Tag Archives: memories

Pathways you’d forgotten existed

Picture of library shelvesThe brain is a wonderful thing. I imagine it as a library, with all the recent chronicles up the front, in the reading room with the electronic equipment and bright lights. But as you walk along between the shelves that mark the years the shadows deepen, sounds become hushed, the smooth, stone floor disintegrates into a rocky path, and cobwebs and dust obstruct your path. Maybe you’ll end up in a vault, lit only by flickering candles where the darkness dances to the movement of your passing. The very air is old, filled with the distinctive smell of words written years ago, when they were in the reading room. But life moves on, and now they’re left to moulder in the dark. It’s not a path most people often travel, down into that memory vault. But sometimes, just sometimes…

You know that quiet time in the morning when your mind wakes up but you’re not ready to get up, so you lie there with your eyes closed and drift? And your brain wanders off on pathways you’d forgotten existed, down between those stacks of shelves, deep into the vault where time has all but obliterated any traces that a path ever existed.

A face comes up, with no name attached. A guy from the past. Who was he? Oh yes. A guy I met at dancing. He came from a Catholic family. He had eleven or twelve siblings, most of them brothers. I went to his house once, for dinner. The parents had a picture of Jesus hung on the lounge room wall, one of those rather grisly images, with a heart. We attended a wedding together, too. His brother married the daughter of a Methodist minister. That was fascinating. Being Methodist, the reception was alcohol-free. And fun free, too, as far as I could tell, at least on the Methodist side of the hall. Po-faced people seated at the Methodist tables scowled at the Catholics over their orange juice. We’d smuggled in Vodka to lace the OJ, and we danced and laughed and had fun.

We didn’t go out for long, just a few weeks. He was a nice guy, but not really my type. I’m not into religion.

My mind pushes on, shoving aside tangled vines until it fixes on a memory. Dancing, where I’d met whatsisname. That was proper dancing, foxtrots and modern waltz, cha-cha and jive. Gilkison’s dance studio ran a dance every Saturday night. It wasn’t formal, people came to dance. If you didn’t know how, someone would teach you. I went often, sometimes straight after playing hockey on Saturday afternoon. I had energy then. I’d catch a bus into town, on my own, and I’d catch a bus home, on my own, then walk from the stop to the house at eleven. Unless I took a lift with somebody.

Remember the cold feet, my mind whispers? I wiggle my toes in response. Yes. After all that activity, when I stopped moving and if it was a cold night, my feet would feel like ice blocks. I’d wash off the makeup, crawl into bed and wait to go to sleep. But I couldn’t, because of the frozen feet. We didn’t have electric blankets in those days. Eventually, I’d crawl out of bed again and run hot water over my feet in the bathroom, praying that I wouldn’t disturb my mother, sleeping in the next room.

And now I’m up, writing it all down. What sort of memories do you dredge up at those quiet times? I think this is fun, and interesting. If you’d care to share, take a trip down a pathway you’d forgotten existed, and write what you found in your own blog, and leave a link to the article in a comment here. I’ll certainly come and visit you, and leave a comment.

Oh, and thanks for calling. I appreciate it.

Heading for the hills

Back in the car again we head for the hills. Literally. Perth is hemmed in to the west by the Indian Ocean and to the east, the Darling Range, an escarpment which rises abruptly, if not very high. We aim to stay a night in Albany on the south west coast, cutting off the bottom corner of Western Australia with its tall stands of temperate forests, boutique wineries, wild surfing beaches and spectacular limestone caves. I have fond memories of those places, but I’ve been there many times and this is, after all, a whip around Australia.

Canola in the foreground and behind grazing sheep

Canola in the foreground and behind grazing sheep

The landscape changes quickly, replacing the coastal sand dunes and limestone with gravel and rounded granite outcrops. Taller eucalypts form dense forests. This is the home of jarrah, a beautiful, fine-grained hard wood found nowhere else in the world. It’s heavy wood that when cut almost glows with the deep red of dying embers. When I was a kid the timber was used for fruit boxes and fences – and at our place, speargun handles, the shape roughly sawn and then carefully sanded by my older brother. Now, the trees are protected from logging but they are under threat from the soil born fungus phytophthora cinnamomi.

