Tag Archives: writing
It came to me in a dream. I was parked on a verge north from Burra by the Barrier Hwy, 20 km south of Hallet. The shadows of low cumulus clouds were dreamily drifting over the wind turbine-lined slopes of the Mount Lofty Ranges; the soft yellow glow of an immense wheat field backscattering off the dusty metallic grey paint of Vincent. I was genuinely happy, and had an inexplicable craving for Weet-Bix with butter and vegemite. I brought my journal out, and used Vincent’s boot to write a poem on.
Like Starry Sparklers over the Mount Lofty Ranges,
so are the windswept powers of turbines
(insignia of Mitsubishi, in my informed fancy).
While my thoughts moved back and forth between the images in search of the next part, the apparition of a shingleback lizard appeared to me. I recognised it from the day before. It poked a dry gumnut flower with its blue tongue. “Like the exuviae of our nymphal instars, so are the fields of pinkish-brown cross-stitched with yellow dwarf thread,” he grinned, widely.
I stared a little disbelievingly out at him. “You shed your skin in pieces,” I said. “It’s not an exoskeleton that you can just wriggle out of.”
Without another word the shingleback turned, and toddled off into the wheat field.
That the amount of mental effort and time expended trying to make a start on this next part of the journal is comparable to that spent prying myself, a little regretfully, away from the comforts of Renmark this morning has dawned on me only this evening presents a strange image.
“It is as though something fluid had collected our memories and we ourselves were dissolved in this fluid of the past” (Gaston Bachelard: The Poetics of Space; House and Universe).
Of course, Bachelard was not speaking of what happens when adjacent bases of light cones from disparate days circle back and converge on their dithering adjoiner, but in the context of reconstructing memories of lost houses; of retaining ‘an element of dream in our memories’; of going ‘beyond merely assembling exact recollections’. I duly closed and set my copy of Hawking’s A Brief History of Time aside, pored back and forth over Bachelard until I was sure I had returned to the land of original context, then departed with purpose to the photos I took of the next stop from Renmark.
The discoveries I made at Loch Luna Game Reserve surprised me, given that my natural reaction to the state of the place at the time was mostly one of gloom and sorrow. I’ll try to explain.
The first poor impression made on me here was made by the thick mat of red algae; a striking contrast, with the hindsight of this developing journal, to the impression made by the ice-aged red sands and the ancient river red gum of Perry Sandhills a couple of days ago. It’s clear that the recurring reports of toxic blue-green algae destroying the health of the Murray-Darling system had gone to my head in the primitive form – all algae are bad. Well, talk about misplaced first impressions. With a bit of after-the-fact research it transpires that what I am actually seeing here is a blooming healthy example of primitive single-celled red algae; reportedly one of the most primitive red algae in existence, the first algae to have its genome fully sequenced, and useful for building limestone reefs. I take everything I thought back.
Now I can see a merry pelican huddled on a distant fallen limb.
And a little raptor nest forked high in a long deceased tree.
And perched about 20 feet down the same tree, I think that’s a heron.
I think I’ll move in for a closer inspection.
Yup. It’s a White-necked Heron.
Now my spirits are up, it’s going to be difficult to restore the gloom and sorrow. I suppose the creeping water primrose shouldn’t be there, being the noxious, waterway clogging weed that it is, but their small yellow flowers and shiny green leaves compliment nicely the red of the algae to my eye. I’m pretty sure those are willow trees lining the bank over there, and they shouldn’t be there either, but if they’re not willows then this one is…
Willows are good for firming up river bank soils, but they choke out all the native plants. And they drink too much. And they dump all their leaves in the river at once during autumn, which then decompose and cause nasty algal blooms, which then become food for despicable carp like the 2 foot long one you can see in the foreground with the stick and the brick that I’ll bet were used to punish it hard before leaving the damn thing to rot in the dust. If there’s one lesson to learn from all this, it’s don’t be successful without someone’s help; you’ll be despised if you do.
I have the gloom and sorrow back now, but it’s not the same as it was when I left it; now it’s the kind that you get when your blood starts to bubble enough to want to do something to make people drop their assumptions and open their minds up a bit; to say, “Don’t be a socially constructed memory dissolved in a fluid”–all the while knowing there’s probably nothing significant you, or anyone else on their own, can successfully do about it. Best I leave this deformed gloom and sorrow behind here then, just like I left the last lot.
