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Authors: Tim Winton

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BOOK: Dirt Music
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That was late autumn. Within a few weeks she turned forty and she was careful to let that little landmark slide by unheralded. By spring and the onset of the new season she was merely going through the motions. Another man, an American, had once told her in a high, laughing moment his theory of love. It was magic, he said. The magic ain’t real, darlin, but when it’s gone it’s over.

Georgie didn’t want to believe in such thin stuff, that all devotion was fuelled by delusion, that you needed some spurious myth to keep you going in love or work or service. Yet she’d felt romance evaporate often enough to make her wonder. And hadn’t she woken one heartsick morning without a reason to continue as a nurse? Her career had been a calling, not just a job. Wasn’t that sudden emptiness, the loss of some ennobling impulse, the sign of a magic gone?

In her time Georgie Jutland had been a sailor of sorts, so she knew exactly what it meant to lose seaway, to be dead in the water. She recognized the sensation only too well. And that spring she had slipped overboard without a sound.

That’s how it felt sculling about in the lagoon this morning while the sky went felty above her. Woman overboard. With nowhere to swim. What was she gonna do, strike out for the fringing reef, head on out into open water, take on the Indian Ocean in her birthday suit with a liberated mongrel sidekick? Stroke across the Cray Bank, the Shelf, the shipping lane, the Ninety East Ridge? To Africa? Georgie, she told herself, you’re a woman who doesn’t even own a car anymore, that’s how mobile and independent you are. You used to frighten the mascara off people, render surgeons speechless. Somewhere, somehow, you sank into a fog.

She lay back in the water wishing some portal would open, that she might click on some dopey icon and proceed safely, painlessly, without regret or memory.

The dog whined and tried to scramble onto her for a breather. She sighed and struck out for shore.

In the wreckyard behind his roadhouse a bear-like man in a pair of greasy overalls had a last toke on his wizened reefer and shifted his weight off the hood of the Valiant which some dick had recently driven off the end of the jetty. It was his morning ritual, the dawn patrol. A piss on the miserable oleander and a little suck on the gigglyweed to soften the facts of life.

The light was murky yet. You could feel a blow coming on, another endless screaming bloody southerly. He snuffed out his tiny roach-end on the Valiant’s sandy paintjob and shoved the remains through the kelp-laced grille near the radiator.

From the beach track, between the dunes and the lobster depot, came a trailer clank and a quiet change of gears. There was plenty enough light to see the truck and the boat behind it spilling bilgewater as it pulled out onto the blacktop.

Fuck me sideways, he said aloud. You bloody idiot.

The V8 eased up along the tiny main drag, fading off in the distance.

Beaver slouched off toward the forecourt to unlock the pumps. A man could do with a friggin blindfold in this town. And get his jaw wired shut while he was at it.

Inside at the register he tossed the padlocks down and pawed through his CDs. Tuesday. Cream, maybe. Or The Who Live at Leeds.

No. Fiddler on the Roof, it was.

He opened the register, closed it, and gazed up the empty street.

You silly bugger.

While the boys ate breakfast Georgie went about the morning routine in a sleepy daze. She was passing a window with a wad of beefy male laundry when she saw that the Ford and trailer were gone from the beach. Right under her nose.

Of course it might be nothing. But really, in a town like this, where crews regularly pulled their pots to find them unaccountably empty, a non-fleet boat going out under cover of darkness and slipping back at first light was not likely to be an innocent occurrence. There was something shonky about it. Some fool with a taste for trouble.

She went downstairs and stuffed the washer full and for a few moments she paused, overcome with weariness. Beneath their lids her eyes felt coarse. She probably should have reported what she saw this morning, told Jim at the very least. Whoever it was, even if he wasn’t pillaging other people’s pots, even if he was just taking fish it could only be as a shamateur, the fleet equivalent of a scab. That was no recreational angler. Local families mortgaged themselves into purgatory to buy professional licences. This bloke was taking food from their mouths.

Georgie slapped the lid down and smirked at her own righteous piety. God, she thought, listen to me! Bread from their mouths?

Once upon a time, maybe, in the good ole bad ole days.

She caught the reek of burnt toast rolling down the stairwell.

