Monday, March 31, 2014

Huge. Bigger than a whale.

Apparently Japan's whaling regime in the Southern Ocean has been deemed by the International Court of Justice to be unscientific.
Now who would have thunk it?

I've had plenty of arguments with Old Salt about modern day whaling in the Antarctic, but my final answer came when he tried to explain that it was a 'cultural thing'.
"What. With diesel powered gunboats? Thousands of nautical miles from their traditional hunting grounds?"

It's rare for 'cultural things' to dress up in a sciencie frock to justify a commercial industry, but this particular frock has been doing the hokey pokey in the Australian Whale Sanctuary and getting away with it for ages*. So it was with a glad heart that I learned the ICJ has ruled that Japan's whaling program over the last decade or so has been carried out for commercial purposes. Not scientific ones. Therefore, the court has ruled, no future permits will be issued for the Japanese to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean. There is to be no appeal.

Here's the news:

*Did you see what I did there? The shittiest sentence ever, dressed up in a frock with fractals. And it has whales in it.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Regicide and the tiger queen of Kundip

It's called requeening.
When a queen isn't working, the hive does not thrive. It's weak. It's susceptible to invasion and disease. It's like a plant that hasn't been nurtured by food and water. And there is no honey either.

He's walking out into the paddock in his dressing gown, chuffing the bee smoker at his side with one hand. He's grizzled and grumpy after nights awake moving hives across the country.
 "Here's your nukes," He poured smoke into some boxes with bees buzzing at the entrance, and resolutely shut the grate. "You gotta let them out as soon as you get there, okay?"
Then he handed me a yellow plastic container, with air holes. It was small; the length of my palm.
"And here is your queen."

Off with the lazy Queen's head.
Decapitate her. Drop her head and her body into the hive so all the workers and drones know that their Queen is dead.

I arrived at Kundip mid afternoon and the first thing I did was put on my sheepskin boots and veil to set up the new hive boxes. Then I set down the nucleus boxes in front of their new home and opened the grate. They were probably starved for air and water by then. They swarmed out of the small nucleus boxes and wandered confused, three hundred and fifty kilometres from their home.
By the time I'd finished it was hot and so I took off my boots and went to check out my shack. I opened the door and walked in. It's built with cedar and smelt beautiful and looked just like I'd left it, a month or so ago. I could hear a the sound of a bee caught in a web; a throaty, hissing kind of noise. I got closer to see - and

Oh J@%#s F%&#ing Christ!

A tiger snake raised its head and had a lunge at me.
"It's about time you left," the snake spoke plain, as plain as only a snake can parse.
On my way out the door, I stumbled over my thongs, tripped, galloped away, and then stepped back on the veranda to have another look.
This was fucking outrageous. I bought this land. I built this shack. I have rights, yeah?
The snake glared at me.
So I went for a walk up the hill into the forest to think quietly about it all.

Pull up a frame and look for the queen. All of the bees will head for the base of the frame. Pull out another frame. And another. Look in the bottom of the box. You will be hot by then in the mid day sun, with your ugg boots, extra shirt from the op shop, your gloves and your veil. The smoker may have stopped working. Get some more newspaper and matches and try to light it with your gloved fingers. Stuff pine needles into the smoker. Try again. Watch errant match heads fly off into the bush. You must find the queen because you have to kill her.
The queen bee is longer, blonder and quieter than the other bees. As soon as you see her, you cut off her head with the blade end of the metal hive tool and dump her body in the bottom of the hive. The hum rises around you, and your sweat smells as sweet as adrenalin and honey and sheoak smoke.
The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

I slept in the car that night. The bed, my beautiful bed, my shack, my beautiful shack, had been taken over by a tiger snake who wouldn't even let me in the front door. So I put the car's passenger seat into 'recline', turned on my head lamp and had a rather uncomfortable night reading a fictional account of Irish genealogies and beekeeping manuals. All of my bedding was inside the shack. I put on my coat and my socks and slogged out the night. As I warped and wefted in and out of sleep, cramped and cranky, I heard a heightening of activity in the back seat. The queen bee in her tiny yellow cage was being fanned, fed and kept alive by her five workers. The buzzing grew louder, then quietened again. They did this several times that night.
I was woken by the birds and the light. I drove into town looking for a snake handler, especially one who works for the shire council, because you know, my rates are paid and I don't even get a tip pass.
"Ahh. I'm new to the job," he said.  "I don't have the training to catch snakes but I'm coming into Hopey today. What kind of snake is it?"
"Oh bloody hell. Okay." (We all laugh.) "I'll drop in."

