Just had a couple of queries from my publisher. Not things I usually think that much about. And, hard to answer without sounding self-important or portentous. Not sure if I've avoided those pitfalls but anyway, here's what I said:

When you write - do you have a reader in mind or do you write what gives you pleasure in the genre you would like to read? And if you were to attempt to define the reader of 'Luca Antara' who would he/she be?

I think I write for an ideal reader who is at once myself and a cohort of shadowy others whose tastes coincide with mine. It’s certainly a pleasure to write, especially when you feel something previously inchoate come into words, whether that be at the level of a sentence or of an entire book. But a part of that pleasure lies in the anticipation that it will be experienced by others. You write what you want to read with the faith that there are others of similar mind who will also want to read it.

Who are these others? I don’t aim for any specific type of person though I know not everyone is going to want to read what I write. My books have a quest structure, they are about finding things out but with the proviso that the questions being asked might not have answers. That narrows things down because there are people who can’t stand mysteries, just as there are others who seem to prefer them. My readers are probably mostly the second kind.

In other words I don’t necessarily want to make things simple for a reader, though nor do I want complexity for its own sake. I like the sense of language and/or thought extending into areas it might not have been before. Also picking up odd words, maybe from foreign languages, for their sounds and for their suggestiveness. Perhaps what I’m trying for is a sense of places beyond the everyday where writing and reading can take you.

These places can be at the same time out in the world and within the mind. There has been a confessional strain in my earlier books, less so in Luca Antara. This aspect was not so much about trying to tell all as it was trying to get to areas of the mind that are not often visited. Blake’s mental traveller is a constant reference: For the eye altering, alters all. My readers then would be people who enjoy mental travelling even when some psychological discomfort might occur – just like real travellers.

This perhaps suggests a literary readership of a certain age but I’m not sure if that’s so. I remember an enthusiastic conversation with a travelling salesman who sold socks about a book of mine he’d read. I’ve encountered kids in their teens or early twenties who’ve read and enjoyed my books. Also people much older than I am. A common factor seems to be a willingness to go somewhere you haven’t been before. But isn’t that true of all readers?


Am reviving dérives, not so much as a place for drives but for dérives in the older sense ... wanderings ...


genuflexion's end

Despite some chest-thumping posts a while back I've been lazy the last few months. Been to the pool a fair bit, but only to play around with the kids awhile then find a sunny spot where I can watch them carry on without me. Too busy sucking on kreteks and guzzling red wine to look after my health/fitness. Then I get anxious about said health/fitness and consequently smoke/drink even more ... part of it is that I fell out of love with the Leichhardt pool. It's pretty and all, but very crowded and, I don't know, a bit too gentrified for my liking. So a couple of weeks ago we went off to check out the Ashfield pool. Not pretty, not pretty at all, a bare concrete pit in blinding sunlight with the raised embankment of the railway line at one end and tiered seating on either side of the main pool like the swimming pools of my youth. But far more comfortable to be at. The kids loved it and so did I. Plus, half the price of entry.

So I bit the bullet and went back there today to see what the damage was. A lane to myself, half in sun, half in shade. Sun up, shade down, I liked that. The water, I think, a degree or two warmer than at Leichhardt; or maybe that's just because the air temperature is higher. 25 C today (the air, I mean). First length, you always feel like Ian Thorpe. Second length, like yourself on an average day. Third, you're struggling and by the fourth, sinking ... but that didn't happen. I picked up on the fourth and basically sailed through the next sixteen until I'd swum a kilometre. Hell, I could have gone on. There's graffiti on the black guide line at the bottom of the pool. Long lines of indecipherable script interspersed with big fat cocks-and-balls. Lots of them. They looked quite strange, swelling and sliding with the motion of the water. Nice pool, I said to the attendant who was tightening the lane markers. Yeah, it's got a certain something, he allowed.

