I am aware that there are so many women who have struggled to get us all to this point – where we as women can write and publish. I suspect that as a beginner writer – and I see myself as this because although I have written all my life it is only comparatively recently that I have begun to take myself seriously as a writer – I have not experienced the prejudice I am sure is there for women in publishing their work. I consider myself lucky that I have fallen in with the women at “A Room of Her Own” (AROHO) – an incredibly supportive and nurturing group of women writers.

gillian-barlow-photo-off-the-margins

POOL

Finally we pull into a place to stay.

It’s been (every day’s been) a long hard one. We drop in to the pub.

Pretty much everyone is there – mums, dads, youths. Arms bend. Nothing much else moves – except the bobbing Adam’s apples; the ever-lowering depth of liquid; the ever-rising level of voices. Alcohol sprays across the walls. The floors are awash in alcohol.

The publican and his wife are behind the bar. They are the only ones who are able to stay clear of the slopping, splashing, spraying liquid. The publican and his wife are soberly wiping the large bulbous glasses to squeaky clean and then stacking them onto the glass shelves behind them.
We are all nighthawkin’ Sweet surrendering. We are all born in the USA. Born to be wild. Great song this, eh? Best song, eh!

$1.40 in coins in lying on the edge of the pool table. No-one looks at it. Everyone is casual about it- real casual. Everyone knows it is there though and is waiting to see who it is that will step up to claim the table. Everyone is waiting – just waiting – just testing – just seeing what or who is at stake.

AND HERE THEY COME!

Three have risen to the challenge – but casual, real casual. They have tight moleskin trousers on. They have Lowe’s checked flannelette shirts on. Each has ginger hair, pale blue eyes, fair, freckled skin. “Play ya for a drink…” one says, looking around, daring anyone to get up for a game. He looks around the pub, but doesn’t look at anyone in particular – particularly not at those he is actually challenging. “Play ya for a drink…” he says again in a threatening casual way – as if it didn’t matter, as if he didn’t care.

The challengers are white.

The challengers are young.

The challengers are red necks.

The money, the $1.40, is lying there on the edge of the table, lying there, just within reach – like life, there for the taking. “Our money”, the red necks think. “The blacks put it there – but it is ‘ours’. Should be ours. That’s our taxes – our sweat and tears.”

“Play ya for a drink…” one says. He is white. He is young. He is a red neck. He slaps the money into the table’s slot before anyone has a chance to answer. He takes a slug of his drink. He takes another.

Everything in the pub is quiet except for the pool balls, which run tumbling out into the tray, ready for the game.
There is no movement. Everything is quite still but you can hear the baited breath – baited souls. Now, slowly, really slowly, there is a nod over there off to the right- then on e of the left – and another type of nod that no-one sees but you can hear in a distance like the call of the currawong.

No-one says anything but an agreement has been made. They will take up the challenge. They will play. It is from ages old that they decide to do it. They are older than the red necks. They are older. They are black. They have seen a lot of life. They have had a lot laid on them. They know a trick or two.

Both groups front up at the table. Both group – white and black, old and new. The young ones break and are the first to sink a ball. Yahoo, they all shout silently. Yahoo, you can see in their movements although they are pretending it means nothing. Their footfall is springy now. They smirk and return to the bar to lean. They nod at each other. They high five. They blow smoke rings, perfectly round. They look up and down the bar, to see who might be watching. They look at themselves in the mirror behind the publican and his wife. They look to see what the others, their competitors, will do now.

There is no nod of recognition from the others, the older mob, the black mob. Or at least, there is nothing to recognise as a sign of recognition. But it is evident in the smile which is no smile. They don’t look at each other. They don’t secret handshake. They don’t blow smoke rings.

The juke box blares – jiving on and on. “Riders in the Storm, dum dum dah dum, like a dog without a bone, sweet dum de dum dum dum… on and on and on.

The game is going on although the oldies don’t seem to be doing anything – obvious. They are not looking at each other. They are not talking. They are notsinking any of the solids, or coloureds or smalls or bigs – not the yellow nor the reds nor the greens. Not the blues. Up the Blues! Garn the Mighty Blues! The table is nicely scattered. The young red necks are counting their chickens before they hatch. They have all their eggs in the one basket. They are high like kites, man- is this fun. Shit, this is easy, man!

