Friday, March 30, 2012

Australian Salmon

I actually outforecasted Old Salt on the weather front yesterday.

He rang from the salmon camp. "There's salmon all around the bay. And mulies and birds working them. And there is mullet too, in the pool, right in front of me. The weather's great. D'yer wanna go fishin'?"

He did this a few days beforehand - texted me with "There is salmon everywhere out here." Just to let me know, while I was lugging freezers and wardrobes onto the trailer ...
"I can't come out today," I looked at the sky. Mares tails and mackerel scales. "I'll come out tomorrow but it's looking like it might blow up by then." Tall ships with shortened sails.

"Nah, it'll be fine tomorrow. Bloody gorgeous out here right now. Can't do a shot for mullet anyway. Too much weed on the shore at the moment."
So why did he ring me with mullet stories if we can't even catch them? I think he was just teasing. He knows well my penchant for sea mullet.

This morning was wet and howling with a dirty sou-easter that turned around to the south west and started making a mess of the foreshore in town. The whole harbour was a creamy slush and seagulls fought the wind like scraps of paper on their daily flight from the rubbish dump to the new entertainment centre.

"Never known you to be so wrong about the weather and me so right," I texted Old Salt. "No thanks. Maybe on the weekend." See? These days I go fishing when I want to. And I can give some lip. A few months ago this behaviour would have earned a very different outcome.
"Weather shithouse out here," he answered, then slapped me down anyway. "Don't get too smug about 4casting. Once in 5 years is no einstein stuff."

I think Old Salt is 75 this year and he knows his weather. The only time I've heard a bad forecast from him is when he's trying to keep me out at sea in order to get the nets picked up. "Oh the wind will drop at sunset," is his usual line when he's trying to bullshit me into staying out late on an onshore bay, so more fish will mesh in the nets. Bah.

The whole point of the salmon camp is to catch salmon in huge seine nets. Between early February and Easter schools of salmon push against the Leeuwin current along the south west coast. When a school comes into the bay, the fisher men and women row a boat around the school, spooling out the salmon net. Then they use tractors, four wheel drives and bare hands to drag the net onto the beach. It is hugely exciting getting involved in this process. Big trucks from the processing factories drive onto the white, kelpy sands of the beach and are loaded up with salmon. The problem is that the market has crashed for this cheap, coarse fish. People are importing Asian fish or just not liking the flavour of Australian salmon. So Old Salt's camp has morphed into a kind of village for retired salmon fishers.

The last few years we've taken the dinghy out from the camp and hooked a few. Sometimes we head out to Forsyth's bluff (remember The Eyes) and troll for salmon where the waves crash onto barnacled granite. The 'heads', where the granite protrudes from the land to form separate bays is always a good spot. In behind Migo and Hartman's Island we caught salmon on lures ... that sure yank against nylon, fingers raw (I keep forgetting my gloves) the blue heads of the rest of the school circling my prey ... Arripus trutta

Maybe we'll get out there on the weekend.

Last photo courtesy of the Mitchells.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Moving house all week took the pain away from knowing that the editor and another Fremantle Press associate were about to take my manuscript to a 'pitch' meeting on Tuesday. Apparently this is when they sit down with the number crunchers and executives and persuade them that my manuscript is going to be a viable proposition.
I was unpacking old journals and diaries (the ones that survived the fire) and had fallen into a teary maudlin state that besets me whenever I 'accidentally' open one of those time bombs and start reading. An interesting juxtaposition when I think about how that incident with the diaries changed me as a writer.
Georgia, the editor, rang me.
I bin signed.
I had to walk around in circles and swear quite a bit, before sitting down. Tom Stephenson reckons I yelled at him on his blog and that his ears are still ringing. But he was very nice about it.

In July last year I sent Fremantle Press the unfinished book, which was a bit of a narratorial shambles when I think back. They said, "Yes, you are onto something here. Now go away and finish it and then rewrite it." In the months towards the end of last year I rewrote the whole book. If the Old Salt book were a 1974 HG Holden, you would call it a total rebuild. Then 'finished'. Printed.

