Sunday, December 31, 2023

Oil Light and the Bay of Pigs

I was on the phone to my sister when Brownie and Doogs arrived from the bush camp, their dingo-looking hound Flex in tow. 'So yes, I've found a $1500 shitbox with no windscreen wipers or muffler.' I said to my sister, waving for the men to take a seat, 'It drives great and looks like sin apparently ... and Queen Ben is probably bound for the wreckers. What a fucking day.'

'It's about to get even better,' said Brownie after I'd ended the call. 'Have you heard about the Bay of Pigs?' 

'Drives great, look like sin.' Doogs nodded. 'Sounds like me.'

The oil light in Queen Ben came on yesterday on my way home to the inlet and then flickered out. This morning, with my dog Selkie still not home from her pre-dawn date with Flex, I headed out for another tower day, and the oil light came on again. In the mistaken belief that the oil light works like a fuel light, giving me a few more kilometres, I continued for another two or three hundred metres. (Yes I know, shut up. I've been self flagellating all day okay?) A terrible knocking sound. I stopped. Under the bonnet and off with the oil cap. Smoke curled out of the sump.I poured in some oil and heard it sizzling against the heat.

Queen Ben turned twenty last year. The five years that I've had her have been about replacement and good husbandry. A new head, replacing the turbo, ironing out dented panels, gearbox issues, idler arms and wheel alignments. My philosophy is that a diesel four wheel drive can last forever if you treat her right. 

Yes, I'm a terrible husband.

I walked for a while until I came into range and texted my boss that I couldn't make it to the firetower today, with some brief details of my poor car's demise. Cicadas chanted in the forest and parrots flitted around me, colours of karri leaves and bottle-brush flowers. Then I turned and walked home, patting Queen Ben's bonnet as I passed. It was surreal, walking through the forest that I drive through every day. Walking is when you notice things.

Smoky red dust rose up on the gravel as a car approached and I found a welcome ride home. Selkie was back, soaking wet, smelling of the inlet and limping badly. 'So that was quite the excursion,' I said to her. She looked at me in that way dogs look when they've done some bad things. I turned on the wifi. 'Oh no! Are you okay, do you need a lift?' My boss had replied. I told him I was okay and then I rang my sister.

I managed to borrow a car for the day and make it to the firetower eventually. I'll leave out the bits about the missing firetower key, the long drive to retrieve it, the firetower nerd I met up there today who was really cool, and that snake. But I have to have a car and the Queen Ben is dead. So I got busy on my phone, bought a car ('drives fine, looks like sin'). I live 35 kilometres from the nearest town and the firetower is an 78 kilometre round trip. There's no public transport and getting on a bicycle is a bullshit option, dammit.

I made it home close to dark and asked a mate to help me tow Queen Ben home from her unhappy perch on the gravel shoulder.. My reasoning was that the RAC will be badly stretched over the next few days of New Year's Eve chaos in our little seaside holiday town. 

I was just having a self-congratulatory glass of wine on the back veranda and updating my sister on the phone about the new car I was buying, when Brownie and Doogs turned up. They growled at Flex as he dawdled innocently towards Selkie's food bowl. Selkie looked up and didn't even complain or harry Flex. She was still limping. She looked very, very sore. 'So, the Bay of Pigs,' said Brownie.

Flex and Selkie took off before dawn this morning. They often do this when Brownie and Flex are staying in the bush camp. Selkie and Flex go off for hours and I never know where they go. Sometimes they'll come back streaked with charcoal and I'll know they've been into the firegrounds. Sometimes, while looking for them, I've followed their tracks along the beach for miles. Selkie always comes home exhausted and she's sore for days. There are few roads and no fences around here. It's dog heaven but I always worry about them taking baits.

