a life creative
By Cameron Hindrum
In October 2010 my family and I packed up our small Viscount caravan and set off on a 4-month driving holiday on the mainland. We had no real plans about which direction to take once we drove off the ferry in Melbourne, but we wanted to ‘go bush’ and avoid caravan parks as much as possible. Not long before we left I had a birthday and was given a lovely handmade journal in which I decided I would capture different aspects of our travels in verse snapshots. When I was asked to contribute to this blog I decided it was time to trawl back through my notes and give some of them the beginnings of a shape, refine their memory. The results are below, with explanations for each poem as necessary.
It seems appropriate to begin with a poem I wrote while on the ferry on the overnight sailing to Melbourne. One of the corollaries of living on an island, it occurs to me, is the act of leaving. Perhaps, somewhat ironically, an island-based existence is only complete when there are periods of absence from it. The dichotomy of isolation and connection is one of my fascinations with living in Tasmania; in reality, we are no more than an hour away from Melbourne by air, yet as an island we retain qualities—of landscape, of myth, of creativity—that are unique and deep-seated, and that can be only informed by our lack of physical connection. I was reminded of this on this trip away, and also on an earlier (and longer) one my wife and I did prior to the arrival of our children. Australia is a fascinating place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Leaving an Island
Outside, now, it is dark: and the window
captures shadow only, the day gone
and nothing in its place but noise:
the violent wind.
Land has long since faded
lost all colour and diminished
drawn back into juncture
of sky and water
in turbulent darkness,
shapes of absence
all territory dissolved.
For now, in this gently rolling moment
there is only water, the cushion
of tragedy and escape.
Centuries of men in pursuit
have thrown themselves against it:
exalted martyrs, many of them;
heroes and cowards alike.
The sea after all is an endless thing
the only way to exile:
a cradling comfort for those who sit
waiting for the void to evolve
into shapes again: waiting
We spent our first nights camped in the bush not far from the Victorian town of Creswick, at a spot called Slaty Creek. I wrote in my journal that in the mornings it was like stepping out of the van into a Tom Roberts painting; the landscape was dense with eucalypts, stringybarks and ghost gums, crisp with the clean air of Spring and silence. Creswick is not far from Ballarat and the following poem emerged after a trip to Sovereign Hill, and a short film I saw which articulated the dangers of early life on the goldfields.
They reached in, they grabbed at him
they strained against his fate
they kept his face turned up towards them
while the water whispered
against his skin, rising, rising.
Their fingers curled against him, tight
they heaved with metallic strength
against the pull of the clay, they heaved
because his eyes screamed at them, to pull—pull—
but his boots were solid in the clay, trapped
by the weight of the earth; his boots, the cost
of a good day’s digging, his wealth forgotten
in the clench of his jaw, stroked
by the water, his fingers open like claws, reaching
for them, on their knees, with the sun
on their backs, their own boots caked
with clay, and grey with dust.
They still hold his hands, when his hands
Are all they can see.
I was really affected by some of the stories of tragedies in the area; one of them, which actually happened not far from Creswick, is the subject of an underground sound and light show, one of three now operating at Sovereign Hill. In the 1880s a mine flooded trapping about 30 men 800 metres or so underground in an air pocket. 23 of them died and seven were rescued and when their possessions were found one of the dead men had written on his water tin: ‘We are all Happy.’
We ventured close enough to Melbourne to spend a day or two in the city and my son and I went to the Old Melbourne Gaol, where we witnessed a play which told the life story of Ned Kelly, performed in the alcove of the goal where he was hanged.
An apology to Ned Kelly
This is to say
that I’m sorry, Ned;
I ate cheese sandwiches
for lunch, at the spot
where you died.
And you probably won’t be happy to know
That they’ve cut your life back
to about forty minutes
fake beards and bad wigs
hammy Irish accents
and, with the help of some
German backpacker picked from the audience
they shoot Fitzpatrick
in the hand
with a plastic gun.
Otherwise, they’ve kept all the old clichés.
Mind you die like a Kelly, and all that.
Your death mask, though
has its own clear box
and a halo of light.
Worship, I suppose,
takes many forms.
We drove up through Wangaratta (where we enjoyed their annual jazz festival in pouring rain) and Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Dubbo and so on until just north of Tamworth we hooked right and headed for the coast, our first view of the ocean in about 40 days. We drove into Coffs Harbour and spent a few nights just north, at a caravan park (one of the few times we stayed in one) at Woolgoolga. Our site was about twenty metres from the beach, and even though it was raining when we arrived, we couldn’t resist feeling the sand under our feet.
On the beach in the rain at Woolgoolga
pacing out words
in the sand
with the landscape
receding in shades
of grey, into the clouds
I marched through mist,
parallel to the horizon
From Woolgoolga we continued north, through Grafton, Maclean, Byron Bay and into Queensland. The longest single stay of our trip was on Inskip Point, near the town of Rainbow Beach, popular as the southern access point to Fraser Island. We moved on from here as it was approaching Christmas and hordes were expected to descend, so we continued north, finding ourselves in Bargara for Christmas. Bargara is 11 km east of Bundaberg.
Bundaberg, Boxing Day 2010
We are stopped in a line
of patient traffic, of people
with cameras or standing
waiting, watching the still water.
We cannot go where there is no road.
This is the river, the slow Burnett
Creeping into shops and playgrounds
Testing the integrity
Of sandbag barriers
Swollen with rainfall headlines;
And while we watch it patiently,
While we wait to turn around
And find a road not claimed
We smile wryly, at the young blokes
Waterskiing across the sports field
Not letting nature
Have the last word.
Bundaberg was as far north as we travelled; we headed south and were trapped for a few days by more flooding at a truckstop called Ban Ban Springs. Eventually we made it to Warwick, on the Darling Downs, where I’ll conclude this account of our journey. We arrived there on New Year’s Eve and camped in a paddock next to the Sandy Creek Hotel, about ten minutes out of town. The pub was celebrating New Year’s with a band and general revelry, and not long after we pulled up the locals started arriving. It didn’t take long for this poem to occur to me.
At every sunset here the violence of noise erupts
As the sulphur-crested cockies arrive—
Although at times it’s as if they’ve never left—
And they make their wall of sound, a million
competing syllables and screeches, marking
of territory, advertising of presence, their dominion
a kingdom of aural chaos.
At the same time, the other birds arrive
In utes and 4 wheel drives, dolled up and quiet—
Their choir will sing later, joining in with the band
Swaying with the small crowd
on the sticky carpet
head smooth with
too many Bacardi Breezers
and a day off to recover
and to think about why
they keep landing on the same tree,
night after night.