In E.D.

So the patient walks in limping badly. There are a number of bloodstains and bruises to be seen and in fact a slow trickle of blood from one ear alerts me to the fact that this patient has at least, a severe head trauma, I make a list of tests, CT, MRI, bloods, we check the temperature in various computer models. The patient’s behaviour is becoming somewhat violent, spacey eyes, erratic, there is thrashing about, a continuous muttering about someone trying to suffocate or freeze or was it boil? So many things spat out in a weird invective, everyone is on edge, prepped for the coming drama. The question being, will the patient survive the week or even the next months? The test results are through.

I step forward cautiously, I don’t want to get lammed.

“Mother Earth, I’ve got some bad news…”

Through Sarah’s eyes

She’s so thin. Her eyes enormous, dominating, but they’ve lost colour, fading-faded from the blue green they were to the colour of pussy willow buds, silvery green.

Ketamine has made her kooky and she hallucinates that I am a blonde dog, flashing past her in the hospital room on my way out to open the door a crack. I don’t want to put the light on in the room to see some rosary beads she’d put in my hand.

“Ooooh look! Did you see that?” She asks my daughter Lizzie. “A dog, a blonde dog!” Lizzie smiles her sphinxy smile. Sarah asks,”Did I hallucinate that?”

“Yes, you did but it was a lovely one.” Lizzie says softly.

The day before, the hospital moved her into a spectacular room with a view of the sea, a little lounge, kitchenette and balcony. She wants to go out, look over the sea, looking for the ship to come in for her, so we wrap and pad her, she rests snug in her armchair, gazing and vaping. We chat comfortably about this and that, light stuff, the nice things we’d done together, music, people, I praised her daughter, her old dad was a delight. Emphatically she agrees, fuck yes!

Sarah’s chest is a little exposed and I cover the bones erupting like teeth from tightening skin. She thanks me. She always thanks people, so polite. Even dying, Sarah has exquisite manners. Later when I wash her, after she insisted on tottering, assisted, to the bathroom, she thanks me profusely, embarrassingly kind to me. So when I ask if she can manage to wash her own bum she says, “Yes I can, thank you…thank you for being sensitive, woman to a woman who knows.” She can barely manage the actions but I leave it. She doesn’t need the fuss. Does she want her head washed? Oh yes please! I wipe her bald head with a warm soapy cloth, she cries out softly with pleasure at every dab and wipe. She cleans her teeth, spits carefully into the cup and we pop her back into a newly made and padded bed. She gives a great sigh of relief and is comfortable. She wants to sleep and we leave with kisses.

The next day it is not this way. She asks us if she can get up on all fours. “Of course! Do anything you want!” I say. She is trying to relieve the pain in her back and rocks like a woman in labour moaning for deliverance. The bones in her neck are sticking out like some tiny stegosaurus. We’ve rubbed her back many times and I didn’t think that she could get thinner but she has. The depressions between her ribs are rills and runnels I can put a fingertip in.The pelvis that cradled her daughter Jemima some thirty years ago has become a sharp adze that cuts out the hard ground underneath her, preparing the way. Her flesh has gone and skin softly droops down on thighs that harbour four drivers in veins, delivering what becomes a maximum dosage of the many pain killers that seem not to work consistently. The pain is awful to see and worse for her each day. Gnawing stabbing aching throbbing, every bloody animal that spits and claws and bites inside.

The nurses are kind, efficient and have the gentle touch our lovely Sarah needs. They come and go concerned at her continued pain and give her a shot of morphine as a breakthrough pain now bordering on unbearable. She goes out after a bit and we leave promising to come back later and when we do, she is reclining, deeply asleep in bed with her daughter, dad and brother by her side. We stay an awkward few minutes and come back later, no-one is there. She is awake, lucid and chatty.

We talk of death, her funeral and what she wants done with her stuff. She is pragmatic. “Look I wanted an eco-burial but they cost too much and the shroud thing isn’t going to work either. I don’t want to be burned, too much pollution. But in the end, it’s whatever is cheapest and easiest. Go that. I just want to confirm it with you.”

