Leaving High school

School leaving

So here we are at the end of my son’s final year of high school.

He is unrecognisable as the pale blond boy, with a mother’s bad haircut, who entered Montessori as a three year old. His hair is darker, barber cut, his face longer and more bored. He seldom laughs, at least around his parents. Some times I glimpse the hair on his legs and it’s, “where did that little boy go?” I see the way he is with the dog and am relieved.

He has always been a reluctant school goer – despite changing from different styles of school, looking for the one with the best fit. Years of early education in Montessori, a few years in the traditional public school system and ending with six years of Catholic all boys school. All different, and yet all the same – approached with dreariness and shoulder-slumping.

I remember him making potions like the neighbour’s six year old does now. There was passion in potion making. Passion in spy make-believe, from the high vantage of the limestone wall. Passion kicking between the paper barks, in being Ablett and Bally. But no passion for school. School equated with work and work was something that adults complained endlessly about.

We wonder, as parents, if we could have done something better – his father laments he was too tough on him early. Did he ask too much of him? In moments of exasperation we did yell and holler louder than we wish. We have all wanted to rewind and take back those words that were blurted out at a child who appeared to be doing something just to make you boil over. I think of taking him to riding lessons at the Claremont show grounds – spurred on by his enthusiasm on a mule ride in the Grand Canyon. After a few lessons he began to hate it and cried in the car on the way there. And I drove on. I pleaded with him to finish the term. The teacher, still a girl, spent time on her mobile as he sat rigid, unsmiling on a barely moving pony, circling her.

I wish I had known as much as I do about dog training and behaviour when I could have influenced him more. How might I have been able to shape behaviour better? Maybe give him more choice? Now he seems cast adrift. I watch from the banks and know that ineffectual waving is all I can do. How do you wave to signify “take care”, “I love you”, “you can do this”, “I have your back.” The generic hand in the air is just that. Bye. He is too far out now for him to hear me. I am shrinking, as he slips away, over the breakers and becoming a barely seen blip on the shoreline of home.

He goes to an 18th birthday party when he is seventeen. He tells me it is in South Fremantle. Another parent will drive them and he waits for them on the driveway, whilst killing time shooting baskets. I don’t go out to check on the address with the parent who is driving, although I know this is something I should do. It is, no doubt, parenting 101. I don’t do it because I know my presence beside the car, leaning awkwardly in towards the driver, and perhaps saying something obtuse and embarrassing, will make him wince. He is waiting purposefully outside so as to avoid me speaking to and being seen by the other parent. I have given him money for the Uber home that he says his friend will order and that is all the information I have. My questions swirl about my head, but I have had my allotted two grunts today, and so further questioning will likely only irritate further.

It seems somewhat deserving that I have a son so abashed by me, as I was equally mortified in the presence of my mother. I would have mostly done anything to have the earth split in two and swallow her when she was with me. And yet she loved me with a fervour. Unerring. She seemed oblivious to the embarrassment she caused – effusive and ebullient with strangers, shop keepers and wait staff, anyone. And loud. I did, over time, get used to it, and even come to admire it, but it took me into my twenties and beyond to see that she did it because it was her. People gave her joy.

It has been said that when a parent or loved one dies the relationship keeps going and evolving. It doesn’t end because they’re no longer in the physical world. I think of my mother and feel a deep ache in the centre of my chest for the woman that loved me so intensely. I feel sorry that maybe she never saw how much she meant to me while she was still alive. My love for her has finally caught up to the love she had for me – if we were twin high divers we would hit the water together, in unison, and the entry would make the perfect ripple. People would applaud.

I swim laps in tepid summer pool and remember doing this pregnant. There are fires and droughts across the country. The internet is full of orange skies and burnt koalas. Climate change is real. Even rain forest can burn. I see mothers coming from the toddler pool with little damp limpets clinging to them. A baby sucks his mother’s bare shoulder. When I was pregnant, before I became too rotund, I was able to get into the pool unaided, by falling off the pool deck like a toppled bowling pin. Afterwards, I hauled myself out. Nearing the end of the pregnancy they had a mechanical hoist and I was freakishly lowered in and levitated out. Dead whale. While I swam, I meditated on the growing foetus – telling the little bean that their future would be bright, anything they wanted. I would repeat “you will be fit and healthy and happy” as I stroked up and down the pool. Now I enter via the ramp on an oversized water wheelchair, so plastic and hospital beige. I swim my laps, while the teenager still sleeps on. At completion a signalled-to life guard returns the wheelchair to the water and it is like being an astronaut manoeuvring it – my weightless body and jaunty legs, getting them in sync, before reaching the shallows and the vessel finds its own solidity and can be propelled up the ramp. More little toddlers dart in front of me and their mothers tell them to be careful.  Careful of what? Me? What am I now? An old disabled woman, haphazard in the beige contraption.

I have not got enough information about the party. As I hear the car pull away I know this. When the boy/man’s father comes home and I explain why I don’t have this information I know it sounds weak and feeble. I am feeling weak and feeble. Feeble mother. How did offending this boy become something I am so reluctant to do?

We watch an episode of Chernobyl, like the middle aged people we are. We watch the flesh melt off the radiation affected humans and a child born die within four hours of her birth. We watch the conscripted soldiers shoot the abandoned pets, who eye them soulfully, and then tip them into deep pits and pour concrete over their corpses. We see bravery and stupidity. Boron and graphite take on new meaning. TV ads telling of the 16 types of cancer you can get from sugary drinks from the toxic fat in your abdomen need to be muted as I take a glance down at my own waist line. Like the hair on my son’s legs I don’t know how my own belly came to be there.

I think about my own going out at seventeen. My parents watching the Onedin Line. How my mother loved Peter Gilmore. I wonder what my parents knew of where I was going or what I would be doing and when I would be home. Of the contraceptive pill in the drawer beside my bed. They could not ring to check on me. I could phone the boy/man now if I wanted. Did our parents lie in their beds wondering? Did they worry about girls in cars with boys? Did they know that we chugged back cans of asphalt black Kalgoorlie Stout till the Broadway’s bathroom walls swayed in towards our brows?

I go to bed, but not to sleep. I think of alcohol being consumed by others and someone punching him hard in the face. I think of him perhaps wanting to come home but having to wait for his friend, the one with the Uber App, to be ready to leave. Will he be cold? I should have given him more instructions. Just the other day he couldn’t figure out how to open the shoe polish tin and asked me to do it for him. Have I done too much? His father says I have. So there we have it – a mother who has done too much and a father who has been too hard. The push and the pull.

At the assembly we sit close to the rows of Year 12 boys. They are spotty faced and embarrassed by the attention of their parents. Blazers are poor fitting and boys have haircuts called curtains that would displease the dapper principal. The Mark Knopfler track, Going Home starts and the year sevens get to their feet and silently move into position. Parents line the gym’s perimeter and are armed with their mobiles high in the air to catch the moment when their year 12 sons stand, the drums begin and they proceed out embraced by applause. Some mothers shed tears and wipe their eyes with tissues. I see the lacquered pink toenails of the woman beside me and her garish platform sandals. Is her son embarrassed by this?

