Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Clarkie's Camp

Coulter and Treffene Found Guilty and Sentenced to Death
The Verdict

When the jury returned at 4.45, the two accused were put up in the dock again. Treffene was excitedly wiping his hands but Coulter was calm. The jury had been absent for - - - three hours and twenty five minutes.
To the question of the Associate, the foreman said the jury had agreed upon their verdict that both Coulter and Treffene were guilty of wilful murder.
They added the rider: We wish to add your honour, that we very much deplore the fact that Mr Clarke is not in the box too.

On the scale of ripping yarns, it is a worthwhile read. Here is the transcript. I've been sniffing around this story for a while, ever since Old Salt first told me about Clarkie's Camp.

"Yeah, it was on the north side of Brooks'. Always a nasty spot to have a camp on an inlet - the north side. Cold and wet, all the sou-westerlies come on shore. Anyway, this bloke Clarke lived out there for years and years, til he died I think. I never met him, or I don't remember meeting him anyway. Maybe I did and didn't know who he was. People said he'd turned Queens evidence, or King's evidence I s'pose at the time, and moved out to Brooks' under the witness protection program. Said him and his mates had shot a coupla Kalgoorlie cops from the gold stealing squad, back in the 1920's."

These days Brooks' Inlet is called Broke Inlet; one of those big south west estuaries swelled by the hill country rivers and flushed out to the Southern Ocean. Here is a story I wrote about coming across the Broke Inlet refuge of Johnny Chester when I was a kid. Ms Mer has a shack down there. She's fished the inlet for probably thirty years or so. Aside from fisher folk, isolated, cold places such as Broke have traditionally been home to fugitives like Chester and men like Clarke, who simply needed to disappear from the demons and gold stealers.

Last night at another isolated inlet, I asked Old Salt again about Clarkies' Camp and the story of the gold squad detective murders. I think I was reminded of the tale because Mountain Man was back with his shambolic camp and he always sets up right next to the only toilet in town. He bothers me because he's a shouter and I like to toilet in peace without getting completely freaked out. In places like Pallinup, there is rat logic, there is kindness, there is camping etiquette and then there is this kind of experiential-On-the-Road-the-guys-in-white-coats-don't-know-where-I-am. That's fine. I have a real admiration for people who manage to step off the edge.  
Just. Don't. shout at me.

Apart from the Mountain Man, Old Salt and I were the only people around for miles. Unruly has gone east fishing, somewhere, probably Stokes Inlet, no one can say. Grievous' Bro has his boat moored on the shore but he was nowhere to be seen when it came time to set nets. I fretted about this: "Maybe he's been bit by a snake and is lying in his shack dying. Shouldn't we check on him?" Only last week he'd told me there were two plump and glossy tiger snakes wandering about his camp like they owned the place.
"Well, best I don't find him," said Old Salt. "There's no way I'm givin' that ugly bastard mouth to mouth."

This morning I wandered up to the toilet in the half light, bleary and trying not to think about crazy fringe dwellers, fugitives, tiger snakes or that my leaking wet weather gear meant I was about to get drenched on the boat. The wind was already stepping up to the predicted gale warning and bits of foam from the river rolled along the ground and flicked over my boots.
Out of the drop dunny, I broke into a jog to liven myself up.
"The waves are coming over the bar! The bar! It's comin' over the bar!" He shouted at my back.
God, it's five fifteen, I thought. But Mountain Main was right. To the east, huge waves sprayed above the  sandbar in milky plumes. It's probably one of the nicest things he's ever shouted at me.

Treffene said: I am innocent of the charge of murder. It was a pure and simple accident. That is all I have to say.
His Honour then put on the black cap and sentenced both men to death.

The Daily News, Perth, 15th September 1926, p.1.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Raised by Wolves

"Becky's eyes growed as large as saucers when he told her 'bout a man eaten by a sperm whale. It swallowed him right up but when they killed the whale and cut it open there he was, this fella looking like death but still alive. His black hair were bleached white, he had no top skin left and he were nearly blind. Then me father were telling us how he was going to give up whaling cos there were not many whales left when he cried out, Look! Before I could see what he was pointing at I heard me mother say, Oh my goodness, it's one of those hyenas.

