Monday, December 20, 2021

Hi, still here x

Two little girls in flowered dresses walked past our group today. One (her hat was pink, her hair was blonde) held an ice cream. "We're sharing this ice cream," she said to us all, "because we are good at sharing," and we watched them walk by with collegial murmurings about how cute they were. At the time we were carrying out emergency evacuation training that involved how to get hundreds of tourists out of this forest enclave in the event of a bush fire.

The two little girls were nearly out of earshot when I heard the blonde-haired kid whisper to her mate, "You know this is my ice cream. You can't have any."

First thing, first day of firetower. First challenge was the two trees fallen across my road out to the highway. I sat in my car for an hour, ringing friends, checking emails and waiting for the shire guys to turn up. They did, with their usual good humour, back hoe and chainsaw.

The swans are back from their inland sojourn. They were late to the inlet this year, possible because inland paddocks and marshes have been wetter for longer after this winter. I heard them return about five nights ago, singing and honking like adenoidal teenagers, as they gossiped their way home, to moult, to nest, to fish for cockles.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


So nice to see you, inlet.

I feel like I've been driving for months and suddenly it's the equinox again. It took my Mum to remind me last week, and now there's the quickening between day and night that always throws me this time of year. A woman walks down to the seashore at dusk, glass of wine, sunnies and beanie, just like in the month of May - low sun and cool dusk. The sun slips and the darkening is faster but the kids are still yelling from the chilly waters. Orchids are rising their sex from the earth. My dog goes for a wander and returns with the desiccated leg of a kangaroo, crouches on the concrete and growls at any blow flies that get too close. They are new to this season too.

In the winter, right before I left for the big smoke, my car blew its head and this is an expensive exercise for a diesel. Queen Ben (car) is limping through now, avoiding any other medical procedures until the previous bill is paid up. Billowing smoke on a cold morning? C'mon, lovely lady, you can do it, just get out of bed for me one more time. Ignore those cold weather glow plug pains, baby.

Yesterday I taught in the city and then today I drove a long way to do our pre season fire training for the other job I have. I tied up Selkie in the courtyard at work. She'd been in the car for hours but she's long been my Girl Selkie and waited patiently on her makeshift bed, beside her silver bowl of water, accepting pats and copious stroking from all those fire fighters who are away from home and miss their own.

Then home to the inlet. Fisherfolk, returning from setting their nets this evening, their outboards blurp blurped as they headed to shore. The crunch of hull on coarse sand.

So yes, it's nice to see you, inlet. It's good to be home.


Monday, October 4, 2021

Channel 40 on the school run


In 400 metres, take the 2nd exit onto Stirling Highway

What was my Mum like when she was a baby, Nanna Sarah?

She had amazing eyes, Gracie, bright blue with dark rings around the outside. 

She’s got green eyes now.


What else? Was she funny? 

Yeah. She talked all the time, in another language, garble garble garble. I wish I’d taped her talking. 

My brother doesn’t talk yet. He just lies and sleeps and then he wakes up for milk. 

I always wanted a brother. A big brother though. Someone to stick up for me. Having a brother is really cool, I think. 

Was Mum naughty?

Yes, all the time.


Take the 2nd exit onto Stirling Highway.

Hang on, just let me get into this traffic, it’s busy.


Hey! You just made up a word. Trafficky. I love it. Traffic is trafficky. Excellent.

CHCHCH … right lane on Roe’s out.

CHCHCH … what the fuck is it now.

CHCHCH … some dickhead in a Sierra’s parked up with ‘is fucken hazard lights on.

CHCHCH … ahh ok mate, cheers … what a fuckwit. 

They’re swearing Nana Sarah, who’s swearing? 

It’s the truckies talking to each other on their radios. Sorry. But I like leaving the radios on, so I can hear what’s happening. It’s a bit different but sort of like music radio.

Stay in the left lane.

It’s like being on the telephone except everyone with a radio can hear what you’re talking about.

Can I make a call? On that radio thing?


For the next 5 kilometres, stay in the left two lanes. 

