Waifs and Strays
Building a character
Let me tell you how I came to be a waif and stray. It has to do with a motor scooter tyre, the self-fulfilling effects of the Oedipus Complex theory, and with the Decline of the West.
We were in this play, see, and Georgina was Senior Actress, and I was in my first real play, and I'd like to be able to say that I was conning up someone my own age, but what I was doing was being serious about building a character—I'd just heard about Stanislavsky—and just, well, hanging about. I was still living at home with my Mum and her Mum. Dad had gone a-driving and we didn't know where he were. He was in long-distance haulage, and when I was two he gave up on toilet training, got into his rig and shifted his base East, holus, as the saying goes, bolus.
But even distant fathers stick themselves fast into your head, and try as you might you can't scratch them out. Unless you project them, and then kill them—but you have to be in an encounter group or a play or something. And there I was.
Well I was hanging around one day in a fairly committed kind of way, and it transpired that this Senior Actress—who was still with it sexually, even though in her late twenties—had a flat tyre on her Vespa. She was the kind of person who gave names to vehicles, and hers was called La Strega, which means 'bitch' or something. Mine wasn't called anything, but it did have a spare tyre.
So when I came to get back my spare, I reported for the first time to Gee's Home for Waifs and Strays.
No matter how often or how much I annoyed the bugger, he would just pop back all virtuous with his halo straight, and go on being serious about life. I hoped his superego would herniate.
He'd come straight in from Curnow's (gives you Confidence) Dancing School, have his stew or his fried rice, depending on which week it was, and hit the desk, and study his Maths A or his bloody English until it was time for his baby-like slumbers. He lived in an ideal world, where virtue (him) and vice (almost everyone else except his immediate family) were clearly delineated, and where you just knew instinctively the right thing to do. Like helping to support your sister, for example, and sending money back to your Mum in Mukinbudin for all I knew, and even sharing your room with a prick like me to save thirty bob a week for such Good Causes.
What happened was that when Gee persuaded me I ought to run away from home at last, so as not to be the only forty-three-year-old Mummy's boy in captivity, she also thought it would suit Peter to share his room with me and save the aforesaid 30/-. So I had a decko. Well, talk about Fortress Australia! He'd put a wardrobe and a dressing-table inside the door so that that you walked along a corridor to actually get inside the room, you know what I mean? Sort of room within a room. Proud of it too, he was. Showed off his paranoid personality in all its pristine splendour. A few posters, the obligatory mattress on the floor, table and chair, and Robert's your relative.
So we worked out where my mattress and desk would fit (I got the window), and I left my mother shopping in the psychosoma supermarket for some appropriate form of hypochondriasis, and pissed off.
Our relationship mainly consisted of me giving him the shits, and him getting them. After the first glorious days of sharing , him telling me about his sister and his Ambitions, and intimating how clever I was at Uni and stuff, we settled down to despise each other—much healthier! He'd be sitting in his corner studying away at his Biology and his Geography and I'd be writing stupid poems. When I finished one, I'd read it out, drawing attention to each delicious paronomasia. His only weapon was his stoical silence which he used like a dustbin lid shield. I was deliberately burying my talent right in front of his Christian eyes. He was trying to invest his—but he didn't have any that I could see.
Naturally, I never actually saw him teach dancing, but I couldn't imagine a worse way to make a living. The thing I remember most about dancing classes was the wet bit on the girls' backs between the waistband on their uniforms and shoulder-blades, where a succession of nervous palms left an increasingly soppy patch. Of course, it wouldn't be as bad for a male teacher. At least you wouldn't have to spend your working hours sliding backwards, having your feet trodden on by great black school shoes—but just think all those pimples and plaits you'd have to push around. Slow-slow-quick-quick-slow. That was what it was like in the doleful days before government assistance. You had three choices: you could be born rich, or be brilliant like me and get a Comm Schol, or be stupid like Peter and push shit uphill. Maybe it was better than the wheat-bins or the Woollies lolly counter before Xmas, but it seemed pretty infra dig to me. So I gave the poor bugger the shits to add to his troubles.
I never saw Peter's sister either, but I imagined her with pimples and plaits, and skinny Mukinbudin legs.
Peter had another fault, beside being virtuous—he was artistic. He used to sit out in the backyard with one of those big spiral-binding pads, and paint things in water colours. You know, washing on the line and the dunny and other such aesthetic delights. All I knew about painting was that when you'd finished you had a glass full of brown water. I could never figure out why it was always brown, even if you were painting green trees and blue sky. Peter didn't go in for trees much. He was a Realist. Just painted dunnies and fences. I used to give him the shits about that too. Aired my knowledge about Winston Churchill and Albert Namatjira and Sunday painters, and suggest that he paint Eurasian girls with big tits and green faces, because there was a ready market for that sort of thing. Up came the dustbin lid again.
Anyway, being exposed to all this virtue did eventually rub off on me a bit, and I decided to help Peter while he was out teaching dancing, and do his ironing for him. He had to look sharp, of course, and he had a couple of those shirts made of terylene—like shower curtains. Well of course if you put a hot iron on that stuff it just disappears. I struck while the iron was hot. He was really angry and asked me never to do his ironing again. I couldn't afford to buy him another shirt though, and anyway I wouldn't buy one of those things.
