Entries for our third annual Prize for Experimental Non-Fiction close in just a few days, on May 29th. To give you a last little push of inspiration to get your entry in, we’re running in full the winner of the second annual prize, W<J>P Newnham’s ‘Trash-Man ♥︎s Maree’. You can also read the inaugural prize winner, Oscar Schwartz’s ‘Humans Pretending to be Computers Pretending to be Human’, by clicking here.
We forget what we are capable of in our youth
We forget with age until a sudden reminder
A smell, a look, a familiar tag
Spray-painted on the back alley Dumpster that reads:
TRASH-MAN WOZ ‘ERE!
I was transported:
Back in the day: Darwin, 1987
Back in the day………
Could it really be him?
I hadn’t seen either of them
In years and had just assumed the default of
Either dead or in prison but here,
Here was fresh paint and a tag that looked
Just like it did back in the day…
I am transported:
Back in the day: Darwin, 1987
Back in the day………
>Upstairs at the Vic
‘Weit-Im-Bat Tumaj Wak-Wak!’1
I wasn’t even sure that Maree had spoken out loud at all—it was as if the words were only in my head as I looked at her to see if her lips had moved and then around and over my shoulder as the black-clad bouncer gave us the sneering once over and then continued his patrol. We weren’t allowed inside where the old school punkahs circu- late the tepid humidity; well Trash-Man and Me were but Maree, being Larakia Mob, had to stay out on the veranda or in the public bar or risk being eighty-sixed out into the street.
We were on the lookout for a mark, tourists specifically, to run the old dip and rip on: we were short on funds and it was looking like rain. We needed shelter, and that took dollars, unless we Submitted To The Salvos and the lock-in segregated dorms where the indignant are tossed and turned in a poverty of dreams-
Trash-Man Said: “Fuck that Bro; let’s go skin a lizard.”
Maree said: “Naaaaahhhhh Weit-Im…….
￼Sabi That Mob? Tourist…….”
She indicated with her chin towards a group of young backpackers moving to the veranda, laden with Cheap-Happy-Hour Drinks. They looked the sort: dreadlocks, tribal tattoos, T-shirts emblazoned with reggae flags and five-pointed foliage like handprints in green. Eyes up she indicated go and we took our positions; the prey clearly identified, we stalked unseen until suddenly-
We were amongst them-
We roamed the park, a ragtag collective black white and brindle et al; Hungry Gutted Mob Too Ey? Too much goon and no food as the Salvos won’t feed you if you are drunk. The Shops in town are shut, and with no money anyway we would have only got kicked out or worse, locked up, if we hung at Uncle Sam’s3 looking ￼￼to humbug a feed.
We roamed the park.
Maree [finger to lip and palm upright]
Trash-Man and I frozeStopped at the fig trees and after
Stooping and gripping
A yonnie4 held
Pistol gripped she
Looked aimed and;
The stone wizzes in the dark.
Posam5: A large Northern brushtail possum laid stunned and senseless at the foot of the Fig tree. We moved in for the kill. There was a shrill call echoing in the trees as the other possums warned each other as to danger; a kittenish mewl answered:
Maree [finger to lip and palm upright]
Trash-Man and I frozeStopped at the
fig trees and
Answered the mewl with a chittering
To which a joey
Detached itself from its stunned mother
And moved, all the while chittering
Towards Maree who scooped it up
She held it to her breast and
With her free hand, she wiped the sweat
From both armpits onto the Joeys’
Head and snout.
She made a pouch in her shirt:
Joey nestled at her breast.
“Babai Belang Me Oredi:
Naja-Wan Mami Dere?
I wasn’t even sure that Maree had spoken out loud at all—Trash-Man euthanises dinner with his blade. We transported ourselves back to Lameroo Beach where Trash- Man and I built a fire in the lee of our boulder and Maree cooked dinner, first searing and singeing the fur away before roasting the meat on a bed of embers. The meat is sweetened by the possum’s diet in the fig trees. Maree shared it amongst us according to need and kinship:
Posam nestled at her breast.
>>>Upstairs at the Vic
We were amongst them-
That baby one there-
All talking and singing “Burn It Up
Burn It Up…”7
As the baby possum danced on
Their table as our
Took stock and stole
Only what wouldn’t be missed
Kiss-Kiss with Fingers to Lips
And Maree: That My Country
And here, quick try this
One quick pipe….
