Wednesday, May 28, 2008

YOU CALL THIS LIVING?

Dear Mark,

Further to our telephone conversation today, and my enquiry as to whether you are currently living in your storage unit.

I acknowledge that you have informed me that you are not living in your storage unit at present, but I need to clarify that these storage units are for storage of goods only and they are not to be used for accommodation at any time.

If at any time in the future you are found to be using the storage unit for accommodation purposes we will have no choice but to give you immediate Notice to Vacate.

Yours faithfully,
Commercial Property Management

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

THE SALMON STORIES, PART 5


Billy

He was burly and sad and smelt vaguely of mutton. He handed me an apple and talked about fish.
“They’re not real salmon y’know. That was all Captain Cook’s fault. He looked at one and said ‘Well...they’re kinda like a big salmon really’ and the name stuck. They’re actually an overgrown herring.”
The fisherman looked to me for a response. Folds of skin nearly obscured his keen eyes. Scabby cancers colonised his nose. “You eat an apple just like I do.”
“Core and all?”
“Yeah...don’t those seeds taste good?”


- Sarah Toa

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MERCURY

Every birthday since I can remember, my grandad gave me a large cardboard box which I’d open to find scrunched up newspaper, and within it another, smaller box, which I’d open to find scrunched up newspaper, and another, smaller box, which I’d open to find more scrunched up newspaper. I’d get to the smallest box, open it, and find a tin of NestlĂ©’s condensed milk.
I figured my grandad must have a whole lot of cardboard boxes and newspaper. Piercing the tin lid with two triangular holes, I would suck out the liquid white chocolate. This would last me a day. When he and I went bush, a couple of tins had to last a week. He’d windmill the billy around his head before pouring the tea into enamelled mugs. Spoonfuls of condensed milk followed, one for each of us. We’d sit, watching the fire, while the leaves settled.

Thirteen. I’m sitting in the shack at Ora Banda facing my grandad across the worn pine table. Its legs stand in fruit tins, half-filled with water to discourage the ants. The night is quiet after the loud heat of the day. We’ve been dynamiting diggings south of Broad Arrow. Pounding the yellow rock in the dolly. Sifting and panning. Rumbling back across salt-and-pepper flats in the Landrover, twenty miles or so to the shack, through ghost gums and mulga scrub. Ghost gums were always my favourite, with their eerie white bark and leaves like new green moons. Widowmakers, they will silently drop a branch on the stillest of days.
Midday we’re swimming in the tanks at Grant’s Patch, where they use cyanide to get at the gold. Then out past Carbine, up the back way towards Riverina or some place. He never takes a map. Afternoons are spent poking and pounding rocks in a quartz outcrop, a low ridge above claypans.


Quiet now, you can hear mice scratching away behind the whitewashed hessian walls. He pours two glasses of water from a squat, square plastic bottle, and carefully refits the lid.
He drains his glass and says, I found my mate Bert dead, three weeks back, out at his shack at Grant’s Patch. He’d been drinking metho. Don’t know how long he’d been there dead like that.
He pauses to study the calloused tips of his fingers.
Tried to lift him up. My fingers went straight through his skin and meat and hit bone.
He looks up at me.
Metho will do that to a bloke. Steer clear of it.
I nod a mute promise.
He goes outside. I hear him clanging about in the dark. The screen door flies open, and he comes back carrying a heavy, steel flask. It thuds onto the table. Clinking through empty jars under the meat safe, he takes the lid off a tall one and puts it on the table.
Hold that still, he says, and unscrews the lid of the steel flask.
As he lifts it to the horizontal, a sudden, bright, heavy stream pours noisily into the jar. Carefully replacing the lid, he hands the jar—surprisingly heavy—to me. From nowhere, a birthday card. These always say the same thing.
May you live long and die happy.

Living long strikes me as the easy part, as I swirl this liquid metal around, thirty years on. Every time I move house, which is often enough, the jar reappears. This time it waits quietly in the tall teak bookshelf, hidden from view by a few old hard covers. Just as before, I lift it carefully from its resting place. Just as before, I feel the sudden shift in weight as I tilt it on its side. And just as before, I wonder: What am I going to do with this stuff?
I look down at an old wooden drawer out of a Singer filled with lenses and filters and things. I scrunch some newspaper and pack the jar carefully inside, then place this box inside a larger cardboard box packed with more scrunched up newspaper.

Living long is the easy part.

