Larrimah Retreat Blog
Darwin writer and poet Kaye Aldenhoven went to Larrimah – a tiny settlement on the Stuart Highway, about 400 kilometres south of Darwin – for the third annual Andrew McMillan Memorial Retreat. Andrew left a bequest to the NT Writers’ Centre to enable this retreat, and it’s currently held at Larrimah, where Andrew is buried.
Kaye wrote a blog (while also working on a memoir of her life in the Northern Territory).
TRAVELLING DOWN TO LARRIMAH
I love driving country. Always have, and I find roads I know interesting because I can see the seasonal changes. From home down the Stuart Highway to Batchelor is a strip I know by Heart. For 6 years I drove this road twice a day, forty weeks a year at least. Get my calculator 40x 10x 6 so 2400 times, not counting school holidays, some of which I worked.
The road is in good condition, the rain is light so visibility is good and I can gawk at flora, not much fauna to be seen – the neon green grass, the red tape of dirt parallel to the black bitumen edge, like a peasant skirt with braid.
Stop at Adelaide River for fuel, and a bearded man smiles and opens his arms to hug me. As I am squeezed I remember he is Bill, Maureen’s husband.
Bill said,”I asked myself who would have a yellow car like that. KAYE Aldenhoven of course.”
Leaving Adelaide River, travelling south through that wet swampy country with creeks named by how far they are down the Track – 134 mile Creek. And Burrell Creek. Paperbarks, a few with flowers that perfume the night air, pairs of Burdekin ducks, egrets of three sizes, ibis, crows. And many water lilies. Red flowering mistletoe and a brilliant pink Swamp Bloodwood along the creek. I will collect lilies for my water jars on my return.
Watching the vegetation change, remembering my botany lecturer saying that geologists use plant suites to predict underlying rocks etc. The Highway has been cut through a stony ridge and I check the exposed strata -purplish, silty, soft. The layers have been twisted and buckled.
Not much traffic coming or going south. A few cattle trucks with soft faced brahmin. Ruei told me she likes the white ones best. I avoid a wedge tailed eagle leisurely lift off a wallaby carcass. A lonely eagle, not like the congregation I saw years ago.
Ah, road kill I have known. Well some I have eaten – bush turkey I roasted that was tough, tough, the hind quarters of a kangaroo I hit eaten as curry. I have often collected road kill for my students, giving them the opportunity to handle a wild animal and also observe the important lesson of what could happen to your body if you are not crossing the road carefully. On a school excursion in the new school bus I drove over the Alligator River floodplains and stopped to collect a newly squashed massive olive python. Jill would not let me put it inside with her and the kids., so I was forced to hang it in a strong bag on my rear vision mirror. When we got back to Jabiru School it was home time, so I popped the python into the staffroom freezer for later learning. I planned to use it in my Year 2 maths lesson, forgot to thaw it in time so I microwaved it to a flexible state. Though freshly killed, the warming python stank the staffroom out. Hard to live that one down. The kids measured the snake in every way we could think of – length, diameter, mass and length between the eyes etc. Contrasted that with the microbat they had handled a week earlier.
Sad to see Hayes Creek Stop closed. I love this are of red escarpment with the hint of green gorges, the creek flowing through, but I’m always going someplace else and have never climbed it. I don’t stop at Emerald Springs either. The signs read coffee, good food, but fuel is crossed out. I stayed here the first time for Katherine Region of Writers KROW, retreat. The view from the deck is lovely and the food delicious. I enjoyed several very interesting weekends with those writers from Katherine.
I get my mouth ready for a good latte and lunch at Mayzes in Pine Creek, the scene of several KROW retreats in recent years. 2018 I stayed at Pine Creek Pub and we wrote love poetry in one workshop. I am late, so I bypass Pine Creek. In years past we explored for treasures in Ah Toy’s amazing store, but now it is gone forever. An interesting place of a different genre is Pine Creek Cemetery. I like to drive up to the lookout too. Maybe in 13 days I’ll have time to do this. Ping Que Road. I want to explore that too. A tourist is photographing a termite mound dressed as a bride. Who dresses the termite mounds? Must be a team cos there’s hundreds extending for hundreds of kms. At the Pine Creek Writers Retreat I walked the streets in early morning, searching for Hooded Parrots – and discovered that I could have a good Indian breakfast at the Servo. Yum. When Kaye H smelled my breakfast, she woke, went and bought her own.
I listened to ABC news radio from Palmerston, for more info re the severe storm which hit Katherine last night, 4000 customers without electricity, many trees blown down. Just north of Katherine is an area of limestone. Here flourish Cycas califera, but with the lush growth I couldn’t spot any. Maybe I am driving too fast? This is my first long drive in my new Yaris.
Twerp Twerp a piteous cry from my shoulder. I stop to talk to a scrap of black and white misery – a young flycatcher, maybe a paperbark or leaden? She confides her woes. It’s raining. My tree fell down in the dark. Where is my mother? I’m cold. I’m hungry. I wonder if the poor little thing will survive, and realise there must be hundreds of birds in the same precarious state as I hear chainsaws revving close to the Tourist Information Centre. When I return with my free map, Feathered Fluff has flown. I think of Jill, Dave and Natasha, Toni, Roylene, but I press on. I don’t want to drive at dusk with animals wandering onto the road.
South of Katherine the first spear grass is flowering, bronze heads tossing. I wind down my window to catch the warm waxy scent.
At dawn the spear grass flowers while we make love.
