I’d sold the two-bedroom apartment in Woollstonecraft, Sydney, with its chintzy appliquéd- mirror wall, before launching the adventure into the heart of country, a place where I was to find no home, but plenty of space and time for self-reflection. My strategy was to go with conviction, leaving no convenient fall-back position – after twenty years, I’d had enough of Sydney. The burning of bridges has been something of a hobby, a kind of romantic fatalism perhaps or just a natural appetite for neatness. I’ve seen, in novels privileging a psychoanalytic perspective, neatness characterised as a symptom of neurosis – the character finds the inner landscape chaotic, resistant, perverse, inscrutable, and so sublimates confusion and perceived powerlessness by tightly organising the surrounding world or at least the bits they can get their hands on. I knew a woman whose home would have won prizes for its antiseptic and ordered arrangement – her husband, a marvellous man to us kids, had eventually left her for another woman – the woman’s appetite for neatness ran on unabated, but now lonely and rarely observed in the silent empty home. To be fair, she came from a time, like my mother, when stay-at-home women took great pride in their housekeeping skills and neat didn’t necessarily indicate psychological stress; but in a world where the emotions are often profoundly intractable, the need to control at least something easily spreads to a special affection for the vacuum cleaner and precisely arranged doilies. But whatever the demands of my inner landscape, I was routinely prepared to chuck it all on the bonfire of whatever vanities lurked, seen or unseen, and then watch the show tidy up loose ends. Once in late 1969, tripped up on some very persuasive LSD where metaphor and reality were one, I wandered the park, Cooper’s park, after dark, and found in the preternatural glow of being, a proliferation of rubbish, dropped wrappers, empty containers – the whole phantasmagoria of modern consumer life, and was possessed of a potent urge to clean it up. All of it. In the space of what seemed like five hours but was probably more like five minutes, I realised the weight of this task was crushing me. There was no end to it. It was nothing like doing the washing-up with its manageable beginning, middle and end. My brain began to frazzle with the vision of the world being buried in pollution but more taxing was my response to the vision – a deflating realisation of an impotence to fulfil the task of first of all cleaning it up and then, perhaps more importantly, persuading its generators to change their ways. At that point I had to surrender the notion that I, or indeed any individual might save the world. It was a moment of scintillating sanity. The only pollution I needed to be concerned with was the pollution in my own mind and of my own creation. That at least, in a moment of wild optimism, seemed doable. That’s the sort of drug acid is; it can deposit you into a place where the conscious mind, the reasonably well- known self, must surrender its jealous authority and make room for the unconscious mind, the universal One, the Big-Picture Man. The reconciliation of the two is the fun of it. Or not. Sinking in the swim is on the cards. The river flows on. Within you, and without you as George Harrison so nicely, so memorably, observed. He came and went, his remains now permanently etched into digital immortality, his image everywhere. He also left a son, another stab at immortality through the genetic stamp. Job done. But did he  have fun? In the 80s a spoof guru, Adrian they called him (Saviour-Self Adrian), had his moment of fame on Sydney’s airwaves generally poking fun at the proliferating po-faced cults of the era. There was a T shirt. And a stencil. Which somebody used to decorate a shop-front in inner-city Sydney confusing some with its reported similarity to a real missing boy. The image used to depict him was of a reputedly anonymous goofy looking ten-year-old kid. Guru Adrian’s zenster motto: Having fun is half the fun. Having fun is without doubt the prevailing credo of those who have achieved life’s primary survival imperatives. But if having fun was only the half of it, what was the other half, went the gag. Cute puzzle proposed by the too clever by half. He was the guru who wasn’t. Being and not being all at once. Sri Paradox Resolvdit. The world of words and the beguiling nonsense they can conjure - a parallel universe of emptiness without which the existential just isn’t. There once was a metaphysician Who proved that he didn’t exist When others learned of his position They said he wouldn’t be missed. Brother Cajetan - (Quoted in Anthony Burgess by Roger Lewis, 2002) I’d gone as far as I could go with my explorations and adventures in Central Australia and finished up with some photos and a few memories. Fun it was, but like a sandcastle, those half- formed, uncompleted plans might be blown away by time to vanish without trace. The man who wasn’t there. Just another one