a green sailor
strides down a fading corridor
the yard-arm of childhood
nothing below us
the sea around us
behind every hill
a cold forest
a single farm
a green lady
walks down a corridor
on our hands are claws
not to find us animal
we still have jaws
school is as good a place
to convince us
a face is just a face
not a window
to look through
in a grey fog
a sermon from an honour board, an essay, an examination, a roll
call. The fuel stoves would not work and sometimes we had to wear
gloves and warm our fingers up to write at all. By midday it was hot and
layers of blazer and jumper and scarf would come off. Schools have to
prove their superiority by being cold. The mind is above proletarian
comforts of the flesh. No man is an island and no pupil can ever be
alone without the possibility of interruption. We were educated for the
white man’s burden, the settler’s ecstacy when confonted by a new
country, not to rest until it is just like home.
Those islanders, undernourished, consumptive, badly clothed,
worse fed, that proletariat who left one for another kind of nakedness
now shivering at the edges of damp and miserable farms, at the mercy
of British price fixing, British taxes, British insurance, transport and
distant British employers, still bleeding them pale and twelve thousand
miles away from where they cough and struggle in the silent bush and
compete for work in British owned factories. A new land. An old land,
denuded of its silent aborigines, the oldest known living man. A land
deprived of its children, a bereaved land, an old grey wet and silent
aboriginal land, of species unable to struggle with invaders who quietly
disappear into the bush as the bush in turn disappears, and the fish,
and finally the children, undernourished and poisoned and frail, like
the ferns, tigers and aboriginals.
larger than life
rolling down the corridor
voice foggy with smoke
the fire inside
an electric storm
brandy bottles in the hedge
drinking beer at the edge
of huge and silent seas
Roaring forties, a belt of enormous seas, fifty foot waves,
capable of turning a ship on its back, like a turtle, a swell pushed up
by winds that when they do not rage constantly blow uninterrupted
by any land mass.
Tasmania is a speck in that vast and silent flow, a boat in a
legend of sailors who made a living out of the ocean. The roaring
forties have a winter of particularly freezing storms. A grey menace
surrounds the island whose existence seems as precarious as that of one
of Flinders’ long boats in which he discovered Bass Strait. The strait
has been crossed in a sailing dinghy, but it is prone — at all times of the
year — to fifty knot gales and steep, vicious waves.
Tasman sighted two mountains, Heemskerk and Zeehan (now a
tin mining town), upon a wild and totally inhospitable coast, with
relief. He had found something.
The roaring forties are, if you are dependent on wind, the quickest
way to anywhere. Now, a deserted highway. Think of the
technology needed to design the new ships that will use it. Not safety,
Sailors clinging like monkeys to thick wet canvass, their feet
balanced against a loop of rope, one hundred and twenty feet up on a
tossing yard above a hard deck and a cold green sea, trying to gather
handfuls of reluctant canvass, stiff and wet and full of wind, into a
bundle that will not break loose and rip something structural away,
sailors have of necessity, not safety, accepted but incalculable risk.
Arriving, the relief. Disembarking on the wharf, grey stone bond
stores, public houses, ships’ chandlers, customs houses: sailors, whalers,
soldiers, relatives of settlers, blown all the way from Europe, blown by
the everlasting westerlies all the way round the limbos of the world,
finally to be tossed up on this, the furthest shore.
Iron grey or black bush, heavy eyebrows frowning on the river,
mountains, thick wet forest, cliffs.
The endless silence of the bush, endless silence of windless bays
whose water reaches back to the first primaeval stillness where nothing
has been disturbed.
Blue mist disappearing southwards on sunny days, innumerable
bays. Sometimes the stormy island was kindly or the voyage back too
threatening: they came and they stayed.
The roaring forties is that belt, between the latitudes 40 S and
50 S, where the westerlies blow continuously, uninterrupted by any
land mass, right around the earth. Thus a current uninterruptedly flows
around the earth and huge waves are created which reinforce themselves
continuously rolling. The waves constitute the gravest threat to
many ships were wrecked
many cars went off the road
youths driving at speed
roads that ended too soon
to satisfy our need
our drunken little boats embarked
on those big seas
we didn’t have a chart
The business of the navigator is to establish the ship’s position,
relative to the latitude and longitude of mutually agreed spots of
British earth. Queen Elizabeth I, the navy’s darling, lived at Greenwich.
All sailors of every nation daily face Greenwich on the charts. It is the
centre of maritime.
The navigator locates the ship relative to Greenwich, usually with
a radio, sometimes with a sextant, but now the atmosphere in the
northern part of the globe is so dirty the horizon at twilight is invisible
and a fix is difficult to get.
Without the navigator’s eyes fixed on the stars and his mind full
of numbers and signs and his imagination profoundly conditioned by
mathematical concepts such as time and space, the sailor whose sensual
body connects him intimately with every movement of the waves that
he anticipates instinctively in order to secure the smoothest and most
graceful passage of the ship, would not know where to go.
The navigator dines off admiralty almanacs, radio tables, hand
books, mariners’ guides, books on cruising unknown coasts, lists of
radio signals, trigonometrical astonomy, astronomical trigonometry,
galaxies, constellations, huge and distant fiery explosions, miracles, the
moon, the sun, the stars. The contemplation of infinite spaces does not
make him afraid.
The sailor is terrified and refused to look further than the next
wave upon whose gigantic smooth and bellying green surface he is
about to manoeuvre some thirty to one thousand feet of boat, remembering
that at any minute the wave could snap the boat like an insect in
two if he makes a mistake. But the wave bellies through him. He knows
it. He is sure.
The navigator is glad that he does not have to contend with the
waves. Their ferocious and less than animal, their less than biological,
their physical and chemical poetry, he leaves to the sailor. The sailor
communicates readily with dolphins who perhaps understand more of
the stars than he does. The sailor converses with birds and fish as they
face each other on the level of the waters. His mind floats and reas-
sembles with the swirl of foam, the steady stream rushing under him,
the sky bearing him home.
The sky in his crow’s nest is the navigator’s aureole.
sailor one green morning
you rolled down the corridor
gathering up this navigator
like a wave