Okay. But here’s the rules. Did you hear them talking about which lanes are safe to drive?


So you can’t jam up the radio waves and carry on when they’re talking about stuff like that. You say what channel you’re on, like TV channels. These guys are talking on channel 40. So let’s practise first. Say your name and channel, Gracie. 

Grace reporting on channel 40 …

That’s brilliant! Okay, what are you gonna say next? 

Say hello if you can hear me?

Yep okay. That’s good. How do you sign off? 

What does that mean? 

It means how you finish the call. Say Grace over and out. That means you’ve finished speaking but you that want them to answer back.

Hi everyone, this is Grace reporting on channel 40 … I’m on my way home from school, if you hear this please say hello to me, Matilda on channel 40, Grace over and out. 

Pretty cool, Grace.


No one is talking to me.

That's okay mate.

Take the next exit onto highway 3 to Victoria Park, Sealane Avenue.

I’m not sposed to know where I live, Nanna Sarah. Is this machine going to tell me where I live?

It’s okay. I’ll stop the directions before we get there so you don’t hear it.


Why didn’t they answer my call Nanna Sarah?

They’re probably busy. Hang on, I’ve just gotta do this thing. mutters fuck this city thing stresses me out.

Take the exit.



Grace reporting on channel 40. Hope you had a good weekend. Today at school we did our maths test. Please say hello. Grace out.

CHCHCH … Heeeelllooo Grace!

Someone said hello!

Yes someone did!

CHCHCH Hello Grace!

CHCHCH That fucken dickhead doin’ 50 northbound I can’t fucken believe it what a dickwad.

CHCHCH I’m having chips for dinner, mate. Jacks n chips.

CHCHCH Mate I hear you.

CHCHCH Hello Grace! 

Nanna Sarah, what was my Mum like at school? Was she good at sport?

Your mum was hopeless at sport. 

I’m good at sport. What colour was her hair?


What colour was her eyes?

You know that. They were blue and now they’re green.

My brother’s eyes are blue.

Yeah. All babies are born with blue eyes. Did you know that?

His eyes might turn brown.

Yes they might do.

His Dad’s eyes are brown.

Yes. Yes they are.

My Dad’s taller than you, Nanna Sarah.

No he’s not. 

Dad wants to know if you still have big frizzy hair. He says your frizzy hair makes you look bigger than him but he’s really bigger in real life. That’s not true, is it?

I’m taller than your Dad, Gracie. I don’t care what he says.

At the next exit, take highway 3 to Victoria Park. 

Can you turn off that machine please, Nanna Sarah?

No worries love. I’m getting better at this city thing. 

Does your frizzy hair really make you bigger than my Dad?

Not really. I dunno.

CHCHCH … southbound on Stirling shit’s happening up ahead.


Hi Gracie!

Nanna Sarah, here’s my NAPLAN test. Can I open it? 

No! No wait. Wait. I’ll ring your mum first and ask her.

But I’m such a good writer. This says my handwriting is bad. 

CHCHCH … it’s shit out there ay. There’s fucking dickheads about everywhere today. 

I’ve seen your handwriting. It’s really bloody good Gracie.

You just swore Nanna Sarah. 

Look, don’t pay any attention to this test. It’s rubbish Gracie. It’s not real. It’s not real! 

But it says, look here … 

Hey. What are you going to call in today?

Hello everyone, this is Grace reporting on channel 40. I wrote a story about a mermaid called The Pearl Princess and it’s about to be turned into a movie, you can see it tonight on channel nine. Grace reporting, over and out. 

CHCHCH … that sounds like a good story Grace.

CHCHCH … we need to hear more like this, guys.

CHCHCH … yeah, we need more of this.

CHCHCH … just a reminder everyone, there’s kids like her listening in, please tone down the language.

CHCHCH … Copy that.




Copy that.


Gracie, I’m leaving, I’m going back down south tomorrow. So this is your last call. What do you want to say today?

Proceed to the roundabout and take the 2nd exit.

