Playing among industry

Across the harbour I see a fin slice water, enough to keep my gaze. I’m not expecting much today: it’s muggy, no seabreeze to speak of, the water silver still.

It seems to take only a second to cross the bridge when you’re not paying attention, but when you are, it feels like you have whole, multiple minutes. Precious minutes as the train takes you ever onwards and you’re waiting for another break in the surface of the water.

Don’t have to wait long today – another fin slice then a leap, so quick and far enough away that you retain only the perfect image of the arched dolphin, dark against the water. And then, once you’ve rounded a bend and your view of the water is nearly at an end, three more –  one dolphin after the other crests the water ever so slightly, barely breaking its silver surface.

Another leap, quick and glimmering, brief suspension above the surface, belly glistening bright.

From the viewpoint of a train carriage of commuters at the end of a hot day, between car carrier and cargo vessel, between north wharf and south, you have this: tiny, distant silver dolphin bodies above silver harbour surface.

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Roadkill

It’s a smoky day and the western sky is red and grey. I drive away from the sun towards town. On a straight stretch on the lefthand road verge there is a kookaburra, upright, watching me pass. I slow, pass it without incident, wonder if it is sick because it does not fly away.

On the way home I think of it again, decide to stop if it’s still there, to make sure it can fly – see if it will allow itself to be chased away. I pass a black cat on the roadside, eyes bright in the headlights. It stays clear. As I near the spot where I saw the kookaburra, I watch for it on the right. But something looms pale coloured and fluffy on my side of the road. It is too tall to be a dead bird, I think – but then I am close, and it is, and I drive over it, wheels to either side of it. 

I stop beyond it, park in the gravel, leave the dog in the car. With the vehicle off it is quiet and dark. There are the gentle rustles in the bush, the sense of the spaces of paddocks, the distant sound of the sea. There are no cars, no sounds of people.

I walk back. It is surprising how far I have come, driving at 90, between deciding to stop and stopping. I can see nothing in the gloom at first, and then the pale shape emerges. I shine the torch. The kookaburra is on its side, one wing is extended to the sky. As I approach it waves a little in the breeze and I start: it seems alive. Closer, and I see its eye, the one not planted on the road, is open. The wing is fanned, as though in death one half of it continues to fly. The eye seems bright, alive. I turn the bird with a stick and its head flops, the brilliant wing falls. I roll it onto the gravel.

*

Nearly a year on and it is early morning in the forest. The kangaroo on the roadside, flat on its stomach, is fresh: there seems no hint of the roughness in the coat or the darkness around the eyes to signal the presence of flies and birds and beetles.

I stop, and again the distance to walk back along the sloping shoulder is unexpectedly great; the forest unexpectedly quiet. I spend so much time spent driving through quiet places with road noise and engine noise and conversations and music. Don’t spend enough time stopped to listen, with no cars to ruin it and no one to talk to.

This roo looks as fresh as I thought, but it has grown stiff and feels hollow already. I lift one hind leg and roll it half over: it is a male. There is a small matting of blood on the other side of its body, mixed with faeces, involuntarily expelled. 

Crouched there on the roadside with the dead roo, its eye open to the sky, I am not sentimental. But it is powerful being close to wild death, with its sharp, immediate reminder of wild life.

I remember others, with more sadness. A wombat, somewhere, years ago; such a solid creature. A small wallaby on the road to Meekatharra – this one we watched breathe its last. A wedge-tailed eagle on the Nullarbor, except this I don’t really remember at all; only my mother talking about it many years later. An echidna, feet to the sky, on the edge of the Hume Highway in Victoria.

And always, with the animals recently dead, the sense as I walk to them along the gravel shoulder that they might jump up as I near them, just to surprise me. But they never do.

Feature image: Nicolo Bonazzi

Three days in Thredbo

I’m  in the dining room of a lodge at Thredbo Alpine Village, watching sunlight fall in fast-moving patches down the face of the opposite slope, by turns illuminating the lines of the chairlift as strings of silver or softening the bush into shadow.

Patches of bush are courted by blank grassy stretches, the long areas cleared for ski runs and now, in late autumn before the snow falls, criss-crossed by mountain bikes, walkers and maintenance vehicles.