I turned and there, there on the bank not more than ten yards from us, were a wolf creature with yellow fur and black stripes. It were about the size of a real large dog. I remember it to this day, cos it were the first one I had ever seen. It had a long muzzle and stripes on its side like a tiger. The tail were thick and the fur so fine and smooth it were like it didn't have hair. It's like a wolf, I heard me mother say and indeed it looked like one of those wolves I seen in me fairytale books. It stared at us with huge black eyes, then opened its jaw real slow til I thought it could swallow a baby. I'll go bail if it were not the most bonny, handsomest thing I ever seen ..."(1)

And so begins the wonderful tyger tale as narrated by Louis Nowra in his new novel Into That Forest - an antipodean foray into the ancient and recurring theme raised by wolves. Anyone familiar with WineDark penchants will know that Thylacenes are an enduring obsession. It is something to do with extinction but more to do with a palpable but inexplicable sense of loss; a longing for something meaningful that could have existed but doesn't ... a unicorn narrative for what could have been. The tigers have conveniently morphed into a mythology rather than a demonstration of our dark past. I've shed tears in a bank queue on seeing footage on the television of the last Tasmanian tiger pacing its concrete, wire-bound cage. I've said that I covet its tanned hide but really, hunting the critter throughout the museums of Australia and finding stuffed or photographic examples always makes me feel appalled and very sad. Sheep killers get shot around here.




"This was the time just after the coming of the dogs, when everything changed.
A barren woman who carried a ginger pup strapped to her belly, told the girl the story of the strange men who sailed in from the north. They wore spiked helmets fashioned from stonefish and breastplates of thick, felted coconut fibre that repelled even the death spears. They brought the dogs with them for food and were bejeweled in the toothed necklaces of ones they'd eaten on the journey.
These dogs without pouches were welcomed. Dogs didn't compete with people like the tigers. They hunted in teams and brought food to the camp, where they sat on the outer rim of firelight, their jowls resting on their paws, ears cocked, waiting their turn. With them came a new mammalian knowledge of fatherhood and birth. The old women said that's when things began to change.
Some nights when the moon was full, the dogs left the camp, silently, in rows like militant wraiths. Then the cold, damp air was fraught with the smell of terror and blood. The dogs yipped and howled as they sniffed out den after den of tigers. They tore apart the marsupial bitch in a cramped little cave and they devoured her babies."(2)

Thus the dingoes wiped out the Thylacenes on mainland Australia. Well, according to John Mulvaney (and I'd trust him because he's dug both of them up and dated them):
"Considering it took the introduced red fox only 70 years to cross Australia, the dingo's expansion across the continent from its point of arrival similarly may have taken only a few decades. It has been long assumed that it was responsible for the disappearance of the meat-eating Tasmanian tiger and Tasmanian devil from mainland Australia. These two marsupials survived into modern times only in Tasmania. David Horton has argued that if the dingo had contributed to their continental demise the process had been attritional and ended perhaps less than 1000 years ago. However archaeological evidence for the latest appearence of both the tiger and the devil on the mainland coincides with the early dingo remains around 3000 years ago."(3)  
ie. it took only 100 years for the dingoes to get rid of the tigers on the mainland. In Van Diemen's Land it took the humans about 50 years to do the same job.

Images of Tasmanian tigers are carved into Kakadu caves, Northern Territory and the Burrup rocks in the Pilbara, Western Australia.

So the tigers were everywhere. Australian tigers, roaming the red north and deep into the green light of southern forests. In the land occupied by marsupial carnivores, giant reptiles and humans for millennia, something happened and the balance shifted. Long after the land bridge to Tasmania flooded, protecting and creating a weird time capsule, the dogs came to Australia.

