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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Road Training

Journal: 043

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Many years ago, 35 or so, I was a manager with Fleetxpress, then Australia’s fourth largest transport company and, coincidentally the owner of Luya Julius, a major presence in Qld, started by my great great great grandfather. After giving up truck driving and moving Milly and the kids to Melbourne I was out of work when they employed me as a salesman in Taxi Trucks. When that division was shortly after sold and I was to be made redundant I pointed out to the MD that I was their only employee outside of Accounts with a degree. He put me into Car Carrying as acting State Manager, I dumped the Ford account which was losing money and saved the GMH account, for the cartage of all Holdens throughout Australia, by introducing computerised vehicle tracking.

Unfortunately my complete absence of people skills was already evident and although I set up the new National Car Carrying division, I ended up as National Admin Manager under a newly employed GM. A year or so later Fleetxpress was taken over, I didn’t hit it off with the new owners and I began a decade or so as an independent computer programmer.

Which is by way of saying that I was at the company which introduced B Doubles into Australia (in SA), and got back into trucking just as they were becoming entrenched – was in that last group of drivers able to transition their licences from Heavy Vehicle to Multi Combination without doing the course and the test.

At the turn of this century it was ‘apparent’ that the future lay with B Triples which were then running on a test basis between Geelong and Melbourne and Melbourne and Sydney. I wandered off to WA for 17 years and was considerably surprised on my return to the eastern states to find that they were now giving permits to old fashioned road trains (A trains) and that B Triples were less preferred, especially in Victoria.

This year I have upgraded my own B Double to a B Triple but am struggling to get a permit to cross northern Victoria which is automatic for A trains. Going over last trip I detoured north via Broken Hill, came down to Wentworth and then ran along north of the river (along the Edwards River in fact) to Moama/Echuca, 200 km north of Melbourne, where I broke up to enter Vic. (Map 1)

Coming home I had to do a pick up in Adelaide which meant hooking up at Moama, and then breaking up again to do the 150km between Mildura and the SA border (that is, I had to do the 150 km 3 times – over, back and over). But from there it was a nice run through Loxton and Waikerie right into Adelaide’s northern industrial suburbs, then home (Map 2).

Waking up on Saturday morning in Waikerie, which I haven’t been through for many years, I found I was parked, on bitumen now, exactly where 45 years earlier I had broken down in my old Atkinson, had stripped the motor down in the dust beside the road, to fit a new piston (see The Grapes of Wrath), stripped it down again when I realised the big end bearing shells were coated with sand, then driven off without the sump plug in properly, remembered in time to save the motor, walked back into town where the best replacement I could get was the small bung of a 44 gal drum (200l or 50 US gal.s), siliconed it into place where it stayed until the next and last time, when that poor old girl finally gave up the ghost (her name was Miss Take, but I never did get it painted on).

Atkinson Near Benalla Sep 75

Of course, I’m really just making excuses for not having read or reviewed … anything at all for the best part of a month. Hopefully I won’t get any more work until after this weekend and so will get The Passing of the Aborigines out of the way, as well as Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones which took up a whole trip, Friday till Monday, all that roundabout way from Melbourne to Perth.

Recent audiobooks 

Edith Wharton (F, USA), A Son at the Front (1923)
Jeff van der Meer, (M, USA), Annihilation (2014) SF
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Ladder of Years (1995)
Henry David Thoreau (M, USA), Walden (1854)
Anne Stuart (F, USA), Never Trust a Pirate (2013) Rom.
Lee Child (M, Eng), The Affair (2011) Crime
Dorothy B Hughes (F, USA), The Fallen Sparrow (1942)
Henry Fielding (M, Eng), Tom Jones (1749)
Emily Gould, (F, USA), Friendship (2014)
JD Robb (F, USA), Kindred in Death (2009) SF/Crime
Sayed Kashua  (M, Palestine), Let it be Morning (2006)
Marion Chesney (F, Eng), The Viscount’s Revenge (1983) Rom.
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The Darcy Connection (2008) Rom.
Piper Kerman, (F, USA), Orange is the New Black (2010) Mem.
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), The Overnight Kidnapper (2015) Crime
Douglas Adams &  (M, Eng), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1978) BBC radio SF
Peter Fitzsimmons (M, Aus), Eureka (2012) The author’s breathless anticipation every other paragraph left me unexcited. DNF
Sofie Laguna (F, Aus), The Eye of the Sheep (2014) DNF
Daniel H Wilson (M, USA), Robopocalypse (2011) SF
Boris Akunin (M, Rus), The Winter Queen (1998) Crime/His.Fic.

