Going Round in Circles

Journal: 086

Trucking is always ‘going round in circles’ for the simple reason that you like to get home occasionally, though I suppose if you didn’t mind ‘boring’ you could just go out and back. The other reason for ‘going round in circles’ is that I keep thinking I’m getting on top of my blog reading and writing, and then I’m not.

The road above, 180 kms of (well maintained) dirt is emblematic of both. It is the road to a mine I was sent to after being sent mistakenly to another mine in a completely different direction 600 kms away; and it is the, or very close to the, route – there wouldn’t have been a road back then, just wheel tracks – taken by Katherine Susannah Prichard when she went to Turee Creek station, where she wrote Coonardoo.

I’ve written about this a few times. I’m always conscious of the books I’ve read which populate the roads I travel. This trip just past, I loaded at a mine on the coast north of Geraldton (let’s reference Lisa’s recent review of The Islands) came back to Geraldton (The Fringe Dwellers, The Merry Go-Round by the Sea) and headed west through Mullewa (False Claims of Colonial Thieves), following the now defunct Northern rail line (May Holman) through Mt Magnet, Sandstone (I could reference Daisy Bates all through here) to Leinster, 900 kms and a day later, where I was asked ‘Why are you there?’ (“Because you sent me written directions.”), and was redirected to a new mine, of which I had never heard, 260kms mostly dirt road north west of Meekatharra, itself 450 kms away and a third of that dirt (map).

Northern Line east of Mullewa

KSP wrote “I travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” and her son, Ric Throssell, added in his biography that by ‘end of the railway’ she meant Meekatharra, where the Northern line turns east to Wiluna (Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence). But as I have written, and discussed with Nathan Hobby, 400 miles takes you way beyond Turee Creek, 150 kms beyond present day Newman. I wonder if she actually took the train to Mullewa – there is a line north from Northam, outside Perth, and her husband’s home town – and was met by a truck from Turee Creek there. But that’s another story.

Assuming she trained to Meekatharra and went the last 300 km/200 miles from there by truck then the route they would have followed, the Ashburton Road, is the one I took to Abra Mine, about 50 kms south of Turee Creek.

To close that particular circle, I am currently reading Nathan’s new biography of KSP and am scheduled to have it read and written up by 6.00 am AEST next Wednesday. And tomorrow I have another trip.

It took me three hours, out of phone range the whole time, to follow that dirt road to Abra all the while wondering if there was a turnoff I had missed and when I came over the last rise and could hear chatter on the CB you can imagine my relief. Before I move on, wild camels are relatively common in the outback but you don’t often see them. I had to pull up while these three got themselves off the road.

For much of the trip I listened to State of Terror by Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny. Penny is apparently a well known Canadian author of crime fiction set in Quebec. State of Terror is a mediocre thriller notable only for what it says about Clinton – that she as Secretary of State was a mixture of Wonder Woman and an Enid Blyton heroine (ie. no adults get in the way of solving the crime); that immediate past President Eric Dumb, sorry Dunn, was a Russian asset; that the US has moved so far to the right that left-over elements of the Dunn administration would be willing to set off a nuclear warhead in the White House; that the Russian Mafia was founded and is still headed by the Russian President, and so on.

AWWC April 2022

DateContributorTitle
Fri 01ELMarie Pitt, Aust Women Poets and “sex-prejudice”
Wed 06Elizabeth LhuedeFinding Forgotten Authors: the case of “Eucalypta”
Fri 08ELMrs H E Russell, “Womanhood Suffrage”
Wed 13Bill HollowayMiles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung (review)
Fri 15ELMiles Franklin, Australian Writers Need Courage
Wed 20Nathan HobbyKatharine Susannah Prichard
Fri 22ELKatharine Susannah Prichard, Working Women of Note 1
Wed 27Whispering GumsLouisa Atkinson Pioneer Woman Journalist
Fri 29ELLouisa Atkinson, The Kurrajong Waterfalls

All the Friday posts are stories, or extracts from stories, written by the authors mentioned.

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Recent audiobooks 

Christos Tsiolkas (M, Aus/Vic), Barracuda (2013)
Marina J Lostetter (F, USA), Activation Degradation (2021) – SF
Louise Erdrich (F, USA), The Plague of Doves (2008)
Abigail Wilson (F, USA), Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey (2020) – Regency Romance
Ian Rankin (M, Sco), Exit Music (2007) – Crime
John Banville (M, Ire), Snow (2005) – Crime/Hist.Fic.
Hilary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (F, Can), State of Terror (2021) – Crime
Henning Mankell (M, Swe), Before the Frost (2002) – Crime
Terry Pratchett (M, Eng), Hogfather (1998) – SF/Fantasy

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF (Still! But I’m at the end)
Ada Cambridge (F, Aus/Vic), A Mere Chance (1882)
Nathan Hobby (M, Aus/WA), The Red Witch (2022)

Barracuda, Christos Tsiolkas

Barracuda (2013) is not a novel about swimming, as seems to be everyone’s first impression, so much as a novel where swimming, being a swimmer, is a way in to discussing Melbourne’s secret shame – class.

However, swimming, getting to world class, takes up a fair amount of space, which is interesting as I have seen nothing to indicate Tsiolkas was a competitive swimmer. Tsiolkas (1965- ) was a student at Blackburn High (in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs) where two of my kids went (I went to Blackburn South High) and if he swam would have been a member of my old club, Nunawading and maybe have been coached by my former teammate and coach, Leigh Nugent.

In fact some of the things Tsiolkas says about swimming – ‘touching the wall’, losing track of the line on the bottom of the pool, thinking (my head did almost nothing but count laps (and complain about oxygen deprivation) when I swam) – make me wonder if he just “imagined himself” into his protagonist, Danny.

