Pallinup to catch fish that I would drive back to Albany and put on a truck to Perth, to be auctioned at the markets and sent back to the supermarkets in my home town.

While out at Pallinup I decided to take a drive east to my Kundip shack. I needed to drop off a load of wood and planned on having some lunch, a read and a little sleep in the lovely bed I'd built, to get back in time to set nets with Old Salt.

Turning off at the Jerry roadhouse is always like stepping off a jetty for me. At that point, I'm leaving and civilisation drops away. Radio reception dies and the road stretches into a few hundred kilometres of paddocks and bitumen.

I passed a red scooter, loaded up with fishing buoys, sleeping bags, backpacks and tents on the roadtrain highway, the rider looking grimly ahead. As I flew by the scooter, I was thinking, man, that is brave. Crazy brave. I began thinking about the two people I know who have ridden bicycles across the country, how unexpectedly urbane they are in their present lives considering their adventures. I thought this scooter rider must have been one of those Japanese blokes; sunburnt, strident, tenacious.

When I arrived at my shack, I walked around the place as I always do. Someone had lit a fire there.

Other folk had decided to move in.

That last photograph is not that great. It's a 'snap and run' shot. Black bees have moved into my shack. They've built four or five hives in the place. Honey and pollen were running down the windows. I was truly outraged! But the honey comb, oh boy, that stuff smells so yummy.
So, how to tell the bees to leave? Politely?

I drove back to Pallinup and talked to the other fishermen. They've had shacks around this coast for generations. Unruly said, "Talk to Grievous' Bro. He loves bees."
Grievous' Bro walked into the camp. It turns out he's a bit ambivalent about bees.
"Get some flea bombs. Pour diesel over the hives," was his advice. "We got back to our herring shack one year and there were twelve beehives in there. Diesel is the only way to deal with them. You've just gotta kill them."

I'm quite devastated that my shack has been commandeered by bees. On the road back to Pallinup that day I was feeling cranky and needing the close comfort of a pest control confidant. It turned out there was an entirely different epiphany lurking. I pulled into the Jerry roadhouse and the red scooter I'd seen before my aparian odyssey was parked out the front. This bike was a crazy mix of visionary/fisher/traveller. Then I saw the South Australian plates.

I walked in and bought a coffee credit. Apart from the smiling Irish attendant, there was only one other person in the place. She was little, tousled, young. She looked tired. She had her ears hooked to her lap top. She sat at a table at the far side of the room. I waved at her and she took out her earbuds.

"Did you just ride that scooter across the Nullabor?"
She nodded. "Yes. Yes, I did."
She looked like she was about fifteen. I stared at her. She stared back. Both of us were quiet.
Finally I blurted, "I am so fucking impressed."
Shy, awed, I pressed the 'flat white' button on the machine, made a coffee and then I left for Pallinup.

Not this old fella

Against the brilliant green of the back paddock, two bucks are fighting. One is redder and bigger. He launches towards the smaller kangaroo, swings back on his tail and starts throwing punches. The young one, he is aggressive and quick. We watch him close in on the old roo, he starts raking his killer claws against the old man's belly.
The older kangaroo backs off and stops to graze, watching his opponent.
An egret stalks by, looking for dung beetles.
The truce and warfare is repeated several times in the twilight.
The last time they clash, the old buck hits the younger one and he goes down into the grass.
We wait for him to get up.
He doesn't get up.

My sister says, "I used to get the old blokes at my place, after their fights. I'd see them come in all bleeding and cast out. They'd die, eventually, by the river, and my dog would bring their leg bones up to the house."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Song to Sing and Bastardy

Most Australians who are into their music have heard of Archie Roach's recent personal tragedies and how he has risen again to produce the album Into the Bloodstream. I played it on my way home today and the above track made me grin my head off at the roundabout, narrowly missing the roadtrain in my peripheral vision. Song to Sing has the redemptive qualities of good old fashioned American gospel. And then there is Jack Charles who stars in the clip. Oh my ... to see bits of this man's chequered life and work in the form of the documentary Bastardy, have a look here:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Last Days on the Inlet #4

Setting out early evening to set the nets

with four inch mesh and a fisherman,

into the crazydancing trees.

The first buoy

In the morning, we pick up the nets. That big fish on the right is a sea mullet. Mmmm.

Unruly measures his fish.
And ices them down for the city markets.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gah! Fruit of My Loins

Dropping Stormboy at his job yesterday:
"Hey Mum, we've gotta read this book, for English."
He's emptying out his school bag into the back seat of my car so he can fill it with his work uniform, spare clothes and other weekend supplies. Dense piles of foolscap torn from from their ringlocks and blue binders spill onto the rest of the flotsam that washes up in my car.
He drops the book under the windscreen.
I saw the cover. Oh, cool. "What do you think? Have you got to the bit where the sharks eat his fish?"
"The bit where he actually catches the fish?"
"Well, why not? Keep on reading. It's a good yarn."
"It's boring as shit," he tells me. "There's no storyline. It's just about this old bloke who goes fishing."

