Tinda Creek

woodypearSometime towards the end of the 1980s Lud and Lexie, both painters, moved out of Sydney to a place called Tinda Creek. It was about a third of the way along the Putty Road, the old inland route to the Hunter Valley; and runs between two wildernesses, the Wollemi and the Yengo National Parks. They rented a demountable which stood above a dam in the bush about a kilometre in from the main drag on the Yengo, the eastern, side. Tinda Creek ran south from Mellong Swamp, in which ancient plants persisted, along with amphibians and water dragons and fowl; it was a dark and mysterious place; white bones of trees rose from the black water. Lud and Lexie were good gardeners and they had a vegetable patch and a herb garden going, enclosed with wire netting against the possums and other night critters of that place. They’d haul water up the hill from the dam every day. A stand of sensimilla marijuana too because they were keen dope smokers. It was a remote and beautiful place but not untenanted; at various stations in the bush around about feral humans had made camps for themselves on land that was part of the National Park; but actually belonged to the Darkinjung Nation. They were Yengo fringe-dwellers; not the kind of people you took lightly. All the blokes carried guns, usually .22 rifles and, over the years, intractable feuds had developed between them; which were as much a part of the socius as more conventional interactions. So one of the demands of living there was avoiding becoming implicated in any of the local vendetta. Which Lud and Lexie mostly succeeded in doing; although there was one fellow, the Dingo, a near neighbour, who developed an animus towards them. Because there was no basis for this, so long as they didn’t cross him, he didn’t feel able to act upon his anger; no matter how much he may have wanted to. He used to gather bush rock, illegally, and sell it to landscape gardeners in the city. One time he overloaded his ute, it stalled on the hill, and he got caught. His place was car wrecks, junk, fetid piles of rubbish—an emaciated pony penned up in a desolate yard, so starved you could count the ribs protruding through its sides. We used to wonder how we could set it free; and give it food to eat: exactly what would have have got the Dingo coming after you if he knew. At one point, not long before Lud and Lexie returned to the city to live – their landlord, a music union guy, tendered them a bill they did not owe and could not pay – the Dingo teamed up with a couple of petty crims on the run from WA and terrorized the neighbourhood for a few weeks, uttering cheques and menacing shop keepers and pub owners and the general population. Their spree ended in a siege (no police involved) at the house that stood at the head of the drive that led to Lud and Lexie’s place, during which the woman of the couple who lived there went into labour. Fortunately the matter was resolved, without gunfire, before the birth took place. Another time, late at night, about ten pm, someone knocked on their door; a guy dressed as Rambo: headband and all. He was looking for his girl friend who had taken off with his car at a gas station with their kid in the back. They gave him a cup of tea and he went on his way. Sometimes after they’d visited town for art supplies I’d drive them back out in the Honda Civic I had in those days. On one of those trips, at dusk, just before we got to the turn-off, an eastern grey kangaroo bounded into the path of the car and we hit her; she had a joey in her pouch; both mother and joey had their right back legs broken by the impact. Lud dragged the doe into the bush at the side of the road and killed her with a mattock; a fellow who pulled up behind us, a local, took the joey; he said he’d hand raise it and then release it into the wild again. During these visits Lud and I, without Lexie but with other friends who were there, like Glackin, would set off on long treks into Yengo; which wasn’t hard to do because of the fire trails bulldozed along the ridges. We would find wonders: a woody pear tree, like something out of a fairy tale, with its rubicund and dusky silver seedcases hanging down; geebung bushes, another protea, with fruit called snotty-gobbles you can eat; quandong trees, native peaches, also edible, a member of the sandalwood family. People think of Australian bush as dry and featureless; it is often the first but never the second. Past the grey-green, you see lavender blue, orange and pink; crimson and yellow in wild flower season in Yengo, like the detail you see in a Fred Williams painting. Then there was the insect life: ubiquitous and outlandish in equal degrees. I remember lifting up a log and below was a family of scorpions; of the marbled kind and quiescent though very ancient looking. I replaced the log. The only other downside at Tinda Creek was the sand mining going on at the property next door, the daily grind of diggers on week days, the trucks taking away loads of sand to use in cement in houses being built in Sydney. Years later I learned the mining company had been prosecuted for dumping chemicals into the Mellong Swamp, exterminating the delicate and unusual creatures who lived there. It’s on my mind today for another reason: the fires that are sending smoke down over the city are Wollemi and Yengo burning. Tinda Creek has been incinerated, along with what was left of the Mellong Swamp; the fragrant wilderness beyond is turning to ash. Who knows what is happening to the feral humans? People say 85% of bushfires in Australia are deliberately lit; but these fires mostly began in lightning strikes. It’s incandescently dry. Thunderstorm season but the storms are no longer accompanied by downpours; my son, who’s twenty, talks about the days when it used to rain. There are other things that don’t happen anymore: the bogong moths, which used to fly into Sydney from the south west at this time of year in their hundreds and thousands, no longer come. The Christmas beetles neither. And the little moths with black and orange chequered wings. But I’m an optimist; I think nature will survive us. Others will take our place. The bush will grow back. As to what we can do to help, I’m torn between the rapturists, who want to leave everything behind; and the activists who want to protest and also leave everything behind. Alternatively we could embark upon a quest to return to giving the kind of care the bush enjoyed before we came. I still have the six quandong seeds Desmond gave me; they’re hard, spiky, durable. They’ll germinate even without a fire going over them. Or not. I’ll plant them anyway.


