Category Archives: Carnarvon

Don’t let these stories wash away

Over on the other side of the continent and half way up, a mile long jetty reaches out into the sparkling Indian Ocean. Thousands of stories are held on those creaking timber boards.

Ours goes like this:

Dad is sitting in the car in the main street, having just arrived from a year-long stint on a dairy farm down south. He notes an Aboriginal boy with a fish almost as big as he is, slung over his back, going into the Port Hotel. When the boy reappears, sans fish and presumably a little money in his pocket, Dad asks where he got it. The boy points in the direction of the One Mile Jetty.

Did Dad walk out on that mile-long jetty by himself, or were we – Mum and my sister Deb and I – all in tow? I think he went alone. It took no time at all to land the big one. I imagine him now, a man in a striped shirt and stretchy black swimming costume, carrying his fish all the way back to shore.

Mum took a photo of Dad with Deb and I standing either side of him, each holding an ice cream cone. In pride of place in the centre there’s the fish, taller than five-year-old me, its nose balanced on Dad’s bare foot to keep it out of the sand, tail held firmly in two hands.

We stayed on because of that fish. We stayed on in the little town between the red desert and the blue sea with the great bowl of blue sky overhead. The air was thick with insects; the bush thrummed with life; little brown birds hid in acacia shrubs and called out in a circular, taunting trill: Did y get drunk? Did y get drunk?

The One Mile Jetty became as familiar as our own backyard. We’d push an old pram full of fishing gear out across the old hardwood planks, over the tidal mud flats and mangroves to the deep blue-green sea that slapped on the pylons. You could lean up against the old shed out at the end, to get out of the wind; or you could stop fishing and clamber down to secret places underneath, to get closer to the water and study barnacles.

The fish were easy to catch. I learned to distinguish desultory nibbles from the thrill of a good hard tug. As a nine year old I could land, kill, gut and scale a fish. Returning home, our two grey cats would be waiting impatiently for us. We’d fry and eat our fish for dinner. The jetty was part of our pantry.

Earlier this year, Mum and I walked out on it together, decades after that day with the giant fish. We smelt the air again, and heard the slapping of the water on the old pylons, and remembered.

That’s our story.

For Tom Day, a man of an earlier generation, the jetty was piece of vital transport infrastructure, the docking place for weekly visits from the state shipping line. From the earliest days of the Carnarvon township until the early 1960s, the only regular transport in and out was by sea.

“It’s part of our history,” he told me by phone today. “We used to travel to Perth on the state ships. It’s an icon of the town, and it’s the only timber jetty left in the north.” A mural on the Civic Centre in town shows the scene at the end of the jetty when a ship came in: a kaleidoscope of movement and colour, people and animals and things. Over the years visitors, townsfolk, shearers, sheep, wool, food, mail, fabrics, bananas, newspapers and magazines all came in and out of town this way.

Once the road was sealed all the way from Carnarvon to Perth, semi-trailers took over from the ships. The jetty’s new life as a drawcard for fishing and tourism began.

And there is a darker note in the jetty’s history. It was from here, between 1910 and 1916 that Aboriginal people, many in chains and handcuffs, were forced on the boats that took them to the infamous lock hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Islands.

But now the future of the jetty, with all its interwoven layers of history and personal stories, is in doubt. Consultants hired to assess the condition of the jetty and report on maintenance requirements took the unusual step of requesting that it be closed immediately due to safety concerns. If money can’t be found to repair it, the closure will be permanent.

The jetty’s decline has been a long time coming, hastened over the years by a couple of devastating fires lit by vandals. But an army of volunteers has worked tirelessly to care for the jetty, raising funds for maintenance and driving tourists out and back on the little “coffee pot” train.

Tom Day, now the chair of the Carnarvon Heritage Group, said he refused to take a “defeatist” view. “If you believe in something you need to stand up and say so,” he said. As we spoke, he was in the process of organising a public meeting in town to show community support to save the jetty.

