This is my modus operandi:
1.Take one small town.
2.Look at it carefully.
3.Look at it as a microcosm of the world and human spirit. Examine the uncanny ability of a
place to reinvent itself.
4.Talk to everybody who will talk to me.
5.Be invisible. Be comfortable being invisible. Be required.
I listen to Lyn, as she folds the sheets in the village laundry, the fragrance of heat and fresh washing powder enveloping us. I chatter to Helle, as we drive from cabin to cabin, making beds and replacing towels. I talk to Chris, as he keeps an eye on the temperature, waiting for it to hit 10 deg C before he starts painting his cabin walls. I find Kirsten in the Bogong Power Station Information Centre, on her last day of work before a month-long break, and ask my questions. And Timo, of course.
At night, Madelynne pulls out her black throne – a long cushion from the sofa-bed – and I dive under a sleeping bag on the couch, and we watch one of the DVDs from BCSC’s extensive collection. Marnie. Onibaba. Casanova. The Shadow of a Doubt. Walkabout. Hiroshima Mon Amor. The Spirit of the Beehive. My continuing film education. The narratives feed my writing.
No serious writing gets done before one’s first proper bush walk.
I go on a hike to Fainters Falls, wondering the whole way why it’s called Fainters Falls. Is it because people faint on treks and are revived there? Because the ascent is not for the faint-hearted? Or because some guy named Fainter discovered it (in which case, who decided to drop the apostrophe?).
The falls are modest, set amid lush, almost tropical vegetation. A squat sort of palm tree hangs on at one of its levels, where some hero had managed to carve an X into the rock.
I huff and puff behind Madelynne, eventually doing a 9km round trip.
Back at the old school – in my annexe room or in the main building – I take my bits and pieces, the memories I pick up like a magpie from people, the conversations I overhear, and try and knit them into stories. I go to Falls Creek and funnel words into my phone’s notepad, while skiers and snowboarders go up and down on the slopes outside. I average 2,000 words a day, which doesn’t mean anything in terms of quality, but makes me happy. Like I’m chalking up the klicks, rounding a bend in the round and startling myself with the sight of a fern-covered gully.
It’s been a while since I looked at the sky. As a girl, I’d lie on the backseat of my father’s white BMW coupe, his bachelor car appropriated into an uncomfortable family ride, and watch the clouds slide by in the rear windscreen. You can’t do that anymore these days. Car seats and belt-up laws, and what not. My children, I fear, have grown up without the pleasure of cloud-watching.
I unfold a plaid picnic mat in the old schoolyard in Bogong Village. Rusting play frames, A-frames devoid of swings, and kiddie rides with no seats populate the longish patch of land. The sounds of
the rushing creek water drifts up, finds its way here from the valley below. A bird barks in alarm, at my intrusion; another purrs. I sprawl on the mat. The sun has disappeared. It was there barely an hour ago. I am wearing two parkas in the spring chill, masquerading as a balaclava-wearing militant protester. The flies and bugs come and investigate me. Go away, I’m playing dead.
My square of sky. Wispy clouds, slowly moving. The only directions I know are the flag-less flag pole behind my head, and the green-painted school building at my toes. A brilliant white aeroplane, tiny like a hair barrette, glides by silently. My phone dings: my editor e-mailing with suggestions and discussion points after the second round of book proofs. I think of books I will write. Of the pragmatism and principles involved in keeping that F-word in my collection of short stories; a word that scuppers its best commercial chance as a school literature text. Oh, fuck it.
The sun, from its hiding place, dyes the clouds pale orange. Here they come now: a monkey with its hair standing on end, a cottony hanuman. A woman with her mouth on fire. Molten lava on high, trickling into my eye.