I have an image of him, feel his palm on my back. But the smell evokes my mother doing the ironing. It’s a winter Saturday and she is listening to the radio describing Port Adelaide football team. Of course they are winning, because she is ironing smoothly. When Ports play badly, she thumps the iron and swears at them. I follow a two dog side tilting road train which works to govern my speed as I watch the vegetation change. Bauhinias. The country is drier, yet the bright green grass is offset by the beautiful ghostly glow of trunks of Eucalyptus papuana. Yes, they do grow in Papua and Indonesian Irian Jaya. I see a large goanna crossing the bitumen and will it to move quickly to avoid the thundering wheels of a truck.
Mataranka. A sign for Larrimah has the fuel symbol crossed out. I turn and top up. Oh, only $11.40. The Yaris is efficient. I have sat on 120kmh. I’ve lost my speed control and Larrimah is 76 kms further. A massive lowering black cloud to the west, and as I travel south great jagged lightning bolts spear down to earth. I arrived at Umbakumba on Groote Eyandt in September 1971, and sat scared witless as storms raged over the lagoon. I couldn’t not watch, and the house walls trembled whether I watched or not. No, I was not sipping champagne on my verandah. I was too young to know about champagne? True, not a joke.
With lightning still slamming the ground I turn right into the tiny settlement of Larrimah, a park in front of the historic pub. The sign has told me that. Tourist attraction. I am the only vehicle, even though it is drinking time – 5.30pm. I introduce myself to Steve Baldwin. He asks if I know his parents Kath and Terry. Yes.
I move my gear into a comfortable room with en suite (thank you Sally). There’s a single bed for Michael who is arriving Friday night.
There’s no mobile access so Steve shows me how to access the wifi, and I email my brothers, sons, and Peter who will mind my dogs. I miss my Lily and during the night she wakes me by shaking her head. It’s her ears that create the sound. Oh, Lily is 500km away. I read a bit of Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight and fall asleep again.
I slept well.
I slept well.
Went for a walk while it was cool
Vegetation around Larrimah is softly coloured greys, blues, darker greens.
It is very hard to sit and write endlessly. I explored the Pink Panther Pub grounds. Found a massive croc sunning itself, two cute wallabies and a sociable pair of emus. By the afternoon the empty cage with small pool sported a creamy croc, which was born with no eyes. It certainly has ears and is alert to my passing.
Many of the birds and animals were released by the former owner Barry. I bumped into Graham Sawyer of Toad Buster fame this morning, and two travellers, Robert and George, came in for breakfast, ordering bacon and eggs so I joined them.
By then it was 9.30am, long past my breakfast time, and I wolfed my two eggs, bacon, tomato and toast – white bread. Went back to my room.
I worked for an hour on poetry from Katherine, then began organising my Groote Eylandt stories. Went for a walk in the late afternoon as the storm was building, and sat with Barry, who offered to take me next week to see the memorial stone he placed for Andrew McMillan.
I will get a photo.
Six of us here for Friday night Happy Hour then dinner. Karen whom I met while she was cleaning said she knew I wanted hamburger. That mystified me. She said: Yesterday when you were having coffee and phoning Larrimah, we were sitting next to you. When you said Larrimah my ears pricked up. You said to call in and you’d buy a hamburger and a beer.
Even for the Territory this was a remarkable coincidence. The Hamburgers that Michael and I had for dinner were enormous and good. Michael ate all the chips. We don’t know where Jarvis is, on his way from Mt Isa, but it was Jarvis I invited into Larrimah. Will he come? Michael arrived earlier than I expected on Friday, driving here from work in Darwin.
Steve had explained in his welcome speech that business was quiet and the range of food accordingly small. I told him I would eat whatever they served.
During drinks and dinner an enormous storm passed, with much wind and no rain. The lightning lit the clouds but I saw no thunderbolts.
Day 3 Larrimah
Woke at 5am, looked at the time and put myself back to sleep
At 7am I drank water and walked West over three sets of railway lines along a track wet from rain – Karl says it was only 2mm -so disappointing. The vegetation was lovely – soft bluish greys, blonde grass. The low plants are woolly, Nana would have said like lamb’s ears. Beautiful. I don’t know what they are, quite a few species.
I walked, chose the right track where it forked, and of course, up jumped Robert Frost
The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other
to reach an old military camp, cement floor, old brown thick glass. Walked back, showered, tried to fix my little camera. No can do.
In the afternoon I got out my big flash camera, and tried to take a photo of Michael. Wont work. Insert card. I do have a card, and I struggled to insert it and the Michael did too. No can do
Bring 2 cameras and both refuse to do their work?? Try my phone tomorrow, but I won’t be able to upload the photos.
I think the blog will have to be constructed when my Larrimah residency is complete. Will that matter?
Just faking it. Trump would shout. Fake News.
Michael and I met Bobbi and Carl Roth at Happy Hour and I asked where we could go for a short drive. Bobbi recommended the Seventh Creek Road. Bill said first it goes to Seventh Creek Station about 4 kms then it crosses the new railway line at 40kms. It was in very good condition and we enjoyed watching the bush. We drove maybe 10kms then came back for a beer. I didn’t have a beer of course, but I had a Long Row piccolo of chardonnay. With ice in a splendid red wine balloon glass that held all the chardonnay and ice too.