With the oldies, they are not sinking anything – but they are stacking up nicely, opening up, walking in- suckers! But all done casual, real casual like.

Over to the left, in the green corner, the exit doors are eased open. There are three girls – pencil thin, black sandshoes, black jeans, black t-shirts, black eyes, greasy hair. Over in the corner, the green corner, there is them and a pinball machine – flashing lights, flippers flapping, pinging, zinging. It’s alive. Man, the pinball machine is alive! It’s buzzing. It’s electrified. It’s really wired! Zinging and pinging and flashing and wired. Man, it’s alive! It’s spinning in and out and around and over. Did you see that? Wow, did you see that?

The three girls are setting the spinning, pinging, flashing pinball machine free. They push on the exit doors quietly, slowly letting the cold night air into the buzzing electric corner of the pub.
Darkness drops like a guillotine! An electric cord dangles from above. The pinball machine is pushed crablike out into the night.

Back at the pool table, there is held breath. The young ones are dancing on their toes, dancing on the ceiling, man! These old fuckers can NOT play! These black are hopeless! What a joke! What a card! All over- bar the shouting! They have only one more ball to sink – one more and then the blacky! They will have it in the can!

The oldies are still not looking. They are still fronting up, methodical like, but there is something now if you look carefully, look carefully along the timber edge of the table and squint across it surface. The smooth green evenness of the table is still there but if you know something, if you get up really close and stare hard at the whole picture you will see it. There! See it? Couldn’t tell you what – feel it more than see it.

The pinball machine is escaping down the road, rattling as fast as its wheels can go along the concrete and bitumen. Buzzing and pinging, it can’t even hear itself think – lights in the dark, music in its ears.

The man in the purple shirt, 100% synthetic, is collecting empties. He stops at the green corner, over near the exit door. Is it that he has been here already or is it something else? He reaches out to grab…what? He scratches his head…why? Was he…? Was it…? His hands shake. He remembers something but he can’t remember what. There was something here in the corner, surely? But there is nothing to see – only a dangling electric cord. No body. Nobody around – just the ghost of a ping, a cigarette butt, four perfectly round marks in the swirling rose carpet.

One of the oldies strides to the table, confident now and begins to methodically pick off each of the balls – one after the other – easily, smoothly. There is just one left now – the last one, the black one. He looks to his friends, raises an eyebrow. Nothing seems to happen but a decision has been made. Deftly, smoothly, he sinks the last ball as if it were nothing, as if there weren’t so much skill involved.

The young red necks are standing small suddenly. Their beer glasses are frozen at their mouths. The smoke rings droop and warp. What’s happened here? Man, what gives? How the …?

“Last drinks,” the publican calls.

“Drink ‘em up!” the publican says.

The publican’s wife carefully places the last squeaky clean glass back under the bar. She wipes her hands on her apron.

 

WINDOW

There is a window.

Gillian windows

It is a hole punched into metal. It is in a building made entirely of horizontal corrugated metal. There is a gun sticking out of a corner of the window. Just a glint of light on the barrel can be seen. The cloth hanging there to keep the mosquitoes and peeping toms out has caught on the foot of a woman who has fallen.

Shot.

Bang.

To the ground.

She wasn’t heavy enough, even in her fall, to pull the whole curtain from its rod.

Above the window is an awning of flat sheet metal.

The letters, which had been piling up waiting for her return, have been burnt. Their cinders are still smouldering in the letter box. (That’s what the 44 gallon drum is for, there in the front. What sort of mail was she expecting that she needed something as large as this to hold it?)

There is a man inside. He is now relaxing. He is smoking a fag. It is held loosely in his right hand – smoke curling up to make a yellow sludge on the ceiling of the house. He sits on the chair with a busted seat. A gun is resting on his knee. The barrel is poking out the window, just glinting in the warm sunlight. With his left hand, elbow leaning on a makeshift timber bench, he is holding a straightened coat hanger. In front of him is a television set. It has a picture that is flickering as the man breathes. In. Out. In. Out. Furry. Clear. Furry. Clear. The gun vibrates ever so gently on the edge of the metal sheet.

It is his favourite program on the only station that the television receives. Figures hover on the screen in black and white. Their faces are sometimes black, sometimes white as he breathes. There is no colour. There is colour. In. Out. Furry. Clear. Black. White. No in-betweens.

