Category Archives: Bathurst

A big blue Murray Cod

IMG_2335I’m crocheting a big blue Murray cod out of recycled baling twine. Anyone with horses, and anyone who has been hand-feeding stock through the drought, will be very familiar with the stuff. Starting out, I knew I’d need a lot of it. On spec, I rang a horsey business in Forbes, because I was going to be driving out there for something else, and asked if they had any blue baling twine lying about. Bullseye! First time lucky! I pulled up outside of a two-storey brick house on the edge of town, near the river. There were about eight horses in stalls out the back, and it had one of those back yards with a bit of everything in it – parts of machinery, old tins, building materials, the odd half-buried child’s toy. I knocked on the door. Silence. Try again. Wander around the back, noting two chained dogs watching but not barking. The horses watching, too. Note the large drifts of blue baling twine. Wonder if I should just start gathering it. Finally, a window opens on the second floor, and a bloke’s face appears in it. He explains he’s minding a small child so he can’t come down, but go right ahead. He watches me from the window as I gather up my treasure. It overflows my arms so I grab a large empty stock-feed bag and stuff the twine into that. I turn to go but the man in the window urges me on, clearly happy to be rid of the stuff. But I can’t take it all, there is just too much of it. I gather one or two extra bits to be polite and make my getaway.

Baling twineHours later, I dump it all onto the living room floor. There’s a satisfying amount of hay amongst the twine and a nice farmy smell. There’s some pink twine as well as the blue. I snip the machine-made knots out of it, sort it by colour, vacuum thoroughly.

Way back in December I’d heard on the grapevine that polypropylene baling twine was to be this year’s Waste to Art theme, even though it hadn’t been officially publicised. So that was in the back of my mind when, as summer temperatures soared and stayed frighteningly high for days at a time, we got news of fish kills in the Murray Darling at Menindee. It felt personal. The Macquarie River (Wambool) that runs through Bathurst heads west and north until it gets to the Macquarie Marshes out past Warren, and these finally drain into the Murray Darling. Some of the water that runs through town here gets all the way to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia.

Two men holding large dead fish.

Rob McBride and Dick Arnold with dead fish at Menindee. Click the image to see the video on the Tolarno Station facebook page.

A perfect storm of factors – water diverted to cotton farms, nutrients running off farms, drought, high temperatures – created an algal bloom that killed millions of fish. The blue-green algae bloomed in the heat and then died as temperatures dropped, and in death it de-oxygenated the water. The fish drowned in their own river. A video of big dead fish held in the arms of farmers near Menindee went viral. Images of thousands of dead fish floating on the surface of the water turned up on social media and in the news. Giant Murray cod that had lived through drought and flooding rains for a century had finally been felled by human beings recklessly taking more from the river than it could give. Would the Murray Darling recover? Perhaps yes, to a point. But the future of the Murray cod is looking grim.

As a part of the River Yarners, I meet with my craftivist posse every Friday afternoon. Since late 2015, we’ve been knitting and yarning a representation of the Macquarie River/Wambool from its beginnings south east of Bathurst to its nebulous end-point across the Macquarie Marshes. I took my bright blue baling twine along to our next meeting, and started crocheting a simple continuation of our 80 metre-long woolly river. I had to split the twine to make it thinner and easier to work with, rolling it between my fingers to unravel what a machine had ravelled. My intention was to add lots of small dead fish. I’d enter this in the Waste to Art exhibition and then fold it back into our long woolly work.

But then the magic of anatomical crochet, the journey I’ve been on since my illness in 2014, began to kick in. What did a Murray cod really look like? I turned to Google images and there they were, pages of them.

I noted the big thick lips, the large mouth, the relatively small eyes, the mottled surface, the big pale belly that gets bigger bigger over the years, like a beer belly, the rounded, not pointy, shape of the tail. I started working on a big fellow, starting with the shape of the lips and working back. I thought I’d make a big fish and lots of little ones. But then my artist friend Karen Golland urged me to think about doing just one fish. So I’m making just one big fella, to stand in for its myriad peers.

A haul of plasticAlong the way, I have become obsessed with blue plastic. On my walks around the soccer fields, alone now without Bertie the black Lab (who is now in eternal repose, so at odds with his personality, in the back yard between Taro the yellow Lab and Prince the tabby cat), all I can see is bits of blue plastic in the ground. I’m like a satin bower bird, attracted to the colour. Lots of lids from bottled water. Lots of Mentos packets and chip packets made of layers of plastic coated in a thin film of shiny aluminium.