Goooooooood isn’t it [Pitchuri8 and Fly Spray]
Only fiddy Bro for a quarter
Yep….yep…..you give me the money…like 3 and a ½
Minutes, I get it for you…Nah…just shout a brother a bud…..
Yeah I Love U 2 Man…..
See U Real Soon…..
Sure….Get U a Once For….One fidddy??????
Yeah…cool. You got to gimme. Say
Noooooo. Hour dude…yeah? Cool.
Yep. I’LL BE BACK….
We were gone before Wak-Wak walked again:
Nice and clean and easy!
IV>the Cherry Blossom [No-Tell] Motel
In pocket now, we hit Unca-Sam’s where we ordered what we liked;
No Salvation Army rations or possum tonight!
We ordered up big: a spread of fried treats, rice seasoned and coloured with saffron
and Green peas. We bought cigarettes and for extra, some sly grog, a twenty-dollar
box of Goon.
A strong sudden easterly smelled of rain
And sporadic thundering light=shows in the sky
Spoke of a deluge coming and we hurried
To the shelter of the Cherry Blossom Motel>
Trash-Man and Maree waited outside while I booked a room for two nights and paid cash up front: no, no thank you, no phone or minibar and here’s your keys and up the stairs and to the end and an ice bucket… I go up the stairs. I nodded the direction of the room to the dark where Trash-Man and Maree were waiting for me to open the door. Surrounded By Penumbra and Suddenly Gone, in Light and then Dark; Disappeared and then Visible,
…………………..then Gone: Lost In Shadows…………..
Unseen They Entered the Room
We Were In Pocket
With Food and Grog and Cigarettes;
The storm came and soon, in the flash bang of lightning strikes and howling rain and wind, we were suddenly powerless as an errant blast of charged ions blew the trans- former in an explosion of ozone and searing magnesium flares. We were in darkness: Posam huddled in terror. Maree had candles and matches: soon we had light and food and golden coruscations of reflected lights echoing in the Fleur-D’-Lis flocked golden wallpaper while we charged up with goon, cigarettes and pitchuri; Trash-Man and I danced in a loose-limbed parody of ceremony and Maree laughed and
Blow-Flai Pur-Um Ramingining9
Blow-Flai Pur-Um Ramingining
Howl of Rain and Wind>
We Danced and Feasted and Drank and Laughed;
Mocking the Power of the Storm
As It Passed Above Us All
Sheltered In Our Cave.
In The Flickering Dark of Candle Light.
The Mood Turned Amorous
As Trash-Man and Maree Found
Each Other’s Mouths in The Shadows:
I Left Them to the Bed
And With a Coverlet and Pillow
On The Floor I Let the Goon and Pitchuri Take Me
The Dream VI>
-The Kangaroo Led Him Deep into the Barren Scrub-
He knew it had been wounded
He followed tracks of frothy blood
He knew he was gaining.
-The Kangaroo Led Him over the Ridge
And into the Gully; To the Heart
Of The Wasted Moonscape-
He moved slowly towards the Roo
-It Stopped and Turned:
Locked Gaze with His-
He was close enough to see its heaving chest
-Wounded Bloody Fore-Arm Hanging Limp at Its Side -
Clubbing the kangaroo to the ground
‘This Is My Spear:
This is My Club!’
They fucked in the guttering death of the candles: a new squall blew in over Darwin Harbour and with the Drum-Kettle-Symphony of lightning crash and thunder I was awakened from my dream. They fucked in a Strobe-Lit-Staccato, anthracite then silver blue, like gilding statues at play with her riding him, mounted astern as she took her pleasure. One kangaroo, then emu, then frozen silver in flash then darker than soot and always keeping time with the internal clap stick. My hand was at my groin as I too joined this debauch, riding ourselves home in the storm
We arrived simultaneously as the power suddenly returned. We were caught extasis. The very essence of my self coated my hand and Trash-Man laughed and pointed and Maree covered her-self with a sheet and grinned at me whilst telling me
off in Larakia:
‘I Was A Bunji Man- No Good That Fella.’
We Danced and Feasted and Drank and Laughed.
