by John Kinsella


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 A collection of prose, poetry, and memoir, this collaboration celebrates the profound effect environment has on our stories, assumptions, and geographical reckonings, just as it evokes childhood nostalgia and a sense of place. In a dialogue of perceptions, two of Australia’s foremost authors explore a common geography and memories—both cultural and personal—as they consider the theme of “sand” from intimate, geological, and historical points of view.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781921696893
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 11/01/2010
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Robert Drewe is the author of numerous short stories, novels, and nonfiction works, including his memoir The Shark Net. He is the recipient of a Commonwealth Literary Prize and two Walkley Awards for journalism. John Kinsella is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The Hierarchy of Sheep, The New Arcadia, and The Silo, and the editor of the international literary journal Salt and the Australian literary journal Overland. He is an adjunct professor at Edith Cowan College and a research fellow at the University of Western Australia. He is the recipient of various awards, including the Age Poetry Book of the Year Award and the Grace Leven Poetry Prize.

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By Robert Drewe, John Kinsella

Fremantle Press

Copyright © 2010 Robert Drewe, John Kinsella
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-921696-64-0


The Sand People

When I was a child new to Perth, everyone I knew lived in the dunes. Some people lived in the loose white limestone sand near the ocean. I thought of them as the Sand People. Every afternoon the fierce sea wind, which they dismissed as The Breeze, blew their sand into the air and scalloped and corrugated their properties.

Sun and wind had rearranged the appearance of the Sand People as well – tanned, freckled, scabbed and bleached them. With their darker skins, red eyes, raw noses and permanent deep cracks in their bottom lips, they looked nothing like Melbourne people.

Some were as eroded as the cliffs, their noses and ears worn and peeled away, so that grown men had the snubbed features of boys. Around their edges – noses, ear tips, cheeks, shoulders – they were pink and fraying. Shreds of skin poked up from their general outline and fluttered in the sea breeze. Boys bled if they smiled too fast.

From a distance, most of the adults seemed stained a smooth reddish-brown, like my paint-box burnt sienna, but close up at the beach, walking behind them down the wooden ramp to the sand, you saw they were stippled like people in newspaper photographs, spotted with hundreds of jammed-together freckles and moles – brown and black on a pink background.

The women had chests and backs like leopards. The men and boys all looked tough but relaxed, even sleepy. They were slow smilers, and I could see it was because they were being careful of their split bottom lips.

I wanted desperately to be like the Sand Children. I envied the confidence with which they peeled sheets of skin from their shoulders and passed them around for comparison at the Saturday afternoon pictures. The aim was to peel off a perfect unbroken strip of skin from shoulder to shoulder. I was filled with wonder that in this delicate parchment you could see every pore.

Some boys ate themselves. Their scabs of course – even Melbourne boys ate those – but also nose skin, cheek skin, forehead skin and especially shoulder skin. By now I was impressed, but not all surprised, by boys who ate their own flesh. Sometimes washed down with Fanta.

In the world of sand, life generally seemed strange and risky. In a place smelling of coconut oil, hot human skin, drying kelp and fried onions, I thought anything could happen. Where else but the white sand could there be such prospects for pleasure and danger?

Unfortunately I had to make do with being a denizen of the less exciting yellow sand. Our yellow-sand quarter-acre was about five kilometres inland from the white ocean sand.

My father had swapped houses with an old Perth couple, the Seftons, who had urgently needed to move to Melbourne at the same time as he was transferred to Western Australia. He thought the house swap was a neat arrangement. My mother hated it. She especially hated the gloomy interior of this old bungalow with its dusty homemade bric-a-brac left behind by old Mrs Sefton.

The knitted doilies and toilet-roll covers, the dried flower arrangements and ornaments of papier-mâché, the prissy lamps and vases made of jars and milk bottles covered with finicky little pieces of glued-on coloured paper, depressed her to tears.

Mrs France next door cheerfully told us that Mrs Sefton had been a patient at the Claremont Mental Hospital because of her obsessive sexual propositioning of tradesmen (in her sixties) and her desire to polish the front fence and path in her bra and bloomers.

This news gave my mother further pause. Now she understood why the baker and the Watkins man, with his van of cochineal and vanilla essence and thimbles and knitting needles, eyed her so warily. While she gathered up all traces of old Mrs Sefton's occupational therapy and packed them out of sight, she worried what Mrs Sefton was getting up to in her house.

