Martin Edmond

Near Tayan Pic

The kids instantly re-inhabit the Palaeolithic. Television is 50,000 years in the future. They can bridge the gap in a thought but I am slower. I am in Dulmin, with the copper trader Ea-Nasir, from Ur, a contemporary perhaps of Abraham. Ea-Nasir is often late and sometimes delivers poor quality ingots; he does not always pay his bills on time either but that is not my concern. After all I am a free agent. The copper comes from Makan, with the diorite, the u-stone, the shuman-stone; and to Dilmun there comes also gold from Tukrish, lapis lazuli from Harali, carnelian and fine sea wood from Meluhha, crystal from Marhashi, ebony from Sealand, the wool of Elam and of Zalangar; and from Dilmun come fish eyes, that are pearls: for grain, sesame oil, noble garments, fine garments, sailors from Ur. The cities on the mainland are Qatif, Uqair, Thaj, Hafuf, but the mainland is sinking, the salt is rising, the gardens are being eaten by the Bitter Sea … the stridulation of the cicadas is incessant, cacophonous while the sun is shining, like all the insects here they are afflicted with giantism, they are black and orange, they have a W on their backs that looked at another way seems like a bat mask. They steal a frequency from the air, we cannot hear our esses when we speak. There are big orange hornets too, and green-gold scarabs that crawl from the reeds—these reeds have forgotten, if they ever knew, the miraculous child left floating in a basket to be found by another and raised up so his name would be remembered always. The Cudgegong was dammed in the 1920s, the water pumped down to the cement works where it was heated over coal fires and passed through a steam turbine to run the machinery. All that is finished now but the five kilometre long snake, the lake of deep black water, the drowned valley, remains. That’s where the kids jump off the grey outcrops, over and over, screaming their delight. They name the rocks, the jumps, for the first time, and then again, again. Golden perch, catfish, blackfish live in these waters. We drove here through Sofala, Ilford, Kandos, Rylstone. We drove over lava flows. The mountains are called Midderula, Coorongooba, Monundilla, Tayan Pic, they are the ancient cones of extinct volcanoes, one notched at the peak, there are micro climates within their craters, relict plants of earlier ages thrive there. I will come back in winter, when frost cracks the Triassic sandstone, I will sit by the water and meditate; on Pagoda Hill I will remember Tu Fu. Today on the way to Platypus Point we saw a goanna, grey-black and yellow striped, climbing a tree. Laying the soft underside of its leathery neck like a lover along the rough trunk. After an hour in the bush, things come into focus, I can see the dead in the shadows behind every tree. The three-petalled fringed iris goes from blurred to sharp the way the extruded and piled pagodas are etched against the sky, rising like pyramids out of the green when I surface after that first dive into the cold black water of the Cudgegong. The kids explore the rock formations in the morning, and in the afternoon they find a W pecked into an overhang: they have not left the written word behind, not yet; or else they are advancing rapidly to meet it, perhaps to re-invent it in this fragrant wilderness that has a medicinal quality as the sun shrinks open the pores on the eucalypt leaves. When archaeologists excavate here they will find bottle caps with stags or Xs on them; but the faded red ochre handprints in the cave, so low down and small they must have been made by children, will have gone forever, along with the name of the ______ people who made them. The Wiradjuri. The Darkinjung. The Gamilaraay. 12,000 years. I can hear the voices of children calling from among the stones as I write. The grasshoppers are more delicate, they are Egyptian grey, orange under wing when they leap or fly. The persistent, grey and black striped stinging March flies, tabanids, will hover for minutes looking for a place on my skin in which to insert their flanged proboscis and thereby suck my blood. Only the females bite, they need blood to grow their young; the males live on nectar. I wait and then I slap them away. One leaves a ruby bead on my elbow that the little moisture flies, musca, cannot ignore. Down among the reeds there are blue dragonflies, Eurasian coots with white beaks and pukekos, called purple swamphens here. They flick their tails when they walk on their long red legs, inspecting the muddy shallows. There are purple daisies too, and some other smaller purple flowers: purple seems to be the colour of the flowers the way orange is that of the insects. The cicadas fall constantly from the trees, I find them with their gossamer torn and shredded, bumbling among the detritus of bark, the incandescent litter. Often the spray of liquid—water? urine? something else?—that they expel before and during flight falls in a fine mist across my face or in my hair. It does not seem to be toxic. In the screeching heat, a kind of benison. Up on the tops, among the green eucalypts, there are darker green pencil pines, a native cypress, tall and elegant, as Chinese seeming as the pagodas that are a volcanic remnant, with their surrounds tessellated, crenulated. When we paddled up the lake in our pale blue canoe we found the bulrushes gave way to papyrus but the papyrus did not remember the child Moses either, nor that distant Akkadian or Sumerian king once also given sanctuary among reeds. Papyrus is perhaps a caconym. I am still in Dilmun, which the Seleucid Greeks called Tylos, where some say Gilgamesh went in search of immortality. It may be that the Green Man, Al-Khidr, worshipped yet by the Shi’a on Failaka, is Uta-napishti, Ziusudra, Noah, survivor of the deluge, who would or could not give the gift that Gilgamesh asked. He sent him diving instead, telling him to tie stones to his feet and go down into the abyssal waters for pearls. That were his eyes, his fish eyes. Abyss may be our sole Sumerian loan word. At Qala’at al-Bahrain they dug up from the floors of a palace pots in which there were the bones of snakes and, sometimes, a pearl the snake had swallowed: the herb that makes old men young again, stolen from Gilgamesh while he bathed. Here I am both young and old. Oannes, the fishman, is who I am or could be, first among the seven Abgallu, the antediluvian sages from Mohenjo-daro in Meluhha. At evening, when the cicadas at last fall silent, we are given back our esses. As the blue cloud begins to fade along the green ridges and the still waters of the lake reflect the new moon, the faint stars, you can hear the reeds whisper these old tales and many more I have no ear for now. The kids are back, they want to eat. Later the stars will blaze, mysteriously, commonly, unseen through a million future winters, past summers. At night sugar gliders drift between the trees. It is so quiet you can hear the owls.

Martin Edmond is working on a book of essays about the antipodes in (of?) the European imagination. The Zone of the Marvellous.

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