On the subject of health ... a major worry at the moment is knees. Mine don't seem to work properly anymore. I broke my right patella in a motorbike accident at eighteen and this injury has troubled me intermittently ever since; but now my left knee has seized up. It happened while I was cab driving earlier this year and I don't know why. Long hours of immobility lying half flexed while the other leg worked the pedals seems to have had some deleterious effect. This is of particular concern because unless some miracle supervenes I'll be driving again soon. Oh, well. I can still walk, run, skip, hop, jump, stand still, sit, drive, lie ... the one thing I can't do any more is kneel.



The earliest maps, circa 1865, of the area surrounding the present Luna Park show a wasteland mostly covered by a lagoon.

The lagoon was drained in the 1870s and remained unoccupied in the 1880s.

The St Kilda Foreshore Committee was formed and held its first meeting on 22 June 1906.

The committee’s role was to promote positive use of the foreshore area and to manage the Crown Lands along the beach from Fraser Street in the north to Head Street in the south.

A vaudeville performer, Mr E. S. Salambo applied for a lease on the paddock next to Shakespeare Grove at this meeting.

On 2 November 1906 Mr Salambo opened Dreamland which was an outdoor amusement park situated approximately where Luna Park stands today.

Its attractions included Mt Fujiyama, The Rivers of the World, The Destruction of San Francisco, The Underworld, The Figure-8, a Grecian Theatre, an Airship and a Band.

The venture failed after three seasons, possibly due to its high entrance price.

Dreamland was demolished in 1909 but one ride, The Figure-8, located approximately on the site of the Palais Theatre, was popular enough to be retained. It was a primitive type of roller-coaster and remained until about WWI.

text found verbatim here: http://www.lunapark.com.au/early.html



a calling to mind of the inexistent, thereby giving it a provenance, a history, perhaps even a future.

local history

Each morning he woke to a future; but this future never lasted longer than a tick of the clock. It could neither be prolonged nor postponed, it could not be inhabited even for a moment. It was less a future than a fugitive, imperceptibly decaying into the present which itself decayed, perceptibly now, into the past. The past was easy, was all around, could be entered at will or involuntarily, as he pleased ... in the grand deco entrance of the Town Hall he watched through glass as somnambulist couples turned about each other in a ring that also turned across the sprung floor. A rudimentary shuffle, some of the old ones orbiting at arms length about a still centre that was nowhere—or everywhere—between them. They moved to a muzak version of Dance of the Hours. A notice on the wall next to a telephone suggested dialing the local historian's extension, which he did, only to find himself apparently connected to his own voice mail: as if he were himself the local historian. This was both true and not true, it didn't matter. In the same way the square, squat tower over the entrance to #20 Terminus Street was and was not the citadel of the Prince of Tyre. There were no odd numbers on the left hand side of Terminus Street but no houses on the right either, only train tracks. Would the local historian know if there had ever been? Her assistant wrote down the opening hours of the library at which, it may be, the answer was to be found in some book. He wanted to ask where Taverners Hill was but suspected he already knew: north of here, that line of dim shacks where ghost children played with sticks and kerosene cans. Terminus Street ran between Crystal and Palace. White paint peeled from a balustrade, exposing grey concrete beneath. A sacred ibis bisected the sky. He thought: pterodactyl. Wondering if it would rain. And if the pterodactyl thought: ibis? He hoped so. After all, there's no time like the future. He took another book down from the shelf, opened it and read: ... most of the universe consists of huge clouds of uncertainty that have not yet interacted with a conscious observer ... a vast arena containing realms where the past is not yet fixed ... The couples left the floor, they filed into the tearoom next to the auditorium and began to eat pieces of crumbly rhubarb cake. Rebarbative, now there was a word. It was what the future was. Or wasn't. How, he thought, to remain here, in this moment of arrival in the fleeing moment? His mouth improbably fixed to two mouths and ecstasy rising like smoke through his veins?


