Journal: 006, A Milk Run

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Holden one tonner, not mine, but close

Milk and I have had an odd relationship. Memories of a seven year old. Mum breastfeeding my youngest brother in a neighbour’s kitchen. Running up the hill from our little row of housing commission weatherboards in Hassett St, Leongatha with a billy for a quart of milk from the local dairy – not the milk factory, which stood on a hill in the distance wafting its sour milk smell over the town. Pushing nervously between Grandma’s placid cows waiting their turn while she handmilked in the little post and thatch shed in the corner of the yard. Granddad was already up at the machinery shed and the path from the house took a short cut through the ‘dairy’.

Walking home from Colac High and stopping for a spearmint thickshake. Cornflakes or weetbix and hot milk for breakfast all my young life, until I became a truck driver.

Banished to work on a dairy farm for a friend of a friend of Dad’s during the summer break after my first year at uni, because he couldn’t stand to have me at home – pregnant girlfriend, routinely drunk in college, failed Engineering. You get the picture. Ninety acres of lush, hilly country down Warrnambool way. Farmers, a brother and sister in their sixties in a mud brick house, the interior walls papered with pictures from the Womens Weekly, the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, the Wedding, the Coronation. Up every morning to walk the cows up the hill from the creek as the sun rose out of the mist. Milk, clean up, breakfast. Work on handyman stuff, or grubbing thistles during the day. Milk again in the evening. Dinner. Sleep. Bathing was for Saturdays if I didn’t take a couple of hours off to go for a swim.

Hitchhike back to Colac for Saturday arvo/Sunday morning at home. Number 2 brother, I’m the oldest, wouldn’t let me in the sleepout until I’d showered. Fleas! Or into Warrnambool to stay with friends from an earlier school, Hawkesdale, in their flat over the bakery. Saturday night dances at the surf club. Beer. And sometimes even, girls!

You know the next bit. The Moratorium, drop out of uni, drive trucks. No milk involved. A young marriage which I may not have previously mentioned. Its inevitable failure due to me being ‘away’.

I met Ludmilla Agnes, Milly, now ex Mrs Legend, and the six month old Psyche at the end of 1977, fell in love, gave up trucking, lost a sales job, drove, rolled a truck in the Blue Mountains, Milly by now six months pregnant. Gave up trucking again and we bought a new one tonne Holden to do a milk run for a dairy in Manning, a Perth suburb ‘south of the river’. That is south of the Swan, but on the Canning River which feeds into the Swan downstream of the city.

Remember home delivered milk? In glass bottles? The runs I had in Manning with its three bedroom red brick boxes and nearby Booragoon, all McMansions thirty years before the term was invented, took me about 4 hours, from 11pm or midnight, every milk box home to a redback spider and wolf spiders’ webs spanning the gaps between trees, the big spider always in the centre, head high, to run into in the dark. If one of Milly’s sisters was living with us, Milly might come out and we would do the run together, barefoot in the night, armloads of bottles, returning to the ute with notes and money to go into the bucket between us for later reconciliation.

Lou due, Mum and Dad come over from Melbourne. March is a month for birthdays and for mine and Mum’s they shout us to the Oyster Beds in East Fremantle, then very posh. Lou was recalcitrant and after a week was to be induced, at 9.00 am in King Edwards, the main women’s hospital.

I did the run as usual and retired for a couple of hours kip, only to be woken by Mum saying he’s born and there’s a problem. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He decided not to wait for the induction after all and was born on the trolley as Milly was being wheeled into the birthing room. So I missed that one. The next one, Gee, was a caesarean, which I saw up close and got to be first to hold her, mother being knocked out.

So. Into the hospital, mother and son well. He had a problem which needed surgery over the next 12 years but which is well behind him now. Arrived in time to eat Milly’s substantial breakfast. Lou was immediately transferred to Princess Margaret’s, the children’s hospital, and Milly was given one of the rooms reserved for mothers down from the bush. I think they were there a week. Milly got told off for being in her night gown, her status as a new mother entirely ignored. I got told off for wandering in in shorts and singlet, no shoes. I would bring in the milk bucket and we would sit on her bed, counting and writing up the night’s earnings.

A couple of years later, on my thirtieth birthday, I got a mild hepatitis, and that was the end of milk for me. The ute and I soldiered on as I developed a commercial traveller’s run in truck spares around the southern half of the state, returned to school, became an accountant.

Oh yes, ‘A Milk Run’. Multiple deliveries and pickups. I’m in Brisbane today by way of deliveries in Adelaide, Cobar and Toowoomba. Pick ups in Broken Hill and Cobar didn’t eventuate but the journal was already half written in my head.