Danny is the oldest son of working class parents – Scottish-Australian interstate truck driver father and Greek-Australian mother – living in Reservoir, a northern suburb of working class Anglos and new migrants; streets of small, identical three bedroom brick and tile houses put up by the Housing Commission in the 1950s and 60s.

The guts of the novel is that, based on his swimming, he wins a scholarship to attend one of the big Private boys schools, probably based on Scotch College going by the coloured blazer and the location on the river.

The first piece of advice the Coach ever gave Danny was not about swimming, not about his strokes, not about his breathing, not about how he could improve his dive or his turns. All of that would come later. He would never forget that first piece of advice.

The squad had just finished training and Danny was standing shivering off to one side. The other guys all knew each other; they had been destined to be friends from the time they were embryos in their mothers’ wombs, when their fathers had entered their names on the list to attend Cunts College.

First week of term, February 1994

The advice? “You are not friends, you are competitors.” Don’t take shit from them. Give it back. Hurt them before they hurt you.

At school he is teased and ostracized, but over the years makes his way in to the in-crowd via his victories in swimming and his ‘psycho’ response to being provoked. Scotch is the school rich Presbyterians send their sons to. Fathers are judges, politicians, leaders in business and medicine. Mothers are society ladies, big on committees and entertaining.

Most middle Australians live in a fantasy “classless” society, unaware of the 10% above them pulling all the levers, keeping apart, speaking in mock British accents (and yes, I had one for a while, at Trinity); dismissive of ‘bogans’, tradespeople who work harder and often earn more than they do; and completely blind to the plight of the underclass of generationally welfare dependent.

Danny finds himself in a school for boys training to be bosses, whose parents are the bosses the rest of us work for, where arrogance is a given and self-doubt is rare. Of course Australians cut sporting heroes a lot of slack, and so there is a path for him to achieve acceptance.

The storyline chops about, beginning with Danny, 30ish, ex-swimmer, ex-con it turns out, in Glasgow, his relationship with his lover coming to an end; and making its way through all the episodes in his life that brought him to this point. It works well.

We see Danny, as a swimmer, quickly the best swimmer in his squad, rise through states, nationals, Pan-Pacs; we see him floundering in the social side of school life, with his mates, his mates’ mothers and sisters; a scholarship boy in the upper class suburbs of Toorak and Portsea; But more interesting are the family dynamics, his ongoing friendship with Demet, a Turkish-Australian girl from his old life, his sense of entitlement at home, his father’s resentment, his mother’s conciliating.

This is a big book, over 500 pages, and although Melbourne and class, and I guess competitive swimming are the glue which hold it together, it is the relationships which make it compelling – with Martin, at different times his biggest tormentor and best friend; with Demet; with Luke, his unlikely swottish schoolfriend; with his brother and sister; his parents of course (his father seems to get rather more days at home than the one day a week allowed most long distance drivers); with his mother’s Adelaide-based family, introduced late in the book; with his lovers.

Tsiolkas still writes with his dick too often for my taste, seems compelled to put his protagonists’ sex lives in your face, but it’s not happening all the time here, which is a relief, and for once the protagonist is anti-recreational drugs. As you might expect of me, I find it odd that he has written a coming-of-age for a protagonist who is in no way himself – no, I’m sure there’s bits of him in there – but he knows his Melbourne, someone had to write about class sooner or later, and he does it well, and of course his father is a (mostly convincing) truck driver running Melbourne – Perth, so I think I liked it.

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Christos Tsiolkas, Barracuda, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2013. 513pp

see also other Tsiolkas posts:
Australian Grunge (here)
Merciless Gods (here)
The Slap (here)
A Letter from America – Melanie’s take on The Slap (here)

Son News Pictorial

Journal: 085

I was going to do this yesterday, when I pulled up for the night, but it was too late. Tonight (Sunday) I got in to Perth, from Melbourne, after 6.00pm and, feeling slack, put it off to tomorrow. But I’ve just (8.30pm) had a message asking me to commence unloading first thing in the morning. So here we go.

Blame Melanie. It was her suggestion that when I’m pushed for time I should do a post in pictures. In this case, my trip to Victoria for Mum’s 90th birthday shindig at B3’s farm outside Bendigo last weekend.

Top: no freight, so put middle trailer on back trailer and ran over empty.

Parked the Volvo behind the shed’s on B3’s farm. Dropped the trailers in a paddock a few kms closer to the highway.

The big day. Mum surrounded by great grandchildren.

Bendigo School of Mines is one of Australia’s oldest tertiary education institutions, these days in sad decline, the unwanted outpost of a Melbourne western suburbs TAFE. This is the upper level of the original domed reading room, which houses the rare book collection but is otherwise unused.

The original Library and School of Mines buildings. My librarian cousin showed me round on Monday.

Seeing as we were still all (nearly all) in town we older generations went to an Italian restaurant for dinner.

Tuesday I drove Milly to the airport and Lou into town. I was meant to drive Psyche on Weds but B3 was taking Mum home so he did that for me and I went off to load. You’ve seen pictures of my standard load, cars over the top of steel, so I’ll save you from another. Homer wants me back running Melbourne Perth and paid me a substantial increase as inducement. I’ll think about it.

Karen/Booker Talk says WP is reducing/charging more for media storage so I’m going to have to come back and shrink all these 3Mb photos. And looking at the preview, I probably should stick to writing anyway.

Multitasking

Journal: 083

Ok, I’m home. Before my most recent trip I let Melanie/GTL know that I was “dropping behind” with my posts and might be off the radar for a while -which indeed I was – and she wrote back, “Posts don’t have to be hard. If you take some photos, including ones of yourself, you can just share those and say they’re from a trip when you went from Perth to wherever. Sometimes it’s nice to just see someone.”