- Mark Roy, 2005

THE SALMON STORIES, PART 4


Dogs of the Past

Red flowering gums flared crimson when
salmon flew in silver swathes along the coast.
With fires on the beach
and a sticktapping clever-man,
Mineng sang the dolphins in.
An old linguist who was really a Count
wrote all about this.
Twertwaning; ‘old past dogs’
were dolphins who worked with the people.
Dogs of the past drove the salmon
right up to the lacy waters’ edge
to be speared and gathered.
Dogs of the past gobbled a warm meal
of regurgitated pilchards for their efforts
like kelpies falling on chop bones.


- Sarah Toa

BALANCING ACT

From a health consultant's column: "Work-life balance is something you need to work at constantly."

Hmm. Work constantly. There's a good work-life balance.

Monday, May 12, 2008

CIRCLES OF CONFUSION

A Mongolian yurt is not the first thing i expect to see as i ride into Mount Barker. The first thing i would expect to see in a place called Mount Barker, if i thought about it at all, which, up until this point, i haven't, would probably be a mount, or perhaps a pack of dogs.

But in fact, the first thing i see as i ride through the roundabout into Mount Barker, is not a Mongolian yurt, but a somewhat derelict 1960s-style revolving house. Green, with a silver balustrade. Cute as a bug. To be brutally honest, at the time i didn't realise it was a revolving house. I discovered this revelatory fact later, talking to one of the journalists at The Newspaper. The owner of the caravan park wants to restore it and get it revolving again, Martine says. Who wouldn't. I just want to buy it and do a stump and dump.

For those avid readers of The Nerve who are unaware, a 'stump and dump' does not, in fact, refer to a toilet-trained amputee, but to the architectural practice of uprooting an existing, usually timber-framed house, and dropping it onto new footings in another locale. But i digress.

Circular houses. What a very special idea. I remember i used to be the owner of an eight-sided, almost circular waterbed, which held pride of place in one of my many West Leederville abodes. I occupied quite a number of incredibly old, yet palatial West Leederville houses - all of which were invariably demolished soon after i left, to the point where i began to develop a complex. I felt like one of those people on whom wristwatches suddenly stop and around whom electrical items mysteriously fail. A human wrecking ball.

In those halcyon days i was partial to the cone, and was therefore in a perpetual state of blissful confusion. The waterbed, placed as it was in the centre of my room, gave the space a circular feel. I would walk around my octagonal berth, from dresser to wardrobe to door, collecting my wallet, my coat, my thoughts, girding my loins and preparing to go out and face the day, before remembering at some point in my circuit that i had forgotten my watch, or my shoes, or my keys, and would do another lap, collecting these misplaced and mislaid items, once again orbiting the bed and heading more quickly for the door, before remembering my bag for uni and veering into another orbit i would swerve from perihelion to aphelion collecting ventolin and cigarettes on the way and accelerating in an increasingly perilous ellipse before eventually the centripetal force would overwhelm me and i would hurtle out the door, a blazing comet, to explore well beyond the furthest reaches of the public transport system.

But i digress. A circular, revolving house! Now that would be something.

I meet Sarah Toa and one of her seven sisters at the Mt Barker Hotel, and after refreshments we head out to explore the Mongolian Yurts of Mount Barker. These huge, circular Himalayan circular made of felt, canvas and psychedelically-painted wood.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

THE SALMON STORIES, PART 3


Bittersweet

In reality, she was a decrepit failed restaurant venture, tethered in disgrace at the end of the Deepie but that night was the pinnacle of the old whalechaser’s career as an eatery.
We weren’t supposed to be there, something about asbestos and public liability but my father was the caretaker, so ... there we were.
Candles glowed in the jarrah-lined innards and a strange, longhaired man played guitar on the iron stairs. Cast iron cauldrons of dahl and rice sat steaming on tables beside huge mounds of baked salmon covered in lemon and strips of bacon.
Dad wanted to introduce his daughters to the woman he would later marry. Together, they’d put on a feast.
My guests, my silent beau and the ancient, drunken Scot, were the escape plan if things got too strange.
We slid into red velvet booth seats, shared green ginger wine, peeled away silvery salmon skin, and broke flakes of juicy flesh from the bone with our fingers. The taste of bittersweet iron made my teeth hurt.
When Hector finally succumbed to his Drambuie on the booth seat, (crumpled kilt, legs askew, it was not pretty) Ben and I climbed back out into the clean night air and stood together on deck. Under the full moon, yachts flew like white moths across the harbour on their annual autumn migration.


