“In the course of a life it’s normal, you understand, completely normal, to forget nearly everything.” Sigmund offered article one of his philosophy, shrugged and held out his open palms.

“In the course of a life it’s normal, you understand, that some things stand out. They appear as bright, gold tesserae such as you can find in the dome of St Peter’s, or as coloured bonbons. Or perhaps as mountains or berries or first kisses. Such things you remember. Well, a man remembers the beauty that opens his eyes. He does.” Sigmund continued.

“How could I know this… this…this unknown would be a sort of herald? Of course I paid him no attention. He appeared as just another panama hat and blazer to me.” His grey old eyes fluttered, revealing a lingering sense of amazement.

“Gilbert, I tell you, I’ve seen hundreds. I have learned to forget them all. They are so flagrant, usually. Yes, that’s the word. They are flagrant. They bring nothing and expect everything. I have learned to serve them and make sure they pay their bills, that’s all.”

“We see so many gamblers through here. Speculators, shills and brokers; they fill the place sometimes. Well, so it seems. They like to come here. I call them gamblers. But they are all-sorts. They like the seafood and the wines, Gilbert. They want to make it in the morning and spend it at lunch. Well, who wouldn’t?”

“They want to make money and love in roughly equal parts. Those two, they make good friends, but even better enemies, if you ask me.” Sigmund sighed. “People want to punt. That’s why they’re here, to punt that things will fall their way, that money or love will come and settle in their laps. Well, who can say they’re wrong to think that way.”

“Strangely, I do remember him. I don’t know why. He was not bright or aromatic. He seemed unremarkable. But from courtesy, Gilbert, only from courtesy, I showed him to this table. This very one, by the window, overlooking the garden. It’s charming. The lilies. The lotus. The jasmine. The herring bone pattern in the little bricks, lying on edge that way…a placid joy in a mundane and mercenary world, Gilbert.”

“ It is a cool refuge for hope. Yes, shade in a hot and thirsty world, don’t you think?” Sigmund looked with affection into his small glade and sighed. “I showed him the usual, you understand, just the usual welcome…”

He entered through this door, from the sunlit pavement, through the front portal. He was light on his feet and took the steps up to the landing without a hurry. The pale, Paros-grey marble of the door frame and stairs contrasted with his blue jacket – a deep blue, a navy blue, in linen, with a pale blue shirt, achieved in cotton – and the hat, a woven straw hat, which he had removed as he entered and held low by his side with one hand.

His eyes were taking in more than they were giving out, so, in the half-light, it was not obvious what colour they were or what expression they carried. He was a tall and lean proposition. That’s the best one can say of him, he gave away so little in his features or his posture. He could have escaped from the pages of any good magazine, lithography rendered on quality paper.

Sigmund showed his guest in to the mahogany enclave of delicacies and culinary prizes. “Here, please, allow me, Sir, perhaps this table? Beside the terrace, you see, it is a private table. And there is the garden. Will you be dining alone, or do you care to wait a little, Sir?”

“Aw, I’m alone today, my friend, thanks just the same,” he said. He removed his jacket and passed it with his hat to Sigmund. “Here, would you be so kind, thank you,” and then helped himself to his chair. He eased into it as if it belonged to him, in the way that feet learn to covet shoes. “I’d be very pleased to have some water if that’s possible,” he said, his throat as dry as newsprint too, it seemed. Perhaps his accent was Irish or perhaps not. But his speech was round and tender, humble – cured, you could say.

“There was one thing I noticed about him. I thought nothing of it at first. You know, I thought it was a mark left by his hat. Well, at first, that’s what I thought. Those hats, you know, they have a heavy band inside, to hold them on. I thought the band had left a bruise, a swelling. His temple. He had this patch on his temple, a ridge or a scar. He didn’t touch it, but I thought it seemed to pulse, as if the blood ran through it. Red? White? Pink? Lilac? Blue? I don’t know. It seemed to pulse. Whenever he was reading or thinking. It was charged when he was with his friend, the Professor.”

Sigmund was holding the menu and was on the point of opening it for Gilbert when he decided not to. Instead, he made his preferred speech:

“My dear friend, I know you love mussels. We have the finest today. They are plump, full. They are bursting. It’s the right time. And the sauce, superb, I promise. I promise you will be delighted, and the bread, it is the best as usual. I will recommend the Chablis today. We have a new supplier. It’s grand. The vintage was the best for many years. You will see. With the frankness of the sauce and the intense plump bites, the salt and the garlic and the herbs, I want you to have the best. Considering everything, please, the best. It will be my pleasure. I haven’t seen anything like these since Old Sebastian retired.” Sigmund insisted, his smile as wide as his red bowtie.