I agree, not caring too much whether I am fried or dried I say. She laughs. “About my stuff, well after the family has taken what they want, open the house and the cupboards up. People can take whatever.” She’s never held tightly onto stuff. Stuff is just that and she cares about people, country. Dogs. Cats. Birds. Plants and trees. Spirit but not in any conventional sense. We both tried that in the past and it was in fact how we met, at church. A divine appointment I guess. She told me we had sung together once at church but I barely remember that, too many notes under the bridge. She cares a lot about the oppressed, the dis-empowered, those to whom life hasn’t been kind; Sarah is a kindred spirit. We both swear a lot about how everything is fucked up, “It’s so fucking FUCKED!” Cancer is fucked too. I know- I had it and now feel vaguely guilty that the dice rolled in my favour not hers.

Lizzie, my beautiful sensitive genius of a daughter, is also Sarah’s friend. They played a lot of music together over the years and she is so sweet now in these last days of Sarah’s inhabitation of this particular body in this particular time space and material manifestation that I am again struck what a miracle she is. Sarah feels like this about Jemima her girl. Blessed. Absolutely blessed.

I worried I was in the way. I worried I wasn’t doing enough. I worried I was doing too much, being too exhausting, being too much for our fast fading friend so we decided to leave her to her family and inner circle of friends and the process. The last night we saw her, I gave her three or four teaspoons of bone broth chicken soup I made, she’d oooh’d and ahh’d with the pleasure of having real food, jiving to the taste and one of her faves playing in the background, an early Bowie. Then all night I worried it would make a problem with the naso gastric tube inserted after a huge bout of faecal vomiting some days before. When we hugged and said goodbye she was very direct. “You probably won’t see me again…my advice. Do what you want to do and don’t waste time.” 

Dying is hard work. The body is wound up like some perpetual motion machine and the heart, if it is strong, just wants to keep ticking. Sarah’s heart was huge and strong, dying was hard for her. As an Aged Care nurse and nursing relatives and friends, I have seen a number of people die but not like this. Not at all. It was brutal and unkind in every way.

Some people need permission to stop fighting, to stop caring for others, to stop seeing into the world outside them and go inside. It is a circle. Life begins in a storm of blood and shit and tears. It ends this way too one way or another. This woman had lived a big life in a small place and next weekend in Moruya there will be a memorial to her of all those mad sad bad lovely lovely people she touched with her fierce love and boundless kindness. I will not be there, I don’t need to be. She is still here, she loves us all.



Getting My Stuff Done

Getting it together

I could get it together by next Monday because I’ve had the weekend to prepare

I could get it together by next Tuesday once I’ve had the meeting with the parents

I could get it together by Wednesday once I’ve had the meetings with my LL my GLL my HoD my Department and the students

I could get it together once I have written up my collaborative proposal on getting it together

But only after I’ve had my meeting on Thursday with all the others once they’ ve had their say

on how we should collectively get it all together

except that was adjourned till Friday even though no-one in their right minds would hold a meeting on Friday.

Especially after school when I am so very very over every single thing that has to do with having to and should and could we and I want to propose and if we consider and is it possible to prevent this from and could I put it on Managefly or Backfire or Crossing the Rubicon Atlas or Googledoc  it to everyone shared in real time oh the fucking agony of not knowing what the fuck and should we do it this way or that way Christ we need a meeting to decide and if there was a possibility to be brave and true and good to everyone with integrity and mindfulness all the tick of the clocks then we would be ready indeed to know what do I have to do to prepare for the end of the fucking world when somehow inside me I know and everyone knows that all this this curtain raiser this sham piece of am dram with its slam and family of bees on their knees to please don’t wheeze because I know that you are breathing and if you are breathing too much you are sucking the oxygen from me and we can NOT have death here. We can NOT have misery around us. We can NOT tell the real stuff in tears and all our fears drowned in endless beers in order to be cheery not weary not dreary in order to get our stuff done.