“We’re talking to people in the city about how we might progress getting some funds to repair it,” he said. “We’ll get one shot at this. If you think we should rip down part of our history so be it, but I think it needs to be saved.”

The Carnarvon Heritage Group is running a fund-raising campaign to save the jetty. Find out more here:

https://chuffed.org/project/save-the-one-mile-jetty

 

My Daily Dinner

It bothered me that they didn’t have eyes. There they were, a man and a woman sitting at a tiny table smiling at each other with no eyes. Their smiles were so big they reached almost to the temples. And their legs had no feet. They ended in sharp points, like stakes to be driven into the ground.

They sat on the cover of Mum’s slim yellow cookery book, My Daily Dinner, acquired around the time of her marriage in 1961. I read it, on and off, over the years. How to deal with an old fowl. – A quite old fowl is very nice boiled. And I’d move on to the recipes for brain rolls or stewed tripe. I read and reread it the way I read the other books that lay about the house. These included a rude one called Laughter Between the Sheets which was kept under other things in the sliding-door cabinet in the lounge room. (We found all hidden things in the house, without exception.) And there was Strange Stories, Amazing Facts from the Reader’s Digest in which the image of a dead person kept appearing in the lino on the floor, no matter how hard the cleaner tried to scrub it off.

For me, My Daily Dinner was reading material for mooching, listless afternoons. I wasn’t thinking about the act of cooking. I was thinking about the old fowl or the brains.

Leafing through it now – not Mum’s original one but an old copy I found myself – I see that its purpose was not connected to idleness but to industry and thrift. It was a how-to manual for getting something on the dining table day after day after day. And now I see the connection with the things that actually appeared on our table. There’s the bread and butter pudding. There is the hot chocolate sauce we poured over vanilla ice cream. There is all that offal: the tripe, the brains, the liver (lamb’s fry), the kidneys, the tongue (yes, I remember a large tongue with its own thick pitted skin), the lumps of corned beef boiled forever and served with a white sauce.

My Daily Dinner is big on white sauce. It’s big on flour in general. Mum was forever dredging things in seasoned flour and frying them. Everything was thickened with flour, dotted with butter. Puddings were endless variations on flour and sugar.

The apple roly poly, the star dessert of my childhood, is not in My Daily Dinner. There is a jam roly poly, but that’s not what we used to have. Our roly poly had slices of apple rolled up in a scone-like dough with water and sugar poured over it and baked to create a caramelised self-saucing sensation. Eaten out of the mustard-coloured Bessemer bowls I still remember arriving new in the box.

I don’t think Mum ever attempted to follow a complete suggested menu; she took inspiration here and there. The complete menus, building day by day, were about eking out food, making it go further; about using animals from snout to tail because that’s how you could feed a family on very little money. The menu for the Friday of the third week of the winter is this: Sheep’s head broth (made with stock from the sheep’s head you boiled for dinner yesterday) followed by scalloped fish (a small amount of fresh fish stretched out with white sauce and baked) served with potatoes (an all-white main course) finished up with half pay pudding. The half pay pudding is a concoction of flour and currants steamed in a pudding cloth for three hours. Very good results are obtained by mixing the pudding with one cup of cold tea. This makes it more economical.

My Daily Dinner was published by the magazine New Idea, which in those days was all about knitting patterns and household hints. Now New Idea is a mess of celebrity gossip in a world of criminal excess, in which, it’s estimated, Australians throw out eight billion dollars worth of food every year. But women have it better than they did then. They’re not spending the afternoon fiddling with sheep’s heads: Get two sheep’s heads or lambs’ heads, soak them well in salt and water, and rinse thoroughly. Cut the sides apart, separating the tongues, and take out the brains. Then again, some people are rediscovering such activities, as a way of combatting food waste. But tripe. Is anyone going to go back to tripe?