- Sarah Toa

Saturday, May 03, 2008

SERIOUS ABOUT ART

All I can say, in my defence, is that it was not my idea.

"Why don't you get Wilson Iron Bar Tuckey to open your show," Queen Street Gallery owner John Marinovich suggested. "He's from Carnarvon." So, much to John's surprise, and ultimate mortification, i did.

The political reporter here at The Newspaper was gobsmacked when i told her the Hon Wilson Tuckey was going to open my photographic exhibition. "But you'll never shut him up," she said.

Alas, her prediction proved all too true.

Guests fidget amongst themselves, hungrily eyeing the nori rolls and lashings of alcoholic beverages, as over the course of a half an hour The Hon Wilson lurches from one misbegotten Carnarvon story to the next. Without rhyme, reason, or indeed, segue. It is the kind of classic opening speech that can only be delivered by a Federal politician with no inkling that he is being had.

Safari Bob snickers into his bottle of Gage Roads beer. Safari Bob is a man who not only appreciates irony, but also has a sense of occasion. He is immaculately dressed in a pale beige safari suit, a Hawaiian shirt and those long, white, pointed shoes with which one can sometimes knock out an eye.
The Hon Wilson begins by describing his interest in photography, in a doomed attempt to assauge the doubts of anyone present who may harbour a suspicion that Wilson Iron Bar Tuckey is not all that interested in photography. The Hon Wilson is attempting to make it clear that he is Serious about Art.

"Every year I put out my own calendar, featuring photographs, which I distribute to my electorate free of charge," the Hon Wilson says. "Some of the photographs in my calendar are even in black and white." Gasp. He gestures at the walls of the gallery. Our butcher in Innaloo also used to distribute a calendar complete with photographs, if i remember rightly.

Carnarvon. It has a long history. A lot of history. Too much history, one could argue.

"... and then, a year later in the 1961 flood, the water came within ten feet of the doors of the pub." It is twenty five minutes later. After touching lightly on the Carnarvon tracking station, agriculture, and his purchase of the Port Hotel, the Hon Wilson is barely onto the second of the Carnarvon floods. "I remember the news headlines that appeared in the local newspaper after I sent a dinghy out to pick up fresh supplies of beer ..."

I glance over at the table, with its rows and rows of beer bottles standing so distant and unattainable. I have my glass of red, but a couple of hungry girls standing with their backs to the wall, sans beverages, are glaring at me as if to say "do something!"

Das Clayton leans over and whispers in my ear. "You'd better do something," he says. I nod. Meanwhile the Hon Wilson is continuing unabated.

"... and then one year old Mr Marinovich over here decided to start up a soccer competition, and i supported him in that," The Hon Wilson goes on. "I didn't realise the competition would be between the Serbs and the Croats. A very fierce competition it was too. I remember when a league team came up from Perth, and they were soundly beaten on the soccer pitch out there on the plantations ..."

"Do something," says Das again. "He is not going to stop." Safari Bob is still chuckling away with a shit-eating grin over a bottle of beer. Doesn't anybody except Safari Bob realise what a monument to self-reflexive irony this occasion represents? Here we have a Federal politician talking to photographs of Melinda Mayhem, Mickey T, Safari Bob and the various wildnesses of my year in the north west. A politician who has now himself become caught up as a character in the ongoing saga that is The Nerve.

People. Sometimes all they seem to care about is food, drink, and unspeakable acts.

I take my glass of wine and walk to the front of the gallery crowd, standing between The Hon Wilson and John the Gallery Owner. "Thank you Mr Tuckey," i say in a respectful tone. I mean, one can't invite a guest to speak at one's exhibition opening and then just ruthlessly take the piss out of them. "I want to thank you all for coming to this exhibition opening, and also thank John for putting the works on the wall. The town of Carnarvon has a million and one stories, as Mr Tuckey here has just demonstrated." I gesture in his general direction. Perhaps one can take the piss if one is subtle about it ? "And i hope i have managed to capture a slice of the life and character of the town in this set of photographs. Please enjoy the wine and the food. Thank you."

Needless to say, my exhibition was boycotted by the entire Arts Establishment. Which i don't mind at all. I know i don't take myself anywhere near seriously enough to be accepted by the Arts Establishment. You know, the best advice i ever received about Art was from a lecturer in sculpture. "Take your work seriously, but never take yourself seriously," he said.

But my work in this direction is not yet done. I feel sure i can extend myself even further in the direction of pointless flippancy.

Photos: Seng Mah