I could get my stuff done if I could get it together

I could get my stuff done if I didn’t have so much stuff to get together

I could get my stuff done if my stuff was something I could understand without a clear rubric or without jargon or in sentences that don’t contain only letters grouped in clusters meaning things I have no idea about like PBL or STEM or DI or GRIT or EARCOS or FART or KIPP.

If only there was a God who in His wisdom would reach into every house and every office every school every like some omnipresent omniscient omnipotent Minister of Everything Holy Wise and Good and unplug our backs from the unearthed wires of anxiety if we don’t get our stuff done, untangle our brains from that web of stuff we’ve spun around each other telling each other how to do our stuff better faster quicker more creatively with ethics with mindfulness with a tsunami of passionate responsive student centred, flipping ourselves arse up with Blended Learning and differentiating ourselves so that holy shit what was that? Was that the bell?

The Trouble with Guns


When I was a little kid, my brothers and their mates sometimes mucked around with slug guns and air rifles in our backyard. It was a nice place, a big fishpond, a rockery and a big old camphor laurel tree with lots of shrubs and roses in beds my mother and father created. Down the back, near the incinerator where my father burnt used vials of drugs from his surgery and stinking x-ray films, there was an old chesterfield couch facing the fence waiting to be chopped up and incinerated by my father. My brothers had put a target up on the back fence and were having a crack at the bullseye, however after the first volley, up popped my granny, a slight trickle of blood running down her forehead. She’d been hiding away trying to get some peace no doubt from our unruly mob and placed herself right in the line of fire. She shouted at the murdering blackguards who were trying to kill her. A badly aimed shot had grazed her red frizzy head and my brothers then had the honour of having shot our granny. She survived though.

Granny had witnessed violence in Ireland, all through the Easter Uprising to The Troubles in the 1960s and further. Her brother had been in the Sinn Fein and another was suspected to have joined the IRA. There were tales of the Black and Tans and unspeakable violence. Guns were a part of life there and then, the violent history of revolution and resistance but that was then and this was 1960’s Australia. Guns were a form of entertainment. Shooting rabbits or roos was part of the cultural weft and weave, good country fun. Then came the madmen like Martin Bryant and Julian Knight. John Howard immediately introduced the National Firearms Agreement, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. It was implemented with bipartisan support by the Commonwealth, states and territories and coming a short time after the Dunblane massacre, in Scotland, where 18 lives were lost.

These however tragic, are nothing compared to what the really big boys do. They do it fairly secretly, (like shitting in someone else’s toilet) except in the case of the arms expos, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the industry amounts to well over 2 trillion dollars. Australia is a willing and active participant in the trade.

As long ago as the 1970s, Australia was exporting small arms to PNG which given the untidy nature of governance there resulted in the widespread proliferation of guns into private hands. Australia exports weapons and ‘dual use goods to African nations, particularly Zimbabwe in 2003-2004 amounting to $1 million worth of hardware but other countries as well. Many of these are repressive violators of human rights; Indonesia, Thailand, Fiji and the Philippines, Pakistan, Israel, Sri Lanka and Turkey. Now we have the UAE buying and using defence systems from the Australian firm EOC for use, at least in the bloody repression of the Yemenis. Why is the Australian government issuing export licences to these companies?

All weapons productions in Australia used to be government owned which afforded some checks and balances for at least the profit motive was hopefully not the motivating factor. No more. Now the arms trade in Australia is private, mostly multinational corporations like the French owned Thales group which is the world’s 10th largest defence contractor. What used to be defensive is now profit driven and clearly the motive for disingenuous dealing or blatant undermining of fragile societies and regimes is obvious. More conflict more money. More money more power. More power more …well, more everything.

As Australia and the rest of the world for that matter, move ever closer to a global totalitarian state it is critical to resist the urge to be ignorant of wrongdoing by the state especially in these dreadful matters. Guns and weapons have no recreational purpose. They are made to kill and maim.

