The pieces below are best read on a tablet or desktop
Congratulations to our October winners:
$50 – Suzie West, ‘Music’
$50 – Linda Harding, ‘Guest’
$50 – Kathryn Fry, ‘Blue Blood’
$25 – Kerry Gittins, ‘The Creation of One’
$25 – Robyn Fordyce Wheeler, ‘Rescue’
After: Colour Bomb
Nine months two weeks pregnant. I was overdue. Walking had turned into waddling. Tiredness was my daily companion. I wanted a little quite time before the fight for new life began.
A surly midwife circled my bed. Her wrinkled face, yellow teeth and grey hair did not arouse my confidence. I thought she had probably seen thousands of births, well she was in for a surprise with me, I a birth mother who screams and bellows in sync with the pain.
Arriving at maternity I was given an enema. Revolting! I felt invaded as the slippery plastic tube was pushed up my rectum, but I needed to give birth and this was part of the procedure, back then. There were three other children under five at home waiting for their new sibling. Another girl the scan, said. I didn’t care as long as the baby was born strong and healthy.
Electronic music drifted in and out of my consciousness like waves on a beach, ebbing and flowing with the contractions of birth, but never stopping. The midwife bent down between my legs. “Push!” She yelled.
I was flat on my back. No sitting or squatting in the 80’s. Sweat dripped down my face, stinging my eyes and blurring my vision. “Push!” she yelled again.
So, I pushed and I pushed. I bore down like a semi-trailer going down a steep pass unable to put the brakes on. “Stop!” she yelled. “Stop! Stop!” I couldn’t stop. I had no brakes, my body said go…..go…go, so I went. Her old gnarled hands caught my baby.
Someone rushed the baby across to the incubator. People in white coats gathered.
“She is not breathing my husband whispered”. “Go and have a look” I whispered back. I couldn’t move, I was stuck. My legs were strapped into birthing stirrups like a bondage victim in a sadomasochistic act.
Hubby with his cop bravado, tippy toed over to the commotion in the far corner where they were sticking tubes down my baby’s throat and oxygen up her nose. The baby was not breathing. The midwife stood on the sidelines, watching, she looked over me and smiled smugly.
It’s a boy he cried from the other side of the room. It’s not a girl. Oh my God the scan had it all wrong, and then, hubby’s words; “he has a big penis” scrambled into my brain in a melee mixed with that fucking never ending electronic music.
They rushed the baby to ICU. The old midwife bent down beside me and whispered, her stale cigarette breath gagged me, “It’s your fault, you pushed when I told you not too”, “he will never be alright”. Tears of emotional pain rolled from my eyes like heavy drops of water on dying land.
With my legs still tied into the birthing stirrups and my uterus still holding my baby’s placenta, guilt crept into my heart. I did it, I hurt my baby. It was Friday 13 February 1986; Patrick was born.
We have sold our home and walked out into the cold thin air of indecision, a limbo land. We are homeless till we know where we might live, and we do not know when we will know. We have begun to travel because to stand still while we decide our future is to feel the full force of no longer having a ‘place’. The road at least gives the illusion of going somewhere. We are cashed up immigrants, fleeing to a better life that lies somewhere out there.
So, we have set off in our car, staying with friends, visiting relatives, house sitting, crashing at airbnbs or cabins in caravan parks and racking up our points on Booking.com. We stop and stretch our legs at lookouts, smell the eucalypts, take in the lie of the land, always a beautiful but foreign land. It’s a gypsy life without a van and we have no true designation now except for one: ‘guest’. To be a guest is a vulnerable thing.
When you live somewhere for 26 years there are hidden roots that anchor and protect you; not just the familiarity of walls and garden, but the community of people around you from the man who mows your lawns, to the woman at the deli, who chats while she slices your ham. There are those who do not know your name at all but know your face, so nod and smile and mouth ‘Hello’ as they pass you on your street. Testifiers to our tenure in that place.
Guests don’t belong. Guests by their very nature merely visit, stay to eat, and drink, perhaps to sleep, but then they move along, as all good guests should do. Some guests have stayed beyond their welcome, perhaps aspiring to belong, and found themselves evicted. How long is too long? How can a guest even know? Just keep moving. Guests are more bearable when they know that their place is elsewhere.
There are other anchors gone now too. The daily routines, the grounding rhythm of chores, taking out the garbage, the changing of a lightbulb, the repairing of a fence, the shopping for a meal to share with others. Now we feel the burden of the constantly served, and chores we once eschewed seem a privilege of community no longer ours.
One day, with luck not long from now, we’ll find a house and lay our money down and start again to build the anchors we have lost. For now, we try to be good guests whose footprints do not mar the ground of someone else’s country.
We try to wear our ‘guestness’ well, as if it weren’t the sad, ill-fitting coat, we both feel it to be. We think often of the refugee who has no coat at all.
It slipped out of the clear container
I’d held it in for close viewing, along
with the pipe fish, shrimp and seahorse
I’d netted from the lake’s eel grass.
I saw its arms aligned snug behind
the fleshy head and mantle; those electric
blue rings, flashing. It was small enough
to fit in my palm, vulnerable as a baby,
were it not for the toxin in its bite.
As if I was standing open-hearted at the edge
of creation, before the lightning strike
that sparked the first mix of molecules
into the first simple life, setting clever
evolution in motion. To form a creature
such as the octopus, king of the boneless
beings, an astute survivor. I watched how
it propelled itself through the water, then
disappeared under a brown leaf on the sand.
The Creation of One
After: Contrasting Life
I spy with my little eye something beginning with ‘T’.
Could it be someone or could it be no one who thinks they look like me?
I’ve watched and waited and thought and debated on how I would make it come true,
and whether the rest of the world would know, if you became me and I became you.
For many long years we grew side by side, and laughed as we tricked them all.
Trin and Tess, Tess and Trin. We never let either one fall.
But then one day you crossed that line, the one we said was sacred.
I found the two of you tangled in sheets, lying together, naked.
I thought he’d know, could tell us apart, but you had thought of that too.