The obsession has grown to encompass litter in general. After kids’ games over the weekend, the soccer fields are littered with clear plastic Slurpee and McDonalds cups, Zooper Dooper packets, plastic straws, soft clear plastic bags for ice bought from the service station, sports drinks, some with a good slurp still left in the bottom. So much to do with cooling and hydrating young human bodies, while the bodies of our fellow creatures, the fish, die and decay.

I collect some of it in a calico bag, channeling a lady we used to know as Old May in Carnarvon, who collected things from off the street and out of rubbish bins to add to her big calico sack. In my hat and oversized white shirt against the sun, and the calico bag bulging with rubbish, I look a bit mad. People tend to avoid my eyes.

At home, I wash my collections and try to sort them. Amongst the ordinary litter, I find bits of treasure: a tiny blue comb for a doll, hard plastic spoons in a beautiful translucent green, Nerf gun bullets, a whole golf ball with a split rind. My plan is to stuff my blue Murray cod with this rubbish (I’m washing it carefully and putting it out to dry). I’m tempted to make the rubbish more visible in and on the fish, to make the piece louder and more didactic. I want to stitch the Mount Franklin bottled water labels over it. I want to use the Slurpee cups to represent the cotton growers taking more than their fair share. But then I remember Karen’s mantra – just the fish, just the one fish. Do justice to the fish, its shape, its being.

Murray cod headThe size and shape of my fish is inspired partly by the image of Mr McBride holding the cod in the video, and partly by the length and width of my coffee table. I’m now about a third of the way along from the snout and I’ve already got a bit of the tail. But there’s a long road ahead, creating the body out of small stitches of single crochet.

See Waste to Art details here.

Things on a table

I took this photo as soon as Judy left, struck by all the stories flowing from the things on this table. And the table itself. And the tree you can see through the window. The more I look, the greater the orgy of gratitude. That after everything, I get this table, that shaft of light, that tiny kookaburra with a hole where there was once a tinier black plastic snake.

So, to explain: Judy came round to drop off a stretch of the crocheted Macquarie River that a group of us have been making. We’ve been doing this since the end of 2015, when we heard a gold mine was sniffing around wanting to divert river water into its cyanide-laced belly and excrete the leavings into the water table feeding the Belubula River. We began stitching, and completely forgot to stop. The river is now about 80 metres long. The decision about whether to sell water to the gold mine is on hold, but as soon as it goes back to Council, our river will be ready to join the fray.

So Judy came to drop off a stretch. This contained a very neat green length stitched by Mum during a visit here, and some orange-bordered fish created by Judy herself. On the weekend, Vi and I will occupy the Girl Guides Hall, stitching the river in the company of local Aboriginal women making a possum-skin cloak. The possum skins for this exercise have come from New Zealand, because possums are a feral animal there.

Judy was in a hurry, had errands to do, is off to Western Australia with her husband, but I convinced her to sit down and have a cup of tea. The house is in uproar, dozens of work-in-progress projects strewn about, but the table was wonderfully bare and inviting. We soon changed that. On the way to the table, before she even got to the table, Judy spotted Gribblies. This is her name for the plastic cereal toys you used to get at the bottom of packets of Cornflakes. A long time ago. Cough. These Gribblies were lying about amongst bits of half-dead succulent and tiny stones in a dusty terrarium on the kitchen counter. She told me they were very valuable. We fished them out and while we drank our tea I lined them up in a circled wagon around the wooden vase in the middle of the table. The pokerwork vase itself (a bit like this) came from my Newtown friend David Haag, who’d found it in an op shop, the design mostly rubbed off. The dried flowers in the vase were everlastings. I told Judy that in Spring, parts of Western Australia are carpeted in these flowers, and the ones in the vase were grown in my back yard in honour of them. Judy is the sort of person who likes such details. She really liked the Gribblies. When she married, she brought her small box of Gribblies and added them to her husband’s bigger box of Gribblies. The Gribblies solemnly mingled together in holy matrimony. The marriage produced two children, and these children obliviously played with them, chewing on them, losing the tiny black snake out of the mouth of the tiny kookaburra.

