Prickle and the Octopus
At the inlet the row of squatter’s shacks faces The Cut at the coast like the main street in a western. Rough jury-rigged shacks, each one singular in appearance. Some people say that they feel unwelcome or uncomfortable here.
Old Mrs Norris certainly never returned once she found out the previous owner of her family’s shack, Prickle, had died in there. ‘They found him three days later,’ Meadow Man told me. Apparently, they worked out the time of Prickle’s death by the state of the prawns Prickle had left, uncooked, in a bucket in the kitchen. The cause of death, well, ‘There was a blue ringed octopus in the bucket too.’
Scattering is easier than gathering.
Peppermint flowers coat the ground like hailstones, pepper my hair too. Karri hazel flowers are misty, ethereal sprays of pink and white under the canopy, and the solya are berrying up. Thousands of brilliant blue dragonflies cling to reeds, all lined up facing into the wind. The roads are busy with ravens after the smashed bugs. The black blood bruise on my thumbnail, inflicted on the cuticle while chopping wood in the dark month, reaches journey’s end this spring. Burning season begins.
The tombolo and the fish trap
When the inlet was cut off from the sea by a sand bar, it was the end of a millennial relationship where river and sea were always acquainted. She was a moving water then, and ruled by the pull of the moon. People built graceful arcs into the inlet with stone two courses high. For three thousand years they trapped fish behind the stone walls as the tide fell.
‘How did the traps work, if the inlet is only open and tidal for a month a year?’ I asked Meadow Man.
‘Back in the old days the bar was always open,’ he said.
‘Where did you hear that?’
‘The old people told me.’
Old Whacker, getting sucked out to sea when the bar breached, stood at the tiller ‘like a Viking’, his brother said. His brother had jumped overboard and made it to shore. Whacker was never seen again.
The swans are back, though they don’t feed near my home. The water here is too deep for their cockle foraging. But I hear their chatter as they fly over the inlet to the shallower cockle fields.
The inlet feels like a Borderlands, a space in between. It is a puzzle of a place and sometimes I wonder if it grieves its Old People the way The Secret Garden grieved the children who once within its walls. If Tindale was right, then the gravel track from the highway to the inlet roughly marks the boundary between two nations. But the inlet, the islands within and the country, they are fiercely loved by the shack people who know the place intimately these days. And yet even they say that some 'strange things have gone on around here.'
The bar opened for a few weeks in August but it rained so hard this winter that the inlet swelled again, looking like it might have broken twice. But it didn’t, it just filled up, though not tight as a drum when it is ready to blow. Whacker’s men dug for two days because they don’t like the water so high, and failed. This failure made me happy because I can swim in the inlet in the coming summer and it is like swimming in warm, black tea, clean, a faint taste of tannin.