Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A country's ken

Country can offer up its secrets, he thought. If it chooses to. That place where I've felt the blood rush flowering into my loins and I knew that it had happened here. That place where I've felt dread in my bones, that sense of death, and I knew that it had happened there.

On his way to work, the day after the woman had told him the story of his friend's death, he rode his bike into the place. It was a lay-by for lovers and stoners; a quiet place away from the road. He laid his bicycle aside and stood in the clearing. He waited.

He waited for the bush to tell him what had happened there two days ago.
But it didn't. The birds and the scrubby trees and the soil went about their business of food/sex/death. Old acacias and weeds stood craggy and wooden in the morning heat. A breeze circled in the black dirt. A honey eater shrieked at a neighbour.
The bush was indifferent to what had happened here. It just didn't care.
He got back on his bicycle and rode to work.


Scrabble, the Wrong Man and the Crocodile

Scrabble nights can be wild. Mondays, when the townsfolk are tucked up by the fire, the four of us true believers go out into the darkened streets, where we tuck up by someone else's fire, eat copious amounts of food and then sit down to some serious Scrabble.

There's 007 and his faithful sidekick Fiddy Cent (cos he's black), Haimona the Classy (cos he knows a classy Valiant Charger when he sees one), the Matron (her vocation) and me. The Matron's boyfriend owns a winery. I'll leave it at that at the moment. Our Sunshine used to play, until she left the state on pressing business.

I left the state on pressing business once, by default. A convoluted and upsetting tale of being unable to fall out of love with the wrong man, I had to go in a hurry. 

The bar manager whom I worked for had to leave in a hurry too. A crate of Korean rice whiskey from the freighters was his undoing. Staff at the Emergency waiting room were cleaning stomach linings off the vinyl chairs for weeks. Or was it the drugs? I don't recall which one was the catalyst, but I know that as he got cockier, produce went over the table rather than under. He offered me a lift through to Geraldton.

007 insists on Fiddy Cent sitting at the table, even though Fiddy Cent is a dog and we're all eating our dinner. "He's my partner. Did I tell you about the time he won the game for me?" says 007. "I was losing badly, taking hits left right and centre. I was going down, when Fiddy leapt up and put his paw on three letters! D! O! G!. 'Gosh Fiddy!' I said to him. 'You've just won me the game.'"
Fiddy is sporting a new trim, so his beady eyes study me across the table. "Yes, I don't really remember doing that," 007 says worriedly. "I got up in the morning with a thumping hangover and the scissors were on the table and Fiddy's hair all over the floor ... not a bad job ... anyway, try some of this wine, it's two ninety nine a bottle. Not bad at two ninety nine, not a bad drop at all."

Fiddy jumps down and is whining at the door. He wants to go outside but the doggy door is working and poodle perversity means he has to sit and whine for a bit before using it.
"What's wrong with Fiddy Cent?" asks the Matron. She leers indulgently at the dog through her thick glasses.
"Fuck, man," 007 says to his dog. "They don't all hate you, just relax." He turns to us and explains; "He thinks you all hate him because he's black."
"Nonsense," says Haimona. "Some of my best friends are poodles."

After getting blown out of Geraldton, I jumped truck over and over. Going north and I climbed into the nerve centre of monstrous iron roaches - a moment of reckoning with the driver who sweated diesel from the cracks and pores in his face, looked me up and down. The old ones were okay. Stories were my passport.

A truckie drove me to a pub in Cyclone Alley; fibro, two storey, flattened three times and rebuilt three times. I asked for a job. For five months I hung out the guest's linen, fresh and sun-glared, smelling like the sea. I read The Songlines, a little bit every day, in the geologist's air conditioned donga.

We set up the board and draw our letters. Haimona gets out his clipboard. I can tell by his groans that he is already suffering a vowel obstruction, an irregular complaint.
"At least it only happens once a week," the Matron empties her glass and pours another two ninety nine. She opens the game, an eight pointed 'lust', and looks meaningfully at an oblivious 007.
Haimona and I study our racks, hard. Old people. They're so disgusting. 

I ended up in Darwin, writing fugitive love letters from the second storey of a block of flats. He wrote back and told me he'd eaten lasagna for lunch and that it was cold in the mornings. 