Talk of collections moved on to a discussion of buttons. Judy said a button tin was one of the “sacred possessions of a woman”. I’m not willing to generalise but I will admit that this is true in my case. I ran and got out my grandmother’s button tin, which lives in the cabinet holding her treadle-powered Singer sewing machine. The round tin itself, which you can see there on the table hails from 1981, which, in the context of my grandmother’s long life, makes it quite “new”.  It celebrates the marriage of Lady Di and Prince Charles, son of the man who is, as it turns out, Not Dead.

Judy’s hands moved swiftly. These are war buttons, she said, grouping them together. I peered more closely. Gee. Yes. Buttons from army uniforms, and what looks like airforce uniforms, or are they all army? These are buttons from work shirts. Fancy buttons from coats from the 1930s. I went for the self-covered buttons. Mum was a dressmaker when I was little, and I enjoyed watching her cut a circle of fabric and use a special contraption to press them into something so neat and perfectly stretched. Judy wasn’t so into the covered buttons. Her Mum never used to do that. In all of this, my grandmother’s hands. Here are her hands at work. Here she is carefully sliding small buttons onto the shaft of a safety pin to keep them all together. Here she is wrapping a piece of wire around a finger. Here she is dropping a round plastic Tiddlywink into the collection because it is round and plastic and button-like. Here she is snipping the metal pieces out of the back of a bra because they might come in handy, later. She is here.

And there was a tiny glass jar with some white covered buttons in it and a tiny scrap of paper, hand written. A message in the bottle, written to the future. To her descendants. “Buttons from my Moroccan wedding dress”.

And then Judy and I confessed our love of picking things up out of the ground. A shard of willow pattern plate. A nice piece of green or blue glass. So I ran back to my study and brought forth the large jar labelled Blayney Road Common. I pick things up when I go walking with Bertie (and earlier with Taro, when she was still walking; her bones are now resting peacefully in the back yard). The jar had a bit of dirt in it still clinging to bits of metal and a whole bakelite light switch, so I grabbed a bit of newspaper off the pile to protect the table. Newspaper. Such an ordinary thing, but threatened. It will be quaint, in the not-too-distant future. Yellowed newspaper will be like other things of the past that nobody uses any more, like box Brownie cameras or  manual typewriters. Fairfax reporters are on strike. It’s important to fight, but we all know it’s over. Not for journalism itself, hopefully, but for newsprint. For piles of inked paper lying carelessly around houses, ubiquitous, used to wrap scraps or start fires. Still, today I have a house with a pile of newspapers in it, and I used a bit to protect the table that was passed on to us by Steve’s Mum. It’s a piece of light mid-century furniture. It pulls out to a longer version if there are more people to seat. Judy and I talked about how found bits of glass and ceramic are more interesting than gold. Gold may be beautiful but it doesn’t exercise our minds. This tiny bit of pink flower might have been a teacup that might have been used by a woman a hundred years ago. She might have taken sips of tea as she sewed buttons on her children’s coats.

What else is in the picture of my table? The tree through the window where our own possums – protected native animals, not allowed to surrender their skins to Aboriginal women who might like to make a cloak – spend their nights prowling for something to eat, things to do. They clatter across the roof at dusk and dawn. There are three of them. What looks to be a teenager and a mother with a joey riding on her back. I love their big eyes, their cute pink noses They are wrecking havoc in the ceiling cavity. They have to go, but that means another project on the to-do list that is already very long and doesn’t include stolen mornings over tea and a button collection. And on the wall there’s the cockroach painting created by my artist friend Karen Golland out of sequins and there are the little woven mats Steve and I bought in Peru? Bolivia? and the Country Women’s Association cookbook, a new one Mum gave me only last year, and the collection of ring-pulls from Mount Panorama telling the stories of wild weekends of beer and car races and a spider plant that I call Deb after my sister because she gave me the plant (or its ancestor) and there are more stories in that picture but this will have to do for now.

Judy and I admitted we were borderline hoarders and discussed the minimalist movement that is fighting the good fight against clutter. But I don’t see clutter. It’s only clutter if there are no stories attached. Until the stories have finally and fully leached out, I’m quite happy to live amongst these things.

Who’s afraid of the working class?

