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Should be available in early September!
On my last day of competition, I won gold again. This was something of an inglorious win, as there were only five women competing in the mountainbike short course, each in a different age group. Last time I competed in this event, I was the only woman in my age division, and won gold for finishing last, tho I was up against some truly fearsome women. This time I came second last, beating only a septuagenarian on a Malvern Star. The track was a lot more technical than the previous short course, and I had to slow right down to my normal speed to complete the first half, switchbacks through some rocky terrain.
But the important thing is that I did it, although the race I'm most pleased with was completing three laps of the mountainbike cross-country course. It's good just to be a woman competing in this sport, because not many women do. I was talking about this to a fellow female mountainbiker at the airport, about how I knew so many far more co-ordinated and sporty women than me who tried mountainbiking once and said 'never again'. She said that it was because sporty people were used to everything coming easily to them, and that this was a sport that didn't, in which you had to take some initial knockbacks and be prepared to fall (quite literally). I think the sports you gravitate towards reflect personality and I do see some parallels between mountainbiking and yoga, which favour strength, persistence, focus and technical skills. Both of them involve a fair amount of mind over matter (quite literally; plus momentum over matter in mountainbiking). And falling over: you have to do plenty of that in both.
Anyway, 'nuff said; 'nuff skiting. It was a fun week, with many felicitous catch-ups, planned and unplanned. I felt as though I got the good bits of Centralia without the bad (mainly the isolation).
This is the end of the Centralian idyll coda. Sporadic blogging will resume elsewhere.
Today, which began in the mud of the Pigs' Race, has to end on the high point of a blogpost.
The Pigs' Race, for the uninitiated, involves doing as many laps as possible of a mountainbike short course (3 km) in an hour and rolling a pair of pig dice in between each lap. A lap scores 10 points; the dice roll scores extra points, depending in what position the pigs fall. There are a couple of positions in which they can fall that scotch all your points, so you don't want to get greedy and roll for too long. It can all end in tears.
The other meaning of the race's name came out more clearly this morning: it was to involve a roll in the mud, literally. I have to say, once I saw the mud, I took this race at a more languid pace than I did last year, except when I suddenly tailed some guy speeding down a hill and went splat on my side when I hit the mud at the bottom. Thereafter, I was always trying to find a way of weaving round a nearby shrub or ducking over a ridge to miss the ever-softening mud-hole. I reckon I was possibly the muddiest person there: the picture left doesn't do justice to the amount of mud on my person and my bike.
I also procrastinated over the whole dice-rolling business as last year I did more laps than the person who won my age division, but lost out on the pig score. Some guy tried to give me advice on how to make a quicker 'transition' from bike to dice to bike: I said to him, 'look, it's the Pigs' Race.'
This year, I (ahem) won gold, rather ingloriously as I was competing against a local who raced in a tutu for a laugh. I did 6 laps in an hour (18 km, with plenty of dillydallying in between), so I was pretty pleased with that (more than about the medal business, as with the other race). I'll have to try for 7 laps next time. Afterwards, I went round to a friend's place: he's a fireman, so handy with a hose, and he sprayed out several bucketloads of orange sand from my bike's subtle parts.
The desert is all about rain, clouds, mud and daisies at the moment. Oh, and snakes and birds. At the end of our medal ceremony tomorrow, a flock of budgies flew fittingly over head. It is without a doubt the coollest weather I've ever experienced in Alice in October. The forecast tomorrow is from 15 to 17 C: I'm used to warmer October weather, like 37 C. A local historian made lofty claims in the paper about the landscape being the closest, (the most verdant I suppose) to what it's been since colonisation...I don't know about that. There's still a lot of erosion out there.
Ok, so brief reprisal of this blog while I’m in central Australia for the week…competing in the Masters Games for the fourth time, mountainbiking solely, as my road bike’s in Melbourne.
My first race was this morning, the mountainbike cross-country. In some ways, this is my favourite race, as it passes through some interesting, slightly tricky terrain (narrow winding rocky tracks and stuff) and is more of an endurance event, which I prefer. I figure you can go hard for the first and last kilometres, then slum it in the middle at your own pace.