Peter wasn't exactly consumed by ambition, but it did eat pretty well. He was studying for his Leaving at the Tech where Gee taught so that he could matriculate and go to Uni where he wanted to study Ag Science, and then work for the CSIRO and grow bigger and better sub-clover, whatever that is. Pretty ambitious for a guy with no brains. But then if you don't have a dream, as the funny-looking lady in South Pacific sings, how you gonna hava dream come true?
So if you wanted a happy ending to his story you could imagine Peter growing up and marrying his sister with the Mukinbudin legs and living happily ever after with a whole bunch of kids playing happily in the sub-clover.
Teresa was a stripper. Not that I ever saw her with her clothes off. But she did do some bendbacks in the backyard one day, so I could imagine her as an acrobatic dancer. And there was some sort of slimy nightclub owner who used to hang around, pick her up and let her down. I don't think she can have earned much from stripping. She had the worst 'room' in the house. It was actually the space under the stairs, curtained off—just enough room for a little bed. (Gee said if the health inspectors ever came we were to say it was just temporary, it was really a cupboard or something.) I think she only paid ten bob a week for it. She was beautiful in a neutral kind of way. But she wasn't well endowed with the instinct for survival.
Nothing much ever happened to Teresa except for the day she tried to kill herself. I got home and found Teresa acting a bit hysterical and Gee told me that she'd swallowed twenty-five Largactyls, and I remembered that just before I'd gone out I'd noticed Teresa at the sink apparently taking a long time to drink a glass of water. Gee seemed more annoyed than anything and told me to make some strong black coffee in a hurry. She was walking Teresa up and down the hall keeping her awake and counting the steps and so forth while Teresa was screaming that she didn't want to die, although she looked like she did. She looked pretty miserable. Anyway, it was pretty exciting because Jeremy wasn't home yet with his car. And we didn't have a phone of course.
Well, that was about it as far as I was concerned. Jeremy arrived and took Teresa to hospital and they took her up to Ward Nine and pumped her stomach out and told her if she did it again they'd have to commit her. I never saw her again after the house broke up. I suppose she's dead by now.
In the vanguard
We went out into the bush one day for a picnic, in Gee's old rounded Vanguard. Nowhere special, just the flat bush on the Perth sandplain with a sprinkling of small trees. We would have liked to have found a stream with a waterfall, a rockpool with sun and green shade where we could have swum naked, made love on the tumbling greensward. What we did find was a gravel quarry in a scrubby bit of bush. But at least we had it to ourselves, which was the main thing. 'Let's make love,' I said, full of the idea of randiness. 'What shall we do about something to lie on?' she said, not keen on contracting gravel rash from the missionary. 'We could take all our clothes off and make a bed of them,' I said. 'They do that in all the best books...'
Well, that was the end of that picnic. So much for a literary education. We got back into the Vanguard and went home again. She wanted to make love in real life, not in books.
Notwithstanding the passing of twenty-six testing years, another day, even this, could be take on tasted, might not pass sentence. Georgina—Gee—what a contraction the latter years had brought—arose, that is to say, rolled off her bed, and sought a simulacrum of consciousness. From dreams of iron deadness she entered the smoky day. The first cigarette, first coughing. Wearing none, she put on a nightdress, modestly to seek a second drug, lest the full knowledge of the day loom too large. Toileted and tead, she was ready.
A second daydreamer appeared. Teresa it was, whose bed was narrowest, who slept the soundest, and for whom a celebration was a present thing. The women embraced, uncharacteristically, cheek to sleepy cheek, and the first condolence offered for the year marked off.
The house came to life. Isabel was the last to pour a libation—from the second pot—and then the ceremony of another day could begin...
Anyway, we had a party later. Gee's. February. Hot day. In her bedsitter, of course, though connected to the kitchen and spilling out through the french windows. They were usually locked, but tonight was a special occasion. lt was probably the first time the whole lot of us had been in a room together.
Isabel had done most of the work. She'd blown up seven balloons and hung them in the centre of the room where the paper chains intersected that she'd made. And she made a cake and put a few discreet candles on it. We all knew how many it should have been.
I had the stupid idea of making a punch. The magazine called it sangria, and it was mostly red and white wine with a bit of fizz. Luckily, Christian and Jeremy each bought a half doz of beer, so we didn't have to actually drink much of it until the beer was all gone.
Teresa made horses doovers: devils on horseback, prunes and stuff in bacon. Peter made sandwiches and Julie didn't make anything. Except more baby, of course, She drank the punch, so it wouldn't get too drunk.
It was a funny sort of party. Nobody brought anybody, because no-one had anyone to bring. Except Jeremy perhaps, but if he had a steady boyfriend I never saw one. He had his sex life out of the house—probably in the public toilets on the Esplanade. Isabel loved only her art. Christian and Julie already had each other—and a half. Peter's sister was in Mukinbudin. Gee sort of had me. And I was in love with love.
I suppose you could say Isabel brought her art to the party. She gave Gee a little painting—about four square feet of canvas with something like the first day of Creation represented on it, or maybe the inside of an egg. And she brought her guitar as well and we did all the Kingston Trio and Peter Paul & Mary songs we knew most of the words of.
