I’m still here

Journal: 096

Just when I thought I’d done enough long trips, and just as AWW Gen 5-SFF Week was getting under way, I was given a string of jobs which has kept me away from home two weeks to date with another week to go. Luckily, I had some posts ready, but though I had a break last Mon-Tue, and again this weekend, I haven’t done any writing and thought I had better explain my absence.

First, I took a couple of road rollers from Perth to a mine out from Laverton, north east of Kalgoorlie; the maiden outing for my new road train dolly. 1,300 km

From Laverton I ran empty to Cape Preston, on the north west coast, south of Karratha. 1,700 km

The reason for this was that a contract I had expected for January had fallen through and so I accepted a road train load from Cape Preston to Peak Downs in central Queensland, inland of Mackay. 6,000 km as the shorter, northabout route via the Northern Territory is closed until the bridges swept away at Fitzroy Crossing are replaced, initially with a low level ford in three or four months. And yes, there are only two made roads east-west across Australia.

A week or so in, in the night, crossing western NSW towards Cobar, the truck started to run slow and a check of the gauges showed I had no turbo boost. For a while I had a top speed of 80 kph until I discovered that by revving the engine really high the turbo could be persuaded to resume working. This problem persisted for a couple of days but is currently in remission.

However, I woke in the morning to a big pool of oil under the front of the truck. Crawling underneath I discovered that the dipstick tube had come away from the sump. I blocked the hole and put a couple of litres of oil in and drove the 200 km remaining to Cobar, the next town. I didn’t seem to be losing much oil, so I bought some more and turned north towards Bourke and on into Queensland.

The days were beginning to blur. I had left Kalgoorlie Tuesday morning and was due in Peak Downs during working hours on Saturday, which I thought could manage by doing 1,200 km a day.

I fuelled in Charleville in western Qld on Friday and was persuaded there by some resting Western Australian drivers to take the shorter dirt road from Tambo to Alpha – which they had just taken in the opposite direction – which I did Saturday morning. It was ok, not boggy, but very narrow and poorly signposted. Soon I was in Emerald and on the phone to my contact in Peak Downs. His directions to me were to go half an hour north to Capella, turn east 75 kms to Dysart and then come up the last short stretch to Peak Downs and I’d be there by lunchtime. Which I was, but Capella to Dysart is a mostly dirt farm track through a mountain range. Next time I’m going the long way!

Still, that was the load done and my money – supposedly COD – earned. The poor old truck desperately needed a service and repairs. There is a Volvo dealer at Mackay, but a phone call to my truck driver cousin in Toowoomba (a major regional city near Brisbane) got me a booking with his mechanic, so I used Sunday to run empty there. 1,000 km

Two days rest for me. A refreshed truck. A part load from Brisbane and here I am in Melbourne (via the inland route for road trains) 2,000 km.

I loaded one trailer Friday, spent a day at B4’s farm near Bendigo where mum was also, and tomorrow (Monday) I load the second and I’m heading for home. 4,000 km

Have you been doing the maths (well, arithmetic really)? That’s three weeks and 16,000 km – about the same distance as Melbourne – London.

On the real business of this blog, I was really pleased with the response to the Gen 5-SFF theme, though I had hoped to get a second author interview. She might still write. I hope I didn’t inadvertently write a question that offended her. I’ll write up the summary when I get home. Thank you all for taking part.

Meanwhile the family message service is running hot. Lou is back in Tennant Creek for another year. The last photo I saw was of him camping at Coober Pedy. Psyche is due for another round of treatment; and as I write, Gee’s bush block which featured in my last Journal post, is threatened, though not seriously at this stage, by bushfires. She and the kids are camping at a friend’s place in town, just in case. Time I was home.

Getting Old

Journal: 094

Getting old is front of mind at the moment so why not use it for today’s title, though I’d really rather not think about it. Last week my big toe started hurting, then the whole of my left foot, until I gave up and went to a doctor, not my doctor because he has inconveniently chosen this month to remodel his surgery, but a clinic a bit further out, which Milly used before she moved house

I tried a clinic nearer home first, called Walk-In, and when I walked in there was a sign on the wall saying “Do NOT walk in, phone this number” which I phoned a number of times and each time after four rings it hung up. I asked the receptionist what the story was and she pushed a bit of paper at me with a website address. So that was the end of that clinic.

