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:
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,
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.