I post the videos of the last school assembly and a picture of a him and a friend taken when they come back to the house, before going to the beach. His blazer is too short in the arms and too narrow across the back, but he has refused to buy a new one, with so little of school time left. His friend’s blazer is awkwardly large. The boy/man is cross with me for having posted and says I should ask his permission. But I refuse to take it down. It is my memory. It is for me that I post it. I have come through this too. It is a graduation from school volunteering, of sitting and applauding, of listening to prayers and not saying the Amen when others do.

From feeling the pang of leaving a small boy at a classroom entrance. to hearing he has been silent the whole day long. to watching as he trails behind the other lonely child. to wondering why he can’t read when others can and have him reveal that the class helper is on her phone when he reads aloud to her. to wanting to bat away another small child who has made yours not want to show his work at corroborree. to hearing that the male teacher yells at children who are only 10 years of age. to not getting a place in a special program and having to tell him so he runs away and hides in a wardrobe. to hear him say “but what about my career?” to waking up at night saying he is being attacked by numbers when he is in grade seven. to seeing him stand on the sideline and wait endlessly to be substituted in. to hearing he is delightful in class and always asks questions when he is unsure of what to do. to hearing that the deputy principal says he is the epitome of a CBC gentleman. all these pangs criss cross a mother’s heart. little stitches in precious thread.

The party is on the beach and they make a fire. There are girls and alcohol. He says he drinks water. I wonder how hard that might have been. I can’t tell. He gets home before midnight and can hear a murmur of conversation between him and his father who has stayed up. I have not slept. I have turned my phone off silent, just in case. I think next time I will ask for an address and give him a curfew.


Magic Miller

One hot day trapped inside a Fremantle cottage the boy discovers card tricks.  After the I’m bored. Forced into finding something other than my offerings. The excitement of washing up is declined. Knock yourself out hanging up the wet washing, I suggest. He will not mention the boredom again. The plantation shutters are closed, the jarrah boards still cool beneath the bare sole. The overhead fan shifts chunks of hot air about the room. In the distance there is the holler of children in the municipal pool, running the length of the giant inflated crocodile. A sliver of me remembers having to be there, steamy by the pool, while the boy did this. The interminable waiting till his finger skin was pruned and pale and he would finally agree to leave the chlorine and head home.

At first it is ordinary cards. Later Bicycle cards. The magician’s choice. Difficult for hands with a small span. Still. Soft touch. Cushioned. False cuts. Shimmery and capable of the perfect slide.

He is learning terminology. Like a new language. As pretty as French. Like we, the would-be renovators, learn that bricks come rumbled.

He is sent his grandfather’s old magic books. They arrive in a regular post pack to Jasper (Magic) Miller, despite the old man’s mistrust of Australia Post. The grandfather had, only the day before, taken them to the second-hand store. He went back down to retrieve them before they were placed on the shelf. That is something he might not do for anyone. It is hard to describe magic in photographs and harder still to relate tricks in words. There is tenacity to admire in a man who learnt his skills from the mustard Scarne. The print is small. It takes more patience than most people have these days. It takes concentration and rereading. Peering. It makes you do that thing with your brow. It requires your brain to muscle hard. Deciphering. Who has the time these days?


photo 1

Magic Miller can use You tube and the internet. He can see the trick slowed down in front of him and practice before a screen like it is a mirror. He can replay and rewind till all he needs is practice. This too is something harder to do these days. Who really wants to practice to be good at something? Just as people don’t expect to suffer, or wait or have pain, they don’t expect to have to work at something. Yet there is no other way. Not for anything. And certainly not for magic. For the reality is so very ironic that really, really good magic takes the opposite of how it seems. Effortless. It is all work. Very very hard work.

The texts are old and musty with that familiar old book smell. Like the taint of an old Aunt’s house, or a dimly lit second hand shop. The internal pages have yellowed and the text block grey. Fingers have smudged and marked. I think of restorers who sand paper the edges of books, taking a grain of paper from the book to restore it to whiteness. Graham recalls the books from his own childhood in his father’s house. They are instantly familiar. Like they have been shelved in his memory, along with the smell of them, down a dark hallway. He may have thumbed through them, on a monsoonal afternoon, in a Hong Kong house at the top of Peaceful Bay. In the background an older brother’s Bowie’s seven-inch Star Man on the turntable.

Magic is good for the boy’s adolescent brain. It is hands on. It is concrete. A perfect brother for a single child who lies on his belly in his bedroom. From the seventies. Like playing with a yo-yo. It is still real. The repetition. The practice of moving his hands. Of doing something smoothly and succinctly. Just as juggling is. Just as skate boarding is. Sleight of hand, sleight of cognition. Synaptic magic.





Rubbish Man Jogger


An Autumn morning. A splatter of rain. Spits really. The boy is excited. He loves rain. It hasn’t rained for years, he says. It can feel that way. A sky permanently blue. A sun a constant burning white. Today the sky is filled with storm clouds and there is the crack of thunder in the distance. A sky of substance. Something to look at and make into animals. Somewhere else it rains. Here a few drops dry instantly on the pavement.


From my verandah I see a man hopping on one leg up the steep embankment of the park. He is not injured. It is not the hop of a lame man. It is a vigorous hop. I watch him to see what he will do after he reaches the crest of the bank. He jogs now down the slope on two healthy legs. He weaves in and out of the eucalypts, occasionally bending down to pick up rubbish. He is the rubbish-man-jogger. Daily, on the oval, he performs his series of exercises mixed with the task of collecting food wrappers and tin cans. His jogging shorts are pulled higher on his waist than those of a regular jogger. The shorts are old and thin, worn constantly. He has no fat on him. His muscles are always working, if only at a trot. Up close you can see the tension in his face. In his neck you see the sinuous muscles of a man under strain.


Maybe this jogging is his meditation. It keeps him calmer than he would otherwise be. I imagine him as a tightly wound clock. Does he count his steps too?


I am leaving the house and come across him again – this time outside my house weaving his expert steps between the bollards that line the park. How large do the blades of grass appear? He has his head down, intent on purpose, but he senses me there and raises his head and smiles and waves. We exchange the wave of pedestrian and jogger. In his hand still is the collection of waste he has collected from the park. He will deposit it in the bin shortly, and then run on.


I wonder about him while I wait for my train. Something about him reminds me of my father. It could be the high pants. It could be the loose skin over muscles straining hard. It could be his work ethic. His doggedness. His assault on the hill on one leg. I see his tight tendons. Everything at breaking point. A mind stretched taut?


I miss my train by seconds, still fumbling with the notes at the ticket machine, as the train pulls up. I mutter a Fuck to make me feel better. It does nothing. I try it again a couple of times. Fuck fuck fuck. But in truth I am not late for anything. I have a date with books and words and texts. Twenty minutes later they will all still be there. In the library, joggers are not.


And it means the train will be empty. Only the late people. And ones who bring their bicycles. A middle aged woman wearing a shirt with paws on it – giving her away as a volunteer at the dog rescue, asks a younger man in high viz gear, cradling a hard hat, How is it that you are that handsome? then quickly steps off the train. Never on the 8.40am.


