The Red Witch, Nathan Hobby

Back in 2015, when MST told me she had started a blog, Adventures in Biography, I started following the people she was following – Whispering Gums, ANZLitLovers, Nathan Hobby (then A Biographer in Perth), The Resident Judge, Stumbling through the Past, Historians are Past Caring (Marion Diamond and my favourite blog name ever). They were kind enough to follow me when I started blogging and soon, mostly of course through WG and ANZLL, I had met all of you.

It has been a great privilege to follow the progress of Michelle (MST) and Nathan as their books, first Michelle’s and now Nathan’s, in 2015 only a gleam in their eyes, have made it through to publication.

Before I link to my review on the AWWC site, I want to update you on my ongoing interest in Prichard’s trip to Turee Creek in 1926 to gather the material for the novel Coonardoo, which I first wrote about in one of my earliest posts Ventured North by Train and Truck (1 Jul, 2015).

From The Red Witch I get that KSP’s husband, Hugo Throssell, had worked on neighbouring station Ashburton, in the Peak Hill region, before WWI. And it was the Ashburton Road, past Peak Hill that I travelled last week, taking me to within about 50 km of Turee Creek. Nathan writes, “Joe Maguiure [Turee’s owner] described the location of Turee in a letter to a British newspaper: ‘We are just 198 miles from Peak Hill, our nearest post office. Our nearest neighbour is 80 miles away, our nearest railway 267, and nearest port 300 miles …'”

I can only imagine Maguire was prone to exaggeration. And that Prichard was mistaken when she wrote (and her son Ric later repeated) that she “travelled four hundred miles beyond the end of the railway” (Meekatharra according to Ric, who was at the time aged 4) in the station’s T-model Ford Truck to reach Turee Creek.

The distance from Meekatharra to Turee is near enough 320 km (200 miles). Peak Hill is roughly half way, so 100 miles. The nearest ports, Carnarvon or Onslow (KSP went home via Onslow), might be “300 miles”, they’re about 400 km/250 miles as the crow flies.

I was hoping Nathan would find something to clear up this little obsession of mine, but sadly, not.


The-Author-3-225x300 by Bill Holloway

A comprehensive literary biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) is long overdue. We, Nathan’s fellow bloggers, have waited long years through his PhD, fatherhood, being taken up by Melbourne University Press, and finally a year’s delay due to ‘Covid’, for this month to arrive. We have learnt a lot about Prichard in the meanwhile, but that doesn’t compare with finally seeing the book in the hands of readers. Read on …

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)

Multitasking

Journal: 083

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent audiobooks 

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

Currently Reading:

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


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

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

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

The Australian Women Writers Challenge

Journal: 082

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

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

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

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

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

AWWC February 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent audiobooks 

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

Currently Reading:

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

More for the TBR:

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

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

The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

As someone whose adopted home is Western Australia I have very fond feelings for Elizabeth Jolley who emigrated from England, made WA her home, and became one of Australia’s most loved authors. I wouldn’t attempt to apply any isms to her writing, but she wrote throughout the Gen 4 period and she wrote beautifully. Kimbofo, who has also made her home in WA, has reviewed one of Jolley’s later novels.


67d05341da6fa91687faea183a380b4b Reading Matters

The orchard thieves of the title of Elizabeth Jolley’s 1997 novella aren’t bad people stealing fruit trees but two little boys who pinch fruit to gobble up when they are staying at their grandmother’s house.

This rather delightfully told story is essentially about inheritance and taking what you think is rightfully yours — perhaps prematurely – Read on …

The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, Randolph Stow

AusReading Month 2021

Randolph Stow (1935-2010) was born and grew up in the regional port town of Geraldton, WA, 430 kms north of Perth, nestling between the Indian Ocean and the line of hills separating it from a narrow band of wheatland and then endless kilometres of desert sand and scrub divided into enormous stations running merino sheep.

Inland 300 kms and connected to Geraldton by the Northern rail line were the Murchison Goldfields – Mt Magnet, Meekatharra, Sandstone, and in the distance Wiluna. All territory I’ve covered before, writing about Daisy Bates, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls, KSP and Coonardoo/Turee Ck. Neville Schute’s Beyond the Black Stump (1956), which I have read and not reviewed, is also set in that country out towards Turee Ck,

Geraldton was the home of Nene Gare, a district nurse, her husband in charge of local State Housing, and the setting for her The Fringe Dwellers (1961). More recently John Kinsella and Charmian Papertalk Green have written (here) about Mullewa, on the Northern Line 100km east of Geraldton where they both lived, at different times, and attended school in Geraldton.