images : Woody Pears; a Quandong Tree

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Arthur Baysting


I first met Arthur in Auckland in 1972. I was dropping out of university ‘to become a poet’, and one of my lecturers, Denis Taylor probably, in despair at my insouciance but with a generous eye towards my future, sent me round to see him at his flat at 2 Ayr Street, upstairs in the old Kinder House in Parnell. This because Arthur was editing a collection of writing about Auckland to which Denis thought I might be able to contribute. I was a confused young man of 20; Arthur was five years older; kindly if circumspect. I don’t think he knew why I was there either.

The flat was full of stuffed birds on pedestals on loan from the Auckland Museum because Arthur’s wife, Jean Clarkson, was using them as models in her art-making. She was drawing bird-headed people. I never wrote anything and I don’t think the book appeared either. This was Arthur in an earlier incarnation, as poet and man of letters; his anthology, The Young New Zealand Poets, would be published by Collins in 1973; it’s a fine selection of work and still a valuable resource from those years.

The next time our paths crossed was in Wellington: when the first Red Mole cabaret, Cabaret Paris Spleen, opened at the Performer’s Theatre in Courtenay Place in 1975. Arthur wasn’t in that show; but Jean made the poster for it and also did artwork for Spleen: a useful organ, which started the same year. Arthur was a regular contributor to the magazine, writing long, multi or mixed media articles about Split Enz and the Red Hot Peppers; a Sci-Fi Country and Western fantasy; an educative piece about the perils of embracing nuclear energy.

He had come down to the capital because I had script writing work with Dave Gibson. Not many people remember that he was co-writer, with Ian Mune, of the Roger Donaldson film Sleeping Dogs, starring Sam Neill. He made his debut as a performer with Red Mole in 1976, at the second cabaret, Cabaret Pekin 1949, at Unity Theatre at the bottom of Courtenay Place. When I asked him what he remembered about that show he said Jean made a huge winking cardboard sun to a Brian Eno soundtrack. The song was ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’ from Eno’s 1974 solo LP Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy).

I also asked him where Neville Purvis came from? The character, he said—but not the name—came during Holyoake’s Children when Jean dressed me as a Bodgie and I spontaneously broke into song. Holyoake’s Children—the allusion is to Robert Patrick’s 1973 play Kennedy’s Children—was sketched by Alan Brunton for Cabaret Pekin 1949 and revived in The Sixties Show during the delirious seven month long season of Cabaret Capital Strut at Carmen’s Balcony in 1977. Item 3 on the one page scenario for the first of those cabarets, in March of that year, reads: Arthur Baysting, Emcee + continuity.