A nice morning for the jogging rubbish man. Man jogging rubbish. Jogger man. Rubbish man. Hopping up hill.

The Giant, the Cook and the Cripple.

Image 3

Pat Metheny plays. I stare at the knots in the wood of the orange pine ceiling. On my single bed. I remember studying ceilings; a past time of the spinal patient.


I think of yesterday.


On a quad bike. Held between the thighs of the Giant. Meanwhile the Cook roasts the chickens and tomatoes with fennel. Roasted sweet potato encrusted by macadamia crumble. Stone fruit tarts for after. Her kitchen is her castle. Stainless steel. Plywood. His is the scrub. The glades. The sandhills.


But after all what will I remember?


Freedom. Air rushing past. Being without my chair. The spray from the ocean waves as we hurtle along the wet shoreline. Hubert, tan galloping, keeps pace 38,39,40km/hr. His ribs showing. Tongue lolling. Eyes of an athlete. Hound. Rescued, he must think he is the luckiest dog alive.


After us comes the eleven-year-old on a tinier bike and then my Small Good Man. The eleven-year-old wears a motorcycle helmet that makes his head look like a pumpkin. He putters. But he’s getting the hang of the lean. Always into the hill. Faster too. He hits a bush. He learns to reverse. The Giant tells him whatever happens don’t let the handlebars hit the ground.


It is another lifetime ago since I straddled a machine. European pine forest roads, mountain switchbacks and black ice. A tasselled leather jacket because I could. Thighs that clenched. Now, I don’t feel the seat.  Mine is a flaccid lower half – legs like the stick insect the boys later find. When he lifts me my limbs dangle like laundry off a line. This is a different kind of pillion. Think disfigured damsel. Wedged. With my right hand I link his forearm and he grips me around the middle. His brachium is like a leg about me. He is my seat belt. My saddle. After he says, some embrace.


There is a grove of peppermints and a fairy forest; a place for taking children and singing lullabies to the chugalug of an engine. The black trunks and the feathery green leaves. The Giant and the Cripple hum along. There are reeds and rushes and swarms of small midgies. The ground water is close and the mud gluey. There are gouges raked into the earth where a tractor bogged. But on the bike it is all just a surface on which to ride. A platform to view the rear of a big roo bounce away. Hubert takes chase. He’s called back by the hoot of the horn. Lean forward, scoot. Lean. Fly.


A dragonfly hitches a ride to a giant’s woodshed. A dead snake twisted into dried leather hangs from the wire fence.


He lifts me from the bike like I am a sleeping child to place me back in my wheelchair. Like laying a toddler in a pram. I am lofted high. A memory of being plucked from a pony ride floods back. Being placed on your feet by a large man. A momentary lapse between you and the earth. Like stepping from the rollercoaster.


Later at the table we talk of surviving house fires and losing stuff, of book edges turning sooty but not burning right through. Of losing to fire the exact same George Haynes’ etching of a naked woman under the dappled light and shade of a south Fremantle tree. Of waking to the sound of picture glass cracking. The Cook once found an unexpected photograph of me in the rubble of another house fire in a whole other place. She picked the photo from the detritus and placed it safely in the elbow of a tree. The man and I had long since parted but somehow the image of me was there for her to see. And rescue.


Image 16



Pat Metheny plays the theme for Cinema Paradiso. Guitar strings squeak. Hearts break. A child hits a tennis ball against the wall of a mud brick house. A dog lies on a three-dollar charcoal wool blanket from an Op shop in Albany where white-haired women helped a homeless man clothe himself. A Small Good Man says the best reception for the phone is in the toilet.


He works outside on a large jarrah table, in this pocket of still bush. He has postcard sized images that he shuffles about. They are photographs of another forest place. He worked long hours, from dawn till dusk, but it is the crepuscular shots that form the ballad. A place of mountains and the people that are drawn there. More treacherous than here. Beauty turns to tinder. He stops and looks again. He moves them like someone arranging cards for a magic show. Eventually they settle where they will hang on a gallery wall to speak a narrative of place.


Assassin flies make roads in the air three inches off the ground as if involved in a grand prix circuit across the grass. Sometimes a magpie picks one out of the air. Teaching its baby, who squawks beside it.


A large karri stands near the house, orange spirals about its trunk. Some branches are dead and grey. It is bigger than all the other trees. It spreads itself wide in ownership. Beneath the karri are peppermints and kangaroo paws and smaller gums. Closer to the water the chalky white of the Paper Barks can be seen. The karri’s rusty skin catches the sun and shines. It is windless but still there is the sound of bark falling. Like footsteps in the forest.


Sometimes a distant cow can be heard, baying morosely, as if for a lost calf. At dusk the waders from the mud flats take to the skies. The sound of their flight suggests air is not nothing. They go to their place to sleep high in the trees. Tomorrow they will stalk the mud once more.


Image 12






Dirty Laundry – Epilogue

coroner's report

Again feeling like a pariah.

We all know who she is, but she does not know who we are. It is an unequal relationship. One where perhaps we hold more power. But then again there is always the truth and really only she knows that, or as much of it as can be known. No one knows more about what when on at 17 Harwood Street, Hilton, but her. Perhaps also she knows more than she can say to anyone, even to herself. If some how she were responsible for the boy’s entrapment – then who can she tell. Not a single soul. Not ever.

I suspect she guesses the ones with the notebooks are the reporters – with work to do. They can justify their prying, nursing an A5 spirax on their laps. I have no justification.

When she arrives she is surrounded by her family, once again. Grandma in pale green slacks and top. What an outing. Who I think of as her father has more white than grey hair. A comb’s made furrows through it. A big nose. He appears to have stepped from the set of East Enders. There are other blondes that could be sisters, cousins. She has run the gauntlet of the camera men. Now they simply wait outside the entrance for all this to be over with.

She greets her family with pecks on cheeks. There are smiles.

Even out here, in the foyer, I write down everything. A supporter watched Fast and Furious Six and loved it. Left work early to watch it.

As soon as the doors to the court are open, we all file in. Most of the lawyers are different to the ones that were in the court before. The washing machine that sat ominously in the court room during the proceedings has gone. Ten minutes till the coroner is expected to appear. The reporters next to me talk about the night before. Too many red wines have left her feeling tired. It’s just another day in the office for them. Kerry Murphy sits between her two major supporters – a woman and the white-haired man, who could be her adopted parents.

We stand on Mr Hope’s arrival into the court and bow.

He lets us know that he will read from his findings and that they will be available in hard copy at the end. Exhibits will be returned to the police, including the washing machine.

He is straight into it. Occasionally he looks up and seems to connect his gaze directly at the mother. He is brusque and unemotional. He is straightforward and logical. There is no other way to view the material he has dissected through. He makes his points clearly and forcefully. He declares the mother to be untruthful, but despite some of the ways the child and cat may have come to find themselves inside the washing machine being unlikely, they were not impossible. Unlikely things do happen, he said. He said that he needed to be absolutely sure that the mother was involved in the child’s death to make such a finding. He needed to have cogent and reliable evidence to make such a conclusion and, in the absence of such evidence, he could not do so.

He said of the mother; “she is a person who is prepared to lie whenever she considers the truth is unfavourable to her.”

