Driving, Reading, Writing

Journal: 013

LochielMonsta_03-sq

A real journal for a change. It’s Saturday, I’m in Brisbane. Here’s how the week went.

Fri 3 Aug. Home waiting for a load. I get an email from work:

Sorry to be annoying but that’s what women do right?

As you may know, Dragan will be taking a leave of absence  which I know I hear you sigh in the background relieved!  He will be out of contact for approx 2 months on a much needed family holiday.  … myself  and the rest of the team … will be here to assist you.  [new Brisbane manager] didn’t work out and will be finishing this week.

[more in the shape up or ship out vein]

At the end of the day Transport Never Stops!  You have chosen to be a Truck Driver,  enjoy the journey.

I don’t recognise the name but it seems Dragan’s sister is going to whip us all into shape.

Go round to Milly’s for tea. Teenage granddaughter is meant to be there but when she finally phones it’s from Fremantle station. I drive down to pick her up. It’s a late, late meal

Sat 4 Aug. Up early, get a fortnight’s food & clothes together, load the ute. Back to Milly’s. Drive teenage granddaughter back to Freo. She has a 9.00 am start at Maccas. Speak to Dragan, he’s happy with the way I, his only subby, am fitting in, looking forward to summer in Serbia. Run one trailer up to the road train assembly at Northam, 100 km east. No driver to bring up the second, so I do it myself. On way by 4.00 pm.

Sun 5 Aug. Run into my old boss at Norseman BP. Stop for a chat. He runs Adelaide Kalgoorlie Karratha. Leaves the boring stuff, Perth – Goldfields to his drivers.

Mon 6 Aug. Late in the afternoon, road train right into Port Adelaide. The depot where I’m to unload is already shut for the day.

Tue 7 Aug. A long, long day! The gates open at 6.00 but it’s nearly 8.00 before the forkies turn to me. A transport co nearby has a roadtrain load to Bris. I use their depot to break-up. Pick up is from Mt Compass, turns out that’s actually Victor Harbour, 80 km south. Adelaide doesn’t change. South Rd is a freeway at the northern end, but for just 5 km, after that it’s stop lights and city traffic all the way, another brief Motorway section, and then some country hills (McLaren Vale if you’re a wine person). It’s mid afternoon before the first trailer is loaded, if I’m back quick night shift will load the second. Back to the depot, swap trailers, the depot manager promises not to lock up before I’m done. All the way down South Rd again in evening peak hour, load, return to the Port, fuel, hook up, head out. Around Lochiel I’m out of hours, out of energy, bed time. If you’ve read Eve Salis’ Hiam you’ll recognise the Lochiel Tyre Monster.

Wed 8 Aug. Over the Flinders Ranges to Gladstone, Jamestown, Peterborough, villages of limestone cottages a hundred years old right on the road, no front yard, then out onto the moonscape plains Yunta, Coburn, Broken Hill, Wilcannia – the once great Darling just a drain carrying sickly green agricultural run-off, river red gums stranded way up the banks, roots reaching down 20, 30 feet to what little water is left – turn north at Cobar to Bourke, then east again, Brewarrina, Walgett.

Thur 9 Aug. Mooree, Goodiwindi once a great forest all this country, still being cleared, burnt off, laser levelled, irrigated with water stolen from the Darling, Bogan, Barwon, McIntyre Rivers by big agri-business and their lackeys in Federal and State parliaments. Up to Toowoomba, hand rear trailer off to Tony who’s waiting on the road in. Through town and down the Range, 30 kph in low gear, out into the lush Lockyer Valley.  Depot. I’m booked to unload first thing in the morning. BP Rocklea for tea. Over the Gateway Bridge. Park up by the wharves on the north side. Sleep.

Fri 10 Aug. Unload. Back to Depot and mandatory 24 hour break. Write up Jane Austen in the lunchroom. Wash the truck. Do some shopping at Redlands Centre. Have horrible, greasy battered ‘barramundi’ for lunch. Toasted sandwiches and one gin & grapefruit for tea. Jason and some drivers are unloading, reloading trailers till late at night. No-one speaks to me, doesn’t look good.

20180812_125731

Sat. 11 Aug. As expected, no load home. Consider taking a train into town, spending a couple of nights in a hotel, shop for books, eat out. Can’t be bothered. Write up a post on my father, hope that’s out of my system now! You’ll see it soon but I have a couple of others to do first. A guy comes and sits in the lunchroom with me, Bruce, a talker not a reader. He lives in his truck, drug addict children have used up all his money. We make miles across Australia and America through the afternoon as I keep an eye on Hawthorn – Geelong on the laptop. Old high school girlfriend writes to me, she’s been reading my posts. Warn her I’ll write about her, let her choose her own name.

Real time now. I’m off down the pub for tea.

