Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Where Rocks are Other Things: anthropocentrism and landscape
an·thro·po·cen·tric (nthr-p-sntrk) adj. 1. Regarding humans as the central element of the universe. 2. Interpreting reality exclusively in terms of human values and experience. 
( 25/02/2009) 
A practical demonstration of anthropocentrism is to be found in the naming of prominent features of the landscape. For example: “The Sleeping Lady”, being a local name for the eastern slope of Mount Watkins in the Hamersley Ranges, describing the profile seen when approaching from the west, or “Cathedral Pool” being the name given to a rock pool in Wittenoom Gorge that lies cupped to the underbelly of an cliff, the eroded face of which evokes the ceiling vaults of a cathedral.
In the mid 1930s, The Albany Advertiser published the articles “Strange Rock Formations” (1935, 49-50) and “Where Rocks are Other Things” (1936) in which local rock formations were described as “freaks” and in anthropocentric terms. On their list were: Dog Rock, Shark or Eagle Rock, Pulpit Rock, Helmet Rock, Devil’s Gap, Natural Bridge, Boat Rock, Wagon Rock, Koala Rock, one described as looking like a chimpanzee, another like a snarling dog’s head. The name of a particular feature of the landscape may be anthropocentric, but - when it comes to particular speaking positions, in terms of discourse - they can be even more specifically so. The prominence at the eastern edge of the Gap is referred to by the National Park Ranger as “Gorilla Head Rock”, whereas rock climbers call it “Sea Wolf”. The discourse of rock climbers, a vocabulary specific to their activities, in which every rock face and every variation of climbing it has an individual name, also offers possibilities for poetic transformation. Rock faces are walls, wave-ledges are platforms, boulders can be blocks, protrusions, flakes. In South Coast Rock: Guide to Rock Climbing on WA’s South Coast, author Shane Richardson describes Climb 15 on the Natural Bridge’s “Orca Wall“: Climb the slightly overhanging, left trending lay back crack (the stomach of the ‘diving killer whale’) to finish up the thin crack above. (23) The naming of aspects of landscape in familiar terms renders the unknowable known, the unfamiliar familiar. Likewise, story attempts - by filling in the gaps (no pun intended) - to make the unknowable known. The local narrative describing underwater caves at the Gap (used in my poem “The Gap” in Southern Edge) arose from an attempt to explain how a woman could vanish completely. An alternative angle is that some local narratives are actually cautionary tales, arising not from historical events but because the contemplation of a feature of the landscape incites the viewer to imagine potentiality, the possibility for harm. Another perspective offers the possibility of redemption, she is not dead but alive in the caves from which there is the likelihood, like other women vanished into the underworld (such as Persephone and Eurydice, for example) that with some kind of upper-worldly intervention she might emerge alive. There are many areas on the Australian coastline called the Gap. Sydney’s is notorious. In fact, most sites bearing the name, and similar names, are notorious. Dare we entertain the notion that reputation (and story, in this case) is semantic, that it could be linked more to a name than it is to a place? Fact or folklore? It is almost impossible to say. These days, suicides on this area of the South Coast do not receive media coverage, and therefore most information, true or false, is related through the gossip-network, where after much repetition and elaboration stories of suicides are more legend than “truth”. In view of the mobility of urban legend, it isn’t inconceivable that these “local” legends, restricted to a degree by the requirement for certain features of the landscape to be present, might move from place to place, attaching to certain features of landscape rather than specific places. The Gap at Albany hasn’t always been the focus of white people’s local lore. In fact, until the construction of an adequate access road for vehicles in the 1930s – built to encourage tourism in the Albany area – the Gap was barely accessible except by a rough walk trail. In documentation from that period, the zawn is christened “Devil’s Gap”. Compare the semantics of the name “Devil’s Gap” with that of its neighbour “Natural Bridge”. The contradictions are ironic indeed. The name “Devil’s Gap”, metaphorically loaded with Christian foreboding, is attached to the place which appears to be the most dangerous - all froth and noise, unpredictable winds, waves thundering into the crevasse. Yet, statistics appear to show that most people who die in that particular area are washed to their deaths by surges sweeping under the seemingly benign “Natural” Bridge. From: The lighthouse keeper's wife, and other stories ; and, Ceremony for ground : narrative, landscape, myth

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ian Nichols reviews Southern Edge

Ian Nichols reviews Southern Edge in West Weekend Magazine (The West Australian), Saturday 21 February 2009: "The three narrative poems in this book explore reactions to loss, death and disappearance. They paint the situations and responses with a delicacy that is reminiscent of watercolour paintings; nothing harsh, softly edged, but nevertheless effective. The wife of a lighthouse keeper shares the death of her children in imagery that wavers as the light on the sea. A troubled couple explore their relationship against a mirror of the Southern Ocean, and one of them vanishes. A jetty becomes a palimpsest of traveller's tales. All this is written with a truly remarkable lyricism which has earned Barbara Temperton recognition and many awards."