When I.G. Farben manufactured Zyklon B through one of its subsidiaries, Tesch and Stabenow, it was first used as an insecticide. Essentially cyanide and prussic acid crystals, it became gas when exposed to air. It was very efficient, very effective and very cheap to produce. Profitable too. Used in the gas chambers, it was bought up by the Nazis in large quantities as a weapon of mass slaughter, to kill the Jews, Christians, Gypsies, disabled, homosexuals, dissidents and others. Millions of them.

After the war ended the directors of I.G. Farben denied any knowledge of the Nazi’s use of the chemical, however twenty three I.G. Farben directors were tried for war crimes, thirteen were convicted. Director Bruno Tesch and executive manager Karl Weinbacher (of Tesch and Stabenow) were found guilty and given the death sentence. Both were hung on May 16, 1946 but by 1951 all the others were released.

Both EOS and the Australian government deny knowledge of the UAE’s use of the weapons system against the Yemenis. It beggars belief that the Australian government continues to issue export licenses for these and other weapons pretending they are ignorant of their ultimate purpose. They kill and maim. That’s what guns and bombs do. They also have sophisticated systems that help them do it more efficiently cheaply and accurately. Very effective, very efficient and very profitable.

Thales is partly owned by the French government, so I assume we are supporting them in some way too and EOS is dominated by good ole beefy white Aussies, even an ex Senator in there (Kate Lundy), a few military types, oh yes and the UAE link, AbdulRahman who ‘ forged a solid career in the UAE Defence Industry’.

I don’t want any of my taxes to go towards killing or maiming anyone. I don’t want my government to do so either by issuing licenses or giving tax relief or any other tacit form of support or approval. I didn’t vote for you Scott Morrison but since you are such a strong believer in the gospel and the living presence of Jesus Christ,then perhaps you wouldn’t mind seeing to it that neither you nor the government knowingly allows the weapons or its supporting systems to be manufactured here and immediately cancels the export licenses of any of these companies.

The Trouble with Gurus

Secretly, I always wanted to be a guru. One of those guys who channel Source, spruik their lid-blowing wisdom and have rich brown eyes with a little twinkle at the corner. At some time, a dais with two comfortable chairs, a celebrity nodding with the audience laughing at every word or gesture. Maybe a stash of cash proving how wise they are. I keep spending mine. Not wise. First error.


Of course it is great for them to do what they do, actually despite the sarcasm, I have enjoyed the teachings of many. God knows how many I have read or listened to but I realised today something which has been slowly encroaching on my mind. Like a smell in the fridge; an old bowl of cauliflower cheese you were going to heat up for supper four or five days ago, or a piece of chicken festering in the meat tray poked at the back because you didn’t want to cook several nights in a row. It’s why I don’t get to be on the dais.

It goes like this.

Say for example I want to make a garden. I will work and structure the garden, buy the plants, the tools, fertilisers, blood and bone, dolomite lime, grass seeds, root cutting hormone, stakes…I have everything I need then the wheelbarrow gets lots of work. I have the vision, I have acquired the stuff, I do the work and make the garden. Then comes the waiting for each season. I am excited and do my plant calls to see how the babies are doing. I love them all with all my heart.

Things happen out of my control though like the frost and the ever present winds which are either from the north in the summer and fry everything and feel like the devil’s armpit. Or they’re from the south and are glacial. Last week we had three mornings of severe frost, minus three! I made paper and cardboard covers for the frost tender plants and checked them in the morning. All good. In two weeks we have had frost, warmth, winds and three inches of rain on one day alone. Mad. Now it is too cold and although there are lots of jobs to be done I don’t go out. I am sick of it.

I draw and paint. I have loved it. I had exhibitions in Europe and here in Australia. My work was lauded by a master painter in China and I was amazed. I really didn’t think the work deserved that kind of praise for goodness’ sake! Over the years I have accrued a large number of paints, inks, mediums, paper, brushes, canvases and stretchers, all kinds of stuff, folders of experimental work and sketches but also a LOT of empty sketch books. I collected the stuff but now don’t do. Was it just for a season? Maybe I have lost my mojo.