This was the first appearance of Arthur’s much loved and much abused alter ego Neville Purvis. Neville Purvis, at your service, he would say. That’s Neville on the level to you. Neville was a spiv. He wore white shoes, white trousers, white shirt, white waistcoat, white embroidered jacket, white hat, a black grease paint pencil-line moustache, dark sunglasses, and carried a white cane. He was from Naenae in the Hutt Valley and he lived with his Mum. He drove a Mark II Ford Zephyr and his milieu was one of petty crims who hung around billiard saloons and boarding houses, pubs and burger bars. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed: I thought fast and, when that didn’t work, I thought slow, which is me normal pace.

Arthur spoke Neville in his own voice: flat, nasal, a bit monotonous. His mode was a mix of the laconic, the satiric and the naïve. In his fiction he wasn’t part of Red Mole: after he’d got out of Mt Crawford Finishing School—jail—they’d asked him to come and lend them a hand. He positioned himself as an outsider and might refer to the acts he introduced as something a bit beyond his ken. He liked to bait the audience and the audience liked to heckle him. He had a few standard rejoinders: You just keeping taking the tablets, darlin’, was one. Are you the berk from Birkenhead? was another. His excuse for bad behaviour was always the same: a saga on the lager. 

He told shaggy dog stories and jokes that were funny in a bathetic, low-key kind of way. Once he imagined himslef being asked what the Hutt Valley was like before the Pākehā came? Miles and miles of empty State Houses, he dead-panned. Neville was not, not ever, politically correct. In another routine he evoked the famous New Zealand painter Genghis McCahon. Murray Edmond recalls a third—the tale of the fate of the winner of the annual Silver Plough contest:

As the winner drove home, up the Foxton Straight, in his Zephyr, ‘his mind must still have been on ploughing that straight furrow’—and here Neville inserted the only movement in his stand-up comic talk—his right hand went forward to grasp the imagined steering wheel while he turned his left arm, shoulder and his head to look behind him at the disappearing road, in his mind, the straight furrow. The head-on collision did not have to be mimed or named to be imagined by the audience: ‘He had ploughed his last furrow.’

Neville was intrinsic to the cabaret; he strung things together, night after night; his thin white thread ran through the outlandish exotica of the rest of the acts. He was already beginning to give up poetry and write lyrics for songs. There was one he sang himself, as Neville, with backing from The Country Flyers, during Red Mole’s Slaughter on Cockroach Avenue at Phil Warren’s Ace of Clubs above the old Cook Street markets in Auckland. ‘Money’, we called it, and included in it was the line I can’t get enough / pictures of the Queen. I hadn’t heard bank notes called that before.

Arthur also wrote the lyrics for a beautiful reggae tune, music by Neil Hannan, bass player in The Flyers, which Midge Marsden sang; with backing vocals by Beaver and Jean McAllister, sometimes called The Purvettes: O Rangitoto / Sitting in the harbour / Rangitoto / Sitting in the bay. Midge performed that song for the next forty years. It’s now a taonga of Ngāti Whatua. Both of these tunes were recorded: ‘It Takes Money’ b/w ‘Disco on my Radio’ was released as a single. I don’t know how it charted.

I missed Neville’s solo career because I was away overseas with Red Mole. I saw Arthur next in Sydney, where he had come after being banned from the airwaves for being the first person to say ‘Fuck’ on New Zealand television. At least we never said ‘Fuck’ was the last line of the last of the Neville Purvis Family Shows. I remember asking him if he thought of himself as an exile? Nah, he said, that’s too romantic for me. Down to earth, as always.

In Sydney Arthur organised and introduced the annual Kiwi Nights, which debuted at the Astra Hotel in Bondi in 1980 and 1981; riotous evenings of music, comedy, drag and who knows what else. The Astra had seen better days: Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler, with Ernest Borgnine, John Mills, Angela Lansbury and Anne Baxter was filmed there in 1959. By the early 1980s it was seedy and run down; but still a good place to hear bands.

In those days Jean and Arthur were caretakers of a decaying mansion called Canonbury out on the end of Darling Point. It was a large, rambling, gothic-style brick and cement render place with a slate roof that had been built early in the twentieth century by Harry Rickards, a vaudeville actor and producer. After World War One it was bought by the Australian Jockey Club, who used it as a convalescent hospital for returned men. Then it became an annex to the Crown Street Women’s Hospital in Darlinghurst.