Saturday, February 7, 2009

She’d looked back at Bald Head slipping south behind them, the peninsula a whale plunging into the Southern Ocean, saw its eye-shadow cast on fractured granite — the beast looking back at her. (from "The Lighthouse Keepers Wife", Southern Edge, Fremantle, W.A.: Fremantle Press, 2009.)

Snake City

It was late winter, several years ago, the early wildflowers were putting on a pretty spectacular display. I planned a walk on the Bibbulman track, from Shelley Beach across West Cape Howe to Bornholm Beach Road and back. None of my regular walking partners wanted to come, so I decided to go alone. I thought walking alone would be a great opportunity for thinking through an issue which had been troubling me. I’d recently become aware that I had become quite distracted and unproductive, obsessed with a matter which was consuming all my energy and going nowhere.
I parked my car at Shelley’s Lookout and headed bush. I was about a kilometre and a half into the walk, all uphill, stopped to rest at the top of a hill and realised with a shock that I’d left my hat in the car. I had a choice of going back to get it or going on without it - it was a warm, sunny day. I thought it wiser to turn around. Setting out for the second time I climbed the hill again. Now completely warmed up, I set off down the dirt track at a pretty fast pace. I rounded a corner and met a snake coming down the track in my direction! The snake went left into a cluster of rocks, I went right. A little further along another snake crossed the track in front of me. Then a few moments later, going downhill on steps formed with logs, I step onto a log and disturbed a snake on the other side. I tried not to be distracted by the acres of bush in flower around me or by the insidious way my walking rhythm lulled me into the world of my thoughts, several more times I was jolted back to reality by rustles from the bush alongside the track, snakes retreating into the scrub or travelling downhill ahead of me. After some time spent crossing around the back of West Cape Howe, I reached the coast. The Cape to my left, the wild Southern Ocean in front, and Bornholm Beach curving away to my right. I stood absolutely spellbound. Yes, I thought, God was here, recently. I don’t know why I looked down, but there on the track right beside me was a snake, sunbaking. I went North, the snake went South. I kept going. The walk was proving tougher than I’d imagined it would be. A lot of it was uphill, and one of those hills was a real challenge. I laboured up it, one man-made step after the other, and half way up disturbed another snake! I was breathless for more than one reason. After that, it was a cruisey walk downhill and along a winding but flat track to Bornholm Beach Road, a sandy four-wheel drive track. I sat on a log at the side of the track, rested and ate my lunch. It seemed to me I’d been receiving warnings via the snakes all morning, as though something was saying: Pay attention. Barbara, pay attention! I turned around, resolving to make as much noise as I could, to sing, to shout, to recite poems, to walk loud, to make sure those snakes were long gone by the time I got anywhere near them. I had a good time, composed some awful song lyrics, sang until I was hoarse, walked myself into a strong, comfortable rhythm. But, without realising, I’d stopped the noise making. My thoughts busied themselves with my current obsession and I slipped into that rhythm that walking long distances gets you into, where you cover the ground without really being present. The pace is steady and fast. Too quiet. The tiger snake was standing on its tail in the middle of the track and striking when I saw it! I don’t know how, but despite the speed of my forward momentum I flew backwards! I stopped. Terrified. My heart felt as though it would thump its way out of my chest. Stand still! Don’t run! Stand still! The snake half-dropped to the ground, head swaying slightly. I thought it might charge at me. It looked like it was going to charge me … then it wavered and veered off into the scrub at the side of the path. God! Oh, God! Fear cemented my feet to the ground. I don’t know how long I stood there before I began to think rationally. Move! And I launched myself from that spot, ran full pelt past the place where the snake had left the path and I ran until I couldn’t run any more and then I walked and I never took my eyes off the track not even for a for a milli-second and I jumped at every lizard, every bee, every dragonfly, screamed when a feral cat shot out of the heath and into a cluster of peppermints. About an hour later, approaching the crest of the last hill before the descent to the Lookout car park, I hesitated. The track was bordered by heavily eroded limestone rocks, it was late afternoon and the shadows were lengthening. That first snake? I drove down to the beach and sat in the car shaking, watching the waves come in. I just watched the waves come in.