Now, onto the dogs. Apparently dingoes are not actually dogs.
"The red-blonde canine trots over and sits patiently as Watson demonstrates all the ways a dingo is not a dog. First, she puts a hand under the animal's chin and one at the top of its head, then - as if it has a hinge at the back of its neck - she gently pushes back until the top of the dingo's skull touches its spine. With Snapple's head upright again, Watson turns its ears like radar dishes. When dingoes hunt, one ear points directly forward and one directly back. (Me: who has seen a dingo-cross do this thing with their ears? I have.) Next Watson rotates the dingo's head from side to side, and it travels at least 200 degrees each way. It's like the famous head-spinning scene in The Exorcist, except it's adorable ... Watson takes me to an inconspicuous hole near a log in the paddock. It extends four and a half metres underground, yet no one saw the dingoes dig it and no one has any idea where the displaced dirt went ... the problem, says Watson, is that because dingoes look like dogs, we think we know them." (4)

Anyhoo, back to tigers and Nowra's tale of the little girls who were lost and orphaned by a river storm ... "The cave were small and the floor covered in dried fern fronds. It smelt cosy and warm. I told Becky there were two tigers and I were going inside to be with them."

"We laughed and the tigers moved right away from us. We were still laughing at them when they suddenly went all frozen. Their ears turned towards a sound they heard. The male tiger stood on his hind legs like it were a human or a roo, so he could see over the high grass and ferns. Then without looking or coughing at each other they ran off. I felt this bolt of excitement flow through me and I found meself running after them, so did Becky."

Louis Nowra's book is classified teen fiction.
I loved it.

1. Louis Nowra, Into That Forest, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2012, pp. 10 - 32.
2. Me, Here.
3. Mulvany and Kamminga, Prehistory of Australia, Sydney, 1999, p. 260.
4. Christine Kenneally, 'Not a Dog', in The Monthly, September 2012, p. 17.

Kakadu tiger:
Tasmanian tiger: Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, Tasmania.
Burrup tiger: Castillo Rocas
"This engraving was removed from its original location and taken to the office of a transnational conglomerate CEO in the Burrup. A few months later it was returned to its 'original' location and stuck in with cement. 

Burrup Peninsula, Pilbara District, Western Australia."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sea Shroom

I saw some mushrooms yesterday that I have never seen before. They'd burst out of a sand track above the beach. Freak fungi? Maybe they've been doing it for millennia. I always thought that fungi thrived on organic matter but the sand these optimistic folk sprung from is burned in a crucible of salty onshore winds, seasonal bush fires and little rain.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the Tiller

I know how to do this. It is late afternoon and the wind is up. I turn the dinghy in a long arc into windward slop and watch for Old Salt to gather himself. I point the boat for the paperbarks. He doesn't need to flick directions at me as he stands amidships but still he flicks the back of his hand towards the shore. A digital Rosetta stone for lesser folk. It's me at the tiller. I know how to do this Old Salt, I think as I roar up to the paperbarks, lift the motor when we hit the shallow coral grounds, ease the throttle. I can see another little boat moored in the flooded trees, its rope threaded through branches, the outboard out of the water and tilted to the right. The dark flash of a solar panel through the forest and a smudge of campfire smoke above. I work the tinny along a bit. There's a boat in there, I say to Old Salt. They'll run into our nets tonight if we set there. Get closer to where the afternoon sun bleaches the trees to ghostly white, full lock to the nor west, pull the gear astern, full lock to the south east, straighten up, back in the boat to where the big old bream lurk. The mountains are a blue grey bruise on the sky. Old Salt fiddles with the tangled buoys. Our wake arrives, shwishing against submerged trees and onto the sandy shore. Then it is only the cawing of jaded crows, the thump and crack of the swell outside the bar, the soft throb of the motor as we play out nets. The mushroomy scent of nets and sweet flowers over the water. A sentinel sea eagle lies above me, watching.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hay River Pylons

Living on mussel guts and luck

You know how life can throw a googly? And how, even during the train wreck, you can sit back and survey the carnage, muse on the part you played and decide that you didn't chuck the curve ball. It just happened to you. There are two parts to this scenario: accepting that even though you did not create it, it's definitely got something to do with you now. The other part is how you deal with it. 

