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

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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.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

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The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is one of the classics of American and World literature, THE great novel of the Depression, and of course a great Road story, of impoverished farming family the Joads, and their journey from Oklahoma to California. It was made into a movie, one of the great movies according to Wikipedia, the following year. The image above, of the Joads’ ‘truck’, a 1926 Hudson Super Six cut down from a sedan and given a home-made truck body, is from the movie.

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1926 Hudson Super Six sedan

When I was a boy scout if we went on a troop camp – say 15 or 20 boys – our scout leader would take us in his farm truck with a cattle crate 16 ft long by 8 ft wide with 6 ft high slat sides, and we boys would sit on tents or on our bags with our backs against the slats, smoking Alpines, Camels, Viscounts, Marlboros, and it is this sort of roomy feeling I got reading (listening to) the book once again last week, but in fact the body on the Hudson wouldn’t have been much larger than the tray on my Hi-Lux ute – 8 ft long by 6 ft wide – and there were 13 Joads, counting the preacher and the son-in-law, some of them lying on mattresses (and at one stage Connie talks Rose of Sharon into having sex!). That’s awful crowded.

Don’t you think Rose of Sharon is a great name? Luckily I’m past the age of giving names to daughters or I’d have been tempted. It’s from the Bible, though apparently no-one is sure what flower it describes.

Everyone has read and seen TGoW I’m sure, but what struck me this time round was the number of trucks and the time Steinbeck takes to describe them. First up is a new diesel truck. Tom Joad, just of jail for killing a man, hitches a lift home.

For a moment the driver stared after him, and then he called “Luck!” Joad waved his hand without looking around, then the motor roared up and the gears clicked and the great red truck rolled heavily away.

I had thought most US trucks were petrol engined but I discover GM introduced the 71 series two-stroke diesel engines which I was driving in the 1970s, in 1938.  And Mack too had diesel powered trucks back then.

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1938 Mack Type 75 (I think)

Not much later Steinbeck introduces a roadside cafe by describing two drivers – a long distance two-up team – chatting to the woman behind the counter. Their truck has a sleeper berth “high up, behind the driver”. I can’t imagine what their truck was (maybe Melanie/GTL’s father can tell me), but they did exist, as these images show.

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I’m sitting in a roadhouse (Wingfield, Adelaide today) waiting for work and using Google Books to look up quotes. It’s hard to know what phrases to search on but the scene in the cafe brings up this, which resonates:

He’d go nuts just settin’ here and the road sneakin’ under the wheels. Fella said once that truck skinners eats all the time – eats all the time in hamburger joints along the road.

I owned and drove old trucks (20 or 30 years newer than these in build if not in design), Inters, Atkinsons, AECs, Leylands on long distance and Austins and Bedfords on local, so a lot of what Tom and Allan put up with is familiar. I never cranked a truck though I think we could crank our old Prefect and Granddad used a blowtorch to heat up his single cylinder Lanz Bulldog tractor, then a big flywheel to turn it over, with a deep bop-bop-bop that would send me running out of the machinery shed and down the track to the house.

When a big end bearing fails on the road the boys drop the sump (oil pan) and swap out the piston. I’ve done the same more than once, though not with secondhand parts from the wreckers as they did. I’m fascinated that they were able to get the replacement piston up past the crankshaft and into the cylinder, holding the piston ring tight with bronze wire which melted when the engine fired up. I’ve always had to remove the head – which means a new head gasket – and put the new piston in from above.

Enough trucks? The Grapes of Wrath is a Realist novel, following in the tradition of Zola and Jack London, not just describing the poor but explaining how they are cheated by the rich, the banks and the big landowners. ‘Conservative’ governments again and again allow the banks to create credit on the back of low quality paper, and again and again the paper – often junk mortgages – fails, the banks fail or at least withdraw credit, and so businesses relying on credit fail. Here the businesses are small farms, 40 acres – tiny by comparison with Australia where my grandparents’ selection in the Mallee was a square mile, 640 acres – many of the farmers already reduced from owners to tenants by years of drought, and with the coming of mechanized ploughing the banks force the people off the land causing a great wave of migration from  Oklahoma and surrounding states to the land of milk and honey, California. Only there, the banks and land owners are squeezing the little guys too, using their ownership of canneries to force down prices and ruthlessly underpaying the great influx of farm workers.

