Setting Out

Journal: 050

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I’m setting out on this post with no clear idea of where it will end up. It’s Sunday 6.46 am and in a few hours I am setting out on another trip to Melbourne (from Perth WA if you’re new here). Yesterday I was planning to go half empty but a truck came up on Loadshift, I tendered my usual price, within 15 minutes I had the job, within 3 hours the truck was loaded and back in the yard (my mate’s back paddock).

Today, I’ll run that trailer ‘up the hill’ to the assembly area on the highway south, go back for the other two, and head down to Esperance, 800 km away on the south coast, to load scrap steel. Then it’s off across the Nullarbor, to the northern outskirts of Adelaide, then for the first time as a road train in my old home state, across the north west corner of Victoria and down the river, on the NSW side, to Echuca (map). Break up, run one trailer into Melbourne, then the other two to Wodonga where the steel is remade in an electric arc furnace. Which should put me empty in Melbourne Friday too late to load out.

Sue (WG), who is flat out getting her elderly parents settled in new nursing accommodation (I think at 90 and 100 it’s safe to say elderly), says I should cherish my mother while I have her, so I guess it’s out to mum’s for the weekend.

If you follow Whispering Gums, and doesn’t everyone, you’ll see she’s running a series called Bill Curates, which is me choosing representative posts from her back catalogue – I’ve made my way so far from May to June 2009 – picking out items to repost. Lots of fun for very little effort. A good way, as Karen/Booker Talk suggested in her excellent A to Z of Blogging, of revisiting material not seen by most of her followers, and a good way too of keeping Whispering Gums ticking over while Sue is so busy.

I have to write Journals because I read so little, even when I have “days off”, which mostly involves moving trucks and trailers from one spot to another to get them repaired or serviced or new tyres, or a paint job and new guards (mudguards) as with the trailer immediately behind my ute in the picture above, white and light blue is going to be my new colour scheme, not to mention keeping my bookwork up to date, though none of that explains why I read only a few pages in the evening, catch up on the news, solve a killer sudoku and am fast asleep by 10pm.

Remember, four months ago, when ‘the news’ was that the Australian government was doing nothing about climate change, then bushfires across half the continent made even the Liberal Party aware that climate change was here now, and just when we thought something might happen Covid-19 wiped everything else off the front pages and the Morrison (and Trump) governments took the opportunity to begin sabotaging every remaining climate initiative they could think of, and now the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police has wiped Covid-19 off the front pages, except for the relatives of 110,000 people killed by Trump’s willful negligence, but of course it couldn’t happen here. Except it does.

“there’s no need to import things happening in other countries here to Australia. I mean, Australia is a fair country … I mean, Australia is not the United States.” [Prime Minister Morrison]

African Americans make up 12% of the adult population, but 33% of the US prison population; in Australia the ratio for Indigenous people is 3% of the population and 29% of the prisoners. [Greg Jericho, Guardian Australia, 7 June 2020]

Do the maths. Black Australians are FOUR times more likely to be jailed than Black Americans and TEN times more likely to be jailed than white Australians.

Since 1991 and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 432 Indigenous people in prison or in the hands of police have died and not one person has been convicted of any offence in connection with those deaths.

That is the Australia we live in, whether we set out to achieve it or not, an Australia founded on the murder of its original inhabitants, as I have attempted to document, and in which those murders continue today, unpunished.

 

Remember: Indigenous Literature Week (July 5-12, 2020) on ANZLitlovers

 

Recent audiobooks 

Stephanie Laurens (F, Aus), Four in Hand (1993) – Romance
as far as I can tell, Laurens has lived in England for a long time, but she does have some reviews on the Australian Women Writers Challenge database. I should contribute another.
Janet Evanovich (F, USA), Seven Up (2001) – Crime
Camilla Lackberg (F, Swe), The Lost Boy (2013) – Crime
Anne McCaffery (F, USA), Damia (1992) – SF
Susan Choi (F, USA), The Foreign Student (1998)
Blake Crouch (M, USA), Good Behaviour (2016) – DNF
Belinda Alexandra (F, Aus), Silver Wattle (2007) – DNF

Currently reading

Patrick White, The Cockatoos
Majorie Barnard, Miles Franklin
Flannery O’Connor, Complete Stories
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (I just bought it, I hope I start reading it)

 

Flannery O’Connor

Journal: 048

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I seem to be using the Covid-19 crisis for remedial US.Lit. First Willa Cather, now Flannery O’Connor, courtesy of another read-along, this time with Melanie from Grab the Lapels. (I’m not reading the biography pictured, but Melanie is). O’Connor, who lived a short life, from 1925 to 1964, in Georgia in the US South, wrote two novels and 32 short stories. Her style is said to be Southern Gothic, informed by Catholicism (Wiki). As I am forced to say increasingly often, I had never heard of her.