Anyway, getting old. I have gout! How C18th is that? The doctor barely waited until I sat down. He said ‘you’ve got gout’, sent me for tests, and gave me a prescription for a few days pain relief. I was up the bush the next few days so my my next appointment was over the phone. That doctor said, yes, the tests confirm you have gout, here’s a few more days pain relief. And that was it.

Luckily, I have a friendly pharmacist who explained gout to me – acid in the joints. She offered me an extract of rose petals – which I didn’t go with – and told me to see my own doctor for long term treatment. Probably after xmas. It could have been worse, I suppose, I might have been treated with leeches and told to stay off the port.

Wiki says sufferers typically “regularly drink beer or sugar-sweetened beverages or […] eat foods that are high in purines such as liver, shellfish, or anchovies, or are overweight”, so that’s one out of three. The phone doctor said drink more water and eat less protein, a bit difficult seeing as my principle food groups are porridge, and salad sandwiches.

Yes, I know, getting old is correlated with talking endlessly about bodily ailments. I’ll stop now.

But what else have I to write about? I’ve been giving my new trailer a bit of a workout, running around the bush and out into the Goldfields. That’s it above. Filthy, I know, from muddy access roads up north and a machine I carried leaking hydraulic fluid. Spent all Saturday morning pressure hosing it, and the afternoon drinking home brew. So much for gout friendly diets.

I spread the lower deck out to clean the mud off the chassis, but forgot to take a photo to show you how it works.

On Friday I got a text message to say that Neil@Kallaroo had died. I’d visited him recently in hospital, so his daughters must have seen me as the most recent non-family caller on his SMS. Neil was friends with Mr Whispering Gums, I think they had been at uni together and stayed in touch. I got to know him initially through his often wry comments on Sue/Whispering Gums’ blog, and subsequently on mine, and his support and banter particularly on matters SF. Sue writes a little more about him (here). There’s not much us areligious can say about dying. Neil was in and out of hospital, struggling with fluid on his lungs, and therefore with breathing, but he seemed to be leading a full and cheerful life. Getting old is a bitch.

Now that you have all fought your way through the various November challenges, I hope you are starting to think about dystopian/SFF novels for Australian Women Writers Gen 5-SFF Week, 15-22 Jan. 2023. I have a couple of interesting surprises in the works, though I’m not sure what books there are that I haven’t read/reviewed already. I’d better have another look at Kimbofo’s list in Comments for my Gen 5-SFF post (linked above).

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Recent audiobooks 

Paula Hawkins (F, Eng), A Slow Fire Burning (2021) – Crime
Patrick White (M, Aus/NSW), Voss (1957)
Tove Alsterdal (M, Swe), We Know You Remember (2021) – Crime
John Green (M, USA), Paper Towns (2008) – YA
Susan White (F, Aus/Vic), Cut (2022) – Medical
Mia March (F, USA), The Meryl Streep Movie Club (2020) – General

Currently Reading 

Kylie Tennant (F, Aus/NSW), Ma Jones and the Little White Cannibals (1967)
Toni Morrison (F,USA), Recatif (1983)
Jeff Noon (M,Eng), Automated Alice (1996) – SFF

AWWC Nov. 2022

DateContributorTitle
Wed 02Elizabeth LhuedeThe Lost Stories of Evelyn Blackett
Fri 04Stories FTAEvelyn Blackett, “For the Sake of Scalby” (fiction extract)
Wed 09Debbie RobsonEleanor Dark, Slow Dawning (review)
Fri 11Stories FTASlow Dawning Newspaper Review
Wed 16Bill HollowayRosa Praed, The Bond of Wedlock (review)
Fri 18Stories FTAM Preston Stanley Vaughan, “Is marriage a handicap to woman’s ambition?” (prose)
Wed 23Linda EmeryElizabeth Charlotte Bingmann aka E C Morrice
Fri 25Stories FTAE C Morrice, “Molly’s dilemma” (short story)
Wed 30Whispering GumsTasma, or Jessie Couvreur

The Bond of Wedlock, Rosa Praed

As I write it is Sunday 13 Nov. in Perth. Tomorrow I set out on a trip that will take me away from home for a few weeks. If it works as planned, which is never a given with trucking. I am thinking I will post this on Weds (16th) which is when my post on Rosa Praed’s The Bond Wedlock is scheduled on the AWWC site. By then I will be in Port Hedland and, hopefully, unloaded.

From there I will run empty to Kununurra, in the far north of WA, load two 14m x 3m wide portable huts, road train to Port Augusta and then run the two huts singly to Bendigo (or actually, Elmore) in central Victoria.