So the migrants are hated. Even workers in employment can’t afford to spend. Big business profits skyrocket while the economy stagnates. If it all sounds familiar that’s because it is. While the middle class is prosperous Capitalism seems benevolent. But it never lasts. Does it?

Interestingly Steinbeck alternates the Joad’s story with chapters of general description, economic theory, or illustrative stories with unnamed characters. And it works. Do you think the novel has a central protagonist? Sometimes I think it is Tom and sometimes I think Ma.

Ma is certainly the most interesting character. She says to Tom senior (her husband), you can give me a few whacks when you’re doing your job, supporting the family, but now we’re down and out, I’ve got to step up, assert control, and if you try and give me a few whacks now you’ll find I’ll be whacking back.

The Joads never get on their feet in California, the old people die, Noah, Connie, the preacher leave. Eventually Tom is forced to leave. But the novel ends with a flicker of hope, or at least of life-goes-on. Al settles down with his girl, and Rose of Sharon, her baby still-born, brings a near-dead man back to life.

 

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, first pub. 1939. Audiobook: Hachette, read by John Chancer

This is Ridiculous!

Journal: 029

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Spud’s Restaurant, Pimba SA

When I moved back to live in Western Australia in 2002 the main reason was … well the main reason was that Millie had already moved back, bringing with her Gee who had had a rough year after dropping out of uni … but the other main reason was that WA had no driving hours laws, no policemen pulling you up every day seeking out faults in your log book. Of course I made a nonsense of that rationale by promptly getting a job with Sam and Dragan and running backwards and forwards between Perth and north Queensland for a year, racing the two-up teams by dodging around cameras, cheating on my log book and skimping on sleep, until one of Dragan’s mates, a young Serbian “experienced” on the Belgrade – Berlin run, foisted on me for a hot-shot to Darwin, rolled us over on the first night out.

I hitched a lift with a lady Aboriginal magistrate to where Millie was living and working in Newman and after a short holiday there got into bulk cartage – no ropes or chains! – within WA. Eventually driving hours were regulated, but they were never onerously enforced, and were/are easy to live with – 15 hours/day up to 168 hours a fortnight, with mandatory 7 hour breaks each night and two 24 hour breaks every two weeks. At the height of the mining boom, with good hourly rates including for breaks, we were making as much as members of parliament, though without the ‘electoral allowances’.

Eastern states driving hours were for years 12 hours driving, 12 hours breaks per day, not much fun when you’re a long way from home and getting paid by the kilometre, but they are now, under the recent National Heavy Vehicle (NHVR) scheme a bit better at 14 hours per day, minimum 7 hours break each night and one day off each week, though with cameras now in SA as well as NSW – cheating not possible!. For most of last year, back again with Sam and Dragan, I was running to Brisbane or Sydney, sitting for a couple of days and then off back home for a couple of more days off, one round trip a fortnight, regular as clockwork. But since November I have been running mostly Perth Melbourne which round trip is theoretically do-able before a 24 hour break is due but which despite frequently involving side trips to Albury, Canberra and Sydney  I seem to be more and more often doing every week and a half, so 5,500 kms a week instead of 4,000, and 60 hours a week and days of loading/unloading instead of 45 .

I want to get off!

Last trip was typical – I left Perth on Friday, dropped a car in Adelaide on Sunday night, delivered to Dandenong – as far across Melbourne as you can get – on Monday. Ran my trailers up to a mine near Bendigo, was meant to be home mid Thursday but was at the last minute given a side delivery to Roxby Downs (in north central South Australia) so had to convert my morning with B3 into a 24 hour break, did the Roxby Downs, was sent back to Adelaide to fill the empty space on my back trailer, got home and unloaded yesterday (Sat) morning on what was to be my last trip – a year to the day since I started – before I bought my own trailers, to find my name on a manifest to Roxby Downs and Rozelle (!!!! Darling Harbour, central Sydney !!!) due out lunchtime today.