Outside it is stinking hot and no-one dares venture there anymore. It is a sleepy town at this time of day because anyone who knows anything is sleeping – either sleeping it off or sleeping in – in preparation for further activity later.

From where the man sits, he can lift the corner of the piece of cloth with the gun and check out who is passing. If he leans forward, he can pick up the kettle, still steaming, from the burner and pour it into a cup for tea. The air is still. The tea bags and sugar are also at hand. He tilts the chair back further and although the picture on the television isn’t quite as good when he does so, he can rest the back of the chair on the wall and have a kip. The story is unlikely to have moved too far when he wakes up again.

Outside under the verandah, the dog lies panting. Its tongue out so far it seems it might never be able to fit it back into his mouth.

(Don’t worry. Don’t look. There is no dog.)

The dog lies in the tiniest patch of shade on a small patch of grass at the base of the back verandah post. He has all afternoon to wait for his dinner. He takes it slow.

(I told you – there is no dog.)

There are cowboys squeaking up the middle of the road, their boots pinching and rubbing, their horses’ reins trailing behind them, held loose in their hands, the sheriff and his offsiders, looking for business, cleaning up after trouble – or are they looking for it. (Don’t worry – they aren’t there.)

There are tumbleweeds bowling along the road, skipping and dancing Last Picture Show-like along the road. (They aren’t, but they were – just before.) The bitumen is dusty.

This could be a scene from a long time ago but it isn’t, it’s right here, right now, right there. No-one lives here, or so the story goes. The Australian Bureau of Statistics records that the Ridge has no-one, or barely anyone, living there. But it is much more than ‘none’ who that sign in on the Visitors page at the local RSL each evening.

Each evening they come in for their $3.50 meal of curried sausages and a few long beers. They yarn at length about their latest find – or almost find, or could have been almost find if they had had the right equipment, the right time, the right stuff to get it.

They live here because they can, because they have to, because just around the corner there is a chance that they will make it rich, strike it lucky and be able to live above ground again. For a minuscule amount of money you can own some land here. Above ground, you buy a small, a very small, plot. There is no-one to know what you are doing underground. Underground you are digging for miles, one more metre, one more day, tomorrow may, must surely, bring that opportunity of a life time.

When you own land, what do you own in any case?

You own a piece of paper. A piece of paper that says you own an area enclosed by a few connecting bearings. And even then you don’t own it of course – the bank does. The bank manager comes out in his suit and strides around the perimeter of the block. His squeaky black shoes ball up with mud but he pretends, for the sake of appearances, that he doesn’t mind. Secretly he is cursing that he made the mistake of putting them on this morning but to reveal this to you while you stand nervously chewing your nails would be a sign of weakness and perhaps indicate that he is worried at how to convince the missus he needs yet another pair. You in turn stand there chewing your nails, wondering what sort of fool he is to wear shiny black shoes onto this thick red clayey soil and worrying that he is so foolish, he just might not understand what it is you are trying to get. Your shoes, what’s left of them, are also covered in thick red clay. As are your socks. And hence your feet as the socks have holes in them where your toe nails (which you should have cut last week) have worn through the stitching at the end. The bank manager gives a nod and says he will meet you back at his office. He doesn’t offer you a lift, possibly remembering the stain your clothing left on the trip out.

When you pay out your life’s savings for this tiny block, what will you have?

Not what the bank manager has noticed, that’s for sure.

You will have freedom.

You will have opportunity.

You will have possibilities.

You will be sitting on a fortune – or at least access to one because it may lie just beyond the boundary, over there.

Home. This is home.

 

TRAVELLING TO GREAT GRANDMA’S HOME

Home is an onion. There are layers to it – of having your own home, of returning home, of being home, of home. You peel off layer after layer of the onion in ever-decreasing circumferences until you arrive suddenly at its centre where there is nothing remaining except for the tears in your eyes. Home is a never-settled settling. Moving outwards from Germany, where I have never lived but have been led to believe I ‘come from’ (das Heimatland, die Heimat), a place to which I can see no connection and which I find difficult to look at, to Adelaide where I lived and for years returned to whenever called, to Clare, a place I must have been but can never remember, to Bethany, a place of graves and picnics, and finally to Tanunda.

Aahhh, Tanunda.