I suddenly got the heebie jeebies and rang the editor. "I can't send it. I've just realised I haven't written a story about sardines. I've gotta get on a sardine boat. That will take at least another few weeks." It is quite horrifying looking at a pile of printed pages and thinking, 'This is it and I'm not ready.' Artists do it. Stonemasons do it. Even game hunters and seine netters do it. We all think, 'Is this the best I can do? Because I'm not getting another shot for a while.'
She said, "Get it off your desk, Sarah and send it to me."


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Geo Icon Question

He is cool now, keeping it together in the reality-check of the casualty waiting room. He reads a National Geographic and shows you a picture of an alabaster Egyptian king and queen sitting side by side on identical thrones. That’s me and you, he tells you. You’re my Stone-age Queen. We’ll breed the master race.

... from a short story I had published in Indigo Journal #5. I placed that story as fiction in my submission to Indigo; though when sisters and other familiars read it, they reeled with a slow kind of 'faaark, Sarah, I'm not sure if I know you at all!' What most readers didn't know was that I have that statue of the Egyptian king and queen and that he knew that when he was wigging out, waiting to be admitted to the psych ward.

From the deceased estate of my daughter's father there are Icons - Buddha, Pavati, the cat queen, Kali (I kind of like her style), Leda, St Geraldine, Kwan Yin  (she's been standing, holding her babe on the dash of my car for a long time now. With a four wheel drive you need a Goddess of mercy and compassion to guide you) ... 
While moving house I've had to put all of these Icons into boxes and cart them somewhere else. There are also the things that mean much to my past but have no other utilitarian or monetary value. I consider these things to be Icons too. An example:

A stuffed toy vaguely resembling a white rabbit sits upright with floppy ears and nylon, cobwebby fur. It's the kind of thing you find in op shops, in fact I think we did. One day when Pearlie and Stormboy were pre-teen, I'd had an apocalypticly premenstrual day after working all day on the lawnmowing round. All I wanted was half an hour alone in the bath. Just saying to kids that you want a moment alone in the bath is stupid anyway. Thinking you are actually going to get it is misguided in any expectations of single parenthood. Still, I lit the chip heater, paced around for half an hour waiting for hot water, poured a bath and sank into its depths.
Screaming. Not fun screaming, real screaming.
I scrambled out of the bath and went into the kitchen where I found Stormboy lying on the floor covered in blood and Pearlie leaning over him. The knife was still in her hand. Stormboy groaned and lay still. Then I saw a little smirk as he writhed in pain and I thought, maybe even said out loud, you pair of little shits!
So, wet and naked, I stormed past the tomato sauce/blood and pathos theatre and went back to the bathroom, slammed the door shut and lay back in my fucking bath, fuming. Silence from the kitchen. I think they knew they'd pushed it a bit too far. Minutes later the bathroom door opened and the white rabbit was pushed through the doorway with a stick. Safety pinned to his chest was a piece of paper and on it was written, "Sorry".

Daggy white rabbit becomes Icon. There is no way that piss weak piece of  polyester is ever getting tip shopped.

So I've been thinking, whilst boxing up these characters that have inspired ripping yarns, compromises, reconciliations, trued bondings, physical fights and relationship break ups and downs, what am I to do with these critters? They are a part of who I am. But I would like to become more nomadic and these things, these Icons, are not conducive to that.

Pearlie's Dad always said of Pavati and the others that they should be left in the crevices of trees in the bush. I revere an article from my hero, the archeo/anthropo/historian John Mulvaney who told the story of an icon being left on the north coast of Australia from the visiting Maccassans (now Indonesians), how the tree had grown around the icon and it was dated to four hundred years prior to western civilisation. 
Pearlie and her father, Mulvaney's findings and moving house has got me thinking about these precious family heirlooms.

