By Jason B.R. Maxwell
Mixed Vignetted Memoir. Some parts are fiction and names have been changed to protect individuals. Medium length read 5026 words.
Why does this have to be a cold spring day? Really, why? Does mother-nature want to mock me? Or is it just the power of those bloody men? Forget about it, my mantra will keep me warm, my mantra will open up the path ahead, my mantra will keep me from screaming; “it had to be this way, there was no choice!” And the truth is so strange. Pulling through the gum arcs onto our local dirt road in Kinglake, once it was like breathing, but this feels so strange. Like a charged electric knife is separating each change of gear or turn of the road. My confidence; I am doing this. I’ve always wanted to do this ever since my holiday to Cairns, Mission Beach, Port Douglas, Atheton table lands. This country beholds a kind of comfort in tension and wonder. How can I keep my wings contained in this box? A prison really, and we’ve been building it with such friction, resentment and torment. The shed was fun, when it started, but now? Like fucking wake up man! The concrete truck is here! But our homes thick earthen walls are behind me and I am resolved now. I will see this country, feel it in my spirit, I will not turn back. And why should I? My family is with me, my family is my two excited kids taping their legs on my Hiace’s engine wall, tapping to the rhythm of Dead Can Dance blaring from my tape deck. They are five and eight years old, they can change, adapt. Imagine if I did this when they were seven or ten? How would I explain it to them? Explain that, as I pull out onto Maroondah highway, that their future is now safe, expanding, drug free, free of madness, my madness, their father’s madness. Explain that nights of broken mirrors, tears, broken noses, more tears, will never happen again. We will never feel like that again. And I like to think that they know why I’m doing this. They were there weren’t they? They just have to know how the pulse of that huge, red, mud slab house we once built and called home, can never be the same again, not for us. Not now. Yes… of course they know why I had just broken our damaged heart like some weird contemporary art piece. For freedom. For sanctity. For love. No one else was going to do it. How can any love breathe through the smoke of that much dope, the fire of that much cocaine or the poison of that much acid? Change. No choice. I am gypsy, I am the wind, I have not seen this country, my country. The way it once pulsed; my best friend, my lover, my best friend, my lover, I will not turn back.
Wow, really? Is she serious? No school!? Holidays! And look what a holiday mum is planning Sharp Tail! Look at all this camping gear she’s even got a fridge in here! We are soo lucky Peter’s going to be soo jealous, looks like we’re off to see the world Sharp Tail! And all Peter’s teddies get to do is sit on his bed. What do you know about Bundagen Sharp Tail? It’s meant to be amazing, a huge forrest to explore, kids that shoot bows and arrows, ooo an festivals too! I soo love festivals. That’s where we can make our music that can lead the world. Me, you, my brother Aiam and his band of teddies, we can make it all a better place. Mum even said my friend Danny’s going to be there, I wonder if he has any Lego? I can’t believe mum wouldn’t let me take my Lego! I mean she did say we were going to live there for a little while didn’t she? Maybe dad can send it in the mail. Gee it was weird saying good bye to dad. He squeezed me so hard. I think he even cried a little bit. I thought he’d be happy that we’re going on holiday. Means he’ll get to sleep in without all that noise that we make. He gets so grumpy sometimes. I’ll still miss him of course. Even if he does get grumpy and fight with mum, he tells the best bed time stories. I know mum tells some good bedtime stories, but dad is soo the best! He lets me stay up later too. We get two or three chapters sometimes. It’s not like we’ll stay away for ever is it? And what was all that stuff mum was saying? How I’ve got a choice to stay here with dad or go with her? What did she think I was going to choose? Staying here and going to school? Ha!
