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.