It's a while since I lived in a densely populated part of a large city. Not that Summer Hill is that crowded, in fact to the casual eye it looks like a fairly quiet suburban neighbourhood. A few terraces, a few federation houses, the odd mansion and lots of apartment buildings. I live in one of these, with similar, older buildings on either side. I have the ground floor flat at the front, facing the street. There's six flats in the building, three up and three down. The ones on either side have four each I think, though I could be wrong about that. You get to know people by sight and there's a few I say hello to or stop and chat with. There are oddities - a couple of times when I've been up early I've seen a big white fluffy rabbit that seems to live around the back of the building opposite, nosing around on the front lawn by the dahlias. The other thing that happens is that you hear a lot of what goes on in other peoples' lives without necessarily knowing who it is you are hearing. Two examples. In the next door building on the right lives the Coughing Man. I have no idea who he is, have never seen anyone I could match to the extraordinary sounds that come from over there every morning, as he clears his passages in the aftermath of another day of what sounds like a lifetime of heavy smoking. And then, on the other side, there are The Lovers. Again I have no idea who these two are. They may be Chinese but I don't know why I think that. I believe the half grown handsome black cat who comes over sometimes is theirs; I hear a woman's voice in the evening calling Simba! Siiiimba! This is generally after they have done their washing up. I guess she's calling him in for the night. I hear their TV. Sometimes I hear him talking to her in a low voice, too low to make out the words. Whatever he is saying makes her laugh helplessly. Their bedroom is all red, not sure why, whether it's red curtains or a red light. I don't look that closely. My bedroom faces out towards their flat and sometimes, usually quite late, I wake up to the sound of their love-making. They're not really loud. I never hear him at all, I just hear her. It is the sound of a woman being exquisitely pleasured. It goes on for a long time. I like to sleep with the window open, for the fresh air, and I know that if I close it I won't hear her anymore. On the other hand, closing it makes quite a loud noise and I wouldn't like them to hear it and think they are annoying me. So I don't. Usually I tune out and drop back off to sleep before they finish. I'm not sure what to think about it. It feels illicit, being privy to such private moments between strangers. But it's sweet too. Much better than over-hearing a fight or an argument. I guess my main feeling is that I don't want to disturb them. I don't want them to know I can hear them because it might make them feel self-conscious or shy. I'm just in this weird position, an anonymous sometime witness to their transports of delight.


answering the door

The police knocked on my door last night - well, I think it was them. I was sleeping in the sitting room on the sofa bed because my younger son Liamh was staying and he was tired and went to bed early in my room. I'd fallen into a deep sleep so that when the rat-tat-tat on the door sounded, it seemed part of some other world, not even my dream world. Kept on happening. Attention must be paid. I rolled over and realised it was my door being knocked upon. There's two doors to this flat, one that leads out into the front garden, which is where I come and go, and another, always locked, that comes off the hallway where the official entrance to the building is. They were rapping on the official door. Oh, god, I thought, where's the key? Now they changed from knocking on the wood to banging the metal knocker that's there. It sounded much more urgent. Where was my dressing gown? In the room where Liamh was. He hadn't woken yet, which suggested he wasn't going to. Okay. Maybe I would get up to see who it was. It was on the third rap-rap-rap on the knocker that they said: "Police ..." They always drop their voices to the lowest register when they say that - I don't know why. "Police ..." comes out gravelly and low, like a warning: irony free zone impending. Fuck it, I thought, I'm not getting up for the police. Doesn't sound like they're here for me. Doesn't feel like they're going to break the door down. And anyway I haven't done anything wrong. Or at least nothing chargeable. Course I did get up, did get my dressing gown, did pace around the flat with my heart hammering, feeling furtive and guilty as hell. No longer secure in my own place, one of the usual suspects, a miscreant or a fugitive. Didn't dare turn on a light. Heard them through the bathroom window saying something to someone about a radio. That was when they were walking away. Their car started up and off they went. Now of course I'm consumed by curiosity. What did they want? What was happening? Wha ... ? I asked my next door neighbour but she slept through the whole thing. The Chinese across the hall? Seems unlikely it was to do with them. Liamh didn't hear anything either, though he was entertained by the tale. Damn! Wish I'd answered the door. Wish I knew ...