It was there on your thigh, the scar from the tree I’d fallen from when I was two.
I walked out the door, and didn’t look back, betrayed, hurt and scorned.
You’d become me. I’d lost my true love. Through tears and rage, an idea was formed.
I called and said ‘Let’s meet at the tree. The one from which I fell.’
And so you agreed, without ever thinking I’d cast my most wicked spell.
Under the branches, into the ring, your eyes never leaving my face.
That smile replaced by horror and fear as you vanished not leaving a trace.
Into the realm of faeries and ghouls, your earthly self is done.
No longer you. No longer me. What once was two is now one.
Based on the image by Kylie Virtue, Contrasting Life (B & W 2022)
Robyn Fordyce Wheeler
We carried his lifeless body to the car on the street outside, its boot flap already open in wait. We had dressed him in his favourite jacket and wrapped him in a soft teal-blue blanket. Then we collapsed in a sea of tears as he was driven away from us.
In the end he was failed by his heart; the huge organ that had governed his every thought and action. It was immense and strong, a resilient, beating drum that eventually succumbed to exhaustion. See, despite the unkindness he’d endured, his heart had absorbed barb after barb, transforming all cruelty into love before releasing it back into the world.
He had lived with us for just his last two years, since we escaped like refugees from our cramped Sydney apartment to what felt like an enormous house with three bedrooms, a sun filled lounge room and a backyard with thick green grass that cooled hot summer feet. We felt we had room for more than just ourselves. How true he proved that to be.
From his first night with us he slept well. We had expected a degree of fear or distrust from him, given all he’d seen and experienced. But we were wrong. Instead he would invariably accept people at a glance, with an expectation of kindness. He showed no evidence of ego at all, nor did he ever get a person wrong.
He moved at his own glacier-like pace. He held us back, forcing us to abandon our frenetic past and ease ourselves into our future. He slept a lot and ate with such gusto and joy that we rediscovered the simple pleasures we’d long since forgotten. In the evenings after dinner he would snore so loudly that we joked he was sucking the paint off the walls.
When he left us we cried so long and hard that we thought we would never heal. Month after month of grief. But over time we eventually became able to say his name without falling apart. We got stronger. And then we turned the corner where just that single word – his name – would invoke gratitude for the many lessons he shared.
‘Listen, what do you hear?’
‘Can’t you hear it?’
‘The bird call like this’, he then proceeded to make a particular bird call.
‘Yes I can hear that, what type of bird makes that sound?’
He explains the name of the type of bird and they begin to look up in the trees to see if they can spot it.
‘We’re going to have a storm later.’
Looking up at the clear blue sky she asks, ‘how do you know that?’ Thinking he was just assuming because it was a warm summer day in January and these types of days usually end with a storm, eventually.
He smiled and replied ‘the bird is telling us it will storm.’
‘OK’, was her reply, not fully convinced.
They had been on the walking track for about 15 minutes, the sign had said the whole walk would take 30 minutes return, yet she could still see the car. This walk was not what she was used to.
She had always enjoyed walking in the bush, the aim of the walk was to get to the destination, waterfall, lookout, whatever the attraction was you were walking to see.
His way of walking in the bush was different.
Each sound heard and considered. Each sight is a story in itself. Looking down into the dust of the trail to see what creatures had crossed the path or walked along it. Examining what was beside the track, what flowers, berries or seeds were what colour. Even the individual smells of the bush. It all had meaning.
He was reading the bush, finding out what it had to tell him.
Initially she was frustrated thinking, this walk is going to take all day! Slowly she began to realise he wasn’t just a visitor to this place he knew it and understood it. He was catching up on its news as some read the newspaper to stay informed of current events. He found what he needed to know out here.
He wasn’t a stranger here.
During the many slow walks together in the bush over the years she learnt to read some of the signs too. She began to appreciate that it’s not the final destination that should be the goal, but some of the most valuable lessons are learnt throughout the journey.
Sure enough as they made their way back to the car hours later, faint rumblings could be heard in the distance.
On the drive down the winding dusty road, the sky darkened and heavy rain drops splattered on the windscreen.
For Better, For Wrose
After: Megan Jacobson
Missing Old Man Found I clicked on the news feed headline. Brett Harvey is lucky to be alive. The 48-year-old went missing …
A 48-year-old — an old man? Get real. He’s only a few years older than my daughter. As I tut-tutted about misleading headlines, the words came into focus. Missing Qld Man Found
It’s not the first time this has happened to me. I was driving along a country road when I saw a bloated wombat lying on the grass. As I drew near, his claws morphed into sticks protruding from a bundle of garden waste that some low life had tossed onto the verge.
It was disconcerting, like my last trip to the optometrist. Chin wedged, peering through one lens after another. My anxiety rising as he cross-examined me. Better or worse? Better or worse? In the end, both images looked identical. I couldn’t decide which was better. What if I chose the wrong one?
When I mentioned how I’d felt, Amanda laughed. ‘For goodness sake, Mum. He’s just trying to get your lenses right.’
I’ve always worn glasses to correct my vision, but I haven’t been back to the optometrist since then, even though I don’t always see things clearly.
I thought Amanda’s husband was wonderful. An advertising executive, who was so much in love, he insisted Amanda wore her wedding band even when she was gardening or mowing the lawn. He said he worked long hours so that she could stay home and look after the children. His weekends were spent at the surf club, where he was the coach of the nippers.
I was shocked when the truth came out. His affairs. His rage. The way he’d sneered at Amanda as he cut up her visa card. I wept when she repeated the foul put-downs he’d used to destroy her confidence. He told her she was stupid; called her unspeakable names.
How could I have got it so wrong?
But, Amanda said, he was in love, and selfless too.
Or — a master of self-promotion? A perfect O or a Q? An O with a devil’s tail.
For better, for worse? At first glance, it’s hard to tell.
Scene 1 — at home
You are scared of everything, he said. It sounded more like
a taunt than a said. You are scared of your own shadow.
I don’t think my shadow’s the problem. But thoughts
don’t render words concrete.