I write. Everyday. I love writing. Words are my soldiers, the literary army out on the parade ground to march out thoughts, ideas, clever phrases and fancies. I have known transcendental moments of deep connection with what Tolle would say was Presence which writing and even while painting but less so there as I was never satisfied with the result, the work never finished. Writing is different. It is finite. It has a beginning middle and end, easy to negotiate. I have written one novel and a book of poetry and short stories and have three other novels in process. Not progress, process. They sit there.

When I lived in India I had an idea to make retro dresses and kaftans from the gorgeous saris all around me. I bought over 70 saris and employed a tailor to make them. True, he messed some of them up; waistlines so long it seemed he’d envisioned dressing a dugong not a girl. I was raring to go and sold at some markets but ended up giving most of them away and now have three boxes of sari material in my cupboards.

My life is littered with examples like this and I can hear the words of my mother ringing clearly and sharply in my mind.

“Finish what you started!”

I try. Honestly with all my heart I try. I get the stuff I need and begin with the greatest of enthusiasm but it quickly wanes when it doesn’t take off and then I ditch it and move on hoping the next thing will take off. But in fact I don’t think I ever had anything particularly take off. Maybe my gourmet foods at the markets…certainly my kids. They are incredible runaway successes. But me?

I have never really known success. Just what kind of unicorn is that anyway?

How do people get to speak to thousands on a warmly lit dais? Who are these TED talkers? Who are these people with their own channel and hundreds of thousands of twitter followers? Is it skill, luck, talent, persistence, nepotism, charm, beauty or all of the above? Am I just lazy? Do I deeply fear success, rejection or just defeat? Is there something flawed in my thinking or my working? Am I not applying the Laws of Attraction properly? Has my desire for my meteoric rise been self defeating? Pride. Lust. Greed. Sloth. Envy. Gluttony. Wrath!!!!!!! No wonder I will never get a spot on The New Earth. Fuck it. Breathe…

The next Grand Solar Minimum, Cosmic Rays and Earth Changes (an introduction)

Excellent article on the Mad Weather Age.

Abrupt Earth Changes

What to expect in a Grand Solar Minimum. How does an increase in galactic cosmic rays affect the Earth’s climate and also tectonic activity?

Here is a simplified description of the basic mechanism:

A solar maximum is the period within the 11-year solar cycle of high solar magnetic field and high sunspot count. Sunspots are highly magnetic and visually dark spots or ‘holes’ in the photosphere of the sun, where solar flares can erupt.

A solar minimum is the low activity trough of the 11-year solar cycle (Schwabe Cycle). A Grand Solar Minimum is a period of several successive very low Schwabe Cycles, usually coinciding with phases of climate disruption and – in the long run -cooling. An example is the Maunder Minimum (c. 1645 and 1715) that coincided with the coldest phase of the Little Ice Age. The Little Ice Age, from which we have been emerging since c…

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Waiting for God-ohhhh…

Tomorrow I will know about the ‘fairy lights’ as my mate Sarah put it.

Back in Feb I was living and working in Thailand, in smoggy Chiang Mai, and was riding a motorbike daily into work. I had rented it from Wan, my Grab driver, and she and I were exchanging drivers late one Saturday night. I was buggered and grumpy because she had taken the bike from the car park where I had left it some 10 hours previously, but not told me. So she had to come and pick me up, drive me back to her place, swap riders and I would be on my way.

We both made mistakes.

I assumed, as I swung over the front to get on, that though the engine was still running, she was holding the handbrake. She assumed I wouldn’t hold the other front handle and throttle to balance. F=MA. Force equals mass by acceleration. It was shocking how fast and hard I got flicked by the fully throttled bike onto the gravel road and pulled along a bit. I remember my head hitting the road and feeling my neck kind of pop sideways. I also remember the huge bang my ribs took. I lay there for a minute, hearing the bike revving like mad then cutting out as Wan got to it and turned it off, carefully considering the various painful bits I was feeling. My neck was the biggest worry and I suddenly saw myself in a neck brace or like some Stephen Hawking tapping words out with a proboscis attached to my head for the keyboard. I sat up slowly and carefully. Wan was running towards me calling out’ “Are you alright?” I didn’t really know but I seemed in one piece. We picked up the bike and after checking on her bruised leg I drove home and did what I didn’t oughta. I knew I was feeling a bit shocked and a bit sore but I took a Valium and some Panadol and went to bed.