Hawthorne Canal

Today there was that first faint chill in the air cold climate people wait for. A cool wind whipping horse tails in the otherwise clear sky. A mix of nostalgia for winters past, anticipation for the one to come. Benign, anyway, in the temperate zone. It was also Clean-Up Australia Day. Remote from community affairs, I did not realise this until I watched the evening news on TV. Oh well. Went for a walk in the afternoon, seeking the sea in this inland suburb. North, I thought. The Dog Park I'd heard about. There's a canal running through Summer Hill, it marks the border between the Leichhardt and Ashfield municipalities. Once it would have been a stream but that's more than a hundred years ago by the look of the sandstock blocks with which parts of the canal are lined. Those neglected areas of a metropolis which belong to no-one but the graffitists. That are not real estate. In parts even the tree trunks are tagged. Coming out by the canal I caught the river scent that is so much a part of my childhood. There's no cleaner smell than clear running water, even when it's only a trickle in a concrete drain. Three sacred ibis were investigating the riverine wildlife. Schools of tiny transparent fish. Blue iridescent flash of a kingfisher's wing. Then startling green weed at what I took to be the intermingling of the fresh water and the salt. Two black teal beating up stream. A white-faced heron only feet away, pooling in the shallows. I ended up in a depot of some kind: old bricks, sandstone blocks, newly sawn timber, bark mulch, a disused bridge. Had to climb a hurricane wire fence to get into the Dog Park. Barefoot all the way to the bay without once stepping in the shit. There was the sea smell. Leaning over the side of the bridge leading back to the People Park I saw strange creatures moving through the khaki water of that arm of the Parramatta River which, by now, was surely all salt. Medusas. They looked like uprooted brownish-grey mushrooms the size of a fat-headed man's head, with a stem trailing stumpy limbs and a kind of grilled or gridded cauliflower membrane that expanded and contracted rhythmically as they moved upstream. Images from the Bridget Riley show I saw yesterday at the MCA came to mind ... the Rileys gave me a headache as well as a dangerous sense of the instability of my perceptual world, but these medusas, though grotesque, were calm. There were plovers in the People Park. The tide was creeping up the canal. I saw toadfish in the shallows, more schools of the tiny transparents and then, splash! a big fish jumping. Don't know what they were - mullet perhaps. There were lots of them, heading downstream to greet the incoming tide, undulating in slow waves from side to side in the canal waters, black from above but sometimes showing a startling silver flank. At the vivid green bit where salt and fresh mingled, the smaller medusas which had made it this far were a delicate lavender colour. Another flash of kingfisher wing, then another. I saw it perching in the branch of a tree, the dusty ochre colour they have on their breast. The nightsweet, which has nearly finished where I live, was here still covered with tubular yellow flowers. I imagine the heavy scent on the air now darkness has fallen and only the graffitists are out, inscribing that almost wilderness with their arcana.


