TGA–teeny bit more re Australia

12 04 2010

The human heart seemed inverted, and the very conscience reversed

I am not yet ready to leave Queensland, or rather, Australia proper, (but then I wasn’t at the time, either).

the circumstances of detention are arranged to enhance within the subject his feelings of being cut off from the known and the reassuring, and of being plunged into the strange.

I visitedCoat of arms of  Queensland the rainforest in the Far North of Queensland–like your typical tourist I traveled north from Cairns to a hostel in a preserve.  The site of the Mitchell River Mission is on the other side, in the North West.

I saw many orange footed scrub fowl as well as the special mounds they build to incubate their eggs perfectly.  These mounds are archeological.

I also saw a juvenile southern cassowary.

I shall learn poetry here

The bird moved quietly through the jungle though he/she was tall as I am.  I was displaced from time.

And the spirit of God moved on the face of the waters

I was in Australia for a conference in Canberra but spent my own tiny bit of time wandering the eastern part of the continent–to Queensland, Sydney and the blue mountains.  And of course the field trips out from Canberra.

Not much and though I fantasized going back and studying those gorgeous megapodes, I haven’t yet.

I traveled with my “A Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” and a copy of The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes.

the blood of several of my fellow Prisoners

I was not alone in toting this latter text around.  Most of the other folks in the hostels I visited had their own copy, in a variety of languages–in particular I remember a young German man reading his in a bar (a fellow traveler).

cryed aloud

The Fatal Shore is about Australia’s colonial past, as the place to which convicts from Great Britain were transported.  These convicts, of course, were those not sentenced to death–petty and political crimes were common (many convicts were there because they had committed the crime of engaging in politics while Irish).

Heaven…let fall its vengeance on this wholesale Murderer and despicable White Savage

The book documents the brutality with which these convicts were treated.  On a continent (on an island) subject to near total power of their keepers and considered forgotten in their prior homes. 100 lashes was common punishment. (and so on…)

in the dark

There are two things that bind The Golden Archipelago to The Fatal Shore, at least in my mind, if not in the mind of TGA’s creators–The continent Herself, and torture.

till his arms are tired/till his lungs are tired/starve him of the air the dimming light/

Whether a description of the act of torture is intended in the lyrics I do not know.  For me there is the stripping of one’s home, the colonial degradation but there is also torture.

till his eyes are wide/till his eye are wild/till he sees the other side

Of course, some of this may be my own associations with being in Australia.  The extreme difference in the animals and the plants–their archaic diffferences–was everywhere, in the cities, in the mountains, on the beach, in the rivers, in the forest.  It was like being dropped into evolution.

chain him to the burning carousel/till the horses tire

But there was also the human sense–the history I was reading in The Fatal Shore at the time and the brutal history of colonization’s affect on the Aboriginal people and their culture.

Their relationship to the place and to life was essentially torn away (as it was everywhere my forebears trampled, North America, Africa, and most of Oceania.  I know…and, yet, part of me wants to be on a ship, then, to someplace “new”)

I too am brutal

While Australia has her lash-stained history and Bikini Atoll her forced evacuation, Tierra del Fuego her isolation–one island location–Guantánamo Bay–is not mentioned in the lyrics, in the Dossier, or in any interviews I’ve read.

stave off suicide

But it occurs to me every time I focus on the lyrics of many of the songs.  It hovers like the other ghosts that populate the music and the images in the Dossier

most people underestimate their capacity to withstand pain

Guantánamo Bay is in itself a ghost, but it also right now.   It is this moment.  It echos Abu Ghraib and whatever they say it is brutal.

After great pain

a formal feeling comes–


Quotes are from Genesis, KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, Shearwater, William Bernard Ullathorne and Laurence Frayere quoted in The Fatal Shore, Emily Dickinson, John Keats


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