Back to the first one. It can be quite nice knowing that you didn't create the chaos. It just swirls around like that rocket I set off at the rifle range as a kid. I thought I'd aimed it at the targets but it hit the iron barriers and ricocheted back into the shed, bouncing off corrugated iron, muzzle loaders and flasks of gun powder, sending grown men running for their lives.

... no no hang on, I must have had something to do with that.
And there is the rub. We are always connected to shit going down in our lives. Hindsight, now she's a bitch because she will point out this fact just as we are heading into a poor bugga me polemic.

So, it's late. I've just lost badly at scrabble.
"Well, it was a close game!" (for everyone but me, who lost by well over thirty points. But I did help 007 put down a kickass Qi and win, if that means anything ...)

How you deal with a curve ball probably depends on where you choose to sit during the chaos. Some float. Some act too soon. Some drink. Some sift their icons. Some Zen it. And some dance the whole way through.
Myself, I'd like to be locked in a cupboard and let out when the dramas are over.
"Oh, wasn't I available to take the blame/console/counsel/cook/keep your secrets/feed the dog/ answer the phone/liaise with family? Damn. I was locked in a cupboard at the time."

'tis interesting though; the energy that is gleaned and drained from drama. Kyabla asked how I was travelling tonight and I replied that I felt both ferocious and exhausted. He said, yes. I can see all of it in your face.

I remember a few years ago when I had a stall at a popular riverside market. I was selling tie-dyed petticoats and crystal necklaces next to folk selling handmade wooden spoons. Two men started a fight in the pub across the road and eventually the fight rolled through the green grass, along the aisles between the stalls. These guys seemed to want to kill each other. They fought like pit bulls with a fugue of rum steaming around their bodies. Their shirts were torn off and they were both bleeding. The fight began and ended quickly but the stench of the alcohol stayed rank in the air above the tie dyed silk scarves, felted beanies, ylang ylang candles and tofu burgers. Afterwards, the stall holders looked at each other, quite shell-shocked. Then the discussion started about how they would have dealt with it ... next time.

That scene is my definition of one of life's leg spin googlies.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Stretching the truth

Last night out at the inlet I recorded some more of Old Salt's stories. It led me to thinking that I should do this with some of the other old fisher men and women but the 'taking' of oral histories is a strange process. Old Salt knows well enough to trust me but some of the others don't and probably view my endeavours with some suspicion. They'd have to read the manuscript to know that I am on their side and some of them read nothing but the weather and the seasons (yes, and that is why these folk are a source of my constant fascination.)

From my own experience and learnings of recording oral histories, there is a relationship of trust that has to be developed and maintained before, during and after the recording. Then there is the technical stuff: don't wear bangles or noisy clothing; make sure the subject is comfortable and willing to stay the duration; ask leading questions, not ones that end in a 'yes' or 'no'; do your research. One of the most interesting instructions and something I've stuck to ever since is that you should never ask an interviewee to tell their story before you start taping. If you do, they will tell it to you in vivid, gorgeous detail. When you begin recording, your interviewee will be rehashing, editing and reciting and all that rawness is gone forever.

Anyway, most of the rules get thrown out the window at Pallinup.
I love the yarn below, because it is just so bloody funny ... a story of Old Salt's Dad, one armed poacher of legend, getting busted for undersized black bream in the 1950's.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Bob Spot

About a year before Bob died he built a website and filled it up with all sorts of interesting things.
For a start, he created an online version of Daisy Bates' genealogies of south coast Noongar families. He also added some Noongar language resources, including the indigenous names of plants. Then there is a list of Noongar whalers and Nebinyan's whaling songs ... and Bob's blog Kyangardarup.

I remember when he'd finally built his website, he came around for dinner one night and showed me around the place. I was impressed but it has taken a few years to understand just how important his work is.

