Walking home at dusk, 17 Jun 2018
Today a friend and I went up to Newtown for lunch and we had Thai. After leaving the restaurant we walked south on King Street and I saw a young woman with pink hair wearing a white long-sleeved shirt and a rainbow-coloured bow tie. My friend and I stopped at Parliament, a cafe near Alice Street where there's an old 70s Ducati stuffed into the fireplace and a church pew for customers to sit on. After leaving the cafe my friend caught a cab and I walked back up toward the pub next to the railway station, because I had to use the loo.
In the pub after obeying the call of nature I walked back out into the bar. It was close to 4.30pm and the room was full of young people on stools and gathered on their feet around the bar that ran the length of the room toward the street windows. I dodged my way through the press of people, heading for the door and out on the street I walked north, back home.
In Victoria Park the lights were already on. I could see two taxis parked at the kerb near the university with their vacancy lights illuminated. The drivers were standing on the footpath talking animatedly and I guessed that they knew each other and had arranged to meet there. Near Broadway I saw a candy-coloured police car moving sedately down toward the traffic lights. I went across Broadway into Bay Street and walked down to Wentworth Park. In the park there were still parents supervising their children on the play equipment next to the path. A group of young people walked toward me. Near the viaduct over Wattle Street I saw the train heading eastward, its windows shining in the darkness. There were three vehicles parked on the footpath under the viaduct. People had set up for the homeless people who live in the park and they were standing behind tables serving food to them.
A woman carrying a smartphone in her hands came up to me and asked what was happening. "They're giving food to the homeless people," I said to her as we stood on the footpath next to the traffic. "There are homeless people living under the arches. Lots of them." A group of people walked in my direction on the footpath and I could see that several of them wore T-shirts printed with the name of a well-known seafood restaurant. I guessed they were Fish Market employees leaving work for the day.
At the back of the Fish Market it was dark and I saw a young woman on a scooter and a man jogging on the pavement. The shipping containers in the parking lot with the fish nets piled on top of them stood in front of the motorway pylons, on top of which the concrete roadway sat. It was getting dark. In Miller Street I heard the rail car sound its bell and looking down into the cutting I saw the train pulling up at the station, its lights shining in the gloom. I entered Harris Street with its bars and pubs and was soon home.
Note: This is southern hemisphere so June is wintertime.
On Dangar Island, 22 Sep 2018
The weekend at the end of the third full week of spring we drove north to the Hawkesbury River and parked the car near the water in the town of Brooklyn. It was still late morning but there was a fish-and-chip shop open near the ferry wharf that also did burgers. There, we ordered barramundi-and-chips, a prawn bun, and some deep-fried battered school prawns. Having eaten we bustled down to the wharf and got on the small white ferry named ‘Sun’ with its long cabin and with its rows of wooden seats that are painted the same simple colour as the exterior of the boat. It was due to leave. I took a photo (shown below) of the water under the wharf, where a small white fish, about an inch long, was swimming in the green water of the harbour.
The pilot is a middle-aged man with a weathered face who took money from passengers and gave them tickets. He made change out of an oversized Tupperware box with clear plastic sides and a lid that was hinged at the back. The tickets we were given had ‘Adult single’ printed on one side and were made from a heavy yellow paper with perforations separating them from their neighbours.
The pilot guided the boat out of the harbour and set it on its course for Little Wobby, which is on the north bank, on the other side of the river. The settlement is a narrow strip of houses built in the lee of a sandstone cliff that hikers negotiate on day trips when they want to see the bush. Approaching the wharf our boat shuddered at a lower frequency than it had done when crossing on open water. Olive slopes loomed above us, their brown-leaved trees and dark-green eucalypts alternating one next to the other.
Three Korean women who were aged in their early sixties stood up, ready to get off, but the pilot placed himself in the doorway and alerted them to the fact that they probably should wait until the boat reached its ultimate destination. There is no café at Little Wobby, he told them, just residences and a path for bushwalkers to use to scale the rises behind them. The women sat down on their bench again and we set off. In the water were brown jellyfish as big as soccer balls.
When we arrived at Dangar Island it was still low tide and everyone readied to disembark but before he cleared the way to the exit the pilot told people when they should expect the boat to return to pick them up. He said that the 3.45pm service would be well-patronised and encouraged people to consider taking an earlier one if they could manage it.