Coming to Thredbo was a result of going with the flow. A friend and I intended to go away – somewhere quiet – to write. She planned to work on her thesis and I to work on various  writing projects. But her research into alpine invertebrates requires a bit more field work, so we came here, and while I spend time writing she is out at various spots along the Rams Head Range or the Dead Horse Gap Track, setting pitfall traps and photographing grasshoppers.

The view from the lodge at Thredbo.

The dining room at the lodge with a view of Thredbo’s ski slopes.

I have come here to write, but could not resist going for a hike, too – across the undulating alpine slopes from the top of Thredbo’s only summer-operating chairlift to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko at 2228m elevation.

Kosciuszko is an easy-to-reach summit by the standard of world peaks: the chairlift takes you to an elevation of 1925m so it is a climb of 300m over an easy walk of less than 7km one-way.

At the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.

At the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.

Nonetheless, walking to Kosciuszko’s summit felt momentous in the way of measurable achievements: it might be derided as a mere hill by the standards of mountains on other continents, but it remains Australia’s highest and it has an ancient geological history.

At the summit, it was noisy with the caws of the Little Ravens who gather on the rocky peaks to feed on Bogong moths. To the west, the Australian Alps lay in a smoky purple haze, layer upon layer of ridge fading into the distance.

In walking from Thredbo to Kosciuszko, I followed in the steps of thousands who have walked that way before me. The walk is ‘paved’ by a raised metal walkway, designed to keep walkers off the vegetation and to impede the flow of water as little as possible. I only saw one person stray from the beaten track, into the boulders near the Kosciuszko Lookout.

I left early enough to beat the crowds on the way out, but on my return passed dozens of teenagers, some cheerful, others looking mutely resentful at the prospect of the climb ahead of them.

The beaten track

Across the alpine landscape towards the Main Range and Kosciuszko.

On the return trip I stopped by the small creeks that are the headwaters of the Snowy River. I have spent so much of my life in the foothills of Australian mountains in Victoria, but if I ever previously visited the Snowy, it was when I was very small and I have no recollection of it.

It seemed important to stop by the water and notice it: the beginning of a great river, albeit one that is dammed and diverted and changed beyond all recognition from its ancient past.

Endeavour and Eden

This town called Eden is just as green and picturesque as the name suggests, but how that wind blows! On the hill north of Twofold Bay, where a hilly outpost of the town is separated from the rest by a narrow, low spit of land between bay and ocean, the wind tears in from the south. The water of the bay is ruffled and bright in the sun.

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I am here in Eden with the Endeavour replica and her dark heavy rig stands out against the water of the bay. Yesterday 660 people came aboard the ship to see her and imagine something of life in Cook’s time. This interests me less than the sight of the ship herself and the way tall ships are so entirely unique in filtering into their background of wave or bush and seeming so at home yet centuries out of place.

I remember coming back to Endeavour in the RIB when we were on the Hawkesbury River in September and losing sight of the ship against the headland behind her, so well did she blend into the bush.

On Endeavour, I often think of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance and the way he describes a ship from the point of view of a young indigenous boy coming into King George Sound in Albany in the nineteenth century, folding away its wings like a pelican coming into land. (I don’t have the book here so I can’t check the accuracy of my memory of the image.)

I thought of Scott’s image as we passed Botany Bay on Endeavour on Tuesday last week on our way south from Sydney. As I wrote on the Australian National Maritime Museum blog for Endeavour, I imagined Botany Bay as it might have been in Cook’s time. I did not expect to see the cranes of a major commercial shipping port silhouetted against the sky on the far side of the bay.

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Pelicans coming into land in a bay… and pelicans floating on the wind above us today in Eden. Seventeen pelicans, seeming to move diagonally rather than forwards then circling and wheeling before returning to a formation of sorts then ascending away from us to the south.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything on this blog, but in my absence I have been writing more than usual – for the ANMM’s Endeavour blog, not my own. So far, I’ve written about four voyages on Endeavour and there is one more to come. In some, I could have written many more words of reflection and imagery of the sea, the ship and the wildlife. This post captures just one small element of that which has not made it onto Endeavour‘s blog.