That was after we'd had the unwrapping of the presents though. They were a funny collection too, like us. Christian and Julie gave Gee a Swiss army knife with a fish-scaler as well as a thing for taking stones out of horses' hooves, and I gave her a copy of the Upanishads because I thought they were really boring and she liked that kind of thing. Jeremy gave her a silk scarf, Teresa a lampshade made out of red and black stuff, and Peter gave her a magnifying-glass for looking at biological specimens.
No-one got drunk.
Ships that go bump in the night
Christian was the first son of a comfortably-off Swedish family, he told me. He was born in April 1938, in spite of coming events. He remembered the War years: rare delights like buttered toast. With the war over, his family settled down to make him into a lawyer. So of course he ran away to sea.
I gather he did well at school, especially at sports, but bourgeois life got to him. Too many years of napkins on laps, eating soup quietly, disciplined discussion. ('What have you learnt today, Christian?') I think he was fourteen when his atheistic annunciation came. His schoolwork fell off, and he left home the next year.
I'm not sure how he got on a boat so young, or maybe he hung around in the capital for a while doing other things, but his next stories were about Buenos Aires and Panama, learning to drink, learning about women (he was big for his age). One story was about a girl in a brothel who wore a shawl and had a macaw in her room. After they had consummated the adult rite of which she was a celebrant, they discovered they were both still children, and played kids games together in a weird mixture of Swedish, English, French and Spanish. They only fucked the once, though of course appearances had to be kept up, money had to change hands. He was in port for nine days, and he saw her on every one of them.
Why it was in Perth that he jumped ship, I was never quite sure. I think it may just have been that after eight years or so before the mast he wanted to spend some time in the doldrums. Also, it was the opposite of Sweden in most ways. He liked it to to be hot, and where we lived it was certainly grotty. I've always seen Sweden as this uniformly clean, middle-class, cold place where everyone looks like Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Christian did even look a bit like Max von Sydow, but he preferred lying in the sun to ripping up fir trees and bashing himself with the branches.
The other big question was why Julie? Funny how you can talk to a bloke for hours and never really get the answers to the obvious, important questions. It may have been Christian's Swedish version of the English language, or more likely just something about the nature of the sorts of talks we had, more blanks than dots or dashes. And I never found out much from Julie herself, other than about washing-up or how to light the kerosene heater. She clung to Christian with a silent intensity, channelled herself into him, only sometimes exploding into violent, destructive acts of distancing, then closing again, coupling, bumping the bed.
One of the few jokes the house shared was about that bed. It was only a little three-quarter one, and it was against the inner wall of the house, and it must have been made of iron because when it banged against the wall, which it did regularly, the thunder reverberated through the whole house, and especially the kitchen and Gee's room, which were right underneath. Julie's pregnancy didn't seem to slow them down one bit. Although it was a standing joke for the rest of us, their sex life was pretty serious for them: it was all they had, perhaps.
I imagine Christian and Julie meeting in some cafe down at the port, going to bed straightaway, perhaps even getting her pregnant the first night, her wooing him ashore, not with words with with another, urgent language, in one rush of joint desire floating through the city, finding Gee, the house, the room, the bed, shacking up. Their needs, his need to be still, her need for... a Real Man perhaps, fused together, and there they were, incipient domesticity, the whole catastrophe.
What happens to all that energy? After I left the house, I visited Christian once, months later, at a new but even grottier house. The child would have been born by then, but we didn't talk about it. Julie I haven't seen, but I heard she's still in Perth. She's with a lawyer now.
You say that I should something write Julie my English to improve so while you are out for a while I will try and when you read this you can tell what is wrong and correct me.
What I should write? I will tell a story, the story of my last trip before I am coming to Perth, a sea story, eh? Not a long story. It would take me more paper than I have here to tell even one trip, but you would be sleeping before you finish. When you are at sea, it is very slow, and the day is long and like another. All the days are the same. Sleep, wake, eat, go on watch, check, measure. Sometimes you have an argument, but we are careful not to get into fights. When you get some troubles there is nowhere to go. You cannot get off the ship. So you don't fight. And seamen, they like to be quiet, mostly.
But one day we are having a big storm. I think I feel it before I wake up, because when I do I already know there is a big blow. I go to the bridge and the weather forecast is a big depression and we are going through the middle. There is already forty knots wind and more to come. It is OK because we have all seen storms and it is a big ship. But still when it comes, you see it again like the first time. The ship is so long, but the troughs are even longer, and we are sailing down one and you cannot see out, and then you are up the next. It is like a little canoe.
The water is coming over the decks. And there is rain too, so heavy that we cannot see the bow sometimes, even with the washers. We set course into the weather, and the ship is strong, so it is still OK.
But then one of the hoses breaks, and it is a big one, and outside, so two men have to go and secure it, and I am the biggest. Another man, it is Sven, a 'turnip' like me, as you call it, we go out with lines around us and oilskins, though we still get wet underneath, and we wrestle with this damn big snake. Couple of times I think I am overboard, and I think why did I go to sea. This hose is jumping around and us with it like it is the tail of a bloody big dog and we are like the fleas it is trying to throw away. But we drag it back with the wash and in the end we can get it back on the coupling.