Cut. Scene 2 — a farm
I wandered to the top of the hill on my ownfor a view
of mottled scrub,for a sniff of dust and eucalyptus. A mob
of working dogs lay chainedin the shade of a ramshackle
shed.But an angry one broke free. All white — teeth
and spit. I stood my rough ground. A woman came rushing
but the dog stopped short, dropped its game at my feet.
How is it you didn’t run or scream? She was shaken.
You know dogs, work them?
I just don’t scare easy —was my breezy response.
the nursery rhymes—
scene’s that blur and return.
Your old address.
Same dream. Same trajectory.
Wooden Soldiers with mouths painted shut—
, ring a ring a rosy.
You try and step off.
Crack a Jack. The peeling back,
a shoe fitted-up with children.
Christmas arrives under a nativity
Strangers who share your blood
and bones, those shady parts of a tree.
handed down like a fist full of thankyous.
You give your father a shirt
from your first
pay at Target.
The scent of that’s nice pinstripes the air.
He gives you shoes you’d soon grow in to—
everything rhymes with hate—
your mother waiting outside the front gate
with the gift of dying, inside.
Blanket on my Favourite Chair
After: Annika Lee
It holds the imprint of her still. It has been weeks now but sometimes I bury my hands and arms deep into the soft, synthetic fabric and imagine I can still feel the warmth of her body. I press a fold of blue to my nose and inhale deeply, imagining that I can detect the scent of her on the soft fibres that were once plastic bottles. The bright, muppet-skin blue is nearly the same shade as her hair when she left us.
Who knows what colour her hair is now? She may have pink hair, or no hair. Or maybe a sleek, blonde bob. It drove her father mad but I used to love her ever-changing aesthetic. A new piercing or hairstyle paired with another bargain from the op shop. An 80s fluro top with cargo pants or maybe a business shirt with a flouncy taffeta skirt. She had always loved dressing up. When she was three it had been all about the tutus. Suitable for every occasion.
Of course that changeability, so charming on the surface, was worrying when it seeped down into the deeper layers of her life. Changes in friends, in partners and in employment made me queasy. I pleaded with her to stick with this course of study a little longer. Maybe she could get another tattoo if she needed a change? You can imagine how that went over.
In the end, our final argument had been about something so very trivial. I had asked her to please use another chair. That one, my favourite, was the only one my back would permit me to sit in for more than a little while. I could sit there and read or browse the real estate listings on the ipad without paying for it later in anti-inflammatories. But every time I got a moment to sit (not often, it must be said) the chair was already occupied. Curled up in her blue blanket like a burrito, eyes glued to the small glowing screen. One leg draped casually over an unyielding wooden arm. She couldn’t possibly be comfortable like that? The hard back and wooden arms were not designed for lounging. Why not choose the huge, squishy, unoccupied couch?
The spark may have been trivial but the resulting explosion had been all-engulfing. Our controlled, reasonable sniping escalated into screaming character assassination. Nothing was off limits. Housework, disrespectful tone of voice, alcohol intake, partners who treat the place like a hotel, intrusions on privacy, poor work ethic, empty milk cartons put back in the fridge, phone bills, global warming. OK, not the last one. But I think we would have gotten round to it if she hadn’t stormed out. That was three weeks ago and there had been no word since. Not a ping. The blanket looks as though it is grieving. Reluctant to lose her imprint too, I can’t bring myself to sit in my favourite chair.
After: Scape II
In the crispness of the morning, she tiptoes on the floorboards, careful not to bump the musical clown hastily thrown on the hall table at bedtime. Her towel is slung over her arm like a welcoming friend. Bag grabbed, ready-packed last night. She glimpses the shadow of the light in her son’s room. Fading shapes of bears and giraffes dance along the pale purple walls, slowly overtaken by the natural glow fighting its way in between the curtains. He lays face down in his cot, bum in the air; chubby cheeks squashed as his head tilts to the left. A slight dribble formed on his soft lips. Blankey and his buddy, ‘Bear’ pushed to the corner, waiting for when they are needed. Further down the hall, she spies her daughter as she lays beneath a brightly coloured garden, almost swamped by the quilt in her big bed now that she is a big girl. Her dolly clutched tightly in her arm, not complaining about the squeeze of her owner. She is extra careful with the lock on the front door. It squeaks now. She will have to tell him over the coffee they will have when she returns as they juggle kids and breakfast. Snatches of conversation before their attention is demanded. Quickly she makes her escape.
She smiles when she sees it. A simplicity that allows her moments of serenity. It has become a ritual. This morning the green hue seems deeper as the early light basks in its spring glory, creating a myriad of colour. It beckons her. She walks to the edge and dips her toe. Not as cold as it has been, but still not warm. Others have arrived before her. Their initially gasp gone, now swanning content in the freshness. Not too many, though. That is why she comes early. And to be honest, that is all life has spare for her at the moment. Twenty minutes, thirty at the most, solitude amongst the saltiness. She looks up. The azure blue of the sky tells her that it is going to be a nice day. Thank goodness. She thinks about the 10 am playgroup in the park and then stops herself. Frees her mind. Shaking her limbs so that she remembers her own presence. For herself, not others. Not yet. She stands before the deep. One breath mixed with a smile and dives.
Pennies on the Train Tracks
After: Pennies on the Train Tracks
Pennies on the train tracks
Kids run and pick them up
A pocket full of lollies
They’ve only ever dreamed of
Mothers pointing to their kids
Run quick and buy me flour
A pound or two can make our bread
For weeks if we’ve a mind to
Get some sugar while your there
Molasses and some thread
The baring of your rears
Well, it’s a time for that to end
Get an ounce of that tobacco
The one your dad so loves
He works real hard, deserves a treat
And it isn’t much to ask
Pennies on the train tracks
There isn’t too much left
I guess enough for just one lolly
It’s the price of being a kid
All The Rivers Run
You had always known
I didn’t love you.
You’d hoped I may have one day
changed my mind. I’d hoped I may have learned
to love you too. What I learned instead was:
the heart is a wild river that can’t be forced
where it doesn’t want to go.