Spring is breaking out all over, the air full of heady scents ... and the sound of power tools. All the old guys up and down the street are pulling out their machines and ripping into the vegetation, as if the burgeoning growth is some kind of affront to their sensibilities. Or sexualities, maybe. I don't know. Recall how my father in his decline used to regard the lawn and hedge with a kind of despair, they were 'getting away from him'. But it isn't just the blokes. We have a keen gardener in this building, a nice woman, but so far almost all I have seen her do is pull things out, cut things back, clip, prune, slash and burn. She got onto the nightsweet last week, which was cascading nicely over the back fence and then moved on to severely curtail the plumbago that grows over the letter boxes. I don't understand it ... times I've been lucky enough to have a garden I let everything grow. Currently it's just pots on the balcony - a piece of rosemary I found on the lawn after one of the gardener's blitzkriegs and kept in water until it rooted; some ancient poppy seeds (yes, that kind) I found in a ginger jar, which probably won't come up but who knows ...

Meanwhile the air is delicious. Walking in Haberfield yesterday I became preternaturally aware of how the different perfumes are somehow geographically keyed in my brain, viz: jasmine, I am back on the front balcony of a friend's house in Mere Mere, it is a Friday night in 1968, we are having a party; freesias send me to St Mary's Bay in Auckland, the summer of 1980-81, just before I came over to live in Sydney; wisteria, Auckland again, early 1970s, the house at 56 Grafton Road whose verandas were festooned ... but this is a split memory because the scent also takes me up to the Winter Gardens in the Domain behind that house where we used to go to look at the carp in the pools; then there's the to me melancholy scent of daphne which locates me in the dank late winter streets of Heretaunga, Upper Hutt in the late 1960s, the only time in my life I lived in a neighbourhood of wealthy people; finally - though there's plenty more - gardenia, hyacinth, jonquil, tuber rose - the cream waxy flower that grows on a tree, a native I think, whose name I don't know but which transports me instantly to Pearl Beach where right now it will be flowering en masse down by Emerald Creek just behind the dunes ...


Le printemps laisse errer les fiancés parjures


The St. Vincent de Paul in Smith Street has good shirts, good cushion covers, good books - and much else. At present they have a feature on clocks. I'm not big on clocks, don't like the ticking, but if I was ... anyway, having just read Claudio Magris' Danube, when I saw Embers by Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, I bought it. In my mind I thought Márai was a writer discussed in Magris' voluminous account of the river and its voices but no ... I googled him and found an excerpt from his American Journal (http://www.hungarianquarterly.com/no173/2.htm). Some strange wind of history blows through San Diego here.


It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train ...

An odd thing happened yesterday morning. I was sitting here with my sons going over a speech Jesse, the older one, is going to give to his year three cohort at the end of this term. It's about an idea he has for a film, a comedy called When Grannies Go Bad. The Grannies get fed up with life in the nursing home and break out ... most of the film appears to be shoot-em-up action as the forces of lawn order try, unsuccessfully, to round them up. Eventually they succeed in busting out the Granddad's from their nursing home. And off they go into a geriatric sunset. It's full of food jokes: one reason the Grannies are jack of the nursing home is because, every night, dessert is that old English favourite Spotted Dick; while the Granddads subsist on a diet of Toad in the Hole. I've had nothing to do with the genesis of this idea, Jesse's made it up himself with a couple of his mates ... but I don't mind helping out when I can, because I think it's really funny and also credible: you could actually make a picture like this.

Anyway, we're sitting here yesterday morning giggling over pictures of Haggis we found on the net when we hear a train whistle blowing and catch the chugga-chugga-chugga sound of a steam engine drifting on the air, along with the clackety-clack of wheels on the rails ... we looked at each other: that's the 3801 going by, we said. We've been on that train, about six years ago, on a run up to Newcastle. Liamh was just a babe in arms then, I remember he was in a front pack as I walked along the bank of the Hunter River, not noticing until it was too late that he was getting a touch of sunburn on the top of his head.

