Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Wildflower Dreams - A seventy year story

Do flowers have memories? Do houses have memories? Or perhaps more to the point, what memories might they hold for us. I recently re-read David Malouf's "12 Edmondstone Street", his remembering of his childhood home in West End, Brisbane. To my surprise this piece, published in 1985 was much more than a piece of nostalgia. It was about memory itself and the slippery and very personal nature of it. Malouf begins as if this is a charming evocation of his parents house in which he grew up and ends talking about its homo-erotic connections. His growing awareness of himself as separate from his family. An early coming of age story. It covers the period of the early 1940s.
     My mother had her version of a coming of age experience also in the 1940s. In her case it took place in Western Australia, far from her home town of Sydney. She was in Perth towards the end of WWII working for the Post Office, driving delivery trucks, she told us. She would have been 26 - 28. It was her big adventure.
     The only remaining evidence of that adventure is a book of wildflowers that she collected and pressed. They have sat in various cupboards for more than 70 years. And I am now their guardian. But what meaning do they have? What is the point in keeping them? Can they tell me anything about what was my mother was like in 1946 when she collected and pressed them?      
     They are beautiful and beautifully presented - despite the brittle backing paper which is beginning to disintegrate. Disintegrating faster now that I have taken an interest in them. Ironically they seem to want to disappear from my view as if to make a point. Her neat handwriting adorns each page naming each flower. The writing is as delicate as the flowers they describe.
     I am aware that there is a risk here of being drawn into sentimentality; to ascribe qualities to her that reflect well on her; to remember her as I'd like to. An innocent young girl visiting a girlfriend in Perth. A hardworking and funloving kid in her mid twenties. A shy, cautious girl. For all I know she might have been a hellraiser, dating a different boy every night. A wild girl. As a son who only knew her as a devoted mother that seems out of character; beyond my experience of her but.....
     And then there's the wildflowers. On the surface an innocuous hobby. But people are never one thing. A wildflower fascination might have been the counterpoint to something altogether different. Without other evidence I am stuck.
     But what took 'Tottie'  (her nick name) to WA? I'll never know. She's gone. We heard this story of little 'tottie', all 4ft 11in of her, many times but I can't remember asking her why she was there. Perhaps we did, but I can't remember her answer.
     I did something similar twenty five years later. Perhaps we all have that story. The time we enter adulthood. In my case I ran away to Tasmania. I was having my existential breakdown. I was lost. Confused as to my place in the world. I had just read Jean Paul Sartre. Nausea. It all made sense. Alone in the world. Make your own way. So I ran. I stood on the side of Ipswich Road, Brisbane, stuck my thumb out and began my hitch hike south. My adventure. Tasmania turned out to be my destination but any other would have sufficed. At the time it seemed to be as far away from my Brisbane reality as was imaginable. It was only accessible by sea. Anywhere other than Brisbane and my old familiar connections and friends. Tasmania saved me.
     My mother chose Perth. The other side of the continent, similarly as far as possible from her home. Was that what my mother did. Was it her existential crisis? Her coming of age?
     She loved her adventure. I got the impression it was her leap towards independence. She joked that she could barely reach the brake and clutch pedals of her delivery truck, let alone see over the steering wheel. It was a period when Australia needed women in the workforce. The men were at war or recovering post war or just gone. It was a window of opportunity for her. She loved work. That is one thing that these wildflowers help me remember. Unusually for a woman of her generation she worked throughout her life returning to the workforce after we kids were off her hands at school. She was fiercly proud of that short period. It helped define her. Strangely she never drove the family car over the next fifty years but was determined to retain her drivers licence for that long duration. God help us if she had needed to take her place behind the steering wheel in an emergency.
     Strange that these flowers are here and she is absent. Despite the fact that these bloomed for just one season they have outlived my mother. And now I struggle with how best to create a memory with some meaning for future generations. What will they make of it? That she was a flower lover? She was much more than that.  She was a terrible gardener. And this is part of the conundrum.
     Did I ever really get to know my mother? The honest answer is no. She remained an enigma to me. Her inner life is a mystery to me. I'm sure she had her own dreams, some she fulfilled others she failed to. But she only ever shared those dreams with me in tangential ways. Sometimes I was just not alert enough to hear her story in a way that would help me know her. Even enter her world for a moment.
     Her love of literature is a case in point. She made much of the fact that she had passed the Intermediate level in NSW (the equivalent to year 10). Quite an achievement for a girl from a working class family in Kingsgrove in Sydney. She loved poetry and literature. The English poets. We had few books in the house but among the few was a copy of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare" (which I never saw her open ), a collection of English classic poetry that she would occasionally quote, and a copy of Dickens "David Copperfield" dated September 6, 1935 (a seventeen year old). She wrote. I never took her seriously. In fact it was a small embarrassment. She would occasionally share her writing but the reality was she had no one to share this with; no one to care; no one to encourage her. Ironic that I have, many years later, taken up writing, something she might have enjoyed and perhaps been good at.
     I sense that in a household of men with a husband who was an avid reader but not of the classics (my father left school at year 8 to work in the cane fields of Northern NSW), she was stuck in a literary limbo.
     So I have her wildflower collection. A statement left by her to assert her presence in the world. Her insistence that the world around her was something she was connected to. She was a good mother. Loving. Generous. Patient. Living in a house 1000 kilometres from  her two sisters. I suspect that ultimately she was alone despite my father's deep love for her. Both Malouf and Satre explore this reality. Malouf by exploring his inner and outer life of himself as a child; Satre in his novel creating the classic existential character.
     Perhaps the message these flowers have sent me is like life, full of contradictions, confusion, uncertainty. 'Look at me and enjoy my beauty but don't interfere with me or I will disappear';  'Allow me to conjure up memories but don't mistake memory for truth';  'I'm still here but in a different form. Life is transient'.
     My present task is to preserve this link to my mother for the next generation.  Will they be interested? Will the collection simply get dumped in the big cleanup when I go. I will be here for maybe another twenty years but these flowers could last another hundred years. Maybe longer. It's a task that requires some belief in continuity. In a humanity that values the past as well as the future.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Year of Headlice