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Eve by Iris Johansen is your standard US crime thriller with invincible CIA and FBI agents but is nevertheless interesting. There are four protagonists, Eve who reconstructs faces over skulls, her life partner Joe an FBI  agent, John Gallo, a former US Ranger and the father of Bonnie her abducted, long dead child, and Catherine, a CIA agent, though in this story they all act independently of their day jobs in the hunt for Bonnie’s killer.

Nearly all the action is carried forward by dialogue, including sometimes the words and thoughts of their quarry, a serial killer who preys on children, which takes some endurance (for the reader/listener).

Secondly, this is one of many, many novels where US agencies are portrayed as out of control and corrupt. And yet this seems to have no effect on real world perceptions of these agencies (except for lefties like me). Strange.

Thirdly, and most interestingly, the ‘heroic’ actions of the men are generally portrayed as rage or jealousy-induced, testosterone driven while most of the thought and planning comes from the women.

In my playlist Eve was followed by A Passage to India, wonderfully well written, though a little stereotypical in its characterisations and again, the author’s intent is to satirise ‘strong’ men.

I’d planned a full review of Tim Winton’s The Turning before this but work intervened. Hopefully I will complete it today, but more likely next week.

 

Recent audiobooks

Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Sweet Tooth (2012)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), The Turning (2004)
Sue Grafton (F, USA), W is for Wasted (2013)
Iris Johansen (F, USA), Eve (2011)
EM Forster (M, Eng), A Passage to India (1924)

Currently reading

Gerald Murnane, Border Districts
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 Finished! All 550pp.

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Journal: 005, Across the Continent

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Mallee!

“Up the Coast”, “Across the Continent” – I’m using up all my best journal headings. Soon I’ll be down to “Tuna for Lunch” (true, as it happens. I’m a vegetarian who eats fish. When I was swimming I wanted 100 grams of protein a day, which took tuna, eggs and protein shakes. But of course the truth is I like fish and love prawns and squid. And hate fishing. Killing things is not sport).

“Across the Continent”: After a few days of no work, and hence those last two book reviews, I was given a b-double load from Wagin in southern WA to Sydney. After the heat of two trips north, the wind and rain of the south coast, Kim Scott country, was a shock. Another old guy, Tom, and I both well rugged up, took all day to load, well the client did, the pace of loading with inexperienced forklift drivers was glacial.

Travelling with another driver is not my favourite thing. Too often they want to talk to you on the CB, set a different timetable, sleep when you want to make a mile, and all those things are true of Tom, a short, white-bearded, cranky and opinionated old man. But, this was my first trip out of WA in fifteen years, and to Sydney, the city I know least and hate most. Tom has been a lifesaver, leading me to all the best fuel stops and eating (and showering!) places and above all making sure my load was secure in the first place and constantly checked along the way. (It’s also been fifteen years since I wasn’t a tanker driver).

And the twists and turns. The first half of the trip is ok, except for the cameras at the WA/SA border (and from there on throughout SA and NSW) and the checking station at Ceduna. But to get across country from the Perth-Adelaide highway to the Adelaide-Sydney highway – from Port Augusta to Renmark – is a nightmare of hills, constant little towns and frequent left and right turns (map). Thank heavens for Tom!

And did I say my phone failed. So if I broke down or lost contact with Tom there was no way of getting help. I bought a prepaid outside Port Augusta. Couldn’t make it work – you need another phone to activate the sim card. And then I lost it anyway, somewhere in the truck. For a while it made beeping noises, but has since lapsed into silence. Past Renmark, near the Victorian border, a nice lady lent me a phone and I spoke to Telstra for 30 minutes without progress. “The system has deactivated your sim card”. Not our fault was only implied. Finally, yes, Tom’s suggestion, I pulled up outside a shopping centre in Mildura, which has become a substantial city since I was last there (in the 1970s probably) and in five minutes the Telstra shop had replaced my sim card for free, and I was on my way again, with 35 posts and comments from you guys to deal with.

Today, Sunday, I’m sitting in the sun in the southern highlands of NSW (WG says) having a 24 hour break now so if I get a load back I can go straight home. It’s been a lovely trip. Nerve wracking to think how much money you could lose breaking down on the Nullarbor – up to $5,000 just for a call-out – but the country is wonderful: western woodlands shading to mallee and saltbush, then the real Mallee yesterday morning across the top corner of Victoria making me a little homesick, into the forests of river red gums along the Murray and Murrimbidgee Rivers before night fell (for the fourth time) and we joined that old familiar Hume Highway near Gundagai, anonymous in the unstopping procession of brightly lit trucks flying through the dark, up and down, up and down, across the Great Divide, to here.