When that is done, it is planned that we – there are a number of trucks involved – will return empty to Port Augusta, load two huts each, and road train by the same route in reverse back to Port Hedland. Standard truck width is 2.5m, so we are 0.5m overwidth which is not allowed for road trains on the Nullarbor or south of Port Augusta in SA, hence the single running to Bendigo, and the long way home.

Wednesday: It was a good plan, but as I was driving out the gate Monday afternoon, I got a text saying that Central Victoria was under water and the trip was cancelled. Today I unloaded in Port Hedland, which was pretty non-dry itself, and tomorrow I will go home to Perth with a road train load of oversize tyres.

Running oversize means I get to pull up each evening at sunset, but it also means I usually don’t get to choose a stopover with good phone coverage, so blogging will be limited.


We have covered Rosa Praed (1851-1935) a few times in these pages, not least because our colleague Jess White’s hybrid memoir, Hearing Maud (2019) is at least partly an exploration of Praed’s relationship with her daughter.

My interest in Praed arises from my M.Litt thesis, some years ago, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature. Praed, like a number of Australian women authors of the time – coinciding with suffragism and first wave feminism – wrote heroines who chose to live without marrying, or who, if married, were willing to walk away.

Read on ….

Note that AWWC From the Archives on Friday (18/11) will be “Is marriage a handicap to woman’s ambition?” by M Preston Stanley Vaughan.

I will cross Australia

Journal: 093

November is Brona’s AusReading Month. Also Non-Fiction November, Novellas in November and MARM, but one thing at a time (I hope I get to MARM). Not to mention I am a month behind with my North America Project, for which this month I am reading … I’m not sure I even have anything suitable downloaded, though I did buy Light from an Uncommon Star by Ryka Aoki to feed my SF addiction.

So, AusReading Month. Bron is having a Voss readalong. Week 1 was meant to be Voss in Sydney, meeting Laura and getting ready to depart, but I listened on to his two farmstays – at Rhine Towers in the Hunter (north of Sydney) and then Boyle’s in the Darling Downs (south east Queensland) which is to be the stepping off point of his expedition inland.

In my head I bookmarked Voss saying, “I will cross Australia from top to bottom, I will know it with my heart”. I have at hand the Penguin Modern Classics copy I inscribed to Milly nearly 40 years ago, but I can’t find those words, which are the perfect expression of how I feel about crossing and re-crossing Australia.

Patrick White (1912-1990) is an interesting/unlikely person to be writing the perfect Australian novel. He was born into Australia’s ‘landed gentry’, the squattocracy, with grazing properties throughout NSW, but particularly in the Hunter Valley. He was sent away to boarding school in England then returned home for some years jackarooing on family properties. Especially Walgett in 1931 (David Marr p. 109) which feeds into Voss (1957), and which, along with his service in North Africa during WWII, are his only experiences of desert life. I attempted to cheat by checking Wikipedia but parts of White’s entry appear to be wrong or incomplete.

On his return home – and Australia had hardly been that, up till then – from WWII with his life partner, Greek/Egyptian Manoly Lascaris, they took up a hobby farm on the outskirts of Sydney which is ridiculously blown up into the pair being the Adam and Eve of Australian bush pioneering in The Tree of Man (1955).

Voss is supposedly based on the story of Ludwig Leichardt, of his final, failed attempt to cross the continent from the Darling Downs to the Swan River (basically, from Brisbane to Perth) in 1848. White, inspired by the desert paintings of Sidney Nolan, researched Leichardt from the safety of Sydney. Marr writes:

White came to the Australian desert through Nolan’s eyes… In his magpie fashion White searched for the historical details he needed for the book. He found accounts of Aboriginal painting and ritual in the Mitchell Library. For life in early Sydney he drew on M Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built [itself an historical fiction written only 20 years earlier] and Ruth Bedford’s Think of Stephen, an account of the family of Sir Alfred Stephen… Chief Justice of NSW in the 1840s when Voss made his journey into the hinterland.

Marr p. 316

My initial impression is that we are seeing Voss’s actions but Laura’s mind. Here she’s speaking to Voss:

‘You are so vast and ugly,’ Laura Trevelyan was repeating the words; ‘I can imagine some desert, with rocks, rocks of prejudice, and, yes, even hatred. You are so isolated. That is why you are fascinated by the prospect of desert places, in which you will find your own situation taken for granted, or more than that, exalted …’

‘Do you hate me, perhaps?’ asked Voss, in darkness.

‘I am fascinated by you,’ laughed Laura Trevelyan, with such candour that her admission did not seem immodest. ‘You are my desert!’