I have never lived at Tanunda, not even come close to living there, but it is ‘home’ regardless. I have never understood its ‘home’ calling. It is not my home, but it is my mother’s – or it is one of her homes. It is a place of certainty and knowing, my mother’s homeland. My father must have felt overwhelmed by all of this mother’s family’s home stuff. He enjoyed going to Tanunda, nonetheless. At least it could provide those things he felt a home should give – fine food and wine.

At some point through our interminable stays in Adelaide, which were always during the hellish heat of December, a trip to Tanunda would be suggested and then, with much enthusiasm, the trip would be organised as though we had never been there before. Year after year we would plan our trip to Tanunda, travelling much the same route, seeing much the same things, buying much the same food and much the same drinks from much the same shops. Variations would be suggested and at times even included, but they were always slightly disappointing and although nothing would be said, they would not be included on future trips and we would revert to our favourites.

We would drive there, drive past Great Grandmother’s house, stop off at the shops and buy the mett and sharm cakes, drive on past the cemetery, at some stage have a picnic under the picnic shed at Schlinky’s Gully and then return to Adelaide. The number of cars and the composition of the party that travelled in them would vary. The order of the activities might also vary. But it was always the same things that were done.

Early on in the seventies, there is us – the grand children, in the Chevy with my grandfather, my grandmother and my father. The Chevy has more legroom than the other car, so my father accompanies us, although in reality he would prefer to drive with our uncle. He has slightly more in common with our uncle, them being both men and all. Besides, it is his holiday period and he would prefer to be away from us. My grandfather’s hat sits stolidly on the back shelf, warning those who can read such signs to stay clear, that here is a ‘hat driver.’ The placement of the hat has not been done by my grandfather to warn people, but to make sure it doesn’t get crushed and to make sure it is ready when we arrive at wherever we get to.

In the other vehicle are our mother, our aunty (our mother’s sister), our uncle and their two children, our cousins.

My grandfather’s car always leads the expedition. My grandfather points out the same things excitedly, slapping the steering wheel hard with his left arm and then, leaning across my grandmother, following the direction of his arm with his head so his eyes no longer watch the road’s dotted white line which runs under the centre of the car. He points with his right arm towards her passenger side window. ‘There!’ He glances into the rear view mirror to make sure that we, my father, my brothers and I, are looking where he is pointing. ‘There,’ he says again triumphantly, emphasising a point he has made (again) on this trip as part of his running commentary on ‘going to Tanunda’. It might be to point out the Heidiflour Salisbury Mill, or where my father used to work when we still lived in Adelaide, or perhaps the turn off to my friend, Annabel’s farm. He then will start the discussion with my grandmother as to the order of things – should we go via Bethany and visit the cemetery where great-great-great-grandfather lies, and then head on to Schlinky’s Gully for the picnic, or go straight into Tanunda via great-grandmother’s house and get the mett first up? This is code for: do we have enough food for a picnic or will we need mettwurst and bread and sharm cakes as well?

Whatever the order, at some stage of this trip, we will drive past great-grandmother’s house.

‘There,’ someone will say.

The car slows down. The car has no air conditioning. It is summer and it is so hot the windows have to be wound right down, although it would be better if they were up because with them down, the hot dry air blows in and around the car, making it hotter and dryer inside. Besides, with the windows down, the number of flies inside increases and they buzz ceaselessly around our faces.

Our heads turn as one to look at what is being pointed at.

‘There’, the someone says again. The car slows. It is almost at stopping. The dazzling heat flares up and we all look.

We drive past. It is a house with a central solid timber door and a double-hung window on either side. There is a change of pitch in the roof to form a deep verandah at the front. There are few distinguishing features. Time slows momentarily and then speeds up again and we are past.

That’s it.

Grandfather stamps his foot onto the accelerator, the car surges forward and our heads are thrown back with the thrust.

That is all we see of Great Grandmother’s house. But it is an intro to the stories of a childhood growing up in a German village away from Germany, of a life spent constantly roaming from one relative’s house to the next – where dead bodies are always lying in state in the front room so it has been wise ever since to come in via the back door – this even for those of us present who have never experienced it and where food, or lack of it, is a driving force for everything.

