Sea Lake

Journal: 036



Work fell in a hole in June and I’ve been waiting weeks between trips. Getting stuff done? Not as much as I’d wish. Even in Perth I put off making appointments in case a job comes up. It doesn’t, or not very often. Sam – or more likely Dragan, who’s been sent on extended stress leave to Serbia, again – stuffed up a contract worth 10 loads a week which means they don’t have enough for themselves let alone me.

There’s a marketplace, like ebay for trucks, where casual (ie. one-off) loads are offered. I price all the ones that suit me. A few weeks ago I won a wide load to Southern Cross (about 400 km east of Perth); over the course of two or three weeks I was offered a couple of others but not at the right money; then last Thursday week I won a truck to go back to Melbourne. In Melbourne I was lucky enough to score a load straight back home. So here I am, Milly making tea and me reading The Magic Pudding to GK’s 8 & 10.

I came out of Melbourne early Wednesday, straight up the Calder, tooted as I went past MST’s country estate, ditto for B3 outside Bendigo, and pulled up at Sea Lake, mum’s old home town, to top up supplies and look around for the first time in more than 50 years. As farms got bigger and farmers got older, ie. past child bearing, country towns shrunk alarmingly and it looked for a while in the 1980s as if Sea Lake might become derelict, but they seem now to have stabilised and even to have polished some of the rough edges. There was a story in the paper (the Age I suppose) recently that Chinese tourists are coming in large numbers to photograph Lake Tyrell, the huge salt pan to the north, so that might be part of the reason, and Australians driving round to see the painted silos must be part of it too.

The last time I can remember coming to the shops here, Granddad, Dad and I had brought a load of sheep into the saleyards and then gone into town, to get stuff for Grandma no doubt. Dad bought me an ice cream but wouldn’t let me eat the cone all the way to the bottom because my “hands were sheepy”.

You can imagine I was overjoyed, this time, to discover a community art gallery and second hand bookshop opposite the supermarket, and at $2 per book I decimated their classics. Below are a couple of brilliant Lake Tyrell photos from the gallery (with the permission of the volunteers) by Robert Poynton and Ron Hawkins respectively. The prints are around $300 ea.



What I bought

Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party & other stories
E Temple Thurston, May Eve or the Tinker of Ballinatray (inscribed to EW McDonald March 1, 1928)
Louisa May Alcott, Rose in Bloom
Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
Ann Radcliffe (author of Udolpho), The Italian (1797)
Rosaleen Love (F, Aus), The Total Devotion Machine & other stories, The Women’s Press – SF, 1989

Recent audiobooks 

Anne McCaffrey (F, USA), All the Weyrs of Pern (1991)- SF
Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Atonement (2001) – Lit.Fic
Leslie Charteris (M, Eng), Señor Saint (1958) – Crime
Lisa Gardner (F, USA), Three Truths and a Lie (2015) – Crime
EM Forster (M, Eng), A Room with a View (1908) – Lit.Fic
Giles Foden (M, Eng), The Last King of Scotland (1998) – ?
John Scalzi (M, USA), The End of All Things (2015) – SF
Aaron Elkins (M, USA), A Deceptive Clarity (1987) – Crime
Aldous Huxley (M, Eng), Island (1962) – Lit.Fic

After a decade of audiobooks, something new (to me). Three of the books above go on into the first part of new books, two of them without warning, which presumably I am then meant to rush out and buy. Disconcerting and annoying!

Currently reading

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill
Gerald Murnane, A Season on Earth
Christopher Lee ed., Turning the Century
Charmian Clift, Honour’s Mimic
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization

Recent Film etc.

2040, Just OK
New Sea Change, Love it!



44 thoughts on “Sea Lake

  1. I pass so many road trains and now wonder if one of them is you! I go in Merredin once every couple of months, and on occasion, Southern Cross, too. I have Mansfield’s Garden Party somewhere in my library. Always feels good to buy a few old books.