Aiam knew he was going further away from his dad. Unlike his older brother, who had been to school and been on many holidays, Aiam only knew the tears of the night before, the shouting of the night before that. He wondered why he didn’t cry when they fought, why he didn’t cry like Ben did. He thought that crying might be the key to being happy, because right now his older brother seemed happy. All that Aiam felt now was an empty sadness. Aiam had just started seeing more of his dad, meaning that Vinny was actually beginning to notice him. Vinny lived just down the path in the shed. He would air brush dragons and fairies on Aiams arms with stencils. And he was teaching him how to shoot a bow and arrow. On top of that they were meant to build a cubby house, a huge dome cubby house out the back. How could they do that living in Bundagen? Would dad come up on holidays? As the Hiace revved by the roundabout in the centre of town, he put his hand on the window and said goodbye. His feet were still.
Homeland festival. What can I say? I am free. I have travelled three days straight, crossing river after river and passing the oyster farms and the salmon farms that were settled amidst some of the lushest forrest I could dream of. Arriving was like descending on a hidden paradise, a Shangri la in a valley. Four square acres of tipi circles, stages, markets, random statues of huge dolphins, and dreaded, smelly, yet beautiful people wondering around talking and loving things everywhere. I could see it all spread out like some moving, transcendental Tibetan mandala. For three days I will let my spirit fly far away from Kinglake, far away from the little two storey boxes and all the box human dramas we made. And after setting up camp and a dip in the river, I felt like I had finally arrived home, my home. The cool, mineral sparkling waters just dissolved the electric buzz of the road away. I was invited to a cup of chai and a tarot reading by a short lady called Ruby. She had the most beautiful long big black dreadlocks and a friendly, earthy rounded face. I was worried about my kids, they were tired and hungry but she said not to worry, that they had some rice and lentils as well. Her tipi was huge, a 20 footer from fire pit to crown. As I pulled the tower card in the reading, a card signifying a rightful collapse of illusion, I just had to smile. As the kids dug into the food like hungry dingos, me and Ruby just talked and talked. Different people came in and out of the beautiful round space, time and the people I knew just grew and grew into this expansive vortex of acceptance and love. Later on as Ruby got the fire going, my tall blond friend Marie dipped her friendly smile beneath the rounded door, and with her dutch-honey-butter accent said “ello…” with just the biggest smile of recognition. It was as if she knew that I had returned to my path, to our path, to the path of the free. It was always as if we both had specially tuned magnets on our feet and in our hearts. She had escaped a homemade Kinglake box herself, a year or so earlier than me, with similar intensity, yet with alcohol instead of drugs. It was her courage and freedom that I admired. She had been whisked away by this tall older white bearded man named Osho who followed Zen Buddhism and looked like a lanky father Christmas. O that hug Marie gave me, it was enough to shatter any chalice of doubt I held in an instant, leaving my spirit free floating and limitless. She and her boyfriend were silk weavers and she had on this most amazingly beautiful Indian silk dress. As night set in and the music stage began to boom out its mic tests, Marie invited me back to her tipi to try on dresses that she had just made. Of course, I chose this beautiful earthy coloured silk number that just hugged every curve I had.
“So how’s that sexy Italian boy working out for you miss goddess? I thought he’d come with you…” “Ha! Yeah one would think so hey… Nah, turns out I can’t really trust him, he just can’t do the honourable thing for some reason, he’d be trying to get down your pants as soon as look at you. And he’s turning into a hermit, there was a glimmer of hope for us when we went on holiday to Cairns, but things got ugly and even uglier when we got back. To tell you the truth I’ve had it with both of those men in that little box, I just want to be free Marie, I’m sick of living in nowhere land Kinglake, arguing about building regulations and heavy dealers coming round to the house all the time, I mean I know it’s beautiful, the mountain ash, the mist, the fires in winter, but I want to travel, to see this country Marie… All my quote ‘boyfriend’ wants to do is fuck girls from the local market and sit in his lounge room smoking joints and being paranoid about the world, expecting me to be absolutely fine with it all… And he’s lazy, especially when it comes to building the house. Menzy can’t stand it, although he won’t say it. At times it doesn’t seem like Vinny will even look at Aiam… You know he pissed off for five months just as he was born? Didn’t even want to see his own son, he never really wanted to be a dad…” Half of Marie had been listening, taking in all the truth in its horrid detail, yet half of her already knew all this stuff as their eyes had met … So Marie went up to Kat as she was tensing and flaring out her karma frustrations, put her finger on her lips, and with a look of true fire, led her out the door. Latter on as the music kicked in and their bodies moved to rhythms deeper than doubt and fear could ever be, Marie turned to Kat and said the words Kat had been searching for ever since she left; “so, do you wanna stay at my house, you know, after the festival?”