If you’d like to give it a try (I swear I ate this exact dish, as a child) here’s the recipe:

Stewed tripe: – Get one and a half lbs. thick, seamy tripe, wash, and cut in neat pieces, not too small. Cover with water, and add one dessertspoon salt; boil gently for two hours. After one hour place six peeled onions on top of the tripe. When cooked, pour off most of the liquor, and add one cup of milk. Bring to the boil and thicken with one tablespoon flour mixed to a paste with a little cold milk. Add a small piece of butter just before serving on a hot dish.

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.

Time to fly the flag, Carnarvon

Tracy_Deb_Jetty_early_70sFor me, the word Carnarvon is a sensation with a myriad elements: the smell of crackling desert dawn, the roar of the Indian Ocean, stars hanging low in the sky. It’s a billy boiling on glowing coals, fish sizzling in a pan, my young parents endlessly outdoors in a world of water, spray, sand and dust. It’s a quality of light and air that exists only there, only in that place. I wasn’t born there, but I got there early enough for it to take hold of my soul. I will not be five, six, or seven years old anywhere else on earth. Or fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. Carnarvon has all of those years.

But Carnarvon is also the place I was desperate to leave when I was a teenager serving buckets of hot chips at Delmonica’s Deli next door to the book exchange. Life was elsewhere, and I couldn’t wait to go find it. For quite a few years I barely looked back. And then, the undercurrent, pulling me back.

In recent years I’ve been a member of a Facebook group called I Grew Up in Carnarvon, a virtual town in cyberspace. People will post announcements of deaths and funerals, or pictures of what places in Carnarvon look like now. Both current residents and those of us long gone live companionably there. We are united online by the things we knew intimately offline: the dry crunch of the Gascoyne River, the creaking of the boards of the One Mile Jetty, the smell of prawns and mangos, the palm trees dotting a seawall known as The Fascine, the giant dish of the radio telescope looking over the town from its perch on a red sand dune. If you’re on Facebook, a certain bittersweet nostalgia is never more than a couple of clicks away.

But then a few days ago, blasting into the middle of this nostalgic idyll, an urgent posting:

OMFG can you be serious!!!!!! I’m listening to the ABC news and the Shire of Carnarvon is refusing to fly the Aboriginal Flag during NAIDOC week!!!!!! Shame on you Carnarvon Shire!

And then it was on. The comments rolled on and on.  “Disgrace!” “Shame!” and so on.

For my international reader*, a bit of background: NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. During NAIDOC Week, held in the first week of July, most local government offices fly the striking black, red and yellow Aboriginal flag. It symbolises respect for, and celebration of, the oldest living culture on earth. For forty thousand years (some say sixty thousand) before invasion and settlement by European powers, Aboriginal people had been sitting by firelight under low-hanging stars, listening to the crashing of the Indian Ocean or the buzzing of insects on the red earth inland from the coast, singing the songs and telling the stories of the place we know now as Carnarvon.

But the shire of Carnarvon has just decided that it will not fly the Aboriginal flag for NAIDOC week in July.  The shire president insists that the Australian flag – the Union Jack plus the stars of the Southern Cross – represents all residents of Carnarvon equally, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. But local Aboriginal people are feeling it as a personal snub. For a radio interview this morning, I called someone who’d been in my sister’s class at school and asked what local Aboriginal people were feeling. Rage and despair, she said.

Why is it so hard for some Australians to look history squarely in the face? The land was wrested from Aboriginal people against their will. Dispossession was a long, drawn out and often bloody process. It stands to reason, then, that our the national flag carries traces of these meanings. It does not represent the whole story of this country; it represents a part of it. In recent years, as a nation, we have begun to recognise this and to reach out to the country’s first peoples. Sadly, Carnarvon shire appears determined to stick to a 1950s vision, one that is wilfully blind to the history and lived experience of many of its residents.

Carnarvon is an extraordinary place in an ancient and beautiful landscape. It deserves an Aboriginal flag flying freely over the Shire chambers. Let’s hope the shire councillors change their minds before NAIDOC week in July.

*Jane

Leave Matt Damon on Mars

tiny_orchid_chris_marshall

A tiny lily from Peel, near Bathurst. Pic: Chris Marshall.