You are a big man, you know, on the ship they all respect that. But out there, when the sea is big, you feel small. Like some fly that a kid has caught and maybe he pulls the wings off for sport, maybe not, if he feels like it. The sea can make you feel like that. You know I don't believe in God, but that day I felt like some toy, and the gods were playing with me, at the end of that hose.
Not much of a story, and I can't tell it right, not in English anyway. There are some other stories I could tell you, but most of them on the land. But I remember that day, and that damn big dog's tail, and so I tell you so you know too.
14th of Febuary 1962
It was another hot day today. Don was horrible to me at the club. Reg threw a guy out because he tried to grab me. And the guy hurt himself and cut the top of his mouth open and Don said it was my fault for dancing too close to the guy. He said you could see he was practickly parilitic, and he grabbed me, but he didn't even touch me, and Reg grabbed him and just about threw him down the stairs, and then the guy hit a parking meter or something with his face and Don says he'll sue him. Don hit me on the face, I wish he wouldn't, because sometimes I get bruises and then I have to put a lot of makeup on, and it hurts. I wish Don wouldn't hurt me all the time. Some times I think he doesn't like me. I wish we could go down to Busselton again, that was beaut. Tomorrow I have to go into town.
and we go into the garden Mummy's got her pretty dress on the really pretty one with the pink embroidered flowers she holds my hand and smells all soapy and we go over the little rustic bridge over the purling brook and Mummy goes to the espaliered rose the really bright pink one and cuts six long-stemmed roses and she cuts all the thorns off and puts them into her long wicker basket and we sit at the rustic table in the arbour and I help Mummy to unpack the picnic lunch and there are little pink cakes with sponge inside and hundreds and thousands on top and asparagus rolls and clouds come over and the sky goes all of a sudden black
Dear Sis, Not much to report this week. How are you and Mum and Dad? Actually we've just started school again. I'm doing Biology after all. I can't afford all the books right now, but I hope to able to get some more after I get paid next week. The Curnows have actually put the rates up a bit, so my rent won't cost anything, if you see what I mean. I mean, I'm going to get another 30/- a week, and that's how much my rent is now. I'm sorry this letter is a bit of a mess but Ron keeps interrupting. He thinks he's so smart. He gives me the creeps. He's writing some poetry stuff, and he keeps reading bits of it out. He never does any work. He doesn't realise how lucky he is to be going to Uni. When I get there I'm going to work quite regularly. But of course I'll be doing Engineering, not Arts. They don't have to work. Well, I want to do a bit more before I turn in, and I know this is only one page, but really there isn't much to tell this week, because I didn't go out or anything and the Lambretta's going all right, so I'll sign off now, with love to Mum and Dad.
Your loving brother, Peter
P.S. Ron's going out, so I'll be able to really do some work now.
Sea viridian. Spots of aquamarine in the pine on the left. Indigo to bring out the curved shapes on the right, pointed with Chinese white. Dunno, dunno, dunno, dunno. How does it go, how does it go? What's the point, the paint, the point? Slivers of bark sienna.
Dear Sis, Sorry to hear about the fire on the Murdochs' place. I suppose they'll get insurance for the shed, but it's a nuisance having to build it again, and I suppose they'll have one less tractor now. But wasn't it lucky the wind dropped and it stopped at our firebreak. I wish I'd been there. Mum and Dad must've been real worried.
I've had some troubles too. The Lambretta broke down again. It was only a clutch cable this time, but it meant that I missed a day of school and had to catch up again with it all. And bloody Ron—excuse me—had to go and ruin one of my best shirts. For some reason he decided to do my ironing for me and made a great big hole in it. I suppose he was trying to be helpful, although I wonder. So anyway now I have to wash one of the others during the week, because they're the ones I teach in. Gee I was mad. But what can you do? Ron hasn't got any money either. But I will have to buy another one sometime.
Well, I'd better do some more work before I go to sleep. Lots of love and to M and D.
P.S. Georgina gave me 8/10 for an English story this week. Maybe I should be a writer, ha ha. Hope you're going all right at school. P.
18th of Febuary 1962
I think Don really doesn't like me. Last night which was pay night Don didn't have enough cash and he left me £2 short and he said that was near enough. And anyway he's real friendly with Patty and he likes to speak to her and he speaks nicely and says why doesn't she go to Rottnest on the yacht. He hasn't taken me on the yacht for ages and Patty's married, but I wonder. O what will I do if Don doesn't love me any more. He made me wait for 1/2hr last night while he was drinking with Bruce, and he didn't even kiss me goodnight at all. O please Holy Mary Mother of God make Don not stop loving me. I'd kill myself if he doesn't.
I'm in the greenhouse at Grandma's place but Mummy's there and we're having tea and it's really a conservatory with lots of potted ferns and scones and jam and cream Mummy says have your Devon tea dear and I'm allowed to have as much cream and then Daddy comes home from work and in his pocket is a present for me and it's wrapped up in gold paper with a pink ribbon I unwrap it and it's a little wooden jewellery box lined with green felt and Daddy kisses me on the cheek and his whiskers tickle I love him very very much and we all go home to bed
Series about inside and outside. A window with one-way glass—a mirror—in one pane and the other open and you're looking through and see inside in one pane and outside in the other. You can't tell from the window frame whether you're looking from outside or inside. Seems right for me. I'm ready for it. Maybe I'll find out which is which myself. Like when I was staring out the front today and finally imagined I was looking in. It doesn't really matter which. It only matters what you see. And the shadows on the wall when the leaves were different distances away so that the shadows were different shades of grey, and it looked like you were looking through the wall into this grey environment with grey leaves shaking gently. Why am I writing this? It's like talking to yourself. First signs.