But being a liar did not necessarily make her anymore than that.

In the end, as he delivered his open finding, and it settled on her that she was not going to be found responsible for the death of her son, her bottom jaw began to quiver and she fell onto the woman beside and wept silently.

Was she crying from relief? No doubt. Did she cry too for the loss of her son? Maybe.

Other family wiped tears from their eyes.

Mr Hope rose from his desk, as did the entire court room to acknowledge him, and then he turned and left. It was over. There was no lingering around. No one would be asking him any questions. I want to ask: Ok I get that you made an open finding, but what do you really think? Do you feel she was responsible? In your gut. But he does not make a personal judgement. He just looks at evidence and finds accordingly. There is no room here for sentiment, for feelings, for intuition. His sitting up high really does reflect some higher thinking. He does not cloud logic, like the rest of us might. Because you get the feeling that everyone, besides her supporters, thinks she was, in some way, responsible.

The journalists rushed to the assistant’s desk to get their hands on a copy of the report. The assistant rose and walked slowly around her desk, taking a copy of the report to give to the mother, still seated with her family crowded about her. Then she came back to her desk to hand out the remainder. Some people would not receive one, but at least the mother had been given a copy. The assistant had done her job.

Outside the building the reporters were in position. Two camera men could see through the glass and give a heads up to the others when the family were on their way towards the exit. Most of the reporters were at the bottom of the steps enjoying a moment in the sun. In a cold city street in winter any warmth is welcomed. Two camera men wait at the base of the ramp in case she chooses that rather than the stairs. She does. Despite being flanked by family, she is immediately surrounded. I feel sorry for her. They do not. She is like meat thrown to a pack of piranhas. I guess they can claim to be doing their jobs. I can’t hear their questions, but later, on the TV news, I hear them. Are you relieved? How do you feel? She says nothing. She keeps walking, close to the wall of the building. They are in her face, incredibly close. But they don’t pursue her for long. They give up by the end of the block. I am on the other side of the street. Just watching. Still feeling ashamed.

If she came across me and asked, “What are you doing here?” what would I say? I want to say, I am sorry for your loss. Can you tell me what happened to Sean?

I wonder how it is that the reporters think she is ever going to tell them anything with the camera and microphone rammed in her face.

The truth has shrivelled to a kernel locked inside her. It disappeared the moment Sean took his last breath.

They keep filming till she turns the corner and then they stop, as if a single city block is their limit. Perhaps they only need 30 seconds of footage. Outside Miss Maud’s the family stand in a huddle smoking cigarettes. I am fifty feet from them and all the reporters have gone. They can have their lives back now. Can they? How do you go on after this?

At home I read my copy of the report. Nothing tells me why the cat did not scratch the boy to pieces. Nothing explains how the toddler hung on to a struggling animal. The cat appeared to have died in the same way as Sean – entrapment and suffocation – but may have died slightly sooner. The only really clear thing to be decided was that the boy was dead or dying within the confines of the washing machine during one of the phone calls made that day. As Ms Murphy spoke to her then defacto at 1.36pm, supposedly about placing $5 down on a layby purchase, Sean would have been in the machine. They spoke for 326 seconds. Ten minutes later she rang triple zero to say, “My three-year-old climbed into the washing machine and he – I think he’s dead.”


Dirty Laundry

front loader Image

I don’t know what I am doing here.


Call me a no good, sticky beak, nosey parker.


Do you feel better if you have a note pad to look down at and scribble in? Curiosity overwhelms shame. Something in me wants to dig deeper.


I should be at home doing my psychopharmacology assignment. Instead I’ve caught the train with the morning city workers. I’ve pushed through the city, contemplated a takeaway coffee, but been put off by the long queues at the supposed best places, and finally arrived at the Central Law Courts in the east part of town. There is airport type security to pass through, before the lifts, which lead to the courtrooms. I instinctively expect a pat down when my wheelchair makes the metal detectors go off, but they aren’t as officious as airport guards and, after asking if I have anything concealed, let me proceed.


It is a peaceful building. It is the opposite of the chaos and disorder that is the central discussion of most of the cases and events whose narratives are told before a judge.


It is supremely clean. Cleaner, I suspect, than most public buildings. Like it should be. Like it is saying to the public who enter it – see – this is how ordered and polite society behave. Look what you can do if you just clean yourselves up a bit. Peering out of the high windows, the road and alleyway beyond appear shabby, the concrete car park an eyesore. Cars even appear disheveled. Inside the carpet is striped and bold, the chairs are seventies chic. The bathrooms are white tiled with bleached porcelain sinks. Paper towels are provided. Soap dispensers have soap in them. There are sharps dispensers in the cubicles, an open acknowledgement that illicit drugs might be consumed here, but it is convenient to do the proper thing with your used needles.


I am looking for Court 51 to attend the Coroner’s Court to listen to the final day of the case of the toddler found dead inside the front load washer/dryer. Daily the story has captured my attention in the local paper. Washing Machine Inquest. And now I will hear the mother describe, in detail, the moment and the lead up to her discovery of her child – locked inside the closed machine, found dead with the stiff cadaver of a pet cat called Snowy. Call me ghoulish.


On the morning of the 20th September 2010 three people were alive in the Hilton home. The man rose early, did not have breakfast, and went to work. The mother, Ms. Murphy, twenty-seven, claimed to have overslept and when she woke to find her son, Sean, was not answering to her calls, she searched frantically, turning the house upset down. Then something awry caught her eye, as she stood in the hallway and looked into the laundry. What was that in the machine? She opened the front loader door – pulled out the stiff cat and then her hot, limp son, his head and hair wet. She carried him out to the hallway, lay him down and began CPR. She rang triple 0. When the paramedics arrived they took over the resuscitation of the already deceased boy whilst the mother phoned her partner to tell him Sean was critical and would be going to the hospital. When Ms. Murphy said she needed to lock the house before being able to accompany the paramedics, and began searching for her keys, the ambulance officers had the gut feeling that something was not right about the scene. It felt weird to them. She felt weird to them. They left the house without her. Later they informed the police.


So much of the story does not make sense. What active normal toddler allows his mother to sleep till 1.30pm without being fed, when it his habit to wake her early by jumping on her stomach? She talks of Sean’s Thomas the Tank Engine clock. It has a face that changes from asleep to awake. He knew not to get out of bed till the face changed at six o’clock. After that he was free to shake the house. I am reminded of my own son’s early mornings as a toddler. We took it in turns for the predawn shift, feeling as if a whole day had elapsed before the other parent got up to take over after seven.


There were photographs on the camera that showed Sean had been alive earlier in the day, in the same room where his mother slept, taking flash pictures, and yet she claims to not have woken till 1.30pm when her partner rang her on her mobile rang. She gives no reason for her sleeping-in that day.


She has strawberry blonde hair pulled back into ponytail. Her pale eyes are rimmed with pale lashes and even paler eyebrows. She wears no makeup. She could be dusted with flour. She looks drawn and annoyed to be here. She could be 17 or 37 – an ageless, unwrinkled face. She is sometimes curt and agitated with the questioning from the counsel assisting the coroner. And sometimes it is accusatory. But she is rarely visibly upset. She never sobs or breaks down on her descriptions of her son. She describes his love of Diego and Elmo and her voice is breaking, but she gets through it. It makes her seem hard.