Amazingly, as we sat in the Larrimah Pink Panther historic pub with former owner Barry Sharpe and old Larrimah residents Carl and Bobbi Roth and Karen and Mark Rayner, on came The Program with the Great Larrimah Mystery. What happened to Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie on Dec 16, 2017?
I moved to get a good view, where I could see the screen and Barry’s face. Billy left immediately. There it all was. Fran of the famous pies who lived opposite Paddy. Michael and I had lunch with her today and she was very talkative while we ate – I had a blueberry scone with jam and he had a home made roll with bacon and egg. No pies for us. Yes, the TV program did mention Sweeney Todd pies. I liked watching Andrew McMillan in a flash back saying how he loved Larrimah and found the interactions between the handful of locals fascinatingly complex. It felt a bit odd to sit with Barry watching Barry talking on the screen.
Michael and I ate Chicken Kiev and chips and I enjoyed the chicken and Michael ate my chips too. Then we went to my room to read. Michael’s bed is less than a single, so I hope he doesn’t roll over onto the floor. We read. He’s finishing The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson.
I am reading Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. My reading group will discuss this on a Friday soon. Running in the Family, Ondaatje’s memoir, I first read in 1992 after being captured by The English Patient. I read Running in the Family recently to prepare for writing this Larrimah Project, a memoir of some of my life. Even in his novel Ondaatje is offering me advice for my memoir. The book is concerned with truth and lies, real truth and fabrications, destroying truth to allow fabrications to be told.
When you attempt a memoir I am told you need to be in an orphaned state. p135 Warlight
Without attribution, he quotes: A memoir is the lost inheritance.
I am still hesitating over my memoir of living on Groote Eylandt in 1971 and 1972. I cannot decide who my narrator should be – My son or me.
Ondaatje warns: the past never remains in the past. p177.
Kissed Michael goodbye, done my washing, eaten my breakfast, made my bed, written my blog. Send the blog.
Stop procrastinating and write.
7 am Michael left after we had our first cup of coffee. Poor thing, he had to drink instant decaf, because all his was gone.
He headed North for Mataranka, for coffee and a swim in the thermal pools.
I walked south along the railway tracks, armed with my mobile phone, ready to take photos for The Blog. The Pub was still shut. Karen opens at 9am. I have not used my phone for photos before, but I took photos of colour and texture, sand, stones, tessellated barks, leaf litter, termite mounds, termites building and being eaten by marauding green ants. Flushed some startled wallabies and heard them thump away. Met the runner Karen on the track near Western Creek road, she turned back and I went round. Close here yesterday a donkey stared at us, but no sign of it now.
Yesterday’s crow was still in the carpark and Apostle birds were still hassling it. I could hear zitting from dense grass, and saw movement, but I spotted no Cisticolas. Intent on small, hidden birds, and the track smooth enough to trust my feet without looking down, I spotted the snake only when I was a couple of metres from its long body. Black-headed python. Non-poisonous. More than 2 metres, dark stripes vertical to the sand and her belly, gliding slowly, she stretched across my path. The lump in her middle section may explain the slow glide. I think I got a good picture, though I tried not to alarm her. Walked on, got a razzle from a Butcherbird in a frangipani. The Guinea fowls were active in front of the Museum. Came back to the Pub, plugged in my mobile camera/phone. 7 per cent power left. Photos use a lot of juice!
I showered, fronted for breakfast at 9am. Barry was there drinking his coffee. I remarked how surprising to see the ABC program about Paddy while sitting next to some of the main characters. Barry looked sad, as he had during the broadcast last night. He was dressed ready to drive to Darwin for medical treatment – for cancer. He kissed me goodbye, promised he’d be back at the end of the week.
Ordered eggs on toast with tomatoes, no bacon.
Michael ate some of my bacon, but now there’s only me, so no bacon.
No tomatoes. I tried to get Bob to bring some from Mataranka but he did not check his messages, Karen said.
I said: I will be here for dinner, but now that Michael’s gone, no chips pls. I don’t eat chips.
I tried to write, wrote Day 3 blog. Thought about writing, visited the Sulphur-crested, gave him a piece of my biscuit, washed my 3 shorts and 3 shirts by hand in a bright pink plastic basin and hung them to dry, which in the dry heat was fast. Checked the creamy little croc that was born with no eyes. She knew I was there. After lunch she was out warming herself. I offered the cockatoos the seeds from my prunes. They liked them.
A small bus was parked in front of The Museum, and I peered to see if it was open for them. They were occupied, sitting in the shade. Karen said she had the key and I could look any time I wanted. Tomorrow I will. I am reading Strict Rules by Andrew McMillan. Checking the way he describes Umbakumba and summarises Groote history. See, that reading is not pure escapism from my obligation!
At Happy Hour the wind gusts from the West, the black clouds are south of Larrimah. Through a slit The Fingers of God splay. The 5 guinea fowls return home – the one chick runs with them. I sit drinking a piccolo of Long Row chardonnay and enjoy the sweet tinkling of the ice in the glass as I sit on a pink table on the pub corner, under the poinciana tree, investigated by Apostle birds, watching the bird world shut for the night. Red shouldered parrots head for bed, Apostle birds nick off for the night. I go onto the verandah and talk to Billy, watch the news, hear of flooding around Mt Isa, the deaths of 1000s of bats in various states from the hottest January on record.
Corned beef, mashed potato, white sauce and vegetables. Yum. I eat and I’m ready for bed.
I read Poems for Love, an elegant collection of classic love poems. Catallus looks to be the oldest. Looking at design and layout of poetry.