I have a review to write – Gerald Murnane’s A Million Windows which I am getting to the stage of barely remembering; I am writing thousand word essays (seriously!) for my NHVR accreditation, far more rigorous than the joke M.Bus in Logistics I did at RMIT; I have the accounts for quarterly company tax due and am at the deadline for last year’s personal tax; I have family to see, bills to pay. In three hours I have a meeting scheduled with Sam and Dragan. We will finalize which trailers I am buying and, maybe, how much I will be paid (they pay ok but it’s like pulling teeth). We will finalize that I DO NOT DO SYDNEY.

After that I am hopeful of settling back to one trip a fortnight and as they say a better work life balance. I bloody hope so anyway.

 

Recent audiobooks (though it’s a couple of weeks since I brought this list up to date)

Philippa Gregory (F, Eng), The Other Queen (2008)
Michael Kataki (M, USA), Ernest Hemingway: Artifacts from a Life (2018)
Michael Arntfield (M, USA), Mad City (2017) True Crime, Too long!
Teresa Driscoll (F, USA), The Friend (2018)
Dashiell Hammett (M, USA), The Maltese Falcon (1930)
Sue Grafton (F, USA), X (2015)
Ann Granger (F, Eng), Keeping Bad Company (1997)

I have started at a new library, my fourth, as I wear out their collections. This one, Cockburn seems to have some excellent SF and old classics. I have also downloaded some books from LibriVox – in particular The Vicar of Wakefield.

Currently reading

Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife (1993)
Gerald Murnane, A Million Windows
Thea Astley, Collected Stories

Not reading, Not writing

Journal: 028

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Mallee Sunrise (near Ceduna)

Eighty percent of east-west freight goes by rail, so when there’s a derailment road freight goes mad. In the two weeks since my last book review, The Glass Canoe, I have done trips ex-Perth to Port Augusta and to Melbourne, with a bare minimum 24 hour break in between. And that only served to make me late into Melbourne, 7.00 pm Friday. I thought I would get to spend the weekend at mum’s, but the carrier had my two trailers off-loaded and re-loaded in four hours and off I went again.

Mum was due to spend a week with B3 at Bendigo anyway, so he ran down and picked her up and I caught up with them the next morning for breakfast and some shopping at a little farmers market. No interesting second hand books, but very nice locally grown apples, plums and grapes. And a jar of home-made peach jam.

Coffee and a shower and I was off up the Calder Highway – slightly longer than the Western Highway through Adelaide (map) but infinitely more peaceful. Of course Dragan was soon on the phone to put an end to that. The western end of the Nullarbor was closed due to bushfires and the customer was considering offloading me in Adelaide. After four hours sitting at the Yamba, SA roadhouse I was allowed to proceed.

We often drive through bushfires, especially out in the desert where there’s no one to stop us, but eleven years ago there were fires in the scrub country on both sides of the Great Eastern Highway west of Coolgardie. At the time I was delivering cement out of Perth to Kambalda, about 80 kms past Coolgardie, four or five trips a week, and over the course of a number of days I could see the fires along the hills about a kilometre back from the road.

On Dec 30, 2007 my diary records that I was between Coolgardie and Kambalda, “Engine too hot to go up hill. Westrac out – unable to fix it.” While I sat beside the road I talked on the CB to the trucks coming past. The highway had been closed at Coolgardie and all Perth-bound traffic was being turned around and sent via Esperance (map). I let my engine cool down then ran in to Kambalda and was offloaded by about 10.00pm. Luckily for me, my engine played up again and instead of trying to sneak around the roadblock, I pulled over and went to sleep.

The next morning word on the CB was confused. The fires had intensified and Coolgardie was closed indefinitely. A convoy of trucks had been allowed through overnight, had been turned back when fire and dense smoke crossed the road, some forced to abandon their trailers. I joined the stream of traffic southbound to Esperance and it was only slowly, via the CB and ABC local radio that we learned 3 truck drivers had died, burnt to death in their trucks (Boorabbin Fire. Official Report).

Ever since, Main Roads have been (understandably!) hyper cautious, closing roads at the earliest warning. There was no sign of fire when I came through this trip, though apparently fires had threatened Kambalda (which is 40-odd km off the main highway).