We ended up having a cup of tea at the café that stands next to the wharf. The waitress told us a little about the island to give us an idea of how to get around. After drinking the tea she served us and eating some Portuguese tarts we walked up the hill. Where a path sets out east from the road I asked a woman who was walking behind us if this was the way to the beach. She told us she didn’t know, that she was a visitor like us, and that she was on the way to use the lavatory.
After turning off on the path we ascended a small rise then came out in a clearing where there is a park with swings and other gear installed for children to use. There is also a bowling green with a clubhouse next to it. Some people were sitting on rugs in the park. A sign beside an open gate invited visitors to go in, and the message added, reassuringly, that the resident might be found out the back of the house in the garden. We walked through the gate and called out to alert the people living there that we had arrived.
An elderly woman with a heavy-set figure dressed in tracksuit pants and a sweater came around from the side of the wooden house standing in front of us. She introduced herself and asked us our names, shaking each of our hands, then invited us to go inside to learn about the history of the island. Next to the front door were stacks of books with stickers on them for the price. The woman, who said her name was Ann, showed us books she had published herself containing histories of the locale. We were told that we could buy copies of the books but that first she would give us a tour.
In the room behind the vestibule, Ann removed the cloth covering a table to reveal a clear plastic sheet beneath which were photographs and pieces of paper with text printed on them. She started to tell us the story of Henry Dangar, after whom the island had been named. Originally it had been called Mullet Island because there had been a time when plenty of the fish were caught in its waters. Ann proceeded to give us a detailed history of the man and, removing the cloth covering a second table situated next to the first, went on with the story of the building of the railway bridge over the river, completed in the 1860s. The company that had won the contract was American and hence the township nearby has a name borrowed from the place with the same name in the city of New York. It is called Brooklyn.
Ann told us that the bridge had however been poorly constructed because the subcontractor who had been paid to build the piers on which it rested had failed to fill them with cement, so that by the 1930s the authorities had had to make trains using the bridge slow down when crossing it for fear that the pylons would collapse under the stress of transporting them across the river, which flows in a steep valley. The war arrived before anything could be done about the faulty structure and after it was over a new bridge was built, which still stands today. There is also another bridge for cars that connects the township to the M1 that feeds traffic south and north into and out of the metropolis.
At one point in her delivery, the irrepressible Ann put on a recording of a popular tune titled ‘Rainbow on the River’, from the early part of last century, which had something to do with the Marine Hotel, which Henry Dangar’s son had operated on the island and which took visitors from Sydney who arrived on steamboats that came in from the ocean and along the river to dock at a long pier that has since been dismantled. As the music was playing, Ann hung from a nail, that had been hammered into the lintel over the entranceway of the room we were standing in, a plasticised sheet of paper that was attached to a cord. Twirling her hands and singing along to the recording, Ann sang the words that had set to the tune all those years ago, evoking ideas attached to old phonograph records that you used to be able to find in second-hand music stores, discs that were heavy and brittle and that would crackle with static when you put the needle down onto them as they span on your turntable.
As we stood next to the table near the front door where the books were stacked, with display copies standing on plate racks, I pointed out the two I wanted to purchase. Ann took the books to one of the tables that held the documentary evidence of the early settlement, and obediently signed them for us using a black Biro. I gave her thirty dollars and she put it on the table but while we were there she didn’t pick it up. After this we walked around Ann’s garden looking at the plants as she named them, one by one. Next to a pale green plant with spreading leafy fronds set in a core hidden in the dirt of a large planter, Ann searched for a word and with her right hand silently snapped her fingers impatiently, as I thought “artichoke”. Which is what it was. We soon left, and walked east, then turned south and headed down a sandy path to a beach.
It was bordered, to the east, by a rocky outcrop covered in oysters. To the west it was clear and we walked in that direction. A jellyfish lay partially buried in the yellow sand. The mudflats were crawling with tiny crustaceans and boats at anchor lay stranded on them, revealing that the bottoms of their hulls were covered with marine growth.
We walked to the end of the beach and then turned back the way we had come. Navigating our way along the dirt paths that thread among the houses on the island, we arrived back at the café near the wharf and bought cold drinks to have while we waited for the ferry. Mine was off and I threw it out in a bin near the shop’s entrance. On the way back to the car the boat vibrated as it had done on the journey outward. I thought about Ann and her insistence that Henry Danger had not, as I had read in other books, paid for the legal defence in the case of the crown against the Myall Creek massacre perpetrators. It was an inconvenient fact and had to be ignored for the rest of the edifice to stand.