Jeeze it was so good to see Danny again hey Sharp Tail? Him and Tanya there by that massive metal dragonfly, freaked them out big time. They almost jumped up into that things mouth! And then that big water slide into the river, how awesome was that! Like, spaceship quick… And then we even built a jump-ramp on it, we launched soo high! I even winded myself one time, couldn’t breathe for like ages… Danny just laughed and laughed, said I looked like a spastic monkey trying to fly! I guess it was pretty funny. He then got me a job, like, imagine that! I’m only eight and I’ve already had my first job. Working at a corn stall finding and collecting bamboo leaves. We got fed free corn and garlic butter in payment, ooo it was so good. And you’ll never believe it Sharp Tail, we went into the forrest this one time looking for leaves and we saw two people, and they were hugging and naked Sharp Tail, naked! Now I know we’ve seen heaps of people naked, but they were doing things Sharp Tail! Probably trying to make babies I guess. It was pretty far away but jeeze they looked like they were having fun. We didn’t stay long because we thought the guy might get angry if he saw us, bring out a gun or something. But it got me wondering, and you must know Sharp Tail, considering you are the king of like, the entire world, why would anyone wanna make more babies? Isn’t there enough of them around?
Aiam was trying not to be afraid of the dark. But it wasn’t easy. Especially not really knowing where they were all going in the winding paths through the forrest. All because Danny and Ben were swapping scary stories under the mosquito net, and couldn’t leave ‘taddle tales’ behind. “Ya gotta see this one!” said Danny, “you can see the full moon and we’ll see if we can hunt down a real werewolf!” They had all sharpened sticks and were hitting things as they went. As they walked they also talked about flying spiders and drop bears. And Aiam had seen some pretty big mosquitos and had heard some pretty scary growls out there. Without walls it was way too easy to sneak out in their bamboo bedroom, especially when all the adults were being so loud playing music and smoking their cigarettes. Angel was there with them though, so Aiam held her hand. He liked Angel. Angel was alittle older than Aiam, tall for six years of age, old for six years of age too, brave even. She always made him feel safe, like the world would slow its hectic pace, a pace that he couldn’t stand. When they got to the platform the moon was as so big that he thought, just for a second, that it might be falling to earth. Falling slowly of course, yet still falling. They were alone for a little while and when Aiam told Angel his thought about the moon, she kissed him. It was his first kiss. He had seen his brother do this to a girl behind the water tank at school, but he never thought he would do it one day. It was like a moth that cried on his lips…
“O my god can you believe this Marie?” Kat was reading The Age, the one Kinglake tradition that she never lost. “What Kat?” Marie was slowly sipping a coffee while nursing a hangover, eclipsed by large black sunglasses. “Three dead babies in various states of decay were found in the Bundagel river today after the Police followed reports of poisoned water killing local oysters…”
I can’t stay. Not really. Bundagen is nice, I love the sweat lodges, the drumming circles on the beach, and I absolutely love Marie and her cooking. But ever since I heard that story about the babies, it’s like a massive cloud has come over my energy here. I really can’t stand washing my dishes in the river, or the dampness, or the mozzies that maul me like a pack of wolves every night. Kinda like the eyes of almost every male I seem to come across. Why can’t they just leave me alone? Might be nice if I actually liked any of them, but they all seem either drug fucked or sleazy as snake oil. They all know IT, ‘man,’ know the ‘real Zen’ or the ‘REAL truth’ of the Kabbalah. Not really the best kinda energy for my kids to be around. Anyway, communes have issues if you stay too long. You have to start working and making commitments to the group and I want to move. I have had my fill of building houses. And I definitely wasn’t going to do it with a bunch of strangers. The empty door of the road is calling me. I dreamed of an aboriginal with a yellow spear and yellow ochre body paint running in front of the car as we travelled on the highway. He turned around and began floating in front of the car at 120 km’s an hour. His eyes, they looked at me as a lightning bolt hit his hand, and he pointed at me, not with any bone or anything, but as if he was calling me…