As I maneuvered with Vincent away from the carp and the willow, a pair of soft blue parrots swept across the track and disappeared from sight before I could make anything more of them.
“There is little more delightful in morning life than anticipating fresh baked goodies and coffee after a good night sleep under the stars”, tweeted I from beside Lake Talbot, Narrandera NSW, while massaging the first night’s worth of car-sleeping kinks from my lower back and watching a bright orange ball of sunshine rise to a raucous of Cockatoos, Corellas, and some other unidentified parroty chatter of a sweeter nature that I mentally ascribed to Rosellas at the time, and tweeted that too, but was probably wrong. Fast forward to Port of Renmark on the morning of day four.
It might be more accurate to say there is little more delightful than anticipating the directions that the flight paths of scores of Welcome Swallows whizzing wild curves and loops around you will take them next, so that when you finish this last bite of freshly baked pepper steak pie and swallow it down with some of this delicious locally produced coffee, you’ve worked out how to point your camera at them just at that moment when they turn hard and make like a bullet between your eyes before veering off at the last microsecond and zooming past while flashing a sideways mischievous look out of one big doe-eye at you.
It might be more accurate to say that; you’d think that would be hard to beat, but it’s only day four and you learn from one incredible moment to the next that it’s kind of pointless to line them up from best to next best, and so on… because by the end of the journey the worst thing you can say has happened is that two or three mozzies got inside the car most every night and disturbed your sleep, and one of them made you bust a vein in your hand trying to clap it dead, which hardly fits into a scale of best to worst in the whole scheme of things. And besides, you’ve written a poem a month later that emerged out of a quiet moment that you remembered while thinking about how to say goodbye to Plushes Bend earlier that day–before the pepper steak pie and the coffee and the swallows–which is another thing altogether and has a password attached to it for the time being until the time is right.
I’m going back for a second cup of coffee now before we leave Renmark. Still a long way to Ceduna and back, but there’s no rush.
We were roughly half an hour west of Perry Sandhills, following Old Renmark Road with plans to reach Renmark by early evening and find a camping spot for the night, when a nice wide gravel verge presented an opportunity to stop for some landscape shots. I think it was here that I started to regret not owning a wide-angle lens.
It’s also the spot where I added ‘tussock grass’ and ‘hummock grass’ to my vocabulary. I’ve been struggling since then to figure out what the difference is. I’m leaning toward this: “hummock grass is tussock grass growing on a hummock is true if and only if tussock grass is hummock grass growing on a plain is true”. I would appreciate some help here! I’m also confused about the trees that form a circle around the plain. Does that make it open woodland? That’s not as pressing a problem though, since a little further west along the road the trees weren’t there anymore.
The scenery was made all the more grand in nature by the ever-blackening cloud cover in our path; I felt a strange approaching sense of being entirely exposed and enveloped all at once.
The gravel road and the expanse continued like this for another hour or so, occasional cattle grids giving us a wake-up rattle, until the turn off for Lake Victoria appeared on our left, and we took it. The prospect of some lakeside time was too enticing to pass up; Renmark would have to wait. Not sure how far we had travelled in that direction when a large archway appeared over the road a little ways ahead. I recall feeling a little dizzied by it; I was expecting to drive under it but as I got closer it seemed to be shifting away to the right. In fact, it was. I was asleep at the wheel… my eyes were open and some part of my brain was registering it, but I didn’t wake up until I was maybe 50 metres from a sharp fork in the road. The archway was the entrance to an Aboriginal Health Retreat in one direction, and the road I was on turned sharply to the left at the same point. I pushed hard on the brake and tried to turn left, but the gravel road would have none of that. The back end of Vincent swung too far right. I swung right hard to try and correct. Vincent jumped up in the air a few inches and did a wobble, then came back down heading for a fence on the right. At that point I just braced myself, loosened off on the brake, reapplied it, and hoped we would stop before the fence got us. Whew! It was close. After reversing out of the tussock grass and collecting myself, we continued on our way and made it to Lake Victoria.