Days later and with the money nearly gone and the Cherry-Tree-Motel Long-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G-Gone and back on the Lameroo, Trash-Man yarns us an earn: Magic Mushrooms are sprouting from the bullshit at the Buffalo Domestication Program at the Berrimah CY_RO. He had seen them before whilst walking home from the Berrimah lock-up on a drunk charge and had feasted and tripped and YEPPPPPPPPP We Could Sure Sell The Shit Out Magic Mushrooms To The Tourists: Make Some Coin and Get Off The Street Before The Wet Drove Us To The Salvos Or Jail Or The Nut-House.
We set off up-town in search of a lift out to Berrimah to the Back-Way-In as Trash- Man described it:
A snaky back-road
Hidden from the coppers:
We hit the mall and made our way Down to Crocodile Corner where we hoped to meet an Aunt or Uncle or maybe one of many motorised homeless or even some hapless tourist lured by tales of Trippin’-The-Light-Fantastic-
Anyone with a Car!
We are surrounded by Hum-Bug12
As Maree’s Aunts And Uncles And Kin And Kin-Folk And Clan all surround us clamouring
with hands outs as Trash-Man shooed them away shouting:
He pulled out his pockets–
POOR-BELLA-ME-GOT-IM-NO-TEA GOT-IM-NO-FLOUR POOR-BELLA’-ME
They laughed and said:
YOU BE POORER THAN US BLACKFELLAS!
Then they left off the hum-bug save for one drunken old man who sneered drunkenly and then shouted at Maree who took cover behind Trash-Man as the old man railed-
HEY YOU- YOU PUCKIN’ BITJ!13
I BIN DEDI14 YOU!
YOU PUCKIN’ BITJ-
YOU FUCK YARDJI-YARBOS!15
Trash-Man pointed his fore-finger at the old man like a bone and, in another voice more suited to the inside world of jailhouses, he spoke soft and quiet-
You Fucking Rock-Spider-Cunt! Yeah I Know Who You Are- I told you I would kill you: is it that day today or do you want to Fuck Off Now? That’s it, old man, keep walking… yep…
The clan laughed as the old man scuttled off like a crab. We started doing the rounds and saying Hello and Noooooo Money and You Got-Im One Motor Car. Next thing, we were in a broken-down station wagon, wending all the sneaky back way to Berrimah.
We make our way elliptically from a seemingly unremembered ride back into town where we, well Trash-Man and me mainly but Maree had grinned her What the Hell we made a party of the harvest. With shopping bags of product we had somehow transported back to B_Sullivan_Park, we lay in the long grass and hid and waited for the hallucinations to pass as Maree keened intermittently:
Gari Gynda Narmi
Gari Gynda Narmi
Gari Gynda Narmi16
I wasn’t even sure that Maree was speaking out loud at all—I looked at her to see if her lips had moved and then around and over my shoulder as Trash-Man grimaced and warded off unseen demons, and then Maree’s voice again. This time I was looking straight at her. She spoke to my mind as I always suspected, saying:
Posam Belang Me Oredi:
Trash-Man Belang Me Oredi;
I Bin Mami You Now
You Belang Me Oredi
Shit-Hawks17 rode the thermals
Circling the park
Screaming to each other
And falling from the sky and
Then swooping us as we lay
Hallucinating in the Long-Grass.
The birds looked into my soul
And screamed my name before
Riding the thermals
To rise higher and higher until:
They were but specks in the sky:
In The Very Eye of God.
I was named for my totem:
It came in a flood of bad tidings with the sudden and all-encompassing deluge as the wet season loosed all monsoonal and, with that, certain desperation. The casualties mounted: Maree was finally cornered by Child Protective Services and returned against her will to the Mission and Trash-Man went crazy, punching out policemen and wrestling with them until finally the ambos were called in to give him tranquillisers. He was locked up again, sectioned for the public safety.
I was alone;
A change in wind direction, it backed and veered; the ozone smelled of distant lightning. It was raining again and the streets were awash; the heavy precipitation soaked newspapers and litter as it mulched and ran across the asphalt into the drain. Dirt washed down the buildings and leaden fumes from the sky. Local people hurried; people in transit in a sea of unfurled umbrellas. Soon cleaner streets only, streets that were empty: Quick, Empty and Quiet.
The streets were quick and quiet.
I was alone;
Faced with the choice
Make Some Coin and Get Off the Street
Or choose; anywhere with a roof:
The Salvos or Jail or the Nut-House……….