It’s a walk of a kilometre or so, in the gathering dark, down past the marshalling yards. I use the pedestrian bridge at the Redlands station to cross the line, there’s a dozen girls, teens and pre-teens, Aboriginal, white and one Sudanese (I say Sudanese but how would I know really) hanging out. One 11-12 year old has stuff spread out across one step, a make-up kit maybe, I call out to her and she moves it, thanks me politely, cheekily. Redlands is probably an outer suburb of Ipswich rather than Brisbane, poor working class, fibro houses, light industry, the railways, a tired 30s pub appears deserted and I go to the other one, two storey Federation weatherboard with big verandahs. Old style, 1980s say, inside with a TAB and pokies, customers all my age. I have the $6 calamari special and a couple of beers.

Sun 12 Aug. Writing. Reading. Go for a walk.

Tomorrow 6 am I have the truck booked in for a service, and a trailer to load.

 

Recent audiobooks

Rudyard Kipling (M, Eng), The Man Who would be King (1888)
Martin Cruz Smith (M, USA), The Girl from Venice (2016)
Jan Jones (F, Eng), Fair Deception (2008)
Herman Koch (M, Netherlands), Dear Mr M (2014)
Ruth Ware (F, Eng), The Lying Game (2017)
Deanna Sletten (F, USA), Finding Libbie (2016)
Jo Nesbo (M, Swe, Macbeth (2018)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Started Early, Took My Dog (2010)
Lee Child (M, USA), One Shot (2005)
Jane Austen (F, Eng), Sense & Sensibility (1811)

Currently reading

Faith Richmond, Remembrance
Anna Kavan, Ice

Advertisements

Alien Son, Judah Waten

51-UeTseAlL._SX319_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As a boy in the bush one of my great freedoms, especially when I was 13 or 14, was to go on weekend camps with 3 or 4 other boys from the Macarthur scout troop to Mt Eccles (now Budj Bim), to the sandhills of Yambuk on the wild coast west of Port Fairy, or just to a paddock along the Eumeralla, with no adults to stop us eeling, swimming, caving (Mt Eccles is a volcanic crater with a bottomless lake and extensive caves) or just sitting around a fire telling tall stories. I loved the Scouts (and they taught me to tie the knots I’ve used ever since as a truck driver). At the end of 1964 I attended the national Jamboree at Dandenong, a much more ordered affair than I was used to, and we boys from Western Victoria shared tents with boys from Caulfield. And there I had pointed out to me a boy who was a Jew! I’m sure there was more than one, but the point is that up till that day Jews for me were figures from books. It was a couple more years before I read Alien Son (1952) but it is no surprise that it was seized on by educators as an introduction to the Jewish immigrant experience in Australia.

Judah Waten (1911-1985) was Jewish, Russian, Communist and of course Australian, known to all school children of my generation for this account of his growing up in Perth and Melbourne after the First World War.

Waten joined the Communist Party of Australia while still at University High, was expelled in 1935 for ‘petty-bourgeois irresponsibilities’, rejoined and was expelled a couple of more times before making it to the national committee in 1967-70, but resigned in 1972 after the CPA went all hippy, and joined the pro-Soviet Socialist Party of Australia. He devoted much of his life to communist and Jewish activism rather than holding down a steady job, though ironically he was employed by the Tax Office during WWII, wrote 8 novels, 3 memoirs and an important history of the Depression.

As a critic Waten penned some of the earliest essays on migrant writing in Australia. From 1967 he reviewed widely for the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. He was awarded an Australia Council writer’s fellowship (1975) and posthumously the Patrick White award (1985). He served (1973-74) on the Literature Board of the Australia Council and was appointed AM in 1979.

His significance to Australian literature as a Jewish-Australian writer, a communist writer and a writer on the migrant experience remains considerable despite the limitations of his restrained realist style. (ADB)

You can imagine that these days he would be more likely to be deported (he was born in Odessa) than to be awarded an AM.

During the whole of Alien Son, which takes the form of a series of linked, boyhood reminiscences, Waten resolutely refuses to give names to locations or dates to events. The first chapter, ‘To a Country Town’, begins “Father said we should have to leave the city.” You will have to take my word for it that “the city” is Perth and the year maybe 1916. The country town I can only guess – it is a few hours by horse and cart out of the city and does not appear to involve crossing the Darling Escarpment so I will hazard Gin Gin, 80 kms north.

Later, when they leave WA and move to Melbourne by boat, again the cities aren’t named but are easy to visualise as the ship leaves Fremantle, calls in at Adelaide and docks in Port Melbourne.

Father and Mother are almost stock figures from Jewish emigrant literature, Father a rag and bone man, Mother resolutely stay-at-home, pining for a lost Europe, really lost with the Great War and the 1917 Revolution, though neither gets much of a mention.

Waten’s politics seemingly play little part in the choices he makes of which stories to tell though later stories concern an Aboriginal family living in their street (in Melbourne), and a strike, leading to a lock-out, on the wharves. Although Judah roams widely around the surrounding suburbs, with his mates and with his father, Waten’s big concern is his mother who is determined not to fit in.

[Father] was no sooner in Australia than he put away all thoughts of his homeland and he began to regard the new country as his permanent home …

It was different for Mother. Before she was one day off the ship she wanted to go back. The impressions she gained on that first day remained with her all her life. It seemed there was an irritatingly superior air about the people she met, the customs officials, the cab men, the agent of the new house. Their faces expressed something ironical and sympathetic, something friendly and at the same time condescending … she never forgave them for treating her as if she were in need of their good-natured tolerance.