  2. I love love love the Sea Lake sign: “Vibrant small town – mammoth community energy – things happen here!” Good for them! Maybe next year will be my Mallee year. I really wanted it to be this year but we just couldn’t carve out that extra time.

    I love that you are truck that pulls over to let people pass. We do that in our little sedan if we are driving under the speed limit in an area new to us – we want to look around, or, more likely, it’s an undivided road with bends that we don’t know well enough. It’s courteous, but not many people do it.

    Anyhow, I hope work picks up for you.


    • I mostly drive under the speed limit, spending three or four thousand a week on fuel does that to you (though not, it seems to most of my mates). I hope you get to the mallee eventually. I can’t think of any literary connections, though a great aunt wrote a memoir, While the Mallee Roots Burn, which I’ve never read.


      • Well, doesn’t Murnane live there? His novels tend not to name places but I wonder if The plains, for example, is inspired by a place like the Mallee. (Even if he wrote it long before he moved there?!)

        Also, I’ve read a few novels in or near the Mallee recently – but perhaps not necessarily particularly literary ones. It sounds, though, like it could be a great environment for a gritty Aussie novel.


      • Murnane lives in the Wimmera, south of the mallee, and as a child lived for a while in Bendigo (near but not of the mallee and with much different geology and flora). Did Murnane move to Goroke because those were the plains he imagined? I think so. Though for maybe no reason at all, I usually think of the green, open country of Western Victoria (ie. even further south than he is now)

        “a sprawling homestead out of sight of the nearest road, which would have appeared as one of the faintly coloured least of roads if ever I had seen it on some or another map of some or another of the mostly level grassy landscapes that seem often to lie in some or another far western district of my mind.” Border Districts


  3. I have consulted Peter Pierce’s Oxford Literary Guide to Australia, and (assuming he and I have our geography correct) can advise that you could undertake a literary trail on your next trip:

    * Boort: poet, short-story writer and novelist Myra Morris was born there in 1893
    * Chinkapook: John Shaw Neilson’s family farmed here and the place gets a mention in Douglas Stewarts poem about the 1917 mice plague ‘The Mice of Chinkapook’)
    * Hattah: Ben Eggleton was a ranger in the national park and wrote such titles ‘The Bull Ant Country (1980) and ‘The Little People of the Kulkyne’ (1983). Alan Marshall often visited it. Mary Chandler wrote ‘Tribal Lands to National Park’ in 1980.
    * ?MInimay (it’s in the Mallee electoral division, but may be in the geographical Wimmera) John Shaw Neilson’s father took a selection there in 1881, and JSN went to school there, see his poem ‘The Poor, Poor Country’
    * Murrabit, Rolf Boldrewood had a sheep farm there from 1858 until forced to sell out in 1863.
    *?Red Cliffs (it’s in the Sunraysia district but in the Mallee electoral division) Site of the largest of the soldier settlement schemes after the Great War. Mary Chandler wrote its history in ‘Against the Odds’ (1979).
    * Sea Lake: John Shaw Neilson again, came to farm in 1895 and saw ‘rabbits by the hundred thousand.’ In 1900 he (a glutton for punishment) moved further into the Mallee at Eureka.

    Authors who set their works there include colonial poet CA Sherard (‘Lost in the Mallee’), Nancy Cato’s poem ‘Mallee Farmer’, and one that might have special appeal for you, ‘Tractor Driver in the Mallee; by Cyril Goode. There’s also a novel called ‘Small Town Rising’ (1981) by Bill Green, for which Sea Lake or Swan Hill are the possible contenders for his fictional town.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought I knew Victoria very well, but I have had to look up a few of these place names, and if I rule them out – because I’m a geographical pedant – it’s not because I don’t appreciate you suggesting them.

