Monday, October 20, 2014

Boom! and Beggar Grandmothers

I've been a bit wary of Goggle since their latest incursion into social media but this week my other browser seems to have forsaken me, along with a frightening moment where my whole computer turned blue and white and spewing words like SHUT DOWN across the screen. I didn't even have to spill coffee on it this time. Anyhoo ... apologies to anyone who receives an email saying I'd like to add you to my circles. I've got my own circles thanks, as you do too, so I'm not being desperate (honest), just commandeered.

There are some meanderings ... but firstly I'd like to talk about what it is like to drive 350 kilometres to rob beehives of their honey.

Tyrant Queen

Kundip bees are hard. Kundip is hard. It's all quartz and mallee and hard history. Every time I get out there these days to a) shore up the shack against resident snake b) rob hives or c) engage in a long ranging argument with said tiger snake, I think to myself, "Why is this so hard?"
When I returned, my Mum said to me, "It's always been hard out there, Sarah. It's just a hard place."

I'd requeened hive #2 because the original queen was slack and not cracking the whip enough (see this post). This was about the same time the tigersnake told me to get the hell out of my own shack. Now hive #2 is ruled by a furious, over-producing tyrant of a queen whose workers just went me as soon as I opened their box and then the buggers stung me twice through my veil, totally altering my facial profile for about three days. My chin wobbled like an old woman's wattle for a week, but we got a lot of honey out of that hive. I am learning that angry bees make more honey and She is now the alpha queen of Kundip and that my requeening effort worked. It's a real shame that I wasn't quite as attractive on my drive home but I'll take those blows in the best interests of honey.

Ubud #2

The first time I came across a beggar, I found it terribly confronting. It was my first day in Indonesia, ever, and I needed to buy a SIM card. Suddenly, she was right at my feet looking like some kind of ghoul, her hands at her mouth and then outstretched to me. A baby sat on her lap. I had only big notes and no idea what they were worth.
The only way I could step around her was by leaping the huge hole in the footpath, where I could see the town's effluent flowing beneath.
She was terrifying and I felt disgusted at myself for being afraid of her. Her baby watched me as I walked away, and I had to pass them both on my way back.

But as I watched them over the next few days, I began to see the women were actually grandmothers, not mothers, and that the babies were sleeping in their laps by eight o'clock and that it probably doubled as a baby-sitting gig for them. Or maybe they pay for a baby prop. Not sure. After that I started putting all my small notes into a different section of my bag, so I could reef it out without sorting through my strange cash on the street.

It's just a job, a living, and I guess the service they were providing me with in return for my pittance of small change, was the story, a memory, an experience. It's an honest transaction. At dusk, the street ceremony ended and I walked behind the four grandmothers. They were walking up the hill towards the writers festival venue, joking with each other, their babies in slings suckling from milk bottles. They were pointing out their beat beyond the ceremony ... and by eight or nine, they were the starving wastrels with sleeping babies and limp, grasping hands who scared me so on my first day.


At Five Fathom, after running the spinnaker from Gull Rock, Happy said, "Right. Let's jibe."
"What am I supposed to be doing?" I asked him, earnest about my role.
"Nothing. Just sit there."
So I sat.
Then Happy said, "The runner! Who's doing the runner. Sarah. Sarah! Do the runner."
I stood up and on that jibe the boom swung down and smacked me across my nose, my jaw, my ear, my skull. It felt like a truck hit me.

Then I was looking at the winch. People were shouting at me.
Which way do I wind on the rope?
I took off the rope and looked at the winch again.
People were still shouting at me.
I wound it on anti clock wise, took it off and looked at it again.
More people shouting.

Finally a friend looked at me as I stood there stunned, staring at the winch and said, "Are you okay?"
"Got hit by the boom," I said. "Am I bleeding?"
I asked this because I felt it was obvious that blood must have been pissing out of my face at that stage and that  everyone on board would have known that I'd been walloped by the boom.

"She got hit by the boom," my friend said to Happy. "She got hit by the boom."
"Jesus, Sarah!," said Happy to me, as he straightened up the boat. "You have to tell me if you get hit like that. You've got to tell me, for fuck's sake!"
At that moment the rest of the crew understood what was going on and Dave came straight down from Adventure Land at the bow and laid three fingers in front of me.
"How many fingers are you seeing?"
"Oh, fuck off Dave," I said, wavering, watching his fingers blur. "I'm fine."