They thought I was alseep ...

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Snake Chain

This evening I arrived home to a present on my dining room table and a note from my Mum.
"Sarah - for your use. Please return box and tool. X Mum."

It's a snake deterrent and it looks like one of those solar garden lights. Apparently you dig it into the ground (hence the tool) and it sends out vibrations that will keep the critters away. Mum's been on about a particular tiger snake for a week now. She wants gaiters while she's hanging out the washing. I don't blame her.
"It's five foot long. The first time I saw it, it saw me first, on the back verandah. It was watching me. I threw a brick at it and it went away but it came back the same day."
I'm writing this snake as 'it' but both of us automatically referred to it as a 'he' because such a deadly thing surely couldn't be a 'she' now, could it? Ha.
Today Mum threw a shovel at the snake and hit it and the snake came back in the afternoon.
"It's probably got plenty of frogs for food down in the swamp," I said. "Maybe he's coming up to the house to bask in the sun and warm up."

This swamp. We live on the primary dune back from the inlet. Originally the whole area would have been a waterway from the hill to the briny but over the last century the swamp has had the life drained and cultivated and fertilized the hell out of it. The swamp just below our cluster of abodes is the last bit so it has become a concentration of tiger snakes. On growing up, the swamp was the place to chuck our secrets into because no one would ever find them in there. Back then the boronia grew in scented clusters before the blackberries got in and
... far out Sarah, this is a whole new post ... forgive my bullrushes stream of consciousness and let's get back to the snakes, shall we?

Spending time in New Zealand was great for a few snake reasons: one can stumble into a ditch barefooted looking for cress with not a worry in the world. Plus you can tell kick ass snake stories and people will listen open mouthed, whereas in Australia, everyone has a better snake story than the one you have just told.

The thing about where I live now is that snakes come into the house. I nearly stepped on one recently, coming out of the bathroom with not much on. Snakes are no fun in the house. I usually end up on the table. Hopefully there is a phone up there. When there is, I ring my Dad to come around and shoot it. (Bless him. He'll come around in his shorts and thongs and pull aside cardboard boxes and furniture until he sees the baby tiger, cock the .22, sigh 'poor little bugger' and pull the trigger.)

No, I'm not like my Mum, who will try to shoo them away, nor like my Dad, who will pull apart wood heaps with his bare hands looking for the tiger who is seeking refuge in there. When I was a kid on this same property I was over where that same snake was today and I saw a sleeping dugite, beautifully coiled like a dust bin lid. Mum said to me, "Get the snake chain, Sarah."

The snake chain was an axe handle with three foot of heavy chain attached to it with fencing wire. It hung next to our back door underneath the raincoats. It was the only tool I've ever come across that is specifically designed to kill snakes.

Reading back on this, I realise I may sound a bit hysterical. Hell yes, I've felt hysterical when sitting on a table for hours on end. I've looked at my feelings about venomous snakes; the sex/death/teenage dream sequence stuff and then I think, 'Nah, I still don't like the fuckers in my house.'

Crab Bait Blues

After six months of working an inlet east of here, we headed for the town channel tonight to fish for flathead on their annual November run. There's a new marker on the reef just inside Possession Point. Racing yachties have periodically come to grief on the reef as they try to shave a few seconds off the home run back to Little Grove. For as long as I've been around, the reef's warning sign has been a piece of poly pipe standing at a barnacled angle and now it is a yellow and black bobbing miniature lighthouse, flashing and brand new.

Old Salt was expecting to tangle with Grievous, the other fisherman who fishes the flathead run. They've been battling over this spot for years now. I don't think their animosity began here but with a salmon run in 1956, or some mullet 'making up' in the corner of the harbour, or was it the black bream at Pallinup? Maybe it was the gardies at Peaceful. If I could name names, I would recite Old Salt's constant jokes about a certain American family whose men seemed to get regularly assassinated and how he's glad he is not one of them and where is a Lee Harvey Oswald when you need one? But I won't. The only thing that Old Salt and Grievous ever agreed upon is that crab pot thieves should be hung from a great height.

After setting the flathead nets, we holed up below the old quarantine station to wait out the sunset. The evening was still and warm. Yes, it is a hard life. "An occy lives in there," Old Salt said, peering into the shallows at a seaweedy car tyre set into the rippled sands, the same shape as the roof of my mouth. A pelican squabbled with a couple of Pacific gulls. A fiddler shark meandered into the shore. It was really nice seeing the white pom pom sea grass flowers and old mussel shells, after so long in an inlet where the water is murky grey/grey and I could never see the bottom.

