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!

 

 

Jean & David

Journal: 035

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Another couple of weeks in Melbourne putting together a load home, another couple of weekends staying at mum’s. Week days at truckstops – Dandenong, Somerton, Sunshine, outer suburbs respectively south, north and west, reading, writing, talking sometimes, doing a couple of pickups and one day of local work delivering dead forklifts to the recyclers.

Mum has a new hip, was in a rehab hospital when I arrived, spent a few days in a real hospital, a few more days in rehab and then home in time for the weekend. We are both deaf, in a getting old sort of way, so conversation is a trial, especially when there’s background noise. But, surprisingly, I learned stuff I hadn’t heard before and if I don’t write it down what will happen to it, so here’s a story: Jean & David.


At the end of 1948 Jean was an awkward sixteen year old farm girl who wanted to be a teacher. Her father, Fred had left school at 13 to help out his widowed mother and older brother George on the family wheat, sheep farm in Victoria’s Mallee. As they got older and married, the original farm, of 5 one square mile (640 ac.) blocks, was divided up between them and their younger brother Bert.

There were sisters, my great aunts, Annie who told me she remembered the family’s original move from Maldon at the turn of the century, she and George and their parents in a flash sulky; Mavis who married a farmer; Alice, a lifelong teacher; and another boy, Jack, who stayed on at school, became an engineer and died in the War.

Annie married a farmer too but he died and she was back with her daughter Marjorie, living on the home farm, when I wrote ‘Educating Women‘ a few years ago. She moved to Melbourne, remarried late, bought an old farmhouse in (relatively inner) Surrey Hills, hawthorn brick with a slate roof, stables and beehives out the back, providing all us country rellos with a city base. I would lie in bed and listen to the clang, clang of the Wattle Park trams, and the buzz of Box Hill station in the distance.

Fred married (a different) Annie from a nearby farm, and they had daughters Lucy, Jean, Mavis, then, after gaps, boys Allan and Les. Those gaps were stillbirths, mourned by Grandma years later mum says now. I never knew. The girls went to school at their father’s old school, Tungie, a little weatherboard shed, in endless acres of wheat, sand, and mallee-bordered fences. One teacher and ten or twenty kids.

After Tungie, high school at Sea Lake Higher Elementary (K-10), Lucy was soon back on the farm, outside on the tractor mostly, but helping too with baby Les, and with the pigs, cows, chooks – farms were pretty self sufficient back then.

So 1948, 1949. Lumpy – her word, tall, big-boned, she never really made it past plump, and is tiny now in old age, Jean failed Geography in Leaving, had to do it again, and some other subjects. Social Studies where the new teacher, going on 22, tall, dark, handsome, up from Melbourne, helped her out with extra notes, while she was also part-time as a student teacher helping out with the littlies. By the summer break she and the Melbourne guy, David, both socially awkward, were going out.

May the following year, 1950, David and Jean were in Healesville, 250 miles away (400 km) on David’s motorbike – think poor, not cool – waiting for permission to marry. Their parents came, I don’t know how long they took. The impatient couple were married, spent the remainder of the year at a one teacher school at the furthest, opposite end of the state.

Another year, another school, Leonard’s Hill outside Daylesford. I was coming, a farmer drove Jean to hospital, David followed on motorbike. These were the days of wood stoves, cool safes, chip heaters, a little damp weatherboard house in a tiny community in a gloomy forest. The doctor recommended warmer, drier climes. Back to the Mallee.

Underbool. Fifty kids, two rooms, one teacher. The assistant was gone missing. Jean now 19 employed as ‘sewing mistress’, given the littlies again, a few months till the Inspector could produce a replacement, the last time in her life she was paid to work. William turning 1 then 2, left to run free, the school darling. I remember bits of it, crawling up the two or three stairs to Dad’s classroom, Dad facing me down the aisle and all the kids turning to look and laugh. I had always thought it was a memory from the next school, Bonnie Doon when I was 3, but Mum says no, that the kids told their parents nothing about school except ‘what William did’.