I felt a little intimidated by the other nine or so competitors. As far as I could tell, I’d moved up into an age division, with some pretty fearsome women in it (contrary to what you might think, women seem to get better at cycling with age—more kms under their belt, maybe). I’d also only done one practice run, and had found that whatever technical skills I had before had gone to pulp. I was starting at the sight of any rocks or trees on or near the track (esp with the overgrowth), foot constantly going to the ground. Things I used to take with ease I had to re-think how to do.
At the start of the race, I loitered up the back of the pack with my friend K, chatting. Talking turned out not to be such a good plan: I missed a significant announcement, that the 40 something women would be riding three rather than two laps of the 7.5 km track.
It's important for me to sign off on this blog, because it's marked an significant chapter of my life. I'm a bit wary of repeating some of the material from recent posts (another reason to stop blogging), though I feel in need of closure. I set out originally write an aide-memoire, of living in Alice Springs, and that's what provided the narrative trajectory for the View, as much as it's possible for a blog to have one. As far as I know, this is the longest running blog about life in the Territory and possibly the first blog about Alice Springs.
Many unexpected things came out of my time in the Territory, and also from blogging. It’s often the things that you don’t predict in life that turn out to be the best. One aspect of blogging I’m loathe to leave behind is its unexpected serendipity (much and all as I hate that word, along with ‘synergy’)…almost everything I’ve had published that originated in a blogpost, I didn’t set out to write as a piece for publication. It just took on its own life. I may find I miss this unexpected freefall into creative recesses too much to stop blogging altogether, and start a new blog...who knows? I’ll post a link here or propagate it through facebook, if I do.
I'm now ‘unexpectedly’ back here in Melbourne, comfortable as a pig-in-muck in the golden triangle of Northcote-Clifton Hill-North Fitzroy, eating far too much food, buying too many cold-weather clothes (tho the Kmart long-sleeved numbers I’d been wearing for three years were never going to cut it in the Melbourne winter). I feel that ultimately I’ll make my base here, tho I’ll continue to dip in and out of the Territory. I’ve noticed that although people often return to Alice the first couple of years after leaving the place, gradually they move on. Amongst the expats I know, there seem to be two types, often represented in a couple: one who yearns to be back in central Australia, the other who might look back fondly, but sees the urban life as their true modus operandi. I suspect I’m more the latter type, although Alice made me more of a convert to the regional life than I ever expected to be. I’d try the regional life again, though maybe on the coast or somewhere wet and misty, like Tasmania.
One of the deal-breakers for me was realizing how quickly the turn-over people — i.e. expats — occurred. Long-term Alice residents would comment on how they saw whole groups of people go, and I stayed there long enough to see ten of my friends leave within eighteen months…virtually a whole social network. Up until that point, I was relishing the regional life…until I realized how unstable it could be in Alice.
I saw that I would have to go through the whole death and rebirth cycle with people, over and over again in Alice, and more quickly…and that the new people in town were getting younger and younger, as I got older and older. After about three years, you also start to become distant from your circles of friends elsewhere, and to miss out on some of the important events in their lives and vice-versa, those things that often make for long-term bonding experiences. So I thought I’d see what it was like to return.Alice is a place of extremes — of climate, of distance, of personalities, of social privilege, of racial divides. The sense of being confronted regularly by some basic issues of human need, survival and even hatred, as well as constantly being made aware of the cycle of life — how tenuous things could be — was ultimately wearing for me. You’re also less cushioned from harsh realities: shopping at Kmart and Target, arthouse cinema once a week and two cafes that make decent coffee are pretty much the mainstay fleshpots on offer in Alice.
Having said that, I don’t at all regret having thrown up the cards to go to Alice six years ago. It’s surely been one of the signature experiences of my life. But I don’t regret having thrown up the cards yet again to return to Melbourne.
As no doubt is becoming clear, I'm blogging less and less, partly because moving interstate along with everything else I do is making me that much more busy, partly because I'm, er, running out of things to say, in a certain sense. And the View was intended as an Alice-specific blog.
I always wondered when I would want to finish this blog, and I thought I would know when the time came, much as how I thought I would know when to move on from Alice and where I would go next. Now it seems the time is a-coming. It's not a recent decision, but something I've been pondering over the last six months (so don't worry that you've said anything to put me off blogging).