What was strange for me was how the sound whirled me back to my childhood in the 1950s, to the world of the images I posted last week: because every night there the Limited Express went through twice, first the north bound train then, a little later, the south bound. Something about the acoustics meant that the sound of the train bounced off the hills below the mountain in a way that amplified it, with echo. You'd hear this enormous lonely wailing, then the steam engine building pressure, the clackety-clack rising then fading ... so that, even though our house was probably a mile or more away, it always seemed like the train was passing much closer - across the river maybe. The 3801 going through Summer Hill station yesterday morning had that exact same resonance ...

top: the 3801 at Sydney; bottom: at Newcastle


At the present the days begin and end with the larrikin operatic of the currawong, a bandit bird that makes the historical decision to populate this country with convicts seem not so much prescient as ordained. Like quite a few of the local avians they are carnivores and are in the habit of leaving bits of bodies in remembered places for later. They are also social birds and the calling morning and evening is them telling their fellows about waking up and going to rest. Despite my generalised sympatico for their tribe I can't help thinking there is something alien about birds as there is about reptiles. The logic of their association escapes me: I understand more when my green cloudy looks direct into the beady eye of lizard or bird than I do when I overhear-or-see some interaction between saurian and saurian, bird and bird. The other afternoon a couple of currawong were gurgling avidly together over some morsel in the flowering gum out the front, so enticing it required a perch and further anticipation ... first one, then the other, elected the balcony where I was as their lounging spot. Each banked my way before croaking alarmedly and pulling out; from both I got the peculiar yellow eye they give. It is like being looked at by one of the Martians in Spielberg's War of the Worlds. A gaze in which none of your self-identifiers is evident. The alien sees you as alien and at that moment you are undeniably so, even to yourself. Aha ... ! you think. So that's what I am. One of those ...


The Ruapehu Hotel

This is a photo from 1980 of an old hotel that used to stand out on the Dreadnought Road at Rangataua, near where I grew up. Last time I went to look, all there was on that corner was a pile of splintery grey boards ... it had been knocked down by someone, for some reason. Even though it looks derelict in the photo, it was in fact being lived in at the time. Here's what I wrote about it then:

You could make out the letters of its name fading along the weatherboards of the right hand gable. In the overgrown garden, red hot pokers raised their vivid cones in the air. The veranda sagged. One of the dormer windows, broken, was stuffed with boards and straw. The front door opened and a woman came out. She was big-boned and bare-foot and did not look her sixty-five years. She said she'd raised seventeen children and six grand-children in that house. No regrets, except perhaps the lack of royalties from the many who came to photograph her gothic mansion. Mr. Smiles, selling pictures of it in his shop on Cuba Street. Someone else had made place mats. There were tea trays too. There ought to be a law. What else? You have to be patient. You have to wait out the silences, staring into the white distance between one remark and the next. The slight rain drifted down Dreadnought Road towards us. It rains more since they milled the bush, she offered. She remembered when there were thirty sawmills within an eight mile radius of the town. Then the bad years after the boom was over, the Depression, the War, the long slow post-war decline, which the opening of the ski fields reversed. A fifty year slump between the bush and the mountain. She didn't ask us in, but through the half open door I caught a tantalising glimpse of wonders ... a glass-doored tallboy full of bric-a-brac ... a painted plaster parrot won at the Taihape Show … little ornamental dolls a sailor son brought back from Japan ... pieces of kauri gum ... postcards from Spain ... a cuckoo clock. In a falling down garage round the side of the house was a 1955 FJ Holden Special, pristine, before a lawn edged with white painted car tyres upon which stood a single cabbage tree.

I was going to use this and other photos from the same time to illustrate a possible reprint of my essay The Abandoned House as a Refuge for the Imagination in a book of Gothica but realised, just this week, that for copyright reasons this will not be possible. Ho hum. So I've been out looking for possible replacement images and have found a remarkable series of photographs, mostly from the early 20th century, of my old home town and envirions. Here's a few favourites:

This is more or less how Ohakune looked when I was growing up there in the 1950s - even the old car is right, because in those days people still drove around in Model T Fords and such like.