Boris Akunin is the pen name Russian writer Grigori Chkhartishvili uses for his Historical Crime Fiction. Under his own name Chkhartishvili is apparently well known for his work in Japanese. I just want to point out that Bakunin was a famous Russian anarchist and that the author is probably having a little joke here: “Akunin” (悪人) is a Japanese word that translates to “great bad man”. In his novel The Diamond Chariot, the author redefines an “akunin” as a great evil man who creates his own rules (Wikipedia).

Currently Reading

Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines
Jane Palmer, The Planet Dweller
Jane Palmer, Moving Moosevan
Jamie Marina Lau, Pink Mountain on Locust Island
Chris Owen, Every Mother’s Son is Guilty
Sayaka Murata, Convenience Store Woman
Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent

What an Accountant Thinks About

Journal: 041

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I suppose you are like me and when you get an idea for a post, if you try and write it out in your head it takes off in unexpected directions. So it was when I began spinning out What an Accountant Thinks about when he Drives a Truck, I found I was off with the fairies ‘writing’ about drugs.

As a young man, even as an anarchist university student in the sixties, I was anti drugs. I don’t care what other consenting adults do, as we used to say, but I left school with fairly Calvinist opinions about sex, drugs, and work. I won’t say any more here about Fancy, my high school girlfriend, but she had a hard time of it, and I spent years reconciling my self-image and my actions. So, drugs. There was plenty of dope and LSD around, and at a further remove, heroin. All of which I was offered, but none of which I was tempted to try.

Likewise, once I had dropped out of uni to be a truck driver (rather than a hippy – I like working) I avoided as much as possible overnight work, which, if you spend all day loading, is impossible without drugs. If I had to do Melbourne-Sydney, a constant stream of high-speed trucks on 880 kms of narrow winding road, I would either get away early, grab 3 or 4 hours sleep, and get in mid-morning, or I would take my time and get in a day late.

By the time of the accident at Bungaree, I had been an interstate driver for four years – I was an old hand, we were all in our twenties back then. Les, my employer, made me take some time off and I pottered around doing odd driving jobs out of Stawell and making desultory attempts to revive my failed marriage to the Young Bride, who with her girlfriend, was off her face on Valium.

Les finally offered me a job on the Adelaide shuttle which did a round trip Melbourne Adelaide every day with two drivers based half way at Nhill. So every lunchtime I would leave Nhill, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, and by midnight I would be back in my company flat above a shop in the main street, while Terry, a local, went on to Adelaide, swapped trailers, and was back by lunchtime. Our old ex-Ansett Kenworth was doing 5,000 miles – 8,000 km – a week.

This went like clockwork until Terry got a council job and I was partnered with a young lunatic from nearby Horsham who wouldn’t keep the schedule, but kept pushing the changeover time back towards evening, so that I had to drive all night and he could drive during the day. I fronted him. He gave me a handfull of pills. I took them, and kept taking them for another four years. Prescription amphetamines.

I lost my Victorian licence, moved to Adelaide and eventually to Perth. The buzz of driving across Australia, through the day, through the night, for days at a time. A literal buzz. Scalp vibrating, hair standing straight up. Half a briquette, a few shakers, a small Coke (glass bottles in those days) every two hours through the night. Coffee for breakfast. Food optional.

