Monthly Archives: April 2008

And all the voices lost

In the middle of the morning I make my way alone to a place called Chinaman’s Pool, not far from where I am staying for the holiday.  About a hundred years ago, this permanent pool was the mainstay of the town’s water supply and Aboriginal people made money by carrying it in heavy buckets to a tank in the main street.  The small stretch of water got its name from the large shoulder yokes, like those of the Chinese, which straddled the dark backs of the carriers.


I did not grow up in this area of the river but a couple of kilometres further east.  There is no doubt that the shady white gums, the paperbark trees and the green, peaceful water are beautiful.  But I feel I am in a strange place; that this is not my river but the river of the town kids.  My part of the river was wider and scattered with small islands.  We named each part and knew a story about every bank and stream.


It strikes me that this was always the way for the first people of this land.  The river stretches more than 500 kilometres inland and each tribe called just a small part of it home.  To the Ingaada people, here near the mouth of the river, it was Kow Win Wardo but just 70 kilometres away the wilder circumcised and scarred tribes had their own names.


Now they are all gone and the river is become one river but empty of their ancient songs and laughter.


Later, I take my kids to my part of the river.  It is still flowing but shallow.  Soon it will return to sand until the next cyclonic rain arrives.  They wrestle and run after each other in the clear stream.  “Are you watching, Dad?” they yell.  I am watching.  I watch the trees stretched like a familiar garland along the grassy banks unchanged in all this time.  And there’s the crossing where we boys stripped off one night and swam with strange exhilaration and a kind of moonlight madness.  That’s the island which we lit up with matches and watched disappear in a tall conflagration like a Viking funeral.  And over there, a girl called Susan and I kissed and tried to make love but both of us too young and clumsy.  Later she sent me a letter, “I miss you.” About a kilometre downstream we boys camped most weekends and carved our names on pieces of driftwood and whispered naïve dreams from our sleeping bags. We heard our words float up into the night sky with embers from the dying fire.


As I watch, three boys appear on the banks.  They are riding bikes and they look at us as if we have spoiled something.  I wish they would come down and talk to us, tell me what they are doing.  I know they will tell me they are bored and that there is nothing to do in this town and one day we are all going to leave for the city. As I did before them and muttering the same old small town mantra. One of them says something and points east.  They disappear. So many have disappeared now.


Suddenly my daughter is beside me and looking up at me intently.  Maybe she can see something in my face that wasn’t there before.  Anyway, it’s as if she has guessed what I am thinking. “Is it still the same as when you were a kid, Dad?” she asks. I wonder then if she will come back to this place one day and remember her brother and me in the gentle autumn sun, how the river stones glistened in the light and small birds whistled in hiding. And even as I wonder this I am struck by the certainty of it. She will remember me. And the river will remember me too and the Ingaada people and Susan and some naked boys laughing and all the voices lost to the sky.


“Well,” I say but smiling now, “the water changes but the river is always the same.”



Filed under australia, life, loss, memory, youth

He watches the rain


He watches the rain.  It is running down the window.  He is thinking of a woman who is far away.  He cannot remember ever thinking about anyone for as long as he thinks about this girl. Even so, his thoughts are like a silent movie; images without feeling or soundtrack.  He is practicing being neutral.  The phone rings.  It is his ex-wife.  She wants to change a night with the kids.  “It’s fine,” he says. 


She is apologising. “I’ll make it up to you.” He tells her again that it is OK; he had no plans for the night she wants to change.  “I’ll take them an extra night next week,” she says.  Then she is gone again and he returns to the window.


He wonders if his wife has a lover yet.  Once the thought would have made him apprehensive, reignited the smouldering ash of his emotions after the affair.  Something inside him has changed though.  For the first time he imagines his wife happy with another man and there is a tiny feeling somewhere inside that he wants this.  That he wants her to be happy again.  “Weird,” he mutters to the emptiness but finds himself smiling.  Part of that smile is for her, a bigger part for the fact of not feeling anything else; no fear, no anger, no hurt.  It has been a long time since he felt so removed from her; felt that she cannot touch him anymore.


He reaches for his coffee, holds the mug in his palm feeling the warmth in his fingers.  It strikes him dully that he did love his wife for a long time and that the feeling has gone; not even replaced with something close to love.  It has just gone. 