The bungalow was at 30 Leon Road, Dalkeith, on the corner of Robert Street, near the top of a dune which rose from the river three blocks back. If you dug a hole in our yard the sand was pale grey for the first few inches, then it turned yellow and stayed yellow as deep as you could dig.

As the neighbourhood boys showed me, the yellow sand was favoured for one of the two popular local customs – digging tunnels. The other craze was for urinating on moss. Whenever a boy saw moss growing anywhere – on a wall, rock, path or tree – he felt bound to piss on it.

It was second nature. Perhaps growing up in the dry heat among the cardboard-coloured vegetation and pale dunes had given them an aversion to anything lush and green.

The chief exponent of moss-pissing was my new friend Nick Howell. He was pleased to have us move into the neighbourhood. He'd already killed all the moss along the lee side of his own house and the Ivemeys' house at No. 34. He'd nearly finished Miss Thomas's side fence at No. 35, and the three France girls at No. 32 wouldn't let him anywhere near their walls. He was grateful to have moss access at No. 30.

When we moved in, all the boys were absorbed in some stage of the sand-tunnelling process: digging a winding trench, roofing it with tin, cardboard or three-ply, heaping it with camouflaging sand, then vanishing down inside the burrow.

In the hot sand they worked with the strange urgency and optimistic flurry of ants, pausing only to gulp water from the garden hose and piss on any available moss.

Tunnel collapses were frequent. The walls and roofs simply caved in, or the boys forgot where the tunnels were, and stepped on them. Gasping bruised boys crawled out from under the rubble, spitting dirt and shaking their heads as if to say, 'How did that happen?'

Our house rested on foundations of limestone. Limestone is only compressed sand, after all. It was easy to carve your initials in the foundations with a stick. Indeed, their bland facade and lemony softness begged to be scratched and scraped, especially the main supporting stones in the front of the house.

My new cronies Nick Howell, Ian Hodge and Neil Liddell had all dug their initials in their foundations. But their initials were arrangements of straight lines. When I carved mine with a screwdriver something strange and fascinating happened.

The D crumbled instantly and gently into a powdery cave, which engulfed the earlier R. As I watched, almost hypnotised, the cave quickly grew. Out of its mouth dribbled a pale lemon stream and then such a frightening rivulet of sand that I envisaged the whole house pouring into the street in an avalanche.

The foundation stone seemed to be melting. Soon it was more crust than stone. It was behaving like a big hourglass, with a neat heap of fine-grained sand piling up at its base. At the same time, a thin plume of dust rose into the air like a tiny signal of disaster and softly blew away.

In fright, I looked around for a rock or some solid object to plug the hole. The only things in sight were two of my brother's Dinky toys: a Ford Customline and a red London bus, and my cricket ball.

I pushed the Ford Customline in first. It disappeared entirely inside the cave. Then the double-decker bus. It vanished, too. I tossed in the screwdriver but still the trickling continued. Desperately I even offered up my six-stitcher. The cave swallowed it, and sand still trickled merrily onto the ground.

As a last resort, I unscrewed the sprinkler from the garden hose and jammed it in, vertically. The sprinkler was about eight inches square. The pace of the trickle seemed to slow. It hesitated and as I held my breath, it stopped.

Now I had to put back the lost sand. I tried to scoop up the mound but it was so fine it fell through my fingers. I needed to wet it. The hose was nearby, but by now logic was beyond me.

Addled by destruction and panic, my brain told me to urinate on the pile of sand. (Of course, that's how they did things around here!) Then I packed the mud into the cave, jammed it tight over the Ford, the London bus, the cricket ball and the screwdriver, packed it around the sprinkler, threw more mud over everything, patted it down, and waited. The entombed offerings held fast. The plug stuck.

Our foundations were made of sand, and they rested on sand. My mother made a rule that children weren't allowed to run around the house. Overactive children made cracks appear in the walls. So did big trucks rumbling past. For a long time I lived in fear, not so much that we'd all be buried under a limestone avalanche – that seemed inevitable – but that the house, agitated by some racing boy or delivery van, or my father's temper, would one day pop its cork and spit out the evidence of my evildoing.