I am reminded of the nation’s judgement of Lindy Chamberlain and how the portrayal of her inadequate emotional responses was labelled hard and callous. So incredulous was the nation to her story of a Dingo taking a baby that she was swiftly branded a child-killer? What was she really guilty of? Not seeming to be a good mother? It made her appear guilty – her inability to cry.


This mother is also unlikable. The pale blue high-necked sweater makes her look conservative. But the outfit feels like a lie, an attempt at manipulation. Has she been asked by her lawyer to wear this colour? Baby blue. Is it supposed to be a reminder of the lost child? She wears a black velvet jacket too. She has tight-fitting trousers and long grey boots with flat heels. I watch her feet as they jiggle constantly beneath her chair during questioning. Like someone sitting an exam. Some of her answers feel rehearsed.


At times the coroner, Mr. Alastair Hope, takes over the questioning, as if he can get to the bottom of this. There is a general feeling of disbelief at the possibility that the child could climb into the washing machine, with the cat, and then close the door, from the inside, and trap himself and the cat inside – and there – suffocate and later be found dead, virtually unmarked, with no scratches on him.


There remains the possibility of the dog of the house – Simba – being the one to have closed the machine door. As an active exuberant dog perhaps he was chasing the cat and the boy and they hid in the machine and the door closed behind them by the action of the dog jumping or knocking against the washer’s door? Possible perhaps?


How do you prove this? How do you prove you are innocent, if you are? You are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, but there is a distinct feeling that there is a need to show innocence here. What can this mother do to demonstrate she didn’t do it? Would crying now help?


The coroner sits alone at an expansive desk. He is higher than everyone else. He enters from the innards of the building, almost as if he is joining us through a secret entrance. Does he come up from beneath the ground? His associate announces his arrival and asks us all to stand. Wheelchair bound I am unable to. When we re-enter after a short recess, he is not yet present. It is a bit like being in a school classroom before the teacher arrives. There is banal chatter amongst the legal teams. The coroner’s associate tells the lawyers that Mr. Hope is ready to resume. “Are you psychic?” a lawyer jokes. “I can hear the click of his door,” she answers. Then smiling adds – “one Powerball.” One lawyer asks the team behind, “Where’s your client?” We can’t begin without her. I imagine Mr. Hope standing in the back, like a thespian waiting to make his entrance from behind the curtain. “She’ll be having a cigarette, or two,” her counsel says. Another moment passes, “or an entire ashtray.”


The press has not returned and I feel privy to a strange camaraderie between the lawyers. They are just playing their roles. It is their room. They know what lies behind the wood paneling.  As the families and journalists file in there is a straightening of jackets, pulling down of sleeves and the questioning picks up where it left off.


When Ms. Murphy is directly asked if she was the one to put Sean inside the machine, she denies it. She admits to having difficulty with the boy and his three-year-old ways. Don’t all mothers? Ms. Murphy is not unusual in describing her struggles to put a toddler to bed and for him to stay there. But she says she was more frustrated with her inability to cope as adequately as she saw other people than she was frustrated with Sean’s behaviour. She sometimes disciplined him with time outs and the occasional smack on the bottom and, for a time, some months before he died, she had tried to get his sleep more ordered by tying his bedroom door shut. She claimed this was the suggestion of her partner’s, but they had initially failed to tell the police because they felt it made them “look bad.”


It wasn’t the only thing that made them look bad. The lies began to pile up.  There was the state supplied housing that they both lived in, but told the authorities only she lived in. There was a phone call from her partner (the one that woke her) in which she told him she was next door, rather than admit she was asleep till 1.30 in the afternoon. There was a video found on the partner’s phone that showed Ms. Murphy holding a frantic cat in a towel and then dropping it in front of Simba whilst gleeful laughter rings out from the collected audience, which includes children, as the dog chases the distressed cat around and tries to “play” with it. The cat strikes out at the thin, rangy dog. Ms. Murphy was subsequently charged with animal cruelty, pleaded guilty and fined $3000. She claimed to be an animal lover and seemed a little bemused by her conviction. The courtroom watched the phone video, periodically closing their eyes and covering their gaping mouths with their hands. Ms. Murphy dropped her head.


Her assertion was that she had been getting the cat acquainted with the dog so that she could look after the cat while her friend was away. Simba loved cats and would never hurt another animal. She however had been scratched in the event. The cat was fine. It was uninjured she assured the courtroom. The owner of the cat had been present. She had not objected.  But the footage was damaging. Does it show a woman who just doesn’t know better? Or is she wantonly cruel? Do you make the leap from animal cruelty to human cruelty to killing your own child?


Then there were the pictures that showed the house – in a state of bedlam. Ms. Murphy claimed to have made the mess turning it upside down in her search for Sean. It made partial sense. But there was also other evidence that suggested it was always filthy and disordered. She said, “Stains do happen.” It suggested a life on a downwards spiral. She said the Homewest house was bent in the middle. It sloped towards the front and back. Maybe this was why the washing machine door would bang closed so easily.


There was the state of the kitchen, which included a chair in the middle of it, and on the chair sat a pair of hair clippers and the detritus of recent hair clipping on the floor. She apparently had stepped around this clutter whilst cleaning the dishes from the day before, yet failed to sort this other mess up. It was the source of an argument between Ms. Murphy and her defacto boyfriend. He went to bed and Ms. Murphy to her mattress in the lounge room. On the couch beside her lay clothes that needed to be put away and other dry items awaiting folding.


I think of my own washing machine – of the inside of its cool cylindrical metal drum and its sieve like holes. These dints left an imprint on the toddler’s skin as he pressed up inside it. Dimpled him. Later, I look at three-year olds in the street and measure them up in my mind. I imagine them climbing in and tucking themselves up to fit inside. With a cat.


I think of the clutter inside my own house and its own usual state of disarray. Too many books. A single son given too many toys. If tragedy were to befall my family or me what would the forensic photographs of my house reveal? Just because her house is filthy (she calls it “lived-in”) does not mean she killed her child. Just because she fails to put away the laundry does not mean she killed her son. Just because the usual storage for all the dirty washing is the laundry floor does not mean she killed her son. Just because she fights with her lazy defacto does not mean she killed her son.


What are we asking of the justice system here? We want to know the story. The truth. But that is not possible unless we can become a witness to what was unseen. We can only hope for an approximation. The counsel knows this already. Perhaps this is why the female counsel assisting the coroner has a slightly bored sound to her voice and is twining a vine of her lank hair around her index finger while she questions the mother. Making a tendril of her hair, her finger a twig. I imagine she has been a hair twirler since a young girl. I picture her doing it on the couch, a law student watching LA Law.


Does she know too well the futility of her questions? That there will be no satisfactory answers to this tragedy.