At some stage we will buy the mettwurst and the fritz for the picnic from the same deli where great-grandma bought it – it would be sacrilege to buy it from anywhere else even if it were better there. We have much the same conversation as if we had been coming in each day for the past thirty years. Hello there. Good to see you. How are the grand children? Mmmm. Have you seen what they have done to the old house? Oooh, is that right? You’ll have the mett then. With or without the garlic? They’re good and soft. You know there is always someone who wants the hard ones though. Would the kiddies like a slice of the fritz? Thick or thin? How many were you after? They never make enough sharm cakes, do they? Look at that! We’re almost out already. Ooh, there could be enough though. Lucky you! Would you like them all? Shall I pack them in a box or are you eating them now? We’ll have more next time you’re in – they’re making them now.

We drive to our picnic spot via the cemetery where we drop in to visit the ‘family.’ We walk through the headstones, pausing and reading each one off as though we have never seen them before, and must question who each was and work out their role. Finally we arrive at the picnic shed at Schlinkys Gully. This is the heart of the visit. We lay out the food on the table and slump into place. The heat is awful. The heat is unbearable. It is so hot, eating seems like the last thing you’d do. We pretend for a bit that we might be tempted to hoe into the enormous spread set out before us, but we all know what is coming next. We sit stiffly in our knowing, dreading the request. ‘How about a fire?’ my grandmother finally suggests enthusiastically. It is a rhetorical question. We file out of the picnic shed, which has been holding the heat firmly down on our heads, and walk slap bang into the horizontal heat from the sun. Taken aback, we begin the search for twigs and sticks. My grandma will build an almighty fire from it. She’ll watch for a bit whilst one or other of us has a go at doing it, tutting to herself, pointing at various sticks or bits of log which need to be moved slightly or taken out. Finally she’ll be forced to come over and rescue it and within minutes it will roar into life. She can then sit happily for the rest of the afternoon poking a stick at it, moving logs or sticks ever so slightly, commanding that someone go and fetch a bit more fuel for the fire – a stick yay long by this thick, (she holds up her rickety finger and measures one against the other to indicate how thick the stick she would like ought to be) commenting over and over about what a good fire it is, reminiscing of the other fires that she has had here. My grandma, happy, sitting stoking the fire until well after dark.

And then it is time to drive back home again.

It is always the same thing. That’s what home is – a place where everything is the same, where things are always familiar, always as they were or should be. If something changes even ever so slightly it is immediately apparent and the resulting gossip rages through the streets like a bushfire and the cries from all directions are ‘Change Back! Change Back! Change back!’

Each year for years and years, we did this same trip, viewing over and over again the same picture of great-grandmother’s house, doing over and over again the shopping, the picnic, the fire at Schlinky’s. Then one day, there came an opportunity. My aunty was to turn 80 years old. My mother learnt that this very house, great-grandma’s house, was now a bed and breakfast and she said as much to me. ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful …’ She said wistfully and I said, ‘Hey, yes let’s’ and I rang the place and organised accommodation there for a weekend in which we would be able to celebrate my aunty’s birthday.

By now, a significant amount of time had passed since we had been on the picnic trips to Tanunda. Both Grandma and Grandpa had died many years before. My cousins no longer spoke with my aunty. My brothers had moved around the world many times. I had a child. However, through a monstrous effort, we managed to arrange for a number of us to be there for my aunty’s birthday.

My mother in her wisdom decided that it should be a surprise party and although my aunt usually refused to move too far from her own home anymore, it was felt she could be coaxed out for a special occasion – a visit to Tanunda, a picnic at Schlinky’s. Although my aunty probably wouldn’t stay overnight, we would be able to sit there in my great-grandmother’s house reminiscing. Nothing much else would be needed.

Perfect.

For me it would be a chance to experience at last a ‘coming home’. It was the home we had always had been pointed at. Here it was. Although it was no longer ours, it was of course ‘ours’ and no-one else living there could ever take that away. For my aunty and mother, it was home, the source, the beginning. It was all too perfect.

We needed two vehicles for this huge manoeuvre. Five of us set off early to organise things and purchase the fresh produce needed for the lunch. My mum, aunt, uncle and father would come along later.

Everything had changed – the roads were different; the houses were different; we were different. Although we found our way to Tanunda relatively easily, we got stuck looking for Goats Square which great-grandmother’s house was adjacent to. We gave up after some driving around and around and returned to the tourist office. They knew all about our venture. They gave us a map and drew a few rings around pertinent signs –‘here’ and ‘here,’ they said and the rings stood out on the map so we would remember. They advised us that the key would be there under the mat at the back door.