But where does love go?  Not the love for ourselves but the love we feel for others.  It fills our hearts then quickly or slowly it goes away.  He had once read somewhere that the love we feel defines us more than the love we receive. He thinks about this for a while.  Where love goes seems an unanswerable question and a little dangerous.   He finds it strange that he has never thought of it before. 


The woman occupying his thoughts spoke of love once or twice.  It is a big word, she said.  They were lying together on a Friday afternoon in Melbourne.  Too big for this strange thing between the two of them, she meant.  And he knew this was right in a way, in the normal way of the world.  But something about love is small too, he thought, easily given, easily lost.  His wife said to him once, “I love you but I’m not in love with you.”  The thought of this makes him turn from the window.


He mentally shifts away from this time; this time he tells no one about.  Increasingly he will not even tell himself that story.    But now he remembers that at the time of the affair, he never once hated his wife; not even her lover.  He thought he understood love then; that it can be a cruel, spoiling thing and yet almost impossible to resist. He had, early in their relationship, loved his wife so much that it had made him crazy at times.  And then it made him calm and good.  But in a long, dangerous, despairing drive South on the day he found out about the affair it was the knowledge of the unassailable nature of love that almost destroyed him. 


He is a lot of things but he is rarely dishonest with himself.  He knows that somewhere in the morass of their feelings for each other, he had stopped being someone his wife needed.  He knew it then and he spent four wasted years trying to discover the key again. He avoids thinking about that time now because he did not like what he remained long after her love for another man had gone.  And he does not want to be that person again, lost to himself.


He switches his mind to the sad-eyed lady thousands of miles away.  He thinks about her hands.  He remembers her crooked smile and the way she looks up at him sometimes with a look he can’t fathom for meaning.  She is beautiful and she does not believe she is beautiful.  Lying in bed in the late afternoon he had stroked her bare breast and shoulder and listened to her talking.  He was filled with the wonder of another human being, so mysterious, like a planet.  It made him believe in the beauty of the world again.


“Shit,” he murmurs and turns up the music.  “You are a sentimental fool.”  But he knows that he has never been sentimental.  Inside him there is a faint stirring.  His heart is making room for someone else.  He is not altogether happy about this; sometimes feels nervous, sometimes sick.  But he knows it is happening. 


The rain keeps pouring.  He feels uneasy, has felt uneasy for weeks.  Part of him knows they will meet again, part of him believes this will never happen.  There is a rumble in the distance.  He holds his palm against the cool glass of the window.  Somewhere a car swishes along the flooded highway and he wonders where it is going.





Filed under life, loss, Love

Class Management 101

A teacher I knew told how he always had trouble with a particular class of 14 year olds when he came to explain the joys of human reproduction.  Inevitably, the boys, in particular, would snigger and whisper during his lesson and no admonishment or threat on his part seemed to affect the mature reflection he desired.  Then, one day, he found the solution without really trying.  Turning suddenly from the blackboard, he bore down on a hapless boy caught giggling to the student next to him.  At the top of his voice the teacher commanded, “You, son!  What’s a penis?” Apparently the remainder of the lesson assumed an unusual gravitas both profound and undisturbed.


Filed under humour, life, sex, youth


I swear I didn’t raise my kids differently; they just turned out nothing like each other.  Maybe it’s a gender thing. 

Anyway, I’ve decided to take them to Bali this year, their first overseas holiday.  We are looking through the brochures together.  There are photographs of our hotel, jungle adventures and palm trees.  The mood of excitement is palpable and my eleven year old daughter exclaims, “Wow, Dad – elephants!”

Barely have the words passed her lips than my 13 year old son, in tones equally ecstatic, cries, “Wow, Dad – cable TV!”


Filed under Bali, boys, humour, youth


There is a shark in our river


Below the surface of things

He swims where people feign

No memory of him.


Yachts capsize and sailors

Strike towards the shore

Legs kicking into the darkness

And the chill.


At Point Walter

Children swim

And laugh at dolphins


A man watches from the tree line.

He walks towards them humming.

Past the old people doing Tai Chi

Pushing gently

At the helpless sunshine.





Filed under poetry, sharks