Tuesday, November 29, 2022


In my defense, it was getting late, into the windswept and interesting hour. On the second day of the party, I slept in my tent and woke up hot and hungover. It was evening again and the birds were calling -  a mirror to the dawn chorus we'd listened to, ecstatic and tired after the all nighter. 

Someone had lit the fire in the drum and they were about to torch the bonfire. Sprat hosed down the surrounding wattles and then kinked the hose, in case of emergency. Sister dolloped diesel over the wood pile and lit a match.

Later, as the sacrificial sofa folded into itself on bonfire coals, partygoers straggled back to the main camp where we sat on chairs and surviving sofas around the fire drum. A DJ played under an Oztrail shelter and blue laser lights shimmered through the peppermint trees. Two young men came to sit beside me by the fire.

"I'll give that a three," said the man in a hat, pointing at a woman slouched in a saggy blue velour couch. 

"Yeah, I reckon, a bit awful," said his friend. "But that one's better," he nodded to another woman sitting upright in a comfy looking camp chair. "Seven?"

I could feel my whole body tighten. I remembered when, as a twelve or thirteen year old on my first visit to Middleton Beach with mates instead of my parents, a row of men held up score cards for every girl or woman who walked past. They were probably only a few years older than me and a roar of laughter went up every time they held up the numbers. It was terrifying. "She's pretty," one would say. "Pretty fucken ugly," another said and held up the number three. More laughter.

So back to 2022 and a very different generation of young men, I turned to them, seething. "How old are you guys?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" The man in the hat said. 

"Are you, like, fourteen or something? What makes you think you can behave in that way? In this era?"

"Um ... what?"

"Who the fuck do you think you are?" I must have looked angry. Apparently when I'm really angry my left eyelid twitches.

He stared at me, looking baffled. "What's your problem?" He got up and he and his friend walked away to join another subsect of the party.

An hour or so later, the man in the hat returned to sit by my side. By then I'd had a bit of time to think about the scenario. I'd begun to doubt not myself but my idea about what they'd been doing, based on looking at my own prejudices after that experience as a kid at Middleton Beach.

"Hey ... you know how I jumped on you a while back -"

"Yeah! What was that about?" He asked.

"Were you rating women? Because that's particularly gross you know."

He stared at me and then started laughing. "No man! Oh wow. If you'd just said that ... we were rating chairs. See that one?" He pointed to the blue sofa, now occupied by a man in an Always Was, Always Will Be hoodie. "It sags in the middle. It's fucking awful. We were rating chairs, Sarah. By the way," he pointed to the plastic primary school chair I was sitting on. "Yours is a five."

"This is a very attractive chair, thank you very much," I replied, squirming on my chair, feeling  an apology coming on.



Saturday, November 26, 2022

Weeding out the diesel

Just been reading Don Watson's Watsonia*, a collection of his essays and articles over a lifetime. Watson wrote, among other things, speeches for the former Prime Minister and Hawke-era treasurer Paul Keating. Not sure, you can fact check me on this, but I reckon he wrote the Redfern Speech, nearly approaching its 30th anniversary and a pivotal moment in our nation's history. Below is a shortened version.

Watson has an interesting take on writing political speeches, saying that his words belonged to the politician who spoke them, not to those who wrote them. I understand this sentiment as - speech writers are given talking points and then work those points into something beautiful and stirring. Those words no longer belong to the writer. It all sounds a bit meta but ask any writer if their words belong to them once their books go out into the world.

Anyway, folded into his book on topics so varied as the impotent decency of John Hewson, Australia's problematic relationship with Indonesia re East Timor, cricket and the politics of class envy, was a chapter on marijuana. So bear with me now as I head from international politics, the floating of the oz dollar and pathos of child jockeys, to the most illustrious vocation of growing weed.

'Seasonally Adjusted' begins with "So it is autumn. To put us beyond the claws (clause?) of winter, we should be storing up and making mulch." Yes, he's talking harvest time. "Turn the apples into cider. Stew those stone fruits." This story is a hymn to the gardener. "Gardening increases the level of personal debt,' he writes. "If you have a garden, you do not need any other worries.'

One may garden in Australia to their heart's content, he continues. We may grow wolfhounds or fairies. We may grow bank robbers or aphids or even the ladybirds to feast upon them. We may grow colonisation, 'We may throw clods, spit upon and barbecue animals. There is nothing to stop us indulging in idolatry ... we may sunbake, smoke and use a chainsaw.'

'No one will dob you in for dreaming here, but if you grow marijuana, they will.'

If you grow weed in your backyard, you'll get dobbed in, writes Watson. Coppers will leap over your camellias to get to the weed after the neighbour has done an 'Alert but not Alarmed' call. It's like the worst crime possible. Then the police will uproot all the offending plants and take them away in evidence bags to burn on a bonfire of righteousness ... 'well most of it anyway,' Watson writes, in a tongue in cheek reference to police unofficially taxing the revenue.