Monday: Tom was impatient. He say’s I’m impatient. The minute our 24 hours were up, middle of Sunday night Sydney time, we were off for the last two hours to a factory in the far western suburbs. Up the M7, sleep outside. Woke Tom up at 6am (4am Perth time), boy was he cranky, a couple of hours to unload, a few km back down the freeway to drop our trailers at Tolls and then into the Eastern Creek BP truckstop next door with a hundred other trucks waiting to be loaded, breakfast, a shower, a nap. Tonight, late, I’ll be on my way home, and Tom’s off to Brisbane.

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Trucks at Eastern Creek lined up with their backs to the sun while drivers wait for trailers to be loaded and the mad rush home to do it all again.

The books below, I enjoyed. Let the Dead Speak was a murder mystery with a twist – the wrong person dies – involving a good looking young woman who is a bit ‘slow’. Breaking Point was an adventure story featuring a thoughtful, non-violent forest ranger, wicked federal government agencies and a million miles of Wyoming mountain wilderness. Made me feel at home, despite the pine trees and summer snowdrifts. Us is still going – an English scientist, born the same year as me, with the tastes in music and clothing of my father, marries a beautiful, arty woman and their marriage is breaking up over his arguments with their 17 year old son. I think the nerdishness of the protagonist is intended ironically, but the author doesn’t pull it off. Good in parts.

Finally, I’ve been roped into a ‘serious’ literary argument. Bonny Cassidy in The Sydney Review of Books (here) has written a 3,000 word (I’m guessing) essay on David Ireland’s A Woman of the Future which commences by taking issue with my judgement that “the woman of David Ireland’s future turns out to be not so independent after all, or at least not in any way Miles Franklin or even Kylie Tennant would have understood, but just a compilation of all the author’s wet dreams.”

And now Holloway’s blog post winds me up. I can’t pretend to critical indifference; I believe the novel’s significance remains undiminished. I’ve got to get out of the bunker and argue for it.

It’s an excellent essay, by a passionate Ireland fan, and of course I endorse her references to The Swan Book, The Natural Way of Things

As in Wood’s narrative, for Ireland nothing is too high, low, absurd or gravid for the purposes of interrogating the limits of nationhood and gender.

and The Pea Pickers. Great books all.

 

Recent audiobooks

Jane Casey (F, Eng), Let the Dead Speak (2017)
CJ Box(M, USA), Breaking Point (1958)
David Nicholls (M, Eng), Us (2014)

Currently reading

Anne Brooksbank, All My Love (review)
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – still going, although not today (Sunday), we’ve been checking the loads, talking  (I’m getting some writing done now while Tom has a nana-nap), fruit & veg shopping, and I have to catch up on those 35 posts and comments, which keep on coming! And have a nap myself of course.


PS. Took advantage of this break to write to Dr Cassidy, and I see in her RMIT profile that she has written a chapter in Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence, Edinburgh University Press (2015) titled The Meeting of Katherine Mansfield and Eve Langley. I’ll have to see if Geology daughter can get me a copy via UWA library.

All My Love, Anne Brooksbank

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The best image I could find

As if I didn’t have enough books in my own TBR – mere hundreds – I borrowed this one, a gift from my Henry Lawson fan brother and his young family a quarter of a century ago, such a long time ago, such a short time, mid-life crisis time for me and my young family, from my mum when I was there recently.

The author, Anne Brooksbank (1943- ) wife of the late Bob Ellis, commentator and script writer whom I still remember vividly with Mungo MacCullum and John Hepworth (and Sam Orr, Michael Luenig, Morris Lurie how could I forget) in the Nation Review (1970-81) “lean and nosey like a ferret”. Sorry, I shouldn’t define a woman by her husband. Brooksbank has a number of novels to her credit, many film and tv scripts, some I think in collaboration with Ellis, and has recently rewritten All My Love as a play which seems to be touring Western Victoria as I write.

All My Love (1991) is the story of the romantic relationship of Australian poet Mary Gilmore (1865-1962) and the iconic Henry Lawson (1867-1922). Gilmore’s ADB entry says ” Her account of an unofficial engagement and Lawson’s wish to marry her at the time of his brief trip to Western Australia (May-September 1890) could be accurate regarding dates, but there is no other corroborative evidence. There was clearly, however, a close relationship between them in 1890-95, but it was broken by his frequent absences from Sydney. Mary’s later comments on his career were always somewhat proprietorial but the extent of her influence on his literary talents and her contribution to his literary education remain unsubstantiated.”