I've pondered starting a Melbourne blog -- maybe titled 'Northcoto-philia', or 'too much information' or 'permanent wedgie' (my usual state of being) -- but I'm not sure that yet another Melbourne blog is needed, when there are so many already and so many that are well done. But when was a blog ever necessary?
I do remember the days when blogging had a raffish edge, maybe back around 2005 when there was a lot of energy in the Australian blogosphere. Barista has suggested to me that it was because blogging afforded an avenue of comment during the dark Howard years, when mainstream journalism became increasingly conservative. I'm not entirely sure that I agree with this summation, as there's always been a strong, personal diaristic strand in the blogosphere as well as a political one. I've sometimes thought that blogging was a bit like the outburst of small presses in the seventies when self-publishing became easier: perhaps there are always wannabee writers and pamphleteers about, looking for a suitable platform. Back in the good ol' days of the early noughties, blogging was a slightly eccentric thing to do; now it's been banalised to a 'tool' used regularly by journalists and management types (curses!) Facebook and Twitter have also no doubt leached bloggers and potential bloggers away, which is perhaps not such a bad thing: how much bad prose do we really need cluttering up the internet? Laura and I have both commented that thoughts we would previously have given fuller expression in a blog post often just get a one-sentence wrap-up on FB these days.
Going about my daily life in Melbourne, there are constant reminders of central Australia. Some of these are presences; others are absences. When I go to the bowser at the petrol station, there's no nozzle labelled 'Opal unleaded'. I look out from my balcony and see palm trees dotted through the northern suburbs of Melbourne, and think of the Afghan traders who left palms through central Australia, outside the town council in Alice and at the Hermannsburg mission to provide sustenance during Ramadan. There's other reminders: I might see an artwork in an office that looks like it comes from a certain area in central Australia. I'm told Liam Jurrah is playing in a big AFL match in a few weeks' time. But otherwise, I look at the faces of people in street sometimes, particularly the ones who seem more on the edge, and think, are they Aboriginal? Middle-eastern, African or what? I'm not sure.
Around Melbourne I often see yellow wall plaques like numberplates acknowledging the traditional owners of the place. Yet the traditional owners of major Australian cities seem far less obvious than any other people group, partly because of the sheer bulk in population numbers, no doubt also because of the decimation they experienced, being in the 'front line'. (It wasn't until I was in America and heard a few Native American place-names that I realised 'Manhattan' was an 'Indian' word -- after all that time watching Sex and the City!) My experience of working in Abl affairs is that large family groups from regional centres tend to dominate in urban contexts, quite possibly because the areas they're from were more isolated and thus more shielded from the vicissitudes of colonisation, or because particularly strong missions or other settlements were established there.
The plaques to me are almost more like memorials. I don't want to be derogatory, but I feel a bit ghosted by the thought of an Abl presence. Unlike central Australia, where you can feel you're surrounded quite literally by the living dead at times. It's as if there's just traces left here. I've cast my mind back to what Germaine Greer says in Whitefella Jump Up about a possible way of giving these traces more pre-eminence by everyone saying that they're Aboriginal and living in an Aboriginal culture. I think much of what she's saying about aspects of Australian society being more shaped by Aboriginal culture than we care to realise is probably very true and that saying we're an Aboriginal country is helpful as a certain sort of gesture. But I'm disturbed by what's potentially lost in making that statement. If Greer's idea is taken to extremes (and I'm not sure she meant it to be), it could lead to a pan-Aboriginality that is unhelpful and suggests a blurring of the specificities of and differences between existing Abl cultures and groups.
I felt I would write a blogpost before I became consigned to history as a self-confessed crazy cat woman or was totally overtaken by spammers.
The gloom has suddenly descended here in Melbourne in the way it does, once daylight saving ends. My flat, which is somewhat diminutive, now seems a little dark and dingy at times. It's about the size of a hatbox, except that it mysteriously has a good old-fashioned, suburban-sized bathroom. It's about the same size of my first flat in Balmain -- different dimensions, but better bathroom. But after all it's all about location, location, location in the inner city and here, as there, I find myself gravitating to Life on the Street...as in, High Street plays the role of my former lounge room, and I'm even recognised now at a cafe as a regular who always sits in the same place (i.e. near the wall socket) and orders the same thing.