Where do they go, when the factories close? A few years ago I heard a podcast from Planet Money about what middle-aged American men did once they were laid off from their jobs. A large number, it seems, went on disability support.

As manufacturing moved out of the United States, its workers moved on to disability. They had back pain, high blood pressure, diabetes. They had enough misery in their lives to qualify for disability pensions. Which was fortunate, in a way, because they had precious little chance of ever finding work again.

Maybe a higher percentage than usual of these guys set down their remote controls the other day and hoisted themselves out of the house for the trip down to the local polling booth.

The revolt of the cast-offs of globalisation isn’t the only explanation for Trump – I think it was part of a perfect storm of other factors, which I’ll get into further down – but it’s the factor that so few pundits took into account prior to election day. This is strange, because Brexit should surely have been a warning.

I was in the UK as Brexit unfolded. I was hanging around inside my own echo chamber, visiting certain parts of London then Oxford and Cheltenham. There were Remain signs in windows. It seemed a foregone conclusion that the UK wouldn’t be so silly as to dump the EU. And then the morning after. What the hell happened? The thing that happened was well out sight – for us. The thing that happened was that people who were not doing so well out of globalised capitalism – people not so visible in public life – went out and voted. In the case of Brexit and Trump, it was a generalised flipping of the bird. It was an emotional reaction, a final had-enough-and-not-taking-it-any-more. Turkeys voting for Christmas? Perhaps. But these are people who feel that Christmas has already been and gone. Their gnawed bones are being scraped into the garbage bin. (Note: Feelings are not the same as facts; they might or might not be justified.)

And then the racism on the streets. People who had lived in the UK for decades or even generations being told to go “home”. All because the demagogues, given oxygen by Murdoch and other scurrilous press, held up a scapegoat for discontent: The Other.

So when my partner Steve said on Wednesday morning that Clinton would probably win, I said I’m not too sure. Remember Brexit. He said she was ahead in most of the polls. Still, I wasn’t too sure.

As Wednesday afternoon wore on, I kept taking a moment out of my video editing job (a weekend of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the birth of Grenfell) to look at the latest news on ABC News 24. I saw a weird dial that said it was 80 per cent likely that Trump would win the presidency. And even I, who only that morning had said it was possible, was shocked. Here’s a candidate off the edge of the scale. Here’s a genuine fascist, no exaggeration necessary. What were the German fascists all about? Creating a simple scapegoat for complex problems. Promising to restore the country to former greatness. It was about a word I first learned in Mr Corson’s History class: autarky. Autarky means self-sufficiency. It means you don’t rely on the rest of the world for your essentials; you make them yourself. I remember learning by heart for my final exams a whole table showing the increase in pig iron production prior to the second world war. Trump has been telling people he’d stop free trade, support home-grown manufacturing, revive those rusting, weed-infested factories. Build a wall against Mexicans. Put women back where they belong. Laugh at climate change. Make America a man again.

How could people be so stupid?

I mean, how could we be stupid as to think that you can make people feel so miserable, insecure, powerless and overwhelmed by change without consequence? Why should they keep voting for business as usual? (And Hilary Clinton, despite being a woman, was clearly seen as business as usual.) The documentary maker Michael Moore has been trying to tell us about this for a long time. He was one of the few in public life that predicted Trump’s win.

So. I’m writing this from Bathurst, New South Wales, where we have a yearly celebration of working class culture in the V8 car races. We have a manufacturing industry but it’s in decline. This used to be a railway town. Until just a few years ago we even made our own bogies at Downer EDI. The last one rolled off the production line in 2013. Our friend Glen, who used to work in the EDI factory had seen it coming. For years he painstakingly worked through a teaching degree by distance education, working on essays into the night, bundying on at the factory early the next morning. After the factory closed, he was eventually able to find a job as tech teacher at the local high school. Glen managed to make the transition, but he had unusual foresight and adaptability. Where are his fellow workers, now? I would not be surprised to find a few on the disability pension.

Further west, in Cowra, there used to be a fruit and vegetable processing factory. I filmed it for a client-based video called What Employers Want. At that factory there were toolmakers who knew how to create the machines and tweak the production lines that filled and sealed the cans of peas and asparagus. It was an old factory, with parts of it looking like something out of a 1950s film set, but there was also a shiny new addition glinting in the sun, the result of a life-saving government grant. But it died anyway. Where are those blokes, now, the ones who knew how to tweak the machines? What about the young apprentice in the video? Has he been able to find other work?