Well, I don’t do selfies and no one seems to have captured me anytime this year, so we’ll just have to make do with my truck.

This is how my week went. I get most of my work from two carriers, Sam & Dragan being one, and Anthony, who specializes in heavy haulage within WA being the other. The previous week I pulled a triple for Dragan, grossing 100 tonne which was a bit hard on the truck, so last week I accepted a load from Anthony. He made up a B double load for me in his yard and on Sunday morning I just had to chain it down and I was away. On Monday afternoon I met one of his trucks in Pt Hedland and transferred the load to him (it was all driveable machinery). And the fun began.

My first assignment was to move a machine from Iron Bridge to Eliwana, both FMG mines. Iron Bridge, 100 kms south of Pt Hedland and 50 km of dirt roads inland I’d been to once before. I rolled up in the morning, spent two hours dealing with my vaccination passport – which the federal government had sent me and which FMG deemed insufficient – took both trailers into the mine and up a very steep incline, spent another two hours loading and bringing them down one at a time (having all the weight on the back trailer would have caused them to slide in the gravel and jackknife), returned to the highway and by late afternoon was another 100 km south at Munjina roadhouse (Auski).

Eliwana was somewhere west of me but no one could give me directions. Eventually I got Anthony’s senior driver on the phone, was told to head past Wittenoom, past Solomon mine to the turnoff for Solomon airport and then just follow my nose for 130 kms, all dirt, and the nearest town and for all I knew the nearest phone tower, hundreds of kms distant.

I stopped on the edge of the road outside Solomon and got enough signal to edit that night’s post for the Australian Women Writers Challenge; saw that a scrub fire was burning some kms behind me and decided to move on; almost took a wrong turn averted at the last minute by a frantic call to Anthony’s driver, both of us on one bar; pulled up through the spectacular Hammersly Gorge and came to Solomon airport (all mines have their own airport) where at last I could sleep.

In the morning I pulled into an outpost of the mine, dropped my empty front trailer (top picture) and got directions. As it turned out, the next 130 kms followed the FMG rail line; the Eliwana gatehouse waved me through with the briefest glance at my “passport”; and by late afternoon I was back at Munjina.

Assignment 2 was to make my way 800 kms south and then inland another 150 kms mostly dirt to do two B double loads out of Penny West gold mine – no, I’d never heard of it either – one to Mt Magnet and one to Perth. For once I had excellent directions from Mt Magnet to Penny West (46.5 km east on bitumen, turn right Challa Station, 82.5 km south, turn right 1.7 km … 26 km past Youanmi mine).

I got back to Mt Magnet at 4.00 pm (by now it’s Thurs), with permission to unload on night shift. Advised Anthony – home in bed with Coivd – that I was on my way back to Penny West and he said “it’s cancelled”. He asked me to do a different load on Friday from another mine in a different part of the bush and I said no. I was hot from an endless succession of 38 deg days, dirty, covered in as much red dust as my equipment, and tired from rushing from one job to the next.

I contrived to get cleaned up, got into Perth midday Friday, picked up my other trailer which was getting some work done, and by tea time was at Milly’s with Mr 11, Ms 10 and Mr 2. We got Mr 2 settled – thanks mostly to his sister – and at 6am this morning I was back, ready for pancake duty, while Milly got on with Red Cross work.

In the middle of all that – all these dirt roads, rush jobs and dodgy internet connections – I was corresponding with the “junior publicist” at Melbourne University Press with regards to Nathan Hobby’s upcoming KSP biography. I had an extract prepared, from Nathan’s PhD thesis, to run on the AWWC site for which as you know, I am the editor of guest contributions. JP’s final word was, “We currently have publicity procedures and agreements in place for this title blah blah”. So that’s one spot I’ll have to find something else for, and if she continues not to send me a review copy (and the first reviews are already out) then that will be two. I’m guessing lit.bloggers are not serious enough for the new, serious MUP.

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Recent audiobooks 

Rosalie Ham (F, Aus/Vic), The Dressmaker’s Secret (2020) – deserves a review. Over the top in what seems to be true Ham style. Thoroughly enjoyable Hist.Fic. (but boy! am I getting sick of Caroline Lee)
Salman Rushdie (M, Eng), Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015)
Tao Lin (M, USA), Taipei (2013)
Clementine Ford (F, Aust/Vic), Fight Like a Girl (2016) – NF (another I enjoyed and should review)
Ian McEwan (M, Eng), Machines Like Me (2019) – Mediocre SF
John Banville (M, Ire), The Sea (2005)
Hans Rosenfeldt (M, Swe), Cry Wolf (2021) – Crime (more Scandanavian noir, set interestingly on Sweden’s border with Finland, but with too much blood and too obviously written by a movie script writer).

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF (Still! It’s slow going)
Madelaine Ryan (F, Aus/Vic), A Room Called Earth (2020) – review coming.


The map is of course from Google Maps, I didn’t mean to crop their logo. To give you an idea of scale, Perth to Pt Hedland is 1,600 km.

FMG is Fortescue Metals Group, now Australia’s third largest iron ore miner after Andrew Forrest finally managed to launch a winner on the stockmarket (and is now of course considered an oracle on all things to do with anything).

KSP Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883 – 1969). Australian author

The Australian Women Writers Challenge

Journal: 082

I like last year’s logo, though one of my friends thinks poor Miles (it is of course Miles Franklin’s silhouette) is losing all her thoughts, or all her sense more likely, out the top of her head. We don’t have one for this year, and we are using the heading from an earlier year again. We – I say we, as I am now on the AWWC editorial team, with the site’s founder, Elizabeth Lhuede, and Sue (Whispering Gums) – will try and update the site’s appearance as we go along.