A Papuan woman called Alice lived next door to me. She cried a lot. She had two Aboriginal husbands and she didn't speak much English. Long Grassers drank in the lot behind us, fought like cats in the night. Bats thundered or clattered out of trees above my head.

Near the flats squatted the infamous fisherman's pub, Stella's. One night, the grizzled women deckies jeered at us tender yearlings, called us Veal, so my English Rose flatmate and I took our cask of fruity and left for the jetty. 

I dared her to swim naked with the resident crocodile and she did it, so I did too.

Having survived the truckies, the law, the crocodile ... goodness me - here I am arguing Scrabble with a retired journalist. "There's no i in hex."
"There's is - if you are a Kiwi. Which I am, I'll have you know."
"When you're not being a Mauritian. Make him put it back, Haimona!"
The table-thumping Matron makes the tiles bounce. 007 takes his back. The Matron takes another slug of two ninety nine.
007 tries another tack. "Did I ever tell you about how Fiddy Cent won the game for me?"
He tells us the story again. Then I say what happened to me during the day, this Monday, on the grass outside the library. 

I was wearing a blue Tshirt and the sun was shining. I was reading a book but I saw him, this wrong man who sent me haretailing it to Darwin twenty years ago. 
He stepped down from the footpath, put down his bag of books and sat with me for a while.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Get a dog!

In amongst some of the chaos of the last few weeks, I seem to have acquired a puppy. Because that is what you do right?

Selkie is quick and clever and a rather sleazy dingbat ... and I have a feeling that she will become a good friend.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Driving it home

I asked at the police station if I could have a copy of my statement, and also if they could ring the wreckers/tow truckers to let them know that I was about to pick up his car.

'Just go down there and ask for Mike,' said the officer. 'I've told him you are coming down.'
Mike is an old boat builder friend of mine and he was standing out the front when I arrived.
'How you going Sarah?'
'Oh, I've had better weeks ... Is there anything you can prepare me for, Mike? What is the car going to look like?'
'Dunno Sarah. I haven't seen it. I'm sorry about your friend but I don't know about the car. Look. Here is the guy who's dealing with it:'
A young man came out and shook my hand. He said his name was ... God I can't remember. I just remember that he was too young and gorgeous to deal with this shit. He said 'Follow me, I'm in that white ute over there.'
I followed him along the side roads to the industrial area to a shed that used to be the old confectionery warehouse. He unlocked the side door. We stepped inside.
There must have been sky lights. The first thing I saw was the white van. Behind it was a wrecked car and some complete four wheel drives. He stood beside me. 'The keys are in it.'

There was a sticker over the driver's side door. It said 'Evidence'. And something else.
I picked at the sticker. It peeled off in stupid tiny pieces. I didn't want to open the door.
'Did you know him?' he said.
'Yes I did. He was a friend. He was a good friend.'
'I had to pick up the car, after,' he said. 'I wasn't too happy about that. Where they found him ... it was pretty out of the way. I don't know how they found him. Do you know how they found him?'
I shook my head and opened the door. The coroner's sticker cracked. I looked inside.

I didn't want to sit in the driver's seat. I looked around and found a towel, laid it over the seat. Then I got in. His boots were where he'd taken them off by the accelerator pedal. A glass, the glass he'd been drinking from lay beside the seat ... I turned the key and the car didn't start.

'Jesus. How do I start this thing.'
''Maybe it has an immobiliser.'

At that moment, I felt absolute rage. You fucking prick. I loved you so much and you topped yourself in this fucking car and you didn't even have the decency to tell me where your immobiliser is. I hate you. This is a shitty pricky thing piled on top of a really fucking pricky bad week. And you didn't tell me where the immobiliser is you fucking bastard.

I may have said all of that out loud in front of the young lad who, as a panel beater, may not have been trained in the same way as police or paramedics are in death and various daily trauma. Not sure.
'I'm so sorry,' I said to him then. He looked away. 'I'm really sorry you've had to deal with this.'

I found the immobiliser switch and started the car. Then I stopped the car because it stank of death and fumes. I got out and walked around the car, opening all the doors, breaking open all the coroner's stickers. I realised that the tow truck driver was still waiting for me to drive the car out so he could lock up, so I shut all the car doors again and drove out of the shed.