Maybe they should have a shrine of their own with shelters and flowers. Maybe I should photograph them and tell the stories of how they came to be there. One caveat - my daughter rang me after I ran this by her and forbade me to do it with any of her father's Icons - fair call. It's her heritage after all. However; the cat queen, the London gargoyles, the Buddhas, the faeries, the Pavatis and the white rabbit will soon be found in the salmon gum forests and the heathlands out the way of Kundip. I love the idea of a bush walker or  mining company worker coming across a white rabbit, or a Kwan Yin, or an Egyptian king and queen sitting side by side in the shade of a rare Banksia, out in the middle of nowhere/here/somewhere. A beautiful random encounter. Maybe said folk will decorate the shrine with flowers. Lots of maybes.

A few final thoughts: Are our things just things? Could stuffed toys that look vaguely like white rabbits be considered Icons? And if so, how do Icons get treated in our transient Australia, where us renters and first home owners are made to move about like nomads?
Bear with me here. I've just been moving house so I'm sensitive to these things. Despite this, Kwan Yin or one of her resin manifestations will stay with me on the dash of my car. Feargal, the stuffed wobbegong sharky that I found in a rubbish bin, he's condemned to following me about the country forever.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Like a Song

Someone said to me this afternoon that pianos must be the only piece of furniture that does not observe the two person removalist rule - a fine critique on the nature of pianos!

But I didn't have to do anything. At exactly eleven am, four carloads of blokes pulled up across the road, sauntered over and loaded the piano onto the trailer. A grand effort. My heartfelt thanks go out to them - and the wives and mothers who inspired or coerced them to do it. Yay guys!

Nothin' Strange About an Axe in the Barn

It's been a strange week.

On Monday I started to drive home from Margaret River and made it to Karridale before I decided that five hours of concentrating on forest roads in my state was a really bad idea. I was so tired from my sister's wedding that I was dizzy and shaky. I pulled into a layby and told the teens that we were turning back. They agreed (probably eying off a second day off school) and we drove to Augusta to stay with another Toa sister for the night. She showed me the remains of her motorbike after the recent fires that burned down her house.

Looking at that lovely piece of art that was once a motorbike brings the Margaret River fires into perspective. 800 degrees. Definitely not a "stay and defend" situation on Isaac's Ridge that day.

Back home on Tuesday, I started packing up the house. Captain Chaos stepped in and throttled the gas and the internet. Can't blame the guy really; I know he's happiest rolling that way. Stormboy went to his Dad's and I decided that the best way to pack my life into boxes and say my final goodbyes to Bob was to stay drunk the whole time. Three days later, I heartily recommend this procedure to anyone who is moving house.

One of my mates said recently, "There are two universal laws that I have worked out so far. Stuff eats stuff and stuff moves stuff." This week, I'm just stuff that moves stuff. So long as I start drinking after sundown, turn up the music (Bob Dylan's Desire is the flavour for some reason) then I get heaps of stuff packed and am able to move it the next day. It's been fun in a strange kind of way. Also, being stuff that eats stuff, like smoked salmon and blue castello on crackers for dinner (no pots and pans, no gas, damn, what a shame), is not a bad short term solution to the life long conundrum of how to live.

Tomorrow is the big piano-moving day. Everyone's back seems to be fucked and it's looking like it's going to be a shitfight getting the Howard's heirloom piano from where I've been caring for it to its new home with the musos. The last time I moved the piano, a black king skink crawled out all grumpy and covered in white paint from its hibernating hidey hole.

The real estate agent messaged me tonight to say that the new owner is arriving exactly fifteen minutes after the only four folk I know with good backs are converging to move the piano for me. Oh well. Ho hum.

Tonight Stormboy came home to sort out his teenage travesty of a bedroom. When we moved in he was a boy and now he is a kind of child/man/hairy faun. "Imagine there was an earth quake! Or maybe a fire," I told him when he looked about his room in utter despair. "What would you take? What are the most important things to you?"