When I met Milly I had been awake six days and was barely coherent. Even after sleep. The disconnect, that is the lag, between thought and speech was noticeable. The other disconnect I was born with. I weighed the same as I did in school, ten and a half stone (70 odd kgs. I’m not double that yet but I’m working on it). Milly and Psyche settled me down. I tried sales work. Drove a bit more. Rolled another truck, Milly pregnant with Lou. Gave it away. Bought a milk round, travelled in truck parts, started a course at Perth Tech in Transport Administration. Found I enjoyed book work and the following year enrolled in an accountancy degree at Churchlands CAE, which by the time I graduated had been subsumed into Edith Cowan Uni.

So for 20 years I worked, briefly, as an accountant, then as a transport manager. As PCs came in I slid across into software development, transport and small business systems, mostly self-employed, started an MBA, did half an MBus in Logistics which I turned into a Grad.Dip., became a partner in a container cartage business, which failed, and there I was, 22 years ago, Gee our youngest in the last year of high school, back truck driving again. Without drugs! I drive long hours, 14, 15, 16 a day, but every night, from 10.00pm to 5.00am, I’m in bed asleep.

And now of course I’m working for myself again. I have a big spreadsheet on my desktop at home, which started out recording my nights away for the taxman, and now has columns for kms, fuel, revenue and expenditure. I can tell you my revenue per km, and therefore my gross margin, is higher than I expected. I’m holding fuel down to below a dollar/km targeting fuel economy, lighter loads and discount retailers (currently the cheapest diesel in Australia is a truckstop in Ceduna in the far west of South Aust.). Tyres and repairs come in at 30c. But do I do my own tax and company accounts? No way! I pay someone who does it for a living.

I might have mentioned somewhere else I was having two weeks off for grandfather stuff while Gee was in Germany for a conference. Only as back up for Milly, but a teenager and 2 primary school age kids use up a lot of energy. As it happened, the other grandparents carried most of the load. On Friday I picked up some freight, there was a big family do Saturday, and as I was about to leave I realised I’d left it too late to borrow any audiobooks from the library. A few hours on Proj. Gutenberg and this is what I came up with –

Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines
Willa Cather, Alexander’s Bridge
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
George Sand, Devil’s Pool
G&W Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody
Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native
Virginia Woolf, Night and Day
Willa Cather, O Pioneer
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders

I’m in Melbourne now and I’ve listened to the first five, ok, four, Diary of a Nobody was both too tedious and too embarrassing to go on with. Rider Haggard was good fiction with some jarring racism; Alexander’s Bridge was brilliant but inexplicably, halfway through the reader changed from a softly spoken young American, to an older, stumbling, Australian with a genius for mis-emphasis and the book was destroyed. The Secret Agent had a different reader for every chapter, but also a different protagonist, and so the reading went ok. I’ll write it up when I get home. Devil’s Pool was the nicest love story I’ve read for years, and I’ll write it up too.

A couple of others, the chapters are coming up in the wrong order, which I hope I can fix. I might start the trip home with Woolf then go on with Hardy or Moll Flanders. We’ll see.

Recent audiobooks 

Ian Rankin (M, Sco), A Question of Blood (2003) – Crime
Graeme Simsion (M, Aus/Vic), The Rosie Result (2019)
Leo Tolstoy (M, Rus), War and Peace (1869)
Stephen White (M, USA), The Program (2002) – Thriller
Will Self (M, Eng), Shark (2014) – Literary. DNF
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) – YA
David Weber (M, USA), On Basilisk Station (2004) – SF
JD Robb (F, USA), Calculated in Death (2013) – Crime/SF

Currently reading

Charlotte Wood, The Weekend
Lionel Wigmore, The Long View
Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the River
Marie Munkara, Every Secret Thing
Peter Goldsworthy, Wish
Heather Rose, Bruny
AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage
Walter Scott, Waverley
David Ireland, The Flesheaters

Queensland!

