Journal: 005, Across the Continent

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Mallee!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and The Pea Pickers. Great books all.

 

Recent audiobooks

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

Currently reading

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


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

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The World Repair Video Game, David Ireland

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David Ireland (1927- ) had his first novel published in 1968. He put out five more, three of them Miles Franklin award winners, over the next dozen years –and one of those, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971), is in my view a serious contender for Great Australian Novel – and kept going into the 80s, but his popularity was waning, and he has since had trouble getting published. Geordie Williamson writes that “the violence and misogyny that characterised Ireland’s earlier novels – such as The Glass Canoe (1976) and A Woman of the Future (1979)[My review], on which rested his reputation as a defiantly proletarian novelist who employed a feral version of literary modernism – began to erode his standing as intellectual fashions changed…”

Spoilers: The violence which is the ostensible subject of this novel is gradually revealed throughout and is intrinsic to any understanding of it.

So The World Repair Video Game (2015), published in Hobart by Island Magazine Inc, is an old man’s (ie. Ireland’s) cry of rage against fashionable opinions. His psychopath protagonist, 42 yo Kennard Stirling, whose first murder was as a schoolboy, has set himself the project of murdering slackers and incorporating their remains into the pathway he is building to the lookout on Big Hill on his 50 hectare, NSW south coast hobby farm.

A hammer blow in a night train. How I hate the sight of bodily organs, the insides that ought not be seen, the greasiness of blood and how good it feels to wash hands and arms and feel clean once more.

The novel takes the form of Stirling’s journal, interspersed with random thoughts generated by his subconscious (which he calls Pym after the Edgar Allan Poe novel). Ireland at one stage has Stirling reading Richard Brautigan, and his daily entries – from Sept 8 to Dec 21 – could be said to mimic Brautigan’s often very short chapters. The entries themselves are discursive, rather than formal, and inclined to head off at tangents, so the whole is very much stream of consciousness.

That said, not much happens. Stirling, who lives on a remittance from his wealthy Sydney-based family, is a volunteer four mornings a week in the nearby town of ‘Pacific Heights’ delivering meals and gardening for the elderly and so on, and otherwise spends his time regenerating bushland on his 50 hectares, that is, when he is not rendering down bodies and incorporating them into wet cement and compost.

My family Protestantism, alive when I was a child, suggested we are all free and equal, that power rests in the people, but now we know the sovereignty of the people is an unproductive joke, that democracy has few virtues and can’t take difficult steps in hard times and doesn’t reward courage.

Stirling is a loner, private-school educated and a once talented (rugby) footballer. As a refugee from the regimentation of the family business his “family” is now his kelpie-cross Jim, his ute Brian, a cat, and a majestic manna gum, Big Manna. He has had a girlfriend, or at least a love interest, at some stage, Leonora, “daughter of a judge, executive on a management team, retired footballer, weekend painter”, but she has left him, without word or backward glance.

His victims are recognisable by their slack and impoverished appearance, their dismissal of ‘reasonable’ proposals for work, and by the birds which sit on their heads and shit down their backs. They are clearly of the underclass. “The layer above is the working poor, the middle class is miles above”.

They are caricatures, never worked, never wanted to work, refusing to be tied down and experts at ‘claiming’. “This is a non-worker, healthy, uninjured. A non-cooperator, he consumes without producing, as Orwell says… He stinks of failure, stale and sour. He is less a prole and menial toiler and more a chiseller than a drudge, and lives on that edge where the crypto-criminal lives.”

… not far ahead I see a kookaburra riding on something. I get closer and see the bird is perched on the head of an angular man in Jesus sandals and unwashed Judas feet, a silver nostril ring, hairless chest, mauve shirt open to the navel, red tattoos and lemon shorts. He’s my man

I lost track of how many men are killed, six I think, five stabbed with his homemade stiletto and one upended and dropped on his head, all loaded onto Brian for the trip to the farm, then boned and rendered down.

The novel peters out with the completion of the path. The farm is sold. Stirling gets a terse note from Leonora. A new project beckons, eliminate those parasites at the other end of the pecking order, “not the many honest CEOs rewarded for performance, but the few among the top money people whose greedy domination in dysfunctional capital markets weakens the spirit of social fairness.”

Leonora, my light, how I treasured the twins Iphigenia and Chloe, and the potential of dear Clytie, and imagined Andromeda’s warmth. And didn’t tell you. Simply thinking your name creates music in me.

Forget what you have read, The World Repair Video Game is only incidentally a novel about serial killing. Ireland’s concern is politics, the gaming of the welfare system, the shortcomings of socialism, the restrictions political correctness imposes on a right-wing misogynist loner. I can’t agree with him, but at 88 he remains a brilliant writer.

 

David Ireland, The World Repair Video Game, Island Magazine Inc, Hobart, 2015. Afterword by Geordie Williamson

Kindly loaned to me by Lisa at ANZLL, her review here.