Within twenty four hours of killing her, you need to requeen the hive. Wrap the queen cage in exactly five squares of toilet paper, preferably scented. Break the tab on the queen cage. Plug the hole with one square of toilet paper. Place the package in between the fifth and sixth frame in the brood box. The bees will see this intrusion and work to clean it out of the hive. They will break away the toilet paper over a few days until they get to the plug. Then they will let out the queen. Hopefully they won't kill her.

The ranger arrived while I was in the middle of packing the queen cage between the frames and advised me that hobbyist hives must be at least three kilometres from the nearest apiarists reserve. He looked surprised when I said that Road Eleven was three point two kilometres from the shack. He got out a crooked stick and some pincers and proceeded in good humour to take my shack apart. He shone a torch under my bed and behind the stove. He poked his snake sticks around the filing cabinet. He lifted the mattress of my lovely bed to reveal the three live mice and two frogs living in the slats beneath.
Well, I wouldn't sleeping there tonight, not with that kind of bait under my warm body.
"So, is your ... er ... structure sealed against reptile invaders?" The ranger asked.
We stood in the centre of the room and watched the beams of light come in. His apprentice stayed respectfully outside.
"Look, you've gotta seal this place up," said the ranger.
After his wrecking the place for snakes he said that I should bait for rats and mice to keep tiger snake food at a minimum.
"But what about the pygmy possums who live here too? I don't want to poison them.""

 "They are nectar feeders, so they won't eat mouse baits. You won't have to worry about that snake tonight anyway, love. It's definitely not here. It won't be back. If it does come back, the old people say put flour on the floor, so you can see its tracks in and out. And you know that tug rope? The stuff that washes up on the beach?"

The apprentice nods. "Yeah."
"Well the old people put it all around their houses. Apparently snakes don't like crawling over it because of the bristles. The old people say that. And the flour trick. It's a good trick that one."
"Well good," I said. "That's good advice. Thanks."
"Glad to have helped."
After the ranger left, I walked back inside the shack and saw the snake folding itself back under my bed, its yellow, striped stomach curled into black, like a Celtic spiral.

For the second night, I slept (sort of) in the front seat of my car.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Cows with guns

A Roundup Ready Rollover

On the highway home, I was stuck behind a road train whose trailers swayed from the skinny road to the verge, hit the gravel and swayed in again. I was getting used to this rhythm and even that of the oncoming road trains, as they swayed away to give each other space, starboard to starboard and spraying red gravel to the left.

As we rounded the scarp to see Mt Manypeaks, the road train ahead of me threw on its brake lights, first blinking on and off to let me know he was slowing - and then braking hard. Two hundred metres later, a man stood on the shoulder beside his ute.

Everyone was okay. The driver who lost his load looked a bit stressed as he worked to free his trailer. I was thinking, Well I'm glad that wasn't the truck right in front of me because it would have taken me out. I drove slowly past the wreckage, feeling my mortality (believe me). The trailer and black stuff that looked like volcanic sand was strewn all over the road and blocked the turn off to Cheynes Beach

Twenty minutes along the highway, the coppers and road works cars started passing me, heading out to the accident. An hour later the local radio news announced that the trailer that rolled had lost thirty tons of genetically modified canola seed. A spill of seed may seem innocuous, silly and historically ordinary but this particular seed is genetically engineered to colonise the country with Monsanto products and resist all herbicidal attempts to kill it. So. Thirty tons.

CBH the local mob in charge of this politically charged freight rushed out there too, trying to work out how to 'contain' a spill of this magnitude. I'm not sure if CBH actually have a containment policy. I'd like to know.
It happened right on the edge of the Cheynes Road Nature Reserve; quite a beautiful, pristine piece of country full of tea tree swamps, Banksia and grass tree country.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Good men and bad men in small boats

Recently I've been consolidating all of my word doc files to see what the exegesis segment of my thesis will look like. The exegesis is basically a dissertation; a theoretical exploration of the creative section - in my case a work of historical fiction about the sealers and Aboriginal women who travelled from Bass Strait to Breaksea Island on the eve of the colonisation of the west of the continent. Because this is a creative PhD and the thesis must 'contribute to knowledge', I was becoming quite uncertain and freaked out that what I'd written was contributing to anything at all, let alone knowledge.