My brother in Adelaide reads my blog! He replies:
No fake news thank you. I had a look at Larrimah on google maps and wondered what you did to get sentences there. Ha ha. Love bob. Only 12 days to go
I admire the double entendre of to get sentences there.
I applied for this precious two weeks of The Andrew McMillan Memorial Writers Retreat, a project of NT Writers Centre.
I hoped it would be a rigorous guard, warding against procrastination, my urge to have coffee with friends, to pull some weeds on Stuart’s rural block, propagate cycads, check out the OP shops for monkeys and books, do the sudoku in The Australian, drive into Darwin to the Bookshop, lie down with Lily and read my new book, and that’s just a short list of my diversions from the self-set task of writing.
I am staying at the historic Larrimah Pub, themed by the Pink Panther. Shockingly idiosyncratic, and delightfully intriguing. Larrimah, you should know, claims a population of 10, and 2 years ago Paddy Moriarty and his dog Kellie disappeared, and, and, and, there’s been no end of news items about this tiny town and its residents. It is suitably quiet here, and there are many birds – I am making a list.
Rained and thundered all night. 67 mils said Carl.
When I went for my early walk, I was tentative – still raining. I walked around the front of the pub and down on the curve of the street was a puddle deep enough for ducks to swim – a flock of plumed whistle ducks (Dendrocygna eytoni), several wallabies, a handful of red kneed dotterels and two black winged stilts. I am trying to learn the Scientific names of birds. For a strange reason I find plants easy to remember and birds’ names elude me.
A council of yellow masked plovers conference
over my prying intrusion.
I sense the plovers are incensed
by my not sharing breakfast.
I challenged Michael to get a Weekend Australian to me via Greyhound bus. The Greyhound from Darwin to Adelaide arrives around 6pm. Will it arrive? To get wifi I have to sit in the bar. I can smell my roast pork dinner, hear and see road trains rattle up and down.
I’ve been up since 5am so I’ll be in bed soon.
Love from Larrimah
Took photos of bush this morning – beautiful soft colours, very pretty. All my family are interested in native plants, an inheritance of John Allan Goodwin, our father, who took us for a drive every Sunday, and walked through the bush collecting seedlings, to establish in our Woodville garden – bottlebrushes, Leptospermum, Eucalyptus. In 1952 Dad bought that grey Vauxhall from his boss, Mr Whitmarsh, and every Sunday 4 adults and 3 then 4 kids (after David was born) squeezed in for the drive and picnic lunch. Thermos of tea, bottle of milk, Mum’s famous pasties with her home-made tomato sauce, Little Nanna’s apple and apricot pies. I loved the intensity of the dried apricot pies.
I have written steadily today, about 1971/72 on Groote Eylandt
It’s hard to sit writing for hours. My joints seize. This afternoon I watched Karen feed Sneeky Sam the 600kg croc. He ate two whole chooks. It was interesting to watch the eyeless croc, hatched in a Darwin Croc Farm. It is a beautiful creamy colour, and hears the slightest noise.
Now for my sunset chardonnay
Rained last night – 30mm. You know you are not in a city when this is the first data shared. I walk into the bar and Malcolm Turnbull is on Breakfast news, “Every election is winnable.”
Check my emails. One from my Adelaide brother David:
You quoted a line from Warlight, that also stood out for me, “the past never remains in the past”. A catchy thought. Isn’t that one of the main reasons we tell stories to one another, to share our pasts?
Sorry about my one finger texting. It butchers things for sure!
It’s funny what you said about Birds & Plants. I’ve always enjoyed memorising the botanical names of plants whereas for birds it’s really never bitten me. I only know a few Linnaean bird names & happily get by with common names. But with plants I always want to categorise. Interesting.
When I read your day 1 Blog I enjoyed the scenery descriptions. Then you threw in the deeply personal & poignant “hand on the small of my back” . It was arresting. I thought about an analogous incident in a blues harp lesson last year. The tutor said a good solo stands out against out often by using the simplest long notes. Not lots of super fast , use the contrast against the short plucked guitar backdrop to enhance what you are saying in you solo. Interesting.
I’ve been reading some more Stephen Orr. The Fierce Country. He describes various remote Incidents. Including the Falconio murder. His description of places and people, in the outback is outstanding.
Jasmin has sent a photo of Ruei and Kim playing Monopoly. I quote her: Sounds like ‘productive seclusion.
Gong Xi Fat Choi in the Year of the Pig.
Tomorrow is also the anniversary of my son Brett’s death – six years gone.
VJ emails me from Denmark: at this time of year, distance brings us all close. Vx
Drove my car down to the southern end of the railway precinct, parked and walked.
Zitting of unseen cisticolas, a pair of fly-catchers flip in small circles, lots of cautious, curious wallabies. There’s a sea of stinking mint, indefatigable, but I still pull a hundred and toss them on the road to dry and die.
I shower, wash my clothes by hand and hang them on the Hills under the poinciana tree. I’m sitting in the bar, to access Wi-Fi, and a man walks in and puts a plastic bag of tomatoes on the bar. My breakfast tomato. Brought from Mataranka. Oh the wonder of it.
Devoid. The puddle is devoid of Plumed Whistling ducks Yesterday’s puddle is still there, looks the same water to me. Not a single whistle duck, no masked plovers, no stilt, no dotterels. Gone in the night.