The mother’s counsel gets Ms. Murphy to reveal her diagnosis of Borderline personality disorder. She tells us sometimes she feels different from the rest of the population and when things are difficult she “shuts down.” Are we supposed to understand her now? Does this condition explain her unusual response to her son’s death and her lack of “normal” response just a symptom of her condition, as opposed as a sign of foul play. We hear of her adoption at age three from England by her Aunt and Uncle and her troubled behaviour as a child. Of her own accord she contacted child services, two years before Sean died, to ask for assistance with his difficult behaviours, only to be told by case workers that the toddler’s tantrums, which included kicking, biting and screaming, were age-appropriate. Were her pleas for someone to help her with her son ignored? Are these all bits of a jigsaw puzzle that add up to something or are they just more white noise, blurring an already impenetrable story?


I sit with a note pad, like the other reporters, although I am not one of them. They have deadlines and copy to complete. They will work late tonight. They report the facts. They keep themselves out of it. I am an imposter. I am an outsider to the courtroom experience. I still find the bowing to the judge odd. I bristle at the hand placed on the bible. I enter with a takeaway coffee, ignorant of the No food or drink rule. What am I hoping for? Answers?


I have my own questions and I can’t know if they have already been dealt with in the previous days, but simply not reported, because they are too mundane and not considered news worthy. I am no sleuth. I am just another mother, wondering how this might happen. A witness to a mother in pain, and yet removed from her pain. What she feels few can share. Even though she is not charged she sits as if accused. Mothers blame her. Fathers blame her. At the very least her neglectful over-sleeping while her child roamed the house resulted in her son’s death by misadventure.


I want to know when the cat died? Was the cat alive when it entered the washing machine? Surely it would have panicked as the air supply dwindled and it struggled to get a breath. How is it that there are no scratches on the body of the toddler? How would a toddler hold onto a cat and get it inside a washing machine in the first place? Normally Snowy didn’t even like to be held. Cats are not easy to grapple with for the best of wranglers. How do you close the door of a washing machine from the inside?


I want to know what course the mother was studying on-line at the time of her child’s death. I want to know if she has gone on to complete her study. What does her life consist of now? Where is the dog? If she believes the dog trapped the child inside the washing machine, how can she bear to have it around as a reminder?


I watch the families. A sister sits crying on and off for most of the day. It is the response you expect. She periodically wipes the tears from her cheeks. An elderly woman, perhaps a grandmother, makes it through the day too, dry-eyed, sitting staring forward, listening. The mother of the ex-partner shakes her head at the testimony being given that labels her son as “lazy” and as having “anger management” problems. I watch as her feet, pushed into black flat-heeled shoes, swell over the day.


And somewhere out in the world is the biological father of Sean. He isn’t mentioned on the day I attend. The paper says the boy was born out of a violent relationship and that the toddler had no association with his father. Perhaps he never even knew Sean existed.


When the questioning is over there is much looking at diaries to decide when Mr. Hope will deliver his findings. It appears that the eventual date, three weeks from now, isn’t much good for most of the lawyers and they make their excuses one after the other. Hair twirler has furniture removalists coming that day. Mr. Hope accepts all their apologies. He sincerely thanks them for their efforts thus far. They all have the look of needing a seriously stiff drink in a bar full of other wigs and pinstripes. But I will be back and find my spot again in his courtroom. I will finish my takeaway coffee outside. And I imagine the families will be there too. Searchers for truth will be interested to see how the experienced coroner finds a path through all that he’s been told. Will he step out into a vast open clearing and enlighten us, or, as I suspect, end up in a dank muddy swamp of indecision?


The court is shown a picture, discovered by detectives during the investigation into the boy’s death, taken about a year before. It shows the cheeky blonde boy with wonderful Shirley Temple curls smiling for the camera, his head poking out from a disused dryer without a door. It eerily predicts the event that results in his suffocating death. His mother says they did not warn him of the dangers of such a game at the time. She regrets this now.




A Tree

Lemon scented Gum

Thinking of a tree.

It is the tree of my childhood.

It is an Australian tree. It was always big, but the smaller you are, the bigger it seems. It looks like it touches the sky, when you think the sky is a blue dome in which you live. Before you know the world is round. Before you believe such a farcical idea – that sometimes we are up and sometimes we are down. That if you sail to the horizon you will not fall off.

But back to the tree.

It has a silver-grey suit that changes depending on the season. It is at its most beautiful in the autumn when it is smooth like seal’s skin. The trunk has ripples and dips in its surface. Almost liquid. Your branches are really arms with biceps and triceps and beneath you we play our childhood game. You are always watching. Slowly stretching your deltoids and pectorals – all twisting and twining. Your canopy is sparse and flimsy really. The leaves are skiffs for gum-nut babies, dangling for sale from the tips of twigs. They swivel and turn in the heat and the breeze. They show their pale sides and their silver green. They are beaten and shoved by the wind. They are whipped and thrown around, like a cheer girl’s pompom at the end of her frenzy.

Tell me what you see from up high, Mrs Tree. Below we play on a yellow painted bench. Our father chooses high gloss enamel to cope with the weather. A sensible man. Two girls stand on the seat with arms held wide. We are in a plane, of course. The aeroplane is going down. Everyone will die. Except us. Jump from the bench to the spongy over-watered grass and roll. Prickly buffalo pokes indents in your eight-year-old skin. Away from the burning wreckage. We run around the bench. The dog runs too. This time arms are mimicking swimming. To the tree. Hug it. It is land. We are saved if you get to the tree. Of course our parents perish. What game can be played where the parents survive? Not a desert island game. We have to revise the description of it to our delicate mother; so sensitive is she to think we play a game daily where she is dead.

We have the same species of tree in our communal driveway. No one owns the tree. The four houses that surround it all love the tree. At the end of the day we find ourselves drawn outside. One neighbour hears the voice of the others. The children hear their friends. Gates are opened and the dog brought out. Scooters on smooth red driveway. We sit beneath our tree on a limestone ledge. When her leaves look brown and sad we bring her the hose from the nearest yard and let her drink. We look up at her dead branch and ask that she not drop it on our cars, or at the very least, not our soft heads. In the storm she lets her hair out and really throws herself around. I am reminded again of my childhood’s Lemon Scented Gum. At night, in moonlight, in a storm she was ferociously alive. Like she wanted to up-root herself and be free of the strangling earth. She shook. But she never put her boots on and left. In the morning the grass would be strewn with leaves and small twigs that she had shaken free. In big armfuls my father would take her cast-offs to the incinerator in the far corner of the yard. Her oil would scent the air.

Sometimes a bigger branch would crash down on a neighbour’s fence. Repairs were needed. There was always talk. Men across the fence to my pullovered father. She’s too big. Dangerous. A lot of work. Not called a widow-maker for nothing. But my father protected her. He loved her. He tended her. Raked the bark from her surrounds. Piled the leaves on a tarpaulin and hauled them down the back. Like pulling a body from the surf. Rescued, but still drowned. Till he knew not the difference between a tree and himself. Wood as flesh. Leaves like hair. Bark like nails.

Today ravens sit in our tree and call. Craw. Craw. You either like the black shiny birds or you don’t. Their chalk-white eyes are to one clever, to another evil. Their heavy feet walk the iron roof above my head. Like portly short-legged men. They have something to bang on about. To one another. Perhaps they speak of the swimming carnival across the road. It is that season. The barracking goes on. The air horn signals the races’ start. Butterflies at the starting blocks, the slap of the water on the dive. A volunteer on the loud-speaker assigning the winning faction its points. The splash of churning arms, the gulping of air. Misty goggles. Tears for the ones who find it all too much.

