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The re-discovered first pages of a journal

I am writing this from the nth floor of a hotel in the Sydney CBD. I am writing it on a laptop balanced on the bench in front of the mirror, next to the hotel brochures & about a metre or so from where our bags lie, one open, one closed.

I am writing the record of a journey, 2000 kilometres by road but shorter by air, hours instead of days. I should have written it on the plane, during the trip, words reflecting the clouds placed below, at arbitrary intervals, like dots in a sand painting. I should have written it as I went; but notebooks for me, when I use them, are things that you scrawl in, fray, return to cross things out, doodle in, scribble all over.

But I am scared of this one with its pure white pages. Maybe I should have left it in the sun before using it, to cure, to temper, so the pages become yellow & I would have no qualms about soiling them with words or scrawls or squiggly bits. This notebook has the unfortunate quality of having quality; & so you approach it as you would a tombstone, something to be worked on after the act, when you've got all your shit together. Put it down somewhere else, the plasma screen, click & drag, copy & paste, until it's ready to roll. Print it out, go over it again, revise. & then enter it in the journal, into this notebook.

Or maybe I am lying, have taken the plunge & am writing directly into the book, ten thousand metres above a point on a line between two inland beacons, the true journey, move in from the coast, move back out towards it. & instead of working in retrospect I am working towards some point in the not too distant future when I shall sit down at a laptop on the nth floor of a hotel in the Sydney CBD & work my way through these notes. Perhaps revise, perhaps just transcribe. Or maybe I won't sit down with it at all, but abandon it for a while, somewhere in the sun, to yellow, so I can face its pages at a later time, without fear.

The solitary busker

Buskers are rare in Rockhampton. There seem to be no local ones, only the occasional backpacker; & always fiddlers in that "Irish" tradition that is as phony as the "Irish" pubs that prevail here.

They are something I miss. Sydney was full of them, the entire gamut of buskers, from the nasal pseudo-Dylans echoing in the pedestrian tunnel running to the main railway station, the didgeridoo blowers, old men with their performing dogs which wheezed in harmony with the harmonica, the accordion players – whenever I came near them I would make one of those signs to ward off the devil & avert the evil eye – Mozart down by the Opera House, Chinese students or refugees with their strange stringed instruments in Parramatta & the accompanying amplifier making it even stranger, through to those who pretended not to be beggars by beating a cardboard carton out of time & out of step with the universe. I hated them all, but oh how I miss them.

The solitary busker is usually on the other side of what passes as the main street here. Seemingly only on Fridays. I hear them, see them standing unmoving in the distance, am unmoved by them & their mechanical bog music.

But today, when I came into the street, the busker was between me & the discount cigarette shop I was heading for, & they were actually moving, sort of dancing between the shopfront & the roadway. Playing in tune & with some rhythm in their playing. I passed by, bought my cigarettes, came back. Thought what the hell, it's a bit of brightness in the drab, added a $2 coin to what was in the violin case & said something along the lines of I'd have given you more if you'd been playing Bach.

At which point they paused in their playing. The pause could have been because they were turning over what I had said to make sure they had heard me correctly or it might have been one of those pauses that come after you've put the money in the jukebox & the arm is going along the stack to pick out the record you've requested. (& yes, I know I've been around for a while.) Maybe a bit of both.

Suddenly the jigs were no more, & a reasonable rendition of Air on the G String was resonating in the air of East Street & stopping the pedestrians in their tracks.

The busker ended up with a few more of my dollars in their violin case. I was happy for the rest of the day. Still faint resonations inside me as I write this, as the gibbous orange moon glowers through the trees just before it falls away behind the hills, hanging there like those last few notes of Bach that followed me up to the carpark.


The Woolwash Lagoon, a few kilometres south of us, black swan haven when we first moved here three years ago, where we first saw turtles locally & worked out what to look for to find them in the other lagoons, where I first saw a jabiru, home to pelicans & other water-birds, has dried up.

It's now a lagoon in name only. The last time I visited its bed was drying mud. Now it's weed & grass all over, doesn't even look like a place that once held water, that was a hundred metres wide & stretched for a couple of kilometres, that was home to a variety of wildlife.

Locals tell us it's the first time in their memory that this has happened; but add that for a long time water was actually pumped into the lagoon, probably to give the cattle somewhere to drink. It’s never been pumped in while we've been here, &, in addition, I noticed a year or so ago that the farmer whose land borders the lagoon was drilling bore holes only a few hundred metres away from it.

