Tuesday 9 August 2016

The Sea and the Hills

WHO hath desired the Sea? - the sight of salt water unbounded -
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?
The sleek-barrelled swell before storm, grey, foamless, enormous, and growing
Stark calm on the lap of the Line or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing -
His Sea in no showing the same - his Sea and the same 'neath each showing:
His Sea as she slackens or thrills?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills! 

Who hath desired the Sea ? - the immense and contemptuous surges?
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bowsprit emerges?
The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder -
Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail's low-volleying thunder -
His Sea in no wonder the same - his Sea and the same through each wonder:
His Sea as she rages or stills?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills.
Who hath desired the Sea? Her menaces swift as her mercies?
The in-rolling walls of the fog and the silver-winged breeze that disperses?
The unstable mined berg going South and the calvings and groans that declare it -
White water half-guessed overside and the moon breaking timely to bare it -
His Sea as his fathers have dared - his Sea as his children shall dare it:
His Sea as she serves him or kills?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills.
Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather
Than forecourts of kings, and her outermost pits than the streets where men gather
Inland, among dust, under trees - inland where the slayer may slay him -
Inland, out of reach of her arms, and the bosom whereon he must lay him -
His Sea from the first that betrayed - at the last that shall never betray him:
His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise - so and no otherwise - hillmen desire their Hills.

Rudyard Kipling

Saturday 23 July 2016

Mrs Leonard of Storm Bay

Argonauta Argo 

Mrs Leonard, of Storm Bay Road, Flinders Bay. Beehived widow of a long deceased naval officer & clearance diver, reliable purveyor of weak tea and slightly stale Sao crackers. 

Mrs Leonard, so small that when she drove past our shack, her Valiant would appear a drifting ghost ship until you caught sight of her beehive. Who one morning, right in the middle of summer swimming lessons, ran aground on a low hummock of grass in front of the boat ramp. When an unexpected frenzy of boat launching fisherman, shoaling children & uncharted shouting parents appeared out of thick glaucomal fog, Mrs Leonard hauled hard to port and she beached the low slung Valiant in thick kikuyu as if it were a whale. For a short while she continued to drive on in a stately manner, peering intently over the vast bonnet through the familiar porthole formed by the steering wheel, once or twice waving royally to the gathering crowd, who had heard the Valiant's rising engine note and stopped to gawk at the rear wheels uselessly spinning ever faster up in the air. It was not until someone finally  gently tapped on her driver's side window and informed her over the din, that yes, she was indeed, stuck fast, that she consented to be relieved of command and let herself be towed unceremoniously off the hummock, and out of the way of the now backed up boat ramp, by tractor. 

Mrs Leonard's formal sitting room, which spoke of mothballs and rose petals, overlooked Storm Bay to the SW. A telescope extended her view all the way to St Alourn's, and the myriad of breakers beyond. Her tall honey hued glass cabinets contained not only Captain Leonard; who steadily stared out of several hand coloured photographic portraits, eyes coolly fixed on a point just off the starboard bow, as if a ship had just appeared unannounced on the horizon, but also his collection of conchs, cowries, sponges, corals, & sea snakes in jars of formaldehyde.   

... & on the highest shelf, of the tallest cabinet, there were paper nautilus shells that I was not to touch, ever, all in a row. 

They were exactly like the one I found in the gloaming the other day after the last big storm. 

Wednesday 29 June 2016

my mob

"In tymes past the Pictes, habitans of one part of great Bretainne, which is nowe nammed England, wear sauuages, and did paint all their bodye after the maner followinge . . . And when they hath ouercomme some of their ennemis, they did neuer felle to carye a we their heads with them." 

"The males of the tribe were all warriors but, when not called upon to defend their clan or land, were farmers and fishermen and the females also farmed, fished, and raised the children. Aside from the occasional raids by one tribe against another for cattle, the Picts seem to have lived fairly peacefully until threatened by outside forces."