Over the past ten years they have built up a considerable database of reviews of Australian women’s writing (a lot of it contemporary of course); and also Elizabeth has been/is building an archive of out of copyright stories and novels. To complement that, I hope I can consolidate the work we have done here with AWW Gens 1 2 and 3 – which is roughly the period AWWC will cover from now on – onto the AWWC site as well.

Those of you who enjoyed the challenge of setting -and meeting – a target, may still, I hope will, post reviews on the Facebook page Love Reading Books by Aussie Women. I know, it’s not the same thrill as being mentioned in Summaries.

My reason for writing this post is to encourage conversation about the site. The reviews database needs a lot of work to make it friendlier to update and to search on. We are concentrating on the ‘magazine’ side at the moment – I think it’s looking good, don’t you – but we will definitely get back to the database side, though perhaps ‘eventually’ rather than ‘soon’.

For those of you I haven’t persuaded to subscribe, I will put up a list each month of the previous months posts.

AWWC February 2022

DateContributorTitle
Wed02Elizabeth LhuedeA new year and a new focus
Wed09Michelle Scott TuckerAustralia’s First Women Writers
Fri11ELElizabeth Fenton, The Journal of Mrs. Fenton (extract)
Wed16Bill HollowayLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (review)
Fri18wadHLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (extract)
Wed23Whispering GumsEarly Australian women writers, 1: Primary sources
Fri25ELLouisa Anne Meredith, Voyage out, 1839 (extract)

I’m thoroughly enjoying being part of AWWC, the to and fro as we get stuff sorted, and the contact with other bloggers as I source guest posts. I’ve always dreamed of being involved with a literary magazine and this is pretty close.

Somehow, the gaps in my real work have aligned to allow me to get well ahead with my AWWC posts and even a little ahead with posts here. Today, as I write, is Sunday. Last week I did a milk run up north, with a final delivery east of Marble Bar (Australia’s hottest town, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert), had radiator problems, got going using black pepper as ‘Bars Leak’, then broke down again almost directly outside Volvo, Port Hedland. They, despite being booked a fortnight in advance, replaced my fan, fan belt and pulleys while I waited and got me on my way home.

Yesterday, the Milly’s Moving project had me up a ladder painting; and tomorrow I will be (on Monday I was, you know what I mean) on my way again, first with a machine to Kalgoorlie and then a road train load back up past Marble Bar to Telfer.

The wet season (Summer) means roads up north are routinely under water – though not to compare at the moment with the east coast – the photo is of the Shaw River between Port Hedland and Marble Bar, and there’ll probably be a couple of more crossings between Marble Bar and Telfer.

[Weds night as I post this I am stuck in Port Hedland waiting out Cycllone Anika which is due to cross directly over Telfer, my destination, some time tomorrow.]

Just to slip in a literary reference, Ernestine Hill took a detour to Marble Bar (1932 ish), I think on her way back from Darwin to Port Hedland. Nullagine, 90 km of barely driveable dirt road south, was then the principal town of the region, and I believe Hill heard in one of Marble Bar’s many pubs about the escape of the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls back to Jigalong which came under Nullagine’s jurisdiction, and so made her way to Jigalong to meet them (The Great Australian Loneliness, 1937).

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Recent audiobooks 

Helen Garner (F, Aus/Vic), Stories (2019)
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), The Hunger Games (2008) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Catching Fire (2009) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Mocking Jay (2010) – SF
Claire Fuller (F, Eng), Bitter Orange (2018) – more drama than Crime

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF
Madelaine Ryan (F, Aus/Vic), A Room Called Earth (2020)

More for the TBR:

Speaking of Milly’s Moving, I took some bags of clothes to a local Anglicare and, having not been in a secondhand store since Covid, came out with 13 books, for less than the price of one new one, nearly all Virago Modern Classics. Hopefully, you can tell me where I should start.

Eliot Bliss, Saraband (1931)
F Tennyson Jesse, The Lacquer Lady (1929)
Laura Talbot, The Gentlewoman (1952)
MJ Farrell (Molly Keane), The Rising Tide (1937)
Rosamond Lehman, Invitation to the Waltz (1932)
EM Mayor, The Squire’s Daughter (1929)
EH Young, Jenny Wren (1932)
Elizabeth Jenkins, The Tortoise and the Hare (1954)
Ellen Wilkinson, Clash (1929)
Rosamond Lehman, A Note in Music (1930)
May Sinclair, The Three Sisters (1914)
Sunetra Gupta, A Sin of Colour (1999)
Hanif Kureishi, The Bhudda of Suburbia (1990)

AusReading Month 2021

Journal: 077

This weekend past, I did another road train load to Koodiadery, the new mine north of Newman, and 1450 km north of Perth. I’m sure you’ve noticed, fuel is up 30 cents/litre in the last few months, and with the amount of fuel I use pulling three trailers, the whole exercise is beginning to get a bit marginal, really marginal without the income from a return load. Interestingly, pulling just one trailer, usually with a wide load, I get paid almost as much and use a lot less fuel.

I unloaded late Sunday then slept and had a leisurely breakfast at a nearby truckstop (Auski, Munjina). The contractor I went up for couldn’t or wouldn’t load me home, but another contractor, Anthony, who’s been giving me machinery work got me not one but three loads out of a really isolated mine west of Tom Price (Look at the map: the mining township Tom Price is the dot north of Paraburdoo, and the mine, x marks the spot, is within the circle, 40km west of Tom Price).

My first load was a roller to be dehired in Karratha. So just one trailer, the back trailer with ramps.

Running east-west through that loop of roads is the Hammersley Range, rugged, beautiful and about 50% pure iron ore. There are dirt tracks through to Karratha but it’s easier to drive round via Paraburdoo – Nanutarra, the only bitumen road between the Great Northern Hwy and the North West Coastal Hwy.