Not with love. Not with threats. Not with being trapped
inside a cage—no matter how gilded.
It will run.
You press your words against me like a cattle prod:
I want you to tell me you love me.
“You know my Love Language is ‘acts of service’”, I gently deflect.
Tell me anyway.
“I love you.”
Say it like you mean it.
“I love you.”
It sounds the same.
Fine. Just get on your knees and service me then.
After Tim Winton
After: Tim Winton
They called her “Mum” and behind her smiling eye-rolls, she hated it. It was affectionate, of course, but affectionately contemptuous. She was the shoulder to cry on, the one to ask if you needed some Panadol or a tampon. Her notes were always legible and thorough. She was the go-to girl if you wagged the class or were on your phone the whole time and couldn’t even remember what the lesson had been about. Can I borrow your notes Bella? When is that assignment due again?
That time that Suzie only got 81% on her maths exam, it was Bella who talked her down. It was just one test, after all and Suzie had done well in all her other assessments. They make too much of a big deal about the HSC, anyway. In ten years time Suzie wouldn’t even remember what her ATAR had been (of course she would – it would be tattooed on Suzie’s brain, maybe even her actual body).
It was Bella that talked Tahlia out of sending that nude to her highly unreliable boyfriend, despite his relentless wheedling campaign. Bella was even wise enough to know what to omit. She tactically avoided mentioning the fact that literally everyone knew he was a total dog. Instead she went for his dodgy mates and how they couldn’t be trusted. What if they hacked his phone? Did Tahlia really want all of them to see her like that? That was the only argument that her friend was ready to hear.
Then there was that time that her crush had finally asked her to a party after years of hopeless pining. In the end, she had called her Mum to come and help her talk the keys out of his hand and drive him home. It took both of them to fold his loose limbs into the car. Later, her Mum told her they were so proud of her. She was “so mature” and such a caring, thoughtful friend. They could always trust her to do the right thing because she was a woman of substance.
Too substantial for her crush, who ghosted her after that. He wanted a gossamer girl, not weighed down with substance. Bright nail polish, casually shop-lifted and a tinkling, judgmental laugh. A passion for whoever and whatever was “in” at the moment but able to pivot at a moment’s notice. Someone lithe who would always choose to save his reputation over his actual life. Skinny dipping and pilfered vodka? Why not? A carefree toss of glossy hair, a slim bare leg, a missed curfew, a risky walk home alone in the dark.
Substance was for mothers and doctors and human rights lawyers. Old people. Boring people. Unattractive people. When you are forty and the mother of three you can get away with being a woman of substance. You might even be admired for it. But no boy wants a substantial seventeen year old. Even the phrase sounded disgusting.
After: Van Gogh
It was a stunning Spring evening. The recent rains had cleansed the sky, leaving the stars shining like polished diamonds. The cobbled laneway in the old part of the port city was brightly lit, the street lights tinted a warm yellow. The first members of the dinner crowd were wandering from café to restaurant to café, examining the offerings in each establishment’s window.
He had booked ahead. A table for two out in the laneway fronting the cosy restaurant. The laneway was cordoned off at each end. Pedestrians only. They had left their hotel room and strolled the promenade as the sun disappeared over the western bank of the river, disappearing into the distant valley carved by the meandering waterway eons ago.
The chilled local Chardonnay was covered in condensation from the ice bucket. He presented it as an offering to her, “Another glass?”
“Yes please. What a way to finish a fantastic day.” She sighed.
They returned to studying their menus. “One thing I love about this place is the way they let you take your time. So many places worry about the number of times they can turn a table over in an in a night.”
“Well. It is mid-week and outside the holiday season.”
“The advantage of being a contrarian.” He countered.
“Darling, wearing odd socks doesn’t make you a contrarian.”
“My socks aren’t odd.”
“They’re from different pairs. And if it wasn’t planned that would make you an accidental contrarian.”
He had to think about it, “Hang on, being a contrarian requires commitment, planning and premeditation, you can’t do it accidentally.” He Paused, “OK, so, can I be mildly eccentric then?”
Her eyes rolled upwards, appearing to be searching for something hanging from her eyebrows. “This a local wine?” She asked as she extracted the bottle from the ice bucket. Reading the label, she took another sip of her glass. “Yes, just up the road, where we were this morning.” She answered her own question.
They sipped their wine in companionable silence. They had been together long enough, were comfortable enough with each other, they no longer felt the need to fill every silence.
He finished his wine, she finished hers, he poured them both another glass. They resumed studying the menu. The waiter approached the table, “Would you like to order?” He asked.
“The Special looks good I’ll have one of those.” She answered.
“I’ll have the same.”
“You left your glasses back at the Hotel, didn’t you?” She laughed.
He retorted. “You know many of the great artists had poor eyesight.”
“Yes, it was one of the corner stones of the Impressionist movement.”
He looked through the side of his empty wine glass. “You know,” He pondered, “This lane reminds me of one of Van Gogh’s paintings, can’t remember what it was called.”
“Yeah, Van Gogh’s “Newcastle Café Scene”, painted the time he dropped in to catch the Supercars and carve up some knarly right handers off Nobbys’ Beach.”
The Bogey Hole
After: Scape II
‘I have a great fancy for the Bogey Hole’ Beatrice wrote to the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate in 1908, when the pool was solely the domain of men. It would take three more years of lobbying before the Bogey Hole was reserved two afternoons each week for the exclusive use of ladies, and Beatrice could learn to swim.
Beatrice was not the first to fancy a dip in the sea. In the early1820’s, the Commandant of Newcastle’s penal colony ordered convicts to carve out a hole in the rock platform to create a private pool for his personal use.
James Morisset’s ‘foreign order’ was a perk. His pool was small – about 4.5 metres long and 2 metres wide. Conrad Martens’ 1841 pencil sketch of Morriset’s bath shows an idyllic pool in the middle of a deserted rock shelf. Waves burst on the rocks and spray drifts towards the edge of the pool. Two tiny figures on the rocks in the far distance give a sense of scale to the weather-beaten cliffs looming over the pool.