Hello, this is Grace reporting on channel 40. This is my last call to you all. If you hear me, please say hello and goodbye. Grace on channel 40, over and out.

That was pretty cool, Gracie. Really great.


Grace! Heeelllooo! Goodbye!

Hi Grace and goodbye

Hello and Goodbye!

Bye Grace

Hi Grace, see you on the road mate.

Hi Grace Bye

Bye kid.

I’m waiting for the movie.

I think you are awesome Grace.

Thanks for being there for me, mate.

Keep on trucking, kid.






Saturday, October 2, 2021

Problematic wilderness

 The western narrative around wilderness is so interesting. Those places of 'moral confusion and despair', where Moses wandered for decades, where Sir Orpheo abandoned himself into the wilds to search for Euridice, growing his hair long, communing with the birds (possibly consuming a few too), hoping to entice the fairy king with his lute song, only to see his beloved wife pass by one day while falconing, her forearms clad in leather gauntlets, as she disappeared between cleaves of granite. Does not bode well for a woman to fall asleep under the ympe tree at noon.

This of course is all ancient history. 'For the Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, they are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in.' (1) There is another quite famous couple who were driven from the garden to a harsh wilderness as punishment. In western lore, the deep forested wildernesses were home to wolves and witches; only woodsmen, hunters and abandoned children dared to enter the depths, where the trees sucked out the light. In Richard Powers' The Overstory, he writes a forest scientist Patricia Westerman walking through the thick forest to a clearing, where she thinks that these light-bathed circles 'make a reasoned argument to the loggers'. Emerging from deep karri forest undergrowth into the mossy, lichened open space of a granite cap gives me a familiar sense of psychological relief. The light, the space, the opening sky.

Millennia or centuries later, and right in the thick of the colonial project, along came the Romantics who made wilderness sexy by sublime.

Caspar David Friedrich Wanderer above a sea of fog

 In Australia, the wilderness was still depicted by colonial artists and writers as a place of foreboding, of impenetrable forests and harsh interiors, peopled with Indigenous silences, malevolent swagmen and lost children.


At around the same time in the Americas, the frontiers receded into rural domesticity, prompting books such as The Call of the Wild and countless Westerns. The Romantics and early environmentalists of the Americas claimed that the wild, sublime places allowed us to be closer to God. 'I'd rather be sitting on a mountain top and thinking of God, than in a church thinking of the mountain,' wrote John Muir. So the narrative flipped from wilderness flipped from being a place of purgatory and devilry, to a place with which a man (and yes, let's do that shall we?) can commune with God. The language of false idolatry, transgression and greed that originally condemned those exiled to the wilderness was now turned on those who sought to dam it or destroy its forests: 'Vandalism.' 'Desecration'.

These days the wild places are described in tourist brochures as 'untouched' and 'pristine'. Structures are built over the granites to give visitors an engineered sense of that sublime but perfectly safe near-death experience. 'Core Wilderness Values' can be almost virtue judgements which mean the difference between being protected and simply 'managed'. 

We all know that untouched wilderness is a crock during an epoch of climate change and ecological breakdown but calling a place untouched wilderness can also define it as a place empty of human beings; that as separate beings from flora and fauna, true wilderness can only exist without the human stain. And this, to me, is where the problem with wilderness starts getting pretty weird.

Parks and Wildlife Tasmania

Advertising wilderness as pristine and untouched appeals to history's erasure. The removal of First Nations people around the world during the 19th century created 'uninhabited wildernesses' at precisely the same time as Muir was arguing for the Yellowstone National Park and the Australian John Mitchell called for a national park in the Nornalup area. 'There is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. It is entirely a creation of the culture which holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny.'(3)

 And then, back to the fall, as Cronon writes, 'If we allow ourselves to believe that nature, to be true, must also be wild, then our very presence in nature in nature represents its fall.'

1. Exodus, King James Version.

2. Hanging Rock, with ceremonial dance (look closer!)

3. Cronon, W. 'The Trouble With Wilderness or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature', Environmental History, 1995.