Melbourne has really boomed, tho: there are all sorts of long radial streets leading out to suburbs draped in darkness. Melbourne's almost starting to remind me of LA in this (and only regard): you can be walking along what seems like a fairly suburban street and suddenly you're in another 'neighbourhood'. I mean, not only is Northcote cool these days, but apparently Thornbury and Fairfield are too. I even drove over to Station St just to make sure, and I saw a glimmer of what people were talking about on my drive. Thornbury (the time I went there) just seemed to stretch on into the night, with the infinite possibility of mysterious bars cropping up. Someone loftily said that 'Brunswick St is the new Chapel St', but I'm not sure I'd want to spend much time on either of them. Northcote has much more of that organic feel that Brunswick St seems to have lost over the years.
The other thing that's nice about Melbourne is the friendliness factor. Another ex-Sydneysider and I were commenting on this the other night. People aren't affronted if you start a conversation with them. They often start up conversations with you. It's like Alice Springs, without the Obscure, Extraneous Waffle that accompanies many a random conversation there.
So, so, so...I'm at the end of leg one of my move to Melbourne, having (a) started my new job and (b) moved into my latest rental abode. When I say moved in, I mean me, the swag, the esky, a suitcase full of workclothes, and later a toaster, a saucepan, a fridge and a microwave. Leg two will involve the cats and the bike, and those finicky electrical goods I could have brought in the car but forgot (the jug, the powerboard, the clock radio, etc). Needless to say, first housewarming gift to self was a secondhand swing-door kitty-litter box.
Otherwise, I'm slumping after five days of hitting the tarmac pretty much running at my new job and organising various bits and bobs before the Big Move. That's right, the real move, leg three, when I load the rest of my stuff into the back of a van and hope that it somehow makes it here from Alice. The removalists have given me a set-down date of 6 April, tho that does seem optimistic, given they're based in Alice and they'd have to be driving over the Easter break. All this removal business is reminding me what an undertaking it is, and how it's not to be done on a whim...every year. I'm leaving my unit semi-furnished so I can go back for a stint in Alice if I want, but I doubt I'll ever do another permanent move back there.
I ended up applying for the first place I saw -- the Greek Grandmother's Delight in blue and white in a divey-looking block with lots of pot plants and cat kitsch -- then rescinding the application after seeing several larger abodes which would take all my stuff easily, but which were considerably more expensive. At one point, I was seriously taken by the renovated ground floor of an old bank -- plenty of cupboard space, and potential for me to subdivide an area into a study and a living room. But there was no outside space for the cats, all the windows were fixed (so I'd rely on air-conditioning to ventilate the place), and a tramline was directly outside: I'd be woken every morning by the first tram that rattled along. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought: do the cats really need to go outside? The Ancient Princess was not in question, as she'd sleep all day on my bed if she could, but did the others really go out when I wasn't there? Answer: not a lot, but they do like sitting on their chairs on the balcony of an evening.
The solution was clear: I must return to the Greek Grandmother's Delight, with its north-facing balcony. (Happily, no one else had applied.) There were other advantages, like potentially clear delineation of cat boundaries (with separate litter boxes). The living area was kind of small, but it had an unusually large dining area opening onto the balcony, which would make an excellent writing nook, especially in the winter. The block might look divey from the street, but it had a quite congenial feel (indeed, the residents have been friendly in a downmarket funky Melrose Place kind of way). In fact, it seemed almost rural, because of its relative quietness and proximity to Merri Creek. "Rural' is good after Alice," a fellow ex-Springian in the office said. He's right; you don't want to get too urban too quickly.
It was also walking distance from High St and, as C pointed out to me on Google maps, it was a 1.2 km walk to work. I could always buy my own floor of an old building if I still liked living in Melbourne as much in a year's time, and subdivide it as I liked. (And who wants to be worrying about having enough money to pay the rent at the expense of all the other things one came to Melbourne for -- like going out and buying books?)
'The thing that I noticed about returning to Adelaide,' Sebastiane said when I visited her there, 'was the lack of broken glass on the footpath and of cries in the night.'
I drove into the fine city of Adelaide on Wednesday evening last week. My brief encounters with Adelaide over the last decade or so have been enough for me for me to appreciate some of the good things about the place (the elegant township, the good food and wine, the festivals), without experiencing any of the aspects people complain about, like the conservatism and the relative lack of degrees of separation in Alice.