Some sixty years later, a contractor used dynamite to blast away large boulders and created the large swimming pool we know today. In 1884 newspaper correspondents complained that ‘A howling mob of larrikins’ had monopolised the pool. They threw and ‘dived for workmen’s picks’ and played ‘pitch and toss with small boys’.
The Newcastle Council instigated a fee for swimming – a ploy to discourage riff-raff and troublemakers. During the first week of February 1885, they collected the tidy sum of six pounds and ten shillings.
The pool attracted both the daring and those who wished to swim in a place which was free from ‘the dangerous denizens of the sea’. However, swimming in the pool was not without inherent danger. Boulders fell from the cliff, fatally injuring a caretaker. Swimmers slipped and fell on the slimy rock path, and others were knocked out or killed when diving into the shallow pool.
These perils suggest the name ‘Bogey Hole’ might signify a malevolent spirit. In his recent review of Dutton’s booklet Two Short Sketches, Mike Scanlon said that James Morisset was called ‘bogeyman’ because his face was disfigured by a war injury.
However, others believe the word ‘bogey’ originates from the Dharawal word meaning ‘to bathe’. It’s possible that the convicts might have extended an existing rock pool already known to the Aboriginal people.
Whatever the origin of its name, the Bogey Hole has been a popular swimming place for at least 200 years. The steep descent to the baths adds to its attraction, as we first see a bird’s eye view of the pool from the top of the steep metal stairs. It can look like a glassy emerald but often waves burst on the rocks sending up white geysers and washing the pool with foam. For many swimmers, it’s the crash and drag of these rogue waves sluicing the pool which makes the Bogey Hole an edgy place to hang out.
- The Mysterious Origins of the Bogey Hole – Hunter Living Histories
- Newcastle Herald, October 8, 2022: Clearer Picture by Mike Scanlon
Can’t Look That Way
Bark and leaves crunched under the old man’s thongs as he walked to the edge of the shade. He dropped the empty milk crate he carried and lowered himself onto it. There he sat, feet wide apart, looking ahead at the footpath beyond the shade.
‘How you doing, Michael? Carol called from the coffee garage opposite.
He nodded. He was all right.
Cars screeched at the intersection of roads that bordered the park. Brick and weatherboard houses jostled with fences, parked cars and amputated frangi pani branches. Diesel fumes smothered the scent of mown grass.
‘Danish apple to-day,’ Carol told him as she handed him a mug of coffee. She saw the faded reddish-brown patches on his forehead and cheeks and wondered at his sky blue helmsman’s eyes that never strayed from the road ahead. She hoped the conversation of the group sitting behind him on the grass might divert him. Their voices might, like children’s kites flying above the trees and the pavilion, sweeten his day.
The park, an open space of grass and trees brought relief to crowds from the hot sun and humidity of February. Cars parked, boots opened and chairs, picnic tables, strollers, baskets, bags and umbrellas spilled onto the footpath. Adults in sunnies and hats claimed territory for the day. Mothers laid babies on rugs, changed nappies and found biscuits and band aids. Everyone kicked footballs. Kids yelled, accused and cried. Parents consoled and threatened. Somebody’s sheep dog yelped, bounced and jumped in a game of hurl, retrieve and drop the stick. And there was lunch in piles of plastic containers to enjoy.
‘I’m closing early, Michael.’
As Carol retrieved the mug, she observed the blue glare of eyes beneath brows thickened with wavy lines of black pencil .
‘You be here next week? It’s a holiday.’
She glanced at the moles and warts on white legs sticking out of crumpled shorts
‘Why don’t you sit in the sun next time? You could turn your chair around and watch them having fun. Make it a morning out.‘
‘Fun,’ he snorted. ‘It’s blood sport. You know what they call an old man sitting in the park looking at the kids?’
She stepped back. His scalding breath seared her face as he raised his face to hers.
‘I’ve never hurt children. I may have done other things, but children, never!’
Clenched fists expressed his pain. Carol looked at the grass, unable to move or break the long silence.
‘Children are beautiful. I want to see them, watch them playing’ He spoke his truth aloud and lifted his hands in a gesture of despair.
‘What’s wrong with them?’ he railed to a passing car. ‘They know nothing of me. I’m stuck with their judgment. I turn my back on kids. It can’t get worse than that for an old man.’
He pushed himself upright, picked up the crate and walked down the road.
‘Watch out,’ a cyclist yelled. ‘Wanna get yerself killed?’
After: Van Gogh
You will know by the stars
cartwheels of light that spin
in a midnight blue sky, signature
Catherine wheels ransoming you
to a childhood where the moon
is a yellow medallion hung within
a silver dish and you’re suspended
as you order a platter of cheese, a glass
of cold wine, a pear pared to translucence
before a white cloth is flung across
a cafe table and almond blossoms float
like a bridal veil in the middle of Spring
before a gunshot ricochets, dispersing
a fistful of black crows over a corn field
as we try to freeze-frame time,
we love your work
see how we worship your work
before it’s too late.
After: Contrasting Life
How long is a line of etching, in photographic
detail arriving as a scene, complete from the past?
In your living room today while a rainbow lorikeet
whistled outside the window its body moving
up and down, back and forth, a vibrant contrast
electric blue, orange, green, against memory’s greyscale
you whispered in my ear, that your family name
would be lost: no one has children anymore.
I said nothing, though it’s possible my children
will not have children, the future too uncertain
their hearts already full.
Namekeeper, night-catcher, words sink like ink
into the wrinkles of my skin, recalling all those names
incised along a metal plate, recursive woods.
I don’t know what a name means: markers, links, connections.
Do they undermine death? Long lists of family members
arranged tidily in a genealogical tree
as branches, unknown but uncannily familiar
so close you might grab their bony fingers
right through the page and pull them into an embrace.
