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JOHN KINSELLA - MARCH 1999 FEATURE  

  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

DeWayne Rail
Muffy Bolding interviews Fresno poet DeWayne Rail.

John Kinsella
Access Visit/s - The next chapter in John Kinsella's autobiography series at TCR.

Bruce Canwell
The final installment of Writers on Writing.

John Kinsella

 

Access Visit/s


It's known as Gleneagle Forest now, though on Forestry maps it's still called Kinsella. And there's a Kinsella Road. Named after my grandfather, Claude Kinsella, State Forester. I wonder how many names were consumed in that sweeping gesture. In his honour it is so named, and will be for as long as we might... remember? Settlement. Occupation. Woodpulp.

I see a wooden firewatch tower. The ladder is broken, white-ant-eaten, dangerous to climb. There are large cardboard-covered batteries corroding at its base, their brass terminals almost glinting in the summer afternoon sun. The green bush is orange. Cockatoos peal and blast and a subtext develops between the "white" of "whiteant" and the corrosive nature of our white intrusion.

My brother and I use the spiked spears of native grass as weapons. We hunt our own shadows and make adrenaline out of a discomfort that will paternalise into guilt with age. To make a joke of it is part of the national character. A cross between self-deprecation and abuse.

Our father is talking about his father. He is drinking a beer. In that garage at home which he'd built to take two trucks there's a huge crosscut saw with wooden handles and a wicked blade. And chest on chest of forestry manuals. The damp's got into them a bit. Yellowing, black with mildew in parts. Thick with slaters. Dad just leaves them there; he lives up North with his new wife now. She feeds us overly sweet cakes, as if compensating for something. We might feel a little car-sick but there is good air if rather supersaturated with eucalyptus. It helps with colds and flues. We're heading out of Kinsella, heading South. It's spring and raining. Down past the Monadnocks. I'm with my mother and Jackie, Jackie's daughter and my brother. Galway Kinnell writes:

The invisible life of the thing
Goes up in flames that are invisible
Like cellophane burning in the sunlight.

Driving against the light the hill rises sharply to the right, its eye black granite and steaming, pewter lashes trailing out, flattering the traffic’s dry thunder. This place is known as Monadnocks Conservation Park, and the mountain at its centre nurtures the shadow of a dying flower still clinging to the magma core, the hot threads of fire-roots. I am not part of this. A frieze. Despite a black-shouldered kite defying the weather — thrown back and approaching its target — despite crows picking neatly the carrion spread piecemeal over the highway thick with traffic. Somewhere my father drives his Kingswood Holden at thirty miles an hour over the speed limit, his arm hanging out the window, tapping the outside door panel. There's a gun on the back windowsill under a blanket — a Ruger .22 bolt action with tube magazine. It's loaded and there's spare ammunition in the glovebox. He's shot sign-posts in the past, and unwanted puppies. Yet he's saved kittens when his mates have tried to drown them. He'll reach for a beer shortly. He's not easy to understand. He likes math, football, and masculinity. And he's proud.

There are photographs in the biscuit tin at home with Dad and his sons on his knees. The short pants are up to the ears, the haircuts flush with the skull. I might be five, my brother two or three. It's nearby, the place of that photograph. The colour's slightly wrong, but it's the late 60s and colour wasn't quite right then. The colour of the world has changed. It was greener and bluer then and everything was surrounded by orange and red. Mum lets us go through the photographs whenever we want to. We show them to friends. That's Dad, when he was around. That's Mum as a girl on the farm, in her riding clothes. That horse has got a great name — wait, I'll just go and ask Mum.

Near Exmouth there's a canyon. And an American military base. Or there was. A cyclone hit when I was seven and the roof of the motel was ripped back and it was blacker outside than inside with the power out. We crouched in the bath. And Dad hit a roo driving back. We drove for a thousand miles with a smashed front, blood, and roo fur. Somewhere we got a new radiator. The impact was like the canyon — shot and hot as hell, the blisters as angry as thirst. Broken underfoot, sheer faces and ragged parapets — few explore the rise and fall of this shot-hole canyon. They say it breaks away from its mouth by the sea and heads inland...

North or South. Perth was the centre. But he moved further North. Bit by bit. You rise up to where the air is clean, not the dry air of the desert, not the heavy air of the mangroves. A spotter plane hangs low in the sky, heavy clouds appear on weather’s eye, the wings bump, the coast passes by. Watched from a landrover, a glider catches an updraught, the sun like ice, a drunken, lazy flight in fine weather. Up to Dampier, Karratha — mining towns. Built to house the company's workforce and their families. Cyclone-proof, air-conditioned bungalows. Brick and aluminum mesh covering the windows. Barbecues in every backyard. Sports centres. Footy teams. Hotels. Beer. Spearing the keg on a Sunday arvo at a mate's piss-up. Gutting the fish, clawing at the drool dripping from the sheep on a spit. A place of cholesterol. Weight Watchers. Barn-like supermarkets. Statistics: alcoholism, domestic violence, racism... Weekend excursions to the source of fresh water — Millstream — lush oasis in red rock country. A sacred place, but we're not told that. Further North — Port Hedland. Mountainous stockpiles of iron ore. Red-brown hell heaps billowing dust that covers the town and gets into everything. Mile-long ore carriers marooned off the coast as the strike reaches day twenty. A white bloke stabbing a black woman in the Port Hotel. A body left to rot for a week out the back. The stench ignored.

The Greyhound bus. My brother vomiting grease at a roadhouse. They sell porn magazines in those places that you can't buy in shops in the city. Truckies say it's because there's not much action up past the Tropic of Capricorn. They say something about "black meat", and you feel uncomfortable. They say everything so you could hear them. They laugh and sit their beers on guts encased in blue singlets. It's hot. It's about 110 degrees Fahrenheit, though people are almost using Celsius by now. The guy in the bus whose chair we'd kicked accidentally during the night threatening to give us a clip under the ear. Salt pans and belly dumper Kenworth trucks. Everything is large and empty.

Mangroves grip the shores. The tide sweeps in and out on a massive scale. Queenfish move into the mouths of estuaries, mud crabs bury themselves; a racist iron ore worker tells his son it's okay to play with us but not the kid we've been hanging around with because he's black. You're in someone's house with your Father. There's a poster in the toilet of a woman standing and pissing into a tray. The blokes next to her aren't taking any notice, just staring at their cocks. She's got her trousers down, legs open, is leaning back and holding herself such that she achieves an arc stronger than theirs. Maybe that's why they're keeping their eyes to themselves. This is in the South somewhere. You think. But he's always moving. Soon it's Carnarvon — "The most racist town in Australia..." and you're older. It might be your last access visit, last stay as part of the agreement, part of the divorce settlement. It goes around in circles, you hear yourself say. What goes around, comes around, someone says to your father in the pub that night, one night, some night in the future.


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