September 24: Auckland-Sydney

October 12: Sydney-Wellington

October 15: Wellington-Napier

October 18: Napier-Auckland

October 20: Auckland-Kuala Lumpur

October 27: Kuala Lumpur-Denpassar

November 7: Denpassar-Darwin

November 10: Darwin-Sydney


Pigafetta at Mattan

Those people go naked, wearing only a piece of cloth made of palm around their shameful parts. They have as many wives as they wish, but there is always a chief one. The males, both large and small, have the head of their member pierced from one side to the other, with a pin of gold or of tin as thick as a goose feather; and at each end of this pin some have a star-shaped decoration like a button, and others, one like the head of a cart nail. Often I wished to see that of some young men and old men, because I could not believe it. In the middle of this pin or tube is a hole through which they urinate, and the pin and the stars always remain firm, holding the member stiff. They told us that this was the wish of their women, and that if they did otherwise they would not have intercourse with them. And when they wish to cohabit with their wives, the latter themselves take the member without its being prepared or rigid, and so they put it little by little into their nature, beginning with the stars. And then when it is inside it stiffens, and remains there until it becomes soft, for otherwise they would not be able to withdraw it. And those people do this because they are of a weak nature and consitution.

from Magellan's Voyage, a Narrative Account of the First Navigation, Antonio Pigafetta, trans. & ed. R.A. Skelton, Yale, 1969



Had an email yesterday querying the statement in my title block: Luca Antara is provided etc etc. Was it a denial of those who believe Luca Antara is/was a part of Australia mapped in the early 1600s by Portuguese from Malacca or the Moluccas? Not at all, I said; rather, the sentence is there because of a felt analogy to the process of writing. But it sent me back to the source ...

I chose the quote at random: when I was setting up this site, I opened my copy of Eredia's Description of Malaca and my eye fell upon that sentence. It seemed apt. But I hadn't investigated its provenance. What it is, is J.V. Mills, the British civil servant who made the English translation of Eredia's book in 1920s Malaya, summarising the arguments of an earlier scholar, the Victorian R.H. Major, against Eredia's alleged discovery of a Great South Land.

It was Major who first proclaimed Eredia the discoverer of Australia, upon the basis of a map he found in the British Museum. He rushed into print with his find, then learned soon after that Eredia's official expedition never left Malacca because of the Dutch blockade of 1604. In a state of acute mortification, Major resiled from his claim then turned upon Eredia. It is no exaggeration to say the controversy ruined his life; in the process, he attempted to demolish the credentials of the man who caused his fall.

One of the many confusions that have arisen around this episode relates to the meaning of the Portuguese word descobridor. It doesn't mean what its English equivalent, discoverer, now does; rather it refers to the exploration and exploitation of a land, the discovery of its potential if you like, not of its mere existence. Eredia called himself the Descobridor because he had a commission from the King of Spain & Portugal to go to Luca Antara and find out what riches were there; of these alleged riches, a twentieth part would remain his personal property.

Noel Peters' work on the map found in 1946 in the National Library of Rio de Janeiro (alas, not Buenos Aires) by a Dr. Mota Alves suggests that the expedition stymied by the Dutch might have been the second in that time to that part of the world. Perhaps Eredia—or someone else—had gone earlier, on a smaller scale voyage, mapped the Tiwi islands, and now planned to return with greater resources; like Abel Tasman fifty odd years later, who took two voyages, several years apart, to complete his circumnavigation of the Great South Land.

Noel Peters thinks the confusion has arisen because the quote in the title block above is not ascribed to its source. I don't wish to weight the words with chapter and verse but, for the record, here is the detail: the sentence occurs at the bottom of p. 189 of J.V. Mills' 1930 translation of Eredia's Description of Malaca, Meriodional India and Cathay, reprinted (#14) by the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1997 with a new introduction by Cheah Boon Kheng.


What Harry Said

This research, if that isn’t too portentous a word, into the life of my friend Harry Graves, took place sporadically during the last decade or so in Australia and New Zealand. It was random and serendipitous, but one of the things I thought I’d do while in Auckland this year was to try to track Harry down again and find out the ‘real’ story.

I rang a mutual friend who lives on Waikehe Island—the oldest of the many extinct volcanoes on the Tamaki Isthmus—and asked her if she knew where he was. She said he lived out in the Waitakeres, the range of hills to the west of the city, themselves the remains of the second oldest and by far the largest of Auckland’s volcanoes. He has no phone, she said, or if he did she didn’t know the number; and no street address either. But she had visited him once and gave me directions as to how to get there.