“Of course, of course. You know what you have,” Gilbert approved, keen at the prospect of Cockburn mussels.

“It looked like a wound that had closed but not properly healed, like a burn,” Sigmund pronounced. “It was several colours and had a life of its own, as if it needed some ice or some dressing.”

Sigmund left the table to take command of the bar while Ellis picked up the menu and glanced through it. But he was not interested. He couldn’t bear to think about it but had decided he must eat. He would order something – anything – some crab. He thought crab would be as good as anything. Mandurah crab: Blue and Sweet and Light. Yes. Crab and ginger with lemon grass. A coulis. The idea of coulis eluded Ellis, but he didn’t care. He had no hunger.

Ellis read through the menu a second time, to check the dishes. Reading, indexing the flavours, he noticed the lemongrass vapours from the kitchen and the jasmine from the garden. The ginger smacked. The scents filled his nostrils as if for the first time, piercing, like bright pins striking the interior membranes of his nose.

He inhaled. Without thinking he drew in through his nose. He steeped his lungs and felt his vents open, filling; lifting his shoulders back. He sucked the aromas in; felt them dilate inside his torso. He felt himself growing lighter and lighter and thinner and thinner; and then, when he felt like nothing more than his own memory, he felt the scents lift him, body and soul; felt them lift him up and hold him; enthroned in space; rigging him a good three inches above the upholstery. He waited, silent, breathless, poised and stifled and stilled; lungs filled and nose sucked tight-shut. Several seconds passed and then several more. Then, as if by an act of forgiveness, as silently as he had been lifted up, Ellis was returned to the chaise.

“My Lord. Whatever was that?” Ellis exhaled and felt completely transparent, as if, were it not for his shirt and trousers, sunlight would penetrate right through him. It was not the first time he had experienced absolute emptiness. But this was the first moment that he had actually floated in thin air. He felt as flimsy as a wish.

“My, oh my. Whatever has happened now?” Ellis was utterly perplexed.

Sigmund returned to the table with a decanter of chilled water, some ice, some slices of lemon and a tall glass. “Sir, please allow me,” and he then prepared a drink for his arid guest.

“Crabs, Sir. A very good choice, Sir, they’re from the Inlet, the Peel Inlet, and are very sweet at this time of year.”

“I’m sure they’ll be very good. I know the Inlet. I know the headwaters and the fishers. I’ve fished there myself, but in the past, before, before all the works were even thought of. It was a different time. Going back to the fall – to djabalariny as I know it. Oh, that is a long story. But the crabs will be just right for me today. I do need another glass of that ice water. Thank you, that’s grand.” Ellis was babbling.

He felt the lightness returning and wondered if he would lose his seating once more. He felt again an implacable fatigue; sagging yawns through his muscles and drought in his cracking bones. He felt for his heart with his ribs; felt everywhere inside his pale hull, and listened, listened, ears unstopped for some beat or murmur. At that moment, Ellis felt he might dissipate into absolute nothingness and reached eagerly for the water in the hope that he may quench all, and gulped and gulped and gulped. He gasped and held his throat with one hand, held on for dear gravity.

Ellis thought of his petition. He needed help. He was short of language now and needed to borrow some vocabulary. He felt his imagination taking him by the hand in the direction of his sorrows and his archives and felt his body thinning out again and his shoulders begin to hover. “Oh, No,” he whispered to himself.

“No, no, no.” He calmed himself, soothing both his questions and his answers with a posy of hope, which he had noticed growing in the courtyard next to him. “Oh, I must visit her. I must explain what has gone before and ask for her help.”

A waiter, young, sprightly, smooth as fluid and twice as gleaming, appeared at the table. “Sir, your crabs. They are still steaming. Please allow me.” She bowed so slightly and placed the dish in front of the silent Ellis, who just managed to maintain his seat while the young woman attended to him, showing him every grace and consideration, opening his napkin and splitting the shells with pointed shears and then cracking the claws with silver pliers, serving Ellis with swift dexterity.

Ellis, his mouth emptied of everything, sucked mercilessly on the crab while the juices ran down his grateful chin. He felt supped and lipped. He felt poured and licked. And he felt opportunity. For the first time since his return, he felt a semblance of a chance.

