03. 12. 2015

God is a Distant Star

For God’s a distant star

And may not always see

When in glory I raise my voice,

Or in despair dragged to my knees.

Joe Carli

Joe Carli moves about his property, 160 acres in the Murray Mallee near Sedan, with the timeless gait of a cowboy writer.  I ask him if he’s read any Sam Shepard, “your work reminds me of him……..watch  Harry Dean’s Stanton’s monologue in Paris Texas”  Is it Joe or the country or the combination of both that immediately triggers my ‘brainwashed by americana’  imagination into the American west? Joe himself, his gestures and the way he talks,  reminds me of another American icon Robert De Niro. In the same way De Niro seems more Italian than American, Joe  seems more Italian than Australian.  Joe’s father migrated to Australia in the 1930’s from Trentino Italy, shortly after the outbreak of World War II  he was declared an ‘enemy alien’  and had to report to the local police every week. He never returned to his mother country.  “Why would he? “Joe says, “They had nothing there.”

I arrive at lunch time and Joe ushers me  into the old farm house kitchen and sits me at a round table near a pot belly stove.  The food arrives; first course baby boiled potatoes dipped in hot brie:  second course a frittata which makes me realize why I’ve never been impressed by them before – it’s all about texture.  “Everyday gourmet”  Joe mutters under his breath.  It wasn’t to be the last time I heard Joe say this over the 3 days I was Irene’s guest. Irene, Joe’s partner is a a top rate cook as well as an accomplished horse woman stabling two warm blood –  German dressage nags.  Well far from nags actually, I join Joe, the servant of these fine equine creatures;  as he mucks out stables;  chops carrots;   makes warm mash;  and swaps endless rugs on and off the horses.  Irene appears at a given hour and exercises the horses while Joe, the stable hand, retreats to his study under the stairs to write. In the interior of the old farm house and the stables I begin to feel that I am in Europe.  But as soon as I turn my gaze to the landscape I know I am in South Australian Mallee country – although there is not much Mallee left – Joe tells me only 3%.

“Originally the Mallee was covered in thick mallee scrub. Large expanses (estimates are around 80%) of the mallee were cleared for agricultural development, beginning as early as the 1880s.” Wikapedia 2015

Joe and Irene volunteer two days a week for the local LAP group – Local Action Planning – a community organisation that does  environmental surveys along the Murray River, from Morgan to Mannum. LAP also runs a community nursery and facilitates workshops with volunteers.  Irene, who has a Ph.D in Post- Modern Literature in Nursing, not just a pretty face and a dam fine cook, is working with a local suicide prevention group.  The suicide rate in the Mallee is extremely high – one of the highest in the country per head of population.  It seems the landscape and it’s inhabitants have been stripped bare and as beautiful as this barrenness may appear,  it is full of sorrow.  Much of Joe’s writing reflects this although when I ask him if he holds any hope for the Mallee he tells me that now that the country has been ‘farmed out’ all the tree change folk are moving in and there are massive pro active collectives popping up everywhere. I sit on my caravan steps that first night on the Mallee looking at the stars – there isn’t much of a moon so the milky way is arrestingly visible.  Are you up there God?


Empty Park – Vacant Heart

I am going to ask you to think outside the square…to imagine, or rather to concentrate on the erroneous perception that when we see the mallee bushland, from foothills to the Murray River… either from the window of our car or on a walk in a bushland park, we believe that because we see what appears to be thick overstory and understory foliage there will be a full list of fauna to partake of the verdant growth…particularly in a nature reserve. But because of a series of events, both natural and human intervention; the drying up of wetlands, the drying up of tributary systems that once fed floodwaters through the mallee bio-forest filters right down to the Murray River…the biodiversity “chain” that supported and nourished the “circle of life” within the world of these bushland parks has been broken and the gaps between the links that held one species to the next are too far apart to support a healthy body of life….So we sometimes have an empty woodland…an empty park.. a vacant heart.

Two of the many native creatures that are suffering from a destroyed food-chain are the wombat and the pygmy possum. Climate Change has already brought about extreme weather conditions measured by the number of extreme weather records broken in all parts of the globe. Here, in the mallee we have a combination of events that have driven the wombat to a point where it is found to be starving to death in it’s own heathlands because of a dearth of native grasses off which it habitually feeds. If such a large mammal is suffering so tragically, then you can imagine the plight of the tiny Pygmy Possum. For a creature 6.5cm. in body w/a 7.5cm. tail it has to be one of the most difficult mammals to spot at night-time….and one of the most vulnerable to feral attack. The biodiversity these creatures need to survive is under constant attack…ergo, these creatures are under constant attack…

There is no point feeling sympathy unless we are prepared to give safe harbor to many threatened species here in the mallee..We have to demand a withdrawal from the habitats of these creatures of the destructive mechanisms that tear these lovely animals apart. From the clumsy lumbering of the loveable Wombat to the supremely vulnerable Pygmy Possum, a creature so small one could simply crush the life from it’s tiny body with ease, yet has the capacity of all soft-bodied mammals to wrench the heart-strings in sympathy for it’s slowly destructing environment.

It is up to us as we view from vehicle window, or idyllic stroll in passing the bushland on either side of the road, from the foothills to the banks of the Murray River, to decide if we have the heart to insist on a healthy environment for these creatures to just live their normal lives or whether we will be callously content with a future driving through an empty park, with a vacant heart.

Joe Carli

For more stories and information about the local region go to http://forum.midmurraylap.org.au/viewforum.php?id=25

Susie Skinner



  • Adventuress says:

    Wonderful writing Suzie. Everyone’s got a story…from PhD cooks to Pygmy possums…and we all need to know about them. Thank you for enlightening me and making me stop and think.

    • Susie Skinner says:

      Hi Adventuress Keryn
      Thanks for the feedback
      Stories are the invisible webs we all hang on
      Love Susie and First Mate Banjo

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