    The Dream Of

    Why that is an avisioun,
    And this a revelacioun,
    Why this a dreem, why that a sweven,
    And nat to every man liche even

    – Geoffrey Chaucer
    I woke believing I'd been living
    someone else's life. A shadowing.
    I dreamt that you drove me around
    the story of your childhood
    that was my childhood. I recall
    every act in my wakeful
    state enacted as yours, described
    with such exactness, such refined
    legitimacy of feeling.
    The river snakes through a string
    of sandy suburbs and vanishes
    into swamps and tidal flats.
    A dead end becomes a creek
    that sources water out of paperbarks,
    the roots of marris and banksias
    remembered only as street names.
    In the dream you showed me jetties
    and glimpses of white sandy beaches,
    built-out now, or lipped by grassy
    banks with cycle paths for the wealthy.
    It's all 'lifestyle' these days, you said,
    and showed a place where the wicked
    hid among infestations of bamboo
    to drink, smoke, and sniff glue,
    where smaller kids played 'smugglers' cove',
    and errant couples swore their love.
    Nearby, state housing met private
    brick-and-tiles on quarter-acre plots,
    and neighbours clashed over haves
    and have-nots, and some crimes
    were put down to 'lack of discipline!'
    and others formed educations
    that took pupils to corporate
    futures. All feared the 'melting pot',
    but never called it that. You wandered
    the streets, and more than once were chased
    by a faceless man in a nondescript
    car. He said, 'Hey, son...',
    and always 'knew' your mother
    and was 'best friends' with your father,
    calling and calling through the wounddown
    passenger window – a weird sound.
    Never take a lift from strangers.
    Never take a lift from strangers.

    I know you in ways you can't
    know yourself, he'd call, he'd cant.
    And that block of flats – Wongabena
    where the blind lady with her
    guide dog lived. And the storm drain
    in the shire park where the stain
    of torture flourished, small boys
    tormenting frogs and birds and toys.
    The park – hunters on bikes encircling,
    where Paul Rigby, red hair flaming,
    beat you up. Beat usup. Seems
    no safety came in numbers, in dreams.
    And that's where you held off the 'Jap'
    attack on Pearl Harbor, and took the rap
    for a smashed asbestos fence.
    And down there, the vast expanse
    of bushland – waiting for developers,
    honeycombed with homemade bunkers,
    all of us burrowing deep into
    grey sand and hearing kangaroos
    and trail bikes churn the dirt up overhead.
    Now, it's just houses, and decades have passed.
    You don't live there now, neither
    does your amanuensis. Sure,
    you expect change but still want to lay claim.
    Few would remember outside the dream:
    that thin strip of shops: pharmacy,
    butcher's shop, deli, newsagency
    which doubled as a drycleaner's,
    branch of the Commonwealth Bank – tellers
    unravelling out over the road
    to the brick and asbestos schoolyard,
    collecting twenty-cent deposits
    and stamping 'first savers' passbooks –
    how to save and plan for a crisis
    with tin high-rise moneyboxes,
    painted sickly gilt and green, the sum
    of all you might become
    behind their forever-closed windows.
    Next shop on, the hairdresser's,
    and on the corner, the Foodland
    Shopping Centre, where a land
    of denial awaited every child,
    item on item memorised,
    trolleys not quite large enough to ride
    because aisles were narrow and crammed.
    Over the road, the health clinic nurse
    ensured we imbibed the living virus –
    polio – some kids still got calipers
    with or without the dose.
    Down from the clinic, the lake.
    Down through banksia and she-oak,
    down through marri and jarrah,
    down to a paperbark fringe, to banbar
    and modong, patches of rush and clumps
    of kikuyu, even flooded gum. The Swamp!
    The Swamp, where long-necked tortoises
    and thieves hid among the revs
    of motorbike frogs, to prey
    on the richer suburb across the way,
    across the brackish waters, to peer
    out through the reeds at those haves,
    taking pickings back to their have-nots,
    because the rich want to celebrate
    water, no matter what colour, as faith,
    because water is space and brings relief,
    and birds, garden bores sucking water
    out to brighten lawns and render
    view a complex one to celebrate,
    a reward for their higher rates.
    I dreamt you drove me around
    the story of your childhood
    that was my childhood. I recall
    every act in my wakeful
    state enacted as yours, described
    with such exactness. I dreamed
    you rode my bike to the house
    of a brand new schoolmate, his
    mother comfortably naked, rich
    thatch of hair opposite the Catholic Church.
    His father, a carpenter, asked
    if you'd noticed anything special? Bled
    dry, you stumbled in your distress
    and he said, wood glue smells like cat's piss!
    Know that place where your mate insists
    an old guy keeps money in his mattress?
    And the corner phone box – late one night
    it was blown to bits with a stick of gelignite,
    a sound that redefined sleep,
    brought fear and loosened your grip.
    And that stop sign ignored by drivers –
    five deaths heard by the neighbours,
    by your parents, by you – that crunch
    you spent your childhood waiting for, that crunch
    at the end of a skidding that holds on
    too long. When I wake, I won't return.
    That house you called your childhood home
    is gone, a set of units glow like chrome.
    They are surrounded by a kind of sand
    I can't recognise. Maybe a sand
    found in the deep south, a trendy fill
    to lift the esprit de corps? A careful
    and steady climb towards higher rents?
    What of piles of yellow sand dumped by parents
    on the verge to spread over couch grass,
    to make buffalo grass rise c
    high above black beetle, to feed
    a 'building-on' – an extra bedroom
    or back veranda
    closed to the coming weather?
    Hear the concrete in the mixer ...
    a new house is going up on the corner
    where banksias had borne
    their yellow candles. Is that now or then?
    I dreamt you drove me around
    the story of your childhood.
    I humoured you as friends do,
    even if they can't believe it's true.