"The Picts practiced a tribal paganism which seems to have involved goddess worship and a devotion to nature which involved great respect for specific sites of supernatural power across the land where the goddess lived, walked, or had performed some kind of miracle. Women in Pictish society were regarded as the equal of men and succession in leadership (later kingship) was matrilineal (through the mother's side), with the reigning chief succeeded by either his brother or perhaps a nephew but not through patrilineal succession of father to son. There seems to be no record of the concept of "sin" in Pictish belief (the same as in other forms of paganism) and, as the goddess lived among the people, the land was to be venerated as one would the home of a deity."  http://www.ancient.eu/picts/

"the Picts did not 'arrive' - in a sense they had always been there, for they were the descendants of the first people to inhabit what eventually became Scotland" 

Sunday 5 January 2014

Let them be...

Mills reported this evening he had been attacked by a shark at the harbours mouth. It was larger than the jolly boat, came up astern with 2 others & on his trying to strike it with the gaff, it had made a rush at the boat, striking it  first with his head & then with the tail. It afterwards came alongside, the fin was higher than the gunnel. They threw fish to it to amuse it until they got into shallow water. 

Extract from Collett Barker's King George Sound Journal  29th April 1830

We were drifting for King George Whiting half a kilometre off the beach at Hamelin Bay when I first saw a Great White. Hamelin is just around Cape Leeuwin from Augusta. During the late 1800's it was a timber port, one terminus of an 100-km rail network which ran out straight out onto a deep water jetty. The other ended in Flinders Bay and at one stage, between the two ports, the M.C Davies logging company exported a third of all the timber cut out of the state. That early logging is the reason the Boranup Karri's appeal to the human eye so; uniformly sized trees, evenly spread, no under-story, a giant zen garden where the hand of the gardener is generations lost. These days, like in Flinders, only the bones of the jetty remain. Hamelin was always a lousy port. Right at the southern end of a long wide j shaped beach it faces N'NW and the scant lee of the near shore island of the same name could not save a ship in a winter storm. The maritime museum has at least a dozen wrecks recorded from this era. The odd cray boat still uses it when a big high in the bight cranks up the summer south easterly wind patterns, but a camping ground, kiosk and boat ramp are about it now. Those constant summer winds were what drove us around the corner from Augusta to fish and swim in the early to mid mornings before the wind really howled. 

 Dad had borrowed Athol's 12 foot tinny because it was easier to launch there than our bigger Clark and we were drifting mid-morning, across the middle of the bay; all emerald green and turquoise, fading near shore to arayan blues. Polarised glasses for picking the seagrass banks, terry towelling hats, white zinc for cracked lips, a little leftover steak on a no.6  for the first fish and shiny cubes of whiting thereafter for the rest, a white bucket,  driftwood cutting board, boning knife ground past slaughtering a lamb, and a red fuel tank sloshing to the peculiar drumming rhythm of a drifting tinny. 

"Is that weed moving?"


"Over there"



"Must be a raa......."

"Oh Fuck me!" 

With this a White cruised up alongside and we both lost the power of speech. At least 4 foot longer than the tinny, maybe more, the shark was huge. It circled around us casually at a slight distance before sweeping in close and rolling side on, to eyeball us impassively; in doing so revealing that smirk with it's row, upon row, upon rows of teeth and the vivid mottled graduated hues of it's hide, concrete grey fading to the unbearable whiteness of it's enormous belly. I had the urge to reach out and stroke it like a dog, to feel the cold sandpaper rasp of it's hide. It was so close I could have. The old man finally snapped to and whispered,

"Don't make any sudden movements." 

"I wasn't planning any." 

A whiting tukk tukk tukked my line. 

At this point the shark spooked. We don't know why, but later speculated it had brushed one of the whiting lines. Like a V8 auto when planted, the shark lurched, almost squatting under power, pectorals spread, the thrust emanated from the tip of its nose and shuddered through the body before erupting in it's scything tail and it was gone. 