I drove up the road in a van covered in coroner's stickers and turned onto Albany highway. I drove along that highway for about five minutes before I realised I was in trouble. The fumes had soaked into everything and I was getting dizzy. I stopped. I didn't know what to do. In the end, I just opened all of the windows and drove the rest of the way with plastic bags and various detritus of my friend's life flying around the inside of the van as I drove it home.

I found a man!

I found a man!
Who lies quietly and lets me wriggle into desire. I found a man who lifts the cat off my bed and gently throws her aside. Who eats me from inside out and brings me gifts of wood, books, feathers and stone.
I found a man!
Who drives me across non-existent highways and canoes me into caves. I found a man whose body and knowledge feels out his boodja. Who hands me a cardboard box full of bees and says, 'Don't open it. Just listen.'
I found a man!
Who takes me up the mountain and shows me his secrets. I found a man whose small silver bowl of stones, wood and fungi is his shrine to me. Who drives me towards Black Mountain as the lightning forks all around us.
I found a man!
Who, when his wife rings, turns off his phone and places it carefully on the bed linen. I found a man whose eyes change from brown to green to impervious. Who says 'You are my best friend'. Who loves me. Who avoids me in public spaces. Who knows everything about me.
I found a man!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Monday, November 3, 2014

Love and War

Well, from a grumpy old woman who was going to leave town, I managed to stay right in the beating, bloody heart of Albany's ANZAC commemorations for about four days. There were two ways I managed to achieve this 1) my bicycle and 2) my lovely quiet little blue room at the uni, right next to the main stage. Most of the time I was oblivious to the chaos. I could hear helicopters, loudspeakers, shrieking kids, music, the grunts emanating from the interpretive dance troupe, helicopters, air force flyovers, bagpipes, fog horns, laughter, kids on skateboards, someone playing a violin.

I wrote a lot. Occasionally I'd head out along Stirling Terrace and wonder at this town. At some stage I'd like to mention Peter FitzSimons' red bandana but I'm guessing that because Gallipoli, it's not appropriate to do this right now. (Oh wow. So I right click on the wriggly red line under Gallipoli and spellcheck blogger gives me 'Megalopolis.' Gets better.)

On Friday, my Dad finally retired his working life with a last blast from the cannon he's been nurturing for quite a few years now. It was the opening ceremony.

Later he told me he'd been hit in the guts by the cannon's recoil, because the television crews wanted the shot firers to stand to attention directly behind the cannon.
"You did well Dad, to stay on your feet. I never even noticed."

Just before he lit the fuse, I told him that his grandson's other grandfather had died the afternoon before. I felt bad about that later. I knew it was Dad's moment but I also knew that he understood the legacy of war and that his one shot, that one across the harbour with the police boats and barges and television crews, was all about wars.
Dad and I have clashed over war for years. He's a military historian, a gunsmith and a black powder man. I'm an old hippy. We agree about a lot of things : history, literature, politics: but the history, politics and literature of war often divides us.

Anyway ... Stormboy's paternal grandad died on Thursday. Stormboy's Dad rang me not long after he'd found his body. He died in his sleep, he said to me. He'd been eating tinned fruit, SPC fruit salad, put it down, turned over and just bloody died.
My ex-partner was dithery, drunk and quite distressed. He wanted to know how to tell his son.
"You know," I said to him on the phone, "this whole war thing this weekend and your father dying today ... I know he wasn't a soldier. He was a farmer ..."
"Oh yes," he said. "But he was a product of the war alright."

Stormboy's great grandfather fought that WW2 campaign in North Africa for nearly four years and by all accounts he returned a different man; a violent, angry, drinking man. Every family has a story like this one. No one in his family escaped the beatings. When Stormboy's grandfather was fifteen, his father rolled the car, killing himself and several of his children. Stormboy's grandad had to leave school and work to support his Mum and sisters and brothers. It sounded like he hated school anyway. Stormboy's grandad always struck me as a hard little bastard. The first time I met him, soft and in love with his son, he shocked me with his swift, nasty up-and-down and the 'get the fuck out of my shed, woman' look.

I hadn't really thought about all this lately, until the other day. And there is my Dad, firing off his last salvo at the opening ceremony of the ANZAC stuff. The last time I saw Stormboy's grandfather it was a reconciliation, on both our behalves, a knowing each other for who we are as people.