Journal: 039

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Queensland is the odd state out. Australian states typically have one large metropolitan centre, with 70-80% of the total population, plonked down around a convenient port, and a mostly empty hinterland. But Queensland’s rural-metro split is much closer to 50:50. And that makes a real difference.

Right-wing Labor governments alternate with very right-wing Liberal-National governments; the police force is institutionally racist (I believe no Qld policeman has ever been convicted of killing a Black person (more here)); Queensland is Australia’s bible belt, though that seems to be spreading into suburbs Australia-wide, not to mention the Lodge; climate-change denialism is rampant: – institutionalized water-theft from inland rivers; widespread land clearing, coastal mangrove clearing; coal mining and fracking for gas prioritized over agricultural production; sugar cane farming and coal ports destroying the Great Barrier Reef.

And yet it is a beautiful place with lovely people (who invariably ask you to agree to 3 impossible things before breakfast – usually concerning God, greenies and commos).

So, my last trip: crossing back over the poor, dead Darling at Bourke; up through Cunnamulla (if you haven’t yet, see the movie), Charleville, Roma, Injune. Drop down into the Carnarvon Gorge National Park, 180 km of cool, tall timber (yes, some clearing) one of my favourite spots in all Australia and I don’t see the best of it from the road. Into Central Queensland coal country. My first delivery to a mine near Nebo, then over the Great Divide to Mackay and up the coast to Townsville.

They weren’t ready for the second delivery, so I left my trailers at the depot and went off for a shower, a sleep, a day off, shopping.  No secondhand bookshops that I could see. I asked at Mary Who?, where I bought Islands and The Old Lie, and the lady there said that as far as she knew they were all gone.

Late in the afternoon I headed up the coast again, too late to see Hinchinbrook Island bright green in a brilliant blue sea as you come over the last hill, but still a presence in the dark, then on through Innisfail and up into the range.

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Parking for the night in a tourist centre car park and in the morning out into the morning mist and lush greens of the Atherton Tablelands.

Loaded and tied down 92 round bales of hay with the help of Tim and Matt, young contractors from Toowoomba; headed south on the inland road (map): Mt Garnet, Charters Towers, 370 km of ‘development’ country, looking perenially newly cleared – I think the scrub keeps growing back – to Clermont and so back through Emerald, and on to Roma, turning east to Miles then south to Condamine where I parked up for the night in the main street, walked to the pub, was offered a shower before I thought to ask, truckies are special in the bush, and sat down to vegie pasta and wine.

Years ago Uncle S and Auntie M – mum’s younger sister – and their kids, my cousins, left Sea Lake for a larger, only partially cleared farm at Tara, southern outback Queensland brigalow country which had broken a lot of hearts according to my father, whose own father had gone broke as the town chemist in nearby Chinchilla during the Depression. The drought is breaking hearts today, though there’s still water in the dams, hence my load of hay, not for the property now farmed by cousin George, but for a couple of his neighbours. They took a trailer each, no mucking about, just got the tractor out and pushed the bales off into rough heaps beside the track.

The second delivery, to TJ – 50ish, dirty blonde hair, ice blue eyes, hard man – was way back off the road, dirt track winding through the scrub for a kilometre maybe, then an old weatherboard house, verandahs all round, surrounded by tired garden, abandoned trucks, tractors, cars, somnolent pig dogs chained to truck bodies I’m sure they could drag behind them if sufficiently aroused. And goats.

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TJ’s father had been a horse breaker and brumby catcher. There was on old Leyland Beaver, just outside the shot above, which had roamed the west of the state, towing a road train of single deck crates, bringing horses in to the property and out to all the rodeos. TJ and I made a few miles, truckin’ in olden days, and then got on to the subject of the dances which country towns in our youth held Saturday nights, for everyone from 12 to decrepitude. I’m still laughing every time I think of a young TJ hugged to a matronly bosom, only the back of his head still visible, feet barely touching the ground as he was whisked around the floor.