Cowboy John

The night hovered, heated, smooth and windless,

Overhead, prodigal black and white cockatoos
made their commotion in the heights of the street trees.

They protest by all accounts.
One tree-full decrying the other,
firing off at will – heckles, rebukes and complaints -
a parliament of the like minded.

What can they be disputing tonight?
Below the deep and un-mooned February sky?

Gradually the screeching abates, the billing gives way.
The legislators have formed a conclusion
or else adjourned to Monger’s Lake.

On the red sidewalks,
among the plumage on the pavement,
tall young women with righteous jibs and topsails
shape their way, paired or tripled,
moving by poising and rippling and
slipping their moorings and floating away all at the same time.
They sway and slap their sides,
pulling on their stays, keeling.

Their swains are tattoos and biceps,
with seamless skins and dancing shoes.
They have abrupt haircuts, tapered like pennants.
There is every crest and emblem,
some are fine as mannequins,
others, being chivalry, are all sword and lance.

All these were my casual dinner guests tonight,
as I took my white fish and green salad,
with water, lemon and salt,
Street-side. Heated. Smooth. Dark. Scented.
Dreaming, like rum.

Then, from the hue and cry,
another figure appeared,
stopped immediately before my table,
turned to face me and looked directly into my eyes.

“Are you a West Australian?” he asked.
“Were you born here?”
“I think we’ve met before.”

“Why yes. You’re right.
And we’ve seen each other here.
I’ve seen you with your friend. I’ve
seen you together.”

“He’s very special.
My name is Cowboy John” and we shook hands.

He has the plain, warm and firm hand of an astute investor.

“I am David. I’m pleased to meet you. Here,
Won’t you sit down,” and I moved my bag from the spare chair.

Cowboy sat.
He has the seamed and whiskered skin of many years,
and the depth of an old hide, sunned until it’s gone as featured as hakea nuts.
He has the blue eyes of wild everlastings, and round dark hoods to hold them.
He has a face that once was handsome
and is still as warm as his shoulders are broad.

“I’ve seen you here quite a few times,” I affirmed.

“Do you want that?” he asked, indicating the remaining fish.

“No, no. Please. Please. If you’d like it, feel free, it’s yours,” and his tapered fingers with their stained nails made short work of the too-small corner of fillet. “And the water. You need it, for the salt and fat. Please, have it.”

“Thanks. It’s good to eat,” and he held out his chest.
“You see this shirt. I did it myself. You see, ‘Cowboy John’, and the picture, the train, I got that, I printed that on. Whaddya think? Good huh?”

He reached into his green woven bag, “I might interest you in this,”
and he conjured a CD with a fine paper wrapper. “It’s mine. Guitar, drums, vocals, $5.00.”

“Well that’s good of you, $5.00, ok.” I fumbled, pocket-wise. Ah.
“How’s ten?” and I passed him the note, a smooth transaction.

“Ten would be great. Here I’ll give you another one,”
Then quickly Cowboy printed another CD inside his bag.

“No. No. One is fine, I’m sure.” But he would not be refused. Two for the price of two, he seemed to say. “Well, thank you. That’s great.”

And, the business out of the way, we chatted.

Born in the Kimberley?
Oh, ok?
The….. Downs.

You still have some language?
Some, just got some.
But I worked you know, all over,
the Territory, the Gulf.
That’s where I got the music.
And I’ve been here for more than 30 years.
Finished at the woolsheds in Fremantle.
I hope you got a woman.
You like music, too, I hope.

Cowboy starting smoking and then he didn’t stop.

“Thanks for the ten dollars. I can buy smokes at the Caltex for eleven dollars.”

This all fell in a rush, like branches in a gale.
But there was no wind – just Cowboy with his pale blue eyes and his hollowed cheeks.

“Thanks for the ten.”

“It’s no problem. We all need a few dollars on us. And I love music.”

Cowboy, it soon became obvious,
Is without teeth.
So his speech is lumpy as well as flowing.
Some words come as well shaped as grapes.
Others come by the sticky chunk.
So you have to listen and then you have to fill things in, some-ways.

But some notes come as clear as any statute:
“The smokes are keeping me alive. That’s true.
When I had my heart op, in the hospital, they
Could not believe me.
I got a stent.
My blood pressure, it’s just perfect.
My pulse, only 72, Can you believe?
My scans, all clear.
I am defying medical science.
I live on smokes.
So thanks again for the ten.”