I don’t know how they got the gig but it was a good one. I went to a party there once where there was more cocaine than I’ve ever seen in my life, before or since: mountains of white powder on horizontal mirrors in the old hospital bathroom. Drugs and alcohol were not really Arthur’s thing however; though he was broad-minded about them. This lot came from budding record producer, renegade lawyer and ex-swimming champ Ken the Cocaine King. He went back to Auckland and became a property developer. Arthur, too, returned to New Zealand and dedicated himself to music; anti-smoking causes; and advocacy for the creativity of children.

The last time I saw him was at Café One2One on Ponsonby Road; it was a Sunday afternoon gig by Sam Ford and Trudi Green. I was over looking into the Brunton / Rodwell archive in Special Collections at Auckland University. Arthur was with Bill Lake, one of his song-writing partners; Bill, with his band The Right Mistake, was doing a gig on the North Shore later that evening, promoting their CD As Is Where Is. Arthur contributed to half of the tracks on that excellent album. As usual, he was business-like. Have you got anything in your book about Red Mole’s work with kids? he said. If you haven’t, you should.


images : Neville with his 1958 Mark II Zephyr outside Mt Eden Prison, c. 1979
with Cousin Cheryl and riot police at the premier of Sleeping Dogs, October 1977

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Previous publications



The Expatriates

The Dreaming Land

Histories of the Future

Battarbee & Namatjira


The Place of Stones

Dark Night : Walking with McCahon


The Thousand Ruby Galaxy

Zone of the Marvellous : in search of the Antipodes

The Supply Party : Ludwig Becker on the Burke & Wills Expedition

The Evolution of Mirrors

Waimarino County (& other excursions)