This "most of it anyway" reminded me of an incident in our great south coast about thirty years ago. After the raid of a massive bush crop, the local police took the plants to the local tip, poured diesel over it, lit a match and left. It didn't burn.

Word went out that there was heaps of dope at the rubbish dump. In those days, the dumps were not continually monitored by people so it was free weed for all. To this day there are stubby holders commemorating the event. All I can remember was the amount of hash I smoked during that time. It always smelled vaguely of diesel.

At around the same time, the Prime Minister was giving his Redfern speech. I dunno how this all connects up. It probably doesn't, except for Don Watson. Please forgive me for attaching the greatest speech in post colonial history to that time when weed was free thanks to the WA Police.


* love this re context. Watsonia is the worst weed ever!


Tuesday, November 22, 2022


Hey this is interesting ... the marri tree I thought was killed by the Armillaria fungi has come back to life. It lives about fifty metres from my house and has done so for at least the last century. Now it's sending out epicormic growth, which means it's stressed but a whole lot better than being dead. Here is something I wrote about the tree, that ancient King, a few years ago.

"The armillarias killed the old marri down by the inlet shore in the winter. Armillaria mycelium is no friendly communicant for trees but its aggressor and will feed on the decaying carcass for decades. The thugs of the fungi kingdom. The mushrooms, beautiful sheaves of gold, perfect and succulent, climbed the craggy bark like marauders up the castle keep, relentless, until they cancered the ancient king."

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth,
Our foot’s in the door.

Sylvia Plath, 'Mushrooms'


Saturday, November 19, 2022

Desdemona, or how to make another version of Carver

 Recently I did a presentation on form and genre in literature. Now before you shrivel up and die on me, I'll just say, it was terribly exciting. So bear with me because I'm about to inflict it on you now - it's also a lead-in to my latest published story.

Raymond Carver's book What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a classic in the short story collection genre. What he does is so hard and fast, mostly set in the domestic sphere. Carver's stories typically depict the cosy household and then he proceeds to smash it up with the basest instincts of humanity. His style has been largely credited to his editor, Gordon Lish who was famous for his sculpting of Carver's works. Most editors stay behind the scenes. Lish did not, as he described how he'd cut out the last paragraph of a Carver story, to give us a single line, a devastating end to a story cut short ... like a life. Questions follow any ending of a Carver story. A quick look at Carver's book covers for What We Think About illustrates the domestic weird of his work:



So his story So Much Water So Close To Home, in the above mentioned collection, depicts a wife recounting her feelings after her husband went fishing with his mates on a remote river. They drink whiskey on the first night, they play cards, they hang out. The next morning the men go fishing in the river and they find a woman, a murdered woman, in the river while they are fishing.

This is written from the wife's point of view, and I find it interesting that in Raymond Carver's muscular, masculine form of writing, he quite often does this. What the men do next has spawned several movies and songs - yeah form and genre, told ya.

They tied the dead woman's foot to a tree branch in the river and then they went on fishing. She was on ice, they thought. No point turning back now, they thought. Turns out it was the best fishing trip they'd ever had. It was like mother luck had struck them. Truly amazing. They took lots of photos of them holding up the giant trout. Giant grins. Two days later, they hiked up back to civilization and called the police. The next day, their grinning fishing photos would be on the front page of the papers. Outrage ensued.

This is not a true story, or not as far as I know. Maybe Carver read something in an obscure paper, or maybe he just made it up. But the reality of this situation cuts through to us and that's why his fiction works. We all know how it could happen. And we all know how, as a wife or normal human being, we'd be thinking what the actual fuck? And how do I even know you anymore?

Not long after the So Much Water So Close To Home writer died (1988) ,the Australian songwriter Paul Kelly brought out the song Everything's Turning to White (1989), depicting the wife and her feelings about her husband, basing it on Carver's story. Once again, it's written by a man from a woman's perspective:

 Paul Kelly also wrote the music score for the film Jindabyne, another rendition of Raymond Carver's tale. Jindabyne came out in 2006 and was directed by a man (Ray Lawrence) and narrated by a female lead. The film Jindabyne is based on So Much Water So Close To Home but dwells on unique Australian anxieties. The woman in the river is Aboriginal and there are already racial tensions in the small town. Catholic and Protestants, mental illness and class divides all play out here. It's a drowned town, where the whole town had to move to high water after the hydro scheme took over. In other words, there's so much water, so close to home.

When recently, I was asked to take part in anthology responding to Paul Kelly songs, my brain went in all sorts of strange places. Road trips when there were tape players in cars, that time I was an asshole at one of his concerts and getting naked to swim downstream before said concert in front of a lot of tourists, long conversations about his songs ...

When asked whether or not I could do this, all I could think about was Paul Kelly's song Desdemona and how I've always thought Desdemona had a bad rap and how this story connected with Shakespeare's Othello and then back to Raymond Carver again. 

So here it is, another version of an old story. In this book Minds Went Walking, I tell the story of a young woman who is married to a jealous man. It's always bothered me that Othello is portrayed as a victim of Iago and his situation. This story Desdemona is told by a woman from a woman's point of view.