Any readers of A WineDark Sea over the past few years would have heard my moaning:
"It's nothing new. Someone else has already done this."
"I don't want these pedo/rapist/feral bastards camping inside my head for another week."
"I can't do this thing."
"This shit is fucked up. I wanna go back to selling gemstone necklaces at the markets."

What I've learned over the last week is that a) part of my exegesis actually is contributing to knowledge and that no one else has achieved this yet. b) after four years of the worst of the worst kind of folk camping inside my head, I exorcised them with the essay Predator Dreams (here), took control of the narrative and gave them all the raised middle finger. And c) I can use these essays in my exegesis as a bridging chapter between the theory and the fiction without the whole thing being negatively critted as too 'solipsistic'. (Thanks for that word Michelle.)

The beautiful thing about these realisations is that the exegesis is mere months away from finishing. Most of the chapters are done and only need cleaning. The fiction is not completed but I'm shaping up the story for the conclusion. The end is in sight.
This is so exciting for me.

Sorry if this bit next is boring ... but I'm going to post a section on working with men in small boats which is still rough and may or may not contribute to the bridging chapter between the exegesis and the fiction.

1. People
1.1 Good men and bad men in small boats

On the south coast of West Australia I have worked with (mainly) men in small commercial fishing camps, netting the estuaries and inshore waters for fish and crabs. The irony that I was also writing about men of much the same ilk, albeit a century dead, did not escape me. These modern day commercial fishers are certainly no duplication in sentiment or actions of the 19th century sealers: they are usually happily married, own land and pay large amounts of money to maintain their fishing licences. However they tend to be clannish outsiders with slightly anarchic tendencies towards the government arms of law and order, only complying for utilitarian reasons. They are comfortable living in bush camps and shacks for weeks or months at a time. They understand the cycles of nature – the winds, swell, the natural predators and the seasons - intimately through their work. Their income derives from a trade plied from small boats, another primary industry of the sea. In these ways contemporary commercial fishermen are similar to yesteryear sealers.

One of the fishermen I worked with was proud to relate that he was a fourth generation fisherman and that one of his ancestors, a sealer, was accidently shot through the neck and killed while working the beaches east of Albany. Working for this fisherman was an ‘embedded’ process of research for me while I spent long hours on the coast, learning how to handle boats, nets and prey such as stingrays and small sharks. He had a keen sense of family and natural history and this information constantly inspired my writing about the sealers.

Obviously the modern day fishers differ from 19th century sealers in that they don’t tend to kidnap women and imprison them on islands or shoot Aboriginal men and each other (though there are a few historic yarns of guns being brandished over access to fishing spots). However I do wonder what kind of men the fishermen would have been if they were placed in the same situation as the Hunter and Governor Brisbane crews: abandoned thousands of nautical miles from the nearest point of white population and law for two years. Phrases like ‘the thin veneer of civilisation’ and ‘men of their time and circumstance’ go through my mind. They are also common responses given to my wonderings out loud. There is really no way to answer this question, other than to judge each individual by evidence of their actions, either today or 160 years ago.

I would like to think that there is no such excuse as the ‘man of his time’ one. I would like to think that there are good people and bad people, that there are good men and bad men in any era. That the ‘men of their time’ argument is a simplistic furphy, a way out of explaining the history of good and ill deeds, of opportunities taken at the expense of a less powerful people.

Some of the historical characters whom I depict in Exiles do appear from the journals to be people who were compelled by justice and the wellbeing of others. Certainly the white men who wrote the journals represented themselves as virtuous and astute, (which is not to say that these representations were mistruths) intent on preserving their legacy upon the page. In a land without access to European law I believe Lockyer and d’Urville both knew the imperative of quickly assessing the characters of the sealers who rowed to their ships’ sides and asked for assistance, and that they were not naive or generous in their first impressions.

There is also the language and actions of the potential coloniser. Within days of the Amity weighing anchor in King George Sound, Lockyer knew that he must assuage the turbulence created within the Menang population by the sealers. He ‘managed’ the situation by staging the rescue of the four men from Michaelmas Island, the rescue of Samuel Bailey’s captives and the arrest and handcuffing of Samuel Bailey in front of the Menang population, consulting with them throughout the process. Major Lockyer was probably motivated not by humanitarian concerns but utilitarian – his was a career colonisers’ post and he understood that for the settlement to succeed among a people who, though extraordinarily generous in their hospitality, heavily outnumbered the occupants of the Amity. He had to establish a relationship of trust and distinguish his own white charges from the sealers.