How did they manage it? The toaster was automatic.

In earlier times, when arson was a civic tool and regulatory gunfire not unknown at sea, the locals sorted poachers out with a bit of White Point diplomacy. Back in the fifties it was a perilous, hardscrabble life and crews protected their patch by whatever means came to hand. Georgie had seen the photos in the pub and the school, all those jug-eared men with split lips and sun-flayed noses posing bare-chested in tiny football shorts with their eyes narrowed against the light. Returned soldiers, migrants and drifters, their stubby plank boats with masts and sails, stern tillers and tiny, gutless diesels looked impossibly slow and cumbersome.

The only safe anchorage for many miles, White Point was then just a bunch of tin sheds in the lee of the foredune. A sandy point, a series of fringing reefs and an island a mile offshore created a broad lagoon in which the original jetty stood. The settlement lay wedged between the sea and the majestic white sandhills of the interior. It was a shanty town whose perimeter was a wall of empty beer bottles and flyblown carapaces. Before the export boom, when most of the catch was canned, rock lobsters were called crayfish. They were driven out in wet hessian bags on trucks that wallowed the four hours of sand tracks to the nearest blacktop. The place was isolated, almost secret, and beyond the reach of the law and the dampening influence of domesticity. It was the boys’ own life. On the rare occasions when the coppers and the bailiff did their rounds, somebody radioed ahead so that the pub-shed might close and the alimony cheats, bail absconders and nervy drunks made it into the surrounding bush. For the bulk of the time men worked and drank in a world of their own making. How they loved to run amok. And when, in time, their women came, they did not, on the whole, bring a certain civilizing something.

True, they conferred glass and lace curtains upon the windows of shacks. Geraniums appeared in old kero tins and there was an exodus of idealists who were driven north into the tropics, but, male and female, addicted to the frontier way, White Pointers remained a savage, unruly lot. Even after the boom when many families became instantly—even catastrophically—rich and the law came to town, they were, in any estimation, as rough as guts.

Nowadays rich fishermen built pink brick villas and concrete slab bunkers that made their fathers’ hovels look pretty. The materials were long-haul but the spirit behind the construction was entirely makeshift, as though locals were hard-wired for an ephemeral life. Georgie, who rather liked the get-fucked Fish Deco vibe of the place, thought it remarkable that people could produce such a relentlessly ugly town in so gorgeous a setting.

The luminous dunes, the island, the lagoon with its seagrass and coral outcrops, the low, austere heath of the hinterland—they were singular to even her suburban gaze. The town was a personality junkyard—and she was honest enough to count herself onto that roll—where people still washed up to hide or to lick their wounds. Broke and rattled they dropped sail in the bay and never left. Surfers, dopeheads, deviants, dreamers—even lobster molls like herself—sensed that the town was a dog but the landscape got its hooks in and people stayed.

Just because you became a local, though, didn’t mean you were a real White Pointer. Georgie never really qualified. Socially she had always remained ambivalent. Not because she came from the world of private schools and yacht clubs but because there was something dispiriting about hearing the wives of illiterate millionaires complain of the habits of crew families, at how squalid their women were, how foulmouthed their children. These were women maybe five years out of the van park themselves, who hid their own shiners beneath duty-free makeup and thought of themselves already as gentry. Georgie had always held back and she knew what it cost her. There was always some lingering doubt about Georgie. She wondered if they felt her faking it.

A real fisherman’s woman wouldn’t have hesitated about reporting something suspicious. Georgie knew what a shamateur was, what was required. A simple call to the Fisheries office. Or a quiet word to Jim. Either way it would be dealt with and she’d have done her civic duty. But stealing bread from their mouths—really! People with a million dollars’ worth of boat and licence, a new Landcruiser and six weeks in Bali every season, families who owned city pubs and traded in gold, whose TVs were the size of pianos? Even the lowliest deckhand earned more than the teacher who endured his children six hours a day. Not that Georgie begrudged anyone the money. Men worked seven days a week for eight months of the year at something dangerous and their families had endured the bad times, so good luck to them. But she wasn’t about to go running out to protect millionaires from one bloke and his dog. She had two boys to get off to school and she felt like shit. Besides, she never had been much of a joiner.