I’m not saying this is the only explanation for Trump. No doubt misogyny and racism are real and powerful all by themselves. With the collapse of traditional media people are retreating to their own silos, occupying parallel universes in the same geographical spaces. Reality television means people can get to know and like provocateurs like Trump (and Pauline Hanson over here), giving them 100 per cent brand recognition that can be easily parlayed into electoral success.  And the chickens are coming in to roost on dog whistle politics, to mix my farmyard metaphors.

It’s been a perfect storm, but not one that hasn’t been brewing for a long time. It’s a storm made of a backlash against feminism, LBQTI rights and rainbow politics, the rise of the evangelical Christian right (which mobilised for Trump), a domineering foreign policy answered by terrorism followed by war followed by body bags and a disinclination to support Clinton’s promise of continued hawkishness, a backlash against the bankers who caused and then were bailed out of the global financial crisis,  the decline of the old colonial powers of the English speaking world and Europe and the rise of Asia, a preference for a Norman Rockwell past over an apocalyptic, climate-changed future and, perhaps most of all,  simple refusal. Half of eligible voters didn’t vote. They didn’t have the heart. They didn’t think it was worth it.

I’m writing this partly because the US is inherently interesting to me – we’re permanently saturated in American culture so it’s hard not to get interested  –  but also because the parallels with our own situation here are obvious. Whatever storms are brewing there are brewing here, too.

How do we deal with it?

On Thursday morning, once it was definite that Trump was the Leader of the Free World, I was struck by a thorough-going ennui. I’ve been politically active, one way or another, for most of my adult life. But on Thursday I toyed with not bothering any more. I’ve been ill. I could retire to my PhD and spring garden. But I also had to write this week’s BCCAN column and in writing it, I wrote myself back into my tiny bit-part in political life. People have fought fascism before; they’ll do it again. By the afternoon, anti-Trump high school students in California had taken to the streets.

So I will continue on as President of BCCAN, a thing I can do on my own territory that is at odds with all Trump stands for. In campaigning for action on climate change, I’m ever-conscious of the Lithgow coal miners (and ex-coal miners) just half an hour down the road. Many hate “greenies” with a passion, blaming us for the winding down of coal and the loss not just of their livelihoods but of the story of who they are. I don’t know quite what to do about these miners, but I do know they’re important. They can’t be left out of account. Somehow we need to form an alliance, or try to at least. We need to try to do what alliances have always done, which is: accept that we don’t agree on everything. Accept that perhaps we don’t agree on much at all. But if we agree on something, and that something is important enough to fight for (jobs in renewables?), then let’s see what we can do together.

It’s not easy, though. I recall a movie I saw recently. Actually I saw it with my friend Larissa in Newtown after getting back from the UK (yup, burned carbon all the way there and back). It was Pride (2014) about the alliance between striking Welsh coal miners and lesbian and gay activists (the BTQI part wasn’t such a thing in the early 1980s) from the time when Thatcher tried to close down the pits (climate change wasn’t such a thing then, either). The gay and lesbian activists insisted on supporting the striking miners, despite comical differences in lifestyles and attitudes. The last scene depicts a historic  gay pride march held in London in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Impossibly, incredibly, it was led by a band of Welsh coalminers: they were supporting their allies at a time of need.

It’s a beautiful piece of history. It shows what can be done. But then I thought about the thirty years since then. There is still hatred for LBGTI people. But marriage equality exists in the UK, and LBGTI people have made many gains over the past three decades. The Welsh miners? They lost. And they voted Brexit.

 

My name is Tracy, and I’m a Pokémon Go addict

spearow_crochet

Caught a Spearow.

Writing this post… I’ll just keep the app running, okay? The phone is sitting on a clever little stand I made out of a piece of plastic packaging, and a non-slip sock filled with lentils. I wedge the phone between the plastic and the little bean bag snugs itself around it. I think I could make these for Etsy. Anyway, where was I? With the phone propped up nicely against the … buzz…. wow…. a Pokemon? YES! Oh, it’s just a Pidgey. Pidgeys are so BORING. They just look like … like pigeons. The other day I was walking along the street and saw a group of crested pigeons and I felt an inner buzz, that little spike of addictive energy and then I realised I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) catch ’em all because they were actual pigeons. And I realised I had it bad.

