2 August—4 August 2002
After our first night in Dalkeith, Ruby and Clare played with the Drake-Brockman boys whilst Susie and I helped Geoff and Penelope prepare for a party that they were throwing at their house that night. The only time I got to talk to Geoff was when we were out running errands in his 1963 Lincoln Continental. This car was so wide he could barely manoeuvre it in the carpark of the local shopping mall. “You only live once,” he explained, “so you might as well live out some of your fantasies”. As it happened, Susie and I were doing just that by taking the kids on a six-month road trip around Australia.
The party that night was attended by many guests, most of whom—unlike us—were extremely well-heeled. In accordance with the H.I.O.P. principle (“Hell Is Other People”), I spent as much time as I could in the kids’ room to escape. The next morning we tried to make ourselves useful by helping to clean up.
My colleague Gavin Mooney, whom I had emailed from Halls Creek 3000 km up Highway 1, had asked me to attend and present at a workshop he was running at Curtin University. He agreed to fund my accommodation, which meant that we could stay in an apartment for the same price we would have been paying in a caravan park. Susie and I therefore located an affordable holiday apartment in West Perth, and went there to investigate. It would have been prudent to compare a few different options, but we were keen to find an alternative to Dalkeith, where our camper trailer was lowering the tone of the neighbourhood.
After we had transferred some of our gear to the apartment, Susie began to look despondent. It was, in fact, a dump. The kids and I were not too perturbed by this, but we all agreed that Susie had to be happy. So she went to ask if they had any other rooms. We were offered the room next door which was somewhat cleaner and in better condition, so we promptly relocated.
Our new apartment had a panoramic view of the freeway and the city on the other side. We could see the river from the enclosed balcony, but the balcony also harboured a peculiar smell. The whole place was a bit damp, but we couldn’t open the balcony windows because of the noise from the freeway below. There was a television, which pleased Susan and the kids, a double bed, and a noisy bunk which squeaked when either of the kids moved. This drove me mad on our last night there, as Clare developed a cough and she started hacking at 4.00 in the morning, which made the bunk squeak something terrible. Nevertheless, the kitchen was serviceable once we moved our gas stove and equipment in, and there was a bath and a shower and a blow heater which turned the dampness into a tropical build-up. It was luxurious compared to the camper trailer. Best of all, it got us out of the rain: with the exception of Wednesday, when Susie and the kids went bike riding, the weather in Perth was cold, grey, and wet.
The kids did some schoolwork, and in the afternoon I went back to Dalkeith to collect a coffee pot which I had left there. On the way home, I dropped into the Reid Library at University of Western Australia to try and obtain a copy of a paper that I had recently co-authored with several colleagues. My plan for the workshop was to present a version of a paper that had already been written, rather than dream up something from scratch, as I had little time to prepare. By the time I got there, however, the library was closed.
I returned to the library after breakfast the next day. I failed to retrieve the paper, but composed an email to Professor Little in Sydney, asking him to send me a copy. As I pressed the “send” button, however, the computer crashed.
My bad fortune at the library made us all late for our trip to Fremantle. We were travelling there to catch up with another old friend, Martin Anda. Susie and I first met Martin in the 1980s, and had we not seen him for a very long time. In the intervening years he had settled down with an artist called Jill, and they had a daughter called Mim who was a similar age to our daughters.
We drove to Freemantle as quickly as we could, and arrived half an hour late. It was good to see Martin again. He hadn’t changed much, either in appearance or outlook. After a while we picked up his partner, Jill, and their daughter Mim. Jill was reserved at first but warmed to us by the end of the evening. Mim seemed very wary indeed. We had to get out of the house for a few hours while Martin saw someone and Jill did some art. Despite our best efforts, we had stumbled into a situation similar to Dalkeith: hell is indeed other people, and there we were again in all our disorderly otherness, stumbling into people’s lives and upsetting their routines. I longed to be on the open road again.
We went off to visit Freemantle Gaol to give Martin and his family the space they needed. Our tour guide was a real live wire. Suz and I guessed that he must have been a screw at the gaol before it closed down. The place reminded us of H-Block at Pentridge, except it looked like a huge complex of H-Blocks. We visited a variety of fascinating sites: the place where the prisoners were received into the gaol and de-loused; the tiny cells whose walls had been bashed out to make them marginally bigger than an upright coffin; the special high security cell designed for the notorious bushranger, Moondyne Joe; the exercise yards; the chapel; the site of the 1988 riots; the kitchen; several cells that had been adorned with prisoners’ art; and finally, the gallows. It was great.
After visiting the prison, we drove down to a jetty on the waterfront. The weather was furious. The sea and sky had turned a foreboding steel blue and the wind was blowing the rain horizontally. We took shelter behind a sea wall, but when we popped our heads up to look at the view, we were battered with sleet and a bitter cold wind. It was wicked weather and we were glad to have secured accommodation in an apartment back in Perth.
On dark we made our way back to Martin and Jill’s, had a beer, and then went back out into the weather – in cars this time. We drove to a food hall at some local markets. The atmosphere was pretty awful, but the food was all right, and we were enjoying each other’s company. Even Mim thawed a little. We returned to Martin and Jill’s house after dinner, and I managed to download a copy of the article I wanted. Professor Little had emailed it to me, bless him. He must have got my message from the Reid Library after all. I even managed to print out a copy, after sorting out a glitch with Martin’s printer.