As it happens, either way is about 600 km, so after dropping off the roller, I kept going clockwise to where the NWCH and the GNH connect, south on the GNH through Munjina, and then back in to Tom Price via the Karajini National Park.

My next load, tomorrow (Weds) morning is two or three trailers to Roy Hill, about 350 km each way, then on Thursday I get to load home.

Right now (Tue. evening) I’m parked in the Tom Price road train assembly, with Mount Somethingorother (pictured) behind me and a surprisingly attractive and verdant sewage pond across the road before me.

I’m not really up to much for Brona’s AusReading Month but I am thinking about what Bingo squares I can fill in. I’ve been reading, and am yet to write up, a Canberra/ACT novel; Brona, I think the ‘free square’ should be Indigenous, and for that I’ll say The Yield; NSW I can cover with Eucalyptus; Victoria with Jennifer Government; WA with The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea, which I really must write up soon; and for SA I have just finished listening to Coetze’s Elizabeth Costello (which contains not one word about SA, but that’s where the great man lives).

So that leaves NT, Tas and Qld. Guys, I don’t like your chances.

Murray Bail, Eucalyptus (1999). I was impressed when I first read it, but was less so this second time round. I’m not going to pick on Bail’s geography, anywhere in NSW (not too far) west of the Great Divide will do. You don’t need a synopsis. This very short novel is a fairy tale, and many princes attempt to meet the ‘king’s’ conditions to be granted the hand of the princess, Ellen. Ellen, while not expressing opposition to this process, has her own ideas. As the most boring of her suitors gets closer to winning her hand, she goes into a decline. But of course a handsome prince comes along and all is well. I enjoyed the conceit at the story’s heart, that the condition to be met is the naming of every tree, and we learn a lot about them as we go along; but is Bail anti-woman? Not on the basis of this novel. I think he has Ellen subvert the process very nicely.

Max Barry, Jennifer Government (2003) is a novel of a dystopian (that word again!) future where Australia is a colony of the USA; all services are provided by for-profit corporations, including the police; and in the place of surnames people have the name of their employer.

I have just started re-listening to this, in the hope of writing a proper review. So, I’ll just say here that the plot begins with a lowly merchandising guy, Hack Nike, being tricked into having to murder 10 purchasers of Nike’s new shoe range – to enhance their desirability. He reports this to the police who take over and carry out the murders, but incompetently. There’s a Texan guy who just wants to go skiing who ends up in New Zealand, employed by an NRA assassin squad; and Jennifer Government – yes, she’s employed by the government – must track them all down. It’s lots of fun. I don’t know why I had never heard of it before Emma (in France) twisted my arm to buy a copy. And the thing I enjoyed most is that you’d be cruising along in this American crime satire and suddenly you’re hit with Melbourne street names.

JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (2003) I don’t know what to do with this, it all went completely over my head. Elizabeth Costello, in her seventies by the end of the C20th, is the most important Australian writer of her generation. She gives/listens to a series of 8 speeches, spelled out in excruciating detail, which build up via a patronising chapter on the novel in Africa, vegetarianism, animal liberation, some ‘brave’ comparisons between factory farms and the Holocaust, to a full-fledged discussion of the nature of god and heaven. There’s some interesting stuff about the novel, including who should write what. But I wasn’t convinced by the femaleness of Coetzee’s protagonist, and I was bloody annoyed having to listen to his arguments for (and psuedo arguments against) the existence of god.

As I said, in the morning I’m loading for Roy Hill, which the more attentive of you will remember was the station (before Gina bought it and turned it into another iron ore mine) where a hundred plus years ago Daisy Bates’ husband Jack was manager. It’s occurred to me to wonder whether Jack went back to Roy Hill after the failure of his cattle venture with Daisy; and whether he, or their son Arnold, may have had anything to do with Daisy’s station nearby, Glen Carrick (Ethel Creek), in the years before she sold it. More research for when I retire.

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Recent audiobooks 

Evan Currie (M, USA), The Heart of Matter (2012) – SF
Nelson Mandela (M, SA), Conversations with Myself (2010) – NF
Tara June Winch (F, Aust/NSW), The Yield (2019)
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Surfacing (1972)
Max Barry (M, Aust/Vic), Jennifer Government (2003) – SF
Lee Child (M, Eng), Bad Luck and Trouble (2007) – Crime
Sarah McCraw Crow (F, USA), The Wrong Kind of Woman (2020) – Hist.Fic. (the 1970s!)
Murray Bail (M, Aust/NSW), Eucalyptus (1999)
JM Coetzee (M, Aust/SA), Elizabeth Costello (2003)

Currently reading

Robert Sheckley (M, USA), Can You Feel Anything when I do This?
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

1976

Journal: 075

1976 is in the air right now as those of you who read for #19xx Club put up your reviews. The three years centred on 1976 are not years I remember in any detail, but on 17 December 1977 I met Milly and things took a turn for the better (and for the more lucid).

I was living, sort of, in Stawell, 140 miles west of Melbourne. It must be about the year we switched to kilometres. The young bride had left me and was either living with her aunt in Melbourne or we’d scraped up the money to send her to join her mum and dad in Holland. The caravan we’d lived in was sold and I was sleeping in the car, camping at a mate’s place, spending odd nights at the Bricks Hotel. Or working. I had two old trucks but for much of the year neither of them was on the road.

For a while I had a job doing changeovers at Nhill, up the road a bit from Stawell, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The company had a flat above a shop in the main street, a nice old Federation building, I still go past it from time to time, or did before Covid. I would watch Days of Our Lives until the truck got in from Adelaide after lunch, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, be back before midnight, handing over to Terry who did the Adelaide half. It was a cruisy job and paid all right, but the police in Horsham, the next major town, knew me, knew when to expect me. I started to accumulate points and soon I didn’t have a Victorian licence.