That sparked him into action. We threw out piggy banks, slinkies, goggles and snorkles, ill fitting clothes, kites, music magazines and ten years' worth of leggo. He's a gifted artist and carefully stashed all of his drawings. And hair gel. He made sure his best paintings were put aside for folk who wanted them. Then we headed for the back yard to set fire to his guitar, the one with no strings and a twisted neck.

I patted down my kerosene scented, smoking clothes.
"What about that old computer? Do you need anything on it?"
"Go on then, Stormboy. Get the axe."
I could see him thinking, Mum's pretty loose at the moment. She's really going through something.
But he got the axe. I supervised. Well, I shielded my eyes and wineglass from the flying plastic shards while he got stuck into the computer under the streetlights.

Later he said, "Sometimes I can't believe I've got a Mum like you."
And I thought, what amazing children ... despite me.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sister Bride

In the beginning, Mama and Papa Toa made my little sister Jess. This curly girl was a unique addition to the world when she wriggled raucously into our lives. The night that she was born, my Dad made rhubarb stew for the rest of us sisters. 

On St Patrick's Day 2012, there was a sacred gathering of the clan from bluff to cape to city, to see Jess marry the man of her dreams, a dready Birmingham boy called Dan. They were married in a cave (of course) complete with a disco ball, seven sisters, a St Patrick's Day-born spare mum, broods of Toa teens and babies, a coupla hundred mates and a canine ring bearer called Boodgie ...

 Dad's speech: "Back in the days when it was legal to ride in the back of utes, well, that's how we got the kids around. One day we got picked up by the cops. The copper said, "You've got a lot of kids in the back of that ute."
"Yes ... that's not against the law, is it?"
"No. But that one," he pointed to Jess, "She was doing a handstand!"
Jess screamed with laughter. "That was so much fun. We'd wait until Dad crested the steepest hill. Ready? Ready? Now!"

I've mentioned before that we grew up a black powder family but muzzle loader muskets and blowing things up has always been strictly the domain of Papa Toa. He's managed to keep us clear of gunpowder and cigarette lighters but has brought us up to know in our DNA that a little bit of danger is one hell of a lot of fun. As the youngest, Jess understood that better than anyone. She's always the first to hold her nose and go flying off the rope swing into the river or off the decks of the whalechaser and into the sea, four wheel driving out the back of Conto's, running along the skylight roof, giggling as a two year old, with Annie trying to coax her down (now that was scary).

After a funny and joyous exchanging of vows, we danced and then sojourned to the balcony to look over the Indian Ocean. Around the cape the ocean turns a bright ultra marine blue, nothing like the gnarly gun barrel grey of the Southern Ocean where I hail from.

I fingered the xylophones, looked out to sea and picked a half hearted fight with the groom's father about West Australian real estate agents. Someone gave me a tiny piece of paper that looked nondescript but when placed under my tongue made everything really bright and sparkly.
Everyone was just fine and beautiful ...

 Azza, fire poi toy boy said, "I've got ten litres of kerosene in the car. Let's go crazy, sister!"

That is my daughter Pearlie below, fire poi queen.

For Too Much Fun Click Play

And then a little sleep ...

Azza again, the next morning, after sitting around with the gathering breakfasting, champagne swilling folk, said, "Now for the fourteen person challenge," which was his lingo for how many people he wanted to fit into his beach-going car. We managed eleven and trundled down for a swim, bumping over the gravel corrugations until he got illegal on the tarmac, to the pool at Ingenup.

The sun was brutal. We plunged into waves off a deep, sucky beach and I tried to surf waves that pounded my head into the sand, dumper after dumper. Sometimes I thought I was going to die. My undies filled with sand and then I couldn't find them at all. Bloody hell. Give me the long, sloping sands of the south anytime. Their sand isn't even white, it's yellow. And it's too coarse to squeak. And it really hurts when your head hits it.

It was time to get out of the chaos and crawl into a pool of warm, shallow water and chat to French Nat. She regaled me with some choice life experiences in her gorgeous drawling accent, whilst skulling champagne, her filthy bridesmaid's dress soaking in the briny.