With The Fringe Dwellers and The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea we see Geraldton from the bottom and from the top (sorry, but conventional hierarchies have it that way) from the Indigenous unemployed (as seen by a judgemental white woman) and from the squattocracy, the great landowners. And more or less at the same time, the 1950s, though Stow’s recollections, and this is autofiction, begin in the early years of WWII.

The merry-go-round had a centre post of cast iron, reddened a little by salt air, and of a certain ornateness … The post began as a square pillar, formed rings, continued as a fluted column, suddenly bulged like a diseased tree with an excresence of iron leaves, narrowed to a peak like the top of a pepperpot, and at last ended, very high in the sky, with an iron ball. In the bulge where the leaves were, was an iron collar. From this collar eight iron stays hung down, supporting the narrow wooden octagonal seat of the merry-go-round …

[A small boy] went, scuffling leaves, to the merry-go-round, and hanging his body over the narrow seat he began to run with it, lifting his legs from the ground as it gained momentum. But he could not achieve more than half a revolution by this means, and presently he stopped, feeling vaguely hard-used.

And so we meet Rob Coram, whose story this is and a merry-go-round, though not “the merry-go-round in the sea” which is actually the mast of a freighter sunk in Geraldton harbour, whose rusting away over the years maybe signifies Rob’s loss of childhood innocence. The year is 1941. Rob is six and his idol, Rick, a 21 year old law student, a cousin in his mother’s extended family, is about to leave the Maplestead family property, Sandalwood, and go overseas with the army.

Rob, his little sister Nan, and his mother, Margaret, and lawyer father live in Geraldton. The father, who has also enlisted, is on army exercises at the weekend, but mother brings the children out to Sandalwood for Rick’s last day at home.

The hairs on the back of Rick’s neck were golden. Two crows were crying in the sky, and everything was asleep. The day, the summer, would never end. He would walk behind Rick, he would study Rick forever.

The summer goes on, endlessly as summer holidays do. Full of aunts and great aunts and little girl cousins. Rick is in Malaya, which we know, which the adults know, has fallen to the Japanese.

A man stood in the in the starlit rectangle of the doorway. He stood swaying for a moment, then stumbled forward… The hut was pitch-dark, steam-hot. It stank of men and the tropics.

And so we see we are to follow two tracks, Rob’s and Rick’s. Rick has just met Hugh McKay, who will be his life-long mate, in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

As the Japanese advance through Indonesia, as Darwin and then Broome are bombed, the sense of war, for the boy, becomes very strong. There are strange boats in the harbour, strange people in strange clothes in the town. Refugees. The house gets an air-raid trench in the tennis court. There are air-raid sirens. Preparations are made to evacuate inland to Mt Magnet. When these are not followed through, the family’s boxes are left at Mt Magnet station where “the black ladies opened them”.

In the early part of the novel Rob’s perceptions are often what he has heard adults say. This is the first time Aboriginal people are mentioned. Subsequently, at a visit to the “hand cave” on Sandalwood, Rob asks (about the people who made the hand paintings), “Are they like the blackniggers in town?” It is interesting to observe, as Rob grows to adulthood, that he increasingly discards his mother’s prejudices.

As the war recedes, for Western Australians anyway, Rob resumes school in Geraldton and then Guildford Grammar in Perth where all the men of his family have attended. Just an ordinary boy’s story, very well told.

Finally, Rick comes home. The one letter he and Hugh received in four years was a postcard from Rob, in which he said he weighed 4 stone 6 lb. “And Hughie and I weighed 5 stone apiece,” Rick says.

The last third of the book is Rick’s failure to settle down, as Hugh gets a wife, a house in the suburbs, a family. And Rob’s struggle to understand. A wonderful book. An Australian classic.

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Randolph Stow, The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea, first pub. 1965, this edition (pictured) Penguin, 1968. 276pp


Sandalwood. The Maplestead (Rob’s mother’s family) family property. Stow mentions location names from time to time, but I wasn’t taking notes. On the first trip there (in the novel) they first go south from Geraldton to Greenough and then inland to another family property. I got the impression Sandalwood was further inland, so maybe 60-80 kms west and south of Geraldton.

AusReading Month 2021

Journal: 077

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent audiobooks 

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

Currently reading

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

On a new (old) road

Journal: 073

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent audiobooks 

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

Currently reading

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

Lovesong, Elizabeth Jolley

The edition I actually read was not the paperback pictured above but a Viking hardback with the most luxurious-feeling semi gloss paper and a little woven bookmark. Which means I couldn’t cart it around with me, for fear of damage, but I’ve had some time off and so got it finished.

Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007) as we all know, was born in Birmingham, England where she worked as a nurse, had a complicated married life, came to Western Australia, where she bought a little farm in the hills outside Perth, and quite late, began to teach creative writing and publish novels. This is important to keep in mind because it usually forms the basis of what she writes about. But not this time.

Lovesong (1997), one of her later works, is a difficult work to come to grips with, set in an unnamed (Australian) city with a male protagonist who appears to have been released into the community from an institution for the criminally insane (that is, for people who commit a crime and plead mental illness, or sometimes for people who are at risk of committing a crime, usually sexual). I found it very slow to get into, though I gradually became engrossed, and I think Jolley may have been concentrating on imagining/reproducing the thought processes of someone who was a bit bewildered to find himself where he was. That is, the problem she set herself was not ‘how do I tell this story?’, but ‘how can I best write what/how this man is thinking?’.

I still haven’t read Brian Dibble’s biography of Jolley, Doing Life, but I thought I should at least look up what he has to say about Lovesong. Jolley said, in an interview with Ramona Koval, “she was inspired to write the book by work she had done with women inmates at Perth’s Bandyup Prison and male prisoners in Fremantles’s maximum security jail; she was moved when she thought of the loneliness such men faced when they returned to the community.”

Dibble writes: “While some readers might regard Jolley’s last three books [Lovesong, An Accommodating Spouse, An Innocent Gentleman] as chaotic, lacking structure and control and more, what is remarkable about them is how they recapitulate Jolley’s entire oeuvre from three different points of view, the first focusing on the sexual outsider and the other two on the family.”

Dalton Foster, still lingering in his doorway, straightens his tie and wondering why his mother and aunt Dalton should come, all at once, into his mind, goes downstairs in search of the dining room and breakfast. He has not thought of his mother or aunt Dalton for some time. Perhaps the memories are a part of the experience of coming back into the community after working meticulously for half his life through a sentence and a cure in various special institutions.

This is not quite the beginning of the book. We have already spent some time, half a dozen pages, in Foster’s mind as he idly considers music, his mother and his aunt, and his new lodgings. And this is how we continue – we meet Mrs Porter, the landlady, and her lodgers; we meet another family, do-gooders who take in Foster one night a week; a young girl, in rags, in the park where he walks, who Foster follows -yes, that’s as creepy as it sounds – dreaming of befriending, helping. But all along Foster’s mind returns to his childhood, his ineffectual father, his mother, his father’s sister, aunt Dalton, who form a strange menage mostly ganged up on Foster senior; and to his years in Cambridge, studying, singing; circling round to/lightly touching on the choirboy whose approach seemingly leads to his imprisonment.

It bugs me that the novel has no definite location. It could be Perth – the lodging house backing on to the rail line in the relatively poor inner suburb of North Perth; his walks through parks and to the consul’s house in a better suburb, maybe Subiaco; the homeless sleeping under the bridges where a major roadway crosses from the north bank, to an island and then to the south bank of the river, which sounds like the Swan and Herrison Island. But Jolley doesn’t say, and she has “mile long” grain trains thundering behind the house, which is nice image but the suburban Fremantle line has probably not been used by freight trains for more than 50 years*.

Foster’s father was a consul for trade – his wife and sister, who formed a couple, with Foster’s father a distant third, were very contemptuous of “trade” – so they moved constantly, though never apparently to the most interesting European cities, and for a while were in Australia, in this city, and living in the same house as the do-gooder family, not that he tells them, or barely anything else either. Just sits quietly in the company of the teenage children, staying over sometimes on a bed made up on a sofa.

There is no plot, just a short chain of events – the two men in the room next to his introduce themselves, and may follow him when he walks in the park in the dark; Mrs Porter attempts to set him up with the ever hopeful Miss Vale; he makes a number of attempts to follow the little girl, eventually successfully, which leads to him being beaten up by the homeless community under the bridge; the teenage boy of the do-gooder family stands before him naked, apparently in invitation, and he flees; things come to a head with Miss Vale.

He is deeply sorry now. Sorry for Miss Vales because he is silently irritated with her the whole time. He is sorry that he has no qualities fit for a bridegroom. His dealings with women have always been mainly by accident.

Elizabeth Jolley is a stunning writer, and she slowly immerses us in the mind of this unlikeable person who nevertheless engages our interest and sometimes our sympathy. Your heart is constantly in your mouth in fear that he will do something grotesque, which thank goodness, he eventually does not.