There’s an awful lot going on, and all of it’s good, all of it’s about participating in Life with a capital L.

A couple of hours ago I got a text message from a nurse at Prof Harnett’s clinic. The entire text message was just two digits: a one and a zero. Ten. Ten! Brilliant! My lucky number relates to my CA125 level, an indicator of possible ovarian cancer activity. High numbers bad, low numbers good. Ten is a lovely low number.
In the run-up to this blood test I kept myself pantingly busy working on the 200 Plants and Animals exhibition which opened last Friday night. We had about 50 people at the launch. The exhibition, whipped into aesthetic line by Cate McCarthy, looked fabulous at about 4pm on Friday evening. Two hours to spare! I even had time to go home and have a shower and put a skirt on.

The exhibition is all about paying attention to where we live. Which is in a planetary system that appears robust but is actually caving, crumbling, subsiding, declining, getting warmer, losing bits of itself. The exhibition (which continues until 5pm next Sunday) explores the bit of the system that we’re inhabiting right here, right now – focusing on non-human living things. A hundred local plants, a hundred local animals all feature in the exhibition. The largest thing is the skull of a horse; the smallest is a tiny, tiny dead beetle. It includes my own bit of amateur biologising: a pressed dandelion from the back yard, and crocheted human brains (humans are included but only as the “one hundreth animal”). There’s a spotted marsh frog painting by the Hazzards; Mum’s pobblebonk; my friend Kirsty Lewin’s black cockatoo mask; lots of photos by Tim Bergen; bright pastels by Johannes Bauer who is both ecologist and artist; Ray Mjadwesch’s specimens including the dried remains of a sugar glider that died after being snarled in barbed wire; our old dog Taro; a glass-art cat with a chain saw. Mostly native animals and plants, but a few introduced species that share this habitat.

Working on this exhibition with the BCCAN committee and others in the team, my sense of this planet as a teeming, rich-in-every-corner thing has grown. I got angry with an ad for Mortein on television the other night. It seemed incredible to me that wholesale scorched-earth policies in private homes are allowed, willy nilly, along with anti-bacterial hand washes. Good to have in hospitals, but the idea of daily life in disinfected spaces now seems a lesser life.
Which brings me to Matt Damon on Mars with his potato plants fertilised by human dung. There he is in a superhuman struggle against the basic facts of life: our bodies were created and are supported by our one and only planet, with its air and water and animals and plants and seasons and sea and earth. And he wins. He works out how to “science the shit out of” his dire situation. The movie brims with an eager love of science, of figuring things out, trying things out, failing and trying again. I enjoyed that. It was also a long paean to NASA. I’m as much a fan of NASA as the next person, or maybe even more, having grown up next to one of the tracking stations that tracked the Gemini and Apollo missions.

But in these days of climate change and environmental destruction, such enthusiasm over humanity’s ability to shuck off the demands of our slow-evolving nature just makes me a little sad for us and for the planet we’re buggering up in the process. There we are, soiling our own nest, just waiting to take flight, get off into outer space, colonise distant planets, all in close-fitting Star Trek suits.

On television a few days later, there was the lame Revenge of the Sith, in which the vibrant world of the original Star Wars movie was oddly reduced to a cross between daytime soap and a computer game for kids. It was all smooth surfaces and whizzing things. Where were these beings growing their food, disposing of their waste? Where was biology in all this? (Okay, just Googled it. Star Wars does have its own biological objects and rules, according to Wookieepedia.) When James Cameron’s Avatar came out, I thought it might have been the beginning of a different type of futurism, one that explored the idea of living sustainably within an ecosystem. But Avatar was a one-off. The future, as imagined by Hollywood, still has a Jetsons quality (it’s the future, and you never see the Earth’s surface, let alone a single tree).I love science as much as the next person, or even more, having so far been saved by modern medical knowledge. But the idea that we can “science the shit out of” our environmental problems, including climate change, will not work on its own. I think it needs to be united with a profound acceptance of – and interest in – the limitations and workings of our own bodies and our own planet.