Our tree is youthful compared to my father’s. She has still height to gain and girth to add. One day it will take several children holding hand to hand to ring her base. She will work on the red bitumen about her and seek more dirt. From beneath her, looking up, she has the shapes and curves of a woman. She has bulges and sinkings. She has a collarbone, a belly button. She has moles and scars, dimples and piercings. She stands brazenly naked, ripe. She will see us lose our marbles, just as my childhood tree watched the man stoop and fall in his garden bed of roses. She heard him call out for help, but she could not bend to pick him from the turned soil. He lay still and looked at her. All she could do was offer her shade.

gum tree skin



Park Life

fenced out

What do you do if your home is the park and the park is closed off by the set-up that is the Blues N Roots?

You move to outside their house. That house with the Kombis. You bring your blankets and your coke. You wheel your life in a Coles trolley around the corner and into theirs. You leave your rubbish and your toilet paper.

If you can’t take the trolley you stash it in the bushes.

You are skinny with a hacking cough. Can’t run for coughing. Can’t laugh either. The grass is cold at night. The wind too. Your friends are older, but still young. Some of you should be at school. Your black track suit has two white stripes running down the legs, but the stripes aren’t white anymore. Everything you have is grimy. Your girlfriend is seventeen and she won’t leave you alone. Her black trackies hang on her hips and show off her stomach. You made a pillow of her belly just the other afternoon. But today she is psycho. She is yelling, shrieking really, at you, and there is no where to go. Fuck is hers and yours favourite word. If only you had a dollar…That lady thinks you might hit your girlfriend, but instead you walk away. Seventeen follows you down the street and around the corner. She is crazed with bellowing. Her twelve year old brother follows too. You tell her to look after him. What about your brother?

Later you apologise to the lady for all the yelling. Had to break up with my girlfriend. Lady is collecting her mail in her middle-aged, middle-income way, watching the set up on the park. There is a heartbeat beeping of machinery, buzzing of trucks and lifters, clanging of scaffolds. By now thick black plastic covers the rent-a-fence and flaps on the wire fencing. It is keeping us from our home.

Our two older friends have been on the street longer. It shows in their teeth. Both have rotten ones, black ones and missing ones. His hair is blonde and wavy. He has a kitten. He found it on the beach. Now it is theirs. Ours. It travels on Rotten Tooth’s shoulders, its needle claws gripping into polyester track suit. It is on a lead. It drinks coke like we do.

They have a shopping trolley with their stuff. Our stuff. The essentials like blankets, toilet paper, clothes and maybe cat food.

It’ll be loud, you say, when you talk of the Blues N Roots. Yes loud.

Waiting for the Miracle – Revisited

Today I spoke to 150 or so veterinary science and biology students as part of their professional life series. I have an interesting story to tell and they sat and listened. At the end of a lecture, that talked of my history and about how I still work as a veterinarian, I read them this story, “Waiting for The Miracle”. We looked at slides and they asked questions. One student asked me how was it that I knew I could still be a vet. I answered I didn’t know. And perhaps not knowing how hard it might be, and sometimes was, was a good thing. Another asked my advice on how to overcome grief. I said find some way to express what is inside you. Write it, draw it, paint it. Another asked what had I learnt after all these years. What had it taught me? I said acceptance. Another student revealed at the conclusion of the talk, as people were coming up to say goodbye and thank you, that her partner had committed suicide only a month ago and she was thankful, at this time, to have someone come to talk to them about grief.

Nicole Monument Valley

The image, taken by Graham Miller, inspired the writing of this story;



In the foyer of the hotel I meet a man. After drinks he is braver and asks what he has wanted to know from the moment he saw me in a wheelchair. Always the story of how. But really the story of after, the story of before, or the story of why goes unsaid, unpicked. It is there in the picture if you know how to look.


A car hits a tree. Fast hits hard. Wood is unforgiving. Aged carbon is as solid as stone. Bone is weak. Honeycomb really. The things I tell him are; that I was not the driver. I don’t want him to think it was my fault. Somehow that makes it better for me. Yes I was wearing a seatbelt. The driver fell asleep. Nothing more sinister than that. We were all tired.  She was just doing what the rest of us had already succumbed to. The sleep that comes after surf and sun.


He goes to his room. I go to mine. I suspect he wears a toupee. These are the kind I attract. He walks soundlessly on carpet to the stairs in shoes that have never seen the dirt. I point to the lift. I remember climbing stairs, barely.




The things I don’t tell him.


Through the car windows the sun streams in slats made by trees and branches. Like interlaced fingers across your face. Ribbing the road. There is the hum of tyres. A melody of sleeping notes. The sand is still between my toes and in the dip of my belly button. Salt has dried in my hair, so it is like tendrils of thin stripy seaweed. I suck a strand of it like a baby does a finger.


I wear a second hand dress from an op shop from a country town run by old biddies and not gone through like the second hand shops in the city. It is synthetic and sweaty but beautifully cut. It makes my armpits moist and saltier still. It is cream with black flowers. Who would have thought of black flowers? As they slice it from my body in the hospital it is binned in a disposable bag. It is just a $2 frock but I miss it still.


My boyfriend comes to see me in the hospital. All brown and surfy. His hair stiff with sea. It is a cruelty he can’t imagine. I can smell the salt on him, worse than any perfume. He is more than a boyfriend. We live together. We’ve left other people so as to entwine ourselves more completely than vine and post.


She comes too, the girl who seems beside him a lot these days. She was in our lives before all this happened. Before the tree and the car collided as if they were magnetised to each other.





The Story of Before;


She is blonde, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She is young, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She is bright, but so am I, so that is not the reason. She wants him and so do I, so that is not the reason. She is her, and I am I, so that is the reason.


When I enter the uni social club, where I meet him after lectures, he is there and so is she. Always these days their schedules are the same. And they are doing this or that project together. This assignment is due tomorrow; they will need to work late. I can see their faces are too close together to be talking of study. Is his skin touching hers? They are magnified to me. I analyse every movement she and he makes. This is Anita, he introduces her.


What kind of man is he? Sinewy but stooped. He needs Yoga. I already know the bends, the postures. He copies me but never learns. His body won’t soften, his spine stays curved.


After an argument, heated and passionate, there is no making up. A touch from me is rejected. Don’t. Our bodies, like shop dummies, lie apart in the bed wishing it could cleave itself in two.  I lie on my side looking out to the wardrobe, seeing my reflection in the grey-spotted glass. Then I am pushed from the bed by his feet in the middle of my back. Boof. On the floor. Like a child who has rolled out in their sleep. But no one is there to cradle and soothe and place me back under the covers. So on hands and knees I make my way to another room and curl asleep on a chair.


He is so clever with words. Was that the reason? He writes reams and reams. He fills yellow pads with scrawling epic poems. He wants me to read it. To praise him. Always about love, he writes, and God.  If I take too long to read it, because I have my own study to do, he is offended. It means more than I am busy too. It means I do not care about him. It means I do not care for the things that are important to him. Of course it means I do not love him.