Melanie is planning to read The Complete Stories, a prizewinning anthology put together after O’Connor’s death and to put up reviews over four consecutive Tuesdays (Wednesdays in Australia) from May 12th. I have located some of the stories online (here) but I imagine more readable copies are obtainable at the usual sites.

I have already read one story, The Barber (so-so) but I love it that the Catholic O’Connor was the originator of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” which was reversed to such great effect by Mae West. OK, I got lost in DuckDuckGo search there for a while. A Good Man etc dates back to at least a 1918 (I think) song by Eddie Green sung here by Bessie Smith.

As a non-reader of short stories I find I am reading three short story collections simultaneously, to get them over with maybe, Flannery O’Connor, Patrick White’s Cockatoos and an Australian women’s collection called The Babe is Wise. I guess at least I can get to the end of a story before I swap books. I struggle to read novels simultaneously because the stories get tangled in my head.

It has been fascinating following the different responses to Covid-19 amongst bloggers. All of us I think stopped reading/writing in shock when we realised that this was not just another SARS, dangerous but remote, but the real deal, our lives being shut down and the world economy with it. Most of us have fired up again, not just in Australia where the first wave has largely passed us by and we in the middle class have jobs and savings to tide us over, but around the world where it is much more likely that you know people who have been affected.

I am doubly or triply unaffected in that as a truck driver I am not required to stay home, so that I am both out and earning my usual income, and I routinely spend a week or two between jobs at home anyway, reading and writing. But still I find myself singularly unproductive. Today is Saturday. I got in from Darwin last Friday. There’re plenty of jobs on the Loadshift site. I should be on my way to Melbourne.

Of course I blame Anzac Day. Long weekends are fine if you’re loaded but a pain when you’re not, just one fewer day to get stuff done. (I’ve left You Tube running since I fired up Bessie Smith and we’ve progressed through Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood. Now that’s real music. Keep your Mozart, WG).

On the way down from Darwin the truck computer was reporting a fault which I managed to work around (the usual way. By switching the truck off and restarting). I had it looked at while I was waiting to unload Friday. No luck. Took it back Tues. “It must be electrical”, the mechanic said. Electrician, Weds. “It must be the computer”. Volvo squeezed me in Thurs night. They’d replace the whole system if you let them, but I held them down to replacing the Ad Blue pump. Seems to have worked. Meanwhile, another workshop had my back trailer for a service which devolved into new brakes and bearings. I got it back 5.00pm Friday. I have the hint of a load of scrap metal today but no-one’s answering the phone. Looks like Monday.

It’s ages since I had reviews written up in advance of a trip. I should have something for Tues, but Thurs/Fri? Don’t like your chances.

WA is one of the states that have expanded allowable gatherings to ten people. I’ve been down to Gee’s to hold the new baby, and to play with the two who were babies just yesterday, interrupted Lou giving them home schooling (not for Covid-19 but because the school has whooping cough. Life goes on!). Took Milly out to dinner. No, restaurants aren’t open yet. We got Indian take-away – happy to have us drop in with Uber gouging 35% for delivery – a fine Pinot Grigio, and sat on my balcony admiring the sunset over the river.

Where has all my reading/writing time gone? Compulsively reading newspapers and political newsletters mostly. Love Guy Rundle in Crikey. Miss Helen Razer. Where are you Helen? Totally enjoying the Palmer Report’s ongoing take-down of the mentally deficient criminal rapist murderer con artist in the White House. Stay Safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Batchelor NT (2)

Journal: 046

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Last night’s tea. I actually don’t eat much in the evenings except when I’m out, so the pizza -roasted root veg – and the pinot grigio were mostly for today.

I’ve just finished speaking to the local police and I’m not allowed to move, “where you start your isolation is where you finish your isolation”, so I’m here, at this very pleasant motel in Batchelor, for another week.