Wherever they go, in the WA country town and later in the inner suburbs of Melbourne (North Carlton), Father and Mother find community with fellow Jews, but Judah, who I don’t think is anywhere named, becomes increasingly Australian and this is disappointing in a way as the book becomes just one of a number of similar Australian memoirs, for example TAG Hungerford’s (here) which are as well much more evocative of time and place.

Still, when we were at school it was important that we come to terms with the huge and ongoing waves of post-WWII immigration and reading and discussing Alien Son was a small but significant part of that.

 

Judah Waten, Alien Son, Angus & Robertson, 1952. Sun Books (with a gold cover if I remember my old school copy) 1965. Picador, 1993 (pictured above. Cover painting, Yosl Bergner)

Honour & Other People’s Children, Helen Garner

220px-Honour&OtherPeoplesChildren.jpg

Honour and Other People’s Children are novellas of 56 and 100 pp respectively. The front cover of my copy looks like the one above but adds “by the author of the best-seller, Monkey Grip”. Monkey Grip (1977), a fictionalisation of Garner’s experiences as a single mother living with a drug addict in inner Melbourne, was Garner’s first novel, coming out when she was 35, and after she was sacked as a teacher for writing an article about discussing sexuality with her students.

So this is Garner’s second. Rather slight, just slices of life – I guess her publisher was pushing her to take advantage of her initial success – with interestingly, more distance between the author and her protagonists than in her other works. Garner is of course famous for writing about herself and her friends, only loosely fictionalized, but if she is in these stories then she’s not so blatant about it. Though perhaps it’s just that they are both in third person.

Honour

Honour is the story of Kathleen, Frank, Jenny, all thirtyish, and Flo aged 6, told from Kath’s point of view. Frank has left Kath and Flo to live with Jenny and now he wants not just a divorce from Kath but for Flo to live with him and Jenny.

The setting of course is the inner suburbs of Melbourne, around Melbourne Uni, in the 1980s when gentrification was well underway in Parkville and Carlton, but not so much in North Carlton, North Fitzroy and the nearer parts of Brunswick, and beyond them, not at all.

Sometimes when you read Helen Garner you can work out, almost to the street, where she/her protagonist is living, by where she walks and the trams she takes. This story feels like Brunswick, once working class, ‘modernized’ by Greeks and Italians in the 60s and 70s before they moved on and out to bigger suburban houses, then taken over by young, Anglo bargain hunters. In fact, to get completely sidetracked by geography, it must be West Brunswick:

The house was at the bottom of a dead-end road with narrow, yellowing nature strips, and a railway line running across its very end like stitches closing a bag… Its facade, a triangle on top of a square, was slightly awry and painted the aqua colour favoured by Greek landlords.

In the late 60s when I first came to Melbourne, Brunswick Rd, Dawson St and all the other east-west roads that crossed that line had big white wooden gates that were opened and closed by a railway man in a little wooden hut; Brunswick was industrial, with factories and transport depots; and the Sarah Sands‘ customers had all lived through the Battle of Britain and if you went there on a Saturday night for the singing and dancing you could imagine Lancaster bombers overhead.

By the 80s that was just about all gone, Brunswick was seedy residential, and in Garner’s work implied rather than described, but unmistakably Melbourne. I digress. Kathleen and Frank have been happily separated for some time and both are surprised that he wants a divorce.

‘You see’, he began in a gentler voice, with his head on one side, ‘I’ve always thought I’d go on being related to you, for the rest of my life.’

Golly, that strikes a chord! The story meanders round a bit, establishing the connections between Kath and Frank, and the very knowing relationship Flo has with Kath. Kath and Jenny as you might expect have an awkward relationship, but Flo dreams that they might all live together. And in Garner’s world of share houses and cooperative living it is possible that they might. As the story ends Flo has persuaded her two mothers to sit facing each other on a seesaw:

It rose without haste, sweetly, to the level, steadied and stopped. They hung in the dark, airily balancing, motionless.

Other People’s Children

The second story has a completely new cast and is about the difficulties rather than the possibilities of shared living, about a share house in Fitzroy, say, which Garner contrasts with another house in Prahran, south of the river, where they just can’t do it right.

Scotty is a school teacher unhappy with her lumpy body, committed to cooperative living, but bossy with it. Ruth is a deserted mother of two with a complaisant daughter and a feral young son. Scotty and Ruth had lived in a happy, noisy women’s share house but the lease had run out and the best Scotty could find for them was this smaller house. The other tenant is a musician, Alex.

In the Prahran house Madigan, an inarticulate, unemployable, “great lump of a fellow”, has a ‘room’ which is a actually “a converted shed that sagged against the back fence”. His housemates are hippies. “The women worked at odd things, tolerated the three children of one of them, cooked huge, ill-assorted vegetarian meals, and listened respectfully to the opinions of the men, all of whom were musicians of one stripe or another.”