I spent the whole next day under my doona. It was Saturday and all the parades were happening. The warships were maneuvering around the Sound. Prime Ministers gave speeches. Apparently it was amazing. I didn't want to look at anyone. I cried, a lot. There was other stuff going on ... I've found this ANZAC to be an intensely emotional experience.
For me, it's been about men; about watching my son's stoic, quiet response to the news of his grandfather's death and wondering about that. He was so quiet. As a woman, I will wail and fall to the floor, or get too drunk or smoke too many cigarettes, or start a fight.
Don't worry. I'm not pushing him. I know his grief will burst out sooner or later.

Last night I danced with sailors who were shipping out this morning.A local band played Irish music and sailors danced like they were at any club in the world. It was getting lumpy. The bouncers circled after a kid who looked about twelve years old skulled a jug of beer. I could have given birth to any of these kids, I thought, they are just babies. A couple canoodled in the corner. They'd been deployed on different ships for nine months and last night was their only night together.

After the rain, I watched an Illuminart show projected onto the Town Hall and then rode home on my bicycle through moonlit puddles. It's so thrilling riding a bike at night with no lights. I chanced death last night. Yeah. I chanced death. On my bicycle. Hunched over the handlebars and thinking about those baby soldiers who were the same age as my son is today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

They Are Coming!

Apparently three of the major supermarkets in town have just run out of milk. Petrol is beginning to look scarce and all residents are urged to conserve their water, lest we run out of that too.
Aussie pointed up to the mountain where the town's water supply sits in a huge green tank. "That's it, yes? And what about the sewerage? What will sixty thousand extra poos per day do to our sewerage system? Can we cope with so much poo? Oh my God! Can we cope?""

No, it's not the apocalypse, nor is it an invasion of barbarians. This is a town where men used to kill and dismantle animals the size of double-decker buses, so we have no problem with dystopian scenes and we totally understand those barbarians. The fact that the Prime Minister is turning up on Friday has nothing to do with anything at all.

It's the ANZAC Centenary Celebrations and it's happening here this weekend. The amount of people surging into Albany to participate has been wildly speculated upon, argued about and rumour-milled, until someone nailed that algorithm based on the success rate of grass seed germination in chicken entrails and came up with sixty thousand people.
Sixty thousand people. 

There has only been about a hundred years to organise such an event and for ages I felt rather cynical about the whole thing and decided as a grumpy old woman that come October 31st, like a lot of the other locals, I was going to get the fuck out for three days. You know ... the war thing, the ANZAC thing, how we only embrace our war histories after enough soldiers and nurses are so dead they can't remind us of the reality thing, the 'do I have enough milk because Woolies has sold out' thing.

The 'thing' is, I've been watching the townsfolk put so much energy into our streets, shops and ANZAC centres, that I'm starting to feel terribly proud of them all. Stirling Terrace is the old sailors' precinct; originally the pubs and restaurants presented their welcoming facade to land-sick, desirous seafarers, whalers and fishers as they sailed into Princess Royal Harbour. Since we began travelling by road, rather than by sea, places like Stirling Terrace have been neglected and left to struggle on in an interminable morass of southerly winds. Stirling Terrace was starting to look like those old gone-broke gold mining towns, the memory of boom time reflected in its grand architecture ... all peeling paintwork and tired, leaning verandas..

The last few months, I've watched workers and volunteers pave new footpaths and steam clean old ones. They've replaced verandas, planted Flanders poppies, and sanded back and painted all of the old facades along Stirling Terrace. The place looks absolutely beautiful.

This afternoon, there was a traffic jam as the first influx came into town. Oh Wow.The locals seem a little bit freaked out about how big this 'thing' is, but it was not a lust for revenue that I saw on the street today. It was pride, a gathering excitement and a hope that everything will go okay. The most common comment was "I hope it doesn't rain."

I so hope it doesn't rain.

And a word of advice to visitors ... if you are coming into town:
Buy a rain coat.
Avoid the roundabouts.
Bicycles are so excellent.
Point Possession is a hike but it's the best place to see those warships steam in, and possibly less congested.