These last couple of days I have been getting my truck ready for inspection as part of my National Heavy Vehicle scheme accreditation, which is turning into a saga in its own right. I could say I haven’t read or written a word, which is what it feels like, but I’ve read all your posts, lots of Oz politics and Trump and Brexit, but barely a word of The Georges’ Wife which I’ve started a couple of times in the past two weeks. Hopefully, this coming trip I’ll get a proper 24 hour break and be able to settle down to a long read.

Two books from the last two or three trips –

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The Quality of Silence (2015) is an action thriller set in mid-winter Alaska. It wasn’t too bad;  Lupton writes interesting and likeable characters; and her protagonist Yasmin – “a beautiful, troubled astrophysicist” – hijacks a semi trailer to get her, and her precocious, deaf, ten year old daughter, Ruby, to her missing, environmental activist husband in the deep north. Once the truck was wrecked, I skipped to the last disc. The ending was as unlikely as you’d expect.

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Jane Harper’s Force of Nature (2017). Harper writes moderately entertaining Australian crime fiction, but she butchers Australian geography – see my review of The Dry (here). This one was supposedly set in the ranges three hours east of Melbourne, the Australian Alps with its majestic eucalypt forests and ferny understory, which she describes as ‘hilly with lots of trees’ (I paraphrase). How she can be considered for literary awards I do not understand. The plot? Five women on a weekend survival course get lost in an area where a serial killer has previously lived/worked. Only four of them emerge from the bush. The fifth has been an informant for federal white collar crime detective Aaron Falk so naturally he goes up into the mountains to search for her.

Recent audiobooks

Sunni Overend (F, Aust/Vic), The Dangers of Truffle Hunting (2016)
Nele Neuhaus (F, Ger), Snow White Must Die (2010)
Kerry Greenwood (F, Aust/Vic), The Spotted Dog (2018) DNF
Isabel Allende (F, Chile), In the Midst of Winter (2017)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Started Early Took My Dog (2010)
Bernard Cornwell (M, Eng), Agincourt (2009)
John Sandford (M, USA), Storm Prey (2010)
Rosamund Lupton (F, USA), The Quality of Silence (2015)
Elizabeth Berg (F, USA), Talk Before Sleep (1994)
Chris Lynch (M, USA), Irreversible (2016)
Patricia Cornwell (F, USA), Point of Origin (1998)
Fiona Barton (F, Eng), The Child (2017)
Jane Harper, (F, Aus/Vic). Force of Nature (2017) read by Stephen Shanahan
Tom Woods (M, Eng), No Tomorrow (2014)
Erich Maria Remarque (M, Ger), All Quiet on the Western Front – BBC play, 2014
Monica McInerney (F, Aus/SA), The Alphabet Sisters (2004)
Ashley Claudy (F, USA), Outside the Ropes (2014)
Fern Michaels (F, USA), About Face (2003)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), To Die in Vienna (2018)

Currently reading

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe
Elizabeth Jolley, The Georges’ Wife

DVDs sitting beside the television

Cleverman series – interesting way to look at racism in Australia
Luis Bunuel, The Exterminating Angel – I love 1970s arthouse cinema; Bunuel, Fellini, Lina Wertmuller.

 

Bungaree

Journal: 027

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A week or so ago Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed Reading Victoria’s Suburbs & Pieces page, “a new piece of writing each week, free and online, themed around a suburb or town in Victoria. From fiction to nonfiction, poetry to prose, the only constant was the titles.” (I’ll link you to Sue (here) and you can follow her links to Reading Victoria). Despite the 25 years I’ve lived in the West, my heart still lives in Victoria where I was born, grew up and raised a family. Bungaree is not one of the 20 or so Victorian places I lived in but it played a short, significant part in my life (and I in its!).


Bungaree is of course the name of a prominent Indigenous man, of the Kuringgai people north of Sydney, during the early days of white settlement. It is also the name of a farming hamlet, south of Ballarat on the old Western Highway, long since bypassed, green, damp, hilly, black-soil potato country.