Shit-Hawks rode the thermals
Circling me Screaming
Falling from the sky and
Swooping as they led me-
The moon hauled up east,
Labouring across the sky:
Bearing west-ward, dropping back from
Zenith to western horizon creating;
A shining path to follow
>Stokes Hill Wharf
A kid sat waiting in the yard smoking re-rolled bumpers and taking in the morning sun. He had that look endemic to the long-grass suite at the Starlight Motel; too many nights spent sleeping rough had packed his bags and too many handout feeds of starch and shit have scarred his face. He heard there was some work going down here. &e Fleet-Master knew this look;
His armada was always
A haven for the socially maladjusted.
Ayyyyyyhhhhhh………..What you doin’ there Young Fella?
Ohhh I’m waiting to see the Skipper.
Why the fuck would anyone wanna see that Old Cunt?
I heard there might be some work going.
Ok….Ok….You got any experience?
I done some fish netting once.
Nah not really.
Yeah but you tie a knot, can’t ya;
Clean a fish?
Come with me son.
The Fleet-Master knew this look
And put him to work
XII>>>>>>>>>One More Time!19
I never saw Trash-Man again. He was gone, lost to the winds known only to God. But Maree, I would see her again—I heard raucous commotion above the squall of the blaring stripper tunes as anorexic bottle blondes fondled each other in the lunchtime bacchanal, Titties and Beers. Me and my crew had just got in and, having been sea-bound for months, we were whooping it up by the jug in rounds of Dirty Mothers and Illusions as we exhorted the dirty girls to more lascivious displays, notes raining down on them as the disport twixt each other’s nether regions.
Maree called to me again:
AYYYYYYYYYYYY YOU FUCKEN SHIT-HAWK…..
YOU BIN TOO PROPER GOOD NOW EY?
TOO PROPER GOOD TO TALK YOU AUNTY?
Where you bin Aunty?
YOU GOT ANY MONEY-
YOU BIN TAKE ME CHERRY-TREE EY
MANGU-MUNGU SAME LONG TIME EY?
For Shame Aunty
I Am Not Bunji Man
Not Proper Way!
Proper Shame Job That One
I asked of Trash-Man and of herself—where had she been, how had she been. Her answers were terse and ambiguous: it is bad form to speak of the dead-
Finished Up That One-
That Fucking Mission
Finish Up Me Up……
I gave her all bar a fifty of the cash I had and her eyes lit up. She kissed my face and called me Shit-Hawk.
You Bin Too Good-Nephew
You Remember You Aunty-
You Do Proper Way-You =-Ay.
I noticed the bouncers taking an interest in us and, as one started to move our way, I took Maree by the arm and motioned towards the black-clad bouncer with my chin, spake Wak-Wak once, and she walked with me outside. I asked, what will she do? She laughed and said rainy one now—go back-get-im one roof…….you know… I saw her lips moving and clearly heard her voice. She said: Thank you, for the money; you were always my favourite!
We embraced each other
And parted ways.
That Night Drunk and in A Desolation
I Staggered Lost On the Foreshore Until
Suddenly: I Was On Lamaroo Beach.
I Searched for Bearings And
In The Moonlight
A Ghostly Tag Reads On a Rock
Like A Beacon from Days Gone by:
W<J>P Newnham has been published in numerous national and international magazines. Three of his short stories—Merry-crack-mass, Gr-easter and El-greco—have been traditionally published (one chapbook, two ebooks). He lives in Brisbane with his partner and two Blue Heelers.
1. Waiting because of crow – Kriol-English Dictionary [KED]↩
2. possum [KED]↩
4. Stone for throwing↩
5. Vulpecular arnhemensis↩
6. “Baby belongs to me. That other mother there? End it!” [KED]↩
7. Apologies, Bob Marley↩
8. Indigenous ‘tobacco plant’; contains nicotine↩
9. Blowfly from Ramingining, an Indigenous community east of Darwin↩
10. To fornicate [KED]↩
11. Mad one mushroom [KED]↩
12. Humbug= begging and domestic violence in rural and remote Aboriginal communities↩
13. Bitch [KED]↩
14. Uncle [KED]↩
15. White Dogs↩
16. An Aboriginal welcome song↩
17. A slang name applied to various birds of prey that exhibit scavenging behavior, and a slang derogatory term for an unpleasant person↩
18. “…there is not any more a deluge to destroy the earth.” - Genesis 9:11↩
19. “One more time/ We’re gonna celebrate” – Daft Punk↩