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Published August 2008Become a subscriber
I steer at full throttle, the boat lifting up onto the plane, shooting past Dead Horse Bay, straight under the bridge and into the upper reaches of the river. We glide the surface of the incoming tide, I want to make it to my marks on time – now a great white sponge of fog has come down around us, it dampens my hair and suddenly reduces visibility. I cut the motor and we drift with the tide which takes the boat close into the shore. The river narrows and there’s eucalyptus in the atmosphere. Silent now and almost blind. The fog envelops us. At first, a few wobbly notes coming from all sides, a deep throated fluting climbing the bird-scales, it loops into a theme, then notes cascade into a melody that drifts over the silk of the surface, under the rolling blanket of fog. So lovely a song it almost sounds like human-whimsy becoming a liquid bubbling, almost a blue yodel, the ghost of Jimmy Rodgers, then fades again. A few plopping splashes, mullet hitting the cotton wool air above them and landing with belly flops. We drift silently until a cricket kicks in with a high, nervous drone for a thin moment. Almost silence awhile until that murderous avian spirit player resumes the masterpiece – now concert flute, mellow toned with a sort of back-beat, an amplified pulse underneath its sweet mock caroling.
for Anthony Lawrence
At the Fisherman’s Co-Op I stand in the cold room and look out the window’s scale-plastered glass, the river’s being whipped up by a westerly, chop cuts across the ferry’s prow and brakes into white spray. Someone’s hung a no smoking sign in the freezer. We puffed our way through the best days of our lives, and shortness of breath didn’t bother us. Dutch walks up from the pontoon with a box of dusky flathead, the neon light from the hood of the freezer flares all around his hair – He’s a classic cast the net on the other side sort of bloke – he shovels flakes of ice onto his catch, then lights up a rollie, at 50 he’s still strong as a White Ox – ‘We spend our life waiting – lines, fish, love and money and in no order, whatever comes up first’ – he repeats every time he drinks. A brush turkey walks into the cold room, glances sideways, and stupidly, senses no danger – Dutch keeps shoveling ice – its tail a black fan vertically held, its wattle bright as orange antifouling paint.
Siamese seal-pointer, ghost cat. My familiar and killer, sleeper under covers. A true carnivore devoured hundreds of pilchards maybe thousands, and many baby brown snakes. That pair of kingfisher bodies. First the pale female, jumped and tortured. Then the male who returned to help his mate and met death by tooth and claw. Roller of lizards and skinks, blue-eyed and sleek. Bully-boy with a foul tongue, most articulate at night. Shiny, cream-furred cuddler, brown-eared stalker. Attention seeker and bird watcher. My wife’s tormentor. The one who ate a dozen live garfish whole, stolen from the bait-tank. Taut-bodied, razor-footed climber with sprung-rhythm. Stuck among branches yowling. Ripping the chairs apart, while purring for praise. A ‘legend’ according to my son, to my wife, a demented prowling beast My darling and terrible King Tut, who prowled here for eighteen years, before The Mower cut out his kidneys.
Standing on this rocky shore at the end of the point, sun’s hitting sandstone escarpments as it sinks, colouring everything red – I watch the felty black surface of the river carrying pelicans downstream to the mouth. I could easily disappear into this landscape, become a fisherman again and work the tide through the moon’s cycles and its darks, pierced with stars – A local Novalis, courting the night itself – my nets always coming in without a catch, at dawn each new day my head full of emptiness, nothing there but love for the long, echoing darkness.