Madigan is a musician too, plays the mouth organ. The point of the story, I guess, is Ruth working up the courage to break free from Scotty, but the climax is a pub gig, Madigan up front leading Alex’s band and Scotty drunk, dancing: “… Madigan working away at the centre microphone … peeling off high, sheer ribbons of sound. Everyone was dancing.”

The last time I lived in a share house, in Drummond St, Carlton, next door to the police station, I was in my early 20s and the Young Bride and I were just back, unemployed, after a year in Queensland. I was chasing driving jobs, but the others were student teachers, on bursaries, primly middle class, house-sharing an economic rather than a political option, for us as well as them, and YB and I were soon in a little house at the coal yard end of Alfred Crescent.

The women and men of Garner’s households are a decade older, sharing is how they live. Garner knows them and dissects the tensions of their lives with wit, finesse and pellucid prose.

 

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children, McPhee Gribble, 1980 (Cover pic of Penguin edition, 1982)

Map of inner Melbourne (here). Brunswick is at the top and Prahran bottom right. Carlton isn’t named but is the area immediately to the right of Melbourne Uni in the centre. Google maps is very poor at showing railway lines, but the line to the northern suburbs (the Craigieburn line?) runs from south to north up the centre of the map.

We were not here first

Journal: 012

Nifty Road Sept '13 (1)

We were not here first. It seems self-evident now and was in fact acknowledged by writers from Watkin Tench onwards. Unfortunately though, our behaviour and in particular our legal system, was based on the conflicting ideas that there was no one here in 1788; or that there was but their perceived failure to build houses, engage in intensive agriculture meant that their presence didn’t count; or that there wasn’t a war but they lost anyway and Australia was ours by right of conquest.

That was all swept away, theoretically at least, by a combination of the (Commonwealth) Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Mabo Case (1982-90) in which the High Court ruled (1) that states – in this case Queensland – could not pass laws which conflicted with the Racial Discrimination Act; and (2) that wherever the rules and customs of the indigenous inhabitants – in this case the Mer people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait north of Queensland – have continued without explicit extinguishment by state law, then the land remains theirs.

The Native Title Act of 1993 which was meant to give effect to the Mabo decision in fact interpreted it as narrowly as possible, in order of course to give the greatest possible advantage to grazing and mining interests, with near impossible definitions of continuing occupation for example, when so many indigenous people were forced onto reservations or had drifted in to provincial centres. My own opinion is that all crown land, including leasehold – which is to say, most of outback Australia – should be acknowledged as belonging to the original inhabitants and that we should only then negotiate a treaty for its ongoing use by all Australians. That is, that the Aboriginal Land Councils instead of being supplicants should be able to negotiate from a position of relative strength.

As part of my own, belated education about what it means to live in a shared country I have been increasingly careful to identify whose land it is that I am talking about/driving on in my reviews and journals. But in my last post ‘The Heaviest, Longest Run in the World‘, in concentrating on the driving experience (and the word count!) I said nothing about whose land it was and I want to rectify that here.

In general, because this is where I live, I am best informed about the indigenous nations of Western Australia – though I still have a long way to go! – but as I go on I will do my best to learn and write about everyone whose land I cross.

As I’ve written previously, Perth, the south-west and the wheatbelt (except around Geraldton) are Noongar country. Going north from Perth on the Great Northern Highway we cross the Moore River at New Norcia. The infamous Mogumber Moore River Settlement is just a few kilometres west. I have written about it a few times, in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence of course, but also in relation to Kim Scott and Jack Davis. Molly, Daisy and Gracie, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls headed north from Mogumber before striking east and would have crossed the Highway (if it existed back in 1931) a bit south of Wubin. You don’t see many Aboriginals in these little wheatbelt towns and I imagine they have mostly drifted in to Perth or to provincial centres like Northam and Moora.

Since reading Scott I have also become conscious of the different language groups within the Noongars. The AIATSIS map says the language spoken in the area up to Wubin is Balardung.

Separating Wubin and the Murchison goldfield towns of Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra is 300 km of scrub and desert. About 100 km up, the Irwin River rises near Mt Gibson and flows down to the coast at Dongara south of Geraldton. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marks the border between Noongar and Yamaji country. The various language groups within the Yamaji nation occupy the land from south of Geraldton to north of Carnarvon, on the coast, and inland to the headwaters of the Murchison and Gascoyne Rivers (as best as I can ascertain, which applies to everything I write here).

I wrote about the Yamaji for the first time in my review of Papertalk Green and Kinsella’s False Claims of Colonial Thieves. The Yamaji are bordered to the east by Western Desert people. Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra aren’t big towns and they all have active gold mines, but they also have substantial Aboriginal populations, which are probably these days a mixture of Martu from the north, Yamaji, and Ngaatjatjarra from out towards the NT and SA border. There used to be reports of ‘trouble’ in the towns but I haven’t heard any in the last decade. Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis, a Ngaatjatjarra woman, writes of her family’s move, in the 1960s, in from Docker River on the NT border to Wiluna, east of Meekatharra, from where she was sent to school at the mission at Karalundi, on the highway 50 km north of Meeka.