The words ‘fiction’ and ‘novel’ pop up regularly in accounts of All My Love on the net, but nowhere in the periphalia (there must be a word) of the book itself, though right from the first chapter it is clear we are in the territory of historical fiction rather than even ‘imagined biography’ – there are no footnotes or endnotes and the letter young schoolteacher Mary Jean Cameron (Gilmore) gets from her mother is so full of framing information (about Louisa Lawson and Dawn) that it could not possibly be real.

Brooksbank doesn’t say where Mary was, but it was Silverton in outback NSW in 1889. She describes the drive into Broken Hill (also not named) with the coachman shouting Adam Lindsay Gordon ballads to his horses, and then the train rides to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney as Mary takes the long way home (map) to spend Christmas with her mother who had some years earlier left her husband in southern NSW, and Mary as the eldest to care for her siblings, and “gone off to work as a breezy and often inaccurate journalist for a Sydney paper”.

On her first day in town Mary is introduced to Louisa Lawson, even taller than she is, nearly six feet, is commissioned (ordered) to write an article about miners’ women, and is told by her mother and Henry’s that they are to meet.

In the third chapter Henry goes off to meet that “wretched young woman”. That is, while still in the third person, the viewpoint switches to Henry, and so it alternates for the rest of the book. The meeting is of course awkward (Lawson’s deafness is not mentioned till later). Still, they go for a walk and he shows her the ‘real city’.

Henry, who couldn’t spell, and in fact was in real life defensive about not having had much of an education, would bring his poetry to Mary to correct, and “seemed quite glad to relax into the role of being instructed, and it bothered her that he did. He had clearly been ordered about by his mother for most of his life …” Mary herself had already had a few poems published and began to write more, “in competition”.

Henry on one of their walks takes her to rooms above a Castlereagh St bookshop where he has a few drinks and recites (bellows) Sons of the South and she meets William Lane.

There is some discussion of their differing attitudes to Aborigines. Henry “had been brought up the child of poor selectors who saw the Blacks as a lost and inferior people” whereas Mary had been taught by her father who had known and learnt from the local Wiradjuri. Mary’s early nurse was a Wiradjuri woman but “there was secret approval given from Sydney for the wiping out of the Blacks … I never saw her again.” This would have been in the early 1870s, around Wagga. (“The allusion to massacres by Mary Gilmore here and elsewhere and other oral traditions suggest there were further killings of Wiradjuri from the 1870’s on.” Wiradjuri Heritage Study by Wagga Wagga City Council).

Mary gets a North Shore (Sydney) school for 1890 and the two meet most days, until Louisa, angry with Mary’s mother, attempts to force a separation by sending Henry and his brother Peter off to the WA goldfields. Henry responds by proposing to Mary, but she is not ready. (What is it with Henry and the WA Goldfields? The next time he heads off, in 1906, he rushes into marriage with Bertha and even then doesn’t make it past a camp on the river at East Perth and soon returns home).

Mary takes a room at Louisa’s and Henry is soon back, but not soon enough. Louisa has been intercepting his letters to Mary and she has lost heart and moved away. “In the months that followed, and the year after that, Mary heard of him from time to time. Heard that he was raising a few eyebrows with his drinking …” Years pass. Henry gets sent out west by the Bulletin, “You can have no idea of the horrors of the country out here. Men tramp and beg and live like dogs“(HL). William Lane sails for Paraguay. Louisa prints Henry’s first book [Short Stories in Prose and Verse (1894)] and while he is out delivering it, he and Mary finally bump into each other again.

But. Despite clearing up the heartbreak of the missing letters, he’s a drunk, he’s sleeping with the bookshop owner’s plump young step-daughter (Bertha), and she’s off on the next ship to William Lane’s Cosme in Paraguay.

There, Mary marries the uneducated bushman, Will Gilmore and they have a son. Cosme fails. Sailing home (the long way again) via Patagonia and Liverpool they are invited to stay with the Lawsons,  by then living in London, and are persuaded by Henry, and Bertha’s doctor, to take the mentally unstable Bertha and her two children back to Australia with them, an horrendous journey. Bertha is jealous of Mary and says so loudly. The ship breaks down, and they are joined in Bombay, where it is being repaired, by Henry unable to remain in London without his children. He takes a separate small cabin for himself in which, on the way home, for the first and only time Brooksbank imagines them in bed (based on a Mary Gilmore poem: “I lifted up his head/And laid it on my breast“).

And that’s just about it. A fascinating subject which Brooksbank never really succeeds in bringing to life.