Afternoon rain, lots of thunder. I will walk soon. It’s cool enough. Then a glass of chardonnay and a meal cooked by Karen, at 7pm. Then a little more writing, a little more reading – Peter Temple from free take-one-put-one-shelf in the pub. Yesterday I read a monograph: The Genus Cycas in Australia, by Len P Butt.
Gong Xi Fat Choi
. . . a wander around Larrimah and around your mind . . . (K Hall commenting on my blog)
He was huge. Taller than me, stretched to full height, staring, glaring, anxious, twitched his ears, scratched his chest nervously, turned and thudded away. Huge muscular tail and massive hindquarters in action. Definitely not a graceful Antelopine Wallaby.
I walked to The Pond, over the railway line and along the sandy track, taking the left turn this morning. Lots of macropod tracks -small front paws, bird tracks. Bent to pick up a quirky piece of bleached gum wood, the kind that caught Brett’s eye and enhanced his garden. There was not a single bird on the pond; a white enamel bath-tub languished in the middle of muddy water. Where are those Plumed Whistle ducks? Took me 45 mins, so 45 to get back. I am like Lily – I have to be careful not to walk too far in my curiosity, because I have to walk back too. The return is never shorter on shank’s pony.
Rain during the night. In a dream I wrote some more of the Groote story. Now I have a map for today’s writing. Never happened before. The manager of the pub has two days off, going to Katherine today. Bruce is in Darwin for medical treatment, Billy is in Katherine having a cataract removed. That’s 4 of the claimed population of 10 absent. Steve Baldwin is due to arrive from Tennant this morning. The pub should open in 8 mins. I’ll wander up soon, access wifi. I will do my hand washing first. Took off the pub towels and folded them into the basket.
Steve cooked eggs and tomato, made my coffee. A woman from Alice called in for coffee, on her way to visit family in Malak. Gay and Des called in to see Steve.
You are the writer, said Gay.
How did you know?
Talking to Steve.
Sitting in Larrimah Pub eating breakfast reminds me of staying in Raffles Hotel in 1974. As the kids and I ate breakfast in this very grand institution, tourists came past every day on their guided tour and took our photos, Flashes dazzling us. Everton Football team were staying here too, but they never surfaced for breakfast. Now there’s some very good stories from their stay, but not just now, Kaye A.
Walked in the afternoon, followed Carl’s suggestion and drove down Western Creek Road a few kms, to where the creek is spilling over an enormous concrete spoon drain. There were the Whistle ducks, and they took off. A pair of Dollar birds (Eurystomus orientalis) hi-jinked around my crawling car. Ruth commented that she prefers descriptive names. The silver dollar in each Dollar bird wing?) I do too, that’s what I have relied upon for years but I want to learn something new. When I came back at 6.45pm, wallabies had invaded, munching the mown grass around each house.
Reporting on 20cms of water flowing fast over the spoon drain, Steve said the water flowed down from Daly Waters, from the big storm we watched on my arrival. It takes 7 days to arrive, but their 90 mls of rain sent her down faster.
That’s it. Five hundred and sixty two words is sufficient. Lasagna for dinner
And it’s goodnight from me.
Walked north along the track parallel to the railway line at about 7am.
Near the large rusty, iron, rectangular, elevated water tank I found three pairs of tracks – the switching area. The water tank was manufactured by Anderson, Vict, but no date. On the pub verandah WJ left his initials in wet cement in 1957.
I pulled Stinking Mint foetida ) along the track. There’s a sea of Stinking Mint, and my effort an infinitesimal drop in the ocean, but I still try to pull 100 weeds each day. It’s easy to find them, but I am not winning. I’ve been doing this for years. Jan Hills wrote to NT News re Gamba grass control in Darwin City. Good on her. Weeds threaten native flora and fauna, but Australians are blasé about the many extinctions we have caused.
Wish I could add the photos now. Took 2 – water tank and Larrimah Museum.
Barry, the former publican who set up the Critterz, as he named them, has got rid of nearly all the birds. Most to a man in Darwin. This morning a fella from Mataranka is taking the Squirrel Gliders back to the newly moved cage he’s taken to Mataranka. Dear little things, with a characteristic odour. Brett had three, which he loved watching in the early evening. I fed them insect larvae that I collected while walking, and moths that came to my lights at night. The first time I held a wriggling Hawk Moth, the little glider ran up my arm and bit my thumb, piercing my nail. Didn’t do that more than once.
Does Barry feel sad to dismantle all his collection of animals? What will he do about the monstrous croc? I feel sad as I walk among empty cages. The girl emu drums for my attention. The little old Antelopine Wallaby gently puts her paws around my leg, looking for affection.
Four slow flapping black cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus banksia) flew west. Numerous LBBs dog my attempts to identify them. LBB – scientific name? Little Brown Buggars – a term Annie Taylor taught me in Kakadu. One called to me this morning kill kill kill. Yeah.
Champagne, good books, a startling poem, a good shove in the pool, grandsons and their weird jokes, and the way they complain to their mother that your loud barracking at cricket embarrasses them. And then they phone twice to make sure you know the time of the match and the name of the oval. The smells of crushed garlic, mint, grated ginger root, cardamom ground in your stone pestle. Is the pestle the female bowl or the rock hard male phallus you grasp firmly? The perfume of the bowen mangoes you bought this morning – the season’s first.