Wm, Underbool 1952

That’s it. I didn’t know Dad had (briefly) been Mum’s teacher and I didn’t know Mum had ever been paid to teach, beyond her months as a student teacher. I know bits and pieces about their wedding, Mum always unhappy about the photo of her in a fawn suit that hung in their bedroom. But the more I learn, the happier I am. Why is that, I wonder?

Since writing this, I am back in Melbourne again on another trip (and now back in Perth). I phoned Mum after I finished unloading, her rehab’s going ok. She left hospital early because Gee, my youngest was over for a visit, her kids variously with their other grandparents in north Qld and their aunty in Darwin. Gee’s in her thirties, the baby in the photo above is 68, but the baby in the photo above that is now 15. I’ve always enjoyed calculating Mum’s age as 18 years above mine (it’s 18 years and 50 weeks). She ran round the backyard pushing me and my mates on my new bike when I was six; did the same for my kids; only a few years ago she and Dad were conducting ‘old people’ on national park walks. I can’t imagine having grown up with old parents.

 

Recent audiobooks 

Julian Barnes (M, Eng), Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)
Alfred Bester (M, USA), The Stars My Destination (1956)
Philip K Dick (M, USA), Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (1974)
Elizabeth Berg (F, USA), The Year of Pleasures (2006)
Fyodor Dostoevsky, (M, Rus), The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
Sergio Rodrigues, (M, Bra), Elza: The Girl (2008)
Jane Austen, (F, Eng), Northanger Abbey (1817)
Charlaine Harris (F, USA), Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996)

Currently reading

William Dick, A Bunch of Ratbags
Alice Nannup, When the Pelican Laughed
Lily Brett, New York
Jess White, Hearing Maude
David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner

Hitchhiking

Journal: 033

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R190 International

Today’s post was meant to be a review of Nam Le’s short story collection, The Boat (2008) but after the first story, Le keeps writing about everything but himself, and when he got to the bit where he was a thirtyish woman having sex with her boyfriend I tossed it aside. And I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like arguing today about my preference for literature to be written from lived experience.

Sue (WG) tells me Nam Le has been lauded for his ability to present so many varied points of view but I don’t see how you can read the intense first story about a writer in the US dealing with his Vietnamese refugee father dealing with all his demons, and then be happy to settle for the entertainments which follow.

But the space below is still asking to be filled. I will write a story of my own. Toss me aside at this or any other point, I won’t blame you. Better still, go down to the bottom and tell me at what point you tossed me aside.

This brings me to think about the difference between writing a story and yarning. I noted when I reviewed Vance Palmer’s collection the Rainbow-Bird that he found it difficult to get going, fell back on the yarning style encouraged by the Bulletin. Nam Le begins his first story, “My father arrived on a rainy morning. I was dreaming about a poem …” and he begins the second, “In Cartegena, Luis says, the beach is grey at dawn.” This is enough to get me going.


The Young Bride had a problem, too much bleeding. When I met her and persuaded her to live with me in 1971 she had dropped out of high school, left home, taken a room with a couple of mates of mine in Carlton who had an old terrace house later demolished for the (old) Royal Women’s carpark.

RT and I had a much nicer two storey terrace in Drummond Street, had taken it early in the summer break so we would be set for the following year but our Greek landlord sold out to some distant connection of the premier for her two posh daughters. Luckily RT was posh too, Toorak, Melbourne Grammar and all that, and their mother let us stay. But I reacted in the worst possible way to all this poshness so that by the time YB came into the picture RT and I had moved to another old terrace house facing the back of the Windsor Hotel in the City.

That very first night, finding half my bed was empty I went downstairs to find YB crying and bleeding in the outside dunny. This happened a bit, and one night not long after found RT and me piggy backing YB up Russell Street to Royal Women’s where she was admitted, after one of those interminable waits sitting through the night in the Emergency Department that I later got used to as a young parent.

