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."