of the uncountable who have come and gone, blinked a few times and maybe wondered a bit, wandered here and there, and then vanished. Like my dad. Flew his RAAF Lancaster over Germany in World War II, dropped its bombs, came back, was given some medals he never mentioned (for shame? he didn’t say), filled in a few more short years with a wife and some babies and died leaving tracks in the memories of a few, those memories now slowly fading to an imagination. Not an unusual story. I carry on, the ghost of his being and all the rest of my ancestors within, delicately stored in the impressionable genetic material. My mum’s remains, three songs on a magnetic tape packed in a case within a box under a friend’s house, a few photographs, a collection of faded yellow-boxed Kodak 8mm movies awaiting the digital treatment. Her ghost is in me somewhere too, but less apparent, clouded with unidentified obscurities. Or so I imagine. A friend of mine recently killed himself. I found his name in my mobile phone the other day. Curious, I called the number. His voice answered, politely requesting I leave a message. Brad’s voice, weirdly, didn’t seem to know he wasn’t. I didn’t know what to say to the undead, so I hung up. I thought it proper to delete him. My voice still had its body, broken, yes, slowly disintegrating, but intact. A repository of memories. The sandcastle was all the while blowing away; ghosts and memories were calling for expression. I looked around for somewhere to live. Somewhere to make some pictures. A mate who lived near Byron, a member of my social networking site, the erstwhile Divine Light Mission, offered me a room in his converted banana shed. I got to work. Mixed media on primed Arches paper. Figures in the landscape. All desert and earth colours. Figures flying above the landscape. Disentangling from the earth. Half troll, half angel. By the time there was a good pile of pictures and I was ready to show them, I’d found a house to buy in South Golden Beach, about a twenty minute drive north of Byron. It was a two storied beach house, besser block base with some sort of synthetic cladding material on the outside, and lined inside with gyprock, typical of the many budget construction beach houses in the area. I decided to give it a fresh coat of paint. Took me about a year. Climbing ladders with paint pots a very slow exercise. The relationship with Catherine continued to wax and wane. She’d moved out of her place in the hills and set up in the town of Mullumbimby with her three children. The flat was on the edge of town looking out over a paddock at the back that ran down to a grubby creek. The Mullum to Byron train track, then still in use, ran past the place about a hundred metres away and once a day the train would clatter by. Catherine’s superlative talent for homemaking would reach its daily crescendo when we all sat down to her bountiful vegetarian evening meal. I slowly developed a bond with the ten-year-old boy, Angelo. With his dad being far away in Spain, the lad seemed to need a man around, surrounded as he had been by women. And the ten-year-old in me wasn’t hard to find. The girls had their fathers in the vicinity, although neither father seemed to spend much time with his child. The older girl, Haydie, took an interest in my painting for a school project she was working on which helped me begin to feel more a part of this loving, ready-made family. Ten years in boarding schools far away from my family accounted however for a deep and instinctive reliance on outsider status and this opportunity to become a member of a small family provoked emotions over which I had no control. These emotions, when they reared up, seemed not to be a part of me, as though they lived in a room somewhere which I didn’t know about – emerging as an alien presence to flex their disruptive power when circumstances threatened their comfortable occupation. I came to know better this significant part of myself realising I knew all about this room and enjoyed being there; but under the influence of these emotions I was incompatible with the needs and values of others and would fight threatening developments. In a larger organisation, like the Divine Light Mission, also a kind of family and one with which I had had a twenty five year association, I was able to preserve my otherness, my singularity. But in a small congregation of four, the relationships were so raw, demanded so much that I would soon lose control of my efforts to assimilate and seek instead to cast off the required constraints. So my relationship with Catherine did plenty of to-ing and fro-ing. The beauty of Catherine and her family would pull me in, and then the need to be on the outside would drive me away again. Much like the Indian scriptural story of the saint and the scorpion: the saint was sitting by the side of a river and noticed a scorpion trying to swim the river, but apparently drowning. The compassionate saint wades out and picks up the scorpion to carry it across, but the scorpion stings him. The