Old Salt saw the dinghy hurtling across the harbour, it's skipper a lean fellow cloaked in red wet weather gear and leaning into the wind. "That's him."
He started up the outboard and turned towards our net's first buoy.
At this point I went into the 'oh for crying out loud' thing that females do when men start getting bolshie with each other. But I put on my gloves, set up the light and filled the fish boxes with salt water because we were heading out to pick up the flathead nets and I didn't want to be on the back foot, after dark, when these two arced up. This whole fight that they have going, well, you won't find me being a brother in arms to either of them. Unfortunately, sitting in one boat and not the other makes any deckie a partisan.

So I sat with my back to the trajectory of Grievous as he headed for our buoy to set nets over the top of ours. I ignored Old Salt's mumblings as he gunned the motor. It is a territorial thing but it is also a practical thing. After a fisherman sets 500 metres over the top of your nets, events can become complicated and unpleasant, especially when the wind comes up and a century of unsettled family grievances spray forth. What to do.

Both dinghies hung on the reef at Possession Point, on either side of the new marker. Old Salt idled his motor, not looking at Grievous. Grievous didn't look at Old Salt and fiddled around with some ropes and buoys. For some reason I began to think of rottweilers but the last rottweiler I knew well was an overweight plate licker who'd had his tail and his balls cut off, so it probably isn't pertinent, really.

Grievous eyed us, sorted out where our buoy was. Then he drove into the bay and set nets along the shallows. "Well. He's got every right to do that. Go fishing, I mean. Looks like he's behaving himself tonight."

We pulled up some beautiful flathead and some King George whiting too. By then it was dark and the Sound's port and starboard lights flashed all around us to usher the freight ships in. The cedar scent of the woodchips drifted over. At the port they were loading the ships and clouds of saw dust hung under the orange lights.
It is a wondrous thing, hauling nets under lights at night with the white curve of flathead and whiting coming up through the water, the beautiful, poisonous angel fish and that startling turquoise blue of the grass whiting. Trumpeters even. I've missed it.

We worked our way towards the channel and the flathead got thicker in the nets.
"Fucking trumpeters!" Old Salt started yelling.
He leaned close to me over the nets and whispered, "this is really good tonight ... Really nice. He is just over there."
I looked towards to east and could see Grievous' dinghy close by as he worked his nets in the dark.
"Bloody trumpeters!" said Old Salt. "Fucken hell. Crab bait. They're everywhere, fer Christ's sake!"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Look - that's where I live.
 I have a story inside this Creative Nonfiction's Australia issue. I got a copy in the mail yesterday, along with an American 'check' that I have no idea what to do with. Put it in the bank I suppose. Maybe I won't. Maybe I'll keep it for a little while and just look at it a lot.

It's a pretty cool thing to see your stories in print. Even after the ego trip, text on paper makes the whole exercise feel real. Like ... it is real. (You know, for someone who writes stuff, I am feeling terrible inarticulate today.) Anyway, there is some great writing in there. The roundup of eminent and emerging Australian writers is pretty interesting, to see how others view us and who they consider to be the Australian masters of the creative nonfiction form. There are stories of living in an underground house in Coober Pedy and bora bora rings and Captain Cook and, yes, fishing too. Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction reckons Australia is full of true stories so wild and unpredictable that you just couldn't make them up ...

And big thanks to Ms PoW over at the most wonderful Plume of Words for nominating my story. You champ!

Creative Nonfiction, Fall 2012, Issue 46.

The Night Air

I walked to wait for you at the crossroads, at the top of the hill, so you would see me standing on the side of the road, my thumb extended, a fantasy hitch hiker. It was night and the road was warm under my bare feet. The head lamp, slung around my neck, made a circle of light just ahead of my toes. It was dark and the moon hadn't risen. You said you would meet me.

I stood still at the corner and watched for the loom of your lights over the hills. No lights, only the orange glow of the fires on the other side of the bay. No car engine, but the slow pound of the surf against the island that broke up the sea and the night noises of crickets and slithery creatures in the bush.  I kept the head lamp turned on because I was afraid of tiger snakes and dugites, cold blooded, seeking the day's warmth soaked into the bitumen. Then I couldn't see anything beyond the thin stream of light.

The mosquitoes found me, whining around me and one bit me in the small of my back. I slapped at it and the slap sounded too human, too fleshy. You said you would meet me. What has happened? How long should I wait here, in the dark? What if you'd had an accident on the way? How would I know? What would I do if you died? Would I go to your funeral?

There was a rustling in the bush at my back. As I turned, a huge creature crashed out of the banksia thickets and rushed towards me. My heart bleated and I opened my mouth to scream. For a split second the animal was captured in the pool of my light - a boomer, a big one -  before it lurched away and fled into the peppermint grove on the other side of the road. Then silence. I knew he was watching me from the trees. I remembered the Kangaroo Woman warning me not to go into the red gum forests where the big grey boomers dwelt if I was ovulating. Was she myth mongering or was she for real? It was all too much, the phantom snakes, the mosquitoes and then that beast crashing out of the dark at me.