Statement by Jeremy Winslow-Huntley
I've heard there may be attempts to misrepresent me. I want to represent myself: I demand to be heard. Carot is, frankly, just a storyteller. I demand equal air time, page space.
The name my late Mother gave me was Jeremy: a dead giveaway. I've come to see the importance of names: one's whole character predicted at one's baptism. Now what do you hear ringing in mine? A faint peal of the bells of Cheltenham, or Harrow? Well, transpose that into the key of Guildford Grammar School, Western Australia, and you have the genuine neo-colonial overtone, and the sound of me as well!
Take these ingredients: a Mother with Jeremy pretensions, a boarding school full of other Jeremies, mix with a culture spread thinly on a coastal sandplain, season and let stand for a quarter-century, set in a yacht club mould, and serve lukewarm.
Why do I speak so slightly of myself? I wish to tell the truth before Carot tells worse. Also: everyone dislikes aspects of himself. In my case they are manifold. But that doesn't mean I write myself off; Carot will try to do that. In fact I might as well admit that this statement is an attempt to come clean, balance the books, turn over a new leaf. By the time Carot strikes, the iron will have frozen.
Some other facts, then. You'll want to know my socio-economic status, what effect the War had on me, whether I read Enid Blyton or Capt. W. E. Johns, if you want to get a clear idea of me, unlike the slanted suppositions of my colleague Carot.
My father, for example, was in business. He made money make money. Or, to put it another way, he was the kind of businessman who manages to keep the river frontage and Customline when he is declared bankrupt.
I think my mother would have been the power behind the throne, had my father not stowed his throne and left the glasshouse. Our lives became transparent. My mother was exposed as an ambitious woman without trade or profession. She bent her talents to being maintained, being social, being a Parent. I was exposed as mother's boy.
I remember from an early age, from the time my progenitor folded his tent, feeling that I had a choice, either be ruthless like my father, tread on faces and make a pile, or be mothered by my remaining parent and be creative. I was a perfectly balanced personality, so I've never made that choice. But although I tread ruthlessly on faces in the most creative of ways, I've never made a pile. And dear departed Dad tried to leave all of his to one of his other families, leaving Mother barely enough for the rates and the school fees and a new creation for each Perth Cup.
I've never understood why Mother wanted me to be a boarder from such an early age. I can only speak about my own motives; but I would have thought she'd've wanted to keep me by her to protect me from the thousand shocks my pubescent flesh received. Either she was overcompensating for her impulse to protect, or maybe she was pretty ruthless too. Memory is selective. I remember only the closeness; something more like a love affair than perhaps any relationship since.
My schooldays—Carot would have to make that up: I led an obscure and tedious life. I was in the Choir of course (one for Mother), but also played in the 3rd XV (one for Father). I did actually tread on a face once, but pulled my foot quickly off. And I was once caned. It was an injustice of course, and even now it fills me with a strong, strange mix of feelings: towering rage and fearful submission. The master had taken another boy out during the period (though they usually left it till the end) to give him what must have been about the six best he ever gave in his life, because when the boy came back he was in such obvious pain that my face twisted in involuntary sympathy. (I was up front as usual.) The master assumed a more honourable motive, and I got a couple for luck. That's stayed with me since as one measure, one unit, of pain. I had a migraine once: that's another.
Girls were hard to come by out at Guildford, and my friends from that time are all accountants and lawyer and back on the farm. I did Arts. I'd seen enough of schools, so finished up in the A.B.C. I rent a room in this house, and Gee is a friend from the theatre. I have the front room bottom. It's convenient to the door and away from the kitchen and the libidinous Swede upstairs. I am neither a waif nor a stray.
I think I should say one thing more. l believe Carot to be a deeply disturbed person. His relationship with Georgina is clearly a mother obsession. He may be overcompensating for his homosexual tendency. After all, he shares a room with that good-looking Irishman.
Oh I've lived in worse places than this. I mean, we don't even have cockroaches, or not more than one or two. The place where I lived before Gee took me in, well... you could get hepatitis from your Weeties. I lived in this cellar in a really old house. It was probably dug by convicts. My room had two walls of natural limestone, and you had to go through another room to get to it, and that one opened off the kitchen. It was like the catacombs. There wasn't any natural light in my room at all, so I had to paint out in the backyard, and that was about two foot square. I used to prop the stretcher against the dunny, believe it or not.
I was painting basically the colourist stuff I'm doing now. Oh you haven't actually seen any of my work have you? I'm interested in the way colours work together, like Ivon Hitchens, you know? Anyway, my room here's really good. I get a lot of southern light, and the walls are something like white, and it's upstairs for god's sake, I mean who heard of a house with rooms upstairs in this town... Well, there were stairs in my last house, but they went down, not up, if you see what I mean.