The rest of the trip, except that we detour via Port Hedland (map) to avoid the atrocious Nullagine Road from Newman to Marble Bar, is Martu country. The Martu are the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples. Daisy Bates who owned a station near Jigalong, north of present day Newman (see Ventured North by Train and Truck) learned elements of the Martu language there and was surprised to find it useful when she later settled amongst the southernmost of the Western Desert peoples 3,000 km away at Ooldea in SA. Jigalong, one of the main camps for maintaining the rabbit-proof fence, became the centre of the Martu people and was of course the home which Molly, Daisy and Gracie were heading back to. The northernmost limits of Martu country include Nifty, my destination, as well as the Woodie Woodie and Telfer mines, in the Great Sandy Desert where I imagine the border with the Walmajarri (see Two Sisters) is fairly fluid.

There are two separate language groups on the coast north of Yamji country, one south of Port Hedland, probably once centred on the Fortescue and Ashburton Rivers but now at Roeburn, and another between Port Hedland and Broome. I can’t tell you anything about them so I’d better do some homework!

SONY DSC

Recent audiobooks

PD James (F, Eng), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
Hetty E Verolme (F, Aust), The Children’s House of Belsen (2000)
Masaji Ishikawa (M, Japan/Korea), A River in Darkness (2000) DNF
Michael Veitch (M, Vic/Aust), The Forgotten Islands (2011)
Carole Radziwill (F, USA), The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (2013)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (2013)
Richard North Patterson (M, USA), Loss of Innocence (2013)
Michael Connolly (M, USA), Trunk Music (1997)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), Eyrie (2013)
Stuart Woods (M, USA), Paris Match (2014)
Jay Stringer (M, Eng), Runaway Town (2013)
Gregory Randall (M, USA), Venice Black (2017)

Currently reading

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children


Housekeeping: I started using the Journal heading so that readers who were only interested in book reviews could see the journal emails and press delete. Don’t worry, you still can! But I’ve moved the journal designation down a notch so that while it is still clear in the email it is not so obtrusive.

The photos are mine, from the Nifty and Woodie Woodie roads in the Great Sandy Desert.

Eyrie, Tim Winton

725783624.0.l.jpg

In mid 2003 I was working out of Newman carting concrete sleepers for a new iron ore rail line. There was accommodation supplied but I was staying with ex-Mrs Legend who had been living and working up there for the previous 15 months. As it happens she was getting ready to leave and showed me the accounts for a Fremantle vegetarian cafe she was interested in – I do sometimes, infrequently, use my accounting degree. Only after I said I could see some problems did she tell me that she had already bought in.

The cafe was in the bottom floor of Johnson Court, a ten storey, State Housing-built block of flats in the centre of Freo, where her sister, M lived. Milly battled away with those problems for years, moving to bigger premises nearby and establishing the cafe as a successful (and still ongoing) business. But the long hours wore her down, halved her weight till she was just a shadow and eventually she sold out to her chef and went back to mining.

A few years later, living again in Newman, she bought a flat on one of the upper floors of Johnson Court and then when she moved back to Perth and bought a house I bought it from her and one day in the not so distant future will retire there, surrounded by restaurants, book shops, the Luna-SX art house movie theatre and working wharves.

I say all this because Johnson Court is the apartment block Winton calls the Mirador in his 2013 novel Eyrie, set in the period immediately following the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. I remember visiting M at that time. She had moved her millinery business to one of those shops on the ground floor and my friend Janet and I had our bikes stolen while we were inside talking to her. We didn’t see Winton, but M says she sometimes saw him around town.

Winton describes both the exterior and interior of the flats accurately, as he does Fremantle in general, its many disturbed inhabitants, its buildings, the South Beach, the river, in great detail and with some contempt, but with one odd item of artistic licence – he turns the block around by 90 deg so that it is front on to Adelaide Tce instead of side on and has consequently much better views over the city to the river mouth, the container port and the sea.

Eyrie might be the novel where the protagonist – Tom Keely, 49, a long time spokesman for the Greens now unemployed and suffering a nervous breakdown – is closest to being the adult Winton himself, not in situation I hasten to add, but in character and background. The story is that Keely has been subsisting for some time on alcohol, prescription drugs and what’s left of his severance pay when his isolation is penetrated by a woman and six year old boy who move into another nearby flat on the same, upper level. The woman, Gemma turns out have been someone he knew in childhood, who with her sister would turn to Keely’s mother, Doris for protection when her father came home drunk and violent, and who had to some extent, at that time displaced Tom’s sister Faith in Doris’ affections – or at least in her attentions.

The Keely’s had moved away from that neighbourhood when Tom was 14. Tom and Faith (and Doris) had gone on to university educations and prominent careers. Tom had married, but had divorced or been divorced by his lawyer wife when she got pregnant to a workmate. In his younger days Tom had sometimes seen Gemma around – at the trashy end of blonde, leggy and beautiful – but without ever speaking to her.

The child with Gemma turns out to be her grandson Kai, his mother, whom Gemma had had at 16 to an unnamed father, a druggie, in prison. Gemma ignores Keely’s indifference and turns to him for company. He in turn begins to feel responsibility for Kai, left nightly on his own while Gemma stacks shelves at the local supermarket.