saint drops the scorpion. It begins to drown again, and again the saint picks it out of the water whereupon the scorpion stings again. Neither can act other than according to his nature. When you’ve got both saint and scorpion inside you it’s bound to get rough. Unfortunately those who love you must share the discomfort and pain of this conflicted arrangement. My inner being is not so colourful as to be fairly characterised as either saint or scorpion, but the story serves to illustrate a set of conflicting impulses. One day a situation arose which was to sweep away all the niceties and a far more powerful imperative than the maintenance of personal comfort came to stay. Catherine was pregnant. This was an enormous surprise, as I believed my procreative powers had died with the crushing of my second lumbar vertebra. As the relationship with Catherine had experienced a significant period of non-activity during which time she’d taken comfort with someone else, my belief I was impotent combined to create a dangerous doubt that I was the responsible party. For Catherine no such doubt existed. It seemed this dilemma was one of the foundations of such male inspired institutions as marriage and the naming protocols, familiar to many societies, which determine the children take the father’s surname. The man can never truly know if he’s the father of his children – until of course genetic coding eventually confirms or denies the familiar and the child demonstrates recognisable characteristics, or the characteristics of a rival. Catherine’s conviction that I was indeed the father was persuasive, so, given she’d already produced three children and she was in her late thirties there was some consideration as to whether it was a good idea to proceed. Having done it all before, she had a full book on the task that loomed. Generously, she wanted my view on the matter. But what did I know? Never having had the desire to be a dad it was brand new country for this old man. Forty two years old and a child at heart it was a bewildering consideration. After a very brief flirtation with the idea we could abort the foetus – it was only a few weeks old, a mere whisper- we decided to preserve this still small voice. It was then I discovered a momentous star burst within my being for this unprecedented gift from beyond my imagined world. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated an imagination, how elaborately we may run with our creativity in formulating possible futures, reality will invariably surpass and surprise. As a sign of good faith I proposed marriage to this woman who had brought the gift. This required a determined suppression of the emotional and psychological inhibitors ranging up and bumping into each other to scoff at the conventional gesture I’d so readily appropriated. Something in me was so … proud? It was a lovely feeling; on inspection, probably an atavistic gratification for having taken the first step towards the perpetuation of the genetic treasure. An end to the old purpose of life question. A comforting completion to the riddle of the gendered being. So Catherine, her expanding belly and her two younger children moved in to South Golden Beach with me. There was plenty of room. Downstairs was a separate two bedroomed self- contained flat, good for Cherry and Angelo. Catherine and I and the booming belly baby were upstairs – three bedrooms and a large dining/lounge room/kitchen area. An internal stairway joined the two floors. Catherine was thirty nine at the time and so we decided to check the foetus didn’t have abnormalities sometimes associated with middle aged pregnancy. My own forty two years apparently not significant in that regard, sperm retaining their health into old age, perhaps an indicator of the relative loads associated with reproduction – the effort required by the sperm provider is momentary, she with the egg must bear and birth, a mountain to his molehill. The amniocentesis revealed the baby’s genes were standard and, gratuitously, the gender of the little wriggler, confirmed when the ultrasound displayed his tiny hand playing with his even tinier worm. In the womb. Early pleasuring. Since marriage is a religious institution I thought we should do it in the church I’d come through as a child. But the Anglicans wouldn’t have us. Catherine had been married before. The less fussy Uniting Church obliged. Their building didn’t look like a church – steeple, stained glass windows, faux-medieval architecture, no bells - it was just a rectangular, rather soulless block, but the ceremony went off well enough, and afterwards we had the reception in a Mullumbimby art gallery. We were married on June 17, 1989. The boy was born on December 22, into the driving heat of an Australian summer. We called him Oska Vey. The first name came from a character in a book by the contemporary German novelist, Günther Grass, The Tin Drum. The protagonist, Oskar Matzerath, is born fully sentient and immediately aware of the lies and deceits of first of all his