Buffalo Sunday

My strongest childhood memories are to do with the sand under my bare feet and the ground under my body. One vivid recollection is of a particular day during my first summer in Western Australia. I think of it as Buffalo Sunday.

My mother, brother and I had recently left Melbourne and followed my father across the country to a better job. Nothing spectacular happened this hot February Sunday, and it mightn't have stuck in my mind if the sandy landscape, the roasting weather and the manner of living, especially the people, hadn't been new and different to me.

I'd just begun second grade at my new school and was bewildered when my teacher, the stout, turtle-shaped and crimson-faced Miss Doris Langridge, saw me as some sort of interloper from across the Nullarbor. She was a sarcastic, shortfused sadist, always on the verge of violence, and her dowager's hump and bad posture meant she could easily thrust her face down to a seven-year-old's level.

Miss Langridge's weapon of choice was a fifteen-inch, Education Department – issue ruler. We were all in awe of Miss Langridge's heavyweight ruler. It was impressively inlaid with little squares of West Australian timbers – jarrah, karri, tuart, marri, wandoo and she-oak – and its leading edge was inset with metal, the better to rule a neat line and to slam the fingers of any boy holding his pen at an angle other than forty-five degrees.

Whichever hand you naturally favoured, the pen had to be delicately poised between the forefinger and thumb of the right hand so the blunt end pointed to the classroom's right-hand wall. I would line up my pen with a framed print of Clive of India, in messianic mode, inspiring a crowd of dark-skinned people in turbans.

In my first minute in her class Miss Langridge mocked me for wearing shoes to school in summer. Standing by the door as I entered, she declared, 'Does Mummy's little darling think he'll get a cold in the tootsies?'

The other kids lapped that up. But never mind that they went to school barefoot, my Melburnian mother was adamant: her son would not be educated in bare feet. So began the first survival strategy of my life: removing my shoes and socks every morning on the way to school, and stuffing them in my schoolbag until I neared home again.


Excerpted from Sand by Robert Drewe, John Kinsella. Copyright © 2010 Robert Drewe, John Kinsella. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
About the authors,
The Sand People,
The Dream Of,
Buffalo Sunday,
Como Beach Jetty,
Daphne Walking Past,
The River I,
Perth Poem,
Paleface and the Panther,
Learning to Swim,
The Manageress and the Mirage,
These Inner Suburbs were Outer Suburbs Once,
Zoo Visits,
The River II,
The Midnight Ferry,
River, Bird, City ... Inland,
Sand Tale,
Lake Ninan,
Signature at Ludlow: a verse-play of transliterated voices for radio [1],
Felix Locke in the Goldfields,
The Sands of Dyarlgaroo,
Skippy Rock, Augusta: Warning, the Undertow,
Stones Like Hearts,
The Water Person and the Tree Person,
Gero Deros,
The Diver Meets the Billionaire's Wife,
The Last Explorer,

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