Her parents and I didn’t hit it off.

At 20 doing a third first year, I was skinny, long haired, barefoot, poor and scruffy in a long grey overcoat (RT’s school overcoat, how posh was that) and torn jeans. I sat by YB’s bed, or outside, all day, but when her mum and dad and little brothers and sister turned up that evening I took off. Not with any idea of where I wanted to go, but just wanting to keep moving. Walked across the uni to Royal Parade, faced north up Sydney Road, stuck out my thumb and got a lift through the narrow shopfronts and tired neon of Brunswick and Coburg, out past Pentridge to what was then the outer northern limits of the City.

The first time I had done this was on the very first weekend of my first first year. Not knowing anyone else in Trinity, which in any case was nearly empty, Engineering starting two weeks earlier then the rest, I walked out into Royal Parade on a fine autumn morning and hitched up to Sydney, walked across the Harbour Bridge, which I had never seen before, and was back home Sunday evening.

I’d started hitching the previous year, in high school, to get to other country towns to play football or hockey. Then over summer I’d left my uncle’s farm where I was working while Mum and Dad and the boys were away on holidays, hitched back to Mudsville for New Years Eve, got work haycarting, hitched down to Queenscliff at weekends where Fancy was holidaying with her parents.

After that first time I hitched again to Sydney and came home down the coast road, told one guy I was an orphan and he promised to train me up as a bulldozer driver; hitched up the Calder to Mildura then across into SA, riding through the night in a Lake Boga R190 Inter, Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay blasting out, the first time I’d heard it. Made it to Port Augusta that trip before deciding to turn back, got a lift in an airconditioned Monaro, another first, came home via Adelaide, Murray Bridge, spent hours waiting for a lift south to the Mount and more hours after midnight at Heywood, maybe one vehicle every half hour, engine noise building, building, passing, fading. A truck at last took me right to Melbourne, stopped for a while in Mudsville to drop off some timber. I pretended I’d never been there.

Hitching was easy. Later, when I hitched home from Brisbane for my 21st birthday, Mum and Dad drove me back out to Campbellfield, and there were maybe six kids waiting for a lift, strung out along the road. Honour had it that the latecomer took the furthest spot, but that didn’t bother me, I preferred to hitch walking, looking back over my shoulder. The next morning in Sydney, which was really my 21st birthday an old guy took me home and gave me cornflakes for breakfast, set me back out on the Windsor Road and the first guy to stop, in a Rapid Transport Transtar, was the guy who’d brought me down from Bris. I leaned casually with my elbow on the window until he admired my new gold watch.

So this night in 1970 I’m heading north out of town and a guy fortyish maybe picks me up in an old Customline, says he knows a back way to Seymour and I don’t care, I like new roads, we wind through the bush till he pulls up. It’s time to deliver. I get out, he gets out. It’s dark, cold, silent. In front of the car we wrestle furiously, I want his car keys. He wants … But I’m too young and strong for him to get it by force. Eventually, I break away. He tears off in the car. I struggle across paddocks to a distant light, a farmhouse. Wake the farmer and he calls the police. The policeman is furious. Bloody longhairs. He drives me back to Seymour and warns me never to be seen in his town again.

I get a lift home, pick up YB from hospital. We live happily ever after, for a few years anyway.

Currently Reading

BlakWorks, Alison Whittaker
Waterway (1938), Eleanor Dark

Being Vego

Journal: 032

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It’s hard being vego. Hard to get something to eat in roadhouses anyway, so mostly I avoid them or make do with a snack when I stop to fuel up – spinach and ricotta roll, toasted cheese, tomato and onion sandwich, spring rolls, wedges and sour cream. But BP truckstops have a standard menu item called “All day big breakfast”, $14.90, which includes bacon and sausages. So when I’m sick of making my own porridge I’ll order “All day big breakfast, no meat”. The usual response is, well, what would you like instead. Wingfield (Adelaide) a few weeks ago added fried capsicum and spinach, and the lady at Laverton (Melbourne) last week added fried onions and asked me to “put it up on Facebook* because it’s my last day”. I did, and all my friends told me what a pig I was.