This the actual street I grew up in, our house was away in the foreground from the POV of this shot ... but hardly any of those buildings survived the Great Burns Street Fire of 1917.

The same stretch from a slightly different POV. That's a stream, the Mangawhero, running parallel to the railway line; it's about to join another stream, the Mangateitei and we lived just below the confluence with our back garden ending at the river's edge.

Waiouru, now primarily a military base, was about twenty miles east of Our Town. This from 1908, just after the railway - the Main Trunk line - went through.

This is just a few miles in the other direction, the main road to Horopito. Photo apparently taken from one stage coach of the other, that shadowy form on the road ahead.

Except for the first shot, the photos are all from the collection at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, to whom acknowledgement is due.


strolling bones

Spent much of the weekend reading the Greil Marcus book about Like A Rolling Stone and listening to some of the music it's about. Took a break Saturday to meet with an old friend from NZ who was in Sydney to farewell his daughter, off to Europe. Neil's a bass player, an old Red Moler like me. He told me a Dylan story: a friend of his worked on the road crew of The Never Ending Tour for three years. He was told at the beginning to stay out of Bob's way so he did. One day about eighteen months into the gig, backstage he was doing what he was doing when he happened to pass by Bob, just hanging out. Bob said: Hi, I'm Bob. You're doing a good job there. This brief encounter was followed by another eighteen month's silence ... anyway, came home to a telling bone call from another old friend raving about the new Rolling Stones album. Best since Exile on Main Street he said, in the youthful tones of one for whom no time has passed. And I thought, playing yet again a wonderful soul version (don't know yet who by?) of Gotta Serve Somebody off the sound track to Masked and Anonymous, yep, and how lucky are we to have these particular bones to stroll along with?



It was out west not so very long ago, a blue day, Sunday. We'd been to the jail, then we'd gone into town. There was a fair in the main street, stalls selling all manner of manufactured items as well as natural pieces like little plastic bags of jewels for fifty cents. We had lunch in a hotel called the Fitz and then browsed the market; later we stopped in at a place down the other end of the strip for coffee. It was afterwards, walking past high colonial brick walls towards the muddy river, that I said: You're a dragon, aren't you? and she said No, I'm a snake ... looking at that moment so authentically ophidian my heart turned over inside me, full of wonder and longing. Then we saw behind a dusty window of the museum a taxidermed cobra all dry and raggedy and long-gone coiled up there. Beside the brown river we returned to the car under wattles in bloom and I said it's unlucky to bring wattle into the house and she said well, she wouldn't ever do that again. And, thank you. On the drive back we stopped to buy apples and mandarins and avocados and garlic and zucchinis at a roadside shop. When the trip was over and we were saying goodbye I couldn't hide that I was feeling delirious. At the end of the hallway was the park. A distant sound of children's voices, barred light under a golden sky. Since then, it's been a month of Sundays.


a change gonna come

yeah, what the signs say is high pedestrian activity, with pictures: solo gal, solo guy, coupla kids, old bloke ... hmmm, knew I was high but these others? high on the signs? augurs well ... will look differently hopefully at my fellows when these changes are instituted, monday, 5th. &, it's raining.


