Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Meet the neighbours

One of those ridiculously huge F100s,
bonnet raised,
a man inspecting the motor,
impromptu, aged fishing shacks.

A small, yappy piebald dog greets us.

A blue/brindle Great Dane bitch. Her eyelids drooping to reveal her reddened lower eye-lids and as she lopes towards us, she looks like a red-eyed, grey ghost. I am busy trying to back the trailer into a driveway to turn around and go home. I wave to the man bent over his truck and he waves back to say he is okay.

"Did you see that dog? That Great Dane? Wow," I say to the guys who helped me move house. "She is amazing. What a dog."

"Sarah. Sarah. Look at that dog."
I'm so busy backing the trailer that it takes a while until I turn back onto the track. Then I see the dog stalking alongside the car.

He's about the same size as a lion. I can tell by his gait that he's got all of his balls. His coat is the glossy blue/grey/black of a Burmese cat, his neck is rolled with fat and muscle. He knows who he is. He looks like a  bull mastiff but he's bigger than any dog I've ever seen.  He feels no need to bark at us.

He just walks us out of the place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Me and my sisters, standing at the business end of a boat, having a smoke, at Broke.

*image credit: Hannah Florence.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Doing a Greta Gabo

So it's on. We are moving. I've lived here (on and off) for forty one years now and the place is sold and we have three weeks to get out. I know this Robinson Road so well. I've walked or driven or pedalled a pushy from the turn off at Frenchman's Bay Road to my house and back again since I was four years old. My sister is leaving before dawn with her caravan to avoid the kangaroos and traffic. I'm texting friends asking them if they want whale bones/chest freezers/dragon trees in pots/my favourite bicycle.

Tonight my sister gave me our grandmother's baking dish. Our gran was a really good potter, so my sis turned it over looking for her insignia and said "I don't think it's one of hers." It wasn't one she made but it is a beautiful baking dish.

Today I went looking for a glass for the oil lamp that both Mum and Dad bequeathed me today.
"Why do you need this?" the shop guy quizzed me.
I could have said that my Dad collects beautiful glass oil lamps or that it was a family heirloom, but what I said was,
"I'm moving off the grid and I will need some light."
He started giving me things; hurricane lamps, bottles of jasmine scented lamp oil and warnings about candles and how they can burn houses down. I began to wonder why he ran a second hand shop in the middle of town when all this man really wanted to do was to fuck off out into to the bush like a feral goat.

Anyway ... I bought the lamp glass and drove home.

Last night I took my son Stormboy to the pub to watch a band and have some dinner.  I thought it would be a good space to bring him to see my friends he has grown up with, combined with an Irish band and some food. We walked in and it was clamorous. So noisy. Both of us were a bit freaked.  A woman stood as we walked towards her table and hugged both of us. Her husband sat and nodded hello. It was Ben's Mum and Dad.
Ben, who was backflipping off of Three Stripes when he hit something and ... sank, he was my son's friend.. I reckon Ben's drowning was the making of my son in a strange kind of way. Fifteen year olds shouldn't have to deal with that stuff but all the fifteen year old boys dealt with it that year because they had to.

On seeing them, standing beside Stormboy, I thought Ben's parents' thoughts.
"Here he is. This is how he would have looked, this is how he would have been, had he been alive today."

Maybe they didn't think those things at all and the most excellent mussel soup was on their minds. Still, I felt awful that my son (who is so beautiful and so ordinary in a teenage kind of way) was representing something of the past, of the dead, and that is no baggage you need to heap upon a kid, and they knew that, and they knew that nobody wants to hurt another soul after they themselves have suffered so much.

All of that.

I felt the six foot tall Stormboy, my son, so young, beautiful and perfect, fold into himself and all the while they were really careful not to inflict their grief upon him. They are trying to lead normal lives after all.
And so we gathered up our menus and we ordered our dinner. We talked to my friends about moving house, where I have been, where I am going, how to live this thing called life. How to do it. We ordered our dinner, we listened to the band and we waited for our meals to arrive.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Driving, wondering who he was

Drove past the Boddington mines towards Pinjarra, slowed up on the hills behind a semi carrying a dump truck and a bulldozer, into the jarrah country where every side track is signed for dog baits and dieback. Onto the flatlands of cattle and tuarts. Old flood plains. Road houses. Primary schools. Antique shops.  Blokes carrying slabs of beer to their gravelly cars.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Some thoughts about men who row boats and ride bikes

Here is something I wrote recently about the sealers of the 1820s and contemporary commercial fishers and 'outlaw' motorcycle clubs.

I worked as a deckhand with men who net the estuaries and inshore waters for fish and crabs. The irony that I was writing about men who also worked these same shores in small boats, albeit more than a century ago, did not escape me. One of the fishermen I worked for was proud to relate that he was a fourth generation fisherman and that one of his ancestors, a sealer, was accidentally shot through the neck and killed while working beaches east of Albany. This fisherman had a keen sense of his ancestry and natural history, and working for him was an ‘embedded’ process of research for me. I spent long hours on the coast learning how to handle boats, nets, stingrays, small sharks, and some interesting weather.