My old man nearly ripped the cord off the outboard a split second later and we were up and planing instantly in a funk of fear and 2-stroke fumes, skipping whiting rigs along the surface, hand line reels merrily un-spooling before I could get them wound in and sorted, feet dancing to avoid the bait board and knife as it flipped off the seat. Dad forgot about the landing and pointed straight for the beach and we shot full throttle through the surf and halfway up the beach before we came to a stop. 

We sat there in the sun for a long time and debated if we should tell the swimmers and families near the jetty. We decided not to, the shark had gone the other way after all and was probably several kilometres away by now.

"Shall we go back out?"

"Nah, lets go have a look at the island, hey." 

Monday 4 June 2012

abrolhos ~ keep your eyes open

If you are having trouble working out the picture, it's a screen grab off google earth. The white area is a southerly swell breaking on shallow coral reef. The pale blue area slightly off centre is a sand hole in the reef in about 5m of water.

The sand hole first started to form 382 years ago today, when on her maiden voyage the VOC ship, the Batavia,  ran aground on a moonlit night with little swell. The watchman mistook the surf for the moon's shimmer and the ship rammed into the reef under full sail. Half a mile either way and they would have sailed clean through the Houtman Abrolhos without ever realising. As it was, the pride of the Dutch fleet was doomed to break up on Morning Reef over the next week or so. The already mutinous crew and terrified passengers were either, ferried on the ship's longboat to nearly islands, which were sandy cays at best, or drowned trying to swim there. Some non swimmers stayed on the broken ship drinking the liquor and parading the deck drunkenly in the captain's finery, before belatedly drifting ashore some days later, with the rats, on the spars and rigging of the 600t ship.

After quick investigation of the islands, the ship's captain Pelsart, having found no water and little food struck out for the mainland with a small crew in the 30ft longboat. On hitting the inhospitable midwest coastal cliffs, later to claim amongst others, the Zuytdorp some 83 years later in 1712, they found little to inspire hope and struck out for Batavia (now modern day Jakarta) which they reached some 33 days later. They arranged to return in the Sardam to rescue the others, and I suspect mainly to retrieve the 12 chests of bullion on board when the ship went down.

In the meantime one of the bloodiest incidents in Australian history took place on the small island I called home for a couple of cray seasons. Well documented elsewhere, the massacre and subsequent trial which took place on Beacon and Long Island respectively, meant that by the time the survivors reached Batavia, only 68 of the 341 listed on board remained alive. Two of the mutineers, Woulter Loos and cabin boy Jan Pelgrom, whose crimes were deemed minor, were marooned on the mainland, possibly at Kalbarri with a dingy and supplies. They were also given beads, toys, knives, bells and mirrors along with instructions on communicating with the natives and when the best time of year to watch for passing ships would be. They were never heard from again.

As far as I know they were Australia's first European settlers.

That blue hole is where the Batavia lay for centuries until discovered in the 60's, the hull furrowing a channel into the reef under the weight of it's cannons and the pounding of the surf.

Several people took credit for the find, but those that would know reckon Black Knackers, who liked to go bush in the off season, set his pots on it for years, but never bothered to tell anyone about the cannon he saw on the millpond days. When they asked him about it he reckoned that he had never given it much thought past the value of the metal as scrap. Rumour has it he had a skull in his hut somewhere too.

Friday 25 May 2012

My Great Portrait

The Adventures of Louis De Rougemont, As Told by Himself   

Page 145...