Spent a good half hour here watching the cormorants and pelicans all mingling and fishing, then drove a bit further up the road and spotted a young family of emus.
The cloud cover first turned into a few spots of rain, then a stiff breeze that grew speedily into a gale. I ducked inside and waited as the trees by the side of the road started bending and twisting, clouds of dust blew this way and that, Vincent shook side to side and bounced up and down. Then as quickly as the wind had arrived it fell away, and a spooky stillness descended. With that, we turned back to Old Renmark Road and finished our day with some well earned stillness of our own at Plushes Bend Camp Area.
On 20th December 2014 I began an 18 day holiday road trip from Sydney with Vincent, the name my Mitsubishi Lancer goes by, that would take us mostly west to Ceduna with diversions north through Flinders Ranges, south along the eastern coastline of Eyre Peninsula, north along its western coastline to Ceduna, then back to Sydney. We covered 6727 km during which Vincent drank $742.55 worth of petrol, and I drank $210.20 worth of coffee. Roughly another $900 was spent on meals and camping fees.
Apart from occasional Twitter updates and photo uploads, and a couple of brief blog posts, I kept a fairly sparse written journal of events – just enough to connect the dots later, preferring instead to immerse myself and my camera in the experience. I also collected maps and tourist guides from information centres along the way; didn’t read them for the most part – just stuffed them in a folder for reference purposes. As I go through my thousands of photos and brief notes now, I think that was the best way to do it, though I am finding annoying gaps in my recollections, and uncertainties about which stretch of road or nature reserve I was on when I took such and such a photo.
Here’s an example of a photo, already into day 3, in which the ‘experience now, think about later’ process paid dividends:
Perry Sandhills are about 4 km west of Wentworth NSW along Old Renmark Road. They are said to have formed after an Ice Age about 40,000 years ago. I left Vincent in the car park below and went for a short hike. It was hard work getting up to the top of the first sandhill: large bitey looking ants were racing back and forth like Frogger logs and crocodiles between the hummock grasses, the sand was so soft and landslidey that zigzagging up was the only way to stay upright, and I haven’t overly exerted myself physically much for some time. As I approached the peak, I was taken by the sound of the wind rushing through the canopy of the river red gum; a canopy that was so close to the sand I just had to go and stand under it. Whooooooooshhhh… the leaves went on and on all about me, my brain briefly unable to decide whether to catch my own breath from the climb or gasp with delight, so simply refusing to breathe for me at all. I took a deep one for myself and pulled myself away to try catch a photo of the Rainbow bee-eater perched over there in a scraggly tree.
Half a dozen photos before it flitted shyly away later and my eye was caught by bunches of pumpkin sized melons on runners strewn all around.
I was curious and wanted to try tasting one, but, having no idea what kind of physical reaction might be induced by them I erred on the side of caution. If I had thought to look it up on my smartphone at the time I would have learned that it probably wouldn’t have killed me, and I could have played bowls with them.
Then I took a photo of my feet in the sand, because it was soft and warm. You can probably see I don’t get enough sun.
There were three young people taking turns riding a surfboard down one of the hills. I took some photos of them too, but I can’t show them here because you can see their faces. They look pretty happy :)
Well, it’s time to move on to the next stop I thought. Made my way down to the carpark and took one last photo; the one of the dunny pictured up top. The tree at the centre’s the one I stood under and thought nothing more of, other than simply enjoying the pleasure I found underneath it.
While I was out for my Saturday morning coffee today, I was reading one of the information pamphlets I picked up at Wentworth earlier that day. I learned that that river red gum tree is 500 years old, is half buried in 40,000 year old sand, and is known as “The God Tree”. I doubt I would have gained anything from knowing that while I was there. It probably would have distracted me long enough that I’d miss seeing the Rainbow bee-eater.
Shop Assistant to Little Boy: Do you want a lolly? Have a lolly.
Father to shop assistant: No.
SA to LB: Don’t you want a lolly? Go on. Take one.
Father to SA: No. No lollies.
SA to LB: Do you want a chocolate then? Have a chocolate.
Father to SA: No.
SA to Father: Awww… but why?
Father to SA: Ummm… because I said so.
SA to LB (pouting sadly): Ohhhhhhh… becawwws your Dad “Said So”.