I talk to a Long-Beaked Corell and a nude Sulphur Crested, who live in a cage near me. I share my lunch bread and my prune stones, leaving extra black flesh for them to gnaw. I expected they would crack the seeds for the kernel, and decided that would be safe, though apple seeds are arsenical, and the toxin builds in your bones. They don’t crack my prune seeds. I like talking to birds:
Stop talking to birds, someone might hear you
Masked Plovers don’t watch cricket
Fourteen masked plovers
turn their backs on the match
Shelter in the shade
Waiting to regain their patch
Of Wulagi oval
On the lawn
forty four red-winged green parrots graze
in brilliant morning light
their sheer green contrasted by
the lush pink of rose breasted cockatoos –
just the two of them,
God knows why we colonials called them galahs
and made them a synonym for stupidity.
Megan Nevett, former NTWC president writes:
A beautiful place name. I’m enjoying the fauna and flora – legitimate procrastinations I would say. Is there such a thing as a legitimate procrastination?
I was catching emails on the pub verandah when there was a roar. Yet another procrastination!! A helicopter is landing, so I grab my phone camera. A small bright red copter parks next to the Day Use Only sign. When I turn back the pilot is in the bar, buying a bottle of Bundy. I explain I Have taken a photo. Will that be OK? Sure he grins, a hairy bare-foot pilot in colourful surf shorts. As we stand together he offers me a quick trip over Larrimah. Yes, eagerly. I haven’t been in a helicopter for years. Quick and fun. I try to take the headphones as a souvenir but he’s too alert. Gay took a photo of me .
Steve brought mosquito repellent, so I use it and stay on the verandah. It’s busier – two Aboriginal men and a woman, Carl and Dobby cross the road and Dobby finds a bottle of Tonic water so I find a bottle of Soda water. There really are more stores. Steak sandwiches for dinner.
Truckie comes in, his rig parked across the road for the night, load is a donga – from Darwin to Canberra. What the?? We make jokes about the Prime Minister needing to move out the Lodge soon.
The steak sandwich, and a miracle, the green salad beside it, is delicious.
Day 10 Saturday Feb 9
I could hear them from 50 steps away. An ominous warning hum. A lot of bee hives.
Sylvia Plath’s The bee box. Dorothy Porter’s Bee Hut poem and collection buzzed into my brain. If I were home, I’d have them in my hand, reading them aloud to myself.
I was watching a family group of big Red Kangaroos, the biggest buck stretched tall to observe me, as I walked along a track off Western Creek Road, in a gravel quarry on the north side by the first gate. I saw by the tracks that someone had driven along there today. The beekeeper Rusty from Mataranka, said every one at the bar when I got back. How did I miss him?
When Michael the young’un arrived from Tennant with the new owner Steve Baldwin, he was the first person I saw when I wanted to say where I was going.
“Send Karl out for me if I am not back for breakfast at 9am.” I told him I walked in a different place every time, and he remembered that.
At 6.15am the net is working, so I send yesterday’s blog and catch emails – like butterfly snaring, I think, and then think of Nabokov who was a lepidopterist.
I walk west, follow a macropod path to my left, through scrub. I recognise more plants, (thanks Karl for lending John Brock’s book.) The thugs – Apostle birds, are already active, and wallabies are active but no-one else much. I notice a bee land on a yellow flower – a European bee from the hives I found. Has flown about 2kms since dawn.
I shower, wash yesterday’s clothes in the pink plastic basin, and tidy my room a little. Today is clean sheets day. I have a clean towel most days. I must sweep my room every morning because it’s full of insects that come to my light, and grit from my 4-wheel-drive sandals, when I forget to heel them off.
Michael the young’un shows me a tiny tortoise, diameter of a cup. Hey, in 1976 we brought a Todd River tortoise to Darwin. We’d had it a few years. The boys bought it from an Aboriginal man who had caught it in the flooded Todd. He was planning to eat it but Michael and Stuart and Brett were horrified, and bargained for possession. We had to hide it in motels on our way up The Stuart, and keep it damply healthy with wet flannel, and we sneaked it into Howard Springs Pool. Illegal entry. I wonder if anyone has ever recognised its alien nature?
Des cooks scrambled eggs for us all, with chilli sauce. I must be homesick or else short of Vit B, because I ask for vegemite for the toast.
Virginia Jealous emails:
The Larrimah in your blog sounds and smells and tastes and looks and feels just like the tropical north should. I miss the sense of it.
I must tell Vi that The Andrew McMillan Memorial Writers Retreat at Larrimah is available to writers all over Australia. Check the NT Writers Centre website.
Kaye Hall emailed:
Must be nice to have inner worlds, past worlds, alive again without interruption.
Yes Kaye, it is, while being challenging at the same time. The lack of interruption is good. Some of my memories are far from pleasant.
My brother Bob from Adelaide emails:
it’s finally raining this morning at last…one of the driest periods in a long time temperature has dropped. Long pants on and maybe a light jumper ha ha. All the plants and birds will be happy.
Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of cattle have drowned in Queensland floods
Ripper, Ralph. I have 92 A3 pages. And it’s only Day 10 @ 2.48pm!
A glass of chardonnay, in a balloon glass with ice, I take the photo Danish woman who is 8o. Bangers and mash and peas for dinner, with chilli, teases Des.
I ask for a house discount, and a Senior discount and a Green Season discount on my drink and dinner.
No rain, soft pink light
Wow day 10 already. What day will you get back? Stuart wants to know
The sun slid off the face of the earth and a sliver of moon was dragged in its wake. The Western sky faded from glorious pinks and peaches to dark grey. No rain. Time for bed.