I had often puzzled my brain for some method whereby I could convey to these savages some idea of the magnitude of the British Empire. I always had the British Empire in my mind, not only because my sympathies inclined that way, but also because I knew that the first friends to receive me on my return to civilisation must necessarily be British. Over and over again did I tell the childish savages grouped around me what a mighty ruler was the Sovereign of the British Empire, which covered the whole world.  Also how that Sovereign had sent me as a special ambassador, to describe to them the greatness of the nation of which they formed part. Thus you will observe I never let my blacks suspect I was a mere unfortunate, cast into their midst by a series of strange chances. I mentioned the whole world because nothing less than this would have done.  Had I endeavoured to distinguish between the British Empire and, say, the German, I should have again got beyond my hearers' depth, so to speak, and involved myself in difficulties.
Half instinctively, but without motive, I refrained from mentioning that the ruler of the British Empire was a woman, but this admission dropped from me accidentally one day, and then what a falling off was there! I instantly recognised the mistake I had made from the contemptuous glances of my blacks. And although I hastened to say that she was a mighty chieftainess, upon whose dominions the sun never set; and that she was actually the direct ruler of the blacks themselves, they repudiated her with scorn, and contemned me for singing the praises of a mere woman. I had to let this unfortunate matter drop for a time, but the subject was ever present in my mind, and I wondered how I could retrieve my position (and her Majesty's) without eating my words. At length one day Yamba and I came across a curious rugged limestone region, which was full of caves. Whilst exploring these we came upon a huge, flat, precipitous surface of rock, and then - how or why, I know not - the idea suddenly occurred to me to draw a gigantic portrait of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria! At this period, I should mention, I was a recognised chief, and periodically - once every new moon - I gave a kind of reception to my people, and also to the neighbouring tribes. At this interesting function I would always contrive to have some new wonder to unfold. My visitors never outstayed their welcome, and I always managed to have an abundance of food for them.
Well, I came upon the cave region a few weeks after my unfortunate blunder about the Queen; and I determined to have my great portrait ready for the next reception day. Taking some blocks of stone of handy size, I first wetted the surface of the rock and then commenced to rub it, until I had a pretty smooth face to work upon. This took some time, but whilst I was doing it Yamba got ready the necessary charcoal sticks and pigments such as the blacks decorate themselves with at corroborees. I had a slight knowledge of drawing, and climbing up on some projecting stones I commenced to draw in bold, sweeping outline, what I venture to describe as the most extraordinary portrait of Queen Victoria on record. The figure, which was in profile, was perhaps seven feet or eight feet high, and of more than equally extravagant proportions in other respects.  Of course, the figure had to be represented entirely without clothing, otherwise the blacks would simply have been puzzled. Now to describe the portrait as much in detail as I dare. The crown was composed of rare feathers such as only a redoubtable and cunning hunter could obtain; and it included feathers of the lyre-bird and emu. The sceptre was a stupendous gnarled waddy or club, such as could be used with fearful execution amongst one's enemies. The nose was very large, because this among the blacks indicates great endurance; whilst the biceps were abnormally developed. In fact, I gave her Majesty as much muscle as would serve for half-a-dozen professional pugilists or "strong men." The stomach was much distended, and when I state this fact I am sure it will excite much curiosity as to the reason why.
Well, as the stomach is practically the greatest deity these savages know, and as food is often very hard to obtain, they argue that a person with a very full stomach must necessarily be a daring and skilful hunter, otherwise he would not be able to get much food to put into it.
This extraordinary portrait was finally daubed and decorated with brilliant pigments and glaring splashes of yellow, red, and blue. I also used a kind of vivid red dye obtained from the sap of a certain creeper which was bruised between heavy stones.  I spent perhaps a week or a fortnight on this drawing (I could not give all day to it, of course); and the only persons who knew of its existence were my own children and women-folk. After the completion of the great portrait, I went away, and waited impatiently for my next reception day. When the wonder-loving blacks were again before me I told them that I had a remarkable picture of the great British Queen to show them, and then, full of anticipation and childish delight, they trooped after me to the spot where I had drawn the great picture on the rocks. It is no exaggeration to say that the crowd of cannibals stood and squatted in front of my handiwork simply speechless with amazement.  Eventually they burst out into cries of wonderment, making curious guttural sounds with their lips, and smacking their thighs in token of their appreciation. I pointed out every detail - the immense size of the great Queen, and the various emblems of her power; and at last, stepping back from the rock, I sang "God save the Queen," the beautiful national hymn of Great Britain, which I had learned from the two ill-fated girls, and which, you will remember, has the same air as that of a Swiss song. 
The general effect not merely removed any bad impression that might have been created with regard to my damaging admission about the sex of the great ruler; it more than re established me in my old position, and I followed up my success by assuring them that her Majesty included in her retinue of servants a greater number of persons than was represented in the whole tribe before me. Furthermore, I assured them that whilst the mountain home I had built was very large (judged by their standard), the house of Queen Victoria was big enough to hold a whole nation of blacks.