With Voss we, Australians, asked our greatest writer to write our central story, one man alone against the vast interior, not one that he knows from experience but which he knows from all the Australian writing that preceded him. We had a shot at it once before, asking the outsider, DH Lawrence to write The Boy in the Bush. Both are fine marriages of Bush Realism and High Modernism, but it is Patrick White’s which has stuck.

What else?

The photo above, sunset at Pardoo, is of me (of course) heading home from Darwin after four weeks getting an engine rebuild. Most of which time was spent – by the truck – sitting, waiting for its turn to be worked on, which is standard in these post-Lockdown, labour shortage days. It ran nicely, which is the main thing, and maybe uses less fuel, it will take me a while to tell.

I left Psyche in that medical cliche – stable – which is a good thing, except when you (she) feel the urge to jump up on a table and dance. She doesn’t read me regularly, though her main carer does (Hi, Sienna) but she doesn’t like me to underplay how much mobility she’s lost, or how much energy even simple actions now take.

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Recent audiobooks 

Eden Robinson (F, Can), Son of a Trickster (2017)
Patrick White (M, Aus/NSW), Voss (1957)
Robert B Parker (M, USA), Now & Then (2007) – Crime
Sally Hepworth (F, Aus/Vic), The Mother-in-Law (2019) – Crime
Adele Parks (F, Eng), Lies Lies Lies (2020) – Crime

Currently Reading 

Dorothy Hewett (F, Aus/NSW), The Toucher (1993)
Corey J White (F,USA), Killing Gravity (2017) – SF
Tricia Sullivan (F,Eng), Dreaming in Smoke (1998) – SF

AWWC Oct. 2022

DateContributorTitle
Wed 05Elizabeth LhuedeWriter, teacher, farmer’s daughter: Jessie Maria Goldney
Fri 07Stories FTAJessie Maria Goldney, A Daisy Crushed (short story)
Wed 12Jonathan ShawLesbia Harford
Fri 14Stories FTALesbia Keogh, “Angel” (short story)
Wed 19Bill HollowayMiles Franklin in America
Fri 21Stories FTAMiles Franklin, The Old Post (short story)
Wed 26Whispering GumsCapel Boake: Three short stories, and more
Fri 28Stories FTACapel Boake, The Necessary Third (short story)

That’s My Truckin’ Life

Journal: 092

Years ago, when Milly and I were young, and I’d gone broke as a truckie for the first time, we, despite already having one child and another on the way, bought a brand new Holden one tonne ute (it wasn’t till a third child came along that I gave in to common sense and bought a car with a back seat). Our first venture was a milk round.

Each night around 10pm I’d load up with crates of milk and drive up and down the streets of Booragoon, a reasonably posh riverside suburb, stop, dash between trees connected by wolf-spider webs, grab the empties from a step or milk box – always home to redbacks – replace them with the right number of bottles, and as I went, tossing the messages and monies left out by our grateful and trusting customers into a bucket to be dealt with in the morning.

Sometimes Milly, advanced pregnancy notwithstanding would be my runner, and sometimes I would employ Bruce, the boyfriend of Milly’s mother’s neighbour’s youngest daughter. Two or three years later I employed the neighbour’s son in a much steadier job at the transport depot where I was manager; and just recently he started going out with Milly’s sister, the little Diva, whom of course he has known since childhood.

The morning Lou was born he had to be transferred from the women’s hospital to the children’s hospital, who, having nowhere else, put Milly up in the flat for mothers down from the country. The next day I came in my old shorts and bare feet, plonked down on Milly’s bed with the aforementioned bucket, and got her to help me count the receipts. The nurses thought we were Beverly Hillbillies. (Lou required a number of hospitalizations, but survived them all).

Once I had the ute and an income, I began building up during the day a commercial travellers round in trucking products and so it came to pass that I ended up as WA distributor for Truckin’ Life magazine, now sadly defunct, but whose slogan as you might guess was That’s my truckin’ life. Which is my starting point for today’s tale of woe.

Two weeks ago today, you’ll recall we had just got into Darwin from an outback station, whose manager wanted me to load up later in the week and head back out with another load of fencing products. The engine felt like it was down on power and an error message was flashing up saying ‘check with workshop’. So the following morning I dropped my trailers at the BP and took the truck into the local Volvo dealer. Who had a fourteen day waiting list.