I'm half way through the next edit of my novel.
     Paradiso didn't get short-listed for the Premiers Awards in October so it's back to the grindstone. In fact there was no winner in my "unpublished manuscript" category - a slap in the face for all who submitted but in a perverse way comforting. I'm told, unofficially, that Paradiso got to the last ten. But that's just hearsay.
     My nose, meanwhile,  is looking pretty shabby, what with all the nose to the ....... combined with spring weather and humidity. Brisbane is hot. Perth is still cold acccording to the weather bureau. It warmed up then plunged back to mimic Tasmania again in recent days.
     Editing is a little easier this time round. I'm more removed from my precious words. More inclined to see the sentences for what they are. A bit more forensic. Like combing your child's hair for nits. In my past edits I was tweaking. This time I'm slashing and burning. Nothing to lose. Except a few thousand words and some favourite passages. I'm looking for more than overuse of adverbs and adjectives this time. Clumsy dialogue and sentences which don't come off the page easily just have to go. Whole sections that helped me write myself into the story but which only serve to slow the guts of the story down. GONE!
     Headlice, many of you will know, are tough little buggers who hang on and are only removed with persistence. Editing is the same process. Reading and refining and reading again and finding more lice that need to be removed and then more. Many years ago our family experienced our year of headlice. They just refused to say goodbye. We washed and combed; combed again and there they were time after time. A year of combing my daughter's lovely blonde hair crawling with lice, each time fewer but never finally gone. Always one left to procreate and begin a new colony.
     Thankfully adjectives and bad dialogue can't procreate, can't write themselves. It's all my doing. I can't blame the other kids in the class; other parents for their neglect; teachers for not alerting families to the plague. In my case the combing continues. Perhaps this is my writing version of the year of nits, a writ-nit-year. One way or the other the manuscript will be better for it.
     At the same time I've begun research into material for my next novel. A sequel if you like, but written quite differently. It will be the story of arrival rather than departure and will focus on the struggle of illiterate migrants to make a new life in an alien landscape. Set in Sydney and Northern NSW it will follow the first Australian born child of Italian descent in his struggle to live between two cultures. Throw in a marriage to an Irish colleen keen to escape her "bog Irish" past and a life in the bush which neither manage well. And then  there behind it all is the Aboriginal story.
     That should keep me occupied for the next few years.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Stories from the West No.10 Finale - The Glory of Native Orchids