Finally, there are no photos tonight but I promise, I'll start posting as it kicks off.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Today I drove to the auto shop with the oil light on my Mum's van blinking furiously at me. Mum's one of women who follow the creed espoused by whoever wrote When I grow old I shall wear purple. Consequently she was comfortable buying a bright purple, hand-painted Mitsubishi van from some backpackers who were leaving the country the next day. I've been driving her car around because my own four wheel drive's radiator, along with the clutch, shat itself recently.

So I walked into the shop, looking for oil, with no idea of how to lift the passenger seat to put oil into said motor and was met by a perky nineteen (or something) year old girl.
"I'm looking for motor oil for a petrol Mitsubishi."
She immediately headed for her computer. "What year is it?" she asked.
By the time she'd negotiated various algorithms of brand, car make and oil required, I'd cruised the aisles and found what I was looking for.

She rang up my purchase and I asked the man next to her: "Do you know how to open up the motor? I know I have to lift the seat. I just can't find the latches. It's not my car and I can't contact the owner."
"Sorry," she said, "this may seem silly, but have you looked at the user's manual? Maybe it's in the glovebox or something."
The two men in the shop were reticent to come out to the carpark to look at my car. She followed me out the door and together, we fiddled with the car seats until we'd worked out how to access the motor.

"How are you liking this work?" I asked her.
"I love it. But I don't know anything. I have to look everything up on the computer."
"You'll learn it. You'll be fine."
We propped up the seat against an oil bottle.
"Have you thought about going into mechanics?" I asked.
She laughed. "Oh yes I have. I'd love to be a mechanic, but an apprentice's wages won't pay my way. And women, girls, they just cop it. They have a hard time."
"My sister is a mechanic. She did her apprenticeship in the late 80's (as I said that I realised she wasn't even born then - how much has changed?) She got a really hard time. She had to be better than everyone else, all the time, or else she got even worse than the usual hard time."
I was warming to my subject now. I was in full feminist flight about women's entry into male dominated workplaces. "You can do whatever you want to do," I said.

"You know what? I just want to have babies but my boyfriend is not coming to the party. That's what I want to do."

One day a tall stranger appeared in the land

Monday, October 20, 2014

Boom! and Beggar Grandmothers

I've been a bit wary of Goggle since their latest incursion into social media but this week my other browser seems to have forsaken me, along with a frightening moment where my whole computer turned blue and white and spewing words like SHUT DOWN across the screen. I didn't even have to spill coffee on it this time. Anyhoo ... apologies to anyone who receives an email saying I'd like to add you to my circles. I've got my own circles thanks, as you do too, so I'm not being desperate (honest), just commandeered.

There are some meanderings ... but firstly I'd like to talk about what it is like to drive 350 kilometres to rob beehives of their honey.

Tyrant Queen

Kundip bees are hard. Kundip is hard. It's all quartz and mallee and hard history. Every time I get out there these days to a) shore up the shack against resident snake b) rob hives or c) engage in a long ranging argument with said tiger snake, I think to myself, "Why is this so hard?"
When I returned, my Mum said to me, "It's always been hard out there, Sarah. It's just a hard place."

I'd requeened hive #2 because the original queen was slack and not cracking the whip enough (see this post). This was about the same time the tigersnake told me to get the hell out of my own shack, who just went me as I walked through the door. Now hive #2 is ruled by a furious, over-producing tyrant of a queen whose workers just went me as soon as I opened their box and then the buggers stung me twice through my veil, totally altering my facial profile for about three days. My chin wobbled like an old woman's wattle for a week, but we got a lot of honey out of that hive. I am learning that angry bees make more honey and She is now the alpha queen of Kundip and that my requeening effort worked. It's a real shame that I wasn't quite as attractive on my drive home but I'll take those blows in the best interests of honey.

Ubud #2

The first time I came across a beggar, I found it terribly confronting. It was my first day in Indonesia, ever, and I needed to buy a SIM card. Suddenly, she was right at my feet looking like some kind of ghoul, her hands at her mouth and then outstretched to me. A baby sat on her lap. I had only big notes and no idea what they were worth.
The only way I could step around her was by leaping the huge hole in the footpath, where I could see the town's effluent flowing beneath.
She was terrifying and I felt disgusted at myself for being afraid of her. Her baby watched me as I walked away, and I had to pass them both on my way back.