It took me a while but I found the place in the end, perched up in the bush looking west over Karekare, the black sand beach where the opening scenes of The Piano were shot. The house was eccentric and charming, clearly home-made, built in a series of connected modular sections climbing up the steep section, with many curious little balconies, all made of timber weathered to a silvery sheen by the incessant winds of that wild coast. But there was nobody home. I peered through the window and saw a room set up as a home studio: piano, guitars, amps, mikes, recording equipment and so on, disposed as if part of a work in progress. What to do? I wrote Harry a short note, with my cell phone number, and suggested he give me a call; but he never did.

However, not long after this abortive visit, late one night as I was walking home along K Road, outside the Pink Pussycat I saw a sleek grey car pull up, with a sleek, grey-suited man at the wheel: that bullet head, that cropped hair, those faded eyes which did not want to look into mine. Harry said he was in a hurry, he had business to attend to, there was no time to talk. Come on, Harry, I said, we go back years. Surely you can spare me half an hour. He looked at his watch, looked up and down the street, looked at the red door of the Pink Pussycat, looked at his watch—a Rolex—again, sighed and said Alright.

We went to a coffee bar further down K Road called Brasil. It seemed appropriate. Harry had a short black while I had a Cascade. I was smoking Wee Willems but he said he didn’t smoke or drink anymore. Or take drugs. He seemed preoccupied, evasive, almost ... sad. He said he didn’t want to talk about the past, but agreed to answer a few questions. I asked, he gave his answers. Here they are:

He got the scar on his head when a piece of masonry from the Berlin Wall flew out and hit him during the celebration of its demolition.

He has never read any Wittgenstein.

Yes, he did once know some people from the Mr Asia syndicate and had I seen that one of them, name of Miles, had just been found dead in Bali? Another, name of Beri, died in a Christchurch jail a few years ago.

He once did own a copy of Robert Lowell’s Imitations and it could be the one that Ray has in Sydney. The annotations were part of an attempt to translate the poems back to the language in which they were first written. He said he thought his version of Le Bateau Ivre and some of his Villon pieces were better than the originals.

He never wrote any songs for Nick Cave, or gave him any words. The only song he could think of that he might have had an influence on was The Weeping Song. He and Nick were driving through the barrio of Rio when he, Harry, said something to the effect that the sound of the barrio was the sound of people weeping. He thought Nick might have picked up on that.

He still has his songbook and his current project, when he gets time away from his business interests, which are considerable, was to record a definitive version of every one of his songs for posterity. Including Dolores and Everything’s Everything. He would let me know when the cd(s) came out. I don't expect that he will.

The dog was a pure blood dingo, he had to put her down because her howling upset the neighbours. Her name was Azaria.

Afterwards I walked with him back up towards the Pink Pussycat. We barely spoke. Outside, he shook my hand and gave me a quick, almost apologetic look. Don’t tell anyone, will you, mate? he said, then turned and went inside.

Harry Graves is not his real name


Pigafetta meets the King of Zzubu

Diplomacy old style ... for Jean Vengua

When we had come to town, we found the King of Zzubu at his palace, seated on the ground on a mat of palms, with many people. He was quite naked, except for a linen cloth covering his private parts, and round his head a very loose cloth, embroidered with silk. Round his neck he had a very heavy and rich chain, and in his ears two gold rings hung with precious stones. He was a short man, and fat, and had his face painted with fire in divers patterns. He ate on the ground from another palm mat, and then he was eating turtle eggs on two porcelain dishes, and he had four jars full of palm wine, which he drank from reed pipes. We made reverence to him as we presented what the captain had sent him, and we told him, by the mouth of the interpreter, that it was not in return for the present which he had given to the captain, but for the love which he bore him. Then we clothed him in the robe, put the cap on his head, and kissed the glasses that I presented to him and that he accepted. Then the king made us eat those eggs and drink from the said reeds. And meanwhile his people told him all the good words and assurances of peace and faith that had been given to them. Then the king wished to retain us for supper, but we made our excuses, and on this we took leave of him.