His eyes shone wide and bright like the Swan River on Christmas Day.

“I hope you like music.”

“I do, I do. I love it – keeps my head straight.”

“Well listen. You’ll like it.
All the songs, they’re very positive.
They are like my things”, and he
ruffled the necklaces – his strands of beads and gems, his
Circle of Life and small metal cross –
that hung down his fearless stockman’s chest.

“Your magic. “ I smiled. “That’s good to have.”

“They’re all very positive, “ he repeated,
“You know, everyone has something to offer, everyone.”


The chapel is filling quite quickly with the parishioners or petitioners or other optimistic or pessimistic makers of prayers; and they are inclined to huddle together on the way in and talk while they walk, making up soft-hushed words that pass quickly from one to the next, words pressed into service as if they might contain mysteries or recipes or even infamous facts and that get passed like acts of espionage from glove to glove, as if they might – were they ever to be permitted the smallest opportunity – fly up to the dome above and sit round like violet pigeons waiting to poo on the bare heads of the worshippers when the time comes for psalms; yes the ingoing communion cluster and shuffle and sideways bump and kneel and stoop for their old-leather-smelling holy books with cracked gilding on the covers and then compose faces of suitable submission and reverence while admonishing the last born child not to annoy the first, or any other, and say to them be good and sit; while widows still in black and lace and somber sit with bonnets out to the side where there is less commotion and attention and more redemption and consolation to be seen like brightly gently floating dust in the slightly pinkly twinkling radiance emanating from the stained glass quotations from the prophets on the sun-side wall; and the choir might be about to start the Lord is My Shepherd I shall not Want, or another, because they’re picking up their eyes and their chins and their intentions and their musical scores all at the same time and seem to be reciting murmurs and penitence as they get to their clap-clappety feet on the clink-clinkety stone floor and their un-weighted pews creak as if to tune their joints while the cool crepuscular air is poignant with smells of burned wax tapers and sputtered wicks and incense and the appetite for another telling of the story of the son who suffered and died and moreover knew of what substance eternal despair would be gathered and uttered for every mortal sinning soul among us this day.


I have been writing today. Or at least, I have been making notes for myself. Ever since I woke up one night, a few weeks ago, to find I was sleeping with pity, I find I have time for nothing else but writing. I have been arrested, it seems, and am being held along with my rebellious thoughts. These thoughts are like shaven heads, like political prisoners, agitating for release into a strange and much-changed world. They are objections and provocations that have been interned for decades without trial. Now complexity and a scarcity of words have me in a lock. Yes, this is it. I have become an unintended consequence of an Imperial War.

I have miles of writing ahead of me. No doubt the story will be much longer in the telling than the ride itself. Three months will not be long enough, nor six. Just the same, writing even a few pages under these conditions is becoming a day on horseback.

Since my waking on Saturday 19 January 2013, writing has consisted of this business. The riding. I am an ungainly equestrian. I hardly know one end of a horse from the other. To be truthful, I am not comfortable with my lack of skill. I don’t think of horses as transport, but as majesty and television. As Arab or brumby or palomino, but in any case certainly not as my regular motor.

But I have decided – or rather, it appears to have been decided for me – I am to become a horseman. I have to join Stirling, Roe and Ellis and the blue company with their armaments and their intentions. There is no choice about this. In spring in 1834, I will take in the soft grey morning clouds of the coastal sky. I will give thanks for the magpies that warble for me, each sunrise. I will contemplate the tuarts in my enclosure. (Their leaves are like hundreds of silvery, slender mirrors when the breeze catches them.) I will boil tea. I will rub my whiskered chin and regret the need to shave each day. I will examine my boots, worn around the heels and scuffed across the toes and find some coarse and heavy-wearing trousers. Shirts. For god’s sake, I don’t know what colour shirts I should wear. I am not going to ride in blue. Absolutely not. Not there. I will choose clay-red and the black of burned, wet jarrah bark and find I am deeply unhappy with the selection.

“You feel naked anyway. What possible difference will shirts make?” I reproach myself. I am a hopeless dresser, it seems. “What does one wear to retribution?” I inquire, but I have no idea.

