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Cemetery Road

There was a guy on the train with a GPS turned up loud, giving him directions to places he could never go. As we came through Hawkesbury River the voice said: At the next roundabout, take the third exit and proceed 300 metres . . . which would have taken him straight out into the deep water off the marina. I was giving a guest lecture to the Sevenies at their college in Coorongbong before going on to Broadmeadow to meet Maggie and travel via CountryLink, First Class, to Casino, and then by bus in the wee small hours down to Byron Bay. The old couple next to us spent the hours on the train alternately eating and sleeping; she was constantly rustling packets and giving him their contents in a manner that reminded me of when I used to have to feed the chooks. The way his skinny neck kept stretching out for more. Mish met us at the bus station at dawn and drove us up to the house in Cemetery Road; we collapsed into bed and slept until mid-morning. On the bald amputated stem of a staghorn attached to a small tree overlooking the table where we sat outside to smoke and drink, a dragonfly perched, watching us with its big compound eyes. Every now and then it would make a quick, up and sideways motion of his head, as if re-configuring the scene so that its parameters would be complete in whatever data base to which he was sending the information. We went out to the festival in the afternoon where, after the disappointment of Ben Harper, in a tent full of people with their faces wet with tears, we sang along with Jimmy Cliff and his band of young Africans who, for this number, all played drums: So let the words of our mouth / And the dedication of our hearts / Be acceptable in thy sight / O Far I. After this you’d think the Steve Miller band doing Abracadabra, in the same tent, would be an anti-climax but in fact it was as near to perfect as I can imagine a live version of that song being: Abracadabra . . . I want to reach out and grab you. When we went back to the other tent to hear Rodiguez it was, to say the least, a disappointment. But not the Robert Cray Band, about whom I can say nothing except that they chewed up the minutes in way that used to be called sublime. With all this and the rain, it was no wonder we could not find the car and had to trudge by phone-light through the wet fields past rows and rows of identical looking vehicles until, at last, we found ours far away from where we thought we’d parked it; and then had to return down the muddy track to get Charlie who, at a certain point, refused to move further in any direction. He was right—for him. Next morning the dragonfly bot was still at his station, gathering data, turning his head rapidly this way and that in a resonantly insectivorous manner. After breakfast we walked down Cemetery Road, which really does have a graveyard at one end; and, at the other, joins the main road just after passing over a derelict railway line which curves mysteriously away into the lush coastal vegetation as if attempting to arrive at a destination not of this world. Maggie took a photo of it and later super-imposed upon it another image she’d taken, at a festival in the Blue Mountains, of Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, with guitar, looking somehow coeval with Blind Lemon Jefferson or maybe I mean Blind Willie McTell. In cyanotype. We crossed Old Bangalow Road and climbed up a short dead end street and found there a track through to the beach beyond; there was a taste of salt on the air and the subdued mutter of waves upon the as yet unseen shore. The path came out at a wide lagoon of black water where hidden water birds called from among the pale green reeds and, on the further shore, a dirty and dishevelled young man was performing some ritual with a stick that he moved hieratically through the air. Clearly he was either mad or drugged but probably harmless. We walked on through the dunes and out onto the delirious sweep of Tallow Beach, running away south to the lighthouse and north as far as the eye could see through sea-spume and salt-haze and light dazzling off the waves. While Maggie pursued a blue heron through the branches of a dead tree lying fallen onto the sand, I took off all my clothes and ran out into the choppy, violent, broken surf, catching a series of waves that pummelled me shoreward as if under the wrenching hands of a sadistic masseuse. So there were mornings on Tallow Beach, days under surveillance at Cemetery Road, nights under the rainy canvases at the Festival, listening to Betty La Vette and Mavis Staples and Taj Mahal but not Tony Joe White and not Iggy Pop and not Wilco; because, however good the acts might be, you can only do so much in three days. And after all this we found out, just before I took a Greyhound bus south and left the rest of them to it, that surveillance was not what the dragonfly bot was about, it was romance: late on the last morning he joined his skinny wrinkled blue abdomen to that of a plump young greeny female and, in the rain sweeping over the palms from the sea, they flew away together into the bliss that was promised at the end of the disused railway line running at right angles across Cemetery Road and away into forever.

Martin Edmond is a writer of non-fiction, biography, poetry and screenplays. He has published book-length collections of poetry, and several non-fiction titles with a recent historical or biographical focus. He has been involved in theatre, and his career as a scriptwriter includes the screenplays for several award-winning feature films. He has been the recipient of significant awards and fellowships. In 2006 he published the travel memoir, Luca Antara: Passages in search of Australia, followed by a new collection of essays in 2007. 'Cemetery Road' is from a forthcoming collection of essays.