On Saturday afternoon I flew into Broome.
Seeing this landscape from the plane made me feel quite emotional. That startling contrast of red pindan and turquoise sea is like a memory trigger. Later my cousin drove me to the Mangrove Hotel and I caught sight of that sea again and gasped. She is used to it, yet it blasted me back to the late 1980s when I was used to it too. This is the first time I've been back.
I went to Broome for the Corrugated Lines Readers and Writers Festival, and walked straight into the welcoming arms of Kimberly family, artists and writers.
'Oh, last time was pretty bad,'' I said. He pointed towards the bar. We were outside at Pearl Luggers to hear Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe speak, and there was a communal aerosol of industrial strength insecticide at the bar. Steve Kinnane interviewed Pascoe, who spoke beautifully of the historical silence around Aboriginal agricultural methods, and also the silence as he grew up around his own family's Aboriginality. The night air was warm and silky. Across the road, the jukebox blared from the infamous Roey. The women wore fabulous dresses.
Later we repaired to said infamous pub for Word of Mouth, a spoken word and open mic for anyone of a poetic bent. I spent the night wandering between this event which showcased some excellent writers and slam performers, to the 'beer garden' where a bald shoemaker in an Hawaiian shirt was arguing the line-up of the Highwaymen and the Travelling Wilburys with a dark man with less teeth than me. I'd be listening to Aunty Pat's story about walking into a lap dancing club in search of fish and chips, head outside for a smoke where the shoemaker called me 'Miss Woolly' (so original), then back inside for slam poet Emilie Zoey Baker's rendition of Get a Bloody Job. Sophia's story and music made me seep tears and laugh out loud.
A most excellent night.
Early Sunday morning I wandered down to Streeters Jetty across the road from boab trees and stilted fibro houses, and rubbed fine pindan dirt into my lily-white, down-south feet. My feet are usually clad in Blundstones and thick woolen socks this time of year, or sheep skin boots. Now it was thirty two degrees and I was wearing thongs. I could smell the mangroves and the sea and the sweat of everyone who walked past me. I saw evidence of people who had walked before me ... yesterday.
It was nearly time for my author session at the Kimberly Bookshop, the whole reason I'd flown here, and I was feeling a bit nervous. A good nervous, but still nervous. I met my interviewer Mohini at dinner the previous night and knew I was safe in her capable hands. But in the hour before getting miked up to talk in front of a crowd, I always need a quiet space alone to circumvent the freaking-myself-the-fuck-out scenario. Breathe Sarah. I rubbed that red dirt into my feet. Introduced myself to Country.
That's what I did on the mud flats below Streeters Jetty.
This year is the 30th Anniversary of Broome-based Magabala Books, one of those little publishing houses that seriously punch above their weight. I nearly didn't make it to Corrugated Lines. I was made unexpectedly redundant at the service station and wondered how I could justify the expense of travelling to the Kimberly in these straitened times. Then I read the story of Magabala a few weeks ago in the paper. AND Marie at the Kimberly Bookshop offered to chuck in some money for me.
I just had to go.
It was a great session. The audience were super engaged. I had wondered how Kimberly folk would identify with Southern Ocean history, but of course there are so many parallels when it comes to explorers, ferals and colonist's 'contact' narrative that the locals got it and the grey nomads did too. Broome is laden (beautifully and heavily) with colonial history.
Anyway, after that I needed another quiet little sit down. Tis an energising and exhausting thing, that reader/writer interaction. After the book signing I sat down on the pavement in the shade next to the Community Resource Centre. A man walked past, stopped and asked me for two rollie papers. 'Where are you from?' he asked me. 'Walpole, down south,' I said, 'Where are you from?' 'Hedland, down south,' he told me.
I went to the library to hear an hilarious play reading by playwright Dan Lee. This play is about grey nomads doing the loop of Australia and it's really freaking funny and about to premiere in Los Angeles. Then I went up the hill with Aunty Pat to see Peter Bibby do his thing at the Mangrove Hotel. I was thinking of walking up there but Pat talked me out of it. 'It's too hot to walk up that hill,' she said. 'I've got a car, let's go.'
We were so busy talking about music, writing and art that we didn't notice the concrete curbs whilst doing a U-turn. This can be a problem, especially as 'I've just borrowed this car' as Pat explained. I got out at the Mangrove to examine the damage. 'You can pop that panel back in,' I said, looking at the plastic nudge bar and hub caps. I felt a little bit sorry for the car. Aunty Pat shrugged, 'Those scars were already there, love,' and we went into the Mangrove Hotel.