Luca Antara : Passages in search of Australia

Chronicle of the Unsung

Fenua Imi : The Pacific in History and Imaginary

The Resurrection of Philip Clairmont

Chemical Evolution : Drugs and Art Production 1970-80

The Autobiography of my Father


Filed under Uncategorized

New Otoliths

New Otoliths

I’m in it

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Silk Road

20190904_132025Although I’ve been calling this place Kurohime, that is just the name of the railway station and the mountain; the area is properly called Kumakura, ‘Bear’s Larder’ or similar. There are bears around here; monkeys too – we saw some today on the way to the recycling plant. And last night something, probably a badger, was snuffling round under the tatami room while we were sleeping. We found footprints in fine dust beneath the house this morning. The Japanese badger is a mustelid with racoon eyes; it’s nocturnal, so heard but not often seen. Though the house is tight against the weather, sometimes you find small green frogs in the bathroom; there are larger brown ones hopping around outside; and the snakes that eat both kinds slithering through the bear bamboo. Yoshie showed me two shed skins she has collected. Shinanomachi is the name of the larger town, which includes Kumakura, Nojiriko (the caldera) and a dozen other places, all villages from ancient times. I always find directions difficult to intuit in the northern hemisphere though I’ve just about got it right now; the principles behind the disposition of the town we’re on the outskirts of continue to elude me. I’ve been to the Town Hall, to the Library, to the Hospital, to the Council Offices and still I cannot say how they sit in relation to each other or to the town as a whole. I think perhaps it is because modern infrastructure has been laid down over an old rural map where houses related to their surrounding fields, with their ubiquitous shrines, and to other houses more than they did to roads or grids or railways or whatever. Also I’ve been to the Temple and to the house of the Poet Issa, which stands on Highway 18, the Royal Road. In the Edo period gold mined on the offshore island of Sado was carried down here in wagons to the court of the Tokugawa Shogun. There’s now also a magnificent tollway which takes the same route to the coast but there’s still something about the Royal Road that makes you feel like you are breathing an older air. To the north west of town, before you go through the tunnel, heading towards Kumakura, on the left there is the Hotel Victoria. It is long and narrow, four or five storeys high, painted pink, with a balustrade along the front upon which numbers of grey-ish white neoclassic statues stand. Venuses, Putti, Atlases, Apollos, Virgins with Child and so forth. It is a love hotel, hence the colour. Not necesarily for illicit liaisons; many of the places around here (there are lots of large houses), are home to three or four or even five generations. Couples, therefore, in order to get away from the madding crowd, check into the hotel for an hour or two so they can make love in private. Teenagers, or young lovers, too, may escape parental scrutiny here. It’s about 8000 yen (= $100.00 aprox.) for an overnight stay, rather less for a ‘rest’ of a couple of hours; weekend rates are higher. On the other side of the tunnel, heading east and south on the Royal Road, there’s another hotel, standing eight storeys tall at a fork in the way. This was built by some entrepreneur, probably in the 1990s, in the expectation of a boom that never came. Though it was completed, and furnished (there are curtains in the windows), no-one has ever stayed there nor ever will. Weeds grow the height of a man outside reception, there are trees masking the lobby windows, inside, who knows, wild animals may have taken up residence in the rooms. It is as J G Ballard a sight as I have seen; although derelict dwellings, and other buildings, are everywhere. They sag back into the earth, festooned with creepers, their rooves collapsed by heavy winter snow, their windows blinded by webs and vines. If you drive on further, past the main street leading down to the station, with many of its shops shuttered (because, like in the West, most people go to supermarkets now), on the left you will see the sign that says Silk Road. It’s a Pachinko Parlour; today there were about a dozen vehicles parked in the carpark and about the same number of men, under sparkly lights, playing at machines in the enormous room. The game resembles pinball, but only vaguely. You purchase steel balls and insert them in an aperture at the top; they drop down, past various possible ‘cups’, through the playing field until (no win) they exit at the bottom. Any win gives the player more steel balls; which are thus both the bet and the prize. Gambling is illegal in Japan but Pachinko is a grey area; you can exchange your balls for tokens (‘prizes’) which may then be ‘sold’ for cash at a nearby establishment, owned and operated by the parlour where you won them – and so it goes. The Pachinko industry is said to generate more gambling revenue than Las Vegas, Singapore and Macau combined, though that seems unlikely; eighty percent of the owners are Korean, albeit domiciled in Japan. I asked the hostess who greeted me if I could photograph that strangely spangled ceiling, that cacophonous interior, but she became anxious and indicated that she would have to go and ask her boss; I said, no, don’t worry. Outside, on the facade, there are aqua camels on a yellow and orange ground; on the roof, two aqua domes and, between them, a neon sign; which, because I have not been there at night, I have not seen lit up. We went on to pick up Mayu’s new pink suitcase from the Black Cat depot, to which it had been despatched after she ordered it online in Tokyo last Saturday night; and then on into the afternoon. At the onsen the cherry trees that were bee-loud with blossom last time I was here, were now all green. Yellow daisies flowered amongst the morning glory. Swallows dived and swooped in the grey sky, from which heavy rain fell intermittently while thunder rumbled in the hills. I had a talk with a man called Hiro who is a petro-chemical engineer and has visited 153 countries. He told me about a lobster he ate, washed down with white wine, in Sydney in 1995. His skinny shanks and his humorous white-haired wife, who insisted on ringing the bell at the vacant reception desk, remain in mind. The rain is pouring down outside now in Kumakura, dinner is ready. It must be another kind of silk road I am upon, as seductive and as delusive as the one on Highway 18.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