I am sitting here wondering how to finish off this series. So much more happened than I've recounted thus far but writing is the art of selection so some things will simply remain in my head or on my camera. I could load all 342 photos but that might be the end of a beautiful friendship - yours and mine (whoever you are).
     Now there's a little piece of weirdness - if I had published a book (which I will eventually), I would have no idea who read it or where they were from. This blog, on the other hand, tells me how many people came to visit, up to 120 of you, which is heartening, but unless you leave a comment I never know who you are. So that leaves about 105 mysterious readers. I do wonder who you are. In fact I'm surprised by how many of my close friends are not among you, including my wife and my children, so even those I assumed I'd know are not among you.
    But back to the story which is not a story at all at this point.
WA ended with a rush. Three nights in Albany and then a dash back to Perth. Albany was great. Dramatic bays and coastline; a fascinating old precinct and foreshore; whaling history at the preserved Cheyne's Whaling Station, the last operating whaling business in Australia only closing in the 70s. We camped behind the dunes of Middleton Beach on King George Sound. The wind blew. We lit a fire two nights in a row in the camp kitchen and met three young people from Taiwan one of whom I turned into a firebug with some careful tutoring. They each had names like Jason and Maureen but their real names bore little relation to these pretend names. Why don't we change our names to Chinese versions when we travel to their country? It's weird.
     We went to bed early and cuddled up close. Then the final day in Albany dawned and the wind had died. I joined the hardy regulars in the water at Middleton and my eyeballs froze. What pain. What exquisite pain. And then we said goodbye and headed north for the Stirling Ranges.
I haven't done my homework. I don't know who Stirling was but he has a string of steep slopes named in his honour. I call them slopes because even in Australian terms they hardly rate as mountains. We are such an old country with such ground down mountain ranges (the only continent with no active volcanoes) our highest ranges are akin to the foothills of the Himalayas or the French Alps. Still they can be steep and we ventured high enough up Mt Trio to get a good view of the plains to the north and of the steep path above us which, on that hot day (rare) we chose to enjoy the view and the lowland wildflowers.

The next morning we woke in our bush camp and joined the property owner John on a tour which never strayed more than 500 metres from our campsite but which contained an impressive range of native orchids none of which we would have seen without his help. I've never understood the fascination with these plants. Ugly little critters I've always felt. Show offs with a bit of the "Emperor has no clothes" to them. Stalky, stringy, showy but self consciously reluctant plants.
 I am happy to say that I changed my mind that morning at least in the company of these hidden beauties. They were much more discrete than the nursery variety. Small, shy, delicate survivors in a harsh landscape. I only retained the name of one of them, the rabbit ear (donkey ear) orchid, no bigger than my little finger nail - two fine antennae standing straight up, hiding under a fallen piece of timber. Very cute. Only one flower. Only one plant that we found. After that I felt like a huge lumbering carnivore stomping through the undergrowth possibly inadvertantly wiping out precious ancient flora.
     It felt like an appropriate way to finish off our wildflower chase and when we next were tempted to pull over and take yet another photo we both agreed 'nuh, let's hold the memories and move on. No point in exhausting our good fortune or overstaying our welcome. Maybe that's a story for another time.