family and then the wider world in pre-World War II Germany; the novel tracks him as he strives, with his tin drum, to redirect the course of the collective hysteria driving Nazism. The second name is the same as my second name and comes from my maternal grandfather. A name so unusual I thought to extend its life for at least one more generation. Catherine’s considerable experience in the child birthing business gave her the confidence to want to birth the boy at home. She decided she wanted a water birth. The logic was pretty straightforward: the foetus had lived in salty water, breathing through a long and winding cord for nine months; he was about to squeeze out through a passage I was convinced was evidence the size of the whopper’s head in there hadn’t been reckoned by the whatever evolutionary mechanism supervised practicalities like ‘how was that bloody great head going to get out?’ Almost like the mother was somehow irrelevant. Or the various reproductive departments in the female body did not communicate with each other. Or if they did, the process was seriously in need of review because, for whatever reason, babies were getting bigger and bigger, but vaginas generally still believed they were back in the year dot. Sure, by design, the skull is not solid at this point having the ability to squash somewhat but ask any woman who’s given birth through her vagina and she’ll tell you it hurts – a lot. These days plenty of girls go for the C section option often for the very sound reason that it hurts less. Their specialists are usually happy to comply – more control for them and their scheduling. Water birth theory proposes an alternative: an equalising of the uterine and outside pressures and having the baby emerge underwater into a similar environment. Good for the baby, less painful for the mother. Maybe. Nice theory. I hired a large circular plastic bath approximately two metres in diameter and set it up on the back porch overlooking the chook shed and vege garden. I acquired three immersion heaters and 40 kilos of salt, three quarter filled the bath with water, added the salt and hung the heaters around the edge. Two midwives were on hand for the birth. Catherine was ready to go. In and out of the bath as she needed. A shelter from bitch gravity. Catherine was ripe to pop. But the little fella wasn’t. Not quite. We all waited and waited for the will of the child and his time to assert itself. Catherine waded through, a servant of forces beyond her ken. What she had to say as the final, searing contractions drove her was quaintly, awkwardly, amusing. It was perhaps her English North Country origins, the dry wit and cultural memory of hard-working souls come to help in her hour of need. Her intention, she objected, was not humourous; but those of us who waited on her were lifted up by this earthy and apparently droll take on a scene as old as time. About 6 months after Oska's birth. Once the head crowned I think the midwives called it, it meant you could see the soggy-haired top, I jumped in to the bath and was ready to catch the little guy as he shot out. But no go. He seemed to be stuck. It was just too damned tight and at that moment I just couldn’t see how that head was ever going to get through. I had to retreat and leave the field to the midwives who proceeded to do their special work. After one more volcanic contraction the 55 cm body shot out and Marion, the lead midwife, lay him on the bottom of the pool, his eyes open, looking around, apparently quite contented; but still hooked up to his mother and getting the oxygen he needed through what turned out to be an incredibly long umbilical cord connected of course to the placenta. After maybe five minutes or so the placenta followed and he could be lifted off the bottom and brought up into the air for his first raw breath which he took with not a whimper. Clearly the placenta needed to be cut loose from the little bloke now that he was breathing fresh air. I asked Marion if she was planning on doing it. She said no. Put the question to me. Did I want to cut it? I asked her why she didn’t. She said that eventually it would fall off all by itself when it was ready. Catherine seemed agreeable, so we wrapped the not inconsiderable chunk of Catherine’s body up in a plastic bag with a couple of fistful’s of salt left over from the bath and carried him around with it for three days until it did in fact just fall off - one evening. I was lying on my back holding him up above me, doing the usual dad thing bouncing him about and it just dropped off. It was an uncanny moment. A second birth. As though he’d just arrived, an independent being. An illusion of course, the years of constant care just beginning. But now, twenty years later, he’s living with his girlfriend, it’s hard to squeeze all those years into memories. That concludes the first part. A break in the narrative is covered by the shortstory SEED Part II of the memoir will begin shortly.  
No Man’s Land
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