Friday, August 29, 2014

The last whalers

This is so cool: it's a great article if you are interested in Australian whaling history, or even if you just want to read a ripping yarn full of home truths.
"He likened seeing into the eye of a live whale as coming before God."
The story of one of Albany's last whalers.

Kase Van Der Gaag. Portrait by Jonny Lewis. Copyright 2007

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sarah's Sandwich Seminar

This map, taken from Lynette Russell's book Roving Mariners, is commonly called The Great Circle.  The map has been the best way for me to get my head around the movements of nineteenth century Southern Ocean sealers and whalers and is one of the images I'll be using as presenter at Thursday's Friends of UWA Sandwich Seminar:
'Reimagining the Breaksea Islanders. History and Fiction on the Eve of Colonisation'.

Before West Australia was colonised, a small community of seal hunters lived on the islands around Albany, where I live now. Their origins were diverse - African American, English, Maori and several men and women indigenous to Van Diemen's Land, New South Wales and South Australia.
Pigeon or Warroba, pictured below, was one such sealer.
(John Glover, 1833, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart)

When Major Lockyer arrived on the Amity to found the settlement of King George Sound, he wrote that there had been 'some bad work done here' and within a fortnight he'd arrested several of the sealers with charges of murder and abduction.

Part of my PhD thesis is a fictional account of this snippet of history.  On Thursday, I'll talk history first, of the characters and events that I've found by delving into explorers' journals and reports. Then I'll go into the process of writing historical fiction based on these stories.

Here are the deets:
12.30 - 1.30 pm, August 28th
in the function room at UWA Albany.
Entry by donation.
You can ring 98 420850 to rsvp
You can bring yer lunch! And eat it too!

I hope to see any interested folk there.
Please be nice.
I'll be nervous.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea. 

Dylan Thomas

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sea Monsters

From Heavy Weather Sailing by K. Adlard Coles, Granada, 1967.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Me, Angry Mum

Before he got his scooter license, Stormboy walked. He's always been a roamer. When he got home from school he'd often tell me of his trek 'the long way', deviations over the granite clad mountain and down the other side into the mossy chasm where storms cut into the hill, to our home. He walked, because as the child of a lower income family, when we ran out of fuel before the end of the pay week, all of us walked. He walked because he liked it as well.

Recently I discovered, not from Stormboy but his Dad, that Stormboy had been stopped and searched by police twice while he was walking along a road. My son somehow neglected to tell me this news. Maybe he thought I'd write a post about it or go on some mad campaign or something. Stormboy is sixteen but he is a six foot two white man and looks a lot older than his years. 

Predictably, I was completely enraged by this news. When I asked him about the circumstances, he was vague but resigned.
"They do it to all of my mates."
"But it's illegal! Cops can't search someone under eighteen without a guardian present."
"They do it all the time, Mum. They always search us."

Look. This is a kid born into white, middle class establishment. He's not black, he's not brown, he's not socially disadvantaged. His heritage automatically makes him one of the top tiers of our post-racial (ha ha) society. So he has it pretty good when it comes to being a young man walking along the road.

"I hate them. I hate the cops," he said.
All of a sudden I have a big gentle, sensitive son who loves walking and hates the law.
How did this happen?

I researched the stop and search laws in Western Australia. Juveniles (like my son) can refuse a body search if they are stopped by the cops. The kids don't know about this bit. Someone should probably tell them. It is quite legal for kids to be patted down, swabbed etc but the glitch is that police are obliged to let kids know that they need to give their consent ... which the constabulary constantly neglect to do. In fact the police rarely advise kids of their rights before they search them. To shape the whole scenario, the child must be suspected of an offense in the first place. So, Stormboy, while walking along the road, must have been suspected of an offense to justify him being searched. And he's a white kid. Imagine if he were an Aborigine.

When kids kick against it, apparently it's called a perfect law and order trifecta:
Refusing a search. (unsure of your rights)
Resisting arrest.(kicking against the pricks)
Swearing at a public officer. (understanding the English language)

Striking a public officer (the last resort)

Thank goodness Stormboy is such a polite child. Thank goodness he didn't take on the fact they'd clocked him as a criminal while he was walking along the road. Every time he was searched, he dealt with it quietly, he co-operated, and he didn't tell his mother.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Light Dances and the Whales

  Artwork by David Henley

Plume of Words (fellow blogger aka Ms PoW according to me and Elizabeth Bryer to others) wrote an astute and gorgeous review of my book Salt Story for the online version of Kill Your Darlings (here). I read her latest published work first thing this morning and it changed my whole day. In a way, it reminded me of one of my favourite novels A Cloud Atlas because of it's expanding and contracting foray through history, geography, myth and on-the-ground revelations of humanity. Beautiful.
If you click on the image, it will take you to her story 'Light Dance'.
Liz also wrote a story about finding the fossilised skeletons of ancient whales in a South American desert. (Here) She is a young Australian writer who makes me tremendously excited about the genre of non fiction and magic realism, where the everyday is magical and the magical, everyday.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Dad is retiring on Tuesday. He told me this piece of news when I saw him in the car park at the local supermarket. He was sitting in his ute eating a continental roll. Together we walked to the war nurses' memorial garden and sat on a bench. I told him about the class I'd taught that morning. He told me about how his work place has changed recently. He's retiring next Tuesday because Tuesday is the end of the pay week. He said he wanted to go quiet like, which is so him.