I looked at the Tourist billboard and the penny dropped. I’ve been looking for Gorrie Airstrip to south of Larrimah and it is 9.8 north on the west side. Tomorrow morning, north.
To prepare for this retreat I have read Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska.
Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje
Inadvertently his Warlight gave useful tips
JM Coetzee’s quote “The stories we tell about ourselves may not be true, but they are all we have.”
Avianti Armand an Indonesian writer: “We cannot believe in memory. if there is something more uncertain than the future, it is the past.”
I must confess that the book is not a history … I apologize and can only say that in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts.
Michael Ondaatje, 1982:206 Running in the Family
This quote will save my life. I am a secret writer – once I wrote a few paragraphs about Roma and Jack, our parents, and my sister read them.
Totally not true, Carole announced. That never happened. She was so angry I worried that she’d kick me out of her house.
Richard Ford encourages me
Pieces can stand for the whole well enough
(Richard Ford, 2017. Between Them: p108of his memoir of his parents.)
I am getting old. The exhortation from MTC Cronin rings true.
Do not stand there
with your mouth
Those who play with words
have their whole lives
to do so
but that is all!
Brett said: I don’t want to die. I have so many things I want to. I will send this Sunday at Happy Hour if I can, so short blog today.
The sky is deep red, and the planet seems huge. I sit, the sky turns a lighter red, apricot and peach then creamy. Guinea chooks cross the road by the street light. There are 4 street lights from the Stuart Highway to the pub at the end of Mahony Street, and 4 more along the railway precinct.
I have made my first coffee and taken it through the dark to the front road. Sit on a plastic chair and sip, watching and listening. After 15 minutes the first road train rumbles north. The guinea chooks are out and about before native birds, two wallabies cross the track heading for the bush. The sun outshines the planet, my cup is empty, I come back to make my second.
I will be leaving in 48 hours. Barry Sharpe will be waking in Barbara James House in Larrakeyah, preparing himself for a day at Royal Darwin Hospital. He travelled by Greyhound yesterday. I’m ready to go for my walk – light enough to spot snakes now at 6.39am.
I drive to Western Creek Road, and on the corner – a jewel – a red-backed black wren Malurus melanocephalus, a colourful male flits up to show off. The sun catches his glossy black plumage, his bright red saddle. This one I saw at Nourlangie
When I see a black mote of wren
Flit upward like an idea
On the silver-leafed grevillea
No words come.
My heart moves
But wrens don’t interrogate:
“What have you been doing lately?”
I wind down my windows so I can hear and smell, and creep down WC road to Birdum Creek.
Larrimah lies in a transition zone where the wet-dry tropics overlaps the arid Barkly Tablelands. Birdum Creek is the most southerly to flow into the head waters of Roper River, which flows to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The landscape is undulating and dominated by low Eucalyptus woodland. The grasses are productive for cattle grazing.
From an ancient information sheet in the pub.
No water flowing over the spoon drain. A dozen red-wing parrots rise and perch conveniently in a dead tree so I can count them. No Brolga and no Plumed Whistle Ducks this morning, though there’s water upstream. I return, park next to the railway line and walk south for a while. Back to the pub to wash yesterday’s clothes. Looks like breakfast will be later than 9am. I write.
On the pub verandah in the cool wind, I access the net and read my daily dose of poetry from Poetry Foundation, NY based.
Today’s rings a bell Agha Shahid Ali, “Snow on the Desert” from A Nostalgist’s Map of America. Copyright © 1991
. . .in New Delhi one night
as Begum Akhtar sang, the lights went out.
It was perhaps during the Bangladesh War,
perhaps there were sirens, air-raid warnings.
But the audience, hushed, did not stir.
The microphone was dead, but she went on singing, . . .
The bell that rang? .Kellylee Hickey jumping on the table at the Groove in Nightcliff when a storm took out the lights and mike. With only the emergency light, Kellylee shouted her poems in gaps between thunder rolls. We clapped as loud as the thunder
Toni Tapp Coutts emails me:
I tried to buy the Pink Panther pub in 2012. I wanted to name all the rooms after Territory Writers ie. The Andrew McMillan room.
The museum is lovely. My family owned Western Creek station in Maryfield Station around Larrimah.
I’m signing off early, to walk for a while, get rid of the stiffness in my joints.
Day 13: The last day.
A nice breeze this morning, through the verandah, blowing away the night perfume from frangipani and the pink flowered vine. Walked around old cattle yards this morning, and drove down Western Creek Road and walked across the flood plains a short distance, because I could, it was barely damp. No rain last night, though we saw lightning to the south. Large Strychnine bush with unripe fruits, dense thicket of a root parasite, sandal wood? Not sure.
Coffee, and more coffee, hand-washing, watering the small garden I planted of succulents. Pulled Poinciana seedlings, African Mahogany seedlings, Albizzia seedlings. No stinking mint where I walked, so I had to keep up my daily weed destruction quota, didn’t I?
A cattle truck slowed when I was parked by Birdum Creek, and while I was eating breakfast, two stockmen called into the pub for cold drinks – coffee and lemonade. They did not take my photo, but the older man, tall Aboriginal, talked to me, told me he was going north after the cattle I had seen. Not to abattoirs or overseas, but to another station. Lucky brahmin. Not dead yet.
I have to take my laptop to the bar to access email, and I’ve done that twice already. The walk interrupts my writing but loosens my joints and clears my brain a bit. I was so busy writing I had lunch at 3.30, when I decided I was hungry and opened the fridge to find my uneaten lunch. I lost a few pages this morning, my cursor is playing up is my excuse, and it took me an hour to amend.