Of course drivers then always had a second licence, in my case from South Australia, so I took one of my old trucks to Murray Bridge, outside Adelaide, and began running Adelaide – Sydney. If that involved crossing the top left hand corner of Victoria I would just hold my breath, or go the other way, through Broken Hill, and anyway, after three months I had my Vic licence back.

Mostly I remember being young and stupid and single and broke. My hands perpetually black from pulling apart and putting back together one old engine or another. Or changing tyres. Old rag tyres, overloaded and run for too long, would blow at the drop of a hat. I don’t think I bought my first set of tubeless steel radials until the following year.

What I don’t remember is reading, I don’t even remember where my books were. They’d followed me round in boxes for years, weighing down one side of the caravan, perhaps I left them for a while at mum and dad’s, anyway I’ve still got them.

What would I have read if I could afford new books? Le Guin’s most recent was The Dispossessed (1974) and before that The Word for World is Forest (1972) which I think I read for the first time a few years later with Milly. John Sladek was writing mostly short stories. His most recent novel was The Muller-Fokker Effect (1970). Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer, hits the jackpot with The Status Civilization, brought out by Gollancz in 1976.

What about Australians? I didn’t really make a start on them until the 1980s. Any purchases I made in those days, and for many years after except for a few special exceptions, David Ireland and Peter Carey mostly, were necessarily second hand.

I’ve since read most of the best of 1976 I think. Here’s a list (hopefully you’ll have forgotten by the time I re-use it for my 2026 end of year) –

Kenneth Cook, Eliza Fraser
Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (review)
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe (review)
Elizabeth Jolley, Five Acre Virgin (short stories)
Thomas Keneally, Season in Purgatory
Frank Moorhouse, Conferenceville
Gerald Murane, A Lifetime on Clouds
Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (review)
Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

So, I’ve reviewed three, definitely read the White and probably the Moorhouse. I own Five Acre Virgin, so that’s a start. I’d like to own the Murnane. A Lifetime on Clouds is his second and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name before, ditto Season in Purgatory, but then Keneally writes so many (it was his twelfth in twelve years). Interesting that Cook and White wrote about the same historical figure in the same year.

That was my 1976, a year of desperate poverty and youthful optimism. I was never going to be a successful owner driver on zero capital, but it was fun trying. I lasted four years, and four years (mostly) without a boss is worth working at.

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Recent audiobooks 

Anne Tyler (F, USA), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
Christina Dodd (F, USA), Wrong Alibi (2020) – Crime
Kim Kelly (F, Aust/NSW), Her Last Words (2020)
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Scholar (2019) – Crime

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

The Road to Turee Creek

Journal: 074

Turee Creek is where Katharine Susannah Prichard wrote Coonardoo in 1927. We won’t really take the road 130 kms of dirt track there, but I had to check my load anyway so thought I would pull up and take the photo just to give you an idea of what this country’s like. That signpost on the Great Northern Hwy is itself nearly 100 kms from the nearest town (Newman), which didn’t exist in KSP’s time, and 300 north of the next, Meekatharra, so Turee Creek is pretty remote.

This is all Martu country, the northern and western-most of the Western Desert peoples whose country extends east and south from here all the way to Ceduna on the south coast, on the other side of the Nullarbor in South Australia

If you remember back a couple more posts before the KSP autobiography, Daisy Bates‘ station at Ethel Creek (100 km NE of Newman) was in the heart of Martu country. She must have begun her studies of Aboriginal languages there, as when she arrived, a decade later, at Ooldea, west of Ceduna and 3,000 km from Ethel Creek, she found the people speaking a similar language. She (and husband Jack) came this way by buggy, 500 kms or so, in 1900, to get to the coast at Carnarvon, so she could catch a boat to Perth.

As did the Martu children, Mollie and Daisy, walking north thirty years later, 1,200 kms, to get home after being kidnapped by police working for the ‘Chief Protector’ (They probably hitched a lift with a camel train around here, but they’d already walked through hundreds of kilometres of this country, making about 20 km a day.)

I wrote more about the confluence of notable women in this remote area, years ago, in Ventured North by Train and Truck, and mentioned another, my favourite trekker/writer Robyn Davidson who, in crossing half the country by camel, from Alice Springs to Shark Bay in the 1970s, passed through just two communities, Docker River on the WA/NT border and Wiluna, crossing the Great Northern Hwy somewhere between this turnoff and Meekatharra.

As it happens, my next trip after taking the Turee Ck photo, last weekend, was up the coast to Karratha (see map below). And I had on my CD player Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965) which is a fictionalisation of his childhood on family properties in and around Geraldton. I’m sure I have a copy somewhere, so I’ll review it later (“soon”), but it is a stunning evocation of place and time (roughly 1935-55) and of course I passed through a lot of the places he describes, from the river flats at Greenough, south of Geraldton, with its horizontal trees to the Murchison River crossing 100 km north where the family picnicked waiting for the flooded river to carry away the old timber bridge (it’s higher now, and concrete).

This is Yamaji country (see ‘We were not here first‘), home to poet Charmaine Papertalk Green, John Kinsella, the location of Nene Gare’s The Fringe Dwellers), and where Alice Nannup whose biography I reviewed ended up, in state housing controlled by Gare’s husband. Stow, at the squattocracy end of Geraldton society, grows up not quite oblivious of the Comeaways and Nannups, but warned by his mother to stay clear of them, and his language is clearly reflective of how the adults around him spoke. Right at the end, he refers for the first time to ‘the Yamaji’, indicative maybe of a growing awareness.