Still Lockyer and d’Urville granted men such as Hamilton (d’Urville) and William Hook (Lockyer and d’Urville) some humanity in their journals. D’Urville also expressed a grudging admiration for the abandoned Breaksea Island community of sealers who survived for so long in isolation with only whaleboats, guns and the women to aid them.

Generally though, their depictions of the sealers and the women were disparaging, distrustful, full of loathing or exasperation at the mob of ‘ferals, sea wolves and pirates’ cruising the Southern and Indian Ocean islands. Then of course, came the evidence: the dead man on Green Island and the state of the woman rescued from Eclipse Island.

The sealers who lived in King George Sound did not record their own thoughts for posterity but their attitude towards authority comes through in the journals and despatches. D’Urville notes their recalcitrance and their aloof manner when he asked if any of the men wanted a working berth to Port Jackson. Despite them having been marooned, he was amazed that they rebuffed his offer and, no doubt chagrined by their cool manner, he withdrew the offer. Whether this snub was a result of the sealers and the Frenchmen distrusting one another as left over sentiments from the Napoleonic war, a breakdown in communication or simply that the sealers preferred to stay in West Australia to await the arrival of an Englishman, is uncertain.

In observing the interactions between contemporary commercial fishers and the law, I noticed that the relationships were often the same as the ones depicted in the 1820s journals. It seems to be a point of masculine pride, both parties being distinguished by their positions, that they never ‘cross over’ to the other side. Commercial fishers do not defer to authorities such as fisheries officers. Information is gleaned in a roundabout, conversational manner where both parties go away thinking they’ve gained more than the other.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Another Salt Story

Ages ago, I did a phone interview with Sam Grove from a radio station on the east coast. I'd forgotten all about it. (I think I was busy writing my thesis at Deep River at the time.)
I found it online tonight whilst quietly googling my book. Yes, that is a bit sad I admit, but the interview is quite nice.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Axe and the Rabbit

Yesterday I arrived home to hear a fierce battle being played out in the garden bed. Behind the lattice Bobcat had a full grown rabbit cornered against the kitchen wall, its pelt slicked with her attempts to kill it. Bobcat in her day was capable of bringing down bushrats the size of small kelpies in the plague of 2006, leaving them on Bob's living room rug with their throats torn out - but in her autumn years she tends to hunt baby rabbits and small mice.

So an adult rabbit was a strange prey - until I saw its puffed, reddened eyes closed shut. Blinded, skinny and cornered, this myxied creature was mere days away from death before Bobcat found her torture toy. So I ran to get the axe.

And of course, while holding the axe to knock the rabbit on the head and 'euthenase' it, my brain told my muscles to mutiny against a decisive blow. You know that killer blow. You have to swing straight and quick. You can't hesitate and do it half-arsed.

Before I could steel myself proper, the rabbit ran along the wall and out into the yard, turning this way and that, trying to find some shelter. Although it couldn't see me running after it with an axe, it could hear my footsteps and, far from being cornered anymore, scrambled for open grass and took off.

Agh. It ran across the grass towards the neighbour's white picket fence. The neighbours also have a white picket gate, a golfing green, bitumen driveway and another white picket fence around the house's veranda to keep their white picket golden retriever behind.

By then I was at our woodpile and the rabbit was heading for the neighbour's fence with a sick, gumpy, spiralling gait. I was still running and weilding the axe when I saw the neighbour's daughters. Two lovely, flaxen haired little girls, about eight or nine. They waved to me. I put down the axe and waved back. The rabbit squeezed through the white picket fence. I leaned the axe against the wood heap and went home to make a cup of tea.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March in Denmark

After all that stuff about what happens at sea ...
... here is what happened on land. People from around around the land got together today to say that they were seriously unhappy with our government. They don't want to abolish the Climate Commission. They don't believe climate change is crap. They don't want to set up camps of human misery on Manus or Nauru Island to deter asylum seekers. They want equal rights in marriage and to support the penalty rates of our night and day workers. They want our national broadcaster to continue broadcasting bushfire/political/local news/weather without government interference and biased claims of bias.They believe in a free education and subsidised health care, funded by all of us.