      Minimay is in the Wimmera, due west of Goroke (Murnane’s home on the plains)
      Murrabit is on the Murray, 50 km upstream (or south east) of Swan Hill. Rule it in! I would like to know more about the Boldrewood connection, Rose Boldrewood’s memoir maybe. (I checked to see if Joseph Furphy’s property was close, but it was another 100km further south east, in Central Victoria).
      Eureka – I wonder if this was the name of a property. Google maps only allows Eureka in Ballarat. After further investigation: ADB says “Parish of Eureka 26 miles north of Sea Lake”, which means just north of Lake Tyrell (Mallee central!)
      Red Cliffs – it hadn’t occurred to me that the Sunraysia might be its own district and not just the irrigation area around Mildura. Rule it in too.

      Another novel set in the Mallee, although only by accident, Jane Harper clearly did not understand what it meant to situate a country town 500 km from Melbourne, is The Dry. I’ll seek out Small Town Rising but clearly if I’m to write a literary post about the Mallee it’s going to involve more poetry than I’m comfortable with.

      Also, from Wikipedia –
      In 1964 the Nhill and District Historical Society erected a monument to Neilson. In 1972 the cottage birthplace of Neilson was relocated from Penola [SA] to a park in Nhill, as the John Shaw Neilson National Memorial Cottage. Since 2005 the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival have hosted the John Shaw Neilson Art Prize, for visual works inspired by the poet.


      • I’m ok with your geographical pedantry: I’ve never been further than Swan Hill and don’t know the area at all. (I keep promising myself to go to Mildura, but it’s a very long drive. If we ever get round to it, we’ll take a train as far as we can and then hire a car.)
        I’ve emailed The Grisly Wife Bookshop to see if they have a copy of Small Town Rising, because there is a very faint possibility that Bill Green is a relation on the paternal side of The Offspring. (Though as I used to say when making a brief foray into their family history, if they didn’t come out here as Irish convicts they were coming out to join the rest of the family who were. The extended family was huge and there were half a dozen Bill Greens so there may not be any connection beyond the name.) So don’t rush into getting a copy; I’ll send you mine if I get one.
        But from what I know of that family history, conditions were not conducive to a literary life. Being literate beyond primary school wasn’t commonplace, not for people born in the 1920s and coming of age during WW2. My Ex MIL’s siblings were the first in the family to get their Merit Certificate (equivalent to Year 8) which was considered a Very Big Deal in that place at that time, and testament to the value their barely literate father put on education. My MIL was one of only three (3) students in her Leaving class (equivalent to Year 11). The school and its three Leaving students were so poor that they had to share single copies of text books and the reading list. (This is partly why I get irritated by the term ‘white privilege’. Yes, of course they were ‘privileged’ to be able to get that far, but family anecdotes and photos that I have show that they were desperately poor, (especially, but not only during the Depression) and they achieved these remarkable educational attainments only through enormous sacrifices by their parents.)
        There was susso work, I believe, during the Depression, because on a road trip to Swan Hill my MIL pointed out irrigation channels of the type that that her father dug at that time. (You know the ones, we taxpayers have had to pay to upgrade them under the national water plan, and no wonder, from what I saw, the wastage would be phenomenal from those open channels). It would be interesting to know whether unemployed men went ‘on the track’ to the Mallee, or if (as we read in The Pea Pickers) most of that seasonal work was down Gippsland Way.
        PS I’ve just had a reply from John at The Grisly Wife. He has three lovely copies complete with dustjacket – and one of them is about to become mine!