The Adventures of Louis De Rougemont, As Told By Himself 

Thursday 24 May 2012

Swimming in the Whale's Head

The Adventures of Louis De Rougemont, as Told by Himself   

Louis De Rougement

page 50...

The result was that when the tide turned, both the mother and her calf were left stranded high and dry on the beach, to the unbounded delight and amazement of the natives, who swarmed round the leviathans, and set up such a terrific uproar, that I verily believe they frightened the mother to death.  In her dying struggle she lashed the water into a perfect fury with her tail, and even made attempts to lift herself bodily up. Furious smoke-signals were at once sent up to summon all the tribes in the surrounding country - enemies as well as friends. Next day the carcasses were washed farther still inshore - a thing for which the blacks gave me additional credit.

I ought to mention here that the loss of my boat was in some measure compensated for by the enormous amount of prestige which accrued to me through this whale episode. To cut a long story short, the natives fully believed that I had killed single-handed and brought ashore both whales! And in the corroborees that ensued, the poets almost went delirious in trying to find suitable eulogiums to bestow upon the mighty white hunter. The mother whale surpassed in size any I had ever seen or read about. I measured her length by pacing, and I judged it to be nearly 150 feet. My measurements may not have been absolutely accurate, but still the whale was, I imagine, of record size. As she lay there on the beach her head towered above me to a height of nearly fifteen feet. Never can I forget the scene that followed, when the blacks from the surrounding country responded to the smoke-signals announcing the capture of the "great fish." From hundreds of miles south came the natives, literally in their thousands - every man provided with his stone tomahawk and a whole armoury of shell knives. They simply swarmed over the carcasses like vermin, and I saw many of them staggering away under solid lumps of flesh weighing between thirty and forty pounds. The children also took part in the general feasting, and they too swarmed about the whales like a plague of ants.

A particularly enterprising party of blacks cut an enormous hole in the head of the big whale, and in the bath of oil that was inside they simply wallowed for hours at a time, only to emerge in a condition that filled me with disgust.  There was no question of priority or disputing as to whom the tit-bits of the whale should go. Even the visitors were quite at liberty to take whatever portion they could secure.  For about a fortnight this cutting-up and gorging went on, but long before this the stench from the decomposing carcasses was so horrible as to be painfully noticeable at my camp, over a mile away.  Some of the flesh was cooked, but most of it was eaten absolutely raw. The spectacle witnessed on the
beach would have been intensely comical were it not so revolting. Many of the savages, both men and women, had gorged themselves to such an extent as to be absolutely unable to walk; and they rolled about on the sand, tearing at the ground in agony, their stomachs distended in the most extraordinary and disgusting manner.  It may amuse you to know that smoke-signals were at once sent up for all the "doctors" in the country, and these ministering angels could presently be seen with their massage shells, rubbing the distended stomachs of the sufferers as they lay on the beach.  I saw some men fairly howling with agony, but yet still devouring enormous quantities of oil and blubber! Besides the massage treatment (with the thumbs as well as shells), the "doctors" administered a kind of pill, or pellet, of some green leaf, which they first chewed in their own mouth and then placed in that of the patient.  So magical was this potent herb in its action, that I feel sure it would make the fortune of an enterprising syndicate. Other patients, who had obtained temporary relief through the kind offices of the medicine-men, returned to the whales again, and had another enormous gorge. In fact, the blacks
behaved more like wild beasts of the lowest order than men, and in a very short time--considering the enormous bulk of the whales--nothing remained except the immense bones.