This year, just after the fourth anniversary of his death, the website disappeared. Maybe Bob stopped paying the rent or something. It was a bit of a scary moment - until I remembered that in 2009, Spencer Collins (aka Colin) had foreseen this event and rebuilt it, putting it somewhere else safe. I don't really know how this stuff works. You'll have to ask Colin - just click on his name above and it will take you back to 2009 when he was rebuilding the site.

Anyway, the point is that Colin saved Bob's website from disappearing forever. Ciaran wrote to me the other day, saying that this act of protecting the site was really smart thinking and should be recognised in some way. And so it should, but neither of us are sure how.

Noongar bidi(pathways) from 'Mokare's Domain' R.A. Ferguson, in 'Australians to 1788'(1988) 

The WineDark link to Bob's home page is at the bottom of 'From the Wild West'. If you are interested in Noongar history and language, climate change issues, environmentalism, poetry, music, memes, the ANZACs and all things magpie, have a look around. And thanks Colin. Nice work.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ripping Yarns

There's been a few great books by my bedside lately but whenever I try to shout about them on the sidebar of AWineDark Sea, this message comes up:
"We're sorry, but you have exceeded your photo upload quota. For more information, check out Blogger help page."
Mmmm. Exceeded my photo upload quota.
So I went to the blogger 'help' page and was respectfully told that for a certain amount of cold hard cash every month, I can still let folk know the books I am reading. Surely this is a mere glitch (and just a sidebar glitch, mind) but it bugs me. Maybe it is the Scot in me. But why should I hand my black bream/starving artist revenue over to some internet mobsters? I upload 'original content' ie, my stories and ripping yarns and photographs every week or so, expose them forever as open slather for pirates and scrapers on their news and shopping sites, and then Blogger (or Google) want my cash to put a book cover image on my sidebar. Bah.

(Tonight, a storm is ripping through the south west corner of the country. The eucalypts were not expecting it because the wind came from the other direction and their big, loose branches are crashing into other limbs and onto the ground. Wolf, the brindle dog with a dark past, didn't expect it either. He's under the table, shuddering as every lump of corrugated iron tears loose from the roof.)

Anyhoo ... this:

Recently I've been telling my daughter Pearlie the story of the south west forest blockades that took place in the 1990s. She is way too young to remember when I put her to bed in the back of a Combi van as we drove through the night on our way to the protests in the bush, seeing the karris loom up against the headlights, trying to find our way to Giblett block. She was a babe in my arms when we were buying supplies and the gorgeous, dreadlocked violinist Dana asked the checkout girls, in a town where all the local lumberjacks were about to be put out of work by the realpolitik:
"Can you tell me how to get to the forest blockade?"

I love the whole idea of what Anna Krien has done in Into the Woods. It is Tasmanian adventure but I know she has taken on all of the politics and anxieties of environmentalism in Australia. I got the book in the mail this afternoon, so I have not read it yet ... but, all power to you Anna.

Oh yes, yes, the red dress and Paul Thoeroux.
A dried-up travel writer living in Martha's Vineyard goes to Ecuador, follows a snaky river down to  a village where he discovers a plant that will help him see/send him blind.
(Wolf is leaning against my leg now, pleading me to save him from the lightning.)

It has been twenty years since this 'travel writer' wrote his last book but when he returns he takes the drug datura every day and dictates to his girlfriend. Every day he is blinded, then in the evenings his vision is restored. The games begin.
The writer meets the president but the president is preoccupied with his secrets. Possibly a certain chubby intern and her stained blue dress are on his mind. Princess Diana dies, too.
The centre of this book is split open, is horny as ... American style.
A bit of purple, yes.
Gawd. I had this novel handed over to me in a cafe the other day by a well meaning friend. Half way through it, I felt like saying to him,
You bastard! How could you do this to me. You know I don't have a boyfriend. Not fair.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Clinker Boats and Powdered Milk

I've been recording Old Salt in the evenings when we sit fireside, after setting nets. This session is about the wooden clinker boats, in the days before fishermen had tinnies and outboard motors.