I got a taxi to Psyche’s and over the next few days we did various seeing doctors and drinking with Lou things, until I, not hearing from the workshop went back to twist a few arms, not to any great effect, though we did decide that rather than fly in a whole heap of new parts in the hope that one of them would fix the problem, we would, sometime during the next week, methodically do tests and swap things around to arrive at a proper diagnosis. This took till the following Wednesday, when we discovered my valves were stuffed – I’d need a new head; one of the six injectors needed replacing (but not the $8,000 ecu which controls them); and seeing as the engine was in bits anyway, I might as well get new this and that, including a new turbo (which is a bit of a relief as they are inclined, as they age, to fly apart without warning).

But. A new head would have to come from Adelaide and would probably take a week to arrive, so let’s say next Friday, and then a week to put it all back together, so that’s October gone.

Psyche has friends to do the carer thing, so I decided to fly home. Which leads us to the next ‘but’. Darwin-Perth direct is so expensive ($1,200-1,400) that it is cheaper to fly via Sydney or Melbourne, which explains why the fine print for some of the cheaper flights says ‘2 stopovers, 16 hours’. I constructed my own dog-leg with Virgin, flew to Melbourne, had a two day layover while I visited mum and did some book shopping, then flew home this morning (Tue), saving a couple of hundred dollars in the process.

If you’ve been keeping up, you will now have in your head that I have in rapid succession purchased a new trailer, so there’s several tens of thousands of dollars; begun an engine rebuild, a second several tens of thousands of dollars; and done one trip in two months – yes, several tens etc. more. Things are going to be a bit tight for a while!

I forget what I listened to on the way up to Darwin, not Son of a Trickster, which I was saving for the home trip so it would be fresh in my mind as I wrote it up, and which, consequently is now another month late. At Psyche’s my heart wasn’t in blogging and I indulged in a couple of SF novels off her shelves.
Corey J White (F,USA), Killing Gravity (2017)
Tricia Sullivan (F,Eng), Dreaming in Smoke (1998)

Since, I have mostly read Twitter and bits and pieces of mainstream news, though this morning I finally made inroads on Dorothy Hewett’s The Toucher which I have been carting around for months.

At the second-hand shop in Warrandyte I bought two hardbacks in beautiful condition, c/w dustjackets – DH Lawrence in Australia (1981) by Robert Darroch, and Pioneers on Parade by Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack (1939, A&R 1988 so a bicentenary pub.); plus In a Wilderness of Mirrors (1992) by Ric Throssell, KSP’s son. I reluctantly passed up another lovely hardback, Cuffy Mahony and other stories, by HH Richardson which I already have as a paperback.

Mum makes me cook tea. Here I am preparing a simple vegetarian moussaka.

Such is Life

Journal: 091

Such is Life is a cheeky title to choose, but I feel very Tom Collins, having loaded the wagons with fencing wire and dragged them north to a station in the furthest backblocks – of the Northern Territory in my case rather than the Riverina in Tom’s – taking two and a half hours to cover the last 70 km of dirt tracks in. Arriving just on sunset I got a very Tom Collins reception too, being told to make myself comfortable in the amenities of the workmen’s quarters, dongas on stilts in the approved outback fashion, though I didn’t feel the need to water the cattle at the owner’s expense, nor, not being as gregarious as Tom, rather the opposite, did I spend much time yarning with the workmen coming in from the surrounding paddocks.

And ‘paddocks’ is the key word here. Nearly all stations in the NT are pastoral leases, cattle grazing in the scrub, the only ‘improvements’ yards and bores, but this lease has been approved for cropping. Around 3,000 hectares cleared, the scrub bulldozed into long rows and burned

Probably, it will prove initially viable, but soon the bores will be run down, the poor soils depleted of their last remaining nutrients, distance from market will be a killer and here as elsewhere through the NT, Queensland and NSW, the scrub will return.

I unloaded in the morning (Tues) and came on to Darwin where as soon as I have finished posting this I will catch up with Psyche. And maybe Lou, who left a cryptic comment elsewhere that he might be in Darwin Thurs.

How long since I last posted a journal? A month maybe. Early in September Milly was staying with Gee and the grandkids in their idyllic new home between the bush and the Southern Ocean. I ran down on the Saturday, stayed overnight, and brought Milly home. By Monday, Milly reported she had ‘the flu’. On Tuesday, I had an excellent long lunch with the Gums just off the plane for a flying visit to the west. Thursday I loaded for the Goldfields. Woke Friday feeling crook, but a RAT was negative. Got to my destination mine 300 km north of Kalgoorlie in the afternoon. Another negative RAT but my temperature was over 38 and I was not allowed in. Did a PCR, also negative. Unloaded in a parking bay 100m from my destination but not ‘inside’ the mine and went home to spend a few days in bed. Just a common cold, thankyou grandkids (the babies had very runny noses).