Yes, I've always lived in the city. Except for the school holidays, when I used to go to my uncle and aunt's farm. No, you wouldn't have heard of it. It's way out on the edge of the northeastern wheatbelt where they don't move their mouths when they speak. You ever been up that way? It's the real Australia, my real Australia anyway. They don't ride around in jodhpurs on thoroughbred horses—they don't even have thoroughbred tractors—but it sure is the wide, brown land out there. When I was living in Athens I kept finding myself thinking about the openness, the space... That's pretty silly, isn't it: I mean there's all these people in Australia thinking about going to Greece all the time, and there's me over there feeling nostalgic for a whole lot of nothingness.
We used to do the same sort of things that kids do anywhere. Except that we used to pretend to help with the work. Or I did anyway. My cousin used to really get a bit done, even though he was always a year younger, but he was a boy. But I remember I use to even like being woken up before the crack of bloody dawn and having our Corn Flakes by lamplight. Well, no, that's a lie. By the time I used to go out with the men they did have a generator. Anyway there's something about being out and about at dawn that you don't get in a city. You ought to hear a maggie carolling when you can still see stars and you can already feel it's going to be a hot day.
The holidays come at busy times of the year, the May and Xmas ones anyway, seeding and harvesting, so they have to get up early to get the crop in or get it off. Sometimes the men work an eighteen or twenty hour day. I used to ride around on the back of the seeder, and make sure all the little spouts kept the seed and super running and mix it all up in the boxes. The only other job at seeding time, apart from actually driving the tractor—which I did have a go at once, but that's another story—is to put the grain and super into the boxes on the machine before each round of the paddock. Dave, my cousin, used to put the half bags into quarter bags for me, but even then I could hardly carry them. He could throw a half bag around of course. It was great on the back of the machine. There were these platforms that you could walk up and down on and try to keep out of the way of some of the dust. It would have been terrific fun for a kid all the time but for the dust, you know, having this ride and being grownup and responsible as well.
When we didn't go out to the paddock we could play around near the house, cubbies and stuff. I used to play husbands and wives with my other cousin. Once we played in this old car—I mean it was really old—it was an Essex, and we pretended to be leaving and coming home and going out together, and each time we kissed goodbye and hello. My lips nearly fell off after an afternoon of it. They were really sore. And we made elaborate cubbies under some trees behind the machinery shed, with kitchens and lounge rooms and even a toilet.
But the best thing I ever did at the farm was when I was a bit older. There was this last paddock that was the furthest from the house, and the farm was the last one out in that direction, and when you came to the edge of this paddock you came to the edge of the world. It was actually this great big salt lake that went on and on, for hundreds of miles I think, but it seemed to me then that it was all there was, that it was the Great Australian Desert, and if you kept going across it you would eventually come to the Pacific Ocean, but no-one had ever done it. I'd lie on the ground at the edge of it, and look at all the nothing, and the colour of nothing...
No, I've never painted it. You can't paint nothingness, or I can't anyway. I suppose you could say though that it's what's between the colours in my paintings—but you can't actually set out to paint no-space. Well, I have tried to get that edge of the paddock, and the lake, but I don't know, the canvas is never big enough or something. Maybe the only way to get it, or a bit of the feeling of it, would be to make one of those—what do they call them?—aeolian harps, I think, where you hang this thing up in a tree, and the wind blows though it and it makes a quiet sort of singing noise. You know, the sound of one string singing. That might do it. You can't do it in paint, though.
I've got to find somewhere else to live. Gee's closing down this house. The landlord has doubled the rent, well more than doubled it actually. I think he wants the place back to use it for something. Probably sell it, I suppose, and make a fortune. So putting the rent right up is one way of getting us out.
But there's another reason too. I think Gee has had enough of running this place. You know, collecting the rent, keeping the place clean, making sure someone puts out the rubbish. Actually there's a bit more to it than that. I think she's going to get married. You'd think I'd know wouldn't you, after all this time. But I just have a feeling. There's this really daggy guy that's been in and out a bit, and I think something's going on. She hasn't told me, or anyone else as far as I know. Well, I know where she's going to live. It's over near the Tech. And she hasn't said she's going to live with the bloke. But I have a feeling it's pretty serious. Funny that she doesn't make a big thing of it, invite us all to the wedding or something, or at least have a big farewell party. But I guess it hasn't been that kind of house. I don't really know very much about any of the people who live here. Even Carot, and I share a room with him. But he's such a phony, you never know where you are with him. Not that I want to. I'll be glad to see the back of him. He's moving out tomorrow. He's the first to go. No-one will be sorry, especially me. I'll have my room back at last, though not for long.
When you think about it, it is funny to live with all these people for months and months, and not get close to them, or even feel very much about them at all. Even when Teresa tried, I mean when she got very sick once, we looked after her, but nobody cared much. And we had a party for Gee's birthday, and no-one had a good time. Oh well, chalk it up to experience, I suppose. It even makes me think sometimes I should have stayed on the farm, and you know what I think about that. But country people are so much realer, aren't they?
Well, I'd better get on with this essay I suppose.