In the early hours of March 27 – mum’s birthday as it happens – 1976, I was at the wheel of a Brown & Mitchell Kenworth, a big red truck towing a big red pantec trailer loaded with 20 tons of bagged gypsum from Adelaide to Melbourne. My brother B3, a young policeman, was with me because, well because he could be. Any chance to drive. We’d called in at Stawell caravan park before midnight, found the Young Bride out, with friends at the Glenorchy football club ball, in the long cream dress she got married in still seeing occasional service as an evening gown, so we pressed on.

Misty rain was falling as we crested the rise into Bungaree then dropped down into the long right-hander through the scattering of houses. A car was coming towards us, lights on high beam. I aimed to the left of it, backing off, unable to judge the sweep of the corner in the dark and the rain and the blinding light. The crunching of gravel told me I was off the bitumen and on to the shoulder. And still the car was directly in front. I pulled as hard as possible to the right. Crashed into, over the car, swerved out across the wide verge, skating on wet grass, steering, braking furiously, around a power pole, through the front verandah of a weatherboard house, the Bungaree Police Station and into the front room.

Where there were five people sleeping on mattresses, an old man, his son, and three children.

In the pitch dark the truck engine roared. The man trapped under the left front wheel screamed. Someone, the policeman came running from the back of the house, shouted at him to shut up, he did, at me to stop the noise, I tried. Forced my arm under the windscreen lying flat on the dash, to the key, which did not work. Shoved the truck into gear and stalled the engine. For a moment all was quiet. B3 said “I’m ok, are you ok?” (At some stage he also said “Happy birthday, Mum”, but now I don’t remember when) and, his door up against an interior wall, crawled out through the sleeper cab, around the roofing iron separating us from my left ear to his right ear and we both got out my side, over the old man quiet beside the right hand steer.

At that stage we didn’t know about the three kids. One was rolled up in a mattress, in the stumps of the house, under the front of the truck, one had run away out the back, and I guess the third one we missed. Anyway they were all ok, though you can only imagine their nightmares.

B3 and I left the policeman to his family and ran out onto the road, to the car. It was crushed all down the left side, knocked off the road into the table drain. The driver told us to leave him alone, let him sleep. He was young, coming home from a party, had just dropped off his girlfriend, and driving home to Ballarat, had pulled up on the road, on the wrong side, had fallen asleep, lights blazing.

Within minutes, as you can imagine, there were police everywhere. The car driver was taken to hospital where doctors, on strike about something, managed to not give him a blood alcohol test. B3 was taken to hospital to have his head stitched. At this point I discover I don’t know how he got home. The old man was taken to hospital where he died the next day of heart failure. Rescuers jacked the truck off the ankle of the trapped man and he was taken to hospital. I sat in the back of a police car, was questioned then left alone. Later, the depot manager from Adelaide on his way to Melbourne, had his worst fears realised when he saw the ‘B&M’ on the sides of the trailer sticking out of the wrecked house. He came over to where I was sitting. “Are you ok?” I was ok. “All right, stay here, you’re in charge.” And off he went.

Some time after daybreak we all went back to the Ballarat police station. I sat in the canteen. When a load of stuff from Bungaree was brought in I joined the policemen putting it in storage. But mostly I just sat. It was lunchtime before Don my mate came down from Stawell in his powder blue GT Falcon to collect me, bringing Laverne, his girlfriend, and YB.

We went down to Bungaree for a look then headed off home. “Are you ok?” YB asked. “Yeah sure.” “Today was the day I was going to tell you we’re breaking up,” she said.

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Not my photo. It’s been on the net for ages and I’m pretty sure it’s my truck. At the coroner’s enquiry we were told that hitting the car had destroyed my steering, severed the airlines to my brakes and pushed the left front wheel back into the battery box. So I had no lights, no steering, no brakes and all my desperate maneuvers to avoid the power pole, to miss the house were illusory, without effect, without the possibility of effect. At a subsequent court case the car driver had his licence suspended and received a small fine.

Recently I discovered that school students had written an account of the accident (here). There are differences between my account and theirs. There were differences between my account and B3’s at the inquest. I have told the story as I have remembered it, or as I have remembered retelling it. I’m with Murnane, we don’t remember events, all we remember is memories.