Naming Calls – Chapter 4
I like to sit out on my porch in the predawn light, aswim in the sounds of the waking bush. Each morning this is my routine, before feeding Skipper and taking him for our morning constitutional.
Above the constant yet ever-changing chuckle of the water, a shrike-thrush flutes its melody. Pobblebonks call from the muddy margins; marsh frogs tock as if playing erratic rhythms on tiny clapsticks. A family of magpies alights on the deck and carols forth a bold territorial claim. The challenge is answered by the rival clan on the other bank.
In the forest to my left, a koel announces that it is a ko-EL, ko-EL, ko-EL. A fan-tailed cuckoo calls its soft, descending churr. The kookaburra couple perched on a bough of the old red gum wind each other up into a maniacal duet. Somewhere close by, a male koala grunts and roars, advertising his credentials to any female within earshot.
I love this place.
The cottage is old by Aussie standards, built by a soldier settler and his wife after the Great War. It sits on the steep slope above Silver Creek, cut into the earth at one end, supported by rough piles at the other so that it juts out towards the water.
Chris and I bought the property, comprising the cottage, two ramshackle outbuildings and twenty acres of marshy river flat and steep-sloping bush, as newly-weds in the 1980s. A busy city lawyer and a thrusting advertising exec looking for a tranquil bush retreat.
The place was a ‘fixer-upper’ that never got fixed up. We came up sporadically, spent Christmas here with family and friends, started projects.
Then I came along, Dad. How I loved being here, as a little kid! Playing in the meadow, making mud pies in the creek. Chatting with the neighbours’ horses through the fence …
I can still see you tottering and running through the grass, Freya, scattering butterflies and laughing when you fell. You were the happiest toddler.
When Freya was seven, we rented the cottage out to a wildlife photographer. A rum old girl, Raelene Jones. Left the place in a hellish mess when she died, God rest her soul.
We barely came here for eight years, as we became too busy ‘messing about in boats’, from the Bay to the Bass Strait islands.
Introduced to sailing by my senior partner at the practice, we graduated from a little GRP sloop to a forty-foot, hundred-year-old Huon pine ketch. The plan was to ‘jump ship’ from our careers and spend a carefree decade as liveaboards in the South Pacific. We set off on a shake-down cruise around Tasmania.
Then I moved here, after they released me from the clinic. For a few months’ recuperation and healing, which turned into 20 years.
The woodcarving I learned in OT became a full-time occupation. I renovated the barn as a workshop and set to work. Soft city hands became hard and calloused. My heart too.
I don’t like it when you talk that way, Dad.
A man kills the only people he has ever loved, Freya. How is he to go on living? Why is he still living? How dare he continue to draw breath? Those questions cut deep. Wounds like that may scar over, but they never heal.
That’s not how it was, Dad. It was an accident, bad luck.
So I tell myself, Freya, every day. But it doesn’t help.
A hot summer turns into a wet, cool and windy autumn. The creek is swollen and the lower trail muddied and rutted. Skipper and I keep to the higher ground.
In late April, a guy from a Melbourne gallery drives up to look at my work. Nathan. Tall, earnest. In his thirties with a man-bun and a premature stoop.
He’s enthusiastic about the new piece. Walks around it several times. Stands back. Peers at the borer holes. Calls it ‘monumental’ and ‘daring’. Asks me what its title is.
Off the top of my head I say: ‘Banshee.’ Nathan nods thoughtfully. ‘Irish roots. Forces of nature. The eternal feminine. I like your thinking.’ I shrug.
Over lunch he suggests an exhibition. We discuss featuring Banshee and two of my other large pieces from last year, together with preparatory sketches and maquettes. We identify twelve smaller pieces which their owners might loan, to flesh out the one-man show and the catalogue.
I thought Nathan was a wanker. I’m surprised you named her that. What happened to ‘naming calls’?
Sometimes a name cannot be resisted, Freya. It will out, whether the namer wills or no.
Next week in ‘Naming Calls’:
The work is done. It has become more than the sculptor ever imagined …