Shifting my head to Darwin this morning – offered to pick up Ruei for gymnastics tomorrow.
I will leave Larrimah early, hope to have breakfast coffee with Natasha and Dave in Katherine.
Laura emailed me: Jarvis only arrived home yesterday, stuck in floods near Mt Isa for eleven days. Wow! I had offered to shout him a beer and hamburger if he called in to see me round about Feb 3rd
I will be sad to leave this peaceful, interesting place, but I am looking fwd to seeing family. And Lily.
Thank you Andrew McMillan – you’ve been near me. I know, and The Trust.
Thank you Sally and NT Writers Centre for this opportunity.
Thank you to friends and family who have emailed comments re this blog, and encouraged me here
in the middle of everywhere.
Thank you to Larrimah Pub mob – Karen and Mark, Gay and Des, Michael,
Thank you to Larrimah mob – Billy, Bobby, Karl, Barry
Thank you to all the drop-in guests who talked to me, and to the one who took me for a spin in a red helicopter to see Larrimah from the air.
I will have to come back.
Love from Larrimah
Day 14 : Post Script Leaving Larrimah and Travelling North
I said Goodbye to you all.
I had written enough blog, but, I had not taken into account how much pleasure would be mine during the drive home.
And I have a lot of photos to share, to let you see beautiful Larrimah, the Middle of Everywhere.
Hours, it took hours to download photos from my phone, sort, name some. Lisa helped me. I spent several hours comparing plant photos with John Brock’s Top End Native Plants and Kim Brennan’s Wildflowers of Kakadu.
Will Sally let me add to the blog on the NT Writers Centre website? Hope so.
With a coffee in Mayze’s Café in Pine Creek I plan the points I want to include. I have stopped here and driven slowly around Jensen Street, looking for the Hooded Parrots I have saw in 2017 and 2018.
Planning. The sun’s not up, but I am packed and ready. The light is gloomy, but feral Guinea fowls are strolling out on the road under the street lights. I drink my coffee, the planets fade to invisible, and I decide to leave, with a vow to drive at 80kms per hour at least until Mataranka where I need fuel.
Near the Gorrie sign, there’s a freshly killed wallaby. Two kites and crows have gathered. I pull over, remembering the man on Katherine Gorge Road who dragged road kill off the road every morning on his way to work, to give the birds a better chance, he said. He was somewhat surprised to slow down and watch me dragging dead animals. Smeared, liver smeared on the bitumen like pate on toast, but I grab the bloody tail, and drag half the wallaby to the side. It’s still warm, a dawn kill, and the other half I drag off too. Poor little buggar. Further to Mataranka I slow, two bulls have run across the road, and two cows and a calf are still on the east side. I crawl through. Their faces are beautiful, soft pale colours, huge eyes. The man who takes my petrol money says they are feral, and there are too few to make it financial to capture them. He looks at my white hair, little old lady yellow Yaris, and warns me to be careful. I wash wallaby blood from my palms. Mataranka is spotless. Three brolga graze on the parkland. Two Aboriginal men walk each side of the road, collecting litter, the one nearest me is accompanied by a very well-cared for white and brown terrier that looks like Kim’s Minnie. I drive north.
Elders sign – FOR SALE 67 874 hectares. The size of a country. The road has little traffic – road trains, empty cattle trucks returning south for another load, three-dog fuel tankers roar north.
More road kill and more carrion-eaters.
Glossy Crows and Kites
Clear the highway of last night’s roadkill.
CLOSER to Mataranka I phone Natasha – she’s at work already, but tells me to turn west at the Tindal Road and we can have breakfast at the base. She’s standing by the amenities sign. We walk to the coffee shop. Talk for half an hour before she has another client. Nice interlude. I’m am astounded at the neat suburb of Tindal and amenities – gym, sports oval, etc. Drive into Katherine. A young white-fella care is pushing an old blackfella in a wheelchair down the main street. Slender women with shiny skin and brilliantly patterned long skirts stride along the footpath. I peer down Katherine River. It’s 18 metres down to the water from the railway bridge. The mind boggles at the amount of water needed to flood Katherine!
Over Edith, over Fergusson, over Cullen – rivers with Scottish names – that John McDouall Stuart at work. I stop at Pine Creek – think of its Chinese history, The Gold Mountain, the Aboriginal mob that were attracted by news of the activity, and white fellas. There is a rock painting near Cahill’s Crossing showing the Pine Creek railway, horses, and humans with plaits. The painter showed the three strands that make a plait. I’d like to see that again. On the counter are 4 white origami cranes. I am a solitary customer, sipping latte, so I ask, and the waitress says she made them and I comment on the white cranes as a symbol of anti nuclear bomb movement, Nagasaki and Hiroshima. She does not know this symbolism the story of the 1000 cranes. As I crawl down Jensen looking for Hooded Parrots, two male Coucals eye me off. I’ll bet they have been competing. I laugh in memory of the one which attacked my school bus every morning in Jabiru, during breeding/courting season. I drive, making good time.
From Royelene of Katherine Writers: Just to say hello and to thank you
for the opportunity to travel down the Stuart Highway with
great window views all the way to the Pink Panther and all things ‘Larrimah’.
Great trip, great journal writing!
I found writing a blog fun – much to my surprise. Now to move in some photos.