We headed off again, more confident now we had a map. Our trips there before had always been under the direction of Grandpa or family who had spent significant time at the house and who had had no need for maps. I was to direct us; my brother would drive. Still, it seemed hard to find and I was reminded of other places and other times where I had experienced a similar difficulty – places like Wilcannia, places which are also small but are able to totally confuse. It couldn’t possibly be the place that was so complicated, could it? It must be my state of mind, for some reason jumbling up the one or two streets into a mangled mess, confusing them with hearsay and emotion and making it impossible to find where you were meant to be going. This time I discovered as well that I had been holding the map upside down.

Finally, with the map the right way up, we found Goat Square. It had been extremely close by all along; how we could not have seen it was now beyond our comprehension, but we were there and this could all now be forgotten. It was the piece from a jigsaw puzzle that you had searched and searched for, your hand passing over and over it, time and time again without recognition until, after you had tried every other piece, you picked it up with a sense of desperation but little hope that it would be the piece you needed – and voila, it snapped into place readily, with a resolute thud and now in hindsight you could see of course that it had to be the piece – the colours, the shape, they all fit perfectly. It was too obvious. It was lost but now it was found. Having found the Square, there was a sign on the house announcing it was a bed and breakfast place and whom to contact if you wanted to stay. We drove around the back, parked, jumped out and there, as the woman in the tourist office had said, under the mat, was the key.

We put the key in the lock, turned it, gave the door a bit of a shove, opened it and stepped in.

Home.

It was truly beautiful. Everything a home should be.

Quaint.

Delicate.

Everything was miniaturised. We bent our heads to walk in through the back door. A tiny kitchen. Two tiny bedrooms. A tiny bathroom. A tiny sitting room. Nothing more, except the verandah which looked directly onto Goat Square.

Everything tiny but with modern appointments. A huge stainless steel fridge was buzzing in the corner. Inside the fridge were a dozen eggs – freshly laid, or so a note told us, and rashers of bacon – home smoked, or so a note told us. On the marble bench was a crusty bread loaf plaited from three thick strands of dough – home baked, or so a note told us. The bread was sitting primly under a metal fly cover. It was perfect.

We filled the fridge with the surprise birthday food we had brought.

We rearranged the furniture to suit a party, moved the table into the centre of the room and collected from the car, the additional fold-away chairs we had brought with us, just in case.

My brother rushed into the tiny bathroom and put into his pockets the lavender soaps – handmade, or so a note told us. The soaps had tiny lavender blossoms pressed forever into their surface.

We filled tiny cups with port and proposed a toast. The port glimmered within the purple and blue Venetian glasses. The sun was muted through the lace curtains, which were moving softly in the breeze through the windows. Outside, Goat Square stood at attention in the heat. The grass was yellow and prickly. The light was hard and strong. No-one else was around. Inside, the house was cool. ‘Home,’ we said out aloud, raised our arms holding the port and clinked glasses. Each of us was thinking of a certain place, of home. It seemed timely to celebrate. We were home and now all we needed to do was wait for the birthday girl to arrive.

The time drifted slowly, wafted loosely like the curtain at the window. We walked in and out of the tiny doorways in anticipation. We walked out onto the verandah where we could look onto the square, checked around for the arrival of the birthday girl’s vehicle and then walked back again into the cool and dark of the house.

‘It’s strange,’ I said on one of these walks out and then into the house again, not really knowing why.

‘Mum’s weird’, my brother said after a bit. He had tried unsuccessfully to get the sound system going. He walked out onto the verandah and stared around and then walked back inside again. We were too big in this house. There were too many of us there, all at once.

‘Strange’, I said again and hesitated because I was uncertain and didn’t really know why. There was nothing to do or say. There was nothing to read in the house. No music could be played. We had done all the things we could do and now it was the waiting. We rotated the allocation of the two armchairs in the tiny living room. Two people sat whilst the other three walked uncomfortably around and around, in and out of the house, checked again that the car was locked, checked again that the birthday girl hadn’t arrived and then got a chance to sit down because the seated person felt the need to stretch their legs. We were waiting.

Goat Square was surrounded by houses – all facing directly onto the Square, all except one. Diagonally across from where we were, there was a house that sat there much the same as all the others except it didn’t address the Square. It faced stoically onto the cross street. From inside that house, you would be looking askance at the Square, eyes sliding over its surface so no-one could see that you were watching.