The last book on this literary tour is Ernestine Hill‘s The Great Australian Loneliness (1940) which I still haven’t reviewed, and must. The journey which Hill chronicles begins at Shark Bay, and heads north. At Cossack (a port town since replaced by Karratha and Dampier) she discusses Aboriginal slavery in the pearling industry – a claim studiously ignored, despite the popularity of the book – then moves on up the coast, cadging a lift with Mary and Elizabeth Durack’s father up near the NT border. At one stage, hearing of the Rabbitproof Fence girls, maybe at the Marble Bar pub, she comes south to Jigalong to speak to them before resuming her journey.

My delivery was to the Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) which contains 40,000 years of art history and which we, of course, use as an industrial site for the natural gas industry. I took a great photo at dawn with the methane flaming off in the background, but I pressed video and it’s beyond me to extract one frame. I was still unloading when a load came up, roadworking machinery from a few hundred kms south, on the road into Exmouth. I had that on in the afternoon and the following evening, Tues., I was home (and up to chapter 61 of Roots which I’m reading with Liz Dexter and Buried in Print).

I should mention one other book which I listened to somewhere in there, if only to see if Melanie/GTL will add it to her recommended bys. That is Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (sic). It’s a fun Rom-Com about an artist, Tilda, who has been brought up in a family of art forgers (and is plump and attractive). She teams up with Davy, a reformed con man, to steal back paintings her late father had her paint under an assumed name. There’s lots of complications as you might expect, but the most interesting is that she likes Davy but doesn’t like sex. Davy’s sense of entitlement is a bit wearing, but how she works through that provides a bit of meat to what is otherwise the usual substanceless nonsense.

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Recent audiobooks 

Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Book of Rapture (2009)
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Flying (1973)
Alex Haley (M, USA), Roots (1976)
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Randolph Stow (M, Aust/WA), The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea (1965)
Olivia Campbell (F, USA), Women in White Coats (2021) – NF
Jo Nesbo (M, Nor), The Snowman (2007) – Crime
Jennifer Crusie (F, USA), Faking It (2002) – Rom.Com.
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), The Broken Shore (2005)
Philip K Dick (M, USA), Counter-Clock World (1967) – SF
Kate Grenville (F, Aust/NSW), The Idea of Perfection (2002)

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny

On a new (old) road

Journal: 073

Bron, if you’re planning on settling down to read this with a glass of wine you’d better make it a small one. I was working on a different post when I got a phone call 8am Thurs to offer me a load from Perth to Pt Hedland [Ok, they’ve emailed pick up instructions. Must dash.] So this is going to be a short one just to let you know where I’m at.

[Now it’s 7.00 pm. I’ve spent all day loading in the rain. One more pick up first thing tomorrow and then I’m off. Actually then I might come home, put some stuff together, do some shopping, and then I’ll be off.]

The thing is, I’ve given up crossing the Nullarbor, given up being in permanent isolation, and I’m chasing work up north. You can probably tell by the number of books I’ve read/reviewed recently that ‘chasing work’ involves a lot of sitting round waiting for the phone to ring, but things are slowly coming together.

Ten days ago I did a one off job to a new iron ore mine north of Newman (Koodiatery). You can see in the photo above that I pulled up at the Tropic of Capricorn sign outside Newman to take a celebratory snap. But this current load is from people who have ‘promised’ me regular work. Fingers crossed!

Some history: One hundred and twenty years ago Daisy Bates was in Western Australia, having returned from a five year visit to England, to be reunited with her husband Jack, who was then working at Roy Hill station, and her son Arnold, whom she had dumped in a Catholic boarding school. Daisy had what was left of her father’s money after the bank crash of the previous decade and Jack had been offered the lease of a station (all outback properties are grazing leases), Ethel Creek, between Roy Hill and Jigalong (of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence fame, though this was around 30 years earlier).

Daisy caught a coastal steamer from Perth to Cossack (1,500 km north) where Jack met her in a buggy, and they spent the next few months together, first making the trip up the course of the Fortescue River to Roy Hill, then inspecting and purchasing Ethel Creek and finally back across country, probably following the course of the Gascoyne River, to Carnarvon.

These days Roy Hill is an iron ore mine, 120 km north of Newman on the Nullagine road which runs through to Marble Bar (but which is too rough for trucks, which must take a roundabout route via Pt Hedland).

When I first started running north, say 15 years ago, Roy Hill was still a cattle station. If you came out of Newman on the highway to Port Hedland, when you crossed the Karajini Range to Auski Roadhouse/Munjina there was a dirt track heading east out to Roy Hill (map), which was more or less the path taken by Daisy and Jack coming from Cossack. A few years ago 160 tonne trucks laden with iron ore started using that track as a short cut between Roy Hill and Pt Hedland, and just recently 40 km from Munjina was bitumised to service a new mine, Koodiatery. To which I went for the first time, last week (I was probably the only person on it thinking about Daisy Bates).

[Fri night, getting on for 9.00. Stopped at Paynes Find, a speck on the map in the endless desert north of Perth, 150 kms from the nearest town, an old pub/roadhouse and a gold mine operated by a couple of old men with pickaxes.]

Last trip Maya Angelou, 4 hours, and Salman Rushdie, 18 hours, took up all my driving/listening time. Mom & Me & Mom was Angelou’s last, an overview of her life concentrating on her relationship with her mother, and I think it will give me some insight as I (eventually) listen to the rest of her life.

The Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, however hasn’t stuck, for all its fame. I remember thinking it was more straightforward than I expected – my previous Rushdie was Midnight’s Children – but I’m going to have to check with Wiki before I can write any more.