Friday, 28 October 2016

Western Australia Story 9 - Broke

The sign at the entrance to the Broke Inlet road said ROUGH ROAD AHEAD. 4 WHEEL DRIVE. Sarah had given us some clues and we were keeping a lookout for it. We were heading for Walpole for the night. I can pick you up at the highway entrance when you come, she'd said.
      Should be okay, the woman at the Walpole camp ground said. What are you driving the lady behind me said. I was down there the other day and it wasn't too bad. I was only doing 15k mind. I was looking for wildflowers. Corrugations, I asked? Someone else had said it was severely washed out with all the rain? Nah. Should be alright if you take it easy.
     I thought Sarah might be in town so I sent her an email. Thought she might be teaching. It was 2:45, well before school finish time so we set off to walk into town. Sun was shining. A track led away from the broad inlet through wildly flowering heath. Another thousand flowers. And I don't know the name of any of them. It's like meeting new people. Mostly a waste of time telling me your name. I won't have any memory of it three minutes later. So the wildflowers remain mute. Wisely. Doesn't mean I don't care. I love them all.
     The walk to town took much longer than the walk around town. When we arrived back there was a note from Sarah written on a scrap of paper. Howdy. Welcome to Walpole. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. She'd arrrived minutes after we'd left.
     I'd never met Sarah. She was a face on a blog. Sarah Toa. Not even her real name. I fell in love with her blog a few years ago. It was by accident. I can't remember the sequence. Blogs are a little like life. Random. Hers is a beauty. She writes about the land she lives in and on and its characters. She's worked as a deckie for years with a crusty fisherman she calls Old Salt. They worked the inlets. Netting mostly for mullet or whatever was in season. Hard work. Early mornings, cold winds, rough weather. All in a beach tinny. Every day after battling the vagueries of nature she'd sit down and write about her fishing life. The stories turned into a book - Salt Story - under her real name, Sarah Drummond. We'd connected from time to time via comments each of us made about our respective blogs. Mutual complimentarians. Why not see if she's up for a visit from a complete stranger I'd thought.
     And here we were at the turnoff onto Broke Inlet Road. ROUGH ROAD AHEAD. 10:00 am. The weather was looking vaguely promising. Ranging between cloudy with hints of sunshine and the opposite of that.  The road was an example of shire councils protecting themselves against litigation. ROUGH ROAD translated to A FEW POTHOLES. No different, in my experience, from most unsealed roads. Always at the mercy of the elements with the capacity to grow ever bigger potholes. Never as big as those I've seen in PNG, as big as the wild pigs. There are even larger ones in Vanuatu where I swear they can be the size of small cars. It's all about the rainfall (and total neglect).
    Like I said, I'd never met Sarah. I knew she had a head full of wild hair. And I assumed she 'd have hands that could wrangle a monster fish in the dead of night. But beyond that all was a  mystery. Like pen pals meeting for the first time. I guess it can be a case or click or clunk. 
     We found the turn-in as Sarah had described. Just past the 1080 poison sign. The last hundred metres to her shack was the roughest piece of road in the ten kilometre diversion. A big smiIng face framed by rich brown hair emerged from a flyscreen door and waved a big wrangling hand greeting us warmly.
     Andrea had no expectations. She doesn't read blogs. She felt immediately comfortable with this no-nonsense woman. Almost kindred spirits. I was a little more apprehensive. I knew too much. Sarah seemed a little the same.
     Sarah lives in the house next door to the big house. The big house was built by the owners of this remote piece of real estate and bought this adjacent shack when it came up for sale to assure their privacy. Sarah knew them. Perfect match.