The themes which Winton uses this book to explore are – of course – families and growing up, but also the difficulties/responsibilities of acting in loco parentis; and failures of communication across the middle class/working class divide.

Winton, like many of Perth’s middle class, is furiously envious that they are out-earned by the working class, skilled and semi-skilled, bogans in mcmansions. In the novel and again in his interview with Kim (Reading Matters) he vents about a woman driving buses on the mines: “It’s absurd that you can make $150,000-$200,000 driving a bus in the Pilbara”. But Gemma is not just working class but on the bones of her arse, and in hiding from her daughter’s violent, drug-dealing partner. She both wants Keely to be attracted to her, to acknowledge that he once lusted after her, and distrusts him for his education, cannot trust him not to look down on her, a situation with which I was achingly familiar during my last, failed marriage.

I had been following some debate about Winton’s most recent novel, The Shepherd’s Hut in Reading Matters which brought me to this in Tony’s Book World:

… Winton throws this brilliant setup away and forsakes this vivid family story to give us entirely something else, and that is where I think Winton loses his way.

Great literature is about character, and Eyrie has the makings of a great novel, but in the end Winton squibs it here too, unable to pull off the ending without throwing in gratuitous elements of action, suspense and gangsterism, making it a different, less satisfactory type of novel altogether.

main.jpg

 

Tim Winton, Eyrie, Hamish Hamilton, 2013. Audiobook: Bolinda Audio, read by Michael Veitch (11 hours)

see also:

my reviews of Winton’s The Turning (here)
Kim/Reading Matters: Eyrie (here), Interview (here), other Winton reviews (here)

Journal: 011. The Heaviest, Longest, Run in the World

IMAG0244

During the mining boom, say from 2009 to 2013, the company I drove for had what was probably the heaviest regular long-distance run in the world. With heavy duty prime movers towing four trailers each, loaded with 100 tonne of powdered cement for an overall gross of 152 tonne, our fleet of 10-12 trucks delivered on average two loads a day from Perth to the Nifty copper mine in the Great Sandy Desert, east of Port Hedland, taking five days for the 4,000 km round trip.

So for all that period the Nifty paste plant took a couple of hundred tonnes of cement each day, mixing it into a slurry of waste water and tailings which was pumped underground to backfill tunnels no longer required for extracting ore. In fact the basis of my employment as a tanker driver for 15 years was mines taking hundreds of tonnes of cement and lime – daily in the case of the bigger mines – for backfilling, waste treatment and ongoing construction.

There are companies using quads – four trailer sets – all through the North, some with higher gross weights than we operated at, but most on leads of no more than 400 km, fuel tankers running out to the mines and side tippers delivering ore to port or processing plants where establishing a dedicated rail line was deemed uncommercial. But as far as I can tell, we were unique in the world for a long distance run at our weights. By comparison, European and American long distance trucks, “18 wheelers”, operate at 38 – 45 tonne, Australian b-doubles at 64T, double road trains at 80T and triples at 110T.

My truck, “Buffalo”, was a Mack Titan with a 600 HP 15 litre Cummins diesel engine, an 18 speed Roadranger gearbox, and heavy duty drive axles with lockable diffs, a 48” sleeper cab with king single bed, and three airconditioners – one in the dash, one in the sleeper for when the truck was running, and another in the sleeper with its own powerpack for nights. Given that we were running out past Marble Bar, the hottest town in Australia, they were all needed! There was a big fridge under the bed, a 240v power supply, and storage lockers everywhere, but not quite enough headroom to stand between the seats. I had this Mack from new and drove it for six years.

Sitting at home on a scheduled break, or an unscheduled – Nifty had a history of poor maintenance and then there was the rainy season – I might get a call in the middle of the day to go and load. I would take my lead trailer down to Munster, Cockburn Cement’s 1950s-era cement works, pull up under the MineCem silo and load 24T – purely by guesswork based on estimated rate of flow and the air pressure gauge on the trailer suspension – drive to the weighbridge, check weigh, go back, top up, weigh again, print out delivery dockets. Meawhile Pete or Steve would be doing the same with my b-double set. We would meet back at the yard, I would hook up a dolly

Image result for road train converter dolly

(a tri axle set with a drawbar to the trailer in front and a turntable to connect to and support the trailer being towed) behind my trailer, reverse it under the front of the b-double, set Road Train signs fore and aft and I was off.

At this stage I was grossing about 110T (and I was still in the middle of Perth, so watch out who you cut in front of!). Round to the BP for fuel, 1,700 litres, and then I was really off. Round the airport onto Roe Highway to Great Northern Highway, through the vineyards of Upper Swan, stop at Gingers for coffee, fish & wedges, getting dark, through Bullsbrook, open road again, one last set of traffic lights at the intersection with Brand Highway (the coast road) and we’re into the hills. First climb Little Bindoon Hill to Chittering Roadhouse (very nice home made pies but keep going), cars and trucks backing up behind then swarming past in the short overtaking lane, down the other side through Bindoon and on to the one big climb, Bindoon Hill, hit it at 90 kph, then quickly back through the gears – top, hi split, lo split, 7th, 6th, 5th, into low range, 4th lo, will it hold?, it does, the engine barking, straining but not dropping back. 1700 RPM, 22kph. Up we go. It’s a precarious feeling, all that weight just waiting, for the engine to cough or the wheels to lose traction, to drag you backwards 2, 3 kilometres to the bottom again. Two bends, the road starts to level out, go to 1800 RPM grab 4 high, back into high range, 5 lo, we’re over, 5 hi, 6 lo, starting down the other side, using the engine now to hold us back, slowly gaining speed, round the first bend in 7 lo, letting go, rounding the last left-hander at 100 kph, a short valley and into the next hill, one steep pinch you can do in 5 lo, then over and flat out down a steep drop and one last short climb and that’s the worst of it.