I rose from the armchair in the tiny living room and walked through the tiny doorway to under the verandah. I looked over the Square again, turned and then hesitated. ‘You know’, I said to no-one in particular and then stopped. Starting again, I said, ‘Mum always said it was that house’. And I pointed diagonally across the square to the other house which had a door in the middle and double hung windows on either side of it just like this one.

No-one said anything.

No-one even looked up from what they are doing.

No-one seemed to be listening. It was hot and dull here. We were waiting.

Then my brother said after some time, ‘Mum told us it was that house over there’, and he pointed.

The house across the way refused to cooperate. It didn’t beckon. It ignored the Square. It stared vacantly straight ahead. Mum had said ‘on Goat Square’. Not next to it. Not slightly lower and looking away from it. Not near the Square. On the Square. We should know. We had driven there millions of times in the past.

It was like we had been there for hours and hours. It was so hot. We were all hungry and could do with something more than port. We were still waiting.

‘They’re coming’, someone at the window whispered.

There was excited anticipation, a scuffling around, pouring of the last drops of port into the sink and a flustery kind of tidying up to make the place look as though no-one had been there.

My uncle’s vehicle pulled up over the other side of the Square, at the other house. We gasped, but then realised that there was a tree over there, which he could park under – this was an important part of ‘being from the country’ because you knew these types of things.

‘Ooh whoo, we’re here’, whispered/shouted/waved one of us, the door only just ajar.

Meanwhile my mother and aunt were tapping on the windows of the house across the way. No-one answered of course. We weren’t there. We were over here at the other house, our home.

My mum was annoyed. I could tell by her stance even from such a distance. Hands on hips, her angry ‘washing machine’ stance. I imagined her mouth was pursed. Her chest would be exasperatedly rising and falling. She leaned closer to my aunty and said something to her. ‘Wait here’, she must have said because she set off across the Square towards where we were hiding.

We were watching from our hiding place inside the verandah of the house, just behind the door, peeping around its solid edges to see what would happen next.

‘What are you doing?’ Mum called, anger bristling, as she got close enough. ‘What are you doing in there?’ We were silent. We were used to waiting.

‘The house, great-grandma’s house. It’s over there. What have you done?’ Mum said, barely containing her fury.

‘The bed and breakfast place,’ I said, but truly I had no answer. ‘The Tourist Office told us, it was here’.

There was silence. The birthday girl had been forgotten but she now arrived. ‘Why did you bring me here?’ the birthday girl asked sadly. For a moment there, she had thought she was going to have a terrific birthday, but she should have known that it wouldn’t work out. She tried to look interested and peered into the house beyond the verandah but she really had no interest and took no further steps.

Someone, sometime soon, said, ‘Maybe there is a key under the mat over there’.

We closed the door behind us and stumbled across the square.

The key was under the mat at the back door there too.

We opened the door.

For me, the house was disappointing. It was just a house. There were no home made goodies lying in wait for us. The furniture inside was sensible, practical. Someone drew the kitchen curtain blind aside and looked up a few steps onto the Square. It was a brick house next to a Square.

But my mum and aunt were rushing in and out of the square nondescript rooms. They were oohing and ahhing. They were very excited and happy and the stories had started already. They started to move their things in, never stopping for breath, chattering about what they had done here, about the people who had lived here.

Meanwhile, we headed across the Square and to get all the stuff from the other house. My brother took from his pocket the perfect handmade soap with its tiny lavender pressed into the top and placed it back on the hand basin next to the whiter than white hand towel with its tatted floral edge. We moved the furniture back to where we had found it. We closed the door on the first house – spotless, tiny, perfect.

We returned to the second house – we went home.

There it was all the time. It was always there. It was there as I remembered it even though I had never been inside or even been closer to it than the street, even though it wasn’t how I had wanted to remember it. It was a house like so many others in Tanunda and throughout locations all over the country. But this one was no ordinary house. This was a home. The other one, although it had so much more going for it, would just never ever do. Near enough wasn’t anywhere near close enough. It had to be this one, only this one would ever do. If we had had the picnic in the other house, I know that my aunt would have forever apologised to others for her birthday party. If only it had been at home, she would have said.