 

Anne Brooksbank, All My Love, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1991

see also:
My review of My Henry Lawson by Bertha Lawson (here)
My review of Louisa by Brian Matthews (here)
Janine, The Resident Judge’s review of A Wife’s Heart: The Untold Story of Bertha and Henry Lawson by Kerrie Davies (here)

False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Green & Kinsella

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John Kinsella is a notable West Australian writer and has been on my to-do list for some time, not that x-Mrs L was aware of this when she chose False Claims for me at our local indie book store, fortuitously across the road from our favourite pub. She also didn’t know or had forgotten that her brother had been briefly Kinsella’s teacher at Geraldton High when he was newly out of Teachers’ College. I would visit him when I was in town, in his share house of young teachers barely out of school themselves, strangers in a country town, clustered for warmth and protection, a scene multiply familiar to me after years of following my itinerant school teacher father around country Victoria. BiL doesn’t claim to have had any influence on Kinsella, though he is given credit by a later student, Kim Scott – a dedicatee in this book – for his taking up writing , for which we are all grateful.

About Charmaine Papertalk Green I know little, well nothing, but gleaned the following. She is a poet and artist born in 1962 at Eradu railway siding on the Greenough River between Mullewa and Geraldton on Amangu country and is a member of the Wajarri and Badimaya cultural groups from the Yamaji Nation of Western Australia. “Her books include Just Like That (Fremantle Arts Centre Press) and Tiptoeing Tracker Tod (Oxford University Press). Charmaine lives in Geraldton, rural Western Australia.” (ABR)

John Kinsella, born in 1963 in Perth, has achieved wider fame as a poet and writer generally and even a (short) wikipedia entry. Elements of his biography come up in this collection of poems, which are a reflection by the two poets on their experiences living in and around Mullewa, Geraldton, Western Australia. Kinsella’s father appears to have been a workshop supervisor on mines throughout WA before coming to “a millionaire’s farm” outside Mullewa as manager.

I know Mullewa well enough both from passing through on my way from Geraldton to the eastern goldfields and from visits as a tourist. It is a small town once an important railway junction and centre for farming, notable for its stone buildings and particularly its Catholic church, Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

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Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Mullewa

The church and its architect/builder Monsignor John Hawes (1876-1956) come up surprisingly frequently in the poems.

Hawes – God’s intruder:

Galloping in, bible and cross in hand/Hawes, God’s intruder/Altar stone of the earth/ Intruding on our barna/In the name of Catholicism/Bow your head and conform/For this is now the whiteworld. (CPG)

That priest, England in his veins,/converted the midwest diocesan vision/of souls gathered under one-roofs./A Spanish breeze drawn/under the arches. Mt Carmel. (JK)

It also helps in understanding the poems to know – from the Our Lady of Mt Carmel website above – that the Yamaji people didn’t attend the church but instead had services at a site outside town

Mass Rock is the intruder in our space
Mass Rock is not my significant site
My people’s campsite not Hawes’ space (CPG)

And it seems Papertalk Green shares my bemusement with the Catholic practice of praying to stone gods: A space for those to pray their sins away/Under the watchful eyes of icons and statues/Like civilised colonial pagans with gargoyle guards.

The back cover blurb describes the poems, which alternate irregularly between the two poets, as “call and response” but that is not completely accurate as they are more “variations on a theme”. Their main shared concern is the impact of mining on country

Grandmothers:

My grandmother was a mining town child -/Kookynie where her father was foreman/of the South Champion Mine. My father/worked for decades in Karratha and Kal -/so it’s not as if I come to the mines/without foreknowledge. But I can only/see them as the harrowing of Hell,/the opening of the land to release/what shouldn’t be released,/a desecration of spirit and place. (JK)

I am glad the only mining/She would have known was/From the rich ochre on her/Body and in her hair during/Ceremony time out on country. (CPG)

Papertalk Green writes also of things that are specific to her – the claims of pale skinned Indigenous people not being taken seriously: His skin is fair – no argument there/Lived as a Yamaji all his life/As a strong Wajarri man (CPG, writing about her father, I think), and words of warning to the Identity Police; drugs in her community, dealers, ‘needle teachers’. While Kinsella writes more generally about Western Australia – Mrs Dance cutting down the first tree; travelling with his parents; the Great Western Woodlands (the world’s largest remaining temperate forest); the tragedy of cutting down salmon gums which may predate white settlement.