The catfish in the lagoon have probably dug into the mud, gone into a state of suspended animation to wait for rain. I do not know what has become of the turtles.

The lagoons in the Botanical Gardens dried up a some years back, & the replica paddlesteamer was dragged ashore & put into storage, no doubt never to be seen again. Judging by the amount of water that was in those lagoons when we first came, & how quickly it has evaporated, it makes you wonder just how much rain fell consistently in the past to bring them to a serious depth. These lagoons, along with the Woolwash, & the Yeppen Yeppen Lagoon at the bottom of our street, are remnants of earlier wanderings of the river, now fed only by flooding.

A day off work today, so I went for a drive in the country. Not far, probably a total trip of around 100 kilometres, one of those "visit the area in a semicircle to the west of the city", but the first one I've done in three or four months when I used to do them almost daily.

On the road that runs by the Woolwash, there are, at one point, on opposite sides of the road, two white concrete structures that look like bus stops. They've puzzled us, because this is not a road that buses would run along. We've only just found out that these are actually the true markers for the Tropic of Capricorn, held the original tourist signs; but because they were on what became a secondary road, where people had to detour to see them, the local authorities decided that they'd arbitrarily move the Tropic north, to a spot on the main highway, where it was more convenient for people to be advised they were now crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, could stop & buy coffee & postcards in comfort at the souvenir shop.

Cut across to Gracemere, the site of the first European settlement in this area. Now a satellite suburb, new houses on one side of the road, a new sub-division started on the other, another farm being bulldozed away.

They say the region's in the middle of a boom, but it's a boom based on fossil fuels, mainly coalmining. There's a lot of it going on, more to come, all bringing in those mighty export dollars, bringing in tax revenue for the government. Which is basically why the Federal Government won't sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gasses. In fact, it was revealed recently that the Government's publicly stated position on greenhouse gas emissions is essentially a lift from a submission made by the mining industry. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Drifted further across the countryside. Dry creekbeds, fading floodsigns. Crazy rollercoaster ride in the undulations, natural & artificial. A schoolbus stops in what looks like the middle of nowhere, except that there are about ten cars, 4WDs or utes waiting for it which means that there are some somewheres somewhere. I drive on, up past the cotton farm which is larger than I thought it was & where the plants are just starting to flower. But then I didn't even know it was there for quite some time.

Sedate driving today, no real reason. Maybe because not much to see, not much to bring joy.

Apart from the birds which again manage to save the day. Not all that many of them, but two sightings in particular. A wedge-tailed eagle, low down & large, spiralling over the road as I drove beneath it. & a little further on a family of ducks wandering along the road. Papa, Mama, & ten adolescents in a straight line. I slowed down to their pace, trailed behind them for a while, before one of the adults turned its head to look at me & then angled towards the side of the road, forcing the others to follow, a perfect left wheel, done with the precision of a marching troupe. Actually, that didn’t just save the day, it made it.

A consonant avowal

Lately I have been thinking about vowels & consonants. Strikes me their existence is some kind of linguistic freemasonry, little information on why they are, what they're on about.

What they are we know, strictly defined though sometimes changed. When does 'y' become a vowel?

A vowel, the OED tells me, is one of the more open sounds uttered in speaking, a sound capable of forming a syllable. The same source tells me a consonant is an alphabetical element other than a vowel, a sound that in forming a syllable is combined with a vowel.

Consonant comes from the Latin consonantem litteram, which derives from consonantia from whence comes consonance, the sounding of two notes in harmony.

Vowel ultimately derives from vocalis littera, a vocal letter, via the Old French word vouel, a word that is full of vowels. I discover that a vowel mutation is an umlaut, which makes sense when you consider how the diacritic changes the pronunciation of the o in Gödel. But I also know that sign as a dieresis, something that is not a diacritic but a separator, indicating that two vowels together should be pronounced separately, as in coöperate.

I also discover a new word, ablaut, a vowel gradation that arises out of differences in accent & stress, as in drive, drove, driven.

No doubt I could learn more if I Googled the terms, but I get distracted by the thought that if I inserted a dieresis the word would then become Goögle = go ogle, which is essentially what googling is all about.

So I go no further in my quest, remain no wiser. I am a man of consonant sorrow.

Mark Young's most recent book is turpentine, from Luna Bisonte Prods of Columbus, Ohio.