I dined with Kerryn in the evening, and among other things, she warned me about the road to Nihill -- how some kind of traffic accident vortex exists along the section of inland highway around Nihill.
I had to admit, I didn't enjoy the last leg of my journey so much -- it may have been tiredness or the fact I could no longer speed, but more than anything else, the sudden change of landscape. The more cultivated environment definitely seemed dull after the arid plains, orange rocks and salt lakes of the drive directly south from the centre. It all seemed like drab farming country, with the kind of towns that teenagers can't wait to escape (tho I did enjoy the country bakery-style meat pie and homemade wagon wheel at Bordertown).
Nihill was mirage country: trees shimmered on the horizon, hazy where their trunks should be. The shadows of trees flickered across the road. The picnic areas of yore have all been transformed into power nap stops. No wonder, I thought, there are so many accidents in these parts. Drivers would be mesmerised into some sort of trance state. Not only that, but the constant signs warning against taking you eyes off the driving game began to take on a certain gnomic wisdom: 'Yawning? A microsleep can kill', 'open your eyes - speed kills', 'only sleep cures fatigue' (a certain Shakespearean eloquence there!) And more intriguingly: 'in times of emergency, tune into local radio xxx.' Imagine, the little green peeps in the purple saucers are fast approaching rural Victoria, and you tune into radio Horsham for advice on what to do.
And then I realised: I'm back in the police state. That's why I'm seeing so many warnings. I mean, a series of road shrines is the more usual warning in the Territory.
Some time, a couple of hundred kilometres out of Melbourne, when I started seeing huge European trees lining the highway and thick, lush grass, I thought to myself, this is a place where it actually rains. (Melburnians might dispute that, as I'm told it's hardly rained in Melbourne over the last ten years, tho it seems to every time I visit...so there may be more of that, now that I'm back).
It was also a part of the highway (particularly the segments with convict-built stone walls) I remembered from driving out to meet with a certain Aboriginal leader's community. Yet again, I felt I was re-tracing much of my initial journey into Aboriginal affairs and the Centre. An Aboriginal woman said to me today that it was surprising that I was still working in the area, given some of the crazy people I've worked for: certainly, I've seen some very interesting politics, far more complicated than the perception of what goes on -- the 'Star Wars' view of Aboriginal issues that the Left often holds. On the hand, I feel privileged to have been taken by them to places (communities, old mission -- 'reservations') that I would never have visited and to have met people I would never have met otherwise. If I was feeling less tired, I might philosophise on some of these themes more (maybe the subject for another blogpost some time).
In the morning I drive slowly around Coober Pedy. I feel a renewed fascination for the place, after living for six years in the Centre.
In the morning I drive slowly around Coober Pedy. I feel a renewed fascination for the place, after living for six years in the Centre.
There's a program on local radio about how country women manage finances better than city women. Well, there's probably not much to spend it on at Coober Pedy. To me, like many mining towns, CP seems like a very male environment, somewhere you'd find it difficult to persuade a woman -- an urban chick at least -- to live. (Caricaturing madly, here.) What look like the remnants of old catacombs -- presumably work or home dwellings -- are built into the sides of hills around former shafts. A totally unused drive-in movie theatre stands in the middle of town. It's a curiously quiet place, eerie, like so many western NSW towns. At the same time, I'm tempted to see it as part of that line of sores, buttons or oases, however you might want to look at it, stretching (along the old telegraph line?) up to Darwin: Alice, Tennant, Katherine.
While in Coober Pedy, I stand in line behind an Aboriginal man in a beanie in the local servo, then pass several equally-beanied Aboriginal grannies in the back of a SUV. There's an Australia post tube in the rear window, addressed to a well-known native title organisation. Perhaps this mob is off to establish their claim on country. (I remember the SUV's white driver from the taverna the night before. I heard him say something like, 'they have songlines all over the country', to a younger colleague. Blergh: the songlines thing is beginning to sound like a tired social studies class to me.) Driving along the highway, I occasionally see an estuary of dirt roads marked with signs indicating entry to Aboriginal country and communities. The further south I go, the less I'll see of scenes like these.