This morning, Doogs went down to the boat ramp and heard the two dogs barking. It was an early easterly and so he could hear them, their voices calling along the inlet shore. I was mourning the knocking piston death of Queen Ben and beginning my dejected walk home, by the time Brownie and Doogs walked east along the beaches and rocky outcrops to find Selkie and Flex bailing up a huge black boar. Apparently, the pig was standing in the water facing off the two dogs. He was in the inlet, water around his shoulders and nose to nose with Selkie and Flex. 

'This pig was huge, Sarah!' Doogs said. I put my head into my arms. Oh. My God.  'Much bigger than these two,' he motioned to Flex and Selkie. 'They were crying and barking like babies though.'

'What a fucking day.'

'We're calling that place Pig Bay,' Brownie nodded over his beer. 'It's something that's happened here and that place needs a name. Never seen that before. Never. A pig facing down some dogs in the water. Never seen it.'

So Pig Bay it is.

This stuff all happened here on New Year's Eve 2023. It's been another mad year yes? Happy New Year Bloggers xxx


Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Very Towery Christmas


On Thursday it rained and at the top of the mountain little pools filled with water. This is my favourite, obviously!

Below is a more treasured local than the reptile in my previous post (eek!). We call these little dinosaurs bobtails or blue tongues. In the eastern states they are called shinglebacks. All appropriate descriptors, really. There are a few babies hanging around as well. Too cute.


Below is of a bushfire sixty five kilometres away. This was a particularly nasty one, only a few kilometres away from a town that suffered a terrible wildfire a decade ago. It was started by a machinery fire in a paddock and roared straight into the forest.

Gunsight, reflection, binocs, map and my very cool little weather station - the red gadget is called a Kestrel and takes recordings of wind speed, humidity, temperature etc. Around me the real kestrels whirl and shriek. They have the most acrobatic aerial courtship ever, tumbling over each other in the sky, using the updrafts to race around and around the tower.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Danger noodles and nope ropes

This morning I was on my way to work at the fire tower. Stepping out the front door. I quite like these sliding glass doors because I can see what is outside. This morning it was a tiger snake, just hanging out.

'It's such a magnificent creature!' I said to my sister, as the snake slid away into the thicket of cummock.. 'But fuck! Can they just fuck off from my doorstep?'

The last time a tiger hung out at my front door was a month ago. My front door is north facing and has brick paving... so tiger friendly territory. I squirted the snake with a tomato sauce bottle full of petrol and freaked the poor critter out. Then I went next door and asked the resident snake handler for help. He was into the respectful and kind relocation of reptiles. I just wanted him to kill this one. There was an impasse of communication between the two of us. 'Here's the shovel,' I said, handing him the shovel and then we both said prayers as he took a life.

So this morning, seeing another tiger snake on the path between my front door and the car, I was thinking of my dog and me, and the times when I stumble along that path at night to get something out of the car, headlamp on. 

Some people are fine with resident tigers. I'm absolutely not.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Voting yes and then saying no

I've spent the last few weeks in a funk of emotions. There are several clouds of issues going on in my head and I've been trying to separate them into spheres or boxes or ... something. This morning I woke up with: "okay Sarah, there is this and then this and then there is this."

It was like my brain finally cleared. People say that when the amygdala is stimulated the frontal cortex goes offline and I've probably experienced this before but not totally cogged it. This time around it was like 'fuck, what is going on?'

Anyway, a few weeks after the nation voted against a voice to parliament, I gradually unscrambled. Someone asked me to sign a petition against inner city social housing because ... I dunno, nimbyism? No, I wrote back. Not gonna sign that one. An institution asked me to maintain my contract on a chapter about colonial experiences. No, I wrote back. I'll return that advance payment. (Damn, damn my conscience!)

I began writing this post back in October when I voted Yes to an Indigenous voice to parliament, so it's been sitting here for a while. But I'm still playing in my same brain sandpit, flicking up sand into the circle of eyes. I'm not willing to play this game anymore. I voted yes and now I'm saying no. I'm entering the Crone Zone with a kind of delicious fury. Care to join?


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.