Do a walk around at the next parking bay then it’s more, gentler hills, jarrah and marri (big eucalypts) country still, only partially cleared, flattening out gradually as we slow through New Norcia, old stone convent buildings right up to the road, then the wheatbelt and little, half abandoned farming towns, Dalwallinu the prosperous exception, to Wubin, an old weatherboard roadhouse where everybody stops, and the roadtrain hookup – 20 hectares of sealed surface, trailers in a row and in disorganised ranks around them and on a dirt block too across the road when it’s really busy.

Hopefully it’s around 9.30pm and I can pull up just short of town for a mandatory 7 hour break, away from the constant racket of fridge motors, ice packs, road trains assembling/disassembling, pulling up outside the roadhouse.

Five am start, make coffee, down the street to the hookup, look for a dog (a trailer with a dolly at the front), there’ll be several but some of them will be empty, dropped by trucks heading home. This is the complicated bit: drop my b-double where there’s plenty of room in front of it, drive round to my dog, back onto it (now I have 2 trailers, are you keeping up?), go back so I’m lined up ahead of the b-double, reverse onto it, make sure all the couplings (Ringfeders) are closed and locked, airlines connected, taps open (an easy one to forget till you get to the first long hill and find you have no brakes). Pull forward slowly in Lo/Lo – we have two ‘crawler’ gears below first – the engine roars, we’re off, moving slowly up through the gears, swing wide to miss the power pole at the exit, call out a warning on the CB, “roadtrain, quad, northbound from hookup”, pull out onto the highway, onto the dirt on the far side, watching in the mirror as that last trailer comes round the pole, straighten up, leaning into the weight, still only 30 kph as we crest the hill out of town. Then it’s bends, shallow hills, mallee and the northern fringes of the wheatbelt as we head out, through the westernmost edges of the Great Western Woodlands and into mostly acacia scrub, once sheep country, now largely ungrazed. Set the cruise control at 90 kph, but there’s still plenty of work to do, 200 km, past the two or three houses and the old roadhouse that make up Paynes Find, before the road levels out. Through the gold mining townships of Mt Magnet and Cue, stop for fuel at Meekatharra – 775 km, 900 L – then 400 km of gibber plains broken by (mostly) dry river crossings to Capricorn roadhouse outside Newman, stop for a shower, then on, heavy traffic from here on, trucks servicing all the iron ore mines along the way, workers’ utes, grey nomads (though far fewer than the coast road), quads hauling ore to Hedland. Up the big climb out of Newman, in the dirt, crushed ore really, off the bitumen if there are too many held up behind, much nicer country now, rocky but well treed, on the fringes of the Karajini ranges, past the turnoff to Tom Price, down the long descent through Munjina Gorge, past Auski, the sixth and last roadhouse between the outskirts of Perth and Port Hedland. Over the Fortescue River flats, up and on to a great grassy plateau, then down again, praying Andrew Forrest doesn’t have an ore train on the level crossing gifted him by a state government too servile to demand road/rail overpasses from the big miners. Dark now and lots of cattle. Time to find a parking bay.

Five am, coffee, muesli bar, fruit, yoghurt, call in at Hedland for fuel, then out on the Broome road, 50 km, turnoff to Marble Bar, open, grassy cattle country into the Coongans, a rocky little mountain range, 10 kms of winding, single lane road, call out on the CB to negotiate right of way with the ore tipper quads coming the other way, then down to the T junction outside Marble Bar, plenty of parking, pull up for a walk around, my dash thermometer has shown 50 deg C here, then out on the Woodie Woodie road, one climb, Mt Everest, not bad eastbound but unrelentingly steep and long for the ore trucks coming the other way, make a run at it, back through the gears in a rush, there’s a vertical pinch at the top, if you’re shedding speed too quickly then it’s grab second before you come to a stop and crawl over. Coming the other way the ore trucks are under strict instructions to select second at the bottom and come all the way up at walking pace. Still they break down, drop trailers halfway up, sheer their tail shafts, so check at the top the road down is clear, you can see for miles, let her go, out across the plain to the next climb, over in 5th on a good day then down again, river crossings, concrete fords just above water level, ignore the turnoff to Telfer, 50 kms into Woodie Woodie, past admin, past the mine and out onto the Nifty road, 50 km of graded dirt and sand and twisty little hills, along a line of sparsely vegetated red sandhills and into Nifty.