It's hard to describe the sense of exhilaration I feel driving through this countryside. I don't think I found it quite as interesting as I did the first time I passed through it. Some of it is the imagined similarities to the landscape in Utah and Arizona: the long plains suddenly broken by mound-like hills and other rock formations or salt lakes. Everything seems much more spread out than it did in Utah, where one rock amazing formation rapidly follows the other. The colours of the landscape seem more washed out than around Alice Springs, but there's still the pale blue sky with the scudding clouds teamed with the rocky orange soil dotted with saltbushes.
I don't know what it would be like to be Australian but never to have seen the Centre or the Far North. It's that old irony that we often travel so much abroad but don't spend as much time exploring our own country. I think I've been very privileged to have worked in an area that's taken me all over the country. Nicholas Rothwell's Red Highway captures the 'otherness' of northern Australia well: his narrative moves fittingly down from the tropics to the desert. If you haven't been there, then I thoroughly recommend reading it, along with Marie Munkara's Every Secret Thing, a novelistic take on a northern mission, in a similar style to Bran Nue Dae.
I'm eating moussaka and grilled prawns at Tom and Mary's Taverna, the only place I know worth eating at in Coober Pedy. This is a 'choice' place, as one of my best teenage friends would have said (she was from Wollongong): it's got a glow-in-the-dark fake bonsai tree, a fake fishtank full of fish, and that Iconic Greek photo with the white house beside the blue sea.
I made it to Coober Pedy by dusk. It would be more impressive if I didn't have to put my watch forward by an hour. I''ve had two half hour stops, but otherwise, I think I've made 780 km in seven hours...an average of 130 kmh. No wonder I'm going through so much petrol.
The first leg of my journey, 200 km to Erldunda Roadhouse, was very familiar to me from the Kings Canyon Cruise, which I've done three times. I kept remembering downhill runs, the looming shapes of hills, stop-offs with the snack van, and snatches of conversation that accompanied various landforms. Like: Dr Geoff talking about his sports watch that could do 5,000 things and Fred telling me how they would have constructed the culvert across that river. Ah, memories! The only thing is: it's all more verdant now than it's ever been, because of the recent rains.
I reached Marla at about 2.30 pm. This inspiring location (pictured) boasts not only the beginning of the Oodnadatta Track (dirt road that takes you further into the bowels of 'the Outback') but also the infamous Roadhouse. I say infamous, because of some of stories I've heard told about this otherwise unprepossessing place. One of them claimed to have had a thr&&s@me in the tub at Marla Roadhouse; but because she was an Unusual Overwhelming Alice personality, I tended to take this story with a grain of salt. The other, a straight woman, said she dreamt that a large woman had mounted her in the middle of the night (she saw as a sign that she was leaving the energies of the Centre). Notwithstanding, I elected to stay further down the road at Coober Pedy, a troglodyte opal mining town.
Marla had other memories for me, because I turned off here with a small team six and half years ago to head into the AP lands on a research trip. I remember being told we should to drink our last beers if we wanted, because most of the communities we were visiting were dry. One of my companions was a gay man who was about to turn 38 in the same week as me. As we drove out of Marla, he began weeping about the fact that he would never have children. At the time I thought, what is wrong with this picture? Shouldn't it be me who's crying? Later, having brought cream pants to wear in the red centre, he began to ask whether there would be a laundromat at Amata (Amata being a small remote community).
This time while I drove, I listened to the Raj Quartet--The Jewel in the Crown. I never managed to watch the whole series when it was on TV (like, 30 years ago). I couldn’t quite face the prospect of a High Brow Talking Book for the road: not that there are that many of them in the local library and I had Anna Karenin etc on my iphone, anyway. The Raj Quartet has been a strangely perfect choice in many ways, given the anxieties about white liberals and the old Raj that it explores. In some ways, it seems a more overblown and at times overwritten version of A Passage to India. I could relate to many of the cringesome thoughts expressed by Miss Crane, the school teacher in the first volume, who feels closer to the mixed descent than the full descent Indian people and worries about the ‘bump’ she always feels present between herself and Indian people.
When this book came out as a series on TV, I remember there being a great stink about the fact that the actor Art Malik, who played Harry Kumar, wasn’t full descent himself. This was I suspect around the time when subaltern literature was taking off (the early 80s? I was in year 10 or 11 when The Jewel in Crown was on TV). Interestingly, while the first book in this quartet is told mainly from the third person intimate perspective of Miss Crane, the second book seems to be shifting between the third person intimate perspectives of white female characters and Indian male characters. The Indian perspectives are often ‘managed’ by providing dramatic monologues of various sorts.