“For goodness sake, shirts will not change the outcome,” I remind myself. “You are going to observe and record and acquire knowledge. To offer a more complete account than the official reports. You are to be a witness. That’s all. You are not going to join the charge and loosen volleys of bullets. You are a horseman for the advantage of speed and height. That’s all.” I am deeply upset by this, but have no power to resist or to change my clothes now. I have packed my bags. My eggs have gone cold, like fish and I reject them. Perhaps they are fish. I am so absorbed by the preparations for this cross-country that I have forgotten to eat.

Our rifles in holsters and ammunition in weighty slabs, and our camp gear on some packers, we have been making our way. East across the Causeway, where the Swan is fast from the recent rain and wide, but no more than knee-deep. The horses accomplish this with ease. I am surprised by the power they generate, lift and drive from their four quarters. Then we are to turn South, first through the sweet black mud and head-high reeds, and then to lighter, sandy soils and the muted grey-green banksia, the grevilleas and cockies tongues and the desert peach. There has been little talking and quite a lot of thirst. The horses, tan and black and grey, comply, as do I.

At the end of the day – after breaking enough country – the horses need to be rested, given water and allowed to feed. They need refreshment and relief from the loads they bear. They need to be brushed down and checked. Every firm muscle and dusty, sweaty, pungent groove has to be subject to inquiry.

Horses can pick up ticks in the bush-land. You see them. Poor things – their going halted where they’ve been bitten, or with notably tightened breathing; sometimes they get the staggers or foam up round their mouths. I’m sure they feel just as awry as they look. We have to be deft. If we see the shiny, fat little bugs, we have to crack them quick, making sure we force them open under our hard nails before they exude too much paralyzing toxin.

Once they used to say to wash away ticks with methylated spirits or tea-tree oil. But this does not work. Cracking them off and then closing up the skin does the trick. We have some ointment to put on the scabs. Horsemanship requires that care and attention be given to the horses. Their welfare is no small thing.

Then the fire has to be kindled and lit, some dry brush gathered; the bivouac hung while food is put together. I know we will be able to take the odd fish or a goanna; a grey or a wallaby. But I reckon most of the edibles will have to be carried along. There is not much time for hunting. We can go lean, but still, there is a lot to lug. And then at night we can dine on canned beef and spuds; recline, toes pointed up, boots cooling, and smoke. The nightly stars will keep their timely watch and John Septimus Roe makes formal notes in the weak light.

Well, today, out riding, on the journey to the Murray, I came across a brother of mine. I broke the going and tethered the horse to the steel barriers at the lights on Scarborough Beach Road, near the alehouse. No, not that particular brother, the one we lost. Another. We are brotherly in the broadest sense of the word. We name each other thus. He is a man of learning, my elder.

I met him many years ago. He was dark and curly, with brilliant eyes. I was blond and curly at that moment and my eyes had serious questions. A mutual friend thought we should meet each other for aesthetic reasons and made it her business to introduce us. Dark and curly, round in the belly and bulky in the arse, in RM Williams trousers, bought Macchiato done the original Italian way. He added two sugars, I believe. I had my long black with cold milk. I have no recollection of the sugar. His coffee was short, in a glass, with just a spit of hot milk in it. To order and consume this novelty seemed like an ultimatum at the time – an act of cultural supremacy, not to mention individual self-belief.

Dark and curly had the warmly tanned skin of smooth and thoroughly oiled kangaroo moccasins. He had large, alabaster teeth. He had thoughtful words as well as passion with which he appeared to wet his foreign lips; lips that opened for a stream of improbable secrets, and that were scarcely concealed by a marvelous, dark and lavish mustache. Laughing at imbeciles and inviting disagreement at the same time, he invited blond and curly to go to Esperance so they might go fishing together; a proposal that was as impossible as it was irresistible that August day in Market Street, in Fremantle.

He carried mysteries with him. However, it is extremely difficult to describe the molecular form that his mysteries seemed to take. He talked of how much he needed money, but how little he valued it at the same time. He talked of what he knew, and of how he did not want to be regarded as a freak just because he knew things. He wanted to be regarded as an everyday teacher, but one without a classroom. He talked with open disdain for power and yet seemed to be in close contact with it. He talked of his many ideals, of which the most remarkable was to help the Turkish weavers locate their loom. He talked of his native Abruzzo many times. He insisted brown bears were to be found in his mountains and forests to that very day. He spoke of the books he had to write and the sales-talking he was preparing.