A crow sat on the sculptural stones and watched us bodies wallow. Azza's wife lolled, her swollen baby belly and darkened nipples objects of tactile fascination for my two year old niece. The drug fiend, the loose one we watched carefully in the surf, lay in the sand like a shipwrecked pirate, shell grit all over his face and falling into his eyes. New lovers - the rangy, laughing Maori and her quiet Australian fell over and over in the lacy reaches of the waves. I could feel the skin burning on my back, deliciously.

We climbed back up the long, long track. One Toa sister had forgotten her thongs and the soles of her feet burned in the hot sand. We were bushed by the time we got to the car park. On our return to the wedding house, dried out, hot and crusty with salt, it was just so much joy to discover the spa bath full of fresh water stained with tea tree, and women covered in damp rose petals and my sister bride Jess, with her capfuls of tequila ...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Moving House

Sperm whale teeth, stingray barbs, generator, little jar filled with gold dust, rubbish bin, seal teeth, shark teeth, milk teeth, birds nest, polished peacock lapidolite, music scores, stuffed wobbegong, one hundred metres of books, Bagwan tarot, jenga jenga game, red enameled cat iron pots, bag of frankincense, crazy wind up toy, barometre, phone charger, violin, jar of wedgetail eagle feathers, twenty paintings, sewing box, kangaroo skin, two Turkish rugs, a school teacher's desk, dress ups box, tooth brushes, glass fishing buoys, piston rings from the shipwrecked whalechaser, mop and bucket, Fagan's bust, lap top and printer, four dinner plates, wicker and wire washing basket, bed, snakeskin drum, dolphin vertebrae, music, Tindale map, fruit of my loins (kids), bicycle, cat, swag, cat's food bowl,
wine glasses mugs speakers fossils sewing machine sanity rose quartz photographs maps bedding paper nautilus shells
Have I forgotten anything?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Restless Waves

A singer songwriter said of the Dirty Three that they have taught him to value his every word. Why say anything unworthy when you can tweak a fiddle the way of Warren Ellis? Watch this til the last frame ... far out.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Old Salt coming to pick me up from Migo Island

Archaic and Bloody: Enjoy

Apologies to all lovers of seals (and I'm one of them) for some of these images but my area of research is the communities whose industry contributed to the decimation of seal colonies in the 1800's. These pictures are as valuable to me as those certain scents that return us to our childhood. Connect that to a British society who wore sealskin hats and whose streets were lit with their oil. The cloaks of the Chinese Mandarins were made of Western Australian sealskin - it was a global export industry born decades before the colony itself. Wild stuff. So here goes.
Flinching a Yearling, Tristan De Acuna, by Augustus Earle, 1793 - 1838.

This image Rafting Blubber at Tristan De Acunha by Augustus Earle is curious in many ways. I'm gathering that the rafting of blubber means the sealer is about to float the flensed blubber of a seal out to the boat standing off the rocks. Check out the swell. Crazy. Then there is the dog, who looks a bit like a dingo crossbreed. 19th century sealers are often described as travelling with Aboriginal women, children and big mobs of brindle dogs that were European hounds crossed with Antipodean dingoes. Dogs changed Aboriginal society in Tasmania after invasion/colonisation but also had a part to play in a massive shift of Aboriginal society on 'mainland' Australia 3000 years ago, when the dogs crossed from south east Asia. I get that Tristan De Acunha is northwards from my particular rave but the presence of that dog says that they were still used as familiars and co-workers.

 View on the north side of Kanguroo Island, painted by William Westall. Published by G & W Nicol, Feb.12. 1814.
An idyllic view. Most of the seals and the kangaroos were gone by the mid 1800s thanks to not only the resident sealers but also visiting colonists who shot everything to salt down for later. A species of short legged emu endemic to the island is now extinct, an Australian version of the Moa extinction narrative.

 Native Cats of Australia, Charles-Alexander Lesueur, 1778 - 1846.
We hate introduced cats making a right mess of native animal populations, right? Here is rare image of marsupial cats getting stuck into a seal carcass. I like this image because of everything that it represents - native carnivores, the carnage of colonisation, the shifting of food resources, etc. etc.