George’s brother, a fellow truckie, had seen where I was heading on Facebook, and invited me to stay the weekend. The long weekend, Queens Birthday, as it turned out. So I headed to Toowoomba, left my trailers in the road train assembly, parked my truck in his driveway, well one of them, it’s a big house, and settled down for a couple of days of drinking, TV, and rugby – met more of his neighbours in a couple of hours, watching the League Grand Final in a next-door multi car garage/men’s shed, than I’d met of my own in 50 years.

My cousin’s wife’s from Tara. Knows TJ. Says he’s a manager in a government office in town.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), Birds of a Feather (2004) – Crime
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Cats Cradle (1963) – SF
David Leavitt (M, Eng), The Indian Clerk (2007)
Lorenzo Marone (M, Ita), The Temptation to be Happy (2015)
Nayomi Munaweera (F, Sri/USA), Island of a Thousand Mirrors (2012)
Amitar Ghosh (M, Ind), Sea of Poppies (2008)
Ruth Rendell (F, Eng), Thirteen Steps Down (2004) – Crime DNF
Karen Robards (F, USA), The Fifth Doctrine (2019) – Thriller
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
Hilary Mantel (F, Eng), Every Day is Mother’s Day (1985)

Currently reading

Peggy Frew, Islands
Claire Coleman, The Big Lie
Elizabeth Jolley, Milk and Honey

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Leyland Beaver road train, Quilpie Qld

 

Not Hope Farm

Journal: 038

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Hope Farm (2015), shortlisted for the 2016 Stella, is one of those worthy books that travel around with me but which for some reason I resist reading. Luckily, last Tuesday, its time came. I finished the Total Devotion Machine review, reached into my bag for the next cab off the rank, hesitated over Junkie – 3 SF/experimental in a row?; Lily Brett – but so soon after New York?; and so spent the rest of the day, not unhappily at all, with Peggy Frew.

What had put me off of course was the name, I’m rarely in the mood for a rural idyll. Hope Farm is the name of a run down farm rented by hippies in – I’m guessing – Gippsland, the Strezlecki Ranges east of Melbourne. Thirteen year old Silver and her mother Ishtar are taken there by Miller, one of an endless succession of men briefly put on a pedestal by Ishtar (the better to see their feet of clay?).

The story is framed as a fortyish Silver looking back on a troubled childhood …

That was last Wednesday week. And there I ran out of time.

I remember a bit more, Ishtar an intelligent woman with a reading difficulty, her story childishly written, running alongside Silver’s as we gradually learn how both women got to be where they are now. Life for the orphan Silver a series of insecure dependencies from foster home to Ashram to hippiedom and rural, communal living. Reminiscent of Helen Garner of course, but Garner who is quite clear on the rules and difficulties of urban share houses, never quite says how she got there in the first place.

Fascinating for me, as these people and more particularly their theories were very much in the air when I was in my twenties. I chose a different path, shared housing a convenience rather than a way of life, but at different times at least considered going bush and scratching out a living.

“And there I ran out of time”. I was a few days in Melbourne because Dragan, back from two months furlough, had found me some loading ex-Perth where Sam had none, but had then found ways to divert me all round Victoria and southern NSW while he rushed his own trucks in from Adelaide and Sydney to grab the available freight and leave me stranded.

Still, I had a pleasant weekend with Mum, got some reading and writing done. Got a promise of a load home from another carrier and by late Wednesday was on my way. Missed sweet (?) sixteen’s birthday. Parked up Saturday arvo. Friends, the Longvales, old family friends from the very first days our kids were at kindy together and on through primary school, high school, functional and dysfunctional teenagerhoods, weddings, divorces. Friends who one particularly messy year had taken Lou in when Milly and I couldn’t, had my flat for a few weeks, and so I stayed with Milly. Not long enough to wear out my welcome.

On Sunday we had a family dinner at Clancy’s in Freo, where the kids have plenty of space to play. Kimbofo should have come, she lives just across the road, but sadly was unwell. Tuesday we had dinner with the Longvales. Otherwise it was a quiet few days of cryptics, quiches, left over birthday cake, wine, more cake, and good vego cooking.