But you know, I was on the verge of crying the whole way home. It's the hit on the head thing. Getting hit hard on the head brings up all kinds of history with me. Crew mates gave me rolled up and ready lit cigarettes, Happy let me steer, someone else handed me a beer and still I was shipwrecked from Emu Point to Home, on the edge of tears the whole way.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Missive from the Vandemonian Flanagan

A 'bonza bloke, and my good mate'. That's Phillip Adams' description of Richard Flanagan who has just won the Man Booker for his his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
I woke up this morning with the news on the radio because I'm a Radio National geek but I don't often wake up to this kind of good news. Normally, it's war or car accidents.
A Vandemonian won the Man Booker! He bloody won! He won!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ubud #1

In a small room off Hanoman Street, the tattooist paused his needle from my foot and looked at me.
“You okay, sista?”
I nodded but he had already felt my leg twitching as the gun hit nerves and pressure points. I was sweating, lost in a strange world of low-level, insistent pain.
“We have a quick break,” he said.
It was early evening and scooters, jeeps and taxis beeped and roared. Street side, the tattooist smoked, his bare hands streaked in the powdered flock from his plastic gloves. His little brother came to sit with us on the bench, waved his fist at his leonine dog to squat on the concrete at his feet.
Selemat mallam, guark,” said the little brother, looking at the outline of a crow on my foot.
“Good evening, crow?” I asked him. “Is that what you say?”
“Yes, guark, a crow,” he smiled. He was softer, younger than his brother. “I like birds.”
“What is your best bird?”
“Pigeon. I have plenty of pigeon.”
“You have pigeons? Do you race them?” He look confused. I said, “You know … ah … competition … very fast?”
“Ahh, yes! All around Bali. Very fast birds. I, when I was little -” he held his hand a metre above the ground “- I have lots of pigeon. My mother say ‘take birds way! Too many pigeon!’ So I took them to the market and sold all the pigeon. The next day, all my pigeon come home!”
“Ha! Homing pigeons. So you had money and pigeons!”
“Yes!” He laughed. “Now, I have fifteen pigeon. I sell them every week at the market. Sometimes they do not come back but most times, I get my pigeon back and I sell them again.”
“That’s so cheeky! Don’t you get pigeon buyer come to your house with big stick?”
He shook his head. “Another man sell them for me.”

His brother, smoking, watching the street with the kind of detached cool that only tattooists possess, stubbed out his cigarette in the Bakelite ashtray and nodded me inside.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

This week

This image has been getting around online this week: a dugite eating a tiger snake in Denmark. Sorry, I have no idea who to credit the picture to but let me know if you know its owner. The relevance is that on Sunday, my sister came down the stairs with three pairs of pants and her sheepskin boots on. "Sna.a.ake," she wobbled.
She was watching the footy when a young dugite wriggled out from under her TV chair, turned around and went back under it again. (Lifts feet.) Her and I bravely went back into the house and turned over every piece of furniture with a rake and a long-handled shovel.
Oh yes, Dad was there with his .22, too.
The snake, of course, was long gone.

Driving to the Premier's Book Prize on Monday with Fremantle Press publicist and editor.

Dress code 'lounge'. What does 'lounge' mean? Like this I guess. Premier Barnett mentioned during his speech that his wife was writing a book, "although I doubt it will ever end up at one of these awards nights." Pearlie burst into outraged laughter beside me and a few hundred people followed.

 The glamour of it all ...

The reality.

On Tuesday morning, whilst dodging impossibly joggy or doggy folk in Hyde Park, I met up with a swan and his family.

Liz at Paperbark Books wrote this lovely for Salt Story.

Wednesday was working the levels on my boss's latest landscaping project ...

... and yesterday I recorded a poem written by another, to be used as part of the ANZAC centenary events that are happening in town at the end of the month. I plodded through the poem twice before the director asked, "Have you done any acting work before?"
"Well ... um ... no."
She then put me through a miniature acting course in the remaining studio time we had. It was fascinating! It felt like an editor going over my work, shaping it up, tweaking it and making it so much stronger. Great stuff.

And finally, just because; this bear from who knows where. This bear who was sedated and fell out of a tree.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beautiful losers

So I packed my lucky shoes, put on my lucky undies and headed for the city. I drove for five hours to my lucky editor's house, took a quick shower and was ferried to the Prime Minister's Book Prize at the West Australian Museum.
(Sorry but there are no photos here of my lucky undies.)

My daughter Pearlie was supposed to meet me there but she'd got into the city and was busy street preaching so it took half an hour to find her.
I can see you, she texted, I'm with a brother. I'll be with you soon.

The first bad omen was the table of name tags. Pearlie and I went from A to Z and could not find my name. The host was embarrassed.  Eventually I was given an Invited Guest name tag.


Then I listened as the first category winners read out their pre-prepared speeches.

Mmm. Loser.

Anyway, as most folk will know by now, I didn't win the Premier's Prize in the emerging author's category. Yvette Walker, for her beautiful work Letters to the End of Love won. But I got to hang out at a party with the glitteratii, and fuck it, this part of being shortlisted thing is heaps of fun. Richard Flanagan killed it when it came to winners and by the time I jumped in front of him and said "HI!", he was so buzzed he had no choice but to talk to me.
He liked me. I could see that. We talked about fish and the Southern Ocean and then I wished him best of luck for the Booker. He wanted to know about fish - and fishing - and so I talked to the man who wrote Gould's Book of Fish about salmon, mullet, herring and KG whiting and how we used to catch them.