This afternoon, in Mt Hawthorn, my dark and curly brother was learned, even wise. He had many pairs of spectacles with him, including some that belong to his wife. He had brought owlish learning in his hands. He had magnificent warmth in his brilliant eyes and study around his magnesium-grey temples. Due to the warm afternoon winds and a surfeit of coffee, we took Chinotto San Pellegrino and lemon with ice. We paid our formal respects to each other, which is to say we offered surveys of our respective recent biographies and discoveries.

We sat at a small round table in the shade under the verandah on the red-bricked pavement and talked and listened and indeed impressed each other; we unwrapped our singular pleasures for each other and guessed their names; we dealt in compliments and questions and smiles.

Dark and curly has a larger frame than I, more rugged, more travel-worn. His shoulders and his chest are still profound. I am back from the dead, so am not going to miss such moments. For no reason other than it is true, I reached across the table and squeezed his shoulders with my hands, bringing our faces closer together too. I declared he was a beautiful man. I think I did this twice. I think those sitting at the nearby tables may have taken me for another loud lunatic. But I was not troubled. Life is too short. I was filled with admiration for the brightness of his understanding and the depth of his friendship.

He has – and not a day too early – been rewarded with recognition, even fame, for his quite extraordinary accomplishments. He is Mentor now – a champion of and for the young – and is connection and hope.

He listened to me and searched through the souvenirs of his many expeditions. I told him about some prospecting I’ve been doing, and some wash-away gullies and old diggings I have found. He passed on to me some methods and some miners’ epigrams; some fine diagrams. He introduced me to another old cowboy, a tall and slim elder from the Kimberley, who had acquired various rites and practices. He was a pilgrim to Johnny Cash and has a working understanding of peace. He numbers the Mitchell Plateau petroglyphs among his personal possessions and is a fine horseman and singer.

My friend has so many lenses on him. He polished a couple up there and then. He held them to the light so I could see the world as if through other eyes. Eyes. I’ve been having trouble with my eyes, my fading brown lights. But not today, oh no. Not today. In the afternoon warmth on the clay-red paving, drinking from memories and from wishes, we saw things as they must be seen. We agreed that such show-and-tell brought us together, but could not happen every day.

Sun lowered by now, we had to go our own ways. Dark and curly would go by road in a small Toyota sedan to his grandson and to dinner. We exchanged proud, Etruscan hugs and congratulated each other. I returned to my watchful horse, turning for the stables to apply dubbin to saddle and nugget to boots; and to check on metal bit and bridle.


Now I am being ridiculous. I was thinking back to yesterday, to Pinjarra.

The crimes at Pinjarra occurred nearly 200 years ago. To this day, the site is not marked. The Bilyidar (‘river’) Bindjareb Nyungars have requested permission to place the story on a memorial.

I have been putting on my socks, sitting on the couch, with my black coffee and my oats. My knees are poking up. It’s warm this morning. I am dressed in a blue T and my red-and-white checked cotton boxers.

And the State, not yet ready after 178 years to have any kind of plaque put up on the site to mark the attack that occurred in October 1834, to explain why it occurred, or to observe that 30 or 40 people are buried in the precinct, has refused permission.

I have to go to work and waste another day. So I have been putting on my Christmas socks and my black shoes.

I keep thinking about Fran’s boy and the anguish she and her husband must have had. Now I’ve been made a party to it, in a way. I can’t help wondering what it has been like. I was spared that particular anxiety in my own children. Our problem was teeth – teeth and jaw bones, many years of pain and expense. But that is not at all the same.

I think I did my mother an injustice. I was afraid of being rejected, of being unwanted. So I think I took her decision to stop buying Rinso rather personally. And, looking back, she did not go to Amway immediately. She became regular with Persil, which I came to love too. I used to help her with the washing on the weekend. I love playing with my mother and would help out with the machine – the spin dryer hummed so incredibly fast – and would do the hanging out job, out on the Hills in the back yard. And I’d bring the dry clothes in too. There are few things more perfect than sun-dried cottons. We would shop at Coles and buy Persil and I would run behind my mother, who was exceptionally quick on her feet.

Pinjarra remains an insoluble dilemma for me – or rather, not for me. I have figured it out. I know what the pain is from and I know it will not be eased. But at least I am able to treat it with respect now.

Well, I thought that way until this very minute. I stood up only to find I have dressed and shod myself, but have forgotten to put on my jeans. Now I am an absurdity. I am a cheeky tablecloth with black shoes, my white legs a caricature of dignity.

Where is this leading, oh, where?