Pidgeys are boring, but it’s important to catch them so you can level up. I’m now at Level 16. So I grind through my Pidgeys (this is called “Pidgey grinding”) hoping all the while for something more rare and interesting, like a Bellsprout. Bellsprouts might not be rare in other parts of the world, but they’re very unusual in South Bathurst. I reckon I could crochet a Bellsprout. A quick Google. But other people have already done that. And other people are already having fun with Pokémon Go as addiction.

 

I confess I have found myself lurking near the controversial Evans statue in the town square, which has become a notorious local Pokestop. The scene was dark and cold, lit only by street lamps and the red glow that lights up the war memorial. There was a group of teenage boys just over there … and me. We did not acknowledge each other. We were there to do what we had to do.

But it’s not all just pidgey-grinding with me, I hasten to add. A few other things are going on. My agent (yes! I have an agent!) has just sent my novel (my novel!) off to publishers, so I have to sit around with my fingers crossed & get Bertie to cross all his claws, which is difficult for him to do. Bertie would be a useless Pokémon. Combat Power of about 8. He works best as a Lab assistant lying patiently on his lambskin rug behind my chair. And I’m still working on my PhD research proposal, which means reading up on the agency of nature and critical plant studies, which brings me back to the Bellsprout. We think of nature as dead. Animals are dead meat; plants might be alive but they’re vegetative, which has negative connotations. What if we felt the world as a living, thriving, thrumming thing, which is actually what it is? A thing full of myriad things all with their own lives, their own work? That’s what I’m exploring in my PhD; how we might become more alive to the more-than-human world. How do we make it interesting enough to stop fucking wrecking it? As I walk down Torch Street, I’m alive to the vibrating possibility of Pokémon flitting about in augmented reality like shimmering dragonflies. There’s this humming other world that I can enter and play with. As a child I did this with ants – I’m talking real ants, here, the ones that have an ant-smell – watching them walk in lines, talk to each other with their feelers, carry a crumb. For my PhD, I’m exploring how my crocheted guts became a way of interacting with my barely known and threatened organs. I’m exploring the hand-made, but I can also quite excited about the possibilities of augmented reality games as a way to get modern children interested in the more than human world. Locally, we could have a blackthorn pocket monster and a purple copperwing butterfly and the ant that tends its larvae. Kids (and adults) could catch em all, have fun and engage with the barely-seen nature that lives here with them.

Bzzzt. There’s a Weedle! Darn, I’m out of Pokéballs.

Of Pokémon and pillows

With the world going to hell in a handbasket*, I walked out into the sunshine on Torch Street and headed for Milltown Park, the tiny scrap of green at the top of the street with some play equipment and a sign. Overnight, Milltown Park had become a Pokémon Stop, and I wanted to know a little more about it. I was delayed in getting there because about three houses down, my phone began to vibrate, announcing the presence of a crab-like creature on the road, a little virtual pocket monster. I had to stop and shoot it! I flicked the red ball at the bottom of my phone in the crab’s general direction. Ridiculously easily, my ball felled the creature and swallowed it up. The crab-thing was now mine.

IMG_1168 Today I’ve been gathering Pokémon and feathering my real-life nest with some cosy winter pillows and cushions. Other than the deliberate excursion to Milltown Park, I’ve been able to catch my Pokémon seamlessly, without going out of my way. In Bunnings, as Steve bought an aluminium set square and mulled over how he might custom-build some bookshelves in the middle room, I found a bat flapping about at head-height near a Bunnings customer service person. I was the only person aware of and reacting to this purple bat; it was like being the only person able to see a ghost. I flicked my red ball at it. It bounced fruitlessly down the concrete aisle and disappeared from view. I tried flicking my red ball in different ways, from different angles. I took a few steps backwards to get the angle right, taking care not to knock over the hardware stacked on a display stand behind me. It took a few more goes, but I got my bat. I pocketed my pocket monster.

As we went about our day, feathering our nest, Steve and I talked about how augmented reality could be a wonderful way to get to know local layers of meaning not visible to the naked eye: historical facts about a building; pictures of insects that live in a particular tree. Point your phone at things and find out more about them. That could be good.