A mate with a few acres in outer suburbia had earlier offered me parking for my truck and trailers; Dragan looked away when I dropped in with paperwork; his sister requested my fuel card. Without words an era in my working life came to an end.

On Tuesday I secured a part load to Mackay, north Qld; thought I had another, high paying load to Kununurra in the far north of WA which would have involved a trip around the top; there were difficulties with it being oversize; it fell through, was revived; fell through again. And meanwhile between socialising and not being able to settle down, I was neither writing nor reading much. Not much except American politics as their “president” begins spiralling towards an early exit and almost certain jail.

A Toowoomba-based carrier I had been chasing for ages came good with a load for my back trailer; the Kununurra load came up again and I regretfully knocked it back; and today, Sunday I’m in Port Augusta on my way to Mackay and Townsville, diagonally across the continent, for the first time in eighteen years. Ok, my seven hours break is up, I’d better fire up and get moving. (map)

Up and over Horricks Pass, too narrow and winding for B Doubles but legal and an hour quicker than the alternative, through the Flinders Ranges, through Peterborough, old railway junction town of lovely stone cottages and shop fronts and out onto the endless desert plains of red dirt, saltbush and acacia.

I’ve stopped again at Broken Hill, to get this off, will sleep somewhere short of Cunnumulla tonight and around Clermont tomorrow. Who knows what my next review will be. Not Lorna Doone whose words fill today and all of tomorrow probably, the damp green fields of Devon a strange contrast to the Australian outback. But something will come up, it always does and I have to have a day off before the end of the week.

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Recent audiobooks 

Graham Greene (M, Eng), The Quiet American (1955) – Lit.Fic.
Kurt Vonnegut (M, USA), Galapagos (1985) – SF
Nina George (F, Ger), The Little Paris Bookshop (2013) – Contemporary
Amitar Ghosh (M, Ind), Sea of Poppies (2008) – Contemporary
BV Larson (M, USA), Tech World (2014) – SF
RD Blackmore (M, Eng), Lorna Doone (1869) – Classic

Currently reading

Peggy Frew, Hope Farm
William Burroughs, Junkie
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization

Some Books

Journal: 037

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Another weekend in Melbourne – I hope it’s only a weekend, oldest granddaughter turns 16 at the end of the week and I’d like to be at the party, back home in Perth. Left the trailers at a truckstop in the northern suburbs and made my way to Mum’s where I can ‘hide’ the prime mover in a light industrial side street.

Mum reads pretty well constantly. Her retirement village has a ‘library’ where residents may leave and borrow books. The ones that caught my attention this weekend were Norman Lindsay’s The Cousin from Fiji (1945), the story of a young woman in the 1890s Ballarat of Lindsay’s boyhood, and given his notorious womanizing, surprisingly sympathetic; A Web of Friendship, Christina Stead’s letters; and Notorious Australian Women (2011) by Kay Saunders.

I read the Charmian Clift chapter in NAW and it was profoundly disappointing – it seems Clift is notorious for being beautiful (on the cover of Pix); getting pregnant at 18 and adopting out her daughter; and, get this, for causing the breakup of her marriage with George Johnston by being the breadwinner while he was ill.

There was no way Mum was going to let me take the Stead with me, but I got to read a couple of letters and I’d like to share with you excerpts from one which illuminates Stead and husband, William Blake’s move from London to New York in 1935, after they’d mostly been living in Paris (biog.). The letter is headed ‘Blech’ (Blake’s parents were German Jewish immigrants) at an address in Brooklyn and is to Nettie Palmer.

I had to begin all over again here, at the very moment I seemed to be getting to know people in London. I don’t know how long I will be here: it looks like a long session [discusses migrating to Canada] … If that works out all right I will in proper time (I believe it is three years) apply for first papers as an American citizen, a status which becomes effective in five years as I understand … It is always possible however that Bill will get tired of America and move again.

