Friday, December 8, 2023

Past tense

Years ago I wrote a story on A WineDark Sea called 'Can't kill him with an axe'. It was an account of the times I'd nearly killed Old Salt on his fishing boat. He'd previously had heart surgery ('they put a bit of pig in me!'), licked asbestos as a kid because he liked the tingling feeling on his tongue, had an affinity for battery acid and thought electrocution was a fine remedy for Ross River Virus.

Bill died on Monday. It's a weird feeling. When a close friend is dying, people ask if I want to visit them but I'm already there, somehow. Several hundreds of kilometres apart and I'm with them. I don't really know how to explain this. Despite this feeling, when Nga told me on Sunday that he was now on morphine, I'd said, 'Yeah, I'll ring him in the morning.' He sounded fine on Friday when he took of his oxygen mask to chat. Fine.

He was my mentor and teacher. He taught me everything about what it is to be on a boat, how to follow the channel markers home to port in the middle of the night. That was one of his first lessons as we motored home from Michaelmas Island. He taught me about family, about how fish think and how to tie knots (still terrible at that).

He seemed incombustible, unkillable. An incorrigible white man with a stout sense of right and wrong, a strong interest in his family's history of fishing the Great Southern inlets. He never gave up. So Bill, the star of Salt Story is gone. Bizarrely and so bloody banal for someone who always sailed too close to the wind, he copped covid at a funeral a few weeks ago. On Monday, we'll go to his.





Monday, August 7, 2023

Psychogeography of the inlet

 Psychogeography is a term that emerged in the 1950s and its practice is great for landscape writers and artists:  "the effect of a geographical location on the behaviour and emotions of individuals." Until a few years ago, I was completely unaware of the word but had been thinking about the concept for decades. Writing about people of the sea and islands will do that.

"Unfold a map of London, place a glass rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw around its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go ... footage as footage." Robert MacFarlane, A Road of One's Own.

In an urban context, this exercise forces a re estimation of our surroundings - what is accessible and what is off limits: fences, the concept of private property, the absoluteness of a stoic brick wall, drains and public thoroughfares. Really, it's a form of re-mapping or even anti-mapping. It breaks us out of the unaware carpark and footpath thinking that we have when heading down to the shops.

The reason why this is coming up for me right now is that the inlet broke its sand bar out to the sea last night. Here is a photo from today and you can check out photos from yesterday in my previous posts.

You can see the footprints from where Selkie was wading out to catch a stick that I'd thrown for her last night, those trees then a pretty reflection on the glassed-off water. We have a beach again!

For the last month, we haven't had a beach. As the inlet filled with river water threading through a system of thousands of square kilometres, places to walk became scarce. We are in the bush here: there are few tracks or roads. The inundation began to feel oppressive. On land, ancient marri trees leaned over us, blocking out the sun and keeping us cold and the solar panels failed us. The bush became more dark and damp. I grew up in sand dune, coastal heath country. We always had an horizon, a big sky. Living in the forest takes some getting used to.

From a person unwittingly writing about the psychogeography of islands, I became a person writing about the psychogeography of inlets and how they are kinda negative images of each other. An inlet is a body of water surrounded by land after all. My feelings come back to the original definition of psychogeography: "the effect of a geographical location on the behaviour and emotions of individuals."

Now this is cool. Last night, I strapped the camera trap to a tree at water level to capture the water as it receded. There were only three night time infra red photos. It was glassed off so the waves didn't trigger the motion sensor. What triggered it was the water rat, a marsupial better known as a Rakali, or in the Noongar language a Ngurju.

Friday, August 4, 2023

She will break


The inlet is about to open after all these rains. Here are some 'before' photos that I took today. I'll post the 'after' photos once the sand bar is broken and we have a beach again.


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Raven Report

I set up the trail camera at pretty much waterline, facing out into the inlet. She's swelling fast now and I was hoping for shots of waterbirds. When I picked out the SD card after 48 hours and plugged it into my computer, it came up with over 1600 images.