Next stop Spotlight to buy some fabric for new cushions. As I walked across the vast expanse of asphalt that is the car park at this new bulky goods retail paradise, I whipped out my phone to see if there were any Pokémon hereabouts. Nothing. The carpark and all the world around it were Pokémon free. I looked up at the buildings, the cars, quietly sitting in the sun and realised I was already seeing the world in a new way: a space that was now somehow negative, because of the absence of something. The absence of something that didn’t actually (or yet) exist. And yet the absence itself felt kind of real.

Within a very short amount of time, the world has been blessed in some parts with Pokémon fairy dust and left languishing in Pokémon black spots in others. Why was the bat in Bunnings? Did Bunnings ask it in, as bait? If people come into your store hunting Pokémon, presumably their eyes might also be caught by the tangible objects available for sale. However these decisions are being made – or whatever algorithm is making decisions for us – for now, Bathurst Bunnings is a have, and Bathurst Spotlight is a have-not, in this brave new augmented world.

Yup, Brave New World. While developers and gamers have been tinkering with augmented reality for many years, there is something decisive about the release of Pokémon Go. Unlike earlier projects, this is fun for all the family. I suspect reality may never be quite the same again, just as it was never the same again after the telegraph, or radio, or television, or the Internet (or fire, or the wheel).

But in the meantime, glitches.

Later, with Steve, I took my old flesh-and-blood black Labrador to the Blayney Road Common for a gentle walk. Bertie ignored the kangaroos solemIMG_1177nly watching us in the golden light. I fired up my app. No Pokémon hereabouts, but I could see a Pokémon stop in the virtual distance. Ah. I tapped it and discovered that this PokeStop had attached itself to a real-world sign that says DANGER LIVE AMMUNITION IN USE – KEEP OUT. I was beginning to see how quickly this Pokémon Go thing could end up in tears. Having children shimmying the fence to get closer to the PokeStop in the middle of the local rifle range can’t be right. There is something eager and ignorant about Pokémon Go. It’s as oblivious to local sensitivities as the tourist who wanders into the Balinese Hindu temple in a bathing suit, tracking sand.

The game will either learn how to work this stuff out, or risk being banned like the clackers. The clackers were acrylic balls on the end of nylon string that you’d clack together. They were a fad that took over my primary school one year back in the early 1970s. The concrete corridors reverberated to the clacking sound. Kids were soon sporting great lumps on their foreheads where they’d been struck in the face by fast-moving hard plastic balls. The school banned them and suddenly they were gone.

Whether Pokémon Go is banned like the clackers or irons out its glitches to spread the fairy dust over the smartphone wielding world, one thing is certain: the way we inhabit physical space and tell stories about it is changing decisively. Robotic surgery means that surgeon and patient need not be in the same place, although at this point in evolution they still need to inhabit the same parcel of time (although even this could conceivably change, with a piece of surgery programmed in and the patient settling herself on the trolley at her own convenience to go under the knife). There was a woman on TV the other night with cerebral palsy who was playing a musical instrument just by moving her eyes.

At moments like these there’s a sense that the limitations of our human bodies are being swept away, allowing us to enter some sort of cyborg otherworld that is part flesh, part code.

I’m happy to catch some Pokémon on a Saturday morning, but I’m not sure I like where we’re going with all this, even if it’s bristling with benefits. I feel a bit like Rose R., the woman in Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings, who didn’t really like the world of the 1960s, with its blathering radio and television sets. She preferred her earlier, simpler world of person-to-person connection. Sometimes I’m not sure I really want to take these next steps, whatever they are. To take those steps is to enter a world with an operating system incompatible with the one currently installed in my brain.

It’s friendly and fun but we’re also being colonised. My street, my town, the way I move about in space is being tracked and manipulated; layers of meaning are being added from some remote place (company headquarters are in San Francisco) by people who can’t tell a firing range from a park bench, because it’s all just coordinates to them (or their robots).

I have some pocket monsters in my smart phone. They exist in my mind, and they exist in this nebulous thing called the Internet. They’re sitting out there in Torch Street right now, nebulous creatures waiting for children to find them. But these pillows – you can touch them, you can rest your head on them. You can count on a pillow.

And when I go to sleep tonight, I must resist the urge to slip my phone under my pillow and wake at three am to check on my pocket monsters.


*A man driving a truck through a crowd watching the fireworks; attempted military coup in Turkey; others.