[Sat. night. Got to Auski/Munjina and the Koodiatery turnoff around 5.00pm. Helped a guy out and he bought me a beer. Had to persuade him one was enough! Dark now, and I’d better finish this post. Tomorrow, after my Koodiatery delivery. I should be in Port Hedland around lunchtime for one delivery in the afternoon – mines don’t take Sunday off – and one delivery Monday morning. Another contact has offered me some freight home which should pay the (very expensive) fuel bill].

Ok. I looked up The Satanic Verses in Wiki which reminds me it’s the story of two Indian actors in England plus three mystical stories interwoven in a way which makes a lot of sense. I enjoyed it (particularly the brothel where the prostitutes adopted the personas of the women of the prophet’s harem).

Today I was listening to another Nikki Gemmell, Rapture, a YA fable about the descent of an unnamed country into male-dominated authoritarianism. Tomorrow evening I should have time to finish writing up KSP’s autobiography, Child of the Hurricane.

I’m sorry that all you guys are in lockdown and that I am able to sidestep it by remaining in Western Australia, but having been in isolation for nearly eleven of the past twelve months I just couldn’t do it any more.

Already I am being called on to resume my role as the family’s driver – I’ve got out of bed to drive an hour to ‘rescue’ teenage granddaughter from her boyfriend (she was back with him last time I asked); I’ve driven Milly to and from her drumming class (she is unable to drive after dark); and I’ve been booked by one of my many sisters in law to help with an upcoming move. At some stage NSW’s failure to control the virus will result in its spread Australia-wide, but until it takes hold in WA, I’m taking the chance to live a ‘normal’ life.

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Recent audiobooks 

Maya Angelou (F, USA), Mom & Me & Mom (2013) – Memoir
Salman Rushdie (M, Eng), The Satanic Verses (1988)

Currently reading

Katharine Susannah Prichard (F, Aus/WA), Child of the Hurricane
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Talisman Ring
Elizabeth Jolley (F, Aus/WA), Lovesong
CJ Dennis (M, Aus/Vic), The Sentimental Bloke
Nikki Gemmell (F, Aus/NSW), The Ripping Tree
Minae Mizumura (F, Jap), An I-Novel
Belinda Castles ed. (F, Aus), Reading Like an Australian Writer

Iso again

Journal: 070

Iso again reminds me of Alone again, naturally. It’s certainly how I feel. Our incompetent federal government, with its incompetent international traveller quarantine and incompetent vaccination rollout and incompetent stewardship of the aged and disabled has allowed the latest, almost instantly transmissable strain of Covid-19 out into the general populace and so Victoria is locked down, heading into its second week as I write, WA has reinstated its ‘hard border’ and I in Melbourne loading, am heading back into mandatory isolation.

At least as an essential worker I can keep moving. And I will. I should be in Perth on Monday, unloaded Tues, second vaccination Weds, loaded Thurs, Fri and on my way back east over the weekend. Customers have not only contacted me with freight but one has organised to pay me in advance. How good is trucking!

Interestingly, it’s been a while since I had my brain probed with a nasal swab. The seven day test rule for truckies seems to have fallen into abeyance. Last year South Australia maintained testing stations at truck stops. But the one I used, at Port Augusta, has been closed these past two or three trips. I wonder if they’ll open it again with so much Covid on their border. Otherwise, I expect I’ll be tested within 48 hours of crossing into WA – Sun night if I’m making good time, more likely Monday.

Can you tell I have time on my hands and an itch to write? Posting just once a week seems wrong somehow, though it seems to be enough to keep my readership up. But as it turns out I’ve had nearly two days off in Melbourne since finishing unloading. Yesterday I wrote up Vida which I listened to on the way over (to be posted Sunday). Today’s Weds and I’ll post this, such as it is, while the ink’s hot.

I thought about writing up an episode in my life – I still owe Melanie an ‘I ran way to the circus’ story – but that seems to be something I would rather not just dash off. I’ve been thinking for a while about writing my autobiography, not as a book but as a series of posts over a number of years. How would I start? Brian Matthews writes that he thought about (and rejected) a conventional opening for Louisa – “she was born on such and such a date at …, add incidental detail for colour”. I could say “I was born in the bush hospital at Daylesford [70 years ago], weighing 8lb 10oz, after a farmer took mum in in his car from the little one teacher school at Leonard’s Hill, dad following later on his motorbike.” A few more sentences to dispose of my childhood and we could get on to the interesting stuff. I’ve no intention of competing with Sartre’s Words. I’m more Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Catcher in the Rye if I was good enough.

No one will ever be Joyce but if I were a writer I wouldn’t mind being Salinger or maybe DH Lawrence – yes I know, I’m Tiny Tim to their Placido Domingo.

The clock on the right of the screen says 10:58. That’s WA time, so it’s really 1pm and I’m due at the steel warehouse to load at 3.00. I have this constant backwards and forwards in my head between local and WA time because, by law, we have to keep our logbooks in home state time to stop us cheating when we cross the border. I normally drive from 5am to 10pm. The other day I leapt out of bed at 5.45 (on my phone) only to realise, after I started the engine, that I was in South Australia and so couldn’t move on for another 45 minutes.

I haven’t had time to list my audiobooks. But I’m currently listening to Herman Koch’s The Ditch (so-so) and reading Carmel Bird’s The Bluebird Cafe (whimsical).

Looking for a photo to illustrate this post I saw I had a sequence from my last trip – loading steel; tarped; some cars on top; hooked up as road train (on the cliffs overlooking the Bight).

I don’t usually have anything else under my tarps, but that trip I was carrying a drill press, ‘protected’ by shrink-wrap which quickly goes all Priscilla Queen of the Desert if you don’t cover it up.

As I said, Vida next, then, if I get them written, another installment of Such is Life, and a review of Butter Honey Pig Bread. Where will I find the time? And more books being if not read then listened to all the time. Maybe, by the end of next trip, a spell of iso will be looking more attractive.