At about the same time, a fellow loser who'd written a riveting north west ship wreck narrative said: "'Drive home safely?'  Yeah right mate! We're hitting letterboxes and rubbish bins the whole way home!"

and then, all of the winners left for a dinner together and I went to the hotel room I'd booked in Northbridge. I filled up the spa bath (which struck me as a terrible waste of water) and sank into it because I'd paid for it. Later, when I went downstairs and on to the street for a cigarette, a FIFO bloke asked me for a rollie.
He was from South Australia. He really wanted his son to come and work up north with him. He was worried about how his son would cope with the culture shock. He worked in the heath system and was hoping to get his kid into bar work. He left me, walking, saying "I'll see what is happening on William street."

I'd started telling him about why I'd driven north that day. About not winning ten thousand bucks. About losing. As he left, I really wished I'd given in to my bastardy instinct and gatecrashed the winners' dinner.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Big Skies, Islands and Shipwrecks

Now here are some meanderings about shipwrecks and books and adventures on islands ...

Last week I flew up to Geraldton as a guest of the Big Sky Writers and Readers Festival, which is one of the choicer small festivals in Australia. I mean, despite missing my plane, I came home completely buzzed. I'd hung out with a Doug Anthony Allstar, kissed a knight in shining armour, ate copious amounts of beautiful food, bought way too many books, extracted a 'I was a wild female deckie' confession from a rather dignified old lady, sold every copy of Salt Story in Geraldton, bought an antique fox stole, stayed in a luxurious hotel and generally had a ball.

An authority of writers: Dawn Barker 'Fractured', Annamaria Weldon 'The Lake's Apprentice', Tim Ferguson 'Cheeky Monkey', Craig Sherbourne 'Hoi Polloi', Liz Byrski 'Family Secrets, Agatha and Christine from WritingWA.
A Doug Anthony Allstars' self portrait, just for me!
The most amazing thing the Big Sky organisers do for their writerly guests is to fly them to the Abrolhos Islands for a night before the festival kicks off. These islands are soaked in a history of 17th Century shipwrecks, castaways and mutinies - plus a massacre led by a drug-addicted psychopath. There's more info on the Batavia mutiny over here at Antipodean Nemo. On Rat Island part of the Wallaby Group of the Abrolhos, festival guests were able to swap yarns and get to know each other. It was a special time, I heard a splendid saga of a love affair spanning decades and continents, and we even had fresh dhufish for dinner.

Okay, though it is hard, I'll stop rolling about in how wonderful it all was. The other shipwrecks that I want to mention here are those of the long-lost ships from Sir John Franklin's doomed expedition to find the North West Passage in 1846. As I was travelling north to Geraldton, news came through that the Canadians have found one of the ships. They released this amazing sonar image of the wreck resting on the sea floor.

The Erebus and Terror were the two ships that became trapped in ice. Apparently the sailors were stranded for eighteen months and all of then died eventually, with rumours that some men had resorted to cannibalism to survive. Until the other day, the Erebus and Terror have remained missing for more than a century - one of the enduring mysteries of colonial exploration.

Whether or not the find of the Erebus or the Terror (they are not yet sure which one it is yet) is connected to Canadian nationalism and claims to extra territories, was an aside to me as I read this news. It is a thrilling story but what got me really excited was the ships' connection to my book Salt Story.

On the cover and throughout the book are illustrations of fish and other marine critters. They were drawn during Sir James Clarke Ross's zoological expedition to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica.
The images can be found online via Google books as The Zoology of the Voyage of HMS Erebus & Terror: under the command of Captain Sir James Ross, during the years 1839 to 1843. After this journey the ships, already fitted with plated hulls for Arctic conditions, went off to find the Northwest Passage.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Creeping Grief of a Dead Dog

We landed in Geraldton. When Sally turned on her phone, the first message she got was that her dog had died.

I didn't know Sally then but I knew that castaway look in her eyes, those stranded eyes when someone has died and you are a long way away from home. And it is the dog. You wonder if the kids will be okay, who will bury it. You knew the dog was on its last legs anyway. Last. Legs.
The dog.
How can a dead dog hurt so bad?

This afternoon I pulled into my friends' house. They'd sent me a message: "Toby is on his final visit to the vet. 5pm."
He was out on the highway apparently. He'd wandered out there and caused a minor traffic jam. Cars stopped, people tried to help him. Blind, he'd wandered through the line of stalled cars, bumping into metal. Someone tried to pack him into their car and take him to the vet. His owners' daughter finally found him in the melee, and led him away home. I've seen him ... oh anyway ... I've seen him go down really fast over the last six months.

So I dropped in today to say goodbye. As I was driving there, I wondered if I'd missed the 5pm deadline but when I turned into their driveway the car was still there. I got out of my car and went straight to the dog. He crept towards me, and as he came closer and smelled me his ears pricked. The family came out of the house. They were all red-eyed, crying."I've come to say goodbye," I said.

That dog, he knows me. He stuffed his nose straight up my skirt. I was surrounded by two teenagers, two adults and a demented, ancient golden retriever, and everyone except for him knew he was going to die within forty five minutes.