Come in. Cup of tea? No milk sorry. No worries we've got some in the van. And I bumped out the screen door with her dog Selkie paying me close and friendly attention. She was a bit like a seal. Slick and muscled and trying to turn me into a beach playmate or a fish she could worry.
     The bakery at Walpole is run by a Vietnamese couple but has little of what I assumed for a Vietnamese bakery. The ones back in the east show their French influence. This one specialised in giant vanilla slices and that's what I offered as my contribution to morning tea.
     Do you eat mushrooms? I had a moment when I wondered if Sarah was going to offer us some local hallucination inducing variety and I pictured myself trying to navigate the potholes later in the day. I thought I'd cook up some mushrooms and garlic for lunch, she said, and I saw the brown paper bag of IGA produce on the bench.
     Sarah's face was broader than I'd expected. Her face was that of a survivor. Someone who'd come into a tough world and taken it on. Her house was full of her. Books everywhere, fishing paraphanalia scattered inside and out and a rustic kitchen with an air of ordered chaos. Lovely. Apparently I was not exactly what Sarah had expected either. Thinner, she said. Well, you can't get much thinner than Steve, Andrea laughed.  I don't think I had misrepresented myself on my blog. I had posted a few photos but it's hard to capture 'bone nothing' as I was called in PNG. Nothing but bones.
     Walk she said? She showed us her fishing tinny tied to a tree on the inlet fifty metres from her back door.  This is where I fish these days she said. Not with Old Salt any more I asked? Nope. Just me for now, she said. The wind was blowing hard off the inlet down here. The tinny was full of water, with each next wave trying to finally drown it. What do you catch I asked? Whatever's in season. Mullet, bream, whiting. We walked.
     The inlet isn't all that far from civilisation but it feels remote. There's one way in and the same way out. The access to most of the fishing shacks is over soft sand and is definitely not campervan territory.
     It might stink down there the woman at the camp ground had warned. If the bar hasn't broke it goes rank, she said. It smelt fine to me. Briny. Salty. The outlet which connects the inlet to the Southern Ocean had broke only a week or so ago. The water dropped more than a metre overnight, Sarah  told us. Left my bloody tinny high and dry 10 metres from the waters edge. Had to get help to haul it to the water next day.       When the sand bar breaks it becomes a force of nature. Travelling through the narrow inlet at around sixty ks an hour or more. Sarah told us the iconic local story of the eighty year old fisherman who was last seen standing in his  boat as it sped towards the turbulent waters where the outgoing flood met the incoming waves. They found his body days later washed up down the coast. A fitting end perhaps.
     Some of the fishing shacks are occupied year round, others only in summer or when the fish are on. We met Ken who was doing a bit of repair work on his family shack. A sturdy low set rough timber and tin-roofed place. It's heritage listed Ken told us. Can' t make any changes without getting some bureaucrats bloody permission. Then the rain swept in and the walk was over.
     Over lunch we talked about books and Phds and the Iife of the writer. Sarah's Phd thesis is about early contact between the sealers (Canadian and others) and the local Noonga people. It tells the story of their treatment of the local women. A tough and tragic one and one not often told. The resulting book, The Sound, has recently been published by Fremantle Press. It's a beauty, full of rich research and memorable characters. And brutal. History is often not pretty. She's had to tread that fine line where historical fact intersects with imagination and character based storytelling. It's a powerful way to learn about those times and the history of Albany.

 Link to Sarah's blog

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Western Australia 8 - Walpole