Papertalk Green writes a jokey little piece about ‘yarning’ (telling stories) and Kinsella tops it, talking over her: How can I but take up the call,/Charmaine, and yarn right back at you -. Papertalk Green offers a space for reconciliation

Come on I dare you
Grab my hand
We can discard our
Protective robes of
Biases, superiority, stereotypes
Oh yes don’t look surprised
We both own those robes
You wear yours when you
Call me a black multhu, a gin, a black bastard
I wear mine when I call you a
White invading convict land grabbing multhu
Oh yeah we both got those robes
But that space over there
Will allow us to take off the robes
And stitch a new robe
To wear and heal together
On this land we both call home

There’s lots more. This is a lovely book, not just a new look at WA’s midwest, but a new attempt to define what it is to be Australian. I know I say I don’t like poetry but the truth is I mostly can’t be bothered concentrating long enough to read it, and this time I’m glad I did.

 

Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018. Cover image: We Remember – Our Barna! by Charmaine Papertalk Green and Mark Smith. “This print tells the story of Geraldton’s foundation around colonialsim and its impact on the First Peoples – the Wilunyu of the Yamaji Nation.” 2016

Journal: 004, Up the Coast

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Kalbarri Gorge, Murchison R.

My second trip, earlier this week, was to Karratha again, but with two trailers rather than three I was able to run up the coast road – so called though it’s sometimes 100 km inland – returning via the inland road, the Great Northern Highway, with old conveyor belts from the BHP iron ore mine Area C (I think they ran out of names) back to Perth (map).

On the coast road it’s desert or near desert country almost right from Perth with farmland shading quickly to hilly coastal heath, which will be alive with flowers in three or four months, to Geraldton (430 km), more hills through Northampton to the Kalbarri turnoff (100 km), 200 km of mallee scrub to Overlander Roadhouse and the turnoff to Shark Bay, then flat, open red dirt, anthills and straggly acacia scrub for the remaining 800 km, broken only by a few km of irrigated mango plantations around Carnarvon on the Gascoyne River, and gums in the river beds as we cross the mostly dry Minilya, Yannarrie, Ashburton and Fortescue Rivers.

Coming home inland is much the same, though with more trees, white trunked eucalypts as we cross the Fortescue flood plain to Munjina and then up over the hills at the edge of Karajini to Newman.

I’m just starting to learn the names of the peoples whose country this all is. The wheatbelt, which stretches up to and narrowly past Geraldton is mostly Noongar country, and the inland, centred on Jigalong near Newman, belongs to the Martu, a Western Desert people. But if you click on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ above, you will see that there are at least another two major groups on the coast between Geraldton and Port Hedland.

I get a clue from False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella who both grew up in Geraldton and its hinterland. Green’s home town was Mullewa, 100 km inland of Geraldton, a rail junction on the now disused Northern Line to the gold mining towns of Mt Magnet, Meekatharra and Wiluna, with lines south into the wheatbelt, to Toodyay and Northam and thence to Perth, and a branch line for the Mid-West iron ore mines –

I saw the rail wagons as a kid/Rolling on by Maley Street/Carrying Koolanooka iron ore (CPG)

And we as kids, outsiders,/jumping from one side of the tracks/to the other. The Mullewa,/train to Perth, discontinued/a few years earlier (JK)

I got distracted by ‘trains’. I meant to say Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Yamaji woman, as I guess were the (fictitious) Comeaways in The Fringe Dwellers (review). “Yamaji Country is in the Mid West region of Western Australia and stretches from Carnarvon in the north to Meekatharra in the east, to Jurien” south of Geraldton (Yamaji website).

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As I drove I listened to two remarkably similar books, Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse, about Henry VIII, and Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, about (the Old Testament) King David, inadequately separated by four hours of Raymond Chandler. Both kings are athletic womanisers who come to the throne as young men and become increasingly murderous as they age, but the most striking of their similarities is that they both  have fair, reddish hair! Brooks is a middle of the road American story teller with a better reputation in Australia, where she was born, than she deserves, but what is she suggesting here? That God’s favourite people couldn’t possibly be brown skinned north Africans? Hard to avoid the R word.

On the other hand I am increasingly impressed by Gregory. Although I originally came to her expecting light romance in an historical setting, she’s in fact an academic historian with an impressive grasp of the Tudor period, and as I said in my review of The Taming of the Queen, is clearly bent on highlighting women acting with independence and initiative. The King’s Curse is an account of Katherine of Aragon’s marriages to Henry VII’s sons Arthur and Henry as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole, the last of the Plantagenets. I recommend it – a fascinating account of Catholic opposition to the Reformation in England.

Recent audiobooks

Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), The King’s Curse (2014)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
Geraldine Brooks (F, USA), The Secret Chord (2015)

Currently reading

Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – I wish I’d finished it while I was on holidays, it’s taking forever now and I’m starting to lose track.