Luckily, I didn’t pass it on to the Gums and they were able to visit Neil@Kallaroo, an old friend of the Gumses. But sadly I wasn’t fit to have dinner with them in Freo before they flew home.

All this not working means I haven’t yet listened to my next North America Project read, Son of a Trickster. Listened to a couple of ‘re-reads’ instead, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and Pink Mountain on Locust Island which I was surprised and happy to see on audiobook at my local library. Also an ok Isabelle Allende (it was a long trip!) and now I have on a book about live-in carers, which might be germane as Psyche has one coming, The Leftovers by Cassandra Parkin.

Liz Dexter asked me which McMurtry I listened to last month. It was Sin Killer, a sort of Western farce about an English lord and his family – daughters, wife, mistress – venturing up the barely navigable reaches of the Missouri. But so many of you like Lonesome Dove that I’ll give it a try sooner rather than later.

A truck pic to end with, at the beginning of the track into the station. Not showing the innumerable gates, so you will have to imagine them.

And the new trailer? you ask. It’s in the home paddock, unused, eating its head off on insurance payments. Its day will come.

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Recent audiobooks 

Natalie Hynes (F, Eng), A Thousand Ships (2020) – The siege of Troy from the POV of women
Jamie Marina Lau (F, Aus/Vic), Pink Mountain on Locust Island (2018)
Ellie Eaton (F, Eng), The Divines (2021)
Henning Mantell (M, Swe), Sidetracked (1995) – Crime
Isabelle Allende (F, Chile), Daughter of Fortune (1999) – Hist.Fic
Cassandra Parkin (F, Eng), The Leftovers (2022)

Currently Reading 

W Green (M, Aus/NSW), The Interim Anxieties & other poems (2022) – Poetry
Alan Wearne (M, Aus/WA), Near Believing (2022) – Poetry
George Saunders (M, USA), A Swim in the Pond in the Rain (2021) – NF/Short Stories
Kylie Tenant (F, Aus/NSW), Ma Jones and the Little White Cannibals (1967) – Short Stories
Haruki Murakami (M, Jap), First Person Singular (2021) – Short Stories

AWWC Sept. 2022

DateContributorTitle
Fri 02Stories FTAE H D, The Aboriginal Mother (poem)
Wed 07Elizabeth LhuedeGender Unknown: the case of R McKay Tully
Fri 09Stories FTAR McKay Tully, The Power of a Child (short story)
Wed 14Jessica WhiteRosa Praed, Sister Sorrow (review)
Fri 16Stories FTARosa Praed, The Sea-birds’ Message (short story)
Wed 21Bill HollowayErnestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness (review)
Fri 23Stories FTAErnestine Hill, “The Strange Case of Mrs Widgety” (nonfiction extract)
Wed 28Whispering GumsCapel Boake
Fri 30Stories FTACapel Boake, The Room Next Door (short story)

Family Stuff

Journal: 089

My last Journal post had me doing a lap of the country. Well here it is a month later and I’m back in Mt Isa, been sitting here for a week, in a cabin in a caravan park (‘trailer park’, Melanie), waiting for a promised load home which keeps getting put back. When this is posted in two or three days time, I hope I’m on my way.

Keeping me company is a blacky-green frog, about the size of my hand when his legs are spread out, living under the lip of my toilet bowl. In the rush of flushing water he’ll wave his legs frantically fighting to hold his position at the top of the slope; when the water is slow to run it seems he is part way up the pipe to the cistern, blocking the flow; a few days ago he voluntarily or otherwise slid down the slope for a swim, but he doesn’t seem to regard the u-bend as a viable way out.

All this free time is dangerous. I’ve come to the conclusion I should sell two of my (three) trailers, buy a new, specialist trailer, and concentrate on wide loads, mostly in WA. The new trailer will be another drop-deck with ramps but the lower deck widens, like a dining room table, from the standard 2.5m out to 3.5 m, and will be better set up for road train work than my current, old drop-deck.

And why would I spend $100,000 on new gear rather than retire. Well, a) because it’s fun; and b) because it seems old truckies generally prefer to keep on truckin’: “the average age of truck drivers is 57, … 20% of truck drivers have already reached retirement age, and less than one in five are under 30 … women make up 7%.” Victorian Transport Association 28/07/2022.