Next day it was straight to Chiang Mai Ram for me. Yep. Concussion and 3 fractured ribs. Well done miss. However the doctor did mention that I also seemed to have some kind of lesion in my lung or around the 7th rib so did I want a CT Scan.

“I don’t know. Do I need it?”

The Thai doctor smiled. “Up to you. You want, you have!”

“Yes but you are the professional, I am just the body. Do I need one?”

“Up to you.”

I told him I had a history of breast cancer.

“OK. We do closer x-ray.”

A few days later, already having in my mind what music I wanted played at my funeral and whether my ashes would be dumped off the rocks at the beach or scattered around a scarlet oak tree, I went along.

Doctor Flexi-thorn said.”Not here anymore. No problem now. Maybe just vascular lump.”

Ahhh that sounded better, well oddly vague, but meh, it seemed a typically Asian attitude.

So some weeks later when I resigned from my job and came back to Australia and had my scheduled follow up at the oncologist, I told her about the mysterious lesion found after the bike accident, she booked me in for a CT scan which led to a whole body scan and another CT scan and here I am tonight tapping out my thanatophobia, (my ever present fear of death and dying) in words few if any will read. I am worried this time though, as they have taken it so seriously. Yes the truth is that breast cancer treatment, well the radiation, causes bone cancer in far too many cases and when I saw the images of my chest on view at the nuclear medicine dept, I saw a few fairy lights on the image. The radioactive glucose they inject is drawn to hotspots of glucose loving things like tumours.


It is something else, osteoporosis? Perhaps it was just bony shit growing there from all those stupid multi vitamins and minerals I took for years to calm my thanatophobia. All those years worrying about dying and being ill! What a fucking WASTE of my life! Today I have been reflecting on all of that. I am the classic wastrel. I have been blessed with a number of talents. I paint and draw passably well, I sing pretty well, I played the piano pretty well for a time until I had no piano, I write fairly well, I love to cook and grow stuff, I love hard physical WORK like landscape gardening. I sew well and designed clothes. I was a reasonably good psychic (clearly not too good with myself!) I have had a couple of business that showed promise. I had a 20 year teaching gig which I never considered a career. It was something I did until the REAL career showed up. I have been avidly into health, medicine and some branches of science including psychology.  I adored travelling and meeting people, I am generous to others and interested in helping out. I consider myself a spiritual seeker,yet here I am on the threshold of finding out all the mysteries by dying and I feel totally pissed off with myself, because underneath it all I feel a failure. I feel I have only lived a bit of my life. I could have developed something deeply and thoroughly but instead I played with everything because once I could do a bit I dropped it knowing I could do the rest if I wanted to at a later point but that point never came back around. I have been a professional dilettante.

Tomorrow I find out about the results I hope, if my onco manages to call me. I am making a solemn promise to myself here…not a diet type promise that I know will break after a few days…but a real one. IF the results are good and I am clear I promise I will do one thing and do it well for the rest of my time.

Now…just what was that?

Cap’s Way

Cap lived according to the 3F’s. Fighting. Feeding. … and indulging in as much procreative activity as he could, well, till he met Alice.

He had a code of ham-fisted justice that was swift and hard. Some farmer near Merino had once whipped Cap’s old one-eyed Dad on the legs with a dog chain for something and Cap hunted this bloke out, thrashed the shit out of him in the middle of a paddock one time he and I had gone rabbit hunting. He’d asked me to go with him and after finding out where he wanted to go I’d thought it would be okay this time. Just hills, rabbits, him an’ me. No-one would go out with him any more because there was always a fight, always. But this time I thought it was safe. We were going off in the middle of bloody nowhere past Coleraine. So I’d said, “Yeah all right.”

