The artlessness of internal travel

Going away enforced where I was.

There was no here without there.

The Canning River fed Bull Creek

overshadowed by paperbarks

with its sharp white shore, a cul de sac

fed from the Hills, up over the Scarp.


Or far up the coast, a new home,

the Chapman River ate sandstone

and bream in the pools spoke

upstream language in their stasis.

Away, was religious when religion

was failing me, and I failing it.


Always heading Down South

or Up North, a thread through

a broken marriage, a string cord

between family jam tins, I travelled

to Wheatlands farm and its salt scalds,

to the millionaire’s farm near Mullewa

managed by my father and his new wife.

Then to the mining towns of the Pilbara.

Later to a shack in a paddock

on the edge of jarrah forest.


Shells, rocks, cutting of plants,

the odd polaroid, lock-journals

with sketchy notes of departure,

arrival, incidents: Dad hit a roo

not far out of Exmouth after

the cyclone took the roof off

our motel and we sheltered

in the doorframe of the bathroom.


Driving throughout the night,

unloading bricks at Koorda,

then onto Merredin, more bricks...

and then sometime near dawn

the truck off the road, brick packs

broken all over. Swish of gear changes,

hooking the button up alongside the shift,

low, high...a range of habitation

as adversarial as bitumen,

night punctured with headlights.


In the shothole canyon outside Exmouth,

communications remixing my brain chemistry,

its electricity, I got a sense of what it is

to be alone and lost, to drink rock

and dryness, take blue as emptiness.

But to retract and embrace,

and see the fullness of loss.

I am still there, scant vegetation

and presence I can now explain.


Long straights, towards arid zones.

The Pioneer bus with my younger brother,

the flat-tops, the mesas, the emollient of erosion,

the leafiness of banana plantations around Carnarvon

that seemed as artificial as flower arrangements,

the pragmatic wish-fulfilment of tracking stations,

the communities that wouldn’t let us in

but we hung around, hoping to travel

where the car wouldn’t take us, the Ampol

and Golden Fleece travel paraphernalia

guide us. Quasi-religious. Always quasi.

Wanting to put something back.


And the salt ponds, evaporative vats

granulated tissue of the iron industry,

as hardcore porno sold to teenagers

in supermarkets outwitted blue-ringed octopi,

the tide rushing in over mud crabs,

swamping mangroves, cobbler lurking

and queenfish out in the channels.

If you behave, we’ll drive out

to the anomaly, Millstream.

Water in the gorges contradicts

the dry God you want to worship.

Nothing is ‘straggly’ because writing

is what I take to it: unwritten

yet, a shimmering affirmation.


Later I would fly on MMA down to Perth.

Filling the map, dragging coast into crops,

a semi-literate overview. Returning with piles

of books, Frank O’Hara made street-corners

of topography, silos sucked into his art.


But trips from the farm into a deeper wheatbelt

were memories bereft of the anxieties of connection:

salt scalds widening out beyond fences, speaking

liminal against the grain, hot on the steps

of the translocated, the driven-off.

Further out, defences lowered,

where wodjil tests granite

and rock dragons press sun

into mirrors and the hawk watches,

I announced the crime. In whose footsteps

I follow, and the marks I leave behind: so distinct,

but empty, the yellowing spray-fringe at the edges.


And south, to the tall timber fantasy,

stomping ground of my Irish ancestors,

stomping down karri with vestiges of hunger

and anger, the bitten homeland transference

to lift selkies from king waves, conspire

with the haves and fight off the have-nots

they might become at any moment, travelling

through wetlands where the old farm etched

its way into the buried, tramped down bones.


Bits of language coming through, and straight past

the houses of family I didn’t know,

family who knew the wide spaces

between tuarts before the ships arrived.


Or where whales ended up in kettles

and tanks – travelogue of family

friendships – Carnarvon Whaling Station –

grandfather in the spotter, and great white sharks

off Cheynes Beach I intone, carry on about:

but mainly the eternal south, the other blue,

the depth outside ownership, despite all claims.

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