Here are some pics I took while at the March in March, in Denmark.

Beware the Ides of March ... or this kid. A speech to silence anyone who complains about the Ygen's lack of political engagement.

Land people, sea people and Michaelmas Island

"I have always wanted to hang out with these kinds of people. I want to understand them, to rub through the veneer of people who spend their lives on the water. I say 'veneer' because being away from land and then returning can produce a kind of aloofness. Land people will never understand what sea people are talking about."
(Me. Salt Story, of sea dogs and fisherwomen.)

Lately, as part of my drive to get out to sea more and not compromise a day job, I've taken up racing sailing on Saturday afternoons. It's much the same mindset as commercial fishing: the moment you step off that jetty and onto a boat, you leave all problems associated with land behind. To the families associated with sailors or fisher folk, this may seem a selfish ideal or even (gasp) escapism. Maybe the whole sea thing these days is meta moral. But the truth is that when you step off that jetty, everyone on the boat has to work together and deal with crises that have nothing to do with your lives on land, only your lives at sea. It's that simple and it's quite addictive. It's a fugue, this bubble.

It can often be shitty too. I'm learning from my latest sea-going mentor Happy that he is fine with calling me a 'fucking donkey' while I'm reefing in the wrong side of a spinnaker in 20 knot winds. By the time he's swearing at me, another crew mate is by my side pulling in the sail as well, both of us laying on deck and trying to stop the billowing canvas from 'prawn trawling' and the boat is sliding along a wave and someone's bum is in the water. Once the crisis is over, Happy will still be at the tiller and yelling "Well done everyone!"

Last night we sailed through the channel and out to Michaelmas Island. It was blowing a fierce westerly and we surfed most of the way out there under a kite.
"12 knots!" Shouted Jumpy.
"That's what I'm worried about, mate." replied Happy.
The full moon rose. Ahead of us a boat was slewing sideways in the slop, its spinnaker falling into the sea. I could see dark figures moving around the deck, struggling to get the sail in, while the sail was blowing the boat all over the place. The boat broached and swayed upright again.

So we'll get back to the bar after the race, have a beer and talk about our maneuvers. Happy will explain where we went wrong or right. Intricately.
I guess the point of this post is that I could tell you about rounding Michaelmas Island as it grew dark and how we hit the wind on the other side, about racing two other boats to Seal Island, the full moon glowing the sea, hazing the mussel farm ropes with a quick jibe or that moment when all of us realised that no one was stationed on the runner winch as the boom came swinging down with the weight of the sou westerly behind it.

I got home close to eleven pm last night and sank my tired body into bed. This morning I went to the March in March in Denmark to voice my lack of confidence in the policies of our current government. I was still shattered from last night's sail. My condition reminded me of how I felt in the mornings of the years I spent night fishing in really rough conditions. On meeting old friends at the protest, I tried explaining what had happened last night, where we had been, what had happened. The blank faces of the land people brought it home to me (again). They have no idea of what goes on out there.
It's part of the aloof beauty of 'stepping off'. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Breaksea Island and the Venus de Milo

Eight weeks before King George Sound (now Albany) was colonised by Lockyer and his mates via the British Crown, the French weighed anchor here. They'd had a nasty 108 days' crossing from Tenerife through several storms, had lost a man, several chickens and some spars. 

Despite the lack of mobile phones or internet, just about every Brit in the Antipodes knew that the French were camped in the Sound, painting pictures, collecting plant and animal samples, and spending their nights swapping songs and stories from their country with the locals. It was the one part of the continent not yet annexed by the Crown, so Lockyer's missive was to get from Botany Bay to here as fast as possible to head off any French flag-planting ideas. I think it took the Amity two weeks, easterly winds, bad water and all.

Anyway, lets go back a bit ... the French ship Astrolabe was captained by a man named Jules Dumont d'Urville, a title with an interesting resonance with Hardy's Tess and her dastardly lover/rapist Alec d'Urberville, but here again, I digress. When d'Urville anchored the Astrolabe just off the channel in the same spot where Old Salt now has weekly fights with Grievous for flathead, he was already a famous man in his homeland for discovering the Venus de Milo in a paddock in Greece.