Of course. The waves. That meleluca tree swaying in the wind, constantly setting off the motion sensor. I wondered whether or not to download the whole lot. Surely a waste - of what? - time? of digital space? Anyway, I did download the lot and what I have now is a stop motion film of the inlet over 48 hours, with the water photographed every moment it moved, each surge and return, every flicker of that tree in the wind. The resolution and clarity of the photos is ... pretty good.

It's the most amazing, utterly beautiful sequence of images I've ever seen and they were taken entirely by accident. I mean, I'd set up the camera looking for critters to move into the frame and here is the whole inlet, speaking to me.


Speaking of critters, the first image of an animal I found was of this raven. Within a few hours of setting up the camera, she'd come in to have a look.

Yesterday I noticed a lot of raven activity around that spot, as I watched from my writing desk. They were flying down to the beach and then taking off with lots of calls to each other. I'd forgotten all about the camera. I was getting ready for teaching semester two at uni and thinking about writing and history. So I kinda nodded away my raven observation and went back to my computer. The hound looked interested. As it turns out, when I retrieved the SD card today, one raven had found the camera and was calling others in to investigate. This camera was an event for the ravens. How bloody cool is that?

Friday, July 21, 2023

More camera trap pics


So this is a terrible photo but here is your little ginger pig! Her ginger stripe is on the right side of the frame. It's the only image I've been able to get of her so far. Scattered all around are the remains of her foragings: the crimson shells of bloodroot bulbs and kangaroo bones from the roadside. A few months ago, in the summer, someone hit a roo on the track. In the weeks after, the carcass was dismantled piece by piece and, by the looks of this little pig's grotto, this is where it ended up.

When I first moved to the inlet in the midst of winter, I met some pig hunters on the track. Two car loads of young men with cages on the back of their utes, filled with enormous dogs - whiskery lurchers and brindle mastiffs. 'Gidday love,' the first driver said. 

This is wild and woolly country. Marshes, peat bogs, soaring karris and ancient marri trees. 'Seen any pigs around here?' My dog leaned over my shoulder and growled at the caged dogs. All hell broke loose. I hadn't seen any pigs but thought I could send two carloads of slightly pinned men and their dogs somewhere that was not near my place. 'Yeah, saw one yesterday. About 30 Ks up Chesapeake road!'

On a happier note, here are some camera trap photos of some real live kangaroos. I love the infra red ones for their glowing night eyes and larking about. The last one is taken back at the ginger pig grotto. Composition, yes?

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Dealing with a dog who rolls in a fish kill

 About two weeks ago it was raining hard. We had about 60 ml in a week. The inlet swelled with river-brown water from the massive system fed by three rivers. I was running out of firewood. This time of year always presents me with a sense of lack: crouching over a fire that will not thrive, like an animal trying to stay warm. Not enough sun to power the internet and my single lamp for more than an hour per day. As a casual worker, I'm out of a job for most of June and July, so when the income runs out, gas bottle runs out, my gas fridge stops and so does the hot water.

It sounds grim but it's a reality of living off grid in a remote location. 'I should organise myself for this time of year,' I think every year. This year I lined up a few writing jobs which are tiding me over for the moment. Anyway, with the fresh water pouring into the inlet over the last few weeks, regular visitors have noticed an anomaly.

The sudden influx created a mass fish kill event. At least I'm better off than your average herring. Brownie and Co were filletting mullet on an ironing board down on the beach. They'd set nets the previous night and not caught a single herring. 'They're all dead,' Brownie said, pointing to the dead fish lining the beach.

I walked along the beach for a few hundred metres and found 30 or 40 more dead herring. Shit. Later, other boaters told me there were dead fish on every beach on the inlet, stinking up the reed beds and the sandbars. I could only find herring on the beach, large, almost bull herring. 

So I reported the fish kill to the authorities and warned Brownie to put his nets away. For the next 24 hours I stressed about Fisheries coming out to inspect our nets and hanging about the place. The main thing was that I thought it needed to be flagged. Water authorities got back to me to say it was a fresh water deoxygenation event.

So my issue now is my dog. 

On the first day, I washed her in warm soapy water after she'd rolled in rotting fish, rubbed her dry with an old towel. She immediately went down to the beach and had another roll. I washed her with warm soapy water again. 