P.S. I'll send you my new address as soon as I know where I'm going to be.
we live in this big castle and Mummy and Daddy and all my uncles and aunts there's a conservatory and a swimming-pool and in the attic there's a secret door that you press and there's a staircase down to the cellar and you can go down there and out through the passage into the garden And in the big kitchen the cook's making raspberry shortcake and I can lick the bowl and she says Have a taste Georgie when it comes hot out of the oven And in the stables it's all warm and horsey and I can hide up in the loft and nobody knows where I am But I like playing in the attic where I have all my dolls and they live in a big castle with turrets and battlements and there's a secret door in the attic where they can escape But now I'm in my bed and it's light and my back aches and I'm back in this bloody house and I can't
The pink in the water this arvo down at the Boat Harbour reminded me suddenly of Wave Rock. Perhaps because I paint colours work for me like smells for others. Subliminally? Must look it up. The colour reminded me of the whole thing. It's a weird unpleasant memory and I wish it wouldn't sneak up like that. I'll write it down here and perhaps that'll sort of get rid of it, or frame it anyway.
I suppose it started building up, and maybe we all should have noticed and tried to do something about it, when we got onto that dirt road to the Rock, and Donald didn't want to keep going in case he got bogged. But his car, the Rover, was nearly new. We could've gone back and found a better road—it turned out there was one—but Terry just started screaming at Donald that he was a gutless wonder, that we'd driven three hundred bloody miles to get to the bloody Rock and do the installation, that Donald was another example of alienated Western man, that he was in love with a heap of ferrous metal, and so on. He was working himself up, making himself get more hysterical, as though he'd given himself permission, that day, to really express his feelings to the nth degree, or as though he were under an evil spell or something. Anyway, he got his way. Josie and I and Terry got out of the car in case we had to push, and it looked like Terry was right really, because the car sailed over the sand like it was bitumen for about half a mile with Terry screaming at Donald to stop, that it was OK. It's lucky we had to walk a fair way to the car so that it wore Terry down a bit. He might have punched Donald otherwise.
Well the Wave was pretty magical, despite 'Foo was here', and the empty beer cans and so forth: a giant frozen wave—like a huge melting block of ice-cream that had been refrozen.
After we'd eaten, Terry dragged Josie off to start work on the installation. She would have preferred to finish off the wine with Donald and me. I dunno why she stayed with Terry for as long as she did. He's so hot and crazy and she's so unfeeling, so cold. She draws like a biologist.
I may as well write down what the installation was about because no-one made a record of it after what happened. A happening is what it was, all right. In fact, it only just occurred to me as I was writing this that it's possible that Terry was planning something like that all along—not just a static sculptured space, but a dynamic event. Well, I can't ask him now.
So. Wave Rock runs around in a curve, and it's obviously a highly numinous place, even for us whites, and must have been a really sacred place before we came. Terry wanted to mark it out as a sacred site, but in terms that Westerners would understand. This involved marking out rays from points on the curve, taking it as a circumference, leading to what would be the centre of the circle. He'd been telling us on the way down that Western man could best understand visual messages if they made some reference to Euclidean geometry. Also, that it was a question of finding natural centres, something we'd all lost any sense of. And he wanted to combine this with the Aboriginal thing by using all found materials. So the trees had to be marked with clay and the centre had to be a circle of stones. The clay was the best thing about the project. The point was that if it weren't maintained, if someone didn't go back every year or whatever and remake the marks, they would just disappear, so it demanded some commitment and continuity from a group of people—a sort of tribe of the Rock totem. I thought the idea was terrific—I still do, even now.
Well, by the time Donald and I were ready for action, Josie and Terry had the clay prepared and we could all start. The technology was pretty crude. The four of simply started at different points at the face of the Rock, aimed at where we thought the centre ought to be, and then walked through the bush marking the trees every so often at head height. The idea was that we would hope to converge on the same spot. I didn't think there was much chance of it, and Donald thought it was a pretty silly plan, although he didn't tell Terry that. But then Donald's used to designing and working in wood where you've got to be a bit more precise than just hope. But the funny thing was that we did all come out together, and could look back along the lines and see that they were straight, so nobody stacked the deck.
But that was only a bit of it. The really funny thing was that it was a real place. There was a clearing in the bush, and there was this big stone which was pretty well circular. It couldn't have been put there. It was too big, and it sort of bulged out of the earth a bit, so it was probably just the very top of a whole lot of rock. It was flat on top and bare. We were all knocked out by it, especially Terry, and I guess it was when he saw what we'd found that he gave himself permission to go the rest of the way, although we only gradually realised.
It was hot and we were out in the bush and pretty close so we were only wearing bits and pieces, and we didn't think it all that odd when Terry took off his shorts. But then he got more and more peculiar. We were all bringing stones to mark out the centre of the circle on the top of the big rock, and Terry was doing it in this jerky rhythm and making sort of didgeridoo noises. Donald tried to make a joke out of it, but Terry paid no attention and just kept chanting and hopping. But then we'd finished the work, and things really started happening.
Looking back, I think I can understand Terry's confusion a bit. There was the long drive, his obsession about getting there, drinking booze in the heat, and then the power of the site. He must have got mixed up in his mind a whole of things about Aboriginals and American Indians and even the Druids maybe. Anyway, what he did was grab Josie and proceed to rape her in the middle of the stone circle. Perhaps rape isn't the right word. She didn't put up much resistance at first, and she is a bit kinky, and it's not the only time she's been part of a show for friends. But she was pretty uncomfortable on the hot rock, and Terry looked right out of it, although Donald and I sort of tried not to look. Terry was muttering gibberish and we were hanging around for a signal for help from Josie. But it was over in what seemed like a few seconds, and then Terry was coming for me.