Contemporary commercial fishers can be clannish, with slightly anarchic tendencies towards the government arms of law and order, only complying for utilitarian reasons. They are comfortable living in bush camps and shacks for weeks or months at a time. They understand the cycles of nature – the winds, the swell, the natural predators and the seasons - their work is intimately joined with nature. Their income derives from a maritime-based primary industry plied from small boats. In these ways contemporary commercial fishermen are similar to yesteryear sealers.

In other ways, modern day commercial fishers are no duplication in sentiment or actions of the 19th century sealers: they are usually happily married, own land and pay large annual fees to maintain their fishing licenses. They do not kidnap women and imprison them on islands or shoot Aboriginal men and each other (though there are a few historic yarns of weapons being brandished over access to fishing spots).

However I do wonder what kind of men the fishermen would have been if they were placed in the same situation as the Hunter and Governor Brisbane crews in 1826: abandoned thousands of nautical miles from the nearest point of white population and legal censure for months or years on end. Phrases like ‘the thin veneer of civilisation’ and ‘men of their time’ go through my mind. These phrases are also common responses given to my wonderings out loud. There is really no way to answer this question, other than to judge each individual by evidence of their actions, either today or 160 years ago.

The ‘men of their time’ argument can be a simplistic way out of explaining a history of ill deeds, and of opportunities taken by people powerful enough to exploit those less powerful. But then communities do respond to learned morals, new legislation and social mores. Societies and laws change to censure behaviour that may once have been deemed inoffensive. Some examples within the last twenty or thirty years would be giving a child a ‘belting’, smoking cigarettes while pregnant, driving under the influence of alcohol, refusing to employ a married woman or forcing her into unpaid servitude, or leaving a child in the car outside a pub. Skinning a rabbit before it is dead.

The actions of twentieth century folk compared to the nineteenth century sealers is complicated by cultural and societal mores of the era. I have yet to find more than one example of an attempted prosecution of a sealer for kidnapping and enslaving an Aboriginal woman, and this reflects the unwillingness of the Van Diemen’s Land colony to legally censure such actions.(That prosecution was aborted not for a lack of evidence but a kind of sanguine ineptitude, by the way.) [1]

Arthur Veno, in his book on Australian outlaw motorcycle clubs The Brotherhoods, explains how young men with a background of familial violence and a self-perceived or overt exile from ‘normal society’ can form groups that are insular, violent, and reliant upon an internalised structure of regulation and law. In many ways the sealers of 1826 remind me of modern day bikies and the reception with which their exile and consequent self-government is still met by the legislators and media.

These clubs are characterised as having a constitution, a rigid organisational structure, and heavy levels of commitment to ensure their survival. They exist in their own world, cut off from mainstream society through a rigid system of rules and an inherent belief system.[2]

I grew up in a town in an era when many men were forced out of maritime occupations by the closure of the whaling industry, the imposition of tuna quotas and environmental disasters such as mass death of pilchards in the Southern Ocean with its flow-on effects to the other fishing industries. They left or they adapted. Some of the more disaffected folk joined up with war veterans to create a local outlaw club who were overtly misogynistic and racist  towards people who were not of their ilk. People spoke in whispers about the drugs, gang rapes of women, and fights or attacks between the motorcycle club and local Noongar people.

In observing interactions between contemporary groups of men such as bikies or commercial fishers and the law, (and I'm sorry to conflate them both here but it is pertinent) I noticed that power relationships were often the same as the ones between the law-makers and the sealers in the 1820s. It seemed to be a point of masculine pride: both parties distinguished themselves by their positions, that they never ‘cross over’ to the other side. Commercial fishers historically do not defer to fisheries officers unless forced to by law and bikies historically will never defer to the police or the media. In both cases, when they do cross over, it is self-serving for the purposes of the group, or the individual. When it is the individual, that man risks of permanent, and perhaps deadly, exile.

Another analogy of power and 'men of their time' is the language used by journalists and police regarding outlaw motorcycle clubs. It's remarkably similar to the language used by men such as Lockyer (Amity) or d’Urville (Astrolabe). The word ‘gang’ is used as a collective noun in both instances, described in the Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary as: “1. A band of people going about or working together, esp. for some antisocial or criminal purpose.”[3] 

Veno writes that the term ‘bikie gangs’ is a huge issue with motorcycle clubs, in quoting a Hell’s Angel: 
“It’s a law enforcement term. It’s used to try to make us worse than what we are. Once a club becomes a gang, then the police can get all the support from the citizens they need.”[4]

[1] John Baker was arrested for the kidnap of Trugernina’s sister Makerleedie in 1826. Plomley, Ed., 2006, p. 1051
[2] Veno, A., The Brotherhoods: Inside the outlaw motorcycle clubs, Third Edition, Allen and Unwin, NSW, 2009, p. 33.
[3]Ludowyk, F., and Moore, B., Ed., The Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary, Oxford University Press, Victoria, 2003, p. 332.
[4] Veno, A., 2009, p. 56.