Now listening to the Raj Quartet in an era that emphasises the need for postcolonial literatures often not just to be written by minorities but in some senses controlled by them, I wonder if what’s missing is the space for fiction to explore the fractured consciousness of the ‘coloniser’. I’m not saying space to dominate, but to ruminate about about relationships with other ethnicities. It exists to some extent in non-fiction (e.g. Balanda) but I’m less sure about fiction.
Driving into Coober Pedy, with the egg-carton crenellations of slag heaps on its outskirts, I was reminded strongly -- as indeed I was repeatedly throughout central and south Australia -- of Utah, and its white cliffs and worn-down mounds of rocks beside the highway. Unfortunately, no pictures I take ever seem to do justice to the Coober Pedy slag heaps. Coober Pedy still seemed to have that sense of stillness and air about it that is so much a feature of central Australian towns and communities. This eerie quietness was also present when I drove round the back blocks of NSW.
Coober Pedy has a reputation for underground dwelling, including houses and churches. I'd seen these before as a tourist, so I didn't visit them again. The room in the hostel where I stayed was at least a storey underground. I was chaperoned down to my slot in Hades by a bloke who'd no doubt delight British tourists: a 'real Australian' with a huge bushranger beard, sun-wizened limbs, a blue singlet, stubbies and boots. (I remember being accused of 'not being a real Australian' by some of my co-workers in Britain, along with being asked if I'd ever been to Summer Bay.) Believe me, there's nothing romantic about being underground. It's like being in someone's basement. My room was windowless but quiet. Being a TV tragic, I had my TV with me (in case I ended up for a couple of weeks in an unfurnished flat). But I couldn't get any reception so I watched the end of the second series of The Circuit, which was great in the way that second series can often be great in building momentum. Much to admire about The Circuit in bringing the reality of bush courts to TV. Have to say I was disappointed to see that our protagonist seemed to end up with the Boring Trophy Blonde with Sloping Shoulders and A Nothing Haircut, rather than the feisty Bella…tho that could be revisited in another series, I guess.
I'm sitting in the Olive Pink Gardens (view from Annie Meyer Hill right), eating my last bigilla before I head off on a road trip. That's right: how could I road trip begin without a fortifying breakfast.
The past week or so, a refrain of 'road trip, road trip' has been going in my head...now faced with the reality, I feel a little subdued. There has been a weekend of brunching and de-cluttering. The cats made themselves scarce, especially once the Dreaded Camping Gear appeared. That is, except for the Ancient Princess, who's scarcely aware of anything except the next feed (her hearing may have gone, but her sense of smell hasn't).
I've been given various sage pieces of advice about the trip south -- how it will clear my mind, lift the tension from my shoulders, help me to think in longer arcs. All of that. We'll see. I think it's a fitting way to ease myself out of the Centre: gradually. The other thing is: talking books. A road trip is always a great opportunity to fill your mind with longer narratives you wouldn't usually get a chance to read.
Over the past few days, I've run into some of the personalities I met when I first came to town ...in the way that one does in Alice (not always a welcome experience), but also fortuituously, like the rounding off of loose ends in a mini-series or like the re-appearance of obscure earlier characters at the end of a Dickens novel. One of the local identities I ran into was the 'desert queen', who brought me here (pictured left). When I told her I was travelling south, she said, 'Ah, you won't last in the Big Smoke. You'll be back.'
I had hoped to leave town before 9.30 am...it's now almost 10.00 am. I guess there's no screaming hurry to reach Coober Pedy tho I'd rather arrive before it gets dark (except to miss all those potholes). No, the cats aren't coming with me. I'm not that mad -- not driving 2,500 km with cats. I am driving the Getz, which has raised some eyebrows amongst my male friends, but I'm sure the Getz is up to it.
Anyway, I'm for the open road:
Just had a telecanvasser:
Her: Can I speak to the Man of the House?
Me: There isn't one. Are you a telecanvasser?
Her: Am I speaking to Mrs Elsewhere?
Me: No, you're speaking to Ms Elsewhere and this has been a fairly sexist telecanvassing session so far.
