Before the book
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I’m currently doing a course on holistic farming near the southern New South Wales town of Braidwood. I had expected it to be full of ruddy-cheeked cattlemen in their forties and fifties; instead it is mostly people like me, tertiary-educated thirtysomethings who want to grow their own food to nourish their vocations. We are writers, a ceramicist and a filmmaker; a market gardener with a background in conservation; the manager of a local farmers’ market and her partner, who feeds his chooks on maggots from roadkill kangaroo
The median strip led to the other side of the highway. We emerged boot-first into a flood of oncoming headlights. Screams howled from the back seat. ‘I’m dead,’ I thought. Then it hit. Another car, speed meeting speed, like two protons colliding. I didn’t get the luxury of a concussion. I stayed awake the whole way through. There was a glimpse of black, a few seconds max, when my head reeled from the soft impact against the dashboard. White pinwheels spun on the inside of my eyelids. Blood flooded back into my feet and fingers. After that everything went berserk.
The ghost river
When he was about to begin the river story Moses would stamp at the ground with the heel of his boot and call out to the birds in the trees, ‘listen hard now’. He’d clap his hands together a couple of times, make a clicking noise with his tongue and the birds would lift off from the trees in the distance and move a little closer, to the wattles lining the riverbank. ‘Back in the old time, before the humans,’ he would begin, ‘this girl, the river, she didn’t stop her life where she does now, at the mouth at bay there. There is no bay in the time I’m talking with.’
On the rigs
The environment is unapologetically male. It is also isolated and basic: all everyone does is sleep-eat-work. I found it relatively easy to acclimatise given my studies and interests, but I underestimated the impact that being the only woman for most of my time, in a group of between twenty and sixty men, would have on me. I found it more challenging than I expected to navigate work/life nuances on the rigs. There are not many other places in the world where a woman is made more aware of her gender: where you must learn to find the balance as a woman in such an overwhelmingly male world.
The story my mother tells me
I started going to yoga classes in the hope that the physical preparation would make the birth a little easier. I spent a lot of time watching the other women, the new arrivals who barely showed any signs of pregnancy, lying next to the old hands who only had a matter of days to go. We were like lemmings walking towards the edge of the cliff. I was somewhere in the middle and that was where I wanted to stay, but there was no way of halting this horrible progression towards being the most pregnant one, the one who didn’t turn up next week, the one who just disappeared.
Across the Bass Strait
Mum was sitting by herself on a bench attached to the wall of the ship under a Perspex roof. We sat next to her holding on to the bottom of the bench. I told Mum that I had been sick and she wiped my forehead and cheek and said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,’ and it looked like she was crying. She said it was just the sea spray and the cold. And it was cold. It was freezing and the wind cut into my back like I had no skin at all. I could hear the water crack against the ship, feel it hit then hear the spray shoot up. Only I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see anything past the light cast out on the deck. Out there the world was raging in the blackness.