After my last Mt Isa trip, I sat home for a week or so then did a load down to (daughter & son in law) Gee and Oak’s bush block on the south coast (between Albany and Denmark), with boxes and furniture on one trailer, a 4wd and (unroadworthy) caravan on the other, and grandson Mr 12 in the passenger seat. We listened to an Ian Rankin (non-Rebus) book about an art heist. Mr 12 was very involved and would pause it occasionally to discuss the villain, Mr Hate.

I managed to catch up with Milly for one meal and then she flew up to Darwin to be with our daughter Psyche while she has chemo for what was feared might be rapid-onset MS. (Yes, they’ve said I could blog this.)

So, first of all, the first chemo went well – the second of two treatments is today (Thurs) as I write, and the prognosis for the future seems good. At least, Psyche felt well enough last weekend to have a night on the town. Walking is now a hassle but we’ve been discussing on the family Messenger site whether her cane might be a sword stick. Ms 18 found them on the internet: “You can whip it out if someone takes your parking,” she suggested. “Or if someone takes your seat at the pub,” wrote Ms 18’s mother, getting the family priorities sorted.

On the day of the first chemo, Psyche was high on steroids; Milly tripped over a line and ripped out a cannula, spraying Psyche with blood; and the girl babysitting Milly’s little dog, Jute, rang to say she – the dog – had a broken leg. The Messenger stream for that day is full of concern. For Jute mainly.

We still don’t know if Jute attacked a monitor lizard; a dog got in; Jute got stuck under the couch; or, as the vet suggested, she was running and stepped in a hole. In any case, she has a compound fracture and has since seen an orthopaedic surgeon and had a plate inserted. Milly may be stuck in Darwin for weeks until Jute is fit to fly. Luckily she just sold her old house because most of the proceeds have gone on vet fees.

Just to fit all the kids in. I stopped at Tennant Creek and had breakfast again with Lou, at a cafe in the main street. Very civilized.

Despite all the time off work I take I am not blogging very well, either writing or keeping up with you lot. The AWWC gig takes a lot of time, reading and writing for my own once a month piece and chasing/editing for the one or two guest posts. But I find it immensely rewarding. So I guess this site will have to remain erratic for the forseeable future. A case in point is the North American post due last week. I’ve now listened to the book, Life among the Qallunaat, and I’ll write it up this weekend.

Photos 1 & 3 (Psyche & Jute) by Milly

And yes,I finally got away from Mt Isa on Saturday, came around the top through Katherine, Kununurra, Port Hedland and am on my way down to Kalgoorlie.

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Recent audiobooks 

Faye Weldon (F, Eng), Mantrapped (2004) – SFF?
Tea Obreht (F, Serbia/USA), The Tiger’s Wife (2011)
Yrsa Sigurdardottir (F, Ice), My Soul to Take (2009)
Marge Piercy (F, USA), Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) – SF

Currently Reading 

Aaron Fa’Aoso with Michelle Scott Tucker (Aus), So Far, So Good (2022) – Memoir
Claire G Coleman (F, Aus/WA), Enclave (2022) – SF
Yoko Ogawa (F, Jap), The Memory Police (1994) – SF
Ada Cambridge (F, Aus/Vic), A Mere Chance (1880)
Ada Cambridge (F, Aus/Vic), Thirty Years in Australia (1903) – Memoir
Alan Wearne (M, Aus/Vic), Out Here (1986) – Verse Novel
KS Prichard (F, Aus/WA), The Roaring Nineties (1946)
WW Ammon (M, Aus/WA), Wheel Tracks (1966) – Memoir
Jane Rawson (F, Aus/Tas), A History of Dreams (2022) – SFF

AWWC July 2022

DateContributorTitle
Fri 01Stories FTAM.G.B., Her Little Lad
Wed 06Elizabeth LhuedeGender female: “E C Morrice”
Fri 08Stories FTAE Charles, True Till Death
Wed 13Marcie McCauleyKatharine Susannah Prichard, Goldfields Trilogy
Fri 15Stories FTA“Sharp-eyed hussies”, John Dalley
Wed 20Bill HollowayAda Cambridge, A Mere Chance
Fri 22Stories FTAAda Cambridge, A Sweet Day
Wed 27Whispering GumsEleanor Dark’s juvenilia
Fri 29Stories FTA“G.M.M.”, “A Novelist at Home”

Seeing the country

Journal: 088

At the end of May I was flat out for a week running backwards and forwards from Perth to mines north of Kalgoorlie – and then reading about them and the early days of WA’s Eastern Goldfields in KSP’s The Roaring Nineties.