 

off the margins contributors are asked to respond to three questions that will be asked of all featured writers to further articulate a collective response to the question: How do we step off the margins of convention and enter the wild terrain of our writing?

In what way(s) do you identify yourself as a woman writer?

My immediate response is that I don’t identify myself in my writing as a ‘woman writer’ – although of course I am both woman and writer.

However, I worry at writing this.

I am a proud feminist – so it is not because of ‘shame’ that I fail to identify as a ‘woman writer’.

My profession is an architect, which is a difficult field for women and although there are in fact now more female students than male students studying architecture there are few women practising. Women architects are still likely to be told that they will be good at house kitchens and interiors – the ‘more feminine ‘ parts of things. I feel somewhat disconnected from my architectural work, that there is little possibility in making this art/profession ‘mine’. I have no deep sense that ‘architect’ is ‘me’.

I study aikido – again a very male dominated field. The dojo (the place where you practise aikido which is always practised with a partner) is a place where I am vitally aware of being a woman. For much of my time learning this martial art I have been the only woman in the class. Aikido is not based on strength and requires flexibility of mind, confidence and blending of energy. I currently struggle to make aikido mine but feel that there is the possibility to do this – that there is the possibility of expressing ‘me’.

With writing, it is different again. I am not conscious of making writing mine although I do struggle at times to realise ‘myself’ through my writing – to write as myself – to bring myself as fully as I can to my writing. I also realise with somewhat of a shock that the pieces I am posting alongside these questions are either written from a man’s point of view or as an androgenous “I”.

I am aware that there are so many women who have struggled to get us all to this point – where we as women can write and publish. I suspect that as a beginner writer – and I see myself as this because although I have written all my life it is only comparatively recently that I have begun to take myself seriously as a writer – I have not experienced the prejudice I am sure is there for women in publishing their work. I consider myself lucky that I have fallen in with the women at “A Room of Her Own” (AROHO) – an incredibly supportive and nurturing group of women writers.

Whose voices have carried with you for creative strength in order to arrive at this point in your writing career?

There are a number of writers whose work I love and I sometimes find myself writing like them – or at least I hear their voices as I write. Key amongst them is Jamaica Kincaid – when I first read “A Small Place” I was floored. This writing was a knock-you-out type of writing that I wanted mine also to be like. If I start to write something wimpy and not very ‘true’, I remind myself of Kincaid’s writing, delete what I have written and start again.

There is an Australian writer, Gail Jones, whose works also inspire me. They are so beautifully written and extremely poetic. I like this blurring of genres, which feels to me like it reflects our current world.

There is Rebecca Solnit – who has inspired me with her depth of research and her meandering back and forwards between external and internal examination.

There are of course Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolff, both whom paved a way with their creativity and innovativeness. Both in entirely different ways demonstrate a daringness in their writing – which is not always easy to navigate through but is always exciting.

Bhanu Kapil’s extraordinary works continue to amaze me. Kapil’s work melds all the above qualities – poetic, daring, depth of research, strength.

There is the whole of the AROHO network – and currently the women on the Haiku Room – what a find! – they are all a daily inspiration to me.

And finally, I have a number of close friends who are writers who keep me on the straight and narrow – Isabel D’Avila Winter, Anna Gibbs and Carrie Nassif – they won’t know but I keep them as mentors, their always insightful comments a wealth of wisdom.

What do you want our readers to know about your process of becoming a writer that might be helpful in further articulating their own individual process and growth?

Because writing is so solitary, I find it easy to slip into self criticism and uncertainty – about what I have written and how I have written it. I rely on other people – both those I know (and have mentioned a few above) and those I ‘know’ through their writing through reading – for reassurance.

A lot can be learnt from others. As long as the comments/criticism are given by someone you trust and have confidence in, while you may not always agree with what they have to say, it will always be worth listening to what they hear/read in your work and experimenting with what they may suggest. You learn more from mistakes and things that don’t work than those that do – someone saying “Good, nice – I like it” feels good but doesn’t challenge you much.

I would definitely suggest finding a group of writers/poets who can support and nurture you so you can start believing in yourself and keep writing – things that I still need to practise!

Artist Statement

“I have always wanted to be a writer – but put like that, I am unclear what it is I think this might mean because to be a writer means not partaking of life while you sit alone somewhere and do this thing of ‘writing’. I am a passionate participant in life.”

Gillian Barlow

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