After: Van Gogh
Beggars aren’t fussy. The first table will do. I’ll lay my head on my arms to shut out the glare. From back there the white tables were discs. They reminded me of dozens of white plates I once saw a clown spin at the circus. Strange, the stars are also moving at a rushed rate tonight, cramping the sky. It’s as if the world is shrieking, ‘Suffer! You’re alive, you’re alive, and don’t forget it’. My head feels enormous. The blaze of yellow could be difficult to bear, but I need coffee. Buckets of it. A dimmer place would suit me better. Still, it seems empty enough. Only a few stragglers sauntering about. How many feathers will I sputter? They’re in my beard, mouth, coat. The bedraggled woman at the bordello rubbed against me. Her feather boa was moulting. She flipped it around in her haggard dance like an awkward companion. I swear I won’t go back there. Ha. A million years I vowed abstinence. Tonight, they threw me out in disgrace.
Jaune cobalt and bleu cobalt! That artist mumbles jaune cobalt and bleu cobalt over and over. Someone called him Vincent. Shy and industrious, he speaks to God a lot. Is he painting me? I couldn’t care less. Didn’t I stagger over cobblestones to collapse here? Dozens of little men inside my head are thumping drums in tune with my heart booms. This crazy blue and yellow place flashes like multiple glow-worms; a cave-like sanctuary, lit beautiful and bright, yet not the space for me. I deserve and crave nothing but darkness. Mix blue and yellow and what do you get? Green. Spew. Bile. Slime. Add white and you have the ghostly transparent absinthe, the demon drink to top them all. Just one, always stops at too many. Wickard wormwood. Absinthe. My downfall.
Lost in Disorientation
After: Colour Bomb
It was hard to see at first. I listened to recordings of the sermons while I walked of an afternoon or evening. They were always long, at least an hour or more. I was raised Catholic so I thought I’d be able to discern something, but I found myself unable to really grasp at what was being said about the gospel. But I persevered. Perhaps, it was my limited understanding. It felt as though the theology was high above me. Bible references and phrases swirled together in a cloud of enlightenment out of my reach. So I tried sitting down with a notebook and jotting down reflections as I listened. At the end, I noticed my page was full of question marks. It all seemed unfamiliar and confusing. The more I listened, the more disorientated I felt. Still, I assumed it was me. I hadn’t attended church regularly for some time. I was rusty with the God talk. It didn’t make sense to me, but surely the congregation understood these odd or obscure theological statements.
It was hard to see through all the words, but as soon as the pattern emerged before me, it was excruciatingly obvious. I was astonished that devotees of the group could not see it. You may think you know something about God because you went to a church before this one. But you do not. Those other churches are misguided and full of false teaching. Only we have the correct teaching. You may have your own personal understanding of God. You are wrong. You cannot trust what you think and feel. Only trust what we tell you about God. And over time, I stopped trying to listen because I could hear it clearly. This disorientation was very deliberate. Long sentences with strange syntax, splicing and repeating phrases till they lose meaning, language that sounds Christian but…just isn’t somehow. It is so they make you feel lost in all the words so that you cannot walk straight. And then they reach out their hand and you let them lead you. You don’t realise that the Jesus of the gospel is some blurry memory of years ago because all you see is them. Until you snap out of it. A kind of horror settled on me early on, so they did not get me. But they got thousands of others.
They fucked through
tears the night hurled down, just particles
entangled with the same spin, same up, same down,
same desire. It was nothing, it was something, it was everything
to him: her body, a warm comfort blanket against the morning rays
illusion swept away, eyes obscured, a curt wave of the magician’s wand.
She talked. He listened. They’d touched silently in whispers, words apart,
he of the future, she-of-the-past that left desire caught in the present, a
weak imitation of everything that lust should be. Shattered, like love…
a temporary word, a throwaway slogan as night’s cloak vanished
and covered her body, content with what they couldn’t see.
He insisted it was love, she needed it to be more—
freedom—to fly away from
I made the Night, the Day, the Sky,
All Lands and Oceans on the fly,
The whole thing took about a week
My sense of Time’s elastic
When creating the fantastic.
When bit by bit, I made them all.
That boy. His dog. This leaf. A shell.
And, bloody Hell, I made them all extremely well.
Dawkins insists I don’t exist
because he is an Atheist
but I’ll stay mum because, old chum,
I can’t abide Creationists.
After: Meme, the soldier/ballet dancer
Spindly-silent they huddle together
and watch the dance of war in the wings,
on a white-empty stage, a bullet dances through the air.
War is just a dance with fate—
and dance is just a war in tights.
A blueonblack silhouette flies high
camoflageonwhite, in the cross-haired scope
just a dance away from death.
In a steel-framed bed he stares through the snow-framed window,
he stands, wobbles, stares as the crutch beckons and thinks of
the dance he’ll never do again.
Crack! It cuts through the air—
please, pass me by, he grabs the crutch, shuffles, feet drag on cold tiles… barre,
relevé no more.
Images flash-flying through the dark, a soul’s last pirouette
as it flees gravity’s embrace.
Dying can be like that, a slow twirling adagio, a tangle of limbs in puresnowsilence
under a bony audience of trees.
I caress the ice-cold bullet in my hand, roll it over, wish
I could return it to the Earth, its mineral home.
The Commandant’s Bath
After: Scape II
Major James Morisset
Commandant and Magistrate
Newcastle Penal Settlement, NSW,
Dear beloved Mother,
I trust this letter finds you in good health and high spirits after your long winter. Are your favourite jonquils already blooming in London? You’ll be very proud to learn that Governor Macquarie has upgraded my rank to Major, as well as to the Commandant’s posting at Newcastle. I now have oversight of 650 convicts, many of them rough heads from Ireland and recalcitrant absconders. I have the respect of my regiment of 88 marines and enjoy the challenge of being a Penal Administrator.
The summer here has been stifling, as there is a touch of the tropics on this coast. Fortunately, I’ve found a delightful place to cool off in the salty sea water. We noticed some of the native boys jumping into a ‘Bogey Hole,’ a pool on a rock shelf that is constantly replenished by the ocean swell. It is quite small, so I’ve formed a work gang of six convicts to enlarge it. It’s known among the settlement that I like to bathe in the sea, hence they are calling it the Commandant’s Bath. I believe it is the first pool to be constructed in the Colony.