Chasse aux phoques, by Leon Jean Baptiste, d. 1887.
It's French for 'carnage'.

 Frank Wild, Leader, and Morton Henry Moyes, Meteorlogist, Western Base Party, standing with knife over a Weddell seal, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. By Frank Wild, 1873-1939.
This photograph is obviously posed but even after that ... well. Awkward silence. I've got no idea what is going on here. It's an nineteenth century Facebook moment, methinks.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Story About Nothing/Everything

Tonight I got the offer of a ticket, half an hour before the bell, to see Staff Benda Bilili and made myself say "Yes". After a wonderfully impromptu, rolling pub crawl last night that finished gracefully on the floor of the revolution-inspired shabby chic of Liberte' bar, I was feeling very much that I should eat a decent dinner of spinach and fish and go to bed early. But somehow I found myself at Darth Vader's weekender, the local entertainment centre, mingling with the glitterati, feeling quite crusty with my dirty hair and lacky siders, corralled into sitting squashed next to random folk in the hot dark and watching the support act do beat box stuff in bright red overalls.
It wasn't them. It was me.
I bolted, sorry to say. I often have problems in crowded spaces, with the weight of expectation of getting my money's worth adding to my general claustrophobia and crankiness. My date must be quite befuddled by my behaviour and is probably watching a ripping show as I write this. On my way through the geometric chaos of the entertainment centre hallways I felt like bursting into tears at my feral, social inadequacies.
But I did realise that I've never really been into these kind of big events. A recent study found that people in general often don't enjoy going out for dinner or sit down shows because of the expectation factor. "I've paid, therefore I want to be bedazzled. Anything less will make me unhappy." And yet, they still do it, again and again. I dunno. Any gig where I am shown my seat and told to sit in it for a few hours, whether it be a movie, a dinner or a show, just does not agree with my need to dance, to walk, to talk. Give me a fire and some folk with guitars.
I walked out of the sliding doors and breathed in the sea. The wind still hasn't dropped. Some men sat in an alcove out of the wind at the bottom of the stairs. They were black men, brown men. One of them wore a white hat and a white suit. I asked him for a light and they all smiled and gave me a box of matches. So I shared a light and had a smoke with the boys of the Staff Benda Bilili.

As well as all the great acts and movies that piggy-backed the Perth International Arts Festival, came the writers. I got involved, setting up the 'green room' for visiting writers and chairing a couple of discussion panels. I was strongly counselled by a fellow local writer who knows my predilections to "not go out drinking the night before you interview a famous writer, fall off your bike and smash yourself up, Sarah. These things are okay as individual events but don't try them all on the same day."

To get back to my original theme, I eschewed the readings that took place below the decks of the Amity. Later I told Janette Turner Hospital and Kim Scott that I would loved to have heard them read but the idea of squeezing with eighty other folk into the bowels of a replica ship that once carried convicts and sheep just scared the crap out of me. Janette responded with a perfectly reasonable request for a beer. She'd just got off a plane from the Perth festival circuit and climbed into a wooden boat with eighty people. It was beer o'clock. The fellow local writer looked at me. As a non drinker, he was completely out of the loop. It would be the same situation for me if a rock star I was 'looking after' wanted some cocaine. "Janette wants a beer. Have you got any beer?  No? How do I do this buying beer thing? Where do I score beer?"

The next day two spunky young women got off the plane. One is a self confessed pornographer, the other is ... I'm not going into her biography here but she is just a fucking gorgeous, talented writer and funny and her grandfather (who is also famous) had a long standing affair with Nan Mouskouri. They were both going straight into a panel from the tarmac. "Would you like something to eat and a cup of tea?" I asked them, feeling overwhelmed by meeting these two great women writers.
"We want wine. White wine. In mugs. It will look much more respectable." In the local paper there is a lovely shot of these two writers clanking coffee cups together, grinning, ever so slightly shitfaced.