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Purest Potential

I've just had a new baby grandie, a boy. Here are his feet resting on my hand. Look at those toes!

 He's 24 hours old in this picture. 24.Hours.Old. 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

Kangaroo politics

We've had this old boomer hanging around the house lately. I wrote a post about him chasing the dog along the bottom track. She's also bailed him up in the bush between the house and the inlet. It seems he hangs out in this liminal zone. When I first saw them together, the dog was howling at him and he had up his boxing paws and neither animal could work out who had the upper hand. Every time I've seen them together, they are trying to negotiate power structures and kinda failing.

Sometimes, early in the morning before I get out of bed but after light has filled the house, I can hear the splashing of an animal crashing through the shallow waters of the inlet. Experience tells me it is my dog chasing that boomer roo into the water. I'll put on my boots and run down to the shore, call her back. I'll see her swimming in circles around the old man kangaroo, who is sitting low in the water with just his head emerged. And she'll come back, my dog, shaking the briny from her hackles.

Anecdotes swarm of kangaroos that lead dogs into dams, swamps and rivers, and then drown them once the dogs are out of their depth. People I know have told me of this very occurrence, of seeing it happen right in front of them and not being able to do a thing. It seems my dog and this old boomer have a relationship that I don't totally understand. I've been so worried about what might happen when I go to work, leaving my dog at home. I'm worried that I'll find her dead or drowned on the shore, or that this bush dog has gone one step too far and killed the old boy.

A neighbour had a chat with me on the beach the other day (yes I have a neighbour now). Apparently he's seen this same old boomer walk out into the water and sink down, so that just his snout is showing above the water line. 'I've never seen anything like it,' he said. 'Maybe he's trying to get rid of ticks?'

'So my dog wasn't chasing him in?'




Saturday, August 21, 2021

Instructions for Towermen

The Forester's Manual of the 1950s details the criteria in selecting men and women to serve as towermen ...

1. Must have good eyesight.

2.Must have reasonably good enunciation and good hearing for use of the telephone.

3. Must be capable of reading a map and learning the countryside visible from the tower.

4. Must become profficient in using the instruments and in furnishing reliable information.

5. Must be able to endure the necessary isolation and take care of himself and must be sober. 

I love the 1950s language in the book 'Lookouts of the Karri Country. The instructions are a cultural artifact of their time. Although acknowledging that both men and women 'man' the towers or work the fire line, we still use phrases like 'men in attendance' (the somewhat misleading log book abbreviation is 'MIA') and 'towermen'. I do like that on radio support we are simply called 'Tower'. One of the first women I know who worked the tower I'm at now used to go up there when her husband had had enough after too many straight days. She'd carry her baby son up the mountain in a bassinet, watch for fires all day, while breastfeeding.

The firetowers around here are a mix of huts atop mountains, huts set into the crowns of the biggest tree in the forest and actual towers constructed of wood and steel. Here's one of the latter: (Bit a Kombi love down there too)

The point of firetowers is early smoke detection and the mapping of bushfires. We're up high and looking for smoke all day. When we call a smoke in, crew can mobilise on the ground and find it quickly. Yes, we have to be of sober habits, have good eyesight and be able to stay on the ball for hours, days, without losing our shit. * (See footnote)

 In fire prone areas the forestry and land management mobs, who meandered between different government departments over the last century, got bushmen to create the towers. These men pegged their way up the hugest karri trees to find good lookout spots, climbed mountains or built towers. They would peg their way up a 100 metre karri, take out the crown and then carry up materials hand over foot to build a hut right at the top. Decades later, people began to realise (derr - in hindsight) that taking out the crown sickens the tree and makes it no longer structurally safe for a fire lookout and cuts short the life of the tree. Yes well of course ... but before we all pile on these people I'd like you to look at these photos.


Each year that I'm on the tower, I begin the season with a medical, including vision testing. As I age, my vision range is changing. I find it hard seeing street signs while driving at night and yet I can see a plume of smoke at 35km and work out on the map exactly where it is.