I walked back along the road to my car, giving up on the hitch hiker fantasy and thinking that of course I would go to your funeral. I shut myself in my car, put the seat back and turned on the radio, the blue LED screen the only light.

The Night Air. The Night Air presented a girl with a sweet, sweet voice called Bell who told a story of an old man who stood under a lamp light with shabby clothes and a cloth hat. The old man put his hat on the ground and a crowd began to gather. A dog poked his head into the circle and waited, head cocked to one side. When they put some coins into his hat, he held out his empty hands. The people hissed and began to move in to take back their money and spit on his shoes. But before they could get their coins, he made the birds appear. The man made the birds from his hands and they were created feather by feather until their shadows were huge against the glow of the lamp light on the town hall walls. The crowd were amazed. They watched the birds and they were so distracted by the feathers that they didn't see the talons opening. One by one, the birds picked up every person in the crowd and flew away with them. Sometimes a single shoe would fall to the cobblestones. The man with birds for hands stood in the old town square and watched them soar into the evening sky ...

And then there were headlights and the rumble of a car as it pulled to a stop beside mine, gravel dust swirling in the beams of light. A door slammed. My passenger side door opened and you launched yourself over the seat, held my head in your hands and kissed me hard, tasting of something sweet and minty, before you even said hello.

The Old Man With Birds For Hands by Rjin Collins aka Bell.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Icons Project

In March I wrote a post on icons (Here). I was moving house and packing 'things' into boxes, beautiful things that stored many meanings and stories within their textured, gorgeous (and sometimes not-so-gorgeous) beings. But the presence of these icons were only useful to me in imparting their stories and their past. My little flat is tiny and anyway, my choice of abode seems to be mercurial these days. In the last six months I've drifted purposefully between the flat, the tent, the bush shack and back again. More permanent fixtures are the sleeping bag, bottles of water and some clothes on the back seat of my car.

So I put my icons into a cardboard box and started musing about what to do with them. I decided to find them new homes, in nature. To return them, so to speak. They can retain their meaning, their stories anywhere, I reasoned. I began to like the idea of one of these icons in the crook of a Kundip salmon gum and growing into it as the years go by. John Mulvaney wrote somewhere about finding a Sumatran  icon embraced by the flesh of an Arnhem Land tree, dated at 400 years previous to European colonisation.

Then I wondered about how to do this thing. Should I put GPS coordinates on them? I like the idea, sometimes. And then I don't. Google Earth and other mapping programs tend to both delight and bother me. Delight: zooming down from the sky to an inlet in Ireland or a forest in Africa or my street with my old car parked out the front; all these things are just great. Finding my way out of a karri forest at night using the GPS is even better.

Bother: because I resent the constant, intrusive eye ... the Earth is our Mother and someone (Google? NASA? Captain Cook?) has spread the Mother's legs for the camera and shone a spottie on her bits, on the secret places, on the skin's curve under her hair at the back of her neck, on the creases across her belly ... The exposure, documentation and exploitation of Earth's mysterious spaces is a uniquely human foible and something I don't always want to be party to.

Also, putting coordinates on the icons is akin to starting some kind of weird treasure hunt and that's not what I'm on about. I don't want people going looking for them. But I'd love it if somebody walking through the bush one day found an icon by accident ... and wondered what an earth a stuffed white rabbit or a brass statue of Pavarti was doing in a cave, up a tree, crouched under a shelter fashioned from corrugated iron and paperbark on the red ridge line above the river.

Here is the story of the first icon who has made it to a new home.

My friend Zeb Shyne gave me this Buddha about fifteen years ago. I first met Zeb at the Rainbow Festival at Cambrey (see the photos below) when my Pearlie was just a swaddled babe. Rainbow tights, rainbow shirt, Zeb had just returned from Africa and she shone like a fireworks the first time I saw her standing on the old railway line. I wrote a story about our friendship over the years, it's here.

Zeb bought the Buddha in a Freo op shop. She bought it because, even though she already had one exactly the same, she wanted me to have one too. Like those friendship necklaces with the love hearts that crack in half, sort of.

If you have found him and then found your way here, well then, Hello! This Buddha is nice to hold in your palm. He is round and heavy. Maybe he is carved from the lignum vitae, maybe from an Indonesian soft wood. His spine is raised, giving him a hackled look of a prehistory critter but his pose is all too human. I love the frailties in his muscular, hunched pose. If you have found him, you'll know all these things and that he is in a cave, sitting deep within the recesses of the granite walls where the light is thin and the sound of the Southern Ocean swell booms and cracks all around you.

1st Cambrey photo: