Sunday, February 15, 2015

October 1826

“How many?” Jimmy asked Neddy.
“They all want to go.”
Twertayan gestured to his brothers; an older man with a long beard and intricate scars worked over his chest, a small man with curled fingers, Albert and a young man about the same age as Neddy.
Jimmy pointed to the rowlocks. “Neddy and Billhook will row you,” he said to the men.

Neddy and Billhook climbed into the boat after the black men. Randall stood beside Neddy as the others started pushing her out. “Neddy, Billhook. Take these men to Garden Island,” he lowered his voice, “leave them there and come straight back.”

The sea took the boat and the two sealers began rowing hard to get it past the breakers before the next set. The black men talked to each other, happy to be heading out to hunt and shrieking when they were hit by a wave. Neddy didn’t talk to them. He didn’t know their language. His face was different, his straight hair and canvas clothes made him different too. As a group, the black men treated him the same as they treated all the sealers; one eye on his cutlass and the other on the opportunity.

The oars were wrapped in spirals of kangaroo skin, fastened with copper nails, and they creaked as Neddy and Billhook laboured out to the island. With each creak and splash, Billhook wondered about Jimmy, whose mind was always on the game and the trap.

They beached on the north side of the island where it met the deeper water and crunched gently into the rocks. Twertayan tumbled over the side and the four others followed him, their spears clattering against the gunwales. They waited for Neddy and Billhook to stow the boat. Neddy hefted his oar out of the rowlock. Billhook watched him. “Push off!” Neddy hissed at him, his eyes wide.

Billhook knew what they were about to do. He looked back to the best of the black men in King George Sound – the five strongest, the five best hunters and protectors – grinning, rubbing their thorny feet on their slim shins in anticipation of the bird hunt. Those two girls, foraging for tubers in the forest. Billhook knew all about it then. He could have stopped it but he did not.

“They do not swim, Neddy.”
“Push off, Billhook. Randall tol’ us so.” Randall had broken Neddy’s little brother’s arm over his knee on Kangaroo Island.
“They do not swim!”
Neddy shoved an oar against a stone scrawled with the white markings of strange creatures and the little boat heaved away from the island. The whaleboat, with its pointed bows ahead and astern was perfect. No going about or shoving a clumsy transom against hard water, just turn the body and row the other way fast - a quick lurch away from a cranky humpback, from swell smashing against granite, or from desperate people.

Billhook tried to ignore the lamentations of the marooned men but he was watching them the whole way to shore. Checking over his shoulder for bearings was his only reprieve. Five dark figures, their arms waving, silhouetted against their green and pink meadowy prison. Billhook rowed with a deadening in his stomach, that same blackness, when the only reward for his ill deed was shame clawing deep into his body.
“There is no water for them, Neddy,” Billhook’s concern, spoken aloud did not unravel his guilt but only made him a weaker man.

Moennan meets Billhook

With fresh supplies of powder and shot, Jimmy the Nail, Hobson, Billhook and Samuel Bailey sailed to Whalers Cove. The heavy rain of the previous few days were blown away, leaving scudding clouds and flashes of sunlight. They pulled the boat onto the beach. Jimmy and Hobson agreed to head sou’ east over the hill to Observatory Island. Billhook and Bailey walked west along the little beach, over the sheets of granite that sloped down to the sea and along the next beach to where the spring seeped out of the hill.

Billhook stopped to drink the brown water. It tasted good, if a little of the trees that grew above. They climbed the isthmus until they could see the harbour, stepping over the short, scrubby reeds, using the plates of stone as their path. As they walked down the other side towards the karri forest, Billhook found one of the roads the blacks had made, a neat path of chopped grasses and worn with many feet. The only sound was their footfall on the slippery leaves blown down from the last northerly.

Bailey started baiting.
“How did you find that Captain Cook, Billhook? Tasty?”
“Did not meet the man, Bailey.”
“He musta been a tough old man, an old boiler, hey Billhook?”
A thorny branch with yellow flowers flicked past Billhook's rifle and into Bailey’s face. He swore.
“Something impolite about eating your own kind.”
“Too salty anyway. The white man’s flesh is tainted with salt.”

Bailey’s silence quickened around him. Sometimes Billhook watched his broods and imagined that inside Bailey's chest, things crashed around and tore at each other to bits like crabs in a barrel. He glanced behind him and saw Bailey’s face. One day, Samuel Bailey would like to leach my body of blood, he thought. But it is not my destiny to die in this country with its fires and pale skies and dry, prickly earth. Where would my soul go?

Suddenly, there was Woman. She stood shining and brown, naked but for the possum string wrapped around her waist. Her sister, for they had the same berry faces, sat on the ground, her bony knees butterflied. Billhook breathed in a quick shock of delight and felt that breath course down to his loins and stall.

Her heavy hair swayed as she raised her head. She looked straight at him. She was not afraid. All was swollen silence with that stare. The clouds flew across the sky but they were in the forest now and the air was oily from the sweating trees. There was no sound in that moment, not even the alarm calls of the birds.

Her sister leapt from the ground and stood by her side.
Bailey thudded into Billhook’s back, lost in his own dark meanderings. He swore again and then stared. When he spoke, his voice was like rocks in a hopper.
“So this is where they hide their titters.”

The skin broke and everything fell through. The young women shrieked together, an unearthly noise in that thick still air. They ran into the forest, a splash of brown knees, feet, hands, hair. All that was left was the Frenchmen’s compass, shining all moony on a flat, lichened stone. Next to it was a woven bag half full of tubers. While Bailey sniffed into the deep, dappled green, Billhook weighted his pocket with the sun-warmed compass.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Near death haiku

Aussie and I taught
the pup to swim at Sandpatch
today. All alive.

Vale Kenji Ekuan

The man who designed his way into our households:

Just 16 and recently released from a naval academy, Kenji Ekuan witnessed Hiroshima’s devastation from the train taking him home. “Faced with that nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture,” he recalled from the offices of G. K. Design, the firm he co-founded in Tokyo in 1952. “I needed something to touch, to look at,” he added. “Right then I decided to be a maker of things.

He died in a hospital in Tokyo last Sunday. He was 85.

More here and here

After designing a soy sauce bottle for Kikkoman in 1961, Kenji Ekuan went on to design everything from motorcycles to a bullet train.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Not sure if 'mansplaining' is gendered

Most  online op eds* tend to talk about workplace gender politics like it all goes down in a boardroom or an office somewhere. I suspect most Australian workers don't spend their working days in cubicles in front of screens as opposed to, say, barmaiding, wiring, teaching or digging holes. I'm wondering if the folk who type (thanks Capote, maaate) daily click bait reflect little more than their own personal universes. My caveat anyway is that I've never worked in an office and so I have no idea of how office politics fester and solidify into something toxic.

But I'm bloody good at making cement.

I love mixing cement. Last week I did at least thirty loads in one day. Shovelling and counting. Blue metal 3, sand 3, cracking open cement bags with a shovel, concrete 2. Getting it right, watching dirt and water and concrete dust spiralling into a mix that, once dried, will hopefully stay put for a century or so. I love watching the hopper spin, clag up, go lumpy and then get to that sweet spot where the mix starts to peel away from the back wall of the hopper. I'll chuck another half cup of water in at this point just to perfect it. Pour it into a wheelbarrow. Inspect my work.

The whole time I'm thinking such ephemera as Western colonial expansion in the 17th century, who I'd like to fuck, what day the rubbish bin goes out, or maybe even an article I read on my phone that morning about how the Macquarie dictionary has deigned 'mansplaining' as their word of the year.

I get the mansplaining thing. I get it. It's when you know what you are on about, and some bloke will still stopper you and say, "Shhh, stop talking. I'll explain it all to you, darling."
When I was building my shack with the help of a mate, he said, "Quickset cement? You can't just drop that stuff into the uprights. That's not how it's done. This is how you do foundations etc ...etc ... etc. Blah blah blah."
In the end I acquiesced and helped him mix quickset cement in a wheelbarrow so he could trowel it into the foundations. "Oo ... shit, well it's setting pretty quickly now, isn't it?" as he desperately troweled out the cement into the holes before it, like, set really quick.

One of my best examples of mansplaining was quite recently. I'd just brought the motherlode of Moort honey home from the hives in Kundip and taken them to the local apiarist to be tested for water content and purity of nectar. He dipped his finger into the twenty kilo bucket, put it on his tongue and looked at me quizzically. "It's Moort."
"Yes. The Moorts are flowering out there at the moment."
"But there's no Moorts at your place," he said. "They're further up the road, at Kundip."
"I am at Kundip and there's Moorts flowering there."
"No, you're in Mallee country, at Elverstone."
"No, I'm at Kundip. That's where the hives are."
"No! No. Your hives are in the Mallee country." He was so sure that I began to doubt myself.
He showed me some samples of Moort and Mallee flowers. "Which one is growing at your place?"
"This one," I picked up the Moort.
"But that grows at Kundip."
"Yeah ... that's because the hives are at Kundip."
"But you're at Elverstone mine, where the shack is, and that's Mallee country. Mate, you've got it all wrong."
"No, I'm at Kundip. Look." I drew him a map in the sand. "See Road 11? I'm back one kilometre. I'm at Kundip."
He stared at my drawing. "Did you build a shack there?"
"She built a shack there," Kyabla said helpfully.
"That's where the hives are," I said, again.
"Did you really build that shack at Kundip?"
"Then I'll have you know," he said, "that's Moort honey you have there, Sarah."

My feeling about the new word 'mansplaining' is complicated ... Yes, I've encountered Macquarie's interpretation of mansplaining often throughout my life but it has always been an interaction that makes me laugh at the Byronesque factor rather than enrage me. Is it about gender? Have women always, quietly, pulled the same kind of stunt anyway? Yes, they have. Mary Wollstonecraft saw the revolutionary girls' way out as "her individuality as a way to escape the mindless conformity of the mass media machine." And I do believe one of her daughters may have had something to do with the writing of Frankenstein.

At the moment (I may change my mind) I see the word 'mansplain' as a censorial, finger wagger that doesn't do anything special, really. I think men and women both say really stupid shit at barbeques and pull power trips in their workplaces to override or bully their inferiors. But at least it's a new word that 'splains something.

That is what's so interesting about this language thing.

*And isn't 'op ed' short for opinion editorial? In which case shouldn't they be written by the editor of a publication and not an intern/freelancer/late night cleaner with a password? Dunno. Please enlighten me here.