Instructions to Towermen (1939)

!. At 8am he will obtain the early morning fire weather forecast and pass it on to neighbouring towers or divisions ...

2. Report the wind direction and strength and visibility in each of the four quarters of the compass to the District Headquarters.

3. Maintain a careful watch at all times for smoke.

There are more instructions for towermen and many of them haven't changed. Forest grid mapping and Alpha, Bravo, Charlie universal alphabets still remain. We still record wind direction and speed every hour, the relative humidity and temperature too.

Tourists walk up the mountain to the tower now. It's a major southern forests tourist trail. They're often amazed to see me here. They express that this system must be so antiquated, what with drones and spotter aircraft. They think I must be a volunteer. When I'm windexing the windows of the tower to see more clearly, they think I'm a government-hired cleaner.

I sit up here and watch the eagles circle, looking for prey. I look for smoke. I compete every day with the spotter pilot - ours is a blood sport borne out in the smoko room. Their gig is a twice daily circuit of the area and pilot prestige. My gig - all day, sitting up in the clouds on top of a mountain, watching, looking, seeing.

* 'Camping out in a hut at the base of the tower could also become trying. But boredom, especially on days of little activity, was the major problem. This could result in depression known as 'Towerman's Syndrome', which cropped up in most forestry districts towards the end of every fire season, and was difficult to counter.' p.30

* Evans. D, Lookouts of the Karri Country, CALM, Perth, 1993.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The bar is broken!

 As promised, here are some pictures from the same place as in my former post. I think the sand bar probably breached last night and this morning we have a beach. A beach! Now we can go for walks without crashing through snaky reeds and tea tree swamps.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Swing Saws and the Queen

So this post is about swing saws. Have any of you heard about them? Swing saws are pretty much the most dangerous pieces of farming equipment I ever come across. Forget about tractor fatalities or deaths/dismemberments/injuries caused by post hole drillers, let alone those ATV bike rollovers. Swing saws are part of an archive of 1920s new chums (immigrants) turning up to buy and clear land in a country that delights in the mythology of the hard-working land clearer, and part of the mythology when bits of wood or the saw itself turns on the operator in a kind of karmic deliverance.

I'll get back to swing saws in a moment. For now, here is a photo of my dog. 

Queen. She was early-morning sunning when I took this pic.

The inlet is about to bust its bar. I've never seen the water sitting so patiently on the banks and I've been here for a few years now ... but it's full and ready to split, ready to spill out into the sea. I'll post this photo and then when the bar breaks, I'll post another photo from the same spot. Stay tuned.

Back to the swing saw. They are pretty much a petrol engine driving a circular saw blade attached to a rotary hoe set up where you can turn the blade from vertical to horizontal. During the farm sale and the assorted paraphernalia that went with it, the swing saw sold to a local farmer who promised me he would never, ever work the thing. He bought it as an article of interest and it was to be hung in his shed for perpetuity. He promised me that.

Others had expressed interest in the swing saw because old WW2 motorcycle engines had been repurposed into these land-clearing, sleeper-making, personal decapitation machines. I'm not kidding you. Have a look at this puppy and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Vaxed, Baby

 I was late.

This is normal. I can set off an hour early only to discover the car needs fuel or the body needs fuel or there is a tree across the track or the dog has run off or an emergency phone call.

Anyway, I was late and the receptionist called me as I passed the bay named after an interloper. 'If you are not going to make this appointment, please let us know, so we can give the vaccine to someone else.' So when I shouldered my bag and myself into the clinic twenty minutes late, she said 'just sit over there beside room 6 and wait'.

The doctor, a portly Indian man in his sixties, left room 6, went to the reception and returned with a small, green plastic kidney tray. 'This way,' he gestured.

'Which arm?' The green tray held a hypodermic and a tiny vial. 'Right or left?'

'I don't care, any arm,' I said. But he obviously needed to know so I said, 'left arm thanks.' 