I got worried today Sharp Tail. I dreamed about a cave, there was a dragon in there, a dragon or a dog of some sort, its growl was soo deep. It wanted to kill me Sharp Tail, it wanted me to go there and face it. And I wanted to go there Sharp Tail. I wanted to make it stop. It wants to stop us making our music that can save the world. When I woke up, the car had stopped and on the horizon there was a mountain, THE mountain, the one in my dream. Mum said she wouldn’t stop because it was ‘men’s country’ but she had stopped anyway. Why did she stop? Mum was standing over there under a tree, Aiam was asleep. She was just so still, swaying in the strong wind… I walked out there and her face, it was so sad Sharp Tail, soo sad, tears and the whole world… I grabbed her hand and brought her back, but what will happen if she goes out there again? You’ll wake me up won’t you Sharp Tail?
Aiam saw it long before it hit the cars window, the rainbow lorikeet. He wanted to yell out to tell mum to swerve, but all he could manage was “Mum!” and it was too late. He was frustrated at how old and slow mum was. He had seen it like slow motion, why hadn’t she? Aiam knew mum cared, she had said that they should care for all things from nature, for we were all apart of mother-nature and we were all brothers and sisters, even with the snakes and owls. She called the wings and snake skins, the skulls and the claws that were strewn all through the car, ‘gifts’ from our brothers and sisters. She said that we should never waste life once it had been given. “So why does it have to die mum?!” Aiam shouted. Aiam was crying, his voice was like a broken piece of glass, and the bird’s chest was breathing like a turbulent sea. Kat just raised the sledge hammer, as Ben put his hand over Aiam’s eyes…
I made it. Don’t know how, but I made it to Byron. And there I met a woman named Georgie, she said there was a commune called the Snake pit out at Nimbin and it was having a party and we could go and stay there, so why not? Georgie needed a lift and she had money which I needed for my fuel tank. So off we went that day. Driving through that country was like the most natural yet intense roller coaster one could imagine, as we approached Nimbin, huge spires of rock just lifted out of the green sea, they were like giants that seemed to welcome us. I felt like I was somewhere in an Asian postcard with the rough roads to boot. And when I arrived in Nimbin, wow, it was as if rainbows had built themselves into a street, it was so colourful. There were vee dub micro buses with statues of hippies coming out of the wall, there were murals of the rainforest with pixies and elves, there were beautiful wooden buildings, chalk paintings on the footpath and busking aboriginals that played the most powerful didge music I had ever heard, it seemed the energy was just alive with sunshine. We stopped there for some supplies at a health food store that just swam in organic smells, earth, ginger and freshly made peanut butter. Then we headed out to the snake pit. Approaching the gate was like going through a tunnel of tree and plants (mostly lantana which is a prolific bushy weed). The gate was rusty, almost falling off its hinges, but there was a beautiful sign with mountains and a rainbow snake that said “Welcome to the snake pit!” we drove up the winding path to a sky blue weatherboard house on stilts in a clearing. A huge man was there in the doorway, tanned, bald, big belly and nothing but shorts and a smile. “That’s god” said