The Bush, Don Watson

I’m not that far into The Bush by Don Watson but it’s divine. It sings. Well no, that’s wrong. It hums quietly under its breath.

I bought it under the influence of the Melbourne Writers Festival. I think most people can relate, spending money you don’t really have on books simply because they’re surrounding you and it’s intoxicating.

Inevitably I suppose reading it reminds me of when I interviewed Don Watson back in 2010 for artsHub in the lead up to the Mildura Writers Festival that year.

It was one of my first interviews, as I was only a month or so into the role, and it remains one of my most memorable. Because it was painful. He tore me to shreds in the first few minutes. Had I read his books, which ones? Why not all of them? I was woefully unprepared for the barrage and came up short. He made sure I knew it too. Yet we struggled on. We found common ground and in the end it was delightful.

When I got off the phone I wrote this:


Hello? Yes


It’s a curious little voice that speaks,

slightly bewildered and ‘Mole’-ish,

a voice emerging like a peek ’round the door.

Lower your point of view to see it,

it’s lower down than expected, tentative,

a curious yet do-not-disturb voice,

a voice that asks who you are but would rather you went away,

a voice that has been busy in its own thoughts

– all that from one word.

Aren’t words strange? so much in a few sounds.

What do you know from that hello?

Philosopher? the other side of 50? academic? male.

Then it says, ‘Yes?’.

A long drawn out yes,

a question,

certain, but suspicious, strong

A yes you don’t hear that much anymore,

It’s not as high pitched as my grandfather, less nasal,

No modern inflections.

a yes of my past, of the past,

a yes that reveals a past, almost forgotten,

Which is odd because this voice is very much alive,

it’s disconcerting, as though this is not a call with the present.  I recognise the Gippslander in it,

which wasn’t something I knew was a thing until now,

but I can hear it, a country-bred Yes,

It’s as if certain words are tuning forks,

they ring a specific note in time and place,

as though the way a word is said,

the way it rolls around in a mind and a mouth,

the way it vertebrates in memory and in meaning takes you somewhere, to a time and a place,

like a smell can,

It’s to a steel frame gate, to a dry paddock,

a dirt track for a driveway

a distant stout farm stead

a new 1950s Holden shining in the sun,

It’s a photo in my mind with white borders, square format.. there’s just something about that voice..

I cringe now when I read the actual article I wrote about it back then, five years ago. My inexperience, insufficient drafting and poor structure are all too evident. I would write it very differently now. Still learning.

The Bush reads like that voice I listened to on the phone. I can hear him as I read the words. And even more oddly, I can see I wrote the impression above in a similar voice. It’s very much my own style but the influence is there.

The Bush is a big book, I think it will take me awhile. It’s probably meant to.

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