Australia is a spacious place. Take an evening flight from the scurrying ant heap of some city in East Asia, settle down for a fitful sleep in cattle class, then lift the porthole shutter at dawn and gaze from 10,000 meters upon a continent in blazing creation. You are an avatar, a messenger come for strange messages from other gods in a strange land. The sun rises like a meteor, the night chill upon the land below shrinks like plastic wrap on an oven plate, and in a trice you are hovering above a terrifying, trackless waste of shimmering browns and reds and yellows, bony ridges of old rocks, sometimes a scar where a river might have been a million years ago. It goes on and on for hours. It is Australia, and it isn’t home. Sometime around 8am your spacecraft will slide across the Great Dividing Range on the east coast of the continent. Then with astonishing speed, a few minutes, you will be circling above the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and making a final approach to an airport in Sydney or Brisbane or Melbourne. Your craft bumps onto the tarmac, you survived and you are once more submerged in the scurrying ant heap of a city, an Australian city. Its pale and puffy citizens, perhaps painted with fake tans from a chemist shop or tattooed in mock savagery, waddle to their huge four wheel drive wagons and drive bumper to bumper to their personal comfort zones. Their homes are stuffed with every mod-con, bought on bottomless credit cards, while the real estate itself in these ant heaps in now amongst the most expensive on the planet, bid up relentlessly, family against family in pursuit of imaginary wealth, a giant pyramid scheme that amounts to a national delusion…
Yeah, you’ve got it. Yours truly, your rambling writer, seems to be not quite a certified Australian. It is a condition that has persisted from birth in some forgotten New South Wales country town where my father dumped his job as a lumber worker two weeks after my arrival. We drifted penniless to the megalopolis of Sydney, and continued to drift about its outskirts for the whole of my childhood. Later I widened the drift to Oceania and East Asia, as well as a brief adventure into Europe. Thus, dealt by fate as a stranger to settled ways, I am the quintessential outsider. That might have been a catastrophe for someone in urgent need of cuddling. Oddly enough, it seems to have suited the stuff I’m made of. I’m a teacher, I care for my students, yet through the decades of a poor but not bad life, I have remained more of an ant observer than an ant. My father, addicted to booze, cigarettes and risk – a different critter from me altogether – would bang restlessly about the family home before declaring loudly, “gonna go check out the local wildlife”. He would roll in late at night, sozzled, but brimming with tales of scoundrels and heroes, dancing girls and fabled characters. In the cold, early morning light of city streets they might have been, perhaps, your usual pathetic collection of human flotsam. But to me, as a kid, his stories, his brave but hopeless cavalcade of imaginary pilgrims, fused in my soul a view of life as a novel, a succession of chapters that had their own inner integrity. All the pretensions of feeding and breeding, love and hate, careers, status and wealth, have remained somehow external and secondary to the magic of the story itself. “It takes all kinds of people to make the world go around,” may father would say grandly in an expansive moment of goodwill, and that, scribbled in my own fitful way, is what this blog is about – some imaginary spaces, shadows and sunlight, between the accidental Australian characters I’ve caught out of the corner of my eye.
Probably you have had the experience of deja vu. As you walk down the street you come upon faces which seem to be somehow familiar, yet you cannot put a name or a place to them. You memories are a collage of fragments, and some of those fragments are shared by many among us. So it is with writing. The characters in this blog are collages, assembled from fragments of memory and embroidered to the writer’s taste. I’m not trying to defame your best friend, or put a halo on real heroes, unless I happen to give them a real name and claim photographic honesty for the description. If you see a tale about “someone you know”, put it down to your own active imagination. Me ? I’m more interested in my version of the truth, and real named people with birth certificates are chameleons, shape changers who are usually too damned hard to pin “the truth” on for more than five minutes at a time.
Years ago I wrote a series of prose poems called The Wrong Address which also told tales of a kind about the many houses I had lived in. The Wrong Address is online at http://thormay.net/literature/wrongaddress/wrongaddress.html; (also poems of a different kind in Time Passing at http://thormay.net/literature/timepassing/timepassindex.html )
In the unlikely event that you want to know more about Thor May himself, a bio of sorts can be found on his oldest website, The Passionate Skeptic, at http://thormay.net/docsite/aboutthor.html.