Rebecca West has been very generous to me, so have others: I have not found any envy or disparagement in the literary world, although I have found some (or rather, envious silences) amongst middle-class friends with no literary calling.

I only want one thing, I thirst to do something so good that there will be no denying it on anyone’s part.

My new novel, by the way, will disappoint you: it is one of those things that kick round in publishers’ rooms for years, being altered, discussed, proved, approved, until the author has got out of all patience, and the book out of all recognition [The Beauty and the Furies].

… I really put some gristle into Seven Poor Men and my New York friends haven’t even read it [apparently they expected free copies, which she couldn’t afford]. So they pass the fact that I write, up in silence, perhaps feeling slightly injured even; and sit and talk the whole evening about the stock market or what not. It makes me simply furious, not that I expect to be an object of interest, but not ever to be able to talk about literature … it is my own fault for hanging round demnition middle-class circles. I get a lot of fun though, from time to time, out of Bill’s business-friends: they are cheerful, brutal neo-Darwinians (survival of the slickest), complete Marxians (but on the other side of the fence!).

[Christina Stead, 8th Jan. 1936, from RG Geering ed., A Web of Friendship: Selected Letters (1928-1973), Imprint, Sydney, 1992]

I looked up ‘demnition’, a variation on damned, maybe invented by Dickens.

As I type on Mum’s dining room table, there is a silver foil wrapped package on the bench, a fruit cake which Mum has made me for Christmas, though I’ll probably save it for my birthday in March, the last before another big ‘0’. And yes, I brought my washing home. But I did cook dinner, well mine anyway, a vegie frittata, Mum had steak. Tonight (Sun.) we can eat out.

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If I didn’t constantly listen to audiobooks I would be even more unaware than I am now of what goes on in World Literature. My reading, I’m sure, would revert to SF and classics, mostly Australian. And of course I would miss out on some excellent fiction. Which takes us back to Grab the Lapels, again! Is ‘excellent fiction’ Literary Fiction, and what I prefer, writing for the writing’s sake, something else? Experimental Fiction maybe? I’m not sure. But the Solitude of Prime Numbers (2008) is definitely excellent fiction.

The novel begins as a series of episodes in the lives of various children and it takes a while to pick up the connections. It’s never said, but apparently it’s set in Turin. A child, Alice, gets lost in the fog on a ski slope and has an accident. Mattia suffers at school because his twin sister is ‘odd’. They finally get invited to a birthday party, he abandons her in a park on the way to the party and when he returns she is gone, in the lake maybe, and never found. Alice, is bullied by the flash girls, cronies of Viola, but is finally, seemingly accepted by them. Mattia, a brilliant student, ends up at Alice’s school. There are other students but we hear less and less of them. Alice, who has been left with a permanent limp from her skiing accident, tortures herself by not eating. Mattia tortures himself by stabbing his palms.

Alice forces Mattia to accept her as a friend, but they are never lovers. Mattia goes away to lecture in mathematics in Germany. Alice takes up photography (and gets a very funny revenge on Viola, while taking Viola’s wedding photos).

The delivery of the reader, Luke Daniels, is almost deadpan, but I think that is the way it is written. The story itself is rivetting as you become more and more invested in the two protagonists. Their ‘relationship’ is brought to a head by what might or might not be a sighting of the long dead twin sister. Highly recommended!

Recent audiobooks 

Joseph Conrad (M, Eng), Nostromo (1904) – Lit.Fic
Paolo Giordano (M, Ita), the Solitude of Prime Numbers – Lit.Fic.
PK Dick (M, USA), Our Friends from Frolix 8 (1970) – SF
Andrea Camilleri (M, Ita), The Paper Moon (2005) – Crime
Robin Maxwell (F, Eng), Mademoiselle Boleyn (2007) – Hist.Fic.

Currently reading

Tasma, Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill
Connell & Marsh ed.s, Literature and Globalization
John Kinsella, Hollow Earth
Rosaleen Love, The Total Devotion Machine and other stories

Sea Lake

Journal: 036

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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.

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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!