It seemed fine. There were no houses, no cars, carts horses or chickens, there was no-one for bloody miles. Cap spotted some bunnies and said,

“Lance, you git on round the low side and I’ll come from the top.”

So off I went, really pleased, as it was all going so smooth. I found myself going through a small stand of gums down the bottom of the paddock where the creek runs thin and shallow in sandy pools and out to the clearing Cap was to meet me in. It was empty as the Sahara. No Cap. I waited a bit and then started up the slope. Near the top there was the sound of bone impacting flesh, grunts and a sort of soft whoooohk. I crested the hill just as this farmer who’d whipped Cap’s dad, copped  a beauty in the guts. He went down. There was blood all over his face, some came from his nose and some from a cut on the eyebrow.

“Ahhh shit! Bloody hell Cap!”

Cap was a bit puffed but not much. I’d seen him worse, like the time he’d flogged that big Irish bastard at Casterton. Cap straightened up running the back of his hand across his nose and leaned over the farmer.

“If yer want some more, y’bastard, jus’ call me.”

Then he swung away and picked up his gun and walked off calling me.

“Y’ comin’?”

I just stared at his straight back. I couldn’t believe it. Middle of bloody nowhere and trouble happened.

Still we got over two dozen bunnies and a bit more that day and Cap said Alice his wife, would be happy. I doubted it. All the women were sick to death of rabbit. To supplement the diet and income, Cap ran a huge veggie garden like his old Dad. Magnificent straight lines of everything you could think of. Carrots, beetroot, silverbeet, onions the size of babies heads, radishes, corn, peas, beans, lettuce. Everything. First it was all dug by hand, about two acres of it. Then after his dad bought a rotary hoe, Cap gave in and bought one too. He did anything he could to get the money for that rotary hoe. Cut wood, sold veggies  by the side of the road or wheelbarrowed them into Casterton every morning, shot rabbits, skinned them then sold the carcasses and skins, worked like a bloody dog. They were tough boys from that family. It seemed they were all in competition with their old man. Up the pub we used to ask each other which of Harry’s boys was the toughest, some said Frank, some George, some Cap, some swore old Harry was pretty much invincible.  I reckoned Cap was.

Harry their dad, came out from Yorkshire on an assisted passage and after he’d done his stint of compulsory laboring, came  to Casterton and cleared that block about three mile out of town. He built a nice little place for Mary and the boys to live. Did everything by hand, said it was the proper way to get a job done. Had more control. I don’t know, I couldn’t imagine how but he was bloody amazing. Harry got his one-eyed look back in Scarborough when he was about sixteen riding down a cobbled street on his bicycle. The front wheel hit a man hole cover that wasn’t on properly, he flew off, landed with his face impaled on a picket up through the roof of his mouth and into the eye socket.   Well, Harry pulled himself off the fence picket, got back on his bike and rode a few more blocks to the hospital. He was there for three months with the nurses packing the hole in his face with gauze every day. He looked a sight after that, his cheek bone was all shattered and his eyeball was about three inches down his face. Gruesome. But Mary must’ve seen the good side of his face first and married him. Cap told me once that Harry  his dad, had to leave England in a bit of a hurry as he’d had a run in with some Scotsman.

Harry was a gardener on an estate somewhere in the north of England and this big Jock kept giving him and everyone else trouble. Harry was a small man with big fists, they always seem the most dangerous types to me, and this Scot was big with bigger fists but a brain like a potato. The Scot kept hauling Harry away from the garden and shoving him in the dairy with the cows and he didn’t like it. His fists tingled but he knew he’d have no chance against this hairy haggis in the open because of his size. So one afternoon after they’d separated the last of the milk and cream, Harry went across and bolted the dairy door, from the inside.

“Hoo.” said Jock “What d’ye think y’ doin’?”

Harry looked at him, eye to eyes. “Ye great bastard, I’m goin’ to teach you a lesson!”