"The Venus de Milo is a statue of a naked woman with an apple in her raised left hand, the right hand holding a draped sash falling from hips to feet, both hands damaged and separated from the body. Even with a broken nose, the face was beautiful.

D'Urville the classicist recognized the Venus of the Judgement of Paris. (My note: know your Greek myths folks. It weren't the city but the man that Venus was playing here) It was, of course, the Venus de Milo. He was eager to acquire it, but his practical captain, apparently uninterested in antiquities, said there was nowhere to store it on the ship, so the transaction lapsed.
(My note again: Can you imagine how cranky d'Urville was, when his boss refused her berth? "Oh shipmate, the Venus de Milo? She'd be a useless freeloader. We're no people smugglers. We've got like bricks and wheat and shit to cart. C'mon!")

The tenacious d'Urville on arrival at Constantinople showed the sketches he had made to the French ambassador, the Marquis de Rivière, who sent his secretary in a French Navy vessel to buy it for France. Before he could take delivery, French sailors had to fight Greek brigands for possession. In the mêlée the statue was roughly dragged across rocks to the ship, breaking off both arms, and the sailors refused to go back to search for them."

So there you go. Six years later, d'Urville was in Albany. His officers met Mokare' and the other Menang Noongar folk of Kinjarling. They traded their songs, bits of language, curiousities and axes, all the while fixing up the Astrolabe's sails, masts and spars. d'Urville also described the men and women, those Vandemonian sealers who rowed that day from Breaksea Island to alongside his ship moored in the channel, to trade him a bag of black lizards for gunpowder and flour.

It was the first time the Frenchmen had seen the three sealer women and girl child. The little whaleboat was crowded with the exiled of Breaksea Island. Mary, plump in her sealskin frock, black face, red beanie with tufts of wiry hair escaping it and rows of gleaming marineer shells strung tightly around her neck: Weedchild, a tiny, waif-like creature in boy’s trousers, her wild halo of hair buffeted by wind and salt resembling a sea urchin: Wiremu Heke standing at the tiller, his tattoos spiralling over the belt of his canvas trousers, no shirt or shoes, beardless, wearing a slender length of green stone from his left ear and a necklace of stark white killer whale teeth: Smidmore, his ruined face - turned eye and stoved in cheek, his long black hair not quite concealing the gold earring beaten out of a sovereign: Dancer, naked but for her scars and shells, her ring of furry hair framing her round glossy face: And Sal, with the skull of a child strung about her throat, her long straight hair held back with a scrap of bright woven cloth, standing with one brown foot on the thwart and the toes of her other foot gripping the gunwale.
Sal held up a heavy sack, dripping with blood and circled by flies, to show the bemused sailors leaning over the side of the Astrolabe. From the sack, she produced a fat black skink the size of her forearm, its triangular head bashed in and its tail dangling by her elbow. 

“It’s good!” she said.

And this is why History is such a blast.

Quote from S.-C. Dumont D'Urville Two Voyages to the South Seas, Memoirs of Captain Jules. Introduction by Helen Rosenmann.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Roving the Southern Ocean

This is a great interview. Russell talks about Aboriginal whalers and sealers on the south coast of Australia.

"Aboriginal men and women were an active part of the sealing and whaling industries in the southern oceans in the nineteenth century. Even though the historical record is incomplete, Professor Lynette Russell has mined ships' records and sailor's journals to find individual stories of roving mariners."

Go here to download the post:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


My book Salt Story sold out after eight weeks which was kinda cool and awful all at once. People were asking me in the supermarket how to get hold of it and it's scarcity made it valuable.
But it's back! A second edition hit Australian shelves this week. It was quite lovely for me to open the book and read in the frontispiece: 'Republished 2014.'
Apparently Salt Story was the fastest selling new release from Fremantle Press for 2013/2014.

(Jumps on her computer chair. Has a bit of a dance. Falls off.)

Monday, March 10, 2014

In the world

A night hawk circled them at dusk on the plains, singing an alarm.
They sat down to eat the last of their food. "Ah, how absolutely fucking lovely!" As he licked the inside of the tube of condensed milk that he'd cut open with a pocket knife.
They arced up their mobile phones to send text messages.
Sorry I wont be home tonight sorry darl/son/sweet/mum/boss. Sorry.