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Elizabeth Jolley, Lovesong, Viking/Penguin, Melbourne, 1997. 240pp. ex libris J. Terry

see also:
All our E. Jolley reviews at ANZLitLovers’ Elizabeth Jolley page (here)


*Railway stuff: A dual gauge rail line for freight was constructed through Perth’s outer southern suburbs in the 1960s to connect the ports at Fremantle and Kwinana (south-west of the city), via the freight terminal at Kewdale, to Midland Junction (east of the city) for all the narrow gauge wheatbelt lines, and on to Kalgoorlie to meet the standard gauge Trans Australia line. It is possible that prior to that, freight from the country came to the wharves at Fremantle via the city. I can think of a couple of earlier literary mentions of Perth’s rail system. One in Xavier Herbert’s memoir Disturbing Element when their furniture was brought from a country town to Fremantle by train (Herbert’s father worked on the railways); and when DH Lawrence travelled up from Fremantle to the city in a wood-fired steam train). And of course there’s the Dorothy Hewett poem In Midland Where the Trains go by.

Smart Ovens for Lonely People, Elizabeth Tan

How many writers am I waiting for their next book? I suppose that should be How many writers are there whose next book I am waiting for? I wonder if I can get that for away from the end. How many writers are there for whose next book I am waiting? It feels like it should be for whom’s. Grammar’s not my strong point.

Elizabeth Tan is the only one I can think of I said I was waiting for (sorry, for whom I said I was waiting) but if you said Kim Scott, Claire Coleman, Alexis Wright, Gerald Murnane had a new book out I’d be down the street in a flash – the iso rules for truck drivers in WA permit essential shopping. I wonder who else. There can’t be many.

As it happens the flash was a bit muted for Tan. Smart Ovens has been out about six months.

I could die happy with Tan and Coleman writing (good) Western Australia based SF. I suppose there are others. I wonder what happened to … . DuckDuckGoes “WA SF”. There’s a Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation! With its own radio show!

You might remember Tan’s last (and first) was Rubik, a novel of loosely connected episodes, set in Perth WA, up the surreal end of SF. Smart Ovens is the same but the ‘episodes’ aren’t connected.

A children’s slide ups and runs away; mermaids kept in a restaurant fish tank, in the casino of course, metamorphose, find freedom; long after pens are a thing Ira gives one to a homeless man who scrawls kilometres of ink on the subway walls before stepping in front of a train; Pikelet was born in the Year of the Rabbit after the Year of Unprecedented Ecological Terror, her family moved to New Zealand following the Year of Seven Different Prime Ministers, and she now works at “Eighteen Bells Karaoke Castle, Perth’s premiere karaoke destination, in the heart of the city with a view of Old Swan River”; Tom and Ant are lovers, Tom knows that Ant is a spy but Ant doesn’t; and so the stories go on, lots of them concepts you wouldn’t dream of and yet Tan makes them real, spins them out for 5 or ten pages. In Would You Rather things start to disappear:

What did it look like? A flaw in the morning, a hanging pixel. An iridescent chip in the shape of a rhombus, shimmering in the sky. Unnoticed for days, until all the bicycles lifted up on one wheel, and then the other; turned counter-clockwise in the air, handlebars raised like the antlers of a stag, sliding riders from their seats; floated towards the hole, and then through the hole, and then …

So it’s not just the ideas, it’s the writing; writing and ideas and stories and Perth and young Asian-Australian women and a post eco-apocalyptic future of decay and magic.

And the smart ovens? “After that day at the overpass I was assigned an oven.” That day at the overpass, she of course jumped, and so was assigned an oven for a year to be her friend in the kitchen. With an extra six months if the oven’s end-of-year report was unsatisfactory.

After Neko Oven had been activated for two weeks she [for Neko Oven was programmed with a female voice] sent a recommendation to Biljana to let me return to work…

On my lunchbreak I used the kitchenette microwave to heat up a little plastic container of Neko Oven’s leftovers (some kind of casserole she’d improvised from tinned chick-peas, bacon, and gin) and took it to the food court to eat alone.

When she runs into the guy who chose that overpass, that day, that same minute to jump, they discuss ‘why’.

When people asked ‘How are you?’ did they really mean ‘Why did you?’

Because I was tired.
Because I wanted to die, the same way you might want a drink of water, or want to sleep, or want someone to love you back.

That last is it of course. But with a smart oven life goes on.

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Elizabeth Tan, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, Brio, Sydney, 2020. 244pp.


*The SF book I was thinking of [… Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes. I found it, randomly shelved, when I got home, and he has 12 more, going by ‘images’] involves a young entrepreneur with a bucket of bolts space ship and an android pilot. The name Matt is in there somewhere. I used to know the book’s editor. Fremantle Press. I DDG Fremantle Press, they don’t have SF as one of their genres! They do have a new Dave Warner. One of you is having a crime fiction month soon [Kim/Reading Matters in March], so that’s my book sorted. They’re also still advertising Robert Edeson, so there is at least some SF (here and here). From two or three years ago.