The West Uncut: Pemberton

5/5/2007

I’m writing this in Pemberton. This is a town that looks like it gets good rain. I arrived two days ago and it hasn’t stopped.

Has that damped my enthusiasm? No.

Why am I here? Good question.

I am here to finish off the great Australian novel, not to read it, but to complete it. It was mine to write.

Ok, mine along with every other Australian who ever used a stick in sand, lifted a pen, a pencil, a typewriter, a keyboard, or even those old codgers like my grandfather who collected the words in their heads, stored them there and let them out every Christmas for the family.

Why Pemberton? Because it was here.

Back, way back, when my father was a young family man with great legs and he had two strapping boys who could lift things on instruction, he drove us most weekends to Pemberton to collect huge milk cans full of fingerlings, baby trout, and water, not milk, fingerlings can’t live in milk.

Once fully laden we drove all over this great south west tipping trout into creeks, brooks, rivers, dams and tanks. If you fish for trout in the Lower South West, we put them there. Well, not them, their great, great, great grandfathers and grandmothers.

Maybe not all of them because there might well have been others doing the same work in other towns and other streams but dad never mentioned them. It was our work.

Later, laden with the implements of fishing we would haunt those same streams and dad would fish until his fine legs buckled, or he had enough to eat and then we’d cook right there and then in a fire he made before he started, knowing he’d catch something because he put them there.

Years later, when dad was almost gone and many thought I had long gone, a few good friends and I helped Pemberton become the comedy capital of WA.

For a short three years it shone bright on the Australian comedy circuit. Everybody who was anybody, or who wanted to be somebody, came, performed, drank local wines, ate local trout and left.

Some, like the biggest stars, flew in and flew out the night they performed and wondered where the hell they had been.

Years later I worked alongside the long-thin Rod Quantok and reminded him of the night he did just that.

“I wondered about that town,” he said. “The thing that struck me most of all was the smell. It was dark when I arrived and dark when I left but I went with this sweet smell up my nose.”

I have it right now, as I sit in the grand hotel with same name as the town, eating the dish I ordered earlier. I couldn’t help myself.

“The trout,” I asked, “is it local?”

The answer was a natural “yes” and I placed my order and thought of my trout-fishing father and others like him.

Pemberton was the perfect location for a comedy festival, cold, friendly, nestled in a great and timeless forest, surrounded by water, vignerons, fresh produce and built by men and women who cut timber with their bare hands.

It is home to one of the two legendary mill-town football teams in the Lower South West Football League, the mighty Southerners

I once played for the other legendary team, Deanmill, and I once played against Southerners. Only once.

It was a day I expected to line up for the reserves but someone turned up lame and in I went to face eighteen hardened men with jarrah arms and karri legs and it wasn’t too long before a truck-load of lumber fell upon me.

Three days later they found me. I was a tiny splinter in the hand of Big Johnny Turner, man-mountain, Southerners captain coach, ruckman, full-back, full-forward, sweeper and a man who once pushed a wheelbarrow laden with railway sleepers from Pemberton to Bunbury in 45 minutes.

When I woke this morning and looked out over a misty lake backed by massive karris, I thought, just for a second: “All is well with the world.”

Then I went and spoilt it. I turned on the radio and listened to the news. All was not well in the world of radio.

In Pemberton, it’s still raining. I may stay awhile. You may never hear from me again.

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