20190902_145523Today we went swimming in the caldera, in a bay on the northern shore where a set of orange buoys are disposed, in a rough quadrilateral, to make a place safe from boaties and fisher folk. You change in some small sheds across the road from the base of the jetty then walk out upon it until you reach a set of iron steps leading down to the water; which is a clear brown colour above a bottom of round stones, which soon gives way to soft, slightly slimy sand from which grow banks of feathery weed. It was a warm cloudy day and, once you slid into the water, warm there too. Mayu, who has been swimming here since she was a girl, has a routine which involves breast-stroking out to the buoy at the eastern corner of the rectangle then progressing back and forth upon the southern line several times before back-stroking back to the jetty. I decided to traverse the three sides of the square but in the event struck out on a diagonal from the south-western buoy back to shore. While free-styling along the southern line I saw below me a silver fish, the shape and size of a small snapper, gently fibrillating its fins as it rested in a glade of the weed forest. On another private jetty, parallel to the public one, right at the end, there is a statue of dog, perhaps cut out of sheet metal, with its head cocked and its face turned towards a derelict boatshed further round the lake. There is a placard round its neck with writing upon it but you would have to swim to it from the water to read what it says; casual access to the jetty is denied. It looks like it is waiting for the return of a fisherman who will never come again; but that may be fanciful. After our swim we drove on around the lake, down secret winding roads, through dark green cedars and pale green larch trees, in yellowy light, back to the village. Because of the book I was reading – God’s Crucible, by David Levering Lewis – I had a Bowie song in my head: ‘Prayers they hide the saddest view / believing the strangest things / loving the alien / and your prayers / they break the sky in two.’ I don’t know what that means, do you? Sounds right though. After a short rest we drove to a restaurant in Myoko for lunch and then on to a hotel where we had afternoon tea and an onsen. I had been twice before to this particular onsen but today the women’s and men’s baths had been switched around (a regular occurrence) and I was where previously Mayu and Yoshie had bathed. The water was extremely hot in the inside pool so it was difficult to stay in for any length of time; nevertheless, I could feel the heat infiltrating those aching joints – my left ankle, both knees, my left hip, my left thumb – which constitute a permanent reminder of mortality; or rather of the decrepitude that precedes mortality. The mist had come down from the mountain, shrouding everything in uncertainty, the suggestive atmos of a thriller; the cars looming out of the murk were gleaming expensive Mercs and Beamers and Lexuses; but the people you saw infrequently in the streets were just shop-keepers or artisans or farmers going about the business of life. I am no closer to inventing the noir plot I wish to elaborate as a means of writing about this place in all the evocative detail it demands; and, on the drive back home, began to wonder if I should approach the matter diaristically, with no attempt at fictional creations; like an I-novel perhaps. Invention, after all, is not my strong suit; or not on the macro level; though I am able at times to take the real towards the possible or improbable in a sentence or a paragraph. One of the words I looked up the other day is ‘untoward’. I always thought it to be a nautical term, having to do with an impedance in the progress of a vessel towards its destination; but no. Or not exactly. ‘Weard’ is the root, meaning a turning, in a certain direction, ‘towards’, ‘backwards’, or ‘onwards’. Later it was used to indicate a positive move, a willingness to learn, to contribute, or just to be. To weard, to turn, to take a propitious move. A tao or an ara. Hence the actions of those people who showed no such willingness to do so came to be described as untoward. So maybe here is the master metaphor I am looking for: could I write the diary of an untoward? A way towards a way that is not the way?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Yokohama War Cemetery

