Beyond the Black Stump

 Beyond the Black Stump

You want to know what it’s like out there? I can tell you. I’ve been. A few times.

You’ll hear different things from different people. Some will tell you of our native drop bears, their dangerous habit of dropping straight down out of trees onto unsuspecting travellers. (Don’t walk under the trees!) Or the bunyip calling from some lonely waterhole to entice you in. (You won’t come out again.)

Some will warn you about wild dingoes – which might sound more mundane, more believable. But though they look like dogs, they’re far from tame. Or you’ll hear about herds of marauding camels which could rampage through your campsite any night. And snakes and scorpions, too.

You'll be told to take much more water than you think you’ll need. A car repair kit would be handy as well. Also a good blanket; the desert nights are freezing. They’ll say, tell people where you’re going: your route, your destination, your ETA. They'll tell you over and over: if you break down, never leave your car. No-one will ever find your body out there.

Yarns to scare the tourists? Only one of those things isn’t true. 

Someone might mention the deep red earth, stretching flat in all directions; the grey-green scrub; colourful rocks rising suddenly out of nowhere in gigantic curves; anthills as big as trees; the white bark of the ghost gums.

The silence of the desert night. Impossible crowds of stars, so clear in that enormous sky.

If they went through in a good year, they’ll have seen evidence of rain – birds thronging the pools (water in the pools!), flowers blooming in the scrub.

They might describe a natural spring, deep outback where you’d never expect to find any such thing – skin temperature, surrounded by lush vegetation, deep and wide enough to swim.

Perhaps someone will whisper of rock paintings so old no-one knows their date; of special rituals for greeting the earth in particular places; of the spirits of ancient elders who might appear; of a mighty rainbow serpent … or mutter about mines wounding the land.

Tales to dazzle visitors? Only one thing I’ve listed is a lie. (It’s not the bunyip. It’s not the rainbow serpent.)

Written for FridayWritings #3 at Poets and Storytellers United, to the prompt: 'Describe the scenery beyond the black stump' – which should speak to Aussies in particular.

Photo of outback Queensland by Greg Spearritt, on Unsplash.




The first and best thing I learned

at home and then at school

was the magic of the written word.

Perhaps it was inborn –

the family all great readers

and gave me books for my birthdays.


(Now that I’m old it’s my son

who gives me books, always knowing

perfectly those I’ll love.

When he was little, I read to him

all the time. Like me in my childhood,

when he learned to read for himself

he disappeared from this world

into the words in the books,

only his quiet body still sitting here.)


Of course I became a poet.

Of course I became a witch.

Of course I learned all the words

for being me, all the words for life 

all the words for love. Of course 

I became all words.

Written for Friday Writings #2 at Poets and Storytellers United, where we were invited to write about something we learned at school.


Oral Cravings

Oral Cravings

When I was in group therapy

(back in my twenties)

one teenage girl was sad

because she was plump.

She thought no man

would ever want her.

‘Don’t worry, Tammy,’

a young chap said. ‘Some men 

say they love fat women.’

The therapist concurred. 

(I wasn’t concerned. I was 

a smoker, which kept me thin.)

‘Be careful,’ said the man

who ran the Smokenders course.

‘Ex-smokers often turn into

secret sweet-eaters.’ Too damn bad,

I thought. I was already 48

(I quit on my birthday).

‘If you don't stop 

by the time you’re 50,’

a doctor told me years before,

‘you WILL get lung cancer.’

So I did, and I didn’t. Luckier,

perhaps, than I deserve.

A few years ago, they thought I had 

emphysema. Turned out not.

It was the mould in my unit – now

thoroughly cleared. My breathing

is very much better. I got away

with all those years of smoking!

32 years in fact. But I’ve not become

entirely pure. ‘I’m a poet. Smoking 

helped the creative process,’

I told the Smokenders man.

He didn’t scoff. ‘Oh yes,’ he said,

and explained the brain chemistry.

‘Suck glucose instead,’ he advised me.

I took the advice. Also I didn’t (until 

years later) stop writing my poems

with a pen dipped in wine – as I 

used, so wittily, to say. There are

consequences. You can see them.

‘What happened?’ asked a friend,

comparing the me in front of her

with slim, glamorous younger photos.

‘I stopped smoking,’ I said, ‘at just

the same time I hit menopause.’

(Didn’t mention glucose ... or chocolates….)

I’ve been lucky, though.

No lung cancer, no emphysema.

I do have arthritis now, and so

I need to get slimmer for that. I’m trying!

But I do attest that there are indeed men

who will happily embrace a fat woman.


For Friday Writings #1 at Poets and Storytellers United, Magaly invites us to write about food. But we don't have to. Perhaps that's just as well, as this addresses the subject somewhat indirectly.