7 October 2018
Dreamt that they were bringing people back to life after death. It started with people installing angle grinders into a structure that could then be submerged to take it down to where the caskets containing the dead bodies were kept. I was evidently then using scuba gear when I saw the first dead body: that of a dog. The skin had completely come off its head but I patted it on its skull anyway. One by one the dead bodies were removed from their protective caskets, including that of Einstein, whose hair was still full and rich and whose face looked a bit worse for having been buried for many decades. He was still recognisable however.
First entry in planned book, 'Dream Journal' covering 3 years of captured dreams. Would you buy this book? Suggestions welcome.
Augie, sweet girl, lived with her olds nearby
the intersection of the two major
arteries that link up the tethered isle
with the metropolis; the bus would roar
through the strip mall where my mother’s gift shop
sat at the top of Petrarch Avenue,
pass the bowling club, then corner, and stop
to let you off before it would renew
its howling on the straight past the lighthouse,
then negotiate the decline toward
the old fishing village. I’m curious
as to how my journey might have played out
if I’d been with Augie, her strawberry
hair and her skin like milk; the signs were there
to get serious, what got in the way
it’s hard to recall; was she just too square
for my mercurial temperament? I
had an invitation to her house once;
I sat on the chintz sofa with the sky
staring through the window at my fingers
resting on my pantslegs while Augie’s dad
engaged me in pleasant conversation
and poured beer to enliven the arid
ensemble we made; there were complaisant
mutterings when I forgot to open
my mouth while tipping my glass, spilling beer
on my tie. I had been overtaken
either by a bad conscience or some queer
anticipation of intimacy;
things hovered in the room like poltergeists.
Had her father asked to meet me? Did she
think that our recent friendship might convert
itself suddenly to romance? That would
have put an unwarranted rationale
on our ties, which were never understood
so entirely as to want parental
consent. Thus my thoughts unfolded as we
got in the car and drove down to the golf
club by the sea (we were always by the sea)
where we ate lunch, our knees under the stiff
tablecloth; it might have been a buffet,
and though I spilt nothing else on myself
it’s like Augie had tucked herself away
just like a white napkin: folded up safe.
In Kumamoto the bus rattled down
the street but I got off and turned back there
in the cold dark, ducked under a noren
and entered a dim room with tables where
noone sat; a young woman in brief clothes
emerged from the back of the room and came
up to me to peer in my face for clues
as though reading a street sign; with her arm
and head she motioned down the dingy aisle.
She sat next to me decanting whisky
from a round bottle along with her smiles,
her left hand stationed there on her slim thigh.
I caught her suggestion but then eschewed
a putative room behind a curtain
and so I got away only a few
drinks poorer; in the dark I wandered then.
On the way to New England
Hugging the vast bulk of the continent
the range extends its fat botanic paws.
Their scrubby sides are thick with such ancient,
grey species of kindling as follow laws
inscribed in larval marks on peeling trunks.
They softly swoon amid peals of bell-birds,
an aural liquor that may make you drunk.
You steer your big machine by cautious thirds
up the road to Cunninghams Gap; past that,
you shoot through the tablelands, retracing
passes forged by hardy knaves who worked flat-chat
to fashion them into the bones we sing.
The squatter’s curse was once lord of the realm,
a safer pair of hands at nature’s helm.
Written: 4 Nov 2010
In my father’s house
The house was always silent and so I
sought refuge from solitude in drawing.
Art allowed agency, it was my way
to delve deep inside my own true being
since you would not be with me. I gained skill
but then you vetoed art – I must do French;
I read indiscriminately to fill
the vacuum left once I quit my work bench
and grew cultured to develop my mind
but then my complex thinking you’d dismiss –
again my self’s agency you’d rescind
though it was you who forced me to be this.
Fathers, encourage your sons lest they
finish up allied with your enemy.
The party, we knew, would be a good one
so we put on those red and orange lights,
our faces like traffic signals: switched on
and mounted on thin poles. We bent the night
in someone’s car; you could hear the music
from the street, where we stopped and found a park;
I took the steps in twos; after I knocked
the door swung open and out of the dark
interior – with a volume of sound –
came some girl; she moved like a lioness
and, without looking, wrapped her arms around
my neck and flavoured my mouth with a kiss.