Next time, she's getting the hose.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Ginger Sow

 I've just installed the trail camera at a spot on the track where I've seen the cutest feral pig three times over the last week. She is a black pig with a ginger stripe going right around her middle and a row of suckling teats on her underside.

At about the same time I saw her, Jimmy turned up at my house. He's a handsome young man with a disorganised gait.  'Hi Sarah,' Jimmy threw out his hand. 'Look, my car ran out of petrol halfway along the track. Could you give me a lift back there? I have some fuel in the shed.'

The last time I saw Jimmy, he sought my help after he'd bogged his Dad's tractor out in the middle of the inlet. Yes, you read that right. Bogged his Dad's tractor in the middle of the inlet. 'What were you doing?' I asked him back then. 'I was setting nets but then the tractor fell in a swan hole.' 'Setting net from a fucking tractor? Have you not heard of a boat?' I decided to give it a red hot hot go anyway to break the monotony. Jimmy and I got down to the shore, after sourcing several hundred metres of snap straps and rope. The tractor sat out in the inlet like a kinda sad, defeated island.

The operation was an abject failure with me skidding all over the beach on the end of a tow rope, threatening to tear the chassis out of my car at sunset. The next day a few more 4WDs turned up and towed the tractor out. Jimmy was instructed by his family to never use the tractor again.

So when Jimmy turned up the other day, I was grateful for this lesser chassis-destroying request. We drove up the track to deliver petrol to his car. At the point where the track turns into white, slidey clay during rain, I said, 'I've seen a pig around this spot, every other day for the last week.'

Jimmy nodded and said, 'Yeah, last night as I was walking in, I smelt something, like an animal was living around here.' When we got to his car, standing in the middle of the road, he hauled his fuel cans off the back of my ute and got busy.

As I drove home behind Jimmy, I kept thinking of this mother pig, of where she had stashed her piglets, and also of Jimmy's midnight walk along the track. So today, I put a camera trap in the spot where the track get slidey and made of white clay. I'd love to see what goes on there at night.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

The Company


She was standing on the driveway. She was wearing gumboots and a pair of blue crocheted undies.

Andy wasn’t expecting this. As one of TeleNode’s lawyers, he’d spoken to Mrs Agnes Campbell on the phone a few days ago about her husband’s estate. She had sounded like a society wife, grieving maybe, but capably in charge of the behemoth that was her late husband’s sprawling, messy financial affairs. And here she was. Mrs Campbell, topless, holding a shovel in one hand and a chisel in the other.

‘It’s the plumbing,’ she said when she saw his glance at the shovel. ‘Toilet’s backed up.’ Then, ‘It’s easier to shower than wash all my clothes. Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you so early.’

A green hose snaked from the house to a white pipe and piles of black dirt where Agnes had obviously dug around to find the evidence of the blockage. The air was rank with the smell of raw sewerage. Her undress was definitely not about trying to seduce a lawyer.

‘Plumber?’ Andy asked.

‘They won’t come out here,’ she replied. ‘There are the bills. Robbie hasn’t paid them. I’m sure they’d come out, knowing what’s happened but … you know … it’s pride. It’s ridiculous.’

He stared at her face to stop his gaze hitting her breasts, her pale stomach and legs. ‘The Company could pay.’

Monday, May 29, 2023

Tank? Empty

The state premier of Western Australia has just resigned, citing exhaustion. He said his portfolio as premier and treasurer will finish by the end of this week. To paraphrase the words of Aotearoa's  (New Zealand's) former Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, his tank is empty. He's done. He's out.

State Premier Mark McGowan closed off the state from the rest of the country in the early days of the Covid pandemic and it afforded us about 18 months of relative normaility. This sounds weird, I know. But we didn't have to endure many local lockdowns - because the state was also shut off from the world. It was really cool. There was no Covid here. We could move around as much as we wanted to. Nobody got sick from Covid in the early days because it just simply didn't exist here. He did that.