Up in the bridge it was all Roy Orbison and bacon farts. Jim Buckridge was still thinking about that radar blip from earlier on and as he eased the boat up to the next float he looked out across the broken sea. He didn’t notice the deckie go down.

Rope coiled through the winch and the steel-based pot tilted on the tipper a long time without anybody opening it up. The boat heeled and twisted in the chop and down there on deck no one was skinning the pot. It was bristling with feelers, choking with lobsters, he could see it from up there, but no bastard was pulling them out. Boris, you lazy, stoned prick, what are you doing?

Someone began to yell.

He slammed her out of gear and went down to see.

Georgie woke on the sofa with the phone trilling beside her. On TV fat-arsed Americans were braying about their addictions, their satanic memories, their Lord’n Saviour. The light in the house was a headache lying in wait.

Georgie? You awake or what?

Half her face was numb. She pressed the device to her ear.

Yep. Yes.

Christ, it’s ten o’clock.

Oh? Georgie unglued her tongue and lips.

Look, we need the ambulance on the jetty in half an hour. And find me another deckie. Boris is out to it, blood from arsehole to breakfast. Jim’s voice came from within a roar of diesels; it gave him a creepy, industrial sound.

Um. You clear his airway?

Packed him in ice, too.

All of him?

Listen, don’t use the radio. I’ve only pulled two lines and I don’t want this pack of nature’s gentlemen pillagin my pots, orright? You awake?

Yeah, she croaked. Half an hour.

In the stairwell to the garage Georgie was queasy with fatigue.

She hauled the Landcruiser door open and climbed in barefoot. The plush interior smelled of pizza. She hit the roller remote. In the mirror she saw that she was no triumph of middle-aged womanhood; she chided herself for even looking. The turbo diesel gulped a moment while the door cranked up and as she reversed out into the blizzard of summer daylight she heard the pistol crack of a skateboard under the rear wheel.

Out in the shed with the dog at his shins he leaves the boat smelling of bleach. Everything squared away. Ices up the truck.

The dog leaps into the cab before him, reads his mind, knows the routine. Its tail whacks his elbow as he goes through the gears up the long sandy drive, through the blighted paddocks to the highway. The mutt licks salt off his thigh. Through the window the smell of dead grass, banksia, superphosphate, the hidden sea.

In the blinding limestone yard of the depot Yogi’s bait truck stood empty, its two-way squawking. Georgie leapt up onto the loading dock. The office cubicle, permanently makeshift and ripe with sweat, was empty. On the scarred desk was a depleted bottle of ouzo and a Buddy Holly tape in a visceral tangle. Penthouse centrefolds, girls waxed to the point of martyrdom, were taped to the ply walls. From the back of the shed, beyond the growling freezer, came the surprisingly lovely voice of a man crooning.

Yogi was a shambles of a man. Georgie figured his singing pipes were God relenting, a moment of mercy.

Yogi! she called. You there?

The singing gave out. Whossat?

Ah, Georgie Jutland.


Jim Buckridge’s—

Jim’s missus? Jesus, hang on, I’m in the shower. Won’t be a tick.

We need the ambulance.

Just get the soap orf!

Georgie retreated to the office and glanced at the pinups. Well, she thought. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. She looked at her watch. Twenty-five minutes in which to find three sober, competent people. In White Point. Two volunteers for the ambulance and some unlucky conscript to work the deck in a rank southerly. Without the strange power of Jim Buckridge’s name at her disposal she doubted it was possible.


Yogi B//ehr came out wrapped in a Simpsons towel. He was small and round and, so dressed, he was a potato burst from its jacket.

Instinctively, Georgie’s hand went to her mouth.

Rachel’s rostered, said Yogi. His bare feet were cracked and hard, brown as his face and arms. The rest of him was spud flesh.

Hairless. The toenails like iguana claws.

Don’t spose you know a free crew?

Who’s hurt?


Try the surfshop, eh. I’ll just get me strides on. Have to get someone to deal with me… affairs here.

He scuttled behind some reeking crates a moment and came back shirtless in a bib and brace overall.

Sundy best, he said.

It’s Tuesday.

BOOK: Dirt Music
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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