Both of us had to get back to work. I walked away thinking 'Faark, Dad's retiring.' He's actually past the official retirement age, but his work has been so sweet and the economy so pressing that he's stayed on.

I'm not sure, but I think Dad worked full time for other people/companies for about fifty five years. During that time he has brought up eight daughters, endured all our dramas, been a sympathetic and gentle mentor to all of us, taught us that girls can do all the same stuff boys can. He's given any man who'd get involved with me or my sisters leagues of boots to fill.

I use to drop in to see him at the workshop when he was a refrigeration mechanic. The room was so rife with ammonia that I couldn't breathe and talk at the same time. His every day work was a place where I couldn't even breathe. He breathed easy, he was used to it, but his beard had greyed; from age, a big life change, or stress.  I've seen him so exhausted from his work, and then the quiet weeks of household financial lap-banding when certain businesses shut down and everyone in town, including him, lost their jobs.
Men ... work.

As the oldest daughter who not only broke the ice but smashed it into tiny pieces, I think I gave him and Mum a bit of grief. I wanted to be an artist/traveller/sojourner. I was arrogant and full of bravado. (Not much has changed) The small-town moralities I'd grown up with didn't work for me after I'd read Henry Miller, John Fowles and Anaiis Nin. Dad probably rolled his eyes at having to defend me whenever I got into gnarly situations when my ideals collided with reality, but still he encouraged me to be everything of the woman I am now.
Then he would drive along the causeway in his ute, past the shipwreck, to work.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Fear and the Gong

Before I wandered off into promiscuity (no, not like that), I was thinking about anxiety during Saturday's tree planting ceremony. As we sat and watched others work and magpies build their nest, Ursli's pup wandered down to the footpath. She was sniffing around where the magpies had been picking up twigs and gradually she moved closer to the busy road. Ursli called her back and the pup ignored her.

Ursli walked down the hill to call her up again. As she got closer to the road, the little dog gave her a look, like "so make me" and ran off. She ran straight onto the road and was immediately crushed to a furry bloodied pulp, in front of everyone, by a cavalcade of Hell's Angels on Harley Davidsons. After the roar of the bikies faded away, the screams and sobs of horrified onlookers rang through the valley.

Okay, so that didn't really happen. But it did in my mind. I had played out the whole scenario and was going into a state of fight, flight or freeze. My guts were churning, I was dizzy and later I realised I'd stopped breathing. While Ursli picked up the pup and walked back up the hill, put her on a leash, I was still scraping the carcass off the road.

What interested me was tracking my propensity for inventing worst case scenarios. The scene on the hill with Ursli's dog also made me realise how easily I can be towed around by my own fear. I mean, things have been going really well. Mine is never a very safe life, but it is exciting, loving, challenging and occasionally quite successful. An example of all this good juice is my gorgeous grand daughter Matilda Grace. (gratuitous grand child picture coming up)

There is another good thing that happened recently. I've been shortlisted for the Premier's Book Awards.

“From emerging writer Sally-Ann Jones’s book Stella’s Sea set at Cottesloe beach, David Whish-Wilson’s book Perth describing life by the Swan River and Sarah Drummond’s Salt Story about life as a fisherwoman in Western Australia, the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards continue to attract the finest literary works created in Australia today.” (Margaret Allen, State Library of Western Australia CEO.)

Wowee. Although the award is a West Australian one, entries are open to all Australian writers and there are only four shortlisted in my Emerging Writers section. The winners are announced on September 22nd ... something else to get anxious about ... but there are no worst case scenarios in this one.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Promiscuity and the animal ideal

Some close friends have just bought a cottage perched on one of the two mountains that define the town. They wanted a tree planting ceremony so we all arrived to help them furnish a rather barren lawn with fruit trees. The idea (I think) was that we'd stand next to a fruit tree and be photographed and it would be some kind of time capsule for -

- look, I dislike being photographed anyway and this situation probably started my downward spiral on Saturday. I'm 44, I'm female and I know that when I'm 54 the Tahitian lime tree will bear her first sweet fruit and that is just not fucking fair.

Anyway moving right along. After standing to be photographed with a potted fruit tree for posterity, I sat up on the hill beside the house and watched everyone else dig holes, lay out weed matting and cardboard, apply chook poo, pour champagne, argue, cook food, point, dig more holes, fill the wrong ones in, expose their coin slots, and carry around slabs of pizza.

I also watched a magpie husband and wife build their nest in the red gum that hung between a busy road and the driveway. Both of them swooped down to pick up twigs, bits of mulch, hair and electrical conduit in their beaks and poke them into the nest. Sometimes they miscalculated and a piece of white building site plastic would fall onto the footpath.

"Do magpies mate for life?" I asked.
"I'm not sure," someone said.
"Nah," said someone else. "I've looked into magpies. They're promiscuous bastards."
"But look at them building that home. Is that just their relationship of 2014? I mean, it looks quite important to them."
"Probably. But the fact they are complete slutty bastards has no bearing on the political implications of humans having sex."
She/He was right.

Then came a long, heated argument about humans, animals, birds and promiscuity. How can animals or birds be accountable to Christian or human ideals of fidelity, monogamy and promiscuity?
I won't bore you or myself with the details because by then the pizza came our way, the sun went down and we'd all decided to light a fire in the old washing machine tub.