The good news is Lou is on his twelfth day and is showing no symptoms. He says you can look up each individual flight and check whether any one on board has tested positive, and to date no one on his flight in has.

I keep an eye on, Ok, I follow obsessively, the website which lists trucking jobs and there doesn’t seem to have been much fall off in work. Though there also seems to be very little work out of Darwin. There was one beaut load came up on the first day, Mt Isa to Perth. I put in a high price, but without success. Since then, nothing. I’m staying up here because Psyche wants family on hand when she has an op later in the month. Once she’s ok I’ll grab a part load and head for parts east, west or south. Though I hope I’ll be back.

This week I have been eating mostly what I had in the truck fridge and tuckerbox, porridge for breakfast, salad, egg, tuna for lunch. Now I’m down to rice crackers and cheese, I’ll either have to eat room service or get Psyche to ferry down supplies: fruit, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, brown bread. It’s only 100 km. I asked the police could I take the truck for a (short) run, particularly for the sake of the battery, but no, that’s banned too. This afternoon or tomorrow I’ll fire it up and let it run for a while where it stands like Ferdinand the bull, smelling the flowers.

You saw that I finished and posted a review of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. I saw in an earlier post that I was going to listen to her Night and Day, but if I did it didn’t stick. Now I’m reading a Kenyan book Lou brought me, Wizard of the Crow by Ngúgí Wa Thiong’o, 750 pages and fascinating. A review will follow.

The lethargy brought on by the shock of the Covid-19 crisis seems to have passed and I’m reading and writing as I usually do in the gaps between jobs. I do a little bit of exercise and walk for half an hour in what is basically a park around the motel, or along the road, though even towards dusk the weather up here is still hot and humid. I should read Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip next but instead I have already downloaded the three novels of Willa Cather’s Pioneer trilogy and plan to read the first two in preparation for Liz Dexter’s readalong of My Antonia.

Three bloggers seem actually to have been fired up by the crisis to the extent of writing daily posts for our amusement and edification:

Mairi Neil, Up the Creek with a Pen …, Mairi up till recently was taking creative writing classes and now she is giving what are effectively free workshops (with astonishingly long posts!). This, I think, is Day 1: Ease the Anxiety and Boredom of Isolation or Insulation with Creative Writing (here).

Pam, Travellin’ Penguin is writing 30 Days hath April’s Books (here); and

Karen, BookerTalk, is writing about the process of blogging in Blogging from A – Z (here)

That’s it from me today. I don’t often write short posts, but I have books to read, nowhere to go, no one to see (and wine to drink). I’ll let you know when I’m bored enough to turn on the tele (hint: not in this lifetime).

Batchelor NT

Journal: 045

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Tonight I’m in Batchelor NT, the old Rum Jungle, I think Mary Gaunt’s emponymous Kirkham was a miner here in the 1890s and was chased off by Aborigines. Tonight and for the next seven nights. I was going to stay in daughter Psyche’s spare room in Darwin but she has taken in a Catalonian refugee – who has sent her father, a pro-independence politician, a link to Homage to Catalonia which he apparently enjoyed. The Catalonians last time I heard were very much at odds with Madrid. Perhaps Emma, who lives just “around the corner”, can bring us up to date.

My customer put me up here last night and the mini skirted, champagne drinking proprietoress (my age) made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. No not that offer, cheap rates for a week’s stay AND parking for my truck.

Living and working mostly in the desert you forget how lush and alive the tropics are. Now I’m conscious of them the birds might drive me mad.

To continue on from my last post, I picked Lou up from Perth airport on Sunday night, installed him in my flat. Monday was his birthday. Millie and Ms 16, his niece, baked him a cake and brought it round. Sang happy birthday through the screen door. I’d been getting my truck and trailers serviced so I went round and collected them all, fueled up, hooked up and was on my way. When I left Lou was well into William Gibson but I made sure he had some Australian women to go on with (Lou, look on my shelves for Elizabeth Tan, Rubik, I forgot to get it out).

In the morning I found the site where I was to load. The address was ‘Greenough’ but was in fact 50 kms away on the other side of Walkaway (tiny spots on the map 400 km north of Perth but well known to me for various reasons not least the historic Geraldton to Walkaway railway line). Somehow we loaded 3 shipping containers, some frames and 2 piling rigs onto my three trailers and I was off, up the coast. Short of Carnarvon the first night. Past Port Hedland. Nearly up to Kununurra, the Ord River scheme and the NT Border. Like driving on Xmas Day, almost zero traffic. Though there was a queue of maybe 10 trucks when we were held up north of Hedland for a few hours while the police cleared a rollover, 7 people in it, code for ‘Aborigines’.