I must convince him of my love.


But his need for love is fathomless. Like the open cut mine it is deep and ugly and scarred. I fill it time and time again but it is a piddling attempt to pack the gaping hole. It is turning into something else between him and me. He is making me compete with her and I am losing.


She is more capable.


We are living together in a student house. We eat eggplant and beans. We heat the house with a fire. We collect wood from vacant blocks. We can’t afford a trailer of mallee roots. The landlord has many cats that he comes daily to feed. Like bats they appear at dusk when his car pulls up outside. He leaves the diesel motor running and it beckons the strays. From under old car bodies and out from under limestone foundations cats pour like liquid fur. He stands beside the boot, dishing out the entrails and carcasses he has brought. There is the odd hiss and claw as they saunter back to their hideaways with their bounty.


Inside the house we are two people at war over scraps. Scraps of love that are torn at like rags. He wants to go to her. She is a fresh thing, he has yet to tread on and make soiled with sadness.





The Story of After;


Now I am injured he has remorse. But it is also an escape for him. He can be injured too. How dreadful to have a girlfriend so handicapped, such a burden. He must make daily trips into hospital and sit by my bedside. He must drive past the surf.  He must leave his trail of sand on the lino for someone to sweep.


Sometimes she is with him and she is sweet and kind. I cannot believe that I like her. I want to be her friend. She starts to come without him. We both wear no makeup. Her skin burns in the sun. Mine tans. But in hospital there is no sun, just harsh buzzing fluorescence. Our skins have the same milkiness. I am fading into the sheets. When I wake up from another surgery her hand holds mine.


She unburdens herself and tells me she was with him, entangled, coiled beneath cotton, as the car hit the tree. She was warm and wrapped in flesh while my bones bent and broke like twigs.


Her confessions are tearful. We both weep. She is crying for her own self and me for mine. Again we are the same. She doesn’t want him anymore. I can have him. I can.


He talks about garden paths and pushing me in my wheelchair through the forest. He can make this and that. He can convert, he can carry up stairs. Beside the hospital bed beneath the cotton of his boxers I give him a hand job.


Back in the house of cats we have ramps and an open bathroom. Men friends with tools have converted the kitchen and bathroom so that a wheelchair can manoeuvre and a hand control is put in the car, and it all sounds so easy to just convert and rearrange, but inside the house the house is different. I see it from the height of a seven year old. There is a clunking to movement, a sound of wheels and squeaky rubber tyres on floorboards. No one says you will miss the sound of bare feet.


I can get into an armchair and remember my legs. I can close my eyes and when the phone rings go to get out of the chair to answer it before my mind registers there is a new way to do this that involves no legs. Getting up without legs. All arms. Hauling around legs that are weighty in their uselessness but as good as amputated.


Burn me and cut me and still they do nothing. I wish them gone for all the good they are. Separated by him, so he can still call what we do love making.


More girls. This time they are different from me. They walk. They can feel their vaginas. I can’t compete. I don’t want to compete. He has made me a non competitor.

It is not enough to love someone with all your might. To squeeze every ounce of love you have into it, so that you are a husk after all the wringing is done.





The Story of Why;


I will go from him. To my own place. I will worship things like monumental rocks that the indigenous people prefer you don’t climb. In their magnificence I will seem small. I will wake up at dawn so I can look out to the sunrise and watch it slowly make its way upward and in its rising feel my own self soar. I know I look sad, but it is not sadness you see in my face. It is the face of someone who knows loss, and knows that in losing there are great gifts.


Leunig in the Kitchen

Michael Leunig

Leunig asks himself, “What is this?”

It is his way in to everything.

He describes his childhood as one of benign neglect. He grew up in a working class family with four other siblings. He played in paddocks on the suburban fringe. His playground was the rubbish tip. As a child he started a fire and burnt himself severely enough that it took him six months to recover and learn to walk again. He nearly lost some toes. His playthings were a dog and shanghai. He pinged at tin cans. He says it taught him much; trajectory, velocity…I can imagine him. A mop of wavy hair, poking a stick at rubbish, asking himself, “What is this?”

He had a duck, bought as a fluffy yellow duckling. It imprinted on him. It followed him. He likes ducks. He likes their rounded beak. He likes that it is does not peck but rather dabbles. Non-threatening. To him ducks provide the way forward.

He doesn’t look for meaning. He admires the musician, who, in making music is not asked to explain its meaning. They are free from that kind of scrutiny. To the musician mystery is allowed.

He has been able to stay in a childhood state of wonder, asking, as he looks at the world, “What is this?”

People in the audience are hanging on every word. They lean forward on their lecture theatre seats, tipping towards him, craning. The man in the row in front lifts his glasses and wipes his eyes. People are hungry for his simple wisdoms, given like small morsels. We are the ducks and he throws us satisfying crumbs. He tells us “hang on to your childhoods.” All the aged people in the audience murmur in agreement. But their childhoods may already be lost to them. How to get them back? He talks of wonder, dreaming, mindfulness. It is what a child does without thought. He needs no courses on how to do it. No meditation retreats. A rubbish tip, a duck, a pencil and a piece of paper will do.

Leunig sees the pathos in things. This is what attracts him. As a child he saw two men engaged in a fistfight. A drunken brawl. It filled him with shock and sadness. Again he asked, “What is this?”

“Love your enemy,” he tells the audience. War doesn’t end on the battlefield. Deaf in one ear, he could not be conscripted to go to the Vietnam War. He had been prepared to go to gaol as a conscientious objector, but in the end his disability prevented him from having to make a stand. “They took the wind from my sails,” he says.

He failed Year 12 twice, he tells us. The second time he did worse than the first time. Someone asks him why he continued at school if it was so hard for him. Wouldn’t he rather have stayed home? He says he wanted to be with his friends and that he had some worthwhile teachers along the way. He liked being there. It didn’t matter to him that in the end he hadn’t passed the exams.

It is a hot sticky day before the crossing of Cyclone Rusty. I have returned from Kitchen Garden where eggs were marbled in a pot of black goo – star anise, soy, cassia bark, black tea and more. The hard-boiled eggs were cracked and peeled and inside the egg white had turned beige and brown filament veins mapped the ovoid. Like wonderfully cracked porcelain. Like terrazzo. I felt like Leunig might on viewing the beautiful eggs. What is this?

marbled eggs

And how much Leunig would have loved the sago pudding?  The minature white balls are like miniature stuffing for a bean bag. The kids can’t help but let them run through their fingers, over and over again. They are white and hard, but cooked they turn into translucent beads. They are sticky and gooey and have no flavour – not until mulberry syrup and coconut milk are added. The mulberry syrup is a deep dark purple liquid. Viscous. As it gets added to the sago it turns it mauve. It is the colour of the storm cloud, the one that is heading our way. It still isn’t flavoursome, but it is delicate and strange in the mouth and everyone has an opinion. It is a bead. The tapioca is more about texture than taste. It awakens another sense. To the children who made it it is magical. The artist-child holds one between a finger and thumb and says to the little glasslike ball – I call you Nemo.