I spent many a happy hour in those forests. The climate here is mediterranean, with almost all the rain falling in winter. In summer the bush endures intense heat and rainless months. The trees shut down, leathery leaves hanging from branches, conserving precious moisture. It’s a time of survival where even the locals don’t budge until nightfall. But in winter, the hollows in the hills fill, the many streams begin to flow, and the run-off feeds the dams that supply water to Perth. It’s a magical time for children. While my father collected fallen timber to take home to burn, my brother and I would explore the streams gurgling through rocky beds softened by bright green moss brought to life by the rain. If we were lucky, we’d find rapids where the water chuckled and clattered over stones smoothed over centuries, or a deep, silent, shadowed pool. If we were even luckier Mum would have brought sausages, which we’d cook over an open fire and eat in a slice of bread. With billy tea, of course.

Albany from Google Earth

Albany from Google Earth

The forests give way to farmland, wide hectares of canola and short, arid-tolerant wheat interspersed with sheep and cattle. Sometimes we find a small town, almost always next to a river. The road is good, and despite the increasing showers, we reach Albany by lunchtime.

It’s a pretty little place with a spectacular natural harbour formed by low granite hills. Two islands in the outer harbour (King George Sound) protect the town from the pounding gales of the southern Indian ocean. I note with interest that the narrow passage into the harbour is called Ataturk Entrance. The reference is historical. Troop carriers loaded with Australian soldiers left for WW1 in 1914 from this port, for many their last glimpse of home. Those soldiers went to Egypt to train for the campaign against the Turks at Gallipoli – where the Turkish army was led by Kemal Ataturk. The name was given in 1985 as part of a reciprocal arrangement with Turkey to honour the dead on both sides of that pointless conflict. Nice.

Granite rocks line the edges of Albany Harbour

Granite rocks line the edges of Albany Harbour

The weather still threatens but the breaks in the clouds allow for some great photo opportunities, the water silvered by sunlight. In the distance, ocean rollers crash against the outer islands. The seas are rough, and rich.

The sun, shining through breaks in the clouds, silvers the water

The sun, shining through breaks in the clouds, silvers the water

Whaling was a major industry here, and indeed, was a reason the area was colonised. It’s sobering to learn that the last whale was taken as late as 1978. Now, whale watching has replaced whale hunting but I can do that in the warm, calm waters of Hervey Bay at home. There’s a whaling information exhibit where they used to process the whales, along with the last whale chaser, Cheynes II.

Rather than risk getting wet trying to find a place for dinner, we book into a motel with a restaurant. Dinner proves to be less than a foodie’s delight. It can sometimes be hard to get as many vegetables as we’d like when travelling, so we order the soup of the day, which we are told is minestrone. Except it is shredded chicken and mashed vegetable. We eat it, but point out the error to the wait person, who explains that he simply told us what the chef had written down. Uh-huh. For main course I order the chicken caesar salad, correctly described in the menu. But the kitchen used iceberg lettuce, not cos, and there is no chicken. Pete is unimpressed with his pork chops and even less impressed with the soggy vegetables and salad offered in the help yourself bar. I can’t help but feel that our complaints are seen as a nuisance more than anything else, although the cost of the soup is removed from the bill.

That’s one hotel crossed off the places to stay list. Never mind. Tomorrow night, we’ll be staying with friends.

The world has continued to turn

It’s always interesting returning to a place you knew very, very well. You have a picture in your head, a deep memory in glowing technicolour. The beach, sunset on the river, summer days, winter storms, road junctions, how to get to places. But it’s a moment in time, a photograph. Since you recorded those memories the world has continued to turn.

The coastal plain north of Perth

The coastal plain north of Perth

That’s how it is with me and Perth. I grew up there, lived there, worked there until I finally left in 1996 and haven’t been back since 2005. Even then, it had grown, creeping up and down the coastal plain between the Darling Ranges and the Indian Ocean. So we head out of Geraldton along the coast road, into increasingly familiar territory. Down there, the red sandstone gives way to limestone covered in bright white sand. Grass trees (black boys in my day – politically correct can be so inane) share the scrub with cycads and low, gnarled banksia trees. Spring is beginning and the yellows and purples of early flowering species brighten the drab grey-green of the tough Australian bush.