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The (first) NT roadblock was at Timber Creek 100 kms in, manned by police. And army, a chilling sight, though the army boys were mostly sitting round reading books. The policeman assigned to me was cheerful and helpful, sprayed the table and folders before he sat me down and got me to fill in a basic form. I volunteered that I would be self-isolating for 14 days at my daughter’s after unloading, but they weren’t prescriptive and I had the option of getting another load and moving on in the normal way. The next couple of roadblocks I was waved through – I think the internal roadblocks are to protect ‘communities’ ie. remote Aboriginal towns. Just on evening I pulled into Batchelor, found my way to the motel and had a welcome (!) shower, drink, airconditioned sleep.

This morning the project manager (for a new solar farm) was not happy about having an unisolated ‘foreigner’ on his site but no one else was working so he let me out of the truck to help with the unloading. By 9 or 10 I was back here, feeling strangely worn out, and for the first time in years have been napping on and off all day.

I have with me – in my work bag. I have another 20 odd books along the bottom of my storage lockers –

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out
Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip
Ngúgí Wa Thiong’o (Kenya), Wizard of the Crow

It will be interesting to see how much reading and writing I get done, more of the latter than the former probably. I feel this is very much an On the Beach situation, which I’ve re-read in the past few years, with central and western Australia the end of the world waiting for the cloud to arrive from China, USA, Italy, Spain, the (Australian) east coast. You guys are already hunkered down in ways that don’t seem quite real out here. And your reactions are quite varied. Sue is concentrating mostly on her parents. The women in my mother’s village seem little changed or concerned though obviously no longer meeting or going to church, an aunt though, just moved up one floor to ‘nursing’, is left almost entirely without exercise or stimulus. Lisa, amazingly, is posting fewer reviews, though plenty of events; Brona, Emma, home from work (I’m guessing) are steadfastly reading, reviewing; Kate too, maybe. Liz, I realise, has dropped off since her last running post; Melanie seems to be home, worried, pressing on. I am blessed to have made so many friends, more than I have briefly mentioned here. I hope you are all well. I hope we all survive.

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Covid-19

Journal: 044

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Covid-19. What else is there to write about?

There is no doubt in my mind that that moron in Washington is going to double the length of the coming world depression and double its severity. Up till this week I had assumed the Covid-19 epidemic would be the same as SARS – someone else’s problem. But it seems not. I can manage the illness, hopefully I would survive, I certainly don’t like the idea of dying breathless. My working life is a mixture of long periods of isolation, with daily instances of unhealthy propinquity (truckstops!). But the coming deep economic downtown will almost certainly do me in.

So far, work is holding up. You guys need stuff in your shops, though that’s not the sort of cartage I do. (Did you know the average age of Australian long distance truck drivers is very nearly 60. We might all drop dead at the same time, and then what will you do? It seems to me the only large cohort of new drivers is Indians, who are buying up trucks (and roadhouses) as did the Greeks, Italians and Yugoslavs before them, but not so much the Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese. Don’t know why, though the Chinese immigrants were probably affluent middle class).

Last week I got a load to Mt Beauty in NE Victoria – a cherry picker truck for a guy clearing damaged trees from bushfire areas. Unloaded Tues morning and headed into Melbourne looking forward to a day off, but instead was loaded and on my way without stopping, topped up In Adelaide and was home – a 7,500 km round trip – in a few hours under six days. Then, two phone calls/messages.

The organization Lou works for is as we speak evacuating him from Malawi, and he’s due here Sunday evening. Though in fact, he’s already missed his first connection, his taxi driver got lost he said. And even if he gets there I can’t imagine how chaotic the airport at Doha is going to be – I picture him stranded forever in a JG Ballard Concrete Island situation. Anyway, I’ve been shopping – Leeming IGA seemed perfectly normal except for the absent toilet paper and pasta – stocked up my freezer for him with meat and pizzas, got a (another!) carton of cheap grog, and some movies. He’s looking forward to making his way through my library during his obligatory fourteen days, though the books he’ll enjoy most are the same ones he devoured as a teenager. I’m planning to introduce him to Australian women’s dystopian fiction.