Her: What? This is not sexist.
Me: Yes, it is. [Slams down phone]
Phone ring again. Pulls connection out of wall.
Thinks: She's probably calling from Singapore...descending into my own generalisations here.
Thinks again: What kind of a sad, mad, unreconstituted relic am I? Have I been too long in Alice?
Of course, there is always Otty, who thinks he's the Man of the House, but he's too shy to talk on the phone.
I'm now at a cafe on the northside of Alice where there is power...the owner has kindly let me use a powerboard in front of the 'stage' where there is unfortunately live lunchtime music (most live music is fairly unfortunate in Alice, not least because you've already heard the performer several times). I told her I had good powers of concentration, tho I probably can't do much more than blog, under the conditions. I have an hour left on my other, older laptop with the bigger screen and more sophisticated scriptwriting software, which I was using yesterday...I'm hoping to charge up another three hours on this one.
A 43 yo man has been found dead in the Todd...apparently, he'd been drinking then was swept away in the current while trying to ford the river. He's been named as 'Kwementyaye', so clearly he's Aboriginal, and quite possibly homeless or itinerant if he was by the Todd. We're being urged on the radio to 'stay indoors at home' -- not an option for everyone -- because monsoonal waters are passing over the centre to the north-east of town...which doesn't mean that they won't flow to the south where I live.
It doesn't take much to make you realise how dependent you are on a couple of infrastructure elements to maintain your pretentious lifestyle. Once my plans for the day were so rudely thrown out by a power outage, I decided to embark on another decluttering campaign, this time the plastics cupboard in the kitchen. There has been a major pest infestation in Alice, thanks to this inclement weather, and some cockroaches have taken up residence in my plastics. (This is at its most abject when you find roach dirt in the ice cube trays.)
I reckoned I could chuck out at least half my plastics, anyway: you can't take it with you and all that. None of this perfectionistic dithering about whether you might need a certain container again, faintly veiled by internalised ecological guilting. Things can be 'chucked' in the Salvoes' bin, because there'll always be someone in need, especially in Alice.
Yesterday, the cats and I packed into a life-raft fashioned from plastic tubes filled with lentils, almonds and raisins, and set forth on the ever-burgeoning Todd for Adelaide. In case you fear for our collective welfare, we were all wearing flotational vests crocheted from ininti seeds, although one feline certainly didn't need it; indeed, the tortoiseshell blimp has proved useful as a buoy on occasion.
We floated past the Brewers Industrial Estate just after midnight; we hope to make the Marla Roadhouse by noon, then negotiate the currents eddying from potholes at Coober Pedy before arriving in the River Torrens for the opening of the Adelaide Arts Festival.
The Todd, before we left (actually, on my last bike ride, snatched before the floods on Friday afternoon):
Otherwise, drinks at Crowne on Friday night, then a weekend of de-cluttering, writing and DVD-watching, tho it might just be de-cluttering today, as the power has been off for a couple of hours. It once went off for a couple of days after some stormy weather (the solution is to boot-up the laptop in a cafe with power).
Last night, as I went into Blockbuster, some Aboriginal men drinking in a car outside called out, 'Hello gorgeous!' Only weeks, maybe even days left of these interesting cross-cultural experiences. The Blockbuster car park isn't a usual drinking spot (in fact, I'm surprised they could get away with it). I suspect they're out-of-towners, here for the NAB match between the Pies and the Crows, which I missed as I was drinking on the other side of town myself. Apparently the match was pretty swampy; I've seen it so many times now not to be disappointed by missing this annual Alice event. Anyway, I may soon have the opportunity for more interesting cross-cultural footy experiences.
In the new releases section of the DVD store, I saw some copies of In Tranzit, which as I understand it is an indie film about German POWs in a Soviet transit camp after WWII. It features John Malkovich and Vera Parmigiana or whatever her name is, who was so good in Up in the Air...but more excitingly for me, I know one/have been taught by of the writers. True, I know/have been taught by some writers of Australian films, but it was a first for me to be able to say that about an international film. Needless to say, I didn't borrow it, I was brought up on a staple diet of WWII stories and have to steel myself to read/watch any more and I was In Search of Something Light, as one invariably is in Alice. But it's made it to Alice, so perhaps another time...