I swim there most days at dawn so I can watch the brilliant orange sun rise out of the vast Pacific. I share this indulgence with small striped fish, octopus and busy little crabs that constantly scuttle between rock crevices. On a calm morning I await a pod of dolphins to inspect me, just as I review the regiment – eye to eye! Babies cruise beside their mothers as the family glides ever so close. They are such a delight. I’m told that we shall soon see whales travelling north. Gulls and sometimes a sea eagle lift and swoop in the updrafts of the tall cliffs above. They are nothing like Dover’s White Cliffs but the blue Pacific is so inviting compared to the muddy English Channel.
When the sea is rough it’s unsafe to bathe in the ‘Bogey Hole.’ The waves break heavily on the rocks and throw enormous spumes up the cliffs; then the water cascades back down to cover the pool in a sparkling white blanket. The thud of the waves reminds me of those dreaded explosions of artillery in that infernal war in Spain. The thump still causes me to gird my loins! You’ll be pleased to know that the cleansing cold water makes my skin tingle and has done wonders for the shrapnel scar on my cheek. The redness has subsided and I’m told by the doctor that it no longer looks angry. So my youthful good looks are being restored, dear Mother, thanks to the healing powers of my pool!
I shall write again soon from the Antipodes. I am so far away from you, but you are always close in my heart. I have the honour to be your loving son,
Well You Mustn’t Be a Bushman
It’s only mundane if you can’t hear voices in the trees
Or whispers of the breeze
The trickle of the stream that hems the wooded banks
Fed by summer rain that fill the farmers’ tanks
There’s no other place like that, where memory takes your heart
No space between the ending and the start
What sameness is this you speak of?
What then is your monotony?
The break – away, I’d say
Is more about the strings that bind you to the tracks
There’s never been a bigger climate crack
Where the light of the bush, floods in and back
The bush, full to the brim with life’s revolving door
Set your sail on farthest shore
And still you’d find it boring, void of inspiration
It’s no shock at all, that climate feels your desperation
Twenty miles ! and still you have no fixed point in view
Well! You mustn’t be a bushman!
Seeking solace among the rainbow gums
Colours imbued with a richness
A glory of upbeat thoughts
Are coaxed from my mind
How could one entertain despondence
When all about the bush
These bright and sturdy trees stand
Sentinel preventing the thoughts of fear
That wantonly urge to spring forth
But here among the gums, these gums
Negative thoughts are stayed
As if invisible hands outstretched
From their colourful trunks
Were to have wrapped me
In a warm embrace of colour
I look up to see their grandeur
And my heart soars as do the birds
Who alight from their branches
As I pass by, a sound of flapping wings
Brushes a breeze past my face and I exhale.
When you get a tattoo fifteen years later you will know why you once butchered yourself in high school and grew to be more blood and squish than god and aches that creep across water towers like a constricted feeling in your throat when you think about the terrible things you have done in your past in the moments you were more blood and squish than god in the moments your mother would’ve wondered where your baptism went He slipped out a window and back up into a water tower there are days you feel the sky has abandoned its cause of containing all that constricts in the back of your throat has left you dome-less pitching your body into a hole of undiscoverable science praying in the moments your mother calls an anonymous number calls hating that you are more blood and squish than god maybe never being in you what an anomaly yelping into the hole of undiscoverable science that curves around you when you’re out walking tenderising away anonymous numbers and a constricted feeling in the back of your throat when you think of all the times you were someone of substance and all the times you were not there is something familiar in the way the tattooist scrapes and you cannot feel it as it all wettens out of you how god too is an anomaly walking around asking what we’re all doing.
My Father Was a Drummer
My father was a drummer. He toured Australia at the age of thirteen with the Young Australians. He was a child prodigy who grew up listening to jazz and longing for a chance to play in a big band, like the orchestras of Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey. He played with his own distinctive style, and eventually he played with the big names in Australian jazz, like Don Burrows and James Morrison, and even Louis Armstrong when he toured here.
He often talked about the times in his life, when the musicians in a band became one with the music. They transformed into something infused with life and greater than themselves. It was a mystical moment; musicians improvising their own tunes, and yet somehow having a flash of complete synchronisation, the sound swelling into an organic whole; a thrilling, pulsing uplift of chord and rhythm and melody, which he experienced as an electric shock of excitement through his body. The ability to recall this ecstasy never left him, though his later years were filled with illness and the loss of his ability to play. He died relatively young at the age of sixty-three, his heart wearing out more quickly than his passion.
My boys never saw him perform with his drums and yet his legacy to them is profound. Our middle child, a drummer and percussionist, holds the drumsticks, and even his mouth, exactly as my father did. It is like watching him play all over again. Music has captured all three grandsons in one way or another; they compose, they sing, they play instruments. They are wedded to the music. Perhaps there is a recording, locked in their DNA, of those moments to which my father so passionately cleaved; the addictive enchantment of music felt in the bones, seared in the heart, pouring out still through his offspring.
Yesterday, I watched my eleven-year-old grandson, my father’s great grandson, pick up the drumsticks and beat out a paradiddle on the armrest of the lounge. I watched the familiar turn of mouth, saw his eyes close in pleasure as he felt this rhythm flow through him as easily as breath into his lungs. I see ecstasy in his future.
After: Annika Lee
Ghost on the chair
Staring at me
In every house I’ve lived
I know when she’s there
I feel paralysed
For things she makes me think I’ve done
Since before I could walk
She sat in the chair
I finished my homework
With her gaze on my neck
I moved away
And there she was
Now here she is
I look away but there she sits
In her line of sight
Bogey in Dharawal language means ‘to bathe’
Melisah May paints a pure scene of aerial geometry;
angular shaped stones kissed by swirling curvilinear waves.