Georgie. “What?” I asked, not being quite sure if she was really quite serious or not. “They call him god, he’s the owner of this place, it’s a good omen, looks like he’s here to meet you…” we parked and he approached Georgie with those big arms outstretched and with a big boom said “ahhh and what has Krishna brought to me today? Two beautiful goddesses hey?” And Georgie was just awash with giggles. Me? I felt shy, my eyes down caste but with an infected smile non-the-less. He turned to me and said with a comic bow, the type where a flourishing hand trampolines off his forehead; “hello, and welcome, some people know me as god, this here is my little paradise circle of friends and gypsies, Georgie here tells me you’d like to stay?” I had to laugh, “Yeah, wow, this place is amazing man, I’d love to” I said looking at the massive mountain ridge that just seemed to lift the very forrest into the sky. “I’ve got some little ones too, there back there, don’t know for how long I’ll be staying but hey, maybe a week or two?” “Ha! Beautiful… yes! You know time is an illusion right? Stay as long as you like here, only price is a conversation or two round my table and of course the natural currency; smiles! The gypsies all camp down there, all down there at the tipi circle, a communal kitchen with hot water is here at my house, or there are cold water sinks down there at the sheds where you’ll find drop toilets and a magic river… And it really is magic… Shartan pulled this smoky quartz out of it the other day that was the size of an orange! There truly is a powerful resonance here and you my friends are welcome…” I didn’t know what to say, I could truly feel what he was talking about, as if a new clarity and power had met the sunshine I felt back at Nimbin… All I could do was smile and look into his eyes which seemed vaguely familiar. Then he broke my trance; “go on, go, set up, you must be tired, enjoy! Looks like the local radio station is calling for my eminent wisdom at the moment, so I’ll see you round the campfire.” Apparently, the party Georgie had invited me to was a constant one, it was the snake pit party.
So much is here Sharp Tail. The flickering fires, the music, the kids, the crazy adults, there’s things to do every day, just like mum said. Shooting bows and arrows, playing games, I just love the forrest, but the best thing about this place? Floating down the river. This is what I want to do with my life Sharp Tail. Does the river end? No, it just turns into the sea, turns into clouds and then turns into the river again. Does it have to end? I know this river here turns dangerous, that it speeds up and digs into my back at this one spot when the bend straightens out… But I can always go back around the bend and float again… I did that for hours today Sharp Tail. Hours. I think I believe what that man said, it is a magic river. I felt a sort of peace I haven’t felt like, ever. I could just let things float away. Sometimes I think I miss my friends, my dad, even playing Lego and the computer at school. But it’s only a thought. All that drifted away when I was in that river. Surely there’s a river somewhere that just flows and flows forever?
Aiam really believed they were going to cook him. They were in that big man’s smoky house, there were feral people everywhere, laying around, standing on their heads, sitting on kitchen benches. This one man who was bald apart from two dreads that were spiralled up into horns, had picked him up and they were all yelling “eat him, yes, eat him!” as a group. Aiam was really scared, he began shouting “no, no, put me down!” and banging on the man’s back as hard as he could. Aiam was crying underneath his voice, tears were streaming out the sides of his eyes. But he wanted to be tough, so he wouldn’t break. Ben was trying to save him, he had a stick and was beating the man with it as the strange devil opened the oven and bent down laughing hysterically. Ben then put one foot right on the oven door, looked him in the eye and commanded with his finger pointed straight at his forehead; “put my brother down NOW devil!”