      • Funnily enough Bill Green is also Milly’s brother’s name. He comments here about once every two years. Thank you very much for the offer of a loan of the book – I look forward to it. It’s 60 miles from Swan Hill to Sea Lake, a drive I did quite often as a kid. There used to be a train to Mildura called the Vinelander. I took the rail car to Ouyen and then the Vinelander to Melbourne in 1960 and 1962 to go to school camps at Somers and Portsea. Does it still exist? I don’t know.
        It’s not a literary connection but there were Holloways (not related) at Swan Hill when Bourke & Wills passed through, staying with them for a couple of days.
        I wrote about Mallee educations early on (‘Educating Women’). Very few of mum’s family stayed on past leaving age – 14 or 15 – including Mum’s siblings, so up to 1962.
        The ending of the ‘channels’ has meant the end of dams, and of open water generally eg Green Lake south of Sea Lake, and the end of water for gardens too. And has had the unitended consequence of reducing ground water and water for trees, so that effectively, flows to irrigators have increased and environmental flows have decreased.
        The Sunraysia and the Goulburn Valley have always needed seasonal workers, and Eve Langley and her sister also worked around Rutherglen and further north (in NSW). Mum’s a little too young to remember the Depression though when I was a kid there were still “swaggies” living in shanties made of corrugated iron and flattened kerosene tins in the scrub on the edges of towns.
        Thanks for Fathers Day wishes. My family has held together surprisingly well despite my and Millie’s ‘difficulties’ and I know how much you miss your father.


    • Thanks Bill, I’m not really clear on the Wimmera versus the Mallee and have tended to combine them a bit. Clearly I need to get it right.

      Well done Lisa. And there’s the recent Mallee Boys, which I reviewed, and I think you did?


      • I’m not going to look this up, but work on a dividing line (between Mallee and Wimmera) say parallel with and 50 km north of the Western Hwy. The difference is trees and rainfall. The Mallee has about 10 inches a year, the soil is loose sand over limestone and the trees are all … mallee scrub. The Wimmera has more rain, better soil and proper gum trees (single trunk).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know, I don’t read much of it because most of it is crime.
        Australia, as I think I’ve noted before, is somewhat short on some of the characteristics of the gothic, i.e. haunted castles, family curses, ghosts and vampires. We have to make do with death and decay, and madness, (though the latter is probably off-limits these days). The problem is that places like the Mallee don’t offer much in the way of long winding corridors or luxuriant vegetation for the pursuit scenes… there was an outback chase scene in something I was silly enough to waste my time on recently, and since it was just two vehicles raising a cloud of dust on a long straight road, it was just a matter of which one had either the more powerful engine or more petrol. Tasmania, OTOH, has misty mountains and vegetation to get lost in even if you have a GPS…


      • I wrote a Monday musings some times ago (it was brief) on 19th Century Australian Gothic, saying “19th century Australian writers didn’t always need the supernatural to convey horror, evoke fear and portray disjunction between desire/hope and harsh reality. They had the forbidding Australian landscape, the threat of becoming lost in or being destroyed by that landscape, and the harsh unyielding authority of colonial male power. Who needed castle ghosts in this situation? This is not to say that the supernatural never appeared in Australian writing, but that this writing could, and often did, convey a Gothic sense of horror and dread through the concrete realities of 19th century Australian life.” I have also mentioned Tasmanian Gothic in specific reviews, saying it more closely matches traditional Gothic for the reasons you say. But my sense is that if you understand the Gothic to be something really forbidding/oppressive in your environment/place, then we can identify an Australian outback Gothic tradition? It’s all, of course, in the definition!


      • The Gums driving tour of north-western Vic might start with Mary Gaunt and HHR at Rutherglen, move on to Furphy at Lake Cooper, Bendigo (I’ll get you a guided tour of the goldrush era TAFE library with dome!). Do want to see Mt Arapiles – in that case you can play a round of golf with a man who imagines a life in the western plains in a southern state, then Horsham – there was a novel called Wimmera set there, Nhil – check out Lisa’s poet. A day’s adventure driving through the Big Desert to Murrayville – a literary connection there will need research. Make you way back via Pink Lake, Ouyen, Hattah to Mildura. Come home via Swan Hill and the Riverina (Tom Collins country, but also Carey’s Ned Kelly at Jerilderee). Do you I think I should research this and write you a pre-trip post?