The prince, nephew of this king, led us to his house, and showed us four girls who were playing on four very strange and very sweet instruments, and their manner of playing was rather musical. One played on a taborin after our fashion, but it stood on the ground. Another was striking, with a thick stick wrapped at the head with a palm leaf, the bottom of two instruments shaped like a long taborin. Another was striking another larger instrument in the same manner. And the last, with two other similar instruments, one in one hand and the other in the other. And they struck in harmony, making a very sweet sound. These girls were very beautiful, and almost as white and as tall as ours. They were naked, except that from the waist to the knees they wore a garment made from the said palm cloth, covering their nature. And some were quite naked, having long black hair and a small veil round their head, and they go always unshod. The prince made us dance with three of them who were quite naked. And we had refreshment there, and then we returned to the ship. Those taborins are of metal, and they are made in the country of Sinus Magnus, which is China. They use them as we do bells, and they are called aghon.

from Magellan's Voyage: A Narrative Account of the First Navigation; by Antonio Pigafetta; trans. & ed. R. A. Skelton, Yale, 1969

Lords and Retainers

Dave the Rave put me on to a guy called Ray who used to be in Dragon before they got famous. He’d lived in that house in Double Bay, he remembered things nobody else knew about any more because they were all crazy or drug-fucked or dead. Ray was a second-hand goods dealer who had a house down the bottom of Erskineville full of baroque clutter. Searchlights, dentist’s chairs, bathroom tiles. He moonlighted as a stage hand at the Opera House. He was bitter about Dragon because he’d left before the money started coming in. But my question was: did he jump or was he pushed?

Anyway he said what happened was they did a gig in Melbourne, in St. Kilda, the pub down there near the pier where there used to be a gig, and the support band was The Birthday Party. In their early punkoid phase. And Harry just went, fuck! these guys are amazing. And rocked up afterwards and said he wanted to work for them. Of course they already had roadies plus plenty of wanna-bes so they told Harry to fuck off. It was too late, he’d already told Dragon he was leaving, he didn’t even go back to Sydney to get his stuff, he just stayed in Melbourne.

Ray said what Dave said about Harry reading poetry was true, because he had the actual copy of Imitations which Harry left in Double Bay along with all his other stuff. He showed it to me—a little Faber & Faber paperback with wine stains and cigarette burns on the cover and the most amazing inscriptions all the way through, tiny little runic marks made with a pencil, more or less unreadable ... Ray said I couldn’t take it away and study it, it was too valuable, one day when people realised who Harry was the book would be worth a lot of money.

Ray said the way Harry got to work with The Birthday Party was by getting them drugs which they couldn’t get that cheap or in such quantities anywhere else. That’s how he penetrated the inner circle, hitting up with Nick and the others or at least being there while they were hitting up. Loyalty is what makes a good roadie, absolute fealty both to the music and those who make the music. A band and its roadies are like Lords and their Retainers. Harry became a Retainer to Nick. That’s what Ray said. They were like that, he said, holding up his thumb and his second finger and clicking them.


Et j'ai vu quelques fois ce que l'homme a cru voir

I was actually more interested in finding out how a guy from the remote King Country ended up mixing with international rock stars than I was in Harry Graves' reading habits. Then I met Dave the Rave at a party in Bellevue Hill. Dave was a roadie from Auckland who ended up in Sydney; we had mutual friends. I didn’t get much out of him at the party because, while we were standing in a line leaning against a fence sampling the joints that were being passed along, Dave took an enormous toke on one then fell over flat on his face on the concrete path and split his head open. There was lots of blood but when he woke up Dave said he’d had worse things happen and just kept on partying. He was that kind of guy.

We met up a few weeks later at gig in the Darlinghurst Squats—it was Vix’s band of the time, MX Warheads—and had time for a bit of a talk. Dave said Harry came up to Auckland in 1971 was it? to the Led Zeppelin concert at Western Springs and just never went home again. Somehow or other he ran into Jenny Tits, as she was known, and started sleeping on her floor in the flat she had in St. Kevins Arcade overlooking Myers Park. She took him around to Mandrax Mansion in St. Mary’s Bay one day and he ending up getting a room there. And it was there, Dave said, that he met the guys from Dragon who’d come up from Hamilton to do a gig in the big upstairs room in that house.

He followed the band to Sydney and got peripherally involved in the Mr. Asia thing, Dave said, which intersected at various points with the Dragon extravaganza. There was this house in Double Bay where the band lived, to which guys like Greg Ollard, if that was his name, used to come. Some of the Dragon boys were notorious users of hard drugs, as everyone knows, though I don’t think Harry was. Anyway Dave said an interesting thing, which was that, when he got to know Harry at Mandrax Mansion, he always carried around a book with him. What book? I asked. It was a poetry book, Dave said. Imitations. By Robert Lowell.

Well that seemed like an odd thing for Harry to have been reading, a book of translations of various foreign, mostly dead, mostly European poets by a mid-twentieth century vaguely aristocratic American from New England, also dead. It was the 19th century stuff he liked, Dave said. Heine dying in Paris, Baudelaire, the Rimbaud poems ... knew them all by heart, could recite some in the original French. Le Bateau Ivre, for instance: Comme je descendais des Fleuves impassibles ...



The girl’s name was Victoria Lake. Well, she wasn’t a girl, she was a woman, and everyone called her Vix. Vix had been in and out of bands in Sydney for a long time. Everybody knew her. She was tall, blond, striking ... I mean six feet tall, a big woman with big hair, lots of make-up and a thrilling voice. She was in love with Harry, had been for years. Probably the only reason she took up with me—we were never more than friends—was because she knew I knew Harry, had known him since five years old or whatever it was.

I haven’t described Harry yet. He was tall, lean, rangy, with faded blue eyes and yellow hair which he always wore short, accentuating his bullet head. He went grey early, as yellow-haired people sometimes do, but it didn’t make much difference because he always got a number one anyway. There was something about his mouth, forever framing words he never actually spoke. When he did speak it was in short, abrupt sentences like from the bible. The time I asked him about the scar above his left eyebrow he said: That was when I was in Berlin, as if that explained everything.

Vix said she knew the story of the scar. She knew all sorts of things about Harry, some that she got from him, some from other people. She was like a walking compendium on Harry Graves. I used to tell her she knew more about him than he knew about himself. She’d smile this slow smile and shake her head. No one knows that much about Harry, she’d say.

She told me about his songbook. His legendary songbook, full of words and music he’d written over the years. She’d seen it: an old red foolscap hardback notebook which was originally meant for double column accounting that Harry had written all over. She’d heard him play guitar and sing, which he hardly ever did, at least not in public. She said there was no-one like him. He’d traded licks with Nick and Dave and JJ and all these guys and they all thought he was great too. She hinted that some of Nick’s songs weren’t really Nick’s at all, they were Harry’s. But Harry doesn’t mind, she’d say wistfully. He doesn’t care.

He didn’t care much about her either, which was a great sadness to Vix. Why not? I wondered but never asked. I thought she was great. I would have done anything for her. She knew that of course. The world’s full of people who love other people who don’t love them, she’d say. Vix had a couple of stand-out tunes she always did in whatever band she was singing with. They were Harry Graves songs. One was about a hooker who used to stand with the other girls out on the Canterbury Road just down from the big Mobil gas station. This girl called Dolores. She was Spanish, from South America, Peru. She got murdered. The song was a ballad, it was just called Dolores, it was a song made out of a name, the grief of a name.

The other song was kind of metaphysical. A soul song, simple words that made a complex meaning. Vix used to belt it out at top volume with the band roaring behind her. She could play sax and did her own solo so that her big deep rich voice and the big deep rich notes she blew sounded almost alike. That song was called Everything’s Everything. Vix used to say that Harry copped the lyrics from something written by Wittgenstein but I didn’t believe that. Harry wasn’t a reader.

Or was he ... ?



In one of Ralph Hotere's paintings we are shown a square which is not / a square. Is a diamond. In which there is a square. The painting is orange, but some parts are more orange than others. A green plastic strip is attached, in which there are numbers. 3 2 1—the countdown. The painting is ZERO. Or is it the square? Either way, it is where we take off from.

Mark Young, Ascent Vol. 1, No. 3, 1969; quoted in Ralph Hotere: Black Light, ed. Mary Trewby, Ian Wedde et al, Dunedin/Wellington, 2000.

When Mark was in Auckland in July we found a set of Ascent magazines in Jason Books but #3 was missing. I've since learned that it is extremely hard to come by—others have looked for it without success. The painting Mark's talking about is illustrated in Black Light but I haven't been able to find an electronic image of it. Nor is much else of Hotere's extraordinary oeuvre available on the net yet. That will surely change ...


More about Harry Graves

Harry Graves was just a guy I went to school with. He used to give me cigarettes behind the bike sheds ... Pall Mall Filter, in the red packet. He sometimes pulled the buttons off my shirts in fun fights that were fun for him I guess but to me were more like real fights. He was stronger than I was and liked to let me know it; he’d stop short of causing real pain but I always knew it was there, trembling just beyond the scissors, the headlock, the half Nelson.

We moved away from that town when I was ten but a few years later I ran into Harry again. He was doing a course in metal working at the Mechanics Institute in the town we lived in then. He wore blue jeans, a white t shirt with his cigarettes folded into the sleeve, Beatle boots. We stopped on the bridge and talked for a while. I was still a schoolboy but he was already a man. He was into Country music.

There was a dance at the local Leagues Hall I went to with Julie Till who was a farmer’s daughter from out of town. Harry was there with some of his mates from the Mechanics Institute. He had his eyes on Julie and she on him; but she was a good girl (as opposed to a nice girl) and anyway her father was picking her up in his car after the dance. The band was called the Sapphires; later on they changed their name to the Surfires, wore Hawaiian shirts and covered Beach Boys songs, as well as making up a few of their own. Harry reckoned they could play alright but their music was shit.

Harry finished his six week course and went back to the King Country. We didn’t keep in touch or anything like that but I bumped into him years later in Australia. It was at a gig in Sydney, at the Tivoli. This band from Melbourne called Hunters and Collectors. There were about ten of them on stage, chanting and beating on big metal drums with iron sticks, while the back projection showed rare old footage of stone age tribes picking their way across the gibber plains.

Harry was one of their roadies. He still kept his cigarettes in his sleeve but he was into drugs now. We snorted some speed backstage while the gig was still going on and later went up to Arthur’s in the Cross. Beautiful women gathered around Harry but he was more interested in talking than fucking. He was going to Berlin. He knew the guys in the Bad Seeds and reckoned he would be working with them. He was into Gospel music, white soul, all that religious shit. Preacher man don’t tell me/Heaven is under the earth/I know you don’t know/what life is really worth ... they’re lines from a Bob Marley song but reggae is faith music too.

So Harry went to Berlin, he went to São Paulo, he went to Boston, he went everywhere. I heard from a girl I knew who’d had a scene with him that he was running cocaine from Tahiti into Sydney, the mule on the last leg of a journey that started in Bogotá. One day I saw him up the Cross, he was in a bad way, trembling and paranoid. He was wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase which fell open while we were talking in the street. Inside there was bottle of Johnny Walker Red and a carton of cigarettes. Gauloise. Nothing else. He said he’d made a lot of money but people were after him and he was going back to Auckland to invest in the property market.

Next time I saw him was in the corner bar at De Bretts. He had a beautiful white dog; he said she was part dingo. She sat under the table while we drank single malt whisky and smoked cigars; you could buy slim Dutch cigars for six dollars from the humidor. Harry had bought some warehouses in West Auckland. He was a developer. He was back wearing t shirt and jeans, a leather jacket, was into fitness now, swam two kilometres a day in the Olympic Pool.

He was remote from me in the old familiar way. He’d come a long way, he had a long way to go; this was just a station on his way. He talked about Nick Cave, Van Morrison, hearing Loretta Lynn live at the Ryman. He said it was important to distinguish between Johnny Cash and Johnny Paycheck. When he left the bar it was just getting on to evening. The dog got up and followed without him having to say a word or even look at her. I saw him pause on Shortland Street to re-light his cigar, in black silhouette against the yellow sky, a man and his dog. And his peculiar fate.

There’s more to Harry Graves than this.


Harry Graves

The need for self expression is one of those pieties we grew up with. That there was such a thing as a self, and that it needed expression, were taken for granted. Most of us began early, in the primers, writing compositions with titles like What I Did On The Weekend. It was natural to write these pieces in the first person singular, the tense we use to narrate the day's adventures or misadventures, to describe the progress of a work project or a love affair, to tell the tale of a trip somewhere.

When we tell stories about things that have happened to others, we naturally use the third person: he or she or they. The equivocal second person, singular or plural, can be used to refer both to self and other, sometimes so ambiguously it is hard to know exactly who is meant: It isn't good for you to smoke cigarettes.

Narratives can be constructed out of each and every one of the voices we use to describe real life experiences. If you (who?) use the first person, there are certain presumptions a reader will bring to your narrative: that it is true, that it really happened, that another participant/observer of the same events would tell essentially the same tale.

These are not the same assumptions a reader will bring to something written in the second or third person, although they still pertain to some degree. To say When I was eight years old I started smoking cigarettes is not the same as saying When Harry Graves was eight years old he started smoking cigarettes. Is one more an act of self expression than the other? Perhaps only if we know that Harry Graves is talking about himself.

In the second formulation, there are questions we will immediately want to ask: Who is Harry Graves and why did he start smoking so young? These questions do not arise in the same way in the autobiographical version, in part because the use of the first person singular suggests that such a statement will not be made without a (probably immediate) qualification. We confidently expect the autobiographer to explain why he or she did what he or she did. Otherwise why tell us?

But Harry Graves ... who is Harry Graves?


... we live cooped up in a room and paint the world and universe on its walls ...

José Saramago: The History of the Siege of Lisbon


More goldtops

That was the autumn of the goldtops; but none of my subsequent experiences with mushrooms was as intense or as revelatory as the first. There was a gradual diminution of the power of the intoxication, unarrested by a steady increase in the dosage. I found I needed to eat two or three or four to feel even mildly stoned and, eventually, reached a point where the amount I ingested began to make me feel ill before any sensory or psychic alterations took place. Regretfully, one day I gathered up all those that remained in my favourite field by the clay pans, took them home, put them in a blue glass flask with crenellations all round the bulb, and filled it with vodka: this, my friend assured me, would provide a stimulating drink in a few months time, when my rapidly acquired tolerance for the drug had faded and I could once more appreciate the reiterated mysteries of psilocybin.

Nevertheless, during those few weeks I walked all over the local landscape, and found many wonders: a shelf of grey sandstone overlooking the Hawkesbury, where the outlines of dolphins and turtles and whales had been pecked into the rock, which I have never found again; a fish—probably a taylor, or kahawai—similarly pecked into the rock at the entrance to a dry cave high up in the cliffs at the southern end of the beach; the sunfish I found another day on the furtherest seaward edge of the great tessellated shield which, bisected by the Patonga Road, stretches across the top of the ridge near the Trig Station.

My favourite carving was one of a man on a flat shelf of sandstone on the way to Flathead Beach, a small cove around the rocks from Pearl Beach. This man has a crescent shaped headdress; he lies on the rock with his arms and legs outspread, a spear in one hand, fish in his armpits and another between his thighs, just below the end of his pecked pecker. Long lines in the rock emanate from these fish, one pointing up towards the mouth of the great mangroved and islanded estuary of Brisbane Water, the other out to the rocky tip of Lion Island: surely two very rich fishing grounds. There is also, another friend told me, an image of a wallaby carved next to where the man’s spear point is, but I have never been able to see more than a few vague lines there.

It was as if, when I was on psilocybin, some veil drew back and I saw further and more than I ever would have seen straight; or that the richly inscribed landscape of that place could only be read by one whose gaze was untrammeled by day-to-day concerns; but whether this drawn-back veil was in my mind or a distinct quality of the land itself was never clear to me. All I knew was that a characteristic of these rock engravings is that they are sometimes as clear as the lines on the palm of your hand and sometimes not just inscrutable but well-nigh invisible.

Some of this has to do with natural conditions of course: whether it has been raining or not, whether it is morning, noon or night, overcast or sunny, the way the light falls at different hours of the day. The best time for seeing rock carvings is early or late on a sunny day, when the slanting light picks out their shapes; or, alternatively, on an overcast day after rain, when the freshly watered grooves gleam under a white sky. That said, there are still times when viewing conditions are ideal and yet the images will not appear, seeming to have withdrawn themselves into the rocks, as shy as some wild creature, reticent as a child, perhaps, or cunning like some ancient gnome.


A man in search of his soul

A friend told me there was a mushroom containing psilocybin which grew locally; he described this fungus in detail—small, with a dusty gold skin and, underneath, yellow-green gills tending towards cyan blue; the stems were slender and fragile, and they arched outwards at the bottom to make a characteristic pediment where they entered the earth. These mushrooms, called goldtops, tended to be found after rain where small impromptu streams carried the spores down forest paths; or under trees, also after rain. There was a particular spot in Patonga, the next village to ours, where they grew thickly in the park that runs along the shores of the estuary as the creek broadens among mangroves before narrowing again as it comes down from Patongalonga.

I was never able to find this particular spot, but I did identify the mushroom itself. My friend only ever ate the stalks, throwing the heads away because he thought there might be too much toxicity in them; but when I came to try them it seemed a waste to do that, so I would eat the whole thing. They had a pleasant taste, slightly nutty, inevitably mixed in with pieces of sandy grit adhering to the stem. I had my first one at the beginning of the path to the waterfall, where there is the remains of an old saw pit and a deep deposit of yellow clay, on the margins of which the goldtops sometimes grew. This day there were a couple of others I also picked, dropping them into my shirt pocket for later, then carrying on into the bush.

The sky was overcast, full of soft grey clouds moulded by wind currents into smooth creamy swirls. Below, the still, slate-coloured sea was cut through with purple lights like mica glints. Apart from the cries of birds sounding loudly, intermittently in the inert air, it was quiet as I walked up the path to the waterfall, which at this point runs past tennis courts and parallel to the road to a rich man’s house. You cannot see house or courts, but the concrete block fire station could be glimpsed through trees on the left, with a wide patch of burnt ground around it from when the Bush Brigade’s last barbecue got away on them. Then all of that, the rutted, clay road, the acrid blackened ground, the weeds encroaching from suburban gardens, fell behind as I entered the hushed green shade of the bush.

The path winds along the side of a ridge until it reaches the Ochre Caves, a massive outcrop overhang within which the orange and white sandstone, sculpted by wind and water into filigrees and curlicues like those in the morning's sky, is graffitied with names and dates of otherwise forgotten visits. Here there is a place where you can stand and hear the falling water echo from the rockface, very loud, right next to your ear, sounding much closer than the real waterfall chinking and glinting through the trees. I climbed up the damp slippery rocks to one side of the wide lip of stone over which the water cascades, and came out into a broad basin where the stream runs into a shallow pool. Water boatmen sculled the meniscus, their blurred shadows flitting behind them on the rust orange bottom. I crossed over to the other side and climbed up a sandstone shelf to the next level.

Here the stream meanders along a narrow causeway, with bush close on either side, the eucalypts leaning their still leaves over, the wattles dropping golden pollen down. Tiny beaches, miniatures of those on the sea shore, gather at the margins of the flow. I kept on walking up until the path faded to stepping stones in the creek, then went along a low sandy bank flanking a wide, deep pool with a rope swing hanging over it from the branch of a leaning tree. It was warm, and there was no-one around, so I took off my clothes and slid naked into the brown water, letting the encrusted salt from my last sea swim wash away. Then I climbed up over another smooth rock shelf to Pearlie Ponds.

Pebbles of red and yellow ochre lie in the water of the ponds, and people use them to draw with on the flat or sloping stone faces of the stream bed. There were fish and birds and trees, a rainbow, hearts with arrows, names, initials, dates, spirals, chevrons and random other marks. When it rains, the pigment washes off, leaving vague, faded outlines behind and sending coloured streams down over the rock. Sometimes charcoal from burnt trees is used, and then the black, too, runs down to darken the water. Impromptu fireplaces were scattered about the gallery, so it resembled a primitive campsite. Where the water pours over the shelf into the swimming pool below, the soft sandstone has been carved by hands or worn away and then it seems that this place is neither ancient nor modern but one where time has gone so far it curls around and finds itself back at its source.

The track leaves the course of the stream here and follows the contour of the ridge, but I continued in the bed itself, climbing up over massive tumbled boulders to another, smaller pool and then on past two huge rocks with the gap between them dammed by the flood-borne debris of fallen trees. The bush on the banks thinned to scrub and the sandstone outcrops showed pink and white and grey through the sparse tough vegetation. The ubiquitous grey-green was lit here and there with tiny trails of intense purple, or the bright crimson spider crouch of a hakea or grevillia, or the soft lavender of a small shrub with almond-shaped leaves. I began seeing spiders.

The first one was enormous, at least two hand widths across, poised on the underside of a great rock protruding out over a still black pool. Its reflection—attenuated thorax, bulbous abdomen, great jointed spindly legs—rose to meet it from below, like its Siamese twin, joined at the tail. A rock spider, I guess. Perhaps they stalk their prey across the quivering meniscus of the water, or perhaps they wait for some unwary creature to come down under on their rock. This one was immobile and anyway on the far side of the pool from where I was; the only way to approach it was through the dark water and, though it was not cold, I could not even imagine doing that.

Further on, as the slopes above get drier and harsher, the slit of the creekbed becomes even lusher and I stepped ankle deep in grasses which released a delicate fragrance as they were crushed beneath my boots; hearing the falsetto creaking of frogs stop as I came near, I began to run into the webs of golden orb weavers. These are large grey spiders with yellow and black legs, which spin an intricate web out of a tough and elastic thread of golden silk. They are complex, three dimensional webs around which, when they are established, gather the smaller subsidiary webs of smaller, subsidiary males, poised in their suburban outposts waiting for the opportunity to visit the centre and consummate their longings.

What is remarkable about the female golden weaver is the black and white pattern she bears on her abdomen. As I continued my walk, and found more and more webs blocking my path, slung between walls of greenery which, by now, almost met across the creekbed, these abdominal patterns seemed more and more like masks. Each one was different, yet each conformed to the primeval pattern of our kind: two eyes, a nose, a mouth, with tattooed or painted chin, cheeks and forehead. I did not feel threatened by these beings grimacing up at me; it did not alarm me to find, as it were, a sprite on the back of every spider: rather it seemed as if the richness of the world had disclosed another detail of itself, beyond, or behind which there were more, as yet hidden revelations to be had.

Deep in the valley, near the cliff face at its head, the big trees returned, with their smooth grey or white trunks, their gouts of red or amber gum oozing from wounds in the bark, their immemorial presence. Here the scrub was so dense on either bank that it literally joined above the surface of the water in a thick mass I had to push apart in order to go on, and there was no place for spiders to spin their webs. The stream was a tiny trickle, a mere thread of liquid in the electric green swampy grass where the sticky tendrilled red beaded pods of tiny carnivorous plants lay open.

At length I came to a deep, dark cleft in the rock, full of black water, with a mossy brown shelf at one end and a little stone bud at the other. Ferns and grasses leaned over the still surface. The silence of the afternoon was a deep bass hum under everything. I bent and saw my own face rising towards me. My lips touched the surface and the cold, colourless, sweet tasting water flooded into my mouth. I felt myself falling forward head first into that fissure and disappearing forever ...

The water dissolved the unspoken words of thought off my tongue, the voices in my head diminished and faded and a profound emptiness, echoed in the stillness of the grey green trees and grey tumbled stones on every side, took their place. It was as if I was myself at the heart of a web made, not out of golden silk or silver thought, but from the very silence itself. It was profound, by which I mean depthless; it was endless, by which I mean that everything there was, was underpinned by that silence, even the intermittent birdsong or the returning creak of the frogs; and as I moved it moved with me.

I left the source of the stream, climbing directly up one side of the valley, following the sandstone scarp around until I met the path, going on to the top of Gad’s Hill, then walking eastward along the Hope Range, that line of cliffs which defines the northern bank of the Hawkesbury River as it flows into Broken Bay. From there, you can see the whole panorama of the river system, with its humped bush-covered headlands, its long snaky inlets, its wide blue waters crossed by random white lines of boat trails and deeper, more subtle flows of tidal warps or riverine currents.

Coming down from the Hope Range, just past the massive orange overhang where pieces of chert and flint lie in fine sand by a cave mouth, a tree had fallen across the track. It was an old dead grey spike with its roots still clawed into the sandstone, charred black along one side in a bushfire, which probably became waterlogged in a storm and collapsed. The trunk split as it fell, scattering comb from a beehive across the brown metal and red clay track. I picked up a piece of it and sniffed the faint honey aroma rising from the waxy hexagonals. In some of the cells there were dead bees; they were the native kind, stingless, with striped conical abdomens. A few live ones were still clinging to the pale golden brown of the newly fractured comb left in the stump or hovering confusedly above the deep ebony of the old. Someone had been there before me, clearing debris from the track, taking whatever honey there was.

I went on, walking back down the fire trail with the piece of honeycomb in my hand, and saw a honeyeater singing on a branch, its neck taut and elongated, its throat swollen to squeeze out the liquid notes, in black silhouette before the yellow atrocity of the sky. Goldtops, I thought, over and over; golden weavers; golden sky: it seemed there was a perception behind every perception, the way on a sunny afternoon there is a shadow behind every tree. This regression is infinite in the merest sense of the word. It goes forever. The feeling of a moment draws back to reveal a glade beyond which comes the song of a lyre bird imitating a car alarm before the black buzzing of an aeroplane in the depthless blue of the sky. A line from Illuminations came: Arrivée de toujours, qui t'en iras partout. Arrival of always, which will go everywhere.


Buddha's Tooth

During the Governorship at Goa of that priest-ridden bigot Viceroy Dom Constatino de Bragança (1558-61), a sacred relic, a tooth of the Buddha, was captured at Jaffnapatam in Serendip (Sri Lanka, that is, Ceylon). The King of Pegu (Myanmar, that is, Burma) offered to ransom the tooth, but the Viceroy refused. He had the tooth publicly pounded to pieces with a mortar and pestle by the Archbishop of Goa. Later it was said in Serendip that the tooth the Portuguese destroyed was a fake, and that the real tooth still resides at the Temple of the Tooth at Kandy. Bragança is quoted as saying that he would prefer for the honour of the royal estate and the glory of His Highness, the conversion of the poorest Canarim in this island to all the profits of the land thereof and carracks laden with pepper, and that he would risk everything for the salvation of a single soul.