When the federal election happened last year, Labor won on a landslide, mainly on the back of various Labor politicians such as McGowan, who'd fought so hard for public health. His decisions were often unpopular. He'd declared opening borders by a certain date and then abruptly closed the borders again. We in Western Australia were called the 'hermit kingdom' and 'cave dwellers' by right wing pollies and journalists in the Eastern states, merely for being anti Covid. Our geographical advantage was obvs.

So the Premier gave a press conference today, stating his resignation. He didn't cry. His wife looked stoked (Oh boy I can only imagine) and he then bowed out with not a Royal Commission or ICAC review ahead of him.

Good job Mark and I thank you for your service.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Camera Trap

Lately I've been trying to work out how to set up camera traps. This is not a creepy thing ... I live in the forest and would like to see what other critters are getting around at night around my place. A while ago, I strapped a camera trap to a tree close to my house. Tonight I put the SD card from the camera into my computer. Here's what came up.

The cameras are set up with motion sensors to take a picture. This night on the 29th, I walked around the camera to see if it would set off a flash, but it didn't. I walked away, wondering if it worked or if I'd set it up incorrectly. Turns out, I misunderstood infra red capabilities! Derr, Sarah.

Here are some rabbits:

And then, there is me in my ugg boots, today, going in to check the camera trap.

So all we got on camera was a few rabbits and my Ugg boots. But it was a pretty cool experiment. 


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Pistols at Noon

There's a hut in the bush close to my place. It's called Old Smoky because the fireplace doesn't work that well. Old Smoky is on the same property as mine. It's clad in blue asbestos and corrugated iron and the floorboards are made of jarrah timbers. The windows are not glass but plastic blinds. There is no toilet and only the remains of a gas shower.

The whole while I've lived here, a man by the name of Wally stays in Old Smoky on occasion. He always comes over to say hi and let me know that he's in the vicinity. After that, we leave each other alone. He walks out a mullet net in the evenings and sometimes brings me some fillets. He'll bring a load of split jarrah for firewood and stash it in the old rainwater tank, set sideways, like another hut or shelter but to keep warmth and cooking fuel dry, not people..

The commercial fishermen came one year and moved into Old Smoky. Chicky and Brownie found Old Smoky a welcome refuge from camping on beaches in tents. The hut is on private property but they just moved in anyway. I go visit them and sometimes partake in their moonshine. It's rough liquor and the air in the hut is always smoky and close. Brownie chainsmokes tailormades and Chicky is the one who makes the liquor. Chicky and Brownie sleep on swags laid across iron bedstands.

Last year, another man came to stay in Old Smoky. He was confused and alone, a dislocated product of divorce, a lack of meds and the pandemic. I know he'll hate me for saying this, but that is what I saw. He gave me some soap and incense which was a nice gist and told me he was moving into the hut.

So while I was used to Wally and his respectful ways around Old smoky and while I was used to the fishermen turning up when the inlet opened for netting seaon, this Bear Grylls character was a new one. He was trying to do a Broke Inlet version of the TV series Alone except that it also involved asking me to charge his mobile phone on my solar system's inverter and lend him twenty bucks when he ran out of wine.

So. That was a bit weird and I expressed as much to Wally next time he turned up. He was kind of incensed. Not about me having an odd neighbour but that someone was moving into his hut. It's not Wally's hut but Wally was still pissed. After three weeks Bear Grylls gave up on his plan of living off the land and moved back to Albany. On my trips to the city I still occasionally see him walking up the main street in his camo gear and DriZaBone..

Then the fishermen moved in again. They burnt all of Wally's split jarrah, that load of wood Wally had so covetously collected and stashed. They burnt it in the dodgey fireplace Old Smoky is famous for, over the whole netting season. Wally came back in the spring to find all his firewood gone. So now was he doubly pissed. Not only have people been using his hut (which he does not own) but they've taken all of his fucking firewood! (Fair call)

Wally fortifies the door and puts a padlock on Old Smoky. He plants some tomatos, chillies and a lemon tree over the mullet frames he's buried. This is a territorial war,verified by vegetables. I know I've gone from past tense to present tense but shit is getting real now folks. Bear with me.