I hope there will be more to come when I am back in Fremantle, with the ocean just visible from the kitchen window.

Place, time and writing

I’m back in Fremantle – not just as a visitor, but back here to live. It’s been five years since I last ‘lived’ in this town, though my time here five years ago was an interlude between travels. By other measures, it’s been over six.

Am I home? I’m not sure, and I’m tired of thinking about it. My sense of place has been disrupted in the last two years: the way I think about all the places that could be home – Ensay, Melbourne and Fremantle – has changed.

Fremantle is familiar; the house is homely; there are people that I care about here. But I am not sure any longer which feelings of ‘home’ matter. Is it having a roof over your head in a building that you call home? Is it the people, the landscape, the community or the work that you do? Is it a confluence of all these?

I am not ‘out in the world’ at the moment, and I know that doesn’t help. Instead I have six weeks ahead with few commitments; with the freedom to do as I choose, within the confines of finance and geography.

Although this is a luxury, it is also a little terrifying. The main ambition in this time is clear: to write.

It is terrifying because if I cannot write or if I do not write, then there are no excuses. Unpacking doesn’t take six weeks. The house is cold but not that cold. The distractions are few. And most of all, I don’t have to spend eight hours a day at a computer working on things that are not my own projects. Yes, put like that, this time is a luxury.

But as a friend of mine, Eli Glasman, wrote in his most recent blog post, staying home and tapping away at ‘whatever’, ‘whenever’, is not being a writer: it’s simply not having to work. The luxury of time to write is in that sense not a luxury at all, for as a writer, one must therefore use that time to work. It is not time that you can watch pass leisurely: you must occupy it by working hard.

Despite the need to work, there is luxury in having a house to one’s self during the day, in sitting near a high window with a view, in glimpses of the ocean, in being back in the west in time for a dramatic winter.

But, enough window gazing for now: it is time to  work.

Does the age of human settlement in Victoria rival that of Lake Mungo?

La Trobe archaeologist Jillian Garvey is definitely academic-of-the-moment this summer. I’m looking forward to hearing and writing more about her work in the coming months.

La Trobe University Bulletin

Excavations at Ned's Corner in January Excavations at Ned’s Corner on the Murray River near Mildura are part of a new study that aims to find out.

While many Australians were heading to the beach during the mid-January heatwave, La Trobe archaeologist Dr Jillian Garvey was undertaking an archaeological dig west of Mildura in outback Victoria.

The dig is part of a six-year project led by Dr Garvey at Ned’s Corner Station and in the Murray-Sunset National Park close to the South Australian border.

It is one of the largest archaeology projects in Victoria and the first Indigenous archaeology project funded by the Australian Research Council in the area.

Sand hills at Lake Mungo. Photo: Ivan Burge Sand hills at nearby bLake Mungo. Photo: Ivan Burge

Another Lake Mungo?

Dr Garvey believes the project may find evidence of human occupation similar to that already known from the Lake Mungo area in New South Wales.

The Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area, not…

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Land, sea and misogyny

Broome beach and dinghyWhere to begin?

After three weeks away, mostly thinking of the sea, it is hard to know where to begin writing now that I am back on land, in a cold city, back engaging with the political landscape, albeit slowly and without my usual enthusiasm.

I’m far from the warm northern waters that I have been floating on for ten days. While I was away I wrote often of the sea, as I watched its changing moods from the safety of the cockpit on a six day voyage.

When I reached land on the northwest fringe of the continent, the texture of hills far to the south came flooding back into my thoughts, even as I noted the red Kimberley dirt and tried to divine some sense of understanding of this place where red sand meets blue water.

On the day we arrived in Broome and dropped anchor in Roebuck Bay, just after the nine metre spring tides, we tuned into the news in time for the Labor leadership spill. We had left Indonesia six days earlier with a female PM still in charge in Australia, and arrived in Western Australian waters to find the male PM returned.

Now I am reading Anna Goldsworthy’s Quarterly Essay, alongside Kim Mahood’s Craft for a Dry Lake, while The Long Way by solo sailor Bernard Moitessier waits on my desk. Land, sea and misogyny: three threads that are mingling and meeting now that I am home, away from the sea but with the motion of the waves still in my blood as it always will be.

Where to begin?