SW Western Australia -  sunny one minute, blowing a gale the next then dumping rain on you to finish you off.
      Which brings me to Walpole, population maybe four hundred. Somewhere between Cape Leeuwin lighthouse and Albany, not far from the Frankland River there's a series of large inlets which sit behind the wild southern coastline. The Albany Highway pauses for a few hundred metres and invites you to fill up with petrol or get some supplies from the IGA and then speeds on. It's good fishing country - remote, unspoilt, protected. Good mullet, bream and whiting here. On the the surface it's unattractive. No protected surfing beaches; it's out of the main winery belt, a one pub town where, above the main bar hangs a whale's penis in all its four metre glory. 
     The bar is populated by crusty regulars sheltering from the cold, waiting for the weather to settle so they can get back to fishing. The barmaid is in a state of high anxiety. There are people wanting to order food AND drinks. I'm freakin out she says in a broad Manchester accent. Its 5.30pm. The rain is belting down and locals and tourists alike are seeking refuge. The fire is blazing.
     What's your house wine I ask? I don't know, comes the answer in that broad accent and a look of panic enters her eyes. We've got some red I think and pulls out a half full bottle of shiraz. Have you got any cab sav I ask? She looks blankly at me. I'll have to get the manager she says and disappears. A young fellow returns and is no better informed. We've got shiraz he says and unscrews the cap from the half empty bottle, sniffs it and pours it down the sink. He goes to fetch another bottle. I'll have a shiraz I say, accepting defeat.
    How long have you been here I ask the Manchester girl? Since last Thursday she says. How long have you been in Australia I ask? Three weeks, she says. I love it. I never want to go home. I worked in a bar back home but things are so different here, she says. In Manchester we only have three types of wine. Red, white and rose. It's so confusing here, she laments.
     Margaret River, the wine centre of the west is only forty minutes up the road and this pub has only one variety of red wine! They've recruited the right girl for the job. She'll be on top of the three brands of wine they stock in no time.
     More people begin to arrive. Tourists. They ask for the menu. She can't answer any questions and confides to us that the cook tonight is actually the bar manager. It's the chef's night off. Which explains why the cook is steering everyone to the sirloin steak. I suspect it's the only thing he can cook. In between pulling beers our Manchester girl is trying to slip outside for a quick cigarette, but every time she gets close to the door someone new steps up to the bar or walks in the main door. I need a ciggy she says. I'm stressed to the max.
     The local, thin as a stick with long grey hair, who has been camped in front of the firesince we arrived,  makes a move to head home. He's already had his fill but Manchester girl, against everyone's better judgement offers to pour one him more whiskey. What's the tab he asks, pays and slips off into the Walpole night.
     To be fair to any Walpole readers, there is a gallery in town which delighted us. The best little private gallery between Perth and Albany we reckon. It's run by the wife of a local farmer. She's got a good eye.
      We decide to risk the rain but not the sirloin steak and head for our campsite at the western end of Nornalup Inlet.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Stories from the Wet West 7 - Ways of Seeing

Ways of Seeing. The title of a book by social commentator and philosopher John Berger. His book was an early version of a graphic novel in that there were more images than text. He was exploring how our social and cultural experience influences how we see the world. He used art as his reference point in pursuing his thesis and , as a Marxist (as I recall), he was deconstructing the lens through which we see the world.
     Sounds very deep. It was an influential text for its time. Don't expect a femininst or Marxist treatise in this blog. Expect something much simpler. How art can make us see differently. A similar but simpler theme.
In Northcliffe in SW WA there is an art trail. In nearby Pemberton, we were asking questions about what we should see in the area. The attendant was quite helpful, singing the praises of the her home town and guiding us to a bush campsite that turned out to be magic. When I said we'd  be heading south the next day I asked about our next port of call, Northcliffe. What was there? Nothing much was her reply. One pub, one shop. Nothing else worth mentioning. So as we entered Northcliffe there they were, the pub and the general store. She'd not mentioned the cafe with terrible coffee. For that I forgive her. She had also not mentioned the award winning pioneer museum and the Sculpture Trail. Being a bit drawn to arty stuff we followed the signs which promised this art trail. "Understory" proclaimed the signage. A clever play on words that I myself might have dreamt up in my days in arts project management and been proud of, unaware that it was way too subtle fot the busy tourist with multiple competing slogans and clever titles to wade through.
But we'd heard a Iittle about it so we paid our money and went for a walk. Forty minutes later Andrea and I were both in raptures. Without any shared conversation we had had the same experience. What began as a wander along a meandering path with the work of sculptors set in the landscape became a walk where everwhere we looked became sculptural. It sounds corny but I became convinced that natural pieces were in fact deIberate sculptural works. Part of this response was influenced by having to look to find each of the pieces so I was tuned into sculptural forms. They were everywhere. In branches, in the way native grasses suddenly appeared and disappeared, in the shapes of trees against the sky, in root formations. It was quite astounding. Many of the artists works appeared in different guises at unpredictable and subtle points along the track. The result was that you were alert to the possibility that at any point there might be another face hidden in a burnt stump in a blackened tree or a minitature figure in the landscape, or a piece high up in the canopy. We were "looking and seeing" rather than merely being in the landscape. I was blown away. We both were.
It was one of those rare moments when something really new happens and your consciousness is altered. I remember having many of those moments when i was young and first discovering art and theatre and music - my first encounter with Ray Hughes Gallery on Enogerra Tce in Brisbane - John Olson, Rosalie Gasgione, Davida Allen; a visit to the Musee d'Orlay in Paris featuring Monet and the impressionists; my first visit to the weatherboard cottage that was La Boite Theatre in Hale Street Milton, where the stage was the tiny living room of the house and the audience sat on bench seats around the perimeter of the room. I watched actors up close, so close I could see their spittle. It was Thomas Keneally's 'O'Halloran's Little Boat'. I'm not a big fan of classical ballet these days, but my first experience of Swan Lake as a teenager at Her Majestys Theatre was unbelievable. I fell in love. My aesthetic sense was awakened. What possessed my working class parents to take me to see that, and in the same year, the Sound of Music I can only imagine. I guess they were never quite the stereotype of the struggling working family that I still think of them as.
     It happens less nowadays.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Stories from WA 6 - Whineries