      • I understand I have a while. I’ll think up an anti-clockwise lit.trip that meets your requirements (Overnight glamping sites will be up to you). Perhaps we can persuade Mr & Mrs LitLover to dine with us at that marvellous looking hotel at the top of the page.

        Liked by 1 person

      • My Australian Gothic starts and stops with Wake in Fright – my ignorance, not because I don’t think there are other examples. The movie Badlands – maybe the best movie ever made – had a car chase on flat farmland, one car (with Sissy Spacek and Martin … Charlie’s father) and an almost endless tail of police cars.

        Does Gothic imply gloom? Perhaps for Mallee Gothic dangers could materialise out of nil-visibility sandstorms – it did for two trucks a week or two ago. Rolling sandhills could move on to expose a mysterious tomb. Hitchikers could be attacked by swarms of red-belly black snakes and copperheads. The heroine dashes into the scrub at dusk and becomes hopelessly entwined in snoddygobble.


  4. I enjoyed this trip of yours very much. In 2010 I rode my 250cc scooter to Longreach, Rockhaampton and back to Hobart with a large group. I remember a road train driver stopped across the street from Charleville , came across to tell us bikers about the speed trap ahead. Then I pointed to my scooter and he laughed. Nice of him to warn us as I was the only scooter in a very large group.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The train (thanks to Jeff Kennett) now stops at Swan Hill. You can take a bus, but my experiences with regional buses has been universally horrible. (Cramped, no dining car or toilet, badly behaved children, people listening to over-loud music, drunks, no light to read by once it’s dark).
    So the best bet is to enjoy the train as far as it goes (I love train travel, especially now that we have Quiet Carriages) and then hire a car.
    You can fly too, but (even though The Offspring is a Charter Pilot who also teaches other people to fly planes) I will do almost anything to avoid flying.


  6. Not once in my life would I ever think of sending someone off to Serbia for rest and relaxation. Is Dragan from Serbia?

    I read the paragraph about your hands being too “sheepy” to my husband, and we had a good laugh. I always enjoy the little memories you share; you capture those fun, brief moments that remind me of Hilary Mantel’s memoir, Giving Up the Ghost.

    I’ve not yet read Udolpho, but it’s been on my list. Apparently, this is the book Jane Austen was parodying when she wrote Northanger Abbey.


    • Dragan’s father came out from Serbia as a boy, to join his grandfather who was already in Perth. The family have maintained the connection, both with the big Serbian community here, and “back home”.
      I’m glad you’re not tired yet of me living and reliving my life such as it is, in my blog.
      And yes Udolpho was I think hugely influential in its time, but also emblematic of a certain style of exaggerated ‘gothic’, romance writing which Austen parodied as a young writer, first in Love & Freindship, then in Northanger Abbey.


      • I like the way you write about your childhood because it’s never a life-changing moment (that I can remember), but something small that’s just got the right diction to hit me in the heart and stick in my mind.


      • Thank you. That’s something interesting to think about – have I had a life changing moment? I was rescued from drowning a couple of times, but otherwise, no.


  7. […] John Arnold, editor of the Latrobe Journal amongst other notable activities, did the honours with a witty speech, which referenced The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia by the late Peter Pierce.   I have a copy of this book, which used to live in the glovebox of the car, so that on our travels we could hunt out any sites of literary pilgrimage.  As John said, all that information is now available at Wikipedia via our phones — but that is not much good in parts of the Hunter Valley and the Gold Coast, and in plenty of other places not so remote as you might think, because there is no phone reception.  (Yes, Australia, 21st century, thank you to the clowns in Canberra and Malcolm Turnbull in particular who replaced Kevin Rudd’s world standard NBN with an unfunny joke).  So a book is still a very good backup plan, and my copy of the Literary Guide goes back in the glovebox whenever we are venturing beyond Melbourne.  In the meantime it lives on the reference shelf by my desk, and was most recently used in conversation with Bill at The Australian Legend about sites for a possible literary trail in the … […]


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