This place of romance started with the sweat of convicts
hand-hewn from the rock; our earliest known example
of an ocean swimming pool, purpose-built. Once
a bird’s eye outlook, today we might say a drone view
fitting a lazy summer scene, since it means a low hum
or a bee who doesn’t work, yet continues to fertilize
the queen; all the best aspects of free-time
and headiness; maybe even waywardness. Bathers
need a streak of bravado to counter danger, although
it’s safer now. Still, weather changes with a whim.
Quiet times allow clear views of merry-makers cavorting
in liquid emerald, bodies partially out and legs under,
a twisted puzzle of who owns what. The murmur
of the ocean turns into a roar forcing bathers to grab
the railing, holding on white-knuckle tight.
A lone swimmer could float on his back, confused
by the current coffin-shape, into dreaming he is a Viking
set off on his triumphant journey to Valhalla, far, faraway.
After an Attic Night (Albertina Gallery, Vienna)
Up foggy steps round a corner heavy with a backpack after sleep waking in the attic of a last night in Vienna. Had I flown half the world to visit an art gallery?
Or even van Gogh: breath held. Agreed. Yes. Yet a flicker of flame ignites my lamp dull brain, for here frames of corridors around walls purposefully white. I met them: peasants and simple pleasures.
Seven rooms of life in a tin cup now bigger than invisible rented bedrooms tepid sanatoriums (I read he had attic slept as well). Dark room dark potatoes peeling breaking circles of candles. Furniture outed from walls black-grey shadows but thoughts out loud.
I cried at the empty father’s chair. Absent. Oh, how mine could not see. Earth the colour of clay drying on fingers, imprisoned lights dots and dashes. A carnival mask beard glows in twenty self-portraits of his native.
Sunflowers on the outskirts near the railroad, of edged tracks. Raw chrome yellow two hundred canvases? (I can’t count two hundred).
Last think black striation drawings of potato faces, and the final rooms (the Guide extols to us; he is as a modern artist at last: painting light on light on thick blue lines the sun of individual personalities tendril into orange stretch waves into the spaces; his three licks of light. lamp sun and shadow, through softened silver windows and doors, outside where shadows are silhouettes, cobblestones, edges, street glow
A night without black nothing blue violet, and green. Brush strokes swim a sea of fields, or a dusty flower bristling both hands, a shaking canvas a blue cart of parallel lines…
A guide voice rushes into my attic brain “his exaggerated shapes blue raw Prussian Blue”, like a raven flying the sun an asylum of swirls the starry night a firmament corkscrewing the highest star a final home alone, in the last attic I saw not knowing I was meant to and felt the walls of his attics. So many portrayals of portraits of nothing but colour but OH the colour, the life, the saddest end the sad beginning. I could see it all in one swirl and striation from his beautiful hands.
Coppers on the Track
We step outside the mirror ball gloom of the roller-skating rink into a hot, blue sky Saturday morning, strains of ABBA wafting across the train lines towards Hamilton.
My thongs go flip, flip, flip, as I try to keep up with my big sister, Katie, coins in my shorts pocket jingling in time.
‘How much you got left,’ Katie asks.
I fish out some brown and silver coins.
‘Enough for a Sunnyboy.’
We cross the road and Katie leads us towards a short cut to our house in Islington.
‘Dad says we’re not allowed to walk along the creek,’ I say.
‘Don’t be such as baby.’
The hot asphalt has begun to ooze at the edges, popping like big black blisters into the gutters.
Katie sees me admiring the newer, shinier coin.
‘Put it on the tracks, Jay.’
The coin has a picture of lady with a crown and the words – ELIZABETH II, AUSTRALIA, 1976.
‘Squish it under the next train.’
Coal trains are scary even though they are big and slow.
I could get four cobbers with a two-cent piece, but I’m curious about what might happen to the coin. We could even make the train slips off the tracks.
‘Dare ya,’ says Katie, and that settles that.
We hear the ricochet of shunting in the rail yards, down past the station, an indication that carriages are moving.
Creeping through the long grass towards the rails, I’m covered in black prickles. I teeter across the ballast towards the ironbark sleepers where the rails lie waiting.
A locomotive horn blasts, ‘H-O-N-K’ echo bouncing across the long flat corridor.
With sweaty fingers, I place the coin on top of train tracks.
Another ‘H-O-N-K’,’this sounding longer, nearer. I turn and trip on the ballast, landing heavily on my knee, a hot needle of pain shooting my hand from a cat’s eye bindi.
‘Jay, hurry up!’ Katie yells.
I limp towards Katie’s voice, behind a soft green bush with yellow flowers that smells like licorice.
Blood trickles down my leg, and I want to laugh and be sick at the same time. Plucking the cats eye out of my hand, I hold my breath.
The locomotive roars slowly closer, wheels stuttering ‘gadunk-gadunk’, a giant heartbeat sending vibrations into the ground you can feel through your thongs.
In the locomotive window, the driver looks right at us between the weeds. His eyes lock onto mine, and he waggles an accusing finger slowly from side to side as he slides by.
We sink lower to the ground and wait for the last carriage.
When it’s quiet Katie disappears, returning with the coin, no longer a circle but a stretched oval, the lady’s face smooshed flat.
Turning it over, behind the number two, a lizard is stretched into an exaggerated pose, hind legs still bent like a kangaroo’s, padded frog fingers, back arched towards the sky, pointy face now melted into a frozen laugh, frilled neck exploding like a flower.
After: Contrasting Life
put your bare feet in
feel the mud between your toes
soft and gooey
cold and murky
but a smile will begin to show
your inside child
will dance in joy
and laugh in high spirits
at the silliest of things
puddles can be messy
puddles can be cold
but golly gosh
it is so good
to feel the mud between your toes
I used to
despise the way
you would prise open
the lock on our bathroom
door with a butter
you wanted to ogle
me. Silenced by the ring
on my finger, I let you linger
in the doorway watching me like a
warthog salivating at a mudhole.
My own simple desires compactedliketrash:
to bathe in peace,
to drink a cup of tea before it goes cold,
to fall in love at least once before I grow old.