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Heading home (first trip) with used conveyor belt

Randolph Bourne vs The State, H.W. Morton

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“War is the Health of the State”

‘Had Randolph Bourne never written another line he would have earned immortality from those words alone. “War is the health of the State”, he announced, and went on to explain: “It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate co-operation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the herd sense.”‘ Morton.

When I came up to uni at the beginning of 1969 I thought I was a Fabian. But after just one meeting of the august Melbourne University Labor Club I was shunted off to the anarchists next door (in Union House) and there I stayed – though a lot of my activity in the anti-war movement of those years was under the banner of SDS*.

I had been introduced to Fabianism by my school librarian at Blackburn South High when we spent a year in Melbourne while dad finished his BA preparatory to becoming a DI (district inspector of schools). For a boy from the bush this was a year of intense stimulation, social and intellectual, maths and chess, politics and religion (atheism), before I returned to the bush, to the mud landscape and mud minds of Colac, for an inadequate matriculation.

Sometime during 1969-71, the years encompassing two highly successful Moratoriums, lots of smaller demos, anti-conscription pamphleteering and my own ‘failure to register’ and subsequent police dodging, I became the proud owner of a handful of Anarchy periodicals and in particular Anarchy 31 and its lead article ‘Randolph Bourne vs the State’ by HW Morton (about whom I can tell you nothing).

So first, let us be clear about “the State”.

The world is regrettably divided into armed and mutually hostile geographic entities which we call “countries”. Coinciding (usually) with a country is a body of people – a “nation” (Presumably because nations and countries don’t always coincide Morton uses “society” for the people in a country).

The “State” is the organizing principle of a Nation and determines how it is governed, how its Government is formed and what form it should take.

To go on to politics, Socialism is the belief that the wealth of a nation should be equitably distributed to all the people of that nation. Anarchists believe that the socialist State can only be preserved by distributing the powers of government to as many people as possible, while Communists believe the opposite. Strangely, both believe in an eventual utopia entirely without government.

Randolph Bourne (1886-1918) wrote The State in New York during the First World War. It was reissued in the early 1960s – hence Morton’s critique in Anarchy 31 – and is now available online. “In its incomplete form the essay defines the State, describes its activities, and discusses its historic evolution.” Morton is critical of Bourne’s analysis of the historical development of the State, and thinks he had not read any anarchist theory. His understanding “could have been considerably enhanced had he studied Kropotkin. Conversely, Kropotkin could have benefitted from reading Bourne on War.” And it is his analysis of the State in relation to War that has most influenced me.

 The nation in war-time attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war.

It is this “uniformity of feeling”, intolerance of difference, this “herd feeling” as Bourne inelegantly puts it, which politicians, the class which benefits most from the power of the State, are constantly aspiring to with their confected but often lethal oppositions to Others.

I could go on. I do don’t I? Anzac Day and the glorification of the Military Ideal does that to me. If you’re interested in reading further, both Morton’s and Bourne’s essays are at the links below.

 

H.W. Morton, Randolph Bourne vs The State, Anarchy 31 (Vol 3 No.9) Sept. 1963, Freedom Press, London. here

Randolph Bourne, The State, 1918 here


*Conscription was conducted by a ballot process—the draft. All men were required to register on reaching 20 years of age, but only those whose birthdays were selected in a twice-yearly ballot would be compelled to serve two years in the army and five years in the army reserve. This was the generation entering Australian universities from the mid-1960s.

The Melbourne University Labor Club initially led student opposition to the war and its membership grew until it split in 1968 over the question of whether to be an activist or educative group. From this split new organisations emerged.2 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) established itself in a shared house in Palmerston Street in Carlton which became known as the Centre for Democratic Action. Members of the SDS, Harry Van Moorst and Michael Hamel-Green, explained their philosophy: traditional politics was morally unacceptable and should be replaced by participatory democracy. Collective, decentralised decision-making and direct, non-violent action such as theatre, street demonstrations and leafleting all aimed to empower participants in a new politics.3 In cooperation with the Melbourne University Draft Resisters Union and the Radical Action Movement, SDS urged students to refuse to register for the draft, and led them to declare Union House a place of safety for draft resisters who had gone ‘underground’, hiding from the police.