'Right then, roll up your sleeve.' Or, as I pulled my dress down over my shoulder, 'Okay, roll down your sleeve.'

As he injected me, he asked 'What kind of books do you write. Novels?'

'Yes. Novels. I write novels. Sometimes.'

'All done. Good.' He binned the needle and the empty vaccine bottle and then fiddled with the forms on his computer. 'Don't go yet. There'll be trouble outside if I don't fill out this bit.'

I felt like dropping to my knees and thanking this stranger. I exited his room almost bowing and scraping. I felt so grateful in that moment. Maybe this sentiment is silly. Not sure.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

When Bella Toa went to jail


“Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on Earth, there’s no cure for that.” Samuel Beckett


She could recite her whakapapa back to the Kingi movement on the north island. She descended from prophets and warriors. But despite her royalty, the charges of cultivation of marijuana still meant she would go to jail. The night before Bella Toa was locked up, she picked two men to sleep with.

One man was her ex-husband. Pete looked like Sean Penn with a few less teeth and was a recovery expert in the local support group. Unlike Bella Toa, Pete’s whakapapa was a vague recollection of Pakeha settler/farmers and shop keepers. Robbie was her best friend, a stoic Ngai Tahu stonemason who used to scoff at Donna Toa’s penchant for Pakeha men and then one day saw the way Pete looked at her.

Robbie and Pete were both sea people and crewed the Taonga around the harbour on Saturday race meets. One day, long before the raid, Bella Toa found a new song and played it for them. I love this song, she said. Listen to this. She’d been divorced from Pete for six months and as the song played, all three stared at each other.

Who sings this? He asked.

David Gray.

And the room, laced with divorce and love and potential, morphed at the sound of this name spoken aloud. The same name of a man who’d opened fire on people across the harbour twenty years ago, when Pete, Bella Toa and Robbie had stood together, listening to the gunshots crack across the water out near the sand spit, near where the albatrosses wheeled about their cliffy nests.

That’s a pretty fucking weird name for someone who wrote such a great song, said Robbie.

Driving. Before Portobello, where the bottom road traces the edge of the peninsula, Robbie pointed out the iron door set into the sand stone cliffs. That’s where his ancestors were locked up at night, he said to Bella Toa, before the treaty, back when they were indentured labour to the colonists. Building this causeway which they drove now, in a Mitsubishi Magna, with buckets of rocks. Bella Toa didn’t know how true this all was, about the iron door in the wall or the buckets of rocks. She was on her way to court at the time. She was probably going to jail. She lit a cigarette and wound down the window a notch, careful not to let in the cold.

They’d grown the crop in the hills up near the hydro. High country on a north facing slope. It was a family venture, she and two of her sons worked it but then, weeks before harvest, her oldest son had a nasty breakup with his girlfriend and that was that.

This is our whenua, our country, our womb, Bella Toa said in court on sentencing day. If I want to grow weed in my own country, who are you to say that is wrong. This is my country. What are your laws except colonial travesties? These are not my laws. This is bullshit law.

A Maori woman arguing on the wrong side of town for her pot-smoking family didn’t go down well. The judge, all but putting on his black cap, said law is law and you are sentenced to two years in prison for cultivation and supply.

The night before, Pete, now to be the full-time parent of their youngest child and ex-husband of a felon, asked Bella Toa for a pre-jail bucket list. I’d like to have you in my bed tonight, she said. And I’d like Robbie too.

And so Bella Toa made a slow dinner of boil up and they sipped on the pork broth, gnawed at the bones and ate huge chunks of potato and kumera, drank wine until her brow became sweaty with anticipation. At some stage of the night Bella Toa got up from the bed to make them all cups of tea. Kettle whistled on the gas flame. She returned with the tray wobbling with cups and teapot and milk jug, to see the two loves of her life sitting side by side in the bed. They’d thrown the covers aside and were comparing their penises.

Like little boys, she thought. She stopped and the tea strainer slipped. Pete and Robbie beckoned her over to sit between them in the bed. She put down the tray, climbed over Robbie and curled into their collective warmth.