Today, the fishermen returned and Wally was waiting for them. He knew they'd be here on the first of May and he moved his whole famility into Old Smoky for two weeks. Brownie and Chicky came up from the beach to see me, after they'd launched the boat and moored it in the inlet. 'Wally's in Old Smoky?' Chicky asked me.

'Yes,' I said. 'Would you like to borrow my tent?'

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The automaton and the writer child

 Re my last post, this is interesting: I love this video

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Using artificial intel in academia and real life

Since ChatGPT came in late November 2022, there's been a heap of chatter in academia about how to go about marking essays. I was talking to a fellow tutor today who has just marked about 150 essays in the sciences department and they reckon about 75% were written using AI. Or that AI wrote these essays. Pick your weapons here.

I can just imagine those dispiriting hours, trawling over essays that have been written by a bot and trying to work out which students have written their own work and whatnot. The standard plagiarism software that crawls the web doesn't work here, so it's up to the tutor to work out whether or not someone has plugged in some commands to a chat bot to create the perfect essay.

So far, with such small classes, I haven't had to encounter it so far. Plus working in the Humanities areas of creative writing and the classics of English literature, the emphasis for essays is on individual takes rather than regurgitating facts. There has always been a bit of essay sharing stuff going on but that stuff is easily picked up.

My feeling is that a lot of students are relying on their final marks, as opposed to actually learning anything. High marks lead to scholarships, placements and doctorate awards. These awards are worth $$$K. So regularly handing in a perfect essay using a chat bot probably works for them. That's my devil's advocate argument. If you are paying a shitload for a degree, then why not monetise the said degree?

Personally, I see AI like ChatGPT as being useful for grunt work, and quite often women's work. That grant application, that letter to a politician, that job requiring vacuuming the lint out of corners. The demeaning or tedious work could be done by a bot. Toilets are a pretty good example. I'm all for bots cleaning our toilets. In education it gets spicier.

In intellectual property rights, it gets spicier still. I can ask ChatGPT to write a story based on Sarah Toa's A WineDark Sea and it will crawl the web, find my content and produce a story. No IPR are attributed to me but the 'writer' can add commands like 'make it funnier' or 'make it more heartfelt' and it will proceed to churn out a blog post pretty much the same tone as me writing. 

The local newspaper has been using AI for a while now. Like I said, women's work. They've been struggling for funding and/or advertisers and this is the easy way for the editor to go. It's ... yes it's awful ... but it's here.

Friday, April 14, 2023

You shall not pass

This morning, driving to work, I nearly got cleaned up by another four wheel drive. The exodus out of this holiday town after the Easter long weekend is always pretty hectic and there can be some bad behaviour on the highway. This morning, a man towing his boat was temporarily inconvenienced by some boomers crawling up a long hill with their caravan. He lost his patience and tried over-taking the caravan on double white lines. Blind corner.

I came around said blind corner and this guy towing the boat was right there. It was looking like a head-on crash. He had nowhere to go and I had nowhere to go except the soft gravel shoulder, which I took to at about 90 kilometres per hour. Then he threw out an anchor, slipped back in behind the caravan again and gave me a cheery wave. The two cars continued, one towing a caravan, the other a boat, heading home from the holiday town.

I had to stop the car and take a few minutes to collect myself. That wave was weird. He'd nearly  killed several people ... and he just fucking waves?

I was a bit late to work and still rattled when I got there. Now that the fire season is drawing to a close, one of my other jobs is in a place called The Valley of the Giants. The Giants is in reference to the Tingle trees, three kinds of Eucalypt that only grow in this area. Tingles have a character all to their own amongst the Karris and Marris. Remember the Ents from Lord of the Rings? These trees are like Ents. They are warty and wizened and live for centuries. You can just imagine them scooping up doomed warriors and marching them to safety. Except the Tingles themselves are in trouble, due to a changing climate and declining rainfall. They are remnant citizens from another era.

The sky walk is a steel structure based on suspension bridge engineering which takes tourists through the canopies of these trees. The sky walk sways and breathes as you walk along it. At 40 metres above the forest floor with seemingly little between yourself and certain death, it can sometimes feel like your body is screaming no no no!