the big toughie

Sometime in the mid 1970s I came across, in the Wellington Public Library, Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind, published in Vienna between the wars: a play to be performed on Mars was how Kraus described the 800 page dramatic work which was recently (April, 2004) read in New York. I couldn't make much sense of it so I handed it on to my mentor and friend, Alan Brunton, who must have returned it to the library after he read it, because I never got an overdue notice for it. That was the era of the Red Mole cabarets at Carmen's Balcony so I guess the text was apposite. A few years later we were driving across the United States on a three day speed binge on our way to the Theatre for the New City in Manhattan, where a Red Mole show of the same name was about to open. I say we: a band of musicians travelling as Red Alert; they were music for the Last Daze and I was the lights. Somewhere past Kansas we learned that a major crisis was unfolding at Harrisburg, PA, the nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island was melting down. There was talk of evacuating the Tri-State Area and I recall clearly a voice on the radio saying: It is not possible to evacuate 11 million people, there is nowhere to evacuate them to ... Well, it didn't happen, not then, but it has happened now. Once more we are seeing the future unfold before our eyes. Tautologically again. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean was one thing, this is another; they are harbingers, there is more and worse to come. After that season of the Last Days in New York there was a power blackout in the city that lasted not very long but long enough for a lizard sense of survival of the meanest to slither abroad on Broadway. What is going on on the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico is in one sense unimaginable but in another has been over-imagined. We know what is happening. We know our agency in all this. We know the consequences, have known for a long time. What we don't know is ... how to stop. Perhaps we can't stop until we are stopped ... ? So strange to walk outside and see Venus and Jupiter on a pas-de-deux in the Prussian blue sky, to smell the sweet scent of the night sweet rising, hear the voices of friends in the street calling Thanks and Goodnight ... the magnolia ... now I think of these lines:

Seen the arrow on the doorpost
Saying: This land is condemned
All the way from New Orleans
To Jerusalem ...


La Intrusa

Among my books there is a slim paperback called Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. Published by Jupiter Books, an imprint of John Calder Ltd, in London in 1965, it is edited with an introduction by Anthony Kerrigan who made most, though not all, of the translations. The book is in two parts: The Garden of Forking Paths, 8 stories (1941); and Artifices, 9 stories (1944). There's a short prologue by Borges, from the Spanish edition, to each part ... I took this book down from the shelves the other day because I could not remember ever having bought or owned it: my Borges was, I am sure, a Penguin, unaccountably lost somewhere in the labyrinth of the past. Yet this volume has my name on the fly leaf, in a version of writing I recognise as the hand I used in the 1980s, next to the pencilled price of the book: 95 cents, which must be from at least a decade earlier. Of course I sat down to read it because, though Borges is constantly evoked by myself and others, I have not actually read him for a long time ... I had forgotten how rich his writing is, how funny, how beautiful and strange: take the first words of The Circular Ruins: No-one saw him disembark in the unanimous night ... how could you not fall immediately under the spell of such an opening? Yesterday afternoon this book, with its black and white photograph of Borges in profile before a dim shelf of other books on the cover, was lying on the table under the window in the sitting room. Something about the way the light fell across it disclosed hieroglyphic marks impressed into the cardboard. I picked it up and held it slantwise to the declining sun: there, written horizontally across it, in printed capitals, was my mother's name and address at the house where the family lived when I left home early in 1970; and next to it the words: BOOK POST. I recognise the printing as my own, and the era of its use, because I also last week found a box of letters I had sent to my mother and read one, written in late 1970: it was addressed to her in the same style as the impression on this book. Clearly, I bought and sent it to her in that year. Quite when and how it returned to me, I do not know, but that must have been the time I inscribed it with my name ... it would not surprise me if she gave it back, the work could not have been to her taste and she may not even have read more than a few pages. And anyway I would not have given it to her because I thought she would like it, rather, the gift would have been a reflection of my own taste, a proclamation, even a polemic. It is even possible that I took it myself from her shelves on some unremembered later occasion ... I have two other Borges books, a series of lectures he gave over seven consecutive nights in Buenos Aires in 1977, called Seven Nights, and Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges by Richard Burgin, a young American who spoke to the Master at Harvard during his tenure there in 1967-68. Opening the second book at random this morning I came across this passage: ... I wrote it about a year ago and I dedicated it to my mother. She thought the story was a very unpleasant one. She thought it awful. But when it came to the end there was a moment when one of the characters had to say something, then my mother found the words ...