20190830_165612When we were leaving the cemetery for the second time I went again into the house where the Visitors Book is kept. We’d both signed it the day before – Mayu wrote ‘peace’ in the comments section and I wrote ‘heiwa’. There was a plastic folder binding sheets of paper on which were written the names of the 1555 service people buried here; when I picked it up to flick through, a small, mildewed, unsealed envelope fell out. It had a name on the front: Wilfred Greaves; and, inside, a photograph of him. He was an Englishman, a minor functionary in the RAF; captured in Singapore, he died of malnutrition, beriberi and nephritis in a camp near Hiroshima in 1943. The picture was one of those colourised prints made from a black and white image. Just head and shoulders. A bluff, blond fellow with blue eyes and a wide easy smile. Dead these seventy-six years. There’s something strange about the phrase: ‘We will remember them.’ Who are ‘we’ and who is ‘them’? Who placed the pic of Fred Greaves here? Are they still alive? If not, who remembers them? And so on and so forth. The cemetery was created by the Australian War Graves Unit in 1945 and is now administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, HQ in Maidenhead, Berkshire, which is responsible for overseeing the remains of the millions (about 1.7) who died overseas in both twentieth century world wars, with reliquaries in 153 countries. Here are six immaculately kept lawn cemeteries set amongst plantings of magnificent trees, on the slope of a hill which has the effect of blocking out the surrounding cityscape of Hodogaya, west of the great seaport of Yokohama. First of all the Brits; then, to the south of them, the Aussies; further along the same path, the Kiwis and the Canadians. Then, retracing your steps and walking up the hill behind the Brits, the Indians; beyond them, a still functioning cemetery where there are the graves of another 171 who died during or after the occupation. Some of them were babes who did not survive long in this world; some were women, wives presumably; many of the servicemen died in the early 1950s, perhaps en route to, or from, the Korean War. There was an Admiral and an Air Marshall; also the grave of the man who oversaw this place from 1952 to 1986. His name was Len Harrop, MBE, and his plaque said: ‘If you seek his monument, look around you.’ He died, aged 95, in 2011. Many of those from United India (ie Pakistan and Bangladesh too) were seamen off a ship called the SS Nankin, which left Melbourne in April 1942 with a cargo of munitions as well as some civilian passengers, headed for India. She was taken by a German raider and, after several ship transfers, those aboard ended up in Yokohama, prisoners of the Germans but under the care, so-called, of the Japanese. Other lascars (sic) were off a vessel called the MV British Motorist, a British oil tanker sunk in Darwin Harbour, also in 1942; how they came to be here I cannot imagine. Later, while the raider which had taken her was moored alongside her in Yokohama Bay re-fuelling, a fire broke out and the munitions aboard the Nankin blew up, taking with her the raider and a large proportion of the docks as well. There was a raggedy tree in the Indian section which may have been a tamarind; in the Australian section there were gum trees and Bangalow palms; in the place where the New Zealanders and Canadians are buried, two maple trees and a young, healthy kauri which, no matter how many times I tried, I could not get a decent shot of; though I did get some evocative close-ups of the bark. The morning was hot and humid. Cicadas stridulated. On the paths, many small spiral-shelled snails had left behind them trails of mucous then somehow stalled, perhaps when yesterday’s rain stopped. Iridescent slaters trundled to and fro. On the lawns, peaceful doves grazed; while up above the ubiquitous crows cawed. A big dark butterfly, with blue lights in its black wings, fluttered by. Dragonflies like small electric birds buzzed into the trees. In the Australian section a man with a watering can and a sponge on a handle was cleaning the plaques, one by one; as Mayu photographed them, one by one. She has done the same with the graves of Japanese war dead interred in Cowra. There are flowering plants between each grave; the lavenders laved their scent upon the morning, the crimson roses glowed in the heavy clouded air. When I see the phrase ‘Known Unto God’ I always tear up even though I know it isn’t true. Last night, in a Taiwanese restaurant that Mioko took us to in Chuka-gai, there was barn owl tethered by the leg near the register. We heard its hooded cry as we ate our food. It had a name but I have forgotten it; and two tricks: it could grasp in its beak a soft toy shaped like its own head and return it to a simulacrum of a nesting hole; and pick up a little bell and ring it; except, last night, it kept dropping the bell and so it never rang. Never send to ask . . . I did a google search for Wilfred Greaves but nothing much came up. Greaves of course recalls graves; and also grief. At the rear of the British section there was a small building within which is a black oblong metal box containing the remains of 355 Commonwealth, American and Dutch men who died as POWs in Japan and were cremated; only 284 of their names are known; the box does not look large enough to hold all those bits of ash and bone and tooth; and where are their souls? On the wall above that strange black box, in handsome carved capitals, are these words: ‘There be of them that have left a name behind them that their praises might be reported and some there be that have no memorial. But their righteousness hath not been forgotten and their glory shall not be blotted out.’ I don’t rightly understand this either though I think I know what it is trying to say. Yuenchi Park used to be a children’s playground; maybe even a fairground; which was resumed to make the cemetery. The first day there I saw a mother and her young daughter wandering down the pathways through the trees; on the second, an elderly man in a canvas hat studying the information boards. Otherwise it was just us; the two workers; and the corbies; whose barbarous cries I can still hear sounding above me here in Yoyogi as I write.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized