Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Water Diviner

Sometimes known as dowsing, the art of locating underground water with the aid of a divining rod has been subjected to scepticism, disbelief and often ridicule over the years. I listened a few years ago to some scathing Melbourne shock-jock enjoy himself on the airwaves, ridiculing the art, until I realised that someone must have accidentally bumped the dial off the ABC and then I got rid of him.
But I can understand people being sceptical. The process requires a person to walk across the ground with a divining rod - sticks or wire - until the rod of its own accord pulls unmistakably downwards, giving a clue to the diviner that there should be water in that place somewhere below ground.

My Dad was a water diviner though as far as I can remember he never said the words. It was just something he did. We lived out in the country with a bank of willow trees growing down past the back stairs. (It was under these willow trees that beloved cats would be buried when their time had come and where I would weep and wail and lay flowers for weeks on end until someone inevitably found me another.)

But the first my mother would know about Dad's next assignment (he never took, nor was offered, money) was when he would come up the steps stripping bark off a forked willow stick with his pocket knife. Then the conversation would begin with something like -
'Yeah, old Bluey Traves has got hold of a new bit of land up the back of Chillingham. Wants me to see if it's got water.'

And sometimes, if I pestered long enough, I would be allowed go with him. The stripped willow stick always had a distinctive smell that I couldn't describe now but could certainly recognise. Why it had to be stripped of bark I don't know. So once on Bluey's land Dad would start to walk very slowly, holding the forked stick exactly as above, pacing back and forwards across the acreage until, hopefully—not always—the stick would start to quiver then be pulled down unmistakably towards the earth. After he'd checked and double-checked he would give a nod to the men waiting away at the fence line and some time in the next few days the digging would begin.
The deep freshwater well on our own property back then was found this way shortly after my folks had bought the land but before they'd built the house. Spring water was the prize, supplementing the tank water that might be erratic in both supply and quality - wrigglers and the occasional dead frog notwithstanding.

So I get a bit tetchy with the sceptics. My Dad's water divining services were taken for granted for years. It's just one of the things he was called upon to do. He was the only one I knew in the district but there could have been others. No-one made a fuss, plenty of sources of water were found as new land was bought up around the district.
It was a long time ago and Dad is long since gone. I never heard of any scepticism at the time and if he was present to hear it now he'd just shrug, grin and not waste a word in defence of this old, old art. Which is what I do too.
 I know what I know.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Change of Plans

I'm not much of a traveller. Three weeks away and I get small niggles of wanting to come home. I occasionally have fleeting fantasies about heading off for months on end to see all of Australia but I don't think I'd last long. I'm a nester. Books, cooking for loved ones, big fat couches, open fires, a dog or two across my lap. And on a recent and wondrous jaunt around Western Australia I learnt that for me, coming home within Australia is different from coming home from overseas. The latter always seems to feature exhaustion, blocked ears and the risk of losing the will to live before you make it out of the airport. The former, like flying in across the Great Australian Bight a few weeks ago, really makes you think.
We'd seen beautiful new things, taken a zillion photos and stood in strange places that filled the soul with wonder.
Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, Exmouth, W.A.
At this place (left) we met a family who'd also gone up on the point to watch the sun set and their two little kids were alive with excitement at the prospect. Not an iPad in sight. That made me think.

The flight in from Perth is a mere 4 hours, nothing like the interminable journey from Europe. But it evoked in me feelings that might best be described by a word I discovered only a few years ago -

Sensucht - which is sometimes described as a deep and nebulous yearning for something we cannot even identify.
I had a window seat on the way home and it was daylight so I peered out the window for most of the way. Seeing the country fold away beneath me made me think about life and death, friends old and new, the future, the past and what it meant to come home. Most of all it made me think of what I wanted to do when I got there.

For years now I've aspired to write. Ha! Who hasn't? I've had some successes, a few large, quite a few small, but staring out the window of the plane what came to mind was a tweet that went around a while back, and I apologise for not being able to acknowledge the author. What she said was something like "My friend asked me what it was like to be a writer, so now I wake her every night at 3 am and tell her she's not good enough."
I was over the moon back in March when an email came from a reputable literary agent saying they'd read my manuscript, they loved it and they'd get back to me with "a few tiny edits" (I know the email by heart) in a week or two, then get it out to publishers. Bio provided, contract signed. Nearly 8 months later I'm still waiting. I know how busy agents get, how much reading they must to do, how many people clamouring for their services. Still - monumentally disappointing
So my plan when the plane hit the ground was to quit writing altogether: to reacquaint myself with friends I may have neglected, to reshape my big rambling garden, to revisit the many other creative pursuits I used to love before I got the writing bug. Since then I've had an offer of publication of a non-fiction piece from The Big Issue and news of a place on the Scarlet Stiletto shortlist. Great fun but is it enough? And does that question make me a quitter or a realist?
I'm aware of being a bit of an Eeyore about this and I might change my mind.

Meanwhile I'm hoping my friends & family will love me anyway. I know my dog will.