A few days at home turned into 20 before I realised I risked not doing any work at all in June. Dragan had a load to Melbourne. He told me to come in Sat morning (18/06) to load, but then Friday night rang me back and asked me to do a load to Mt Isa instead. I didn’t mind, it would keep me occupied and, bonus, I would get to see (son) Lou in Tennant Creek.

Loading was straightforward, 26 x 2 tonne bulker bags of lead pellets already in Dragan’s depot. There was a small hold up because Sam, Dragan’s dad, who was going to take one of my trailers over the hill to the roadtrain assembly, wanted to spend Sat night at home, but Sunday morning, grey and wet, we were away.

Day/night followed day/night. Every now and then I would stop and put another $2,500 of fuel in the tanks – all my credit cards will be maxxed by the time I get home – Weds morning I had breakfast with Lou before he wandered off to monitor school sports; Weds afternoon I was in Mt Isa and soon unloaded.

Dragan of course had said he would have no worries loading me out of North Qld. I took an early 24 hour break, did some shopping, waited to hear back from him. “Head down to Biloela” (east of Rolleston on the map above). I got down to Emerald mid Friday. Sat. Waited. Biloela had fallen through. No worries, there was a load next week out of Mackay (on the coast a bit north). No I couldn’t have it, they’d have another truck in North Qld by then. Well, how about Brisbane? You’d sit for a week with no guarantee of a load. It was getting too late to phone around.

Ever reliable Homer, called from Melbourne. Come on down AND I’ll pay you an extra $1,000 (on top of the extra I got in April!). So I spent the weekend running empty to Melbourne. From north of Hillston, central NSW, I crossed Wilandra Creek, the Lachlan River, ran down through Hay to Echuca – Joseph Furphy country!

And now here I am. It’s Weds (29/06), I took all Mon as a 24 hour break – in the east I must have one at least once a week. In the West I can work up to 12 days.

I got my James Baldwin post done. Tues I loaded and ran two trailers up to Charlton, which is my road train assembly point over here. Today there is a hold up and so I am writing. Tomorrow, hopefully, I’ll be on my way. Just 4,000 kms – no, 3,500, I’ve already done the dog run – for a total of 12,000 for the fortnight. Might need another break.

I listened to Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence early in the trip. It’s well worth reading but too much time has passed for me to write it up. I don’t remember what dross filled in the time till Just Above My Head. Last night I had a Jodi Picault on, about a hostage situation in an abortion clinic, strangely chiming with all the (justified) end of Roe v Wade outrage on Twitter.

A week or so after I get home Milly is going up to Darwin to be with (daughter) Psyche, who needs some pretty intensive medical treatment. Milly’s work is accommodating about her ‘working from home’; her little dog has her airline ticket; she might be gone a while. I might have to find some more work ‘up north’.

[Friday morning: Port Augusta. I got in late last night. Breakfast, shower, fuel, on my way 6am WST, due home tomorrow evening.]

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Recent audiobooks 

Caroline Linden (F, USA), Love and Other Scandals (2013) – Hist.Romance
Louise Erdrich (F, USA), The Sentence (2021) – Crime
Colm Tobin (M, Ire), The Magician (2021)
Jodi Picault (F, USA), A Spark of Light (2018) – Crime

Currently Reading 

Aaron Fa’Aoso with Michelle Scott Tucker (Aus), So Far, So Good (2022) – Memoir
Claire G Coleman (F, Aus/WA), Lies Damned Lies (2021) – Memoir
Yoko Ogawa (F, Jap), The Memory Police (1994) – SF

AWWC June 2022

DateContributorTitle
Wed 01Elizabeth LhuedeHiding in Plain Sight: Mrs T C Cloud
Fri 03Stories FTALindsay Duncan, Mr Coulson’s Queer Client
Wed 08Book around the CornerCatherine Helen Spence, Mr Hogarth’s Will
Fri 10Stories FTACatherine Helen Spence, The Literary Calling
Wed 15Bill HollowayBrent of Bin Bin
Fri 17Stories FTA“H J”, Modern Heroes and Heroines: What Women Writers Think
Wed 22Jessica WhiteGeorgiana Molloy: Collector of Seeds and Words
Fri 24Stories FTAHannah Villiers Boyd, Letters on Education
Wed 29Whispering GumsMary Grant Bruce’s juvenilia

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

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)