On the Explorer

Central Station

After Campbelltown farm animals begin to appear in the fields, faces down in the grass.

Everyone knows each other; or knows someone who knows each other. Everyone is a recovering alcoholic. Everyone is dead or dying.

A woman hasn’t paid the difference. The conductor tells her not to worry about it – because it’s Christmas, he says. “Oh, thang-kyou,” she says.

A can of soft drink is cracked. There is a pause, and then it is opened, as if he didn’t want to disturb.

Everyone is dead or dying or died years ago.

New home new home old home boarded and bombed with graffiti. Long houses which in my mind when I see them I attach to the word homestead.

In a field of gumtrees there is a tree house, dark and stuck between two trees like it is an organic extension of them, with a blue port-a-loo outside. (I, at first, instead of writing tree house, wrote true house.)


Dirty cloud and dirty earth and cows cluster on a hilltop like they wait for something other than dusk. (I’ll try to get a shot of a kangaroo for you.)

(The train whistles; the faster we go the more desperate the whistling. I don’t feel like writing, or reading, so I do this.)

Right on time: two grey shadows in the fields like the upturned trunks of trees: kangaroos.

The names of the stops mean nothing for me. I do not know them and so they are only names. For a long time, while we were still in Sydney, the rail line channels through industrial estates, factories and warehouses, or the leftovers of industry. I don’t even know this part of town – I look for signs or buildings or the shape of places to know where we are. These places are empty. I don’t know my city.

I think about the conductor. I imagine him folding his work shirt in a dim motel room, alone, turning on the radio that is built into the bedside table. Or is he going home? Does he have someone to fold his shirt?

Burnt Trees

“It’s out of my hands.”

We pass a muddy clay lake and burnt out trees that a fire has whipped bare.

“It’s out of my handsisn’t it?”

A caravan park where the caravans have been turned into permanent homes, television aerials on rooftops, the caravans stripped of their ability to transport; black forest and then blackened fences and then spaces where homes used to be.

A footy lost over the fence.

One corrugated shed then the remnants of a shed, as if it’s been blown up or blown away.

The buffet has closed but there is hot food left which they don’t want to waste and so everything is half price: plain meat pies are 1.90; pasties are 1.70; sausage rolls are 1.80. To prevent wastage.

“All right love ya. … Love you. … Love ya bye.”



3 thoughts on “On the Explorer

  1. The structure of this reminds me of the philosophy of Ghazal writing, Tristan – in particular that each stanza, ideally, conveys what the whole conveys when each one is strung together, yet each without needing any of the others around it to convey it. Added to that the very appropriate setting of the train, and place an observant writer in one of the carriages, and you’ve set the scene into motion brilliantly. Your photos compliment this piece wonderfully too.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Brad – and for the details about the ghazal, of which before this I knew close to nothing. But I’m not overly pleased with this piece, it lacks cohesion and isn’t as – what’s the word – substantial, or as long, as I thought it was when I was writing it. I think the problem, really, is I posted it a couple of days after the ride, and writing it, itself. I wrote it because I was bored and was either not connecting with what I was trying to read, or too restless for it, and writing something proper – wait on, “proper” – also seemed beyond me. What else is there to do, then, but stare out the window and listen to the chatter in the carriage? Initially, I was going to tweet a few of these lines. I began drafting them, but most grew larger than 140 characters. And anyway, I’m gald I didn’t, because twitter is fleeting, worse than simple speech, and while I’m not overly pleased with what this became, I like that it’s all here (and I do like certain parts of it, like the mention of capturing a photograph of a kangaroo for an imaginary reader [drifting into Murnane territory here…] then, moments after writing that, the serendipitous appearance of a pair of kangaroos in an open field – and I like the blurred, burnt out bush shot, which fails at capturing the inherent, eerie beauty of a burnt out bush but succeeds, to a small degree at least, at capturing the movement of the train). But blogging has to be spontaneous too – I know you know that. The time I spend on blog posts is no where near what I spend on my other writing, and so with blogging it seems I rarely feel like I achieve the gravitas I want to – but if I hit the publish button before I’ve realised it then that usually solves that problem. So I got close to not posting this, or doing anything with it, at all. But I’d already chosen a few photos to go with the piece, converted them to a small, blog-friendly file size, and done some editing of the piece. So what else, then, is there to do but post it?

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