But as I watched them over the next few days, I began to see the women were actually grandmothers, not mothers, and that the babies were sleeping in their laps by eight o'clock and that it probably doubled as a baby-sitting gig for them. Or maybe they pay for a baby prop. Not sure. After that I started putting all my small notes into a different section of my bag, so I could reef it out without sorting through my strange cash on the street.

It's just a job, a living, and I guess the service they were providing me with in return for my pittance of small change, was the story, a memory, an experience. It's an honest transaction. At dusk, the street ceremony ended and I walked behind the four grandmothers. They were walking up the hill towards the writers festival venue, joking with each other, their babies in slings suckling from milk bottles. They were pointing out their beat beyond the ceremony ... and by eight or nine, they were the starving wastrels with sleeping babies and limp, grasping hands who scared me so on my first day.


At Five Fathom, after running the spinnaker from Gull Rock, Happy said, "Right. Let's jibe."
"What am I supposed to be doing?" I asked him, earnest about my role.
"Nothing. Just sit there."
So I sat.
Then Happy said, "The runner! Who's doing the runner. Sarah. Sarah! Do the runner."
I stood up and on that jibe the boom swung down and smacked me across my nose, my jaw, my ear, my skull. It felt like a truck hit me.

Then I was looking at the winch. People were shouting at me.
Which way do I wind on the rope?
I took off the rope and looked at the winch again.
People were still shouting at me.
I wound it on anti clock wise, took it off and looked at it again.
More people shouting.

Finally a friend looked at me as I stood there stunned, staring at the winch and said, "Are you okay?"
"Got hit by the boom," I said. "Am I bleeding?"
I asked this because I felt it was obvious that blood must have been pissing out of my face at that stage and that  everyone on board would have known that I'd been walloped by the boom.

"She got hit by the boom," my friend said to Happy. "She got hit by the boom."
"Jesus, Sarah!," said Happy to me, as he straightened up the boat. "You have to tell me if you get hit like that. You've got to tell me, for fuck's sake!"
At that moment the rest of the crew understood what was going on and Dave came straight down from Adventure Land at the bow and laid three fingers in front of me.
"How many fingers are you seeing?"
"Oh, fuck off Dave," I said, wavering, watching his fingers blur, thinking he was re-enacting that 1984 scene with Richard Burton. "I'm fine."

But you know, I was on the verge of crying the whole way home. It's the hit on the head thing. Getting hit hard on the head brings up all kinds of history with me. Crew mates gave me rolled up and ready lit cigarettes, Happy let me steer, someone else handed me a beer and still I was shipwrecked from Emu Point to Home, on the edge of tears the whole way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Missive from the Vandemonian Flanagan

A 'bonza bloke, and my good mate'. That's Phillip Adams' description of Richard Flanagan who has just won the Man Booker for his his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
I woke up this morning with the news on the radio because I'm a Radio National geek but I don't often wake up to this kind of good news. Normally, it's war or car accidents.
A Vandemonian won the Man Booker! He bloody won! He won!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ubud #1

In a small room off Hanoman Street, the tattooist paused his needle from my foot and looked at me.
“You okay, sista?”
I nodded but he had already felt my leg twitching as the gun hit nerves and pressure points. I was sweating, lost in a strange world of low-level, insistent pain.
“We have a quick break,” he said.
It was early evening and scooters, jeeps and taxis beeped and roared. Street side, the tattooist smoked, his bare hands streaked in the powdered flock from his plastic gloves. His little brother came to sit with us on the bench, waved his fist at his leonine dog to squat on the concrete at his feet.
Selemat mallam, guark,” said the little brother, looking at the outline of a crow on my foot.
“Good evening, crow?” I asked him. “Is that what you say?”
“Yes, guark, a crow,” he smiled. He was softer, younger than his brother. “I like birds.”
“What is your best bird?”
“Pigeon. I have plenty of pigeon.”
“You have pigeons? Do you race them?” He look confused. I said, “You know … ah … competition … very fast?”
“Ahh, yes! All around Bali. Very fast birds. I, when I was little -” he held his hand a metre above the ground “- I have lots of pigeon. My mother say ‘take birds way! Too many pigeon!’ So I took them to the market and sold all the pigeon. The next day, all my pigeon come home!”
“Ha! Homing pigeons. So you had money and pigeons!”
“Yes!” He laughed. “Now, I have fifteen pigeon. I sell them every week at the market. Sometimes they do not come back but most times, I get my pigeon back and I sell them again.”
“That’s so cheeky! Don’t you get pigeon buyer come to your house with big stick?”
He shook his head. “Another man sell them for me.”