Jeeze god is such a wanker. I have to laugh, but o my god! Every woman who comes across his table and his joints, he is just all over. Maybe it’s just the marijuana that gives him that ego, but what do all those women see in him? They ALL play along. It’s just weird, sure he has some interesting things to say about Rajneesh and the Hindu philosophy on sex, and I mean I love the community vibe at the tipi circle, things are great down there. But after Lucy had been with God and freaked out on blue moony mushrooms, I mean really freaked out, not coming back freaked out, talking to goblins in the wall for days, talking to herself about certain trees that have branches in other dimensions, coming up right up close by staring you down and then stealing food right of your mouth, I suddenly realised. And it was like some illusionary veil was ripped from my eyes. All that I can see now is this strong rancid patriarchy that exists in that house. It’s just, just, well, vomit. I mean I KNOW the guru Rajneesh, I’ve been to India, seen hundreds of temples and spoken to heaps of people about Krishna and the purity of mind in that sexual philosophy, and so when I venture an opinion, I know what I’m on about. But he just always sharply states that I am wrong, or changes the subject, no matter what I say. I thought he said he wanted conversation. Only from the men it seems. With any man he would go on and on, but when he was challenged by any woman… gone, dismissed. So when I heard about another commune called Om Shalom I made the decision; I’m gunna jump. And driving back into town now is like one huge reality check, especially coming back to the main street of Nimbin. And so I decide that it’s time; Ben has to go back to school and back to his father. His holidays have ended a week ago and it is just not right for him to be around so many unstable people without learning anything. So I go and do that, with a tinge of sadness, because somehow it seems like reality has now taken hold and is dragging me back to the men of Kinglake. But I also have this mission now in Om Shalom. Tipis. I want a Tipi. Almost all these amazing people have one thing in common. They all own a Tipi. And in every one I always feel at home. I have learned their lore, I have seen how they spiral community within them and how the rocks of the fire, they place a family in the harmonic sequence of the seasons, with mother-natures circle of life. I love that. I have heard that there are iron bark poles, the perfect tipi poles, there for the harvest at Om Shalom. So after I make this journey south to the nearest airport, I will return to the snake pit to get Carrol. Carrol said she would be happy to make another shared-fuel journey out there. So, yeah that’s what I’ll do. Jeeze reality ain’t that bad after all.
Mums taking me home Sharp Tail! “Yeah, so?” Hang on buddy, what do you mean ‘so’? Isn’t that exciting? “You always say your excited, but how do we really feel about that?” Ahhh… yeah I’m not really sure now that I think about it. I mean, I know it’s exciting that I’ll get to go home and see my dad. But I know I’ll have to go back to school and, and I’ll miss my mum, and my brother won’t be there, he’s not coming. I have no idea why he isn’t coming. I mean I know Vinny is Aiam’s dad and Menzy is my dad, but can’t Menzy be Aiam’s dad too? –Look, Sharp Tail, don’t be angry, we’ll see them again. I know I will, mums got the white belly black snake under control with that magic car of hers. Yeah, I’ll see them again.
In the forrest behind the town hall Aiam and Ben had jumped in this strange metal cart that was connected, firefoxed to a metal cable that stretched off through the trees. It looked safe, it looked solid. It was abit bigger than a shopping cart, room enough for both of them. Kat was dancing. All her emotions that she had felt over the last few months were pouring out in sweat and smiling, closed eyes. She wasn’t there to stop them. She trusted in Ben. The music in the hall was amazing. So the cart crept along with Aiam and Ben inside. This was fun. Awesome in fact. It was this feeling that they had no idea where they were going, that it was cheeky and naughty and their own little adventure that no one else in the world knew about. Surely it would lead to somewhere amazing, a new playground, or a cubby house perhaps. But they weren’t ready for what happened next. The ground beneath them began dropping away. As the trees ended their blindness, Aiam and Ben both jumped in surprise and by jumping the cart bounced and shook from side to side. They were about fifty metres in the air above a raging river. Aiam was truly panicking and he rocked when he panicked, and that made things even worse. “We’re gunna fall Ben, we’re gunna fall!” “Just breathe Aiam… We’ll make it to the other side of this, you just have to be calm, just breathe…”
White, Kat. Interview with Kat White. Int. Jason B.R. Maxwell. 25th Aug. 2014. Recording.