And in that dairy crowded with machinery, and vats and all, Harry bested the Scot. All the while the other men, were beating on the walls outside yelling,

“Are y’alright in there?” and “Open the fookin’ door!”

Then Harry came out alone with red fists and the men pulled back in surprise. One of them came forward and held his hand out to Harry to shake the red paw and said, “Weel the bugger had it comin’ to him.” But thereafter Harry could find no work nor peace and found out about this scheme to get to Australia.

So they already had it in them, getting’ into scrapes, all of those boys but Cap was the most relentless, always in trouble.

He had four children, the youngest, five year old Gordon with snowy white hair, was the light of his life, he was always hanging round his old man, making him laugh. Cap taught him how to box and sometimes took him to the Casterton Hotel sat him on a stool and gave him a lemonade. Not the girls though, not really, they could just as easily not have been around at all, or for that matter, his wife Alice. Young Snowy was everything to him. He adored that boy.

But Cap did everything in and around the house. What Cap didn’t do never got done. If he didn’t light the copper on Mondays, the washing moldered in the corner of the wash-house till the following Monday. If he didn’t take the kids to school, they ran off into the bush or down the creek. Geez, wild! I’ve seen those girls in fights that would’ve put a bloke to shame. He said he wanted more for them and by God he was prepared to work for it. Then one summer it was real dry, stinking hot and it all changed for him.

The day was a real mongrel. The tar on the roads was melting by ten o’clock that morning, I know ‘cause I was walking it on my way up to Cap’s house. I wished there was a fancy blue swimming pool or a creek to jump in myself. But the creeks were dry that year. When I got on up to the house I was sweating like a pig and looking out for a beer. I pushed open the wire screen door and went in calling out,

“Anyone got a drink for a thirsty man?”

Silence. I went out towards the veggie garden where Cap usually was this time of day.  Then I heard Alice and one of the girls screaming by the water tank. I started to run. From the other direction I saw Cap belting across the paddock and over the fence clearing it by inches, his oldest boy was a way behind, crying as he ran. Cap got to Mary and the tank before me and without a pause picked up the axe that lay just there, near the wood pile and swung it way back. It plunged into the galvanised iron tank with a small squealing sound and water sprayed out. Again and again he struck the tank wrenching the axe out of the metal with a harsh squeal. When I got there I picked up the splitter and did the same, water gushed out making quick rivers around us. Then, throwing down the axe he upped the ladder, jumped over the edge and disappeared through the manhole into the remaining water.  I’ll never forget that sound, reverberating in the tank. First a loud thumping splash then a howl, like a scream. Then he was calling me. “Lance. Lance…take him.”

I clambered up that ladder quick smart and looked in. Cap was standing in the shadow holding a small figure in his arms lifting him up to me, like an offering or something. Sunlight slanted through and fell upon young Gordon, gone white as a fish belly and cold.

Cap worked harder after that.  He got a six month government contract over at the quarry making gravel. He had to let himself over the edge of the cliff face and drill holes for the gelignite, prepare the detonators, haul himself back to the top and blow it all up. Down below men would crush the fallen bluestone into gravel for roads. Once he worked all day and all night, boom booom boom through till morning. I went out to see him and found him and his bike along the road to home, asleep under a tree.  He was knackered. When that finished he went shearing near Dubbo and there was no trouble there. He came home with nine months pay, spent nothing on himself, he’d done real well. But after he’d paid for all the wife had run up at the shops in his absence, he had nothing to show for it. She always looked flash. Cap never went away again. I’d often see him as I passed by the front paddock, there behind the rotary hoe leaning over it as though he was pushing the blasted thing by will power and gristle. They were bloody slow, heavy things back then.

Late one Sunday Alice went out to call him in for tea and saw him resting on the frame of the hoe but the motor wasn’t running, so she went through the gate towards him. Cap was dead, had been for a while because he was already starting to stiffen up. Been out there since six that morning most likely, working.

He never found it easy to relax but eventually we managed to straighten him out and he was no trouble in the end.