His brother, smoking, watching the street with the kind of detached cool that only tattooists possess, stubbed out his cigarette in the Bakelite ashtray and nodded me inside.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This week

This image has been getting around online this week: a dugite eating a tiger snake in Denmark. Sorry, I have no idea who to credit the picture to but let me know if you know its owner. The relevance is that on Sunday, my sister came down the stairs with three pairs of pants and her sheepskin boots on. "Sna.a.ake," she wobbled.
She was watching the footy when a young dugite wriggled out from under her TV chair, turned around and went back under it again. (Lifts feet.) Her and I bravely went back into the house and turned over every piece of furniture with a rake and a long-handled shovel.
Oh yes, Dad was there with his .22, too.
The snake, of course, was long gone.

Driving to the Premier's Book Prize on Monday with Fremantle Press publicist and editor.

Dress code 'lounge'. What does 'lounge' mean? Like this I guess. Premier Barnett mentioned during his speech that his wife was writing a book, "although I doubt it will ever end up at one of these awards nights." Pearlie burst into outraged laughter beside me and a few hundred people followed.

 The glamour of it all ...

The reality.

On Tuesday morning, whilst dodging impossibly joggy or doggy folk in Hyde Park, I met up with a swan and his family.

Liz at Paperbark Books wrote this lovely for Salt Story.

Wednesday was working the levels on my boss's latest landscaping project ...

... and yesterday I recorded a poem written by another, to be used as part of the ANZAC centenary events that are happening in town at the end of the month. I plodded through the poem twice before the director asked, "Have you done any acting work before?"
"Well ... um ... no."
She then put me through a miniature acting course in the remaining studio time we had. It was fascinating! It felt like an editor going over my work, shaping it up, tweaking it and making it so much stronger. Great stuff.

And finally, just because; this bear from who knows where. This bear who was sedated and fell out of a tree.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beautiful losers

So I packed my lucky shoes, put on my lucky undies and headed for the city. I drove for five hours to my lucky editor's house, took a quick shower and was ferried to the Prime Minister's Book Prize at the West Australian Museum.
(Sorry but there are no photos here of my lucky undies.)

My daughter Pearlie was supposed to meet me there but she'd got into the city and was busy street preaching so it took half an hour to find her.
I can see you, she texted, I'm with a brother. I'll be with you soon.

The first bad omen was the table of name tags. Pearlie and I went from A to Z and could not find my name. The host was embarrassed.  Eventually I was given an Invited Guest name tag.


Then I listened as the first category winners read out their pre-prepared speeches.

Mmm. Loser.

Anyway, as most folk will know by now, I didn't win the Premier's Prize in the emerging author's category. Yvette Walker, for her beautiful work Letters to the End of Love won. But I got to hang out at a party with the glitteratii, and fuck it, this part of being shortlisted thing is heaps of fun. Richard Flanagan killed it when it came to winners and by the time I jumped in front of him and said "HI!", he was so buzzed he had no choice but to talk to me.
He liked me. I could see that. We talked about fish and the Southern Ocean and then I wished him best of luck for the Booker. He wanted to know about fish - and fishing - and so I talked to the man who wrote Gould's Book of Fish about salmon, mullet, herring and KG whiting and how we used to catch them.

At about the same time, a fellow loser who'd written a riveting north west ship wreck narrative said: "'Drive home safely?'  Yeah right mate! We're hitting letterboxes and rubbish bins the whole way home!"

and then, all of the winners left for a dinner together and I went to the hotel room I'd booked in Northbridge. I filled up the spa bath (which struck me as a terrible waste of water) and sank into it because I'd paid for it. Later, when I went downstairs and on to the street for a cigarette, a FIFO bloke asked me for a rollie.
He was from South Australia. He really wanted his son to come and work up north with him. He was worried about how his son would cope with the culture shock. He worked in the heath system and was hoping to get his kid into bar work. He left me, walking, saying "I'll see what is happening on William street."

