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.