The ocean is as I remember it. Reefs and low islands line the coast, providing safe nesting sites for sea birds, rich grounds for fishermen – and a deadly snare for one Dutch ship. We drop into the small fishing village of Leeman for a comfort stop. There’s a story in that name – I’ll tell it to you later. But even here, the whisper of the approaching, encroaching city is in the air. Properties for sale for half a million? Out here? In the scrub?

We have fish and chips for lunch at Jurien Bay, sharing the last chips with the seagulls. Back home in Hervey Bay the ibises are the scavengers, but here the sea gulls hang around, awaiting their chance. A pile of chips disappears under a squawking, screeching flurry of grey and white wings. But only for a few seconds. The food gone, they disperse.

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

Fishing boats and a rocky islet

On to Lancelin and Two Rocks. Back when I was a girl, coming out here was a bone-shuddering odyssey through farm land to a deserted beach where the spear fishing was good. Not anymore. Suburbia has created a beach head. The freeway and the railway follow close behind, providing the logistical feed from the city by the Swan.

We swear a lot at the god-awful GPS in the car which seems to think we give a rats about what servos there may be near the freeway to the extent said information covers half the screen, with no findable option to turn the feature off. Because we want ROAD DIRECTIONS we resort to an old, printed map and sign-reading to avoid the city. We only just manage to avoid having a major, in-car war but sense prevails and we make the eastern suburbs without spilling blood on the car seats.  I’m coming down with a cold. What bliss. Being ill on the road isn’t nice, and I have no wish to share my germs with my relatives, who are in complete agreement.

Sunday is with us. I try hard to stay in bed and rest but I’m not sleeping and the antihistamines are masking the worst of my symptoms so we head on out. If I infect anybody, they won’t know it was me. The city to surf ‘fun run’ is on, so we avoid the city and King’s Park. I have to wonder why they’re called fun runs. This one claimed two lives. Anyway – off to Fremantle, Perth’s port.

Fishing boats against angry lightMy dad worked there when I was young, a grimy, sleepy, industrial port with some lovely old buildings nobody noticed. Then Alan Bond won the America’s Cup and Freo became all the rage. The old buildings were cleaned up, the markets became a Mecca, boutique breweries, quaint shopping precincts in quirky lanes, all kinds of restaurants rose up to support the pre-existing fish and chip shops at the fishing boat harbour. I wonder how much the years have changed her.

I’m pleased to see that Freo is all of those things, only more so. The city is packed with people enjoying the day, despite (or maybe because of) the threatening clouds on the Western horizon. We buy coffee at the fishing boat harbour, which now boasts sit-down venues with fancy fish tanks. Back in the day, you bought your chips wrapped in paper and took them back over the walkway to the park to eat them on the grass under the pine trees. They cost a lot less then, too.

We go and visit the Maritime Museum (what a surprise) and see the mortal remains of the Batavia’s hull on display with its ballast cargo, a portico destined for the fort at Batavia.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel's hull recovered from her resting place.

A model of the ship stands beside timbers from the real vessel’s hull recovered from her resting place.

And here I encounter an old friend, a skeleton I first saw when I was about ten, the victim of Jeronimus Cornelisz’s thugs. I recalled that long-ago meeting when I explained why I wrote To Die a Dry Death. I also think about my recent visit to the site of the tragedy, the Abrolhos Islands just off Geraldton. This man died far from the green fields of his home land.

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

The remains of one of the murder victims on the Abrolhos

We are too late to get on board the replica of the tiny yacht Duyfken but we can at least marvel at the size of the ship which had arrived on Australia’s northern shores from Amsterdam in 1606. Wow, those guys were tough.

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

The Duyfken (little dove), the first Dutch ship to visit Australia (1606)

And those threatening skies? They provide me with a perfect photo opportunity.

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