When I saw his face I was terrified, but I wasn't about to be some kind of human sacrifice. I tried to fend him off, but he seemed amazingly strong, like in those funny old nineteenth-century stories when the madman has the strength of ten men. It really was as if he had been possessed by some spirit of the place, if there really is such a thing. I screamed, and mild-mannered Donald sprang to the rescue, but it was only luck that it was Terry who got his head cracked open on the rock. ...
Terry's overseas now, among the green and pleasant hills of Mother England, and maybe he's settled down, but I still wouldn't want to do the Stonehenge trip with him. I'm pretty sure neither Donald nor Josie has been back to the Rock again, and so the marks of man would have disappeared by now, the clay, and Terry's blood on the altar stone. But I suppose there are still empty beer cans, and John loves Mary, and Foo was here.
The end was nigh. And Princess Georgina did summon all the goblins and elves in her kingdom (or queendom) and solemnly and one by one did give them their marching orders. And there was sorrow throughout the land for the end of all that was good and holy. And the knights and ladies did prepare their palanquins and lances for the sad progress out of the Happy Kingdom. Good Sir Jeremy mounted his fair white steed (though not more than once a night) with a heavy heart, but bravely prepared for his ordeals and trials along the way to the Silver City where he aspired to seek the Grail (or at least a salaried job producing kids shows for Aunty). The Noble Norseman and his freckled (and very fat) lady readied themselves for the Vigil of the Lying In, where she must suffer travail for three days or three nights (depending on how busy the obstetrician is that week). Lady Isabel struck her tapestry asunder (another bloody awful painting anyway) as she wept for the End of Art. Fair Teresa climbed the manifold steps of the Awful Tower where she was doomed to remain for eternity (or until the boys in the white coats decide it's safe to let her out). Squire Peter must now sequester himself in some cave for shelter, now his Lady Protectoress has given up her power. (Now he'll have to get his Leaving by himself.) And the dauntless Sir Ron, well he was bloody glad to be pissing off out of this madhouse.
Yes, it's all over, boys and girls, our revels, such as they were, are ended. The Head Actress has played her last part on this particular small stage, and she's about to break her distaff and bury it, probably in some other poor bastard's heart. To think that I ... Well, let me put it this way.
Once upon a time, there was a naive young bloke who had read far too many books. One of the stories he liked, for example, was about these kids who could climb this beaut tree, at the top of which they could really get out of it. And they had this fantastic slide, with cushions provided, to slide right down the inside of the tree when they had to go back to reality, because it was teatime, probably. It was a pity about the goblins and other crap in the story, but the tree was terrific.
Another story he liked was about this pilot who could go to sleep just when he wanted to, because he had such amazing will-power. And he landed his plane on this bouncy thin skin just covering this swamp, because he could fly it so precisely. But the bad German had no finesse, he was so bent on conquering the world, and he disappeared into the slop.
And there were other stories too, about brave knights who dedicated their lives to the service of fair ladies, and went around doing Brave Deeds to prove they were good enough to kiss the hems of their garments, or something. Well, those guys were a bunch of wankers, because obviously they were too busy killing dragons and giants to actually make it with the ladies, who were up in high towers anyway, etc. etc.
Anyway, the point of all this is that our naive young friend believed in Love, just like he used to believe in Jesus, when he wouldn't swear in case Jesus was listening, even if no-one else was. He'd given up on God, but he hadn't given up on Love yet, and then he met this fair lady, and the only justification he could give for wanting to get into her pants was to Propose Marriage. So he did. Sad turn of events.
I can't do the scene for you. Too much for mortal humans. And Mills & Boon wouldn't approve. We'll just draw a veil over the whole painful business. Where was I? Oh yes. The Princess was preparing her palanquin, wasn't she, and upping and offing for pastures greener. So she will. So will I. So will we all. And the whole bloody lot can go and get fucked.
This is a unsuccessful piece of 'experimental' writing.
I think it's prolly incomprehensible without notes, so here's an explanation of what I was trying to do.
There are seven personae here, who share a house which is rented and organised by Georgina (Gee).
Each character speaks/writes/thinks in a different style, as follows:
Ron Carot is the linking 'narrator' (for want of a real one) and is a wannabe writer; he writes as 'art.'
Christian, from Sweden, writes as an exercise in improving his English.
Teresa writes diary entries about her troubled life.
Gee has hypnagogic compensatory fantasies, unspoken, 'unwritten'.
Peter writes letters to his sister in Mukinbudin.
Isabel, an artist, writes painting notes, and one turns into a record of 'events'. That section - The Rock - also attempted to establish an existence as a separate story, but has never been published, like Waifs and Strays itself. Isabel's conversation is recorded as verbatim 'speech' (the farm material). So two different styles are associated with this character.
Jeremy makes a 'statement'.
Garry Gillard | New: 26 October, 2011 (I started writing this not later than 1983) | Now: 24 November, 2015