Suzanne Fairbanks, University of Melbourne archives (here)

An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen

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When I was a kid in the late 1950s the only commercial radio I heard was on the farm during school holidays, the radio in granddad’s ute tuned to 3SH Swan Hill (except around midday when he insisted on Blue Hills and the rural stock prices), playing Bobby Darrin, Dion, Ricky Nelson; I can still sing Vic Dana’s Red Roses for a Blue Lady. Even when I was a teenager the most popular singers on radio included Frank Sinatra, Matt Munro, and Tom Jones, and this at a time when The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had been around for 2 or 3 years. As the 60s passed I got into the Animals, the Loved Ones, Janice Joplin, King Crimson, the Doors – though sadly my all time favourite was and is Roy Orbison – but Sinatra et al were still around.

It was years before I realised that this confusion of singers hadn’t popped up out of nowhere but represented the continuation of a variety of streams – pre-war Swing (Sinatra), African-American Blues and White Country Rock. And of course over time they merged, continued, threw off new streams (and somewhere around Hip-Hop became unlistenable*).

Literature has as many streams as music. And for some reason – maybe with Climate Change its time has come – the stream that has come to the fore recently is Speculative Fiction and in particular Women’s SF – which I have argued elsewhere differs in significant ways from Men’s (aka ‘Mainstream’) SF. I wonder (idly!) if a part of the reason for this emergence -within Literature, rather than off to one side in genre – is the popularity of Margaret Attwood and her resolute refusal to be genre-ised.

In the past few years I have reviewed Jane Rawson (here, here, here), Ellen van Neerven (here), Alexis Wright (here). Charlotte Wood (here), Claire Coleman (here), and, to throw in a guy, Rodney Hall (here) not just because of my ongoing interest in SF but because they are genuinely at the forefront of new literature in Australia. And then there’s also Georgia Blain (here), Nathan Hobby (here), Robert Edeson (here, here) and Sue Parritt (here), of whom only the last is completely ‘straight’ SF.

Krissy Kneen is not an author I know, but this appears to be her sixth novel. It is a mixture of Speculative and Erotic fiction that I enjoyed. As for “streams”, the only direct predecessor I can think of is Linda Jaivin and the lightweight, amusing, sexy Rock ‘n’ Roll Babes from Outer Space (1996).

The novel begins with Caspar, a lecturer in Literature – a guy in the first person, lecturing: “If an author uses first person, a reader is trapped in her or his perspective …” – focusing his attention on the prettiest girl in his class. It soon becomes apparent that Caspar serially has affairs with a girl from each of his classes.

He gets his comeuppence when Liv, a previous afairee, leaves him a gift of a memory stick and a virtual reality suit which enables him to re-live their love-making as she experienced it, and he becomes “trapped in her perspective”. This on its own is a powerful short story. To be a man experiencing his fumblings and shortcomings from the woman’s point of view is intensely humbling,

I still have her skin on me. I still feel her hurt, her disappointment, her terrible bittersweet scent of ennui.

I wonder if the weeks will scour her body from my skin. I will become myself. I will return to myself unchanged because we don’t change, not ever. Or at least, I have not ever before.

 but Kneen’s ambition is greater than this and she leads us on through four more ‘short stories’, each also in the first person, from the POV of a person other than Liv, as Liv ages and refines her use of the suit.

Liv is a researcher working with paedophiles to see if they can use the suit to develop empathy. Her subject, Ronnie becomes a jellyfish, becomes all jellyfish through all time.

Cameron is a – 50 years of science fiction and I can’t recall the word for a robot with human consciousness, ahh, android – an android who looks like a pre-teen boy and who ‘genuinely’ wishes to make love with paedophiles, no. 35 in a sequence of androids who have been progressively “improved” and their predecessors eliminated, happy in his work until he is subverted by a girl his own age, Ellen.

M is trans, in a time when gender reassignment is readily available to minors. She has a genuinely asexual partner but slowly becomes attracted to an old lady, Liv, who is belatedly undertaking her own transition to trans.

Finally the ‘first person’ is Liv, beyond a century old, using all her money to to hire, becoming friends with a beautiful prostitute, in the suit experiencing youth and sex for the last time. In each of the stories Liv is a person who constructs narratives from the captured experiences of herself and others.

If this were one of my narratives I would begin here.

The first time I paid a prostitute to masturbate me was when my body had died. I was nothing more than a collection of thought patterns, memories stored digitally, circuits firing like synapses, and yet this woman was slipping her fingers up and inside me.

Kneen is an accomplished writer, melding metafiction, erotica and speculation to produce entertaining yet thoughtful fiction. If she were a singer I think she would be Ani DiFranco.

 

Krissy Kneen, An Uncertain Grace, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2017

see also: Kate W’s review at booksaremyfavouriteandbest (here)


*Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer shows how much I know – New Yorker