The other news was more prosaic. I have a road train load to Darwin, loading Tuesday, which will keep the wolves from the door for a little longer. If nothing goes wrong. I feel like it might.

I listened to three books this last trip: one a bog standard work of genre fiction, one a surprisingly innovative work of genre fiction, and one a work of genius, maybe genre fiction, which I am listening to for the third time. They were:

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (2009,10)
Margaret Attwood, The Testaments (2019)
Karin Gillespie, Love Literary Style (2016)

The work of genius is 1Q84. I had a whole pile of mystery/thrillers with me but couldn’t bring myself to play them when I could listen to real writing. 1Q84 is enormous, 3 mp3’s or around 27 45 hours and with a not very large cast. Murakami seems to me with this book to have decided that anything he wanted to discuss, he would discuss at length, nothing is cut short. There are two parallel stories which gradually cease being separate: Aomame on her way to complete an assignment leaves her taxi stalled in an elevated motorway traffic jam and climbs down a fire escape to street level during which time the world changes, or she changes worlds, as she slowly comes to realise, from 1984 to 1Q84. Aomame’s assignments are to murder, subtly by a needle to a nerve in the back of the neck, men who are abusing their wives. As we proceed, Aomame’s sex life plays an important part, from a view of her knickers as she straddles the motorway safety rail, to experimentation with her girlfriend at school, to encounters at singles bars, where she hooks up with another young woman, a female police officer, who talks her into a drunken foursome, who becomes her friend and who eventually dies, strangled, during violent sex while handcuffed. Throughout, Aomame maintains her love for the boy who stood up for her in grade school, whom she has not seen since she was ten.

Tengo is a writer and mathematics teacher, physically big and athletic, whose editor persuades him to rewrite a startling new work, naively written, Air Chrysalis, by a 17 year old girl, Fuka-Eri. Eri it turns out is dyslexic and has dictated this story of evil ‘little people’ taking over our world, seemingly from lived experience, to her foster sister.

As the stories converge it becomes clear that Tengo is the boy, now 30, who stood up for Aomame in third grade. Aomame is given the assignment of killing a cult leader who rapes little girls, who turns out to be Eri’s father. He acquiesces in his killing but predicts that the little people will ensure that either she or Tengo will die. Aomame chooses the path she hopes will protect Tengo. And so we go. This is a literary work with a strong story. What makes it literary, apart from the compelling writing, I struggle to express. I’ll have to think about it.


Milly and I go out to dinner. On the way I hear on the ABC that NT is closing its borders. That didn’t take long! I discuss by text with my customer throughout the meal the possibility of getting a permit. Milly on her phone is messaging with Lou. He’s back at Lilongwe Airport. By the time we finish eating he’s in Johannesburg with tickets to Dubai (he’s changed over to Emirates) and thence to Perth. Still arriving Sunday night.


Murukami in 1Q84 is writing about one social stratum in Tokyo, slightly outside mainstream society, he is writing about the connections between works, between 1Q84 and Orwell’s 1984, and between 1Q84 and (the fictional) Air Chrysalis, he is playing games with the intersection between Magic Realism and SF, and he is discussing the boundaries between love and sex. Am I happy with a guy writing so much about sex for women? No I’m not. Is there anything I can do about it? No.

I was looking forward to The Testaments, Attwood is a competent writer, if disingenuous about so much of her writing being standard SF. The most disappointing thing is that writers who embrace SF have taken it in new and challenging directions, while Atwood who imagines herself daring for just dipping her general fiction toe in SF waters, is left far behind (I didn’t know it was joint winner of the Man Booker. What a pile of crap!). I’m sure you all know the general story. The epilogue is a paper delivered centuries later at a Gilead symposium. The problem with audiobooks is that people giving boring speeches are really … boring! I didn’t make it to the end.

I’m struggling to recall Love Literary Style now except that I really enjoyed it. Earnest (unpublished) literary author meets untutored blonde bombshell who has accidentally written the outline for a major success. All the tropes of romantic fiction are interrogated as the two budding authors write and discuss writing. Read it. You’ll love it.


An hour ago, Lou had an eight hour flight ahead of him, a very quick changeover in Dubai, and then a similar length flight to Perth. The ABC NT border story (here) has not been updated.