Eve Langley

Dorrie Evans

….Thanks to deblonay, briefly, MTBW and davidwh for the encouragement….briefly for the vivid snapshot. Is that you or are you channeling Eve Langley? If you don’t know her then hunt down ‘The Pea-Pickers’ or the marvelous bio of her life ‘Wilde Eve’. Her life story and the power of her prose are both tragic and heroic.]

Greetings, Dorrie. And thank you for the introduction to Eve. I will look her up. I think I know how she must have felt about the nature of time.

All afternoon, I’ve been getting my centuries mixed up. I remembered the Pinjarra Massacre as if it took place just last month, and then I realised the killings occurred in 1834, just a few minutes after the colony was established. It was long ago, but could have been last night. The crimes – that’s what they should be called – were never concealed. They were officially calculated punishment and promise. They were intended to subdue the natives, who, after the killings, were told that any further resistance (revenge) would invite their immediate total annihilation.

I think there should be a trial. Stirling, Roe, the rest of the shooters, they should all be arraigned. Thirty or forty were killed in the river, like fish. Like numbers, counted off.

The violence was part of the price of settlement. It was not remarkable. It was not wrong. Not then, and the only sympathy shown was for Ellis, the Superintendent. He was speared in the head and died at home in Mt Eliza from the resulting infection. A good deal was made of the spearing of a policeman, who suffered dreadfully from an injury to his arm. It was reported in the Perth Gazette, following the official accounts, without any particular sentiment.

Well, this was all reported in the English language, in this same language that you are reading now. I thought there must be a mistake. The English language could not disclose crime without justice, I thought. (I have been brought up to expect justice, but think I must have been raised in the suburbs instead of on the riverbank.)

I was going out of my mind until I realised the murders had happened nearly 200 hundred years ago. But they still feel like they have just happened. That is what it’s like, I suppose, when you have firsthand accounts of tyranny on horseback, one evening, not three days’ ride from here.

I still think there should be a trial. But who to try? What charges? Who can be indicted for ignoring the past? Who will sit at the inquest? Who will disinter the facts? Who has been wronged? The dead or the living?

You can see clearly, I have lost my reason. I no longer see clearly. I have misunderstood time and mistake the victims. I know. I know. I know. I am beyond the rational. Until the past is understood, until the wrongs are named for what they are, then, well, it just feels like the killings will be repeated again and again.

The police, mounted on their tan and black horses, will ride again. They will charge again. They will discharge their rifles and kill four or five again on their first assault. The noonarr will plunge in their dozens, in ruin down to the river. They will scrum their way to the other bank. They will meet the rest of the ‘detachment’ (such an elegant word for killers) and be shot back into the river, ditched into terror and blood, to be picked off from each bank, to writhe and scream and then float, destroyed, downstream. By the dozen. Not one wounded man taken alive. Not one. Simply murder for an hour or more. Shots and cries by the score.

There has to be a trial. There has to be a hearing. Charges have to be read. Evidence has to be tendered. The names of the dead have to be set down, and the distress of their widows and children, their mothers and brothers, their sisters and uncles and fathers, and their famine, all this has to be stated in the English language so everyone can understand it.

There has to be a judge in velvet. There just has to be. There just has to be, in order that the calendars and clocks can be put right again; so that the blood may cease flowing; so that power may kneel before loss; so that tears of destitution, terror and mourning might be soothed with kisses of sorrow and contrition; that the sobbing, ruinous calamity might be allowed repose at last.

We’d been drinking

We’d been drinking. Quite deliberately drinking. Salt, lemon, tequila; once, twice, thrice; shot for shot; a pair; we played catch me if you can; not stopping; salt/sour/hot; players at the table, betting on each other, winning, one blond, one not; salt/sour/hot; swirling postulations; salt/sour/hot; consuming the whole bottle.


Then, just on a hot toast, we decided to go into the printing business, as equal partners. There and then. There was no discussion, only complete agreement. Printing it was and printing it would be. We were fit for publication. We thought alike. We wanted hot-type and lithographic work – fine or bold or both; we promised free speech. With no delay, we began our private subscription, first printing single issues before increasing circulation.


Thus, salt/sour/hot, we took up printing on the spot. Printing. Printing kisses for each other; inking lips with lips; stamping skin with skin; kissing with our lips and eyes and tongues and poring for our meaning; printing black and white and colour, printing without stopping. We printed nouns and verbs and prepositions; we printed headlines and state secrets, and this way kissed whole pages.