One of my favourite jobs is not in the gift shop but up on pylon 2, the second highest pylon at about 38 metres. At that height, I'm in the canopy. Trees are breathing all around me. It's almost pure oxygen. It smells amazing.

Today, after my near-fatal on the roads, I got up there and watched the wind rip across the top of the trees. The thinner Yellow Tingles swayed and swirled. Pylon 2 swayed too. The stoic Red Tingles stayed stoic. It began to rain and then it began to hail! Bright little buckshots of ice bounced on the checkerplate steel, the air electrified with nitrogen. I had my overcoat and umbrella and watched as tourists straggled towards me, hailstones bouncing off green umbrellas and 3 dollar rain ponchos, those beautiful trees beside me, just breathing out oxygen.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Theseus' Car

 Wow ... March 8th was my last post. Well it's fitting that it is now April 8th. Do any of you other bloggers have that sick sense in the stomach for not fulfilling everyone else's requirements? I do, but hell, I've been busy.

Here is me in my rabbit coat with another mammal friend Harry. Harry is one of those friends who I don't see often these days. He waits until the initial excitement and greetings are over, then jumps into my lap for a personal gidday. My dog is thirty times his size but Harry has swag and has always held it over the rottweiler cross. He no cute lapdog, this one is the Black Prince.

In other news, I'm still replacing parts of my car, hence this post's title. The car is now at least twenty years old and I'm coming to the space where I have regular conversations with my mechanic on the Greek Myths. Like, if I replace every part of this car, is it still the same car? Should I replace it with a new car? Covid made prices for new or second hand four wheel drives go through the roof. To maintain an old four wheel drive means pretty much replacing everything. My mechanic is remaining stoic on the subject of Theseus. I did notice however, that his wife keeps a ball of string behind the counter.

This week is the end of fire season for me, so all those kilometres of driving summer gravel roads are coming to pay me back re the yearly fuel allowance. A new turbo charger (the seals were damaged due to corrugations and it's now leaking oil) plus some new shockies (obvs!). In previous years, I've replaced the head, the gearbox, the tyres, a few panels and a roo bar.

Anyway, enough about the car and fuck Theseus' boat. Here's some photos of eagles. Terribly sorry if you associate with Prometheus. You know, livers etc etc.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Grader Driver

Today I'm going to talk about grader drivers. Grader drivers hold a large part of my mind's life. Anyone who has ever lived down a gravel track will know what I mean. 

The track to my house is ten gravel kilometres long, so six miles in the euro lingo. I travel this track every day, have done for the last seven years and sometimes it's just the fucking worst. It's my car that I feel most for, but secondly my mental health. Sometimes the corrugations and pot holes get so bad that I am crying by nearing home, knowing I'm contributing to the condition of the track as much as suffering those bastardy corrugations, that I'll pay with both travel and maintenance. It gets worse. Every year of driving the track, I pay for broken radiator mounts (three times now), new tyres, shock absorbers and all the shit I've lost off the back of the ute on the way.

Anyway, the grader driver came today. The grader driver is like this kinda Zen doctor who puts everything right with the world. That's how I see him. He grades the road so smooth and flawless that people like me fall at his feet in wonder and worship.

Grader drivers work alone in often lonely landscapes. They grade a road and may never know who silently thanks them for the work they do. They are like garbage collectors or nurses.

Today I pulled up beside the grader. It's a huge machine and he kept the engine running as I spoke. 'Thank you!' I yelled. ''I love grader drivers.' 

I couldn't hear his reply over the grader but he was smiling and giving me a thumbs up. The rest of the track felt like I was floating. So smooth. This guy?

 He should be paid like a CEO.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Top Gun Warlitch

I've been logging wedgetail eagle visits to the granites of the tower lately. Writing down the date, time and number of eagles. Most days a young male eagle visits, cruises around the tower and then flies away across forest country. He's my regular, bright colours, patches of white amongst the striking pattern across his wings. Sometimes in the tower, I'll feel a shadow fall across the summit and there he is. Today was an extended visit. It was thrilling! Sometimes I thought he'd land on the mountain in front of me. Later, two of his siblings hit the skies above me, sending the other birds up to harass them.