Heading for the copper-logged car park, trying to stay on the high country and not descend into the tea-tree swamp at night with its hormonal frogs and tiger snakes, the lovers' feet shying away from the swampy wet and stumbling into a forest that grew deeper and darker as the moon and the mountain became hidden from them.
"Which way is east?"
"Where to the car park?"
His phone had run out of charge and a cloud hung over the latest Earth pic on hers. And neither of them had downloaded the compass app.
She saw a flash of the moon. "That way!"
"Mate, that's west. We should be going that way." He pointed to somewhere interminable.

It was the sweet-smelling flowers at shoulder height and it was the dark and the two of them were so, so lost when she said,  "It smells just like the leatherwood flowers under the Karris."
Then she saw the stolid, blonde trunk of a Karri tree rearing up and heaving its branches through the stars. Sweet flowers and the mushroomy scent of rotting logs. Both of them were shocked from their three day trek through the scrub by the sight of the most eastern Karri forest in the world.

After another hour of crashing through undergrowth, he said, "Let's stop. Let's just stop for the night. Can we stop before one of us breaks an ankle. Let's sleep here. Under this rock. Let's stop here

and sleep."

Monday, March 3, 2014


In between shmoozing and getting lost as a country mouse in the city, I did a talk at the Perth Writers Festival with Antony Loewenstein. It was always going to be an interesting session. Antony is an independent journalist who travels the world to expose all sorts of dodgey war-zone practices such as the government contracting of private companies who profit from the theatre of war (eg. here) - and I've been a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat. So yes, the juxtaposition was striking.

He was the rock star in this scenario and most of the crowd had come to see him talk. The venue filled as people organised themselves into the rows of white plastic chairs. My PhD supervisor KT arrived, which was gorgeous as she is one of the women I most admire and aspire to, and then Zeb Shyne walked in. Zeb dropped in to see me perform on her way to the Rocky Horror Show later that night. Needless to say, she looked fucking magnificent. Zeb and I have been friends since we had babies together twenty years ago. (I don't have photos of her, sorry. A bit distracted at the time. BUT here is one she took of us.)

During my round of radio interviews and festival talks, I realised that I get out of the place with no idea of what I've just said. It all goes by in a sweaty rush of adrenalin and on-yer-feet thinking and then it's over. People want me to sign their copy of my book and have a chat but I can see others in line clutching the book and getting cranky because there is only half an hour. I want to remember what I've just talked about but by then I'm so jittery and wired that I'm quite dysfunctional. I want to give every single person the kind of juice that I would expect myself from an author that I financially support - and to sign the book with words reflecting all these things. As a reader I'm aware that every book is a conversation and that the reader wants the chance to reply.
Oh yes, it is all very new and interesting!

Anyway ... at the book signing, I sold a few copies of Salt Story but the best moment was the two old women who came to talk to me. One remembered me from my wild thing days when I stayed with her in Fremantle. She and her husband were both sailors and he was famous for his street display of a formaldehyded great white shark in a glass cage.
Her companion was a wizened octogenarian. "You won't recognise me," she said. "But I worked with your grandfather in police forensics for fifty years."
Both women had seen my name in the newspaper and decided to come and see me. They didn't buy a copy of Salt Story that afternoon. Between KT, Zeb Shyne and two ladies who knew my childhood, I was blessed with an amazing audience.

Later I drove Antony back to his hotel in the city. "Where would you go, if you went overseas?" he asked. By then, trawling the city streets in my daughter's car, I was completely lost. Again.
"Alaska," I replied. "Madagascar. Portugal maybe. Mongolia. I'd love to go to Mongolia."
We passed Hay Street and headed for Northbridge. The road split with witches hats and flashing lights. We stopped to watch masses of people cross the road.
"Are all cities the same?" I asked him.
"Sort of. But no," he replied. "Some cities have the population of Australia, more, twice that. This place (Perth) is like one of those regional towns."
"You're an urban critter," I said. "You're comfortable in those environments, yes?"
I was thinking of home, of the green grass and big sky, and quiet, slow conversations in the supermarket car park. Also, I was quite lost and stressing about which lane the car should be in.
"This is a small town to me, Sarah. Now let me look up my hotel on goggle. Yes ... here we are. Turn right here ... now left ... ahh here it is."

I pulled over in the wrong lane, opposite his hotel. He reached over to hug me. This kind of freaked me out. It wasn't the intimacy. It was the fact I'd woken up with gastro and I didn't want to give it to someone on a writers' tour of Australia who was flying out in the morning.