The Undead

The other night I went with my neice to see Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre, a remake of F.W.Murnau's 1921 classic Nosferatu. It's a long time since I saw a Herzog film and I didn't know quite how I would go with it. The professionally and constitutionally dispeptic film writer John Walker's summary in the 1995 Halliwell's was not encouraging: 'Excruciatingly slow retread of the German silent film' he wrote. Yes, it is slow. Excruciatingly? No, I didn't think so. Camilla, who is 23, did. She also found it funny. And it is. But for me it was ... totally absorbing. Some of the time I was thinking about how it was made - the rats that invade the European city once the Count has arrived were a strange and changeable colour, because they were white Hungarian laboratory rats that had each been painted grey; the city also changed because the good people of Delft, where most of the European scenes were shot, would not allow even a limited release of re-painted lab rats on their clean streets and so the production had to move to Schiedam for those bits; the colour, as Walker does not fail to point out, is 'quite dreadful' at times. But ... as drama? Extraordinary. It probably does not surpass Murnau's version for sheer creepiness and starkness of image; on the other hand, there is nearly sixty years of European history between the two films and that counts. The film is about the contagion of history. And the tragedy that our shared dream of immortality has become. And the doomed eroticism that seems sometimes to be our one consolation, however inconsolable we may be. The slowness was like a bath. You could sink into the images because they lingered so long on the screen, as long as Isabelle Ardjani's white neck and dark hair, say, or Klaus Kinksi's immortal loneliness or even the foolishness of Bruno Ganz, the innocent who brings the plague back yet again. The ship motionless upon the ocean with its dusky, dried blood red sails and dead captain lashed to the wheel. The processional of coffins into the great empty square of the city. The shadows ... 1979 was when the governments of the Us and the Uk moved nuclear armed Persching and cruise missiles into Germany, a major play in the endgame of the Cold War. Where are those warheads now? Somewhere. At the end of the film, when Klaus is dead, having stayed too long in Isabelle's bed, and Isabelle is dead too, thinking she has prevailed, and her lover Bruno has become Klaus' avatar and is galloping across what look like salt pans or perhaps the deserts of Iraq with 'so much still to do', is chilling: there is a world out there that is yet to be infected with evil but he will do what he can. Which will be everything. Anyway. We walked away into the warm night apparently not much affected by what we had seen. Told stories about funny t shirts we had seen coming down the street. I kept thinking about the Gypsies who warn Bruno against going up to the Castle: their absolute knowledge that evil is there and can be awakened, along with their absolute refusal to do so. And, I guess, their forbearance, their stamina, once, yet again, it has been.


Luca goes to London (& Adelaide

Luca Antara (the book) is going to the London Book Fair, which this year is concentrating on work from the Antipodes. Also to Adelaide, where it will be read by a new publisher who thus far seem mostly to have done books on food and wine, along with Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton's autobiography 'Through My Eyes'. They are publishing a book on early Portuguese voyages to Australia, which is how the Luca connection came about. For the London package, my agent asked for a Content's page to go along with the cv, synopsis, excerpt and so forth. I don't usually like representing a whole with a part, but I enjoyed doing the Contents page in the manner of 19th century explorers' books - not a too far-fetched analogy. Here it is, as a teaser (it's just the words):


I : Castaway

Antiquarian Books – Taxi Driving – The Ern Malley Affair – Fernando Pessoa – Simon & Margit – the QVB – the Marquesas – Jean Cabri – Pekio? – the Russian American Company – the Hordern Building – Leroy, Lautréamont & the Ville d’Orleans – Rouault & McCahon – Demolition

II : Salvation

The Cova da Iria Apparitions – Johnny Bear – Ricardo Reis at Fátima – Womerah Lane – the Third Secret Revealed – Elle – the Heroin Weddings – Essay on Poetry – the Wreck of the Batavia – Gnosticism – Houtmans Abrolhos – Heironymo & Lucretia – Jimmy Bonus – a Stranding – Convicts – Ventriloquism

III : Voyage

Pearl Beach – Portuguese Ventures – Manoel Godinho de Eredia – the MBRAS – Henry Klang – the Voyage of António da Nova – Mataram – Waingapu – the Timor Sea – Kaju Djawa – Marege – Estrela, the Degredado’s Daughter – the Aru Islands – Tanimbar – Malacca – Aftermath

IV : Return

Across Australia – Kuala Lumpur – Melaka – Museums – Henry Klang again – the Ray Bradbury Experience – MBRAS again – Ubud – the Wallace Line – Lombok – Sumbawa by Night – Labuanbajo – Mirror Cave – Rinca – Darwin – Da Nova’s Boat – Sydney – the Drowned Continent of Sundaland

... would you want to read a book like this?