I'd started telling him about why I'd driven north that day. About not winning ten thousand bucks. About losing. As he left, I really wished I'd given in to my bastardy instinct and gatecrashed the winners' dinner.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Skies, Islands and Shipwrecks

Now here are some meanderings about shipwrecks and books and adventures on islands ...

Last week I flew up to Geraldton as a guest of the Big Sky Writers and Readers Festival, which is one of the choicer small festivals in Australia. I mean, despite missing my plane, I came home completely buzzed. I'd hung out with a Doug Anthony Allstar, kissed a knight in shining armour, ate copious amounts of beautiful food, bought way too many books, extracted a 'I was a wild female deckie' confession from a rather dignified old lady, sold every copy of Salt Story in Geraldton, bought an antique fox stole, stayed in a luxurious hotel and generally had a ball.

An authority of writers: Dawn Barker 'Fractured', Annamaria Weldon 'The Lake's Apprentice', Tim Ferguson 'Cheeky Monkey', Craig Sherbourne 'Hoi Polloi', Liz Byrski 'Family Secrets, Agatha and Christine from WritingWA.
A Doug Anthony Allstars' self portrait, just for me!
The most amazing thing the Big Sky organisers do for their writerly guests is to fly them to the Abrolhos Islands for a night before the festival kicks off. These islands are soaked in a history of 17th Century shipwrecks, castaways and mutinies - plus a massacre led by a drug-addicted psychopath. There's more info on the Batavia mutiny over here at Antipodean Nemo. On Rat Island part of the Wallaby Group of the Abrolhos, festival guests were able to swap yarns and get to know each other. It was a special time, I heard a splendid saga of a love affair spanning decades and continents, and we even had fresh dhufish for dinner.

Okay, though it is hard, I'll stop rolling about in how wonderful it all was. The other shipwrecks that I want to mention here are those of the long-lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition to find the North West Passage in 1846. As I was travelling north to Geraldton, news came through that the Canadians have found one of the ships. They released this amazing sonar image of the wreck resting on the sea floor.

The Erebus and Terror were the two ships that became trapped in ice. Apparently the sailors were stranded for eighteen months and all of then died eventually, with rumours that some men had resorted to cannibalism to survive. Until the other day, the Erebus and Terror have remained missing for more than a century - one of the enduring mysteries of colonial exploration.

Whether or not the find of the Erebus or the Terror (they are not yet sure which one it is yet) is connected to Canadian nationalism and claims to extra territories, was an aside to me as I read this news. It is a thrilling story but what got me really excited was the ships' connection to my book Salt Story.

On the cover and throughout the book are illustrations of fish and other marine critters. They were drawn during Sir James Clarke Ross's zoological expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
The images can be found online via Google books as The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus & Terror: under the command of Captain Sir James Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843. After this journey the ships, already fitted with plated hulls for Arctic conditions, went off to find the Northwest Passage.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Creeping Grief of a Dead Dog

We landed in Geraldton. When Sally turned on her phone, the first message she got was that her dog had died.

I didn't know Sally then but I knew that castaway look in her eyes, those stranded eyes when someone has died and you are a long way away from home. And it is the dog. You wonder if the kids will be okay, who will bury it. You knew the dog was on its last legs anyway. Last. Legs.
The dog.
How can a dead dog hurt so bad?

This afternoon I pulled into my friends' house. They'd sent me a message: "Toby is on his final visit to the vet. 5pm."
He was out on the highway apparently. He'd wandered out there and caused a minor traffic jam. Cars stopped, people tried to help him. Blind, he'd wandered through the line of stalled cars, bumping into metal. Someone tried to pack him into their car and take him to the vet. His owners' daughter finally found him in the melee, and led him away home. I've seen him ... oh anyway ... I've seen him go down really fast over the last six months.

So I dropped in today to say goodbye. As I was driving there, I wondered if I'd missed the 5pm deadline but when I turned into their driveway the car was still there. I got out of my car and went straight to the dog. He crept towards me, and as he came closer and smelled me his ears pricked. The family came out of the house. They were all red-eyed, crying."I've come to say goodbye," I said.

That dog, he knows me. He stuffed his nose straight up my skirt. I was surrounded by two teenagers, two adults and a demented, ancient golden retriever, and everyone except for him knew he was going to die within forty five minutes.