Caravan Parks
     There are some awful caravan parks in Australia. The ones where they've chopped down all the trees so the grass grows green and unimpeded. The notion of shade and protection from the elements is sacrificed in the name of smaller camp lots and more income. WA has its share. The best ones are still in the hands of local councils and offer waterfront views AND trees. Augusta has two. Both on the water and both old school.

     Back in Margaret River, the young girl at the tourist information bureau understood our needs and that's why she had recommended the Big Valley sheep property. Strangely she steered us away from Peevelly which turned out to be a beauty. She was right about Big Valley and she was right about her recommendations of wineries. Yes, it was a bleak day as we packed up and bad the bleating sheep goodbye.
     It was 10am and Andrea was definitely not interested in wine tasting at that hour. She was much more enthusiastic as the day progressed. So I tasted and she browsed at the Stella Bella winery. We weren't being served by Stella but the next best thing. Donna knew her stuff. And since we were her first and only customers for the day she gave us her full attention. I was invited to taste anything, any vintage while she patiently explained vintage and climate and grape variety to someone who had heard it all before but forgotten it each time before he got to the exit door of the cellar. Cousin Vince had said: taste everything but don't buy it at the cellar door. Buy it at BWS in town at discount prices. How unscrupulous. It's like downloading music and bypassing the musician. I had to buy. Was it because I liked the wine? Was it guilt (payment for twenty minutes of informed conversation)? Or was it a compulsive shopping addiction?
     I felt much better about my purchase at Stella Bella than I did later at Voyager Winery where they ask you to pay by the taste (25ml) and then offer you it back if you buy a bottle of their wine. Of course you buy a bottle of wine. After investing $15 in sips you want to cut your losses. Its a like the roulette wheel - you just hope that you can take something away from the disastrous experience so that you don't feel so dirty. So stupid. It's a form of blackmail. On the other hand the wine was quite nice. Probably better than most. But I did spend more than I would have at any normal wine outlet. Stupider and stupider! (at $4 for 25ml, that would make a $50 bottle of wine worth anout $120 to them! That's just greedy. And here's the rub. Voyager wines was started and is still owned by a very very wealthy man - it's really just his hobby.)

     The fish at the Augusta Cafe was cooked by a young Sri Lankan boy who worked for a Frenchman who had come to WA via South Africa and New Caledonia. The coffee at Yallingup was made by a Spanish girl who worked for the cafe owner who was from Italy. The waitress at Watershed Winery where we had lunch was Italian from Roma. She spoke Ittle English and as a result the orders became totally confused. She was lovely. She'd come to WA and lived the first three months with an Italian family who never spoke any English. The girl who ran the Prevelly caravan park and complained about the cold weather was from Estonia. Everywhere, young European migrants/bacackers are running the tourist industry. I felt like I was in Europe. I couldn't figure out if these were low paid jobs that only backpackers would take or if these young entrepreneurs just saw an opportunity to make their way in this sunny climate and took it on. I think the latter because there were so many of these voices in so many places it was impossible to not conclude that something special was going on. And many of them weren't the dogsbodies but the owners or lessees.
     Getting used to gray cold days. At least it's not raining.