I’ve waited days to get unloaded at Nifty, sitting in a holding yard in the middle of nowhere, with other drivers or on my own, eating and sleeping in the camp; flew home once and came back two weeks later, after cyclone Rusty, when the road out was closed; have been held up by floods at Karalundi outside Meeka, at Kumarina and at Oakover River near the Telfer turnoff. Have got halfway up the incline on the edge of the pit to the paste plant, as in the pic at the top, lost traction in the rain, slid backwards, been towed up. Have had innumerable problems unloading, turning around in the tailings area to get back out, mud and water knee deep some days, till they finally, after years, made a road through for us. Held on after the boom on short hours and short trips hoping Nifty would come good again, or another contract like it, but it didn’t and here I am, in Brisbane today, driving twice the distance but only half the weight. Ah, those were the days!

Nifty evening (1)

Don’t Take Your Love to Town, Ruby Langford Ginibi

ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Literature Week

Image result for don't take your love to town ruby langford

Ruby Langford Ginibi (1934 -2011) was a  Bundjalung woman from the NSW north coast. Last week I said Hetty Verolme (here) was the same age as my mum, well so was Ruby Langford. and three Australian women couldn’t have had more different lives. We just need a Toorak or North Shore matron to complete the circle, though of course there would be points of similarity as well as difference. So mum and Ruby grew up in rural communities, with not a lot to go round in those years before and during WWII, did well at school but left early and were soon saddled with young children.

Ruby’s oldest, Billy was born the same year I was and Pearl a year later. Seven others followed, to other fathers, and while mum and dad like most of white Australia, working class and middle class, began to leave post-Depression poverty behind in the 1950s, that was not true of Ruby and her fellow Kooris. Indeed, as I read this book there seemed to be many times until her children were all grown that she seemed to be going backwards.

Ruby’s mother and father separated when she was six. Her mother went to Sydney and raised a new family and it was a long time before Ruby regained regular contact with her. For a while she and her sisters Gwen and Rita were ‘mothered’ by Aboriginal clever man, Uncle Ernie Ord, then her father took them to “Aunty Nell and Uncle Sam in Bonalbo“. She lived an ordinary country life in Bonalbo, which she always looked back on as her home town, her father seeing them occasionally while working away, and a mysterious self-contained Aboriginal stockman who was sometimes in town turning out to be her grandfather.

Ruby describes herself as always having her nose in a book, and a good student but at 16 she left home to join her father and his new family in Sydney and began working as a machinist, sewing shirts. Of course she becomes interested in boys and is soon pregnant. This is a warts and all autobiography, an Australian classic, and another view of Sydney and NSW working class poverty which we are familiar with from the works of Kylie Tennant and Ruth Park. Ruby lists her husbands and we see each of them as real people, but they are also a type – rural workers without trades, drinkers, womanizers and violent when drunk.

At each setback, the man finds work fencing, burning off, labouring, Ruby establishes a home – in a hut or a tent – keeps the home clean, the children fed, pitches in with the outside work, has another baby (gets to spend 2 or 3 weeks in hospital) and then one day the man doesn’t come back, or comes back drunk and belts her.

I felt like I was living tribal but with no tribe around me, no close-knit family. The food gathering, the laws and songs were broken up, and my generation at this time wandered around as if we were tribal but in fact living worse than the poorest of the poor whites, and in the case of women living hard because it seemed like the men loved you for a while and then more kids came along and the men drank and gambled and disappeared. It happened with Gordon and later it happened with Peter [Langford], and my women friends all have similar stories. Neddy [Nerida, her best friend] and I have talked about it often as we get older, and how it’s not always different for our daughters and their kids, but those stories are for later.

There are glimpses of hope – that is I, the reader, thinks she may grasp an opportunity to move towards a middle class life – she is an early member of an association formed by Charles Perkins and is appointed editor of their magazine, but is gone before the first issue; and she wins a prize with a short story. But that is it, she descends into urban poverty and welfare dependence, her children start getting into trouble, Pauline dies, struck by a car, Billy dies next, Ruby begins to drink heavily and becomes morbidly obese. Another son is victimised by police, fires a gun, is beaten and charged with resisting arrest, is jailed, escapes, is recaptured, beaten etc. etc. On release he settles down, buys a house, the solicitor steals his money, he gets into fights, is victimised by police, fires a gun …

Ruby gives up the grog, joins a women’s group, starts writing, gets interested in Aboriginal affairs, in particular the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. As I have said elsewhere and as Ruby Langford documents here, Aboriginals have mysterious accidents when in the hands of police who of course are always found to be not at fault.

Slowly she becomes aware of Koori success stories as well as the failures. Her sister Rita has trained as a teacher and works in teacher ed. At the top of her list of books that shouldn’t be taught is We of the Never Never, Mrs A. Gunn.

Don’t Take Your Love to Town (1988) made Ruby Langford a success story in her own right and she went on to honorary degrees and four more books. I hope I haven’t given the impression she had an unhappy life, she lived and – so she writes – enjoyed a life of considerable exuberance and love. If you haven’t already, read this book!

 

Ruby Langford Ginibi, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, Penguin, Melbourne, 1988