Being vego is on my mind because the Tax Office has decided I’m no longer entitled to a living away from home allowance, on the grounds that I make up my meals before I leave home. $93 a night times 200+ nights away is a lot of money. Of course tax officials and politicians get $150-$200/night no questions asked, stay with family and use the money to buy investment properties.

Crossing the Nullarbor there are roadhouses every couple of hours, though it’s years since I’ve been in one, and zero IGAs, not that they open on the weekend when I’m travelling. So apparently the government will support you if you’re happy to live on processed and fried foods, but not otherwise. I always thought the allowance was like a remote areas allowance, for hardship, but apparently not. It’s a pity the ATO didn’t police transfer pricing and tax havens with the same zeal it applies to small business and welfare recipients.

The state governments do their bit with state protection rackets (“quarantine” stations) which confiscate any fruit and veg you are carrying at the state border (WA) and beginning of the wheat belt (SA) despite the fact that truck drivers and caravaners can go on for hundreds or even thousands of kilometres without going near any of the orchards supposedly being protected.

Enough. The business took a big step forward last month, with the purchase of two trailers, a B Double set. Theoretically, I’m now independent. Practically, for the time being at least, I will continue to carry freight for Sam and Dragan. But as we speak, business cards and con. note books are being printed. Next step will be to get the trailers in my own colours (light blue and white, this is as much fun as being one of Gerald Murnane’s racehorse owners). Better start saving.

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Out on the Nullarbor at the weekend I was listening to a Napoleon Bonaparte mystery set on the Nullarbor – Man of Two Tribes. Written in the 1950s, it’s probably one of Upfield’s last. Certainly it shows signs of a concept stretched too far. The premise is that murderers who have been released before the completion of their sentence are captured by vigilantes and imprisoned indefinitely  in a limestone cave on the northern edge of the Nullarbor Plain. Detective Inspector Bonaparte, who identifies as part-Aboriginal, comes out from Queensland on the train to find a woman missing off the train a few weeks earlier. He obtains two camels, a dog, and a dead dogger’s diary and heads off into some really desolate country north of the rail line (and way north of the highway), where he is surprised by three Aboriginal men and imprisoned along with the murderers.

Upfield was of course not Aboriginal, but his protagonist is portrayed sympathetically and to the limits of what was then known. Part of the solution to the mystery revolves around Aboriginal ‘medicine men’ being able to communicate telepathically, which is a step too far for me. And although he was very well travelled and did lots of research, I think some of his background is wrong, both about Western Desert people and about the Plain – which he describes as totally flat for hundreds of kilometres and bordered by high cliffs, an ancient sea shore. But then, I haven’t been there. Yet!

Recent audiobooks 

Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), False Colours (1963)
Jo Nesbø (M, Swe), Phantom (2011)
Laird Hunt (M, USA), Neverhome (2014) Fictional account of a woman soldier (disguised as a man) in the US Civil War. apparently, there were some.
Arthur Upfield (M, Aust), Man of Two Tribes (195?)
George du Maurier (M, Eng), Trilby (1895)
Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)
Charlotte Bronte, Villette (1853)

Currently reading

Krissy Kneen, Wintering
Behrouz Boochani, No Friend but the Mountains
Nam Lee, The Boat (short stories)

Movies with Millie

Top End Wedding, starring and partly written by Indigenous actor Miranda Tapsell. Really funny (and yes, with a few weepy moments).
Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð). A middle aged woman in Iceland wages a one woman war against a new aluminium smelter being established by Rio Tinto. Loved it.


*The Facebook account attached to this blog is Wad Holloway, but I have another, older account for pictures of grandchildren and trucks, maybe in that order.