Authors: Steven Herrick
Steven Herrick was born in Brisbane, the youngest of seven children. At school his favourite subject was soccer, and he dreamed of football glory while he worked at various jobs. For the past thirty years he's been a full-time writer and regularly performs his work in schools throughout the world. He has published twenty-two books. Steven lives in the Blue Mountains with his partner Cathie, a belly dance teacher. They have two adult sons, Jack and Joe.
Also by Steven Herrick
A place like this
Black painted fingernails
By the river
Love, ghosts and nose hair
The simple gift
Bleakboy and Hunter stand out in the rain
Love poems and leg-spinners
My life, my love, my lasagne
Naked bunyip dancing
Poetry to the rescue
Pookie Aleera is not my boyfriend
The place where the planes take off
Tom Jones saves the world
To my beautiful wife, Cathie
Manx and I sit under the swamp oak
on the west bank of Coraki Lake.
A howler blows from the south
clearing the lake of gulls and egrets,
spiking sand into our ankles.
Manx picks up a tree branch
and snaps it over his knee.
He draws an outline in the sand.
âI'm a mullet in the lake,' he says.
I can't help but laugh because
scraggy on top,
long and lank at the back.
âI'm cruising in the shallows,
hungry for lunch.'
Manx glares across the water,
âI'm stuck in a geriatric unit for fish
when I should be tackling the ocean.'
âThere's sharks in the deep,' I say.
Manx draws a school of fins in the sand.
âI swim in crazy circles
desperate for an escape.
My eyes pop,
my mouth gulps,
but I end up butting my stupid head
against the sand wall,
wondering who stole the outlet.'
He hurls the stick into the lake.
âYou're stuck here forever, Manx.'
Manx sinks to his knees.
âThen I'll flop onto the sandÂ â
a mullet suicide.'
He rolls onto his back and
stares at the clouds.
âYou might meet another mullet,' I say.
âA cute female
lonely and lost, missing her school.'
âYeah, Coraki Lake needs
another twenty baby mullet,' he says.
âThink of it as a community service,' I say,
âfor the pensioners with nothing to do but fish.
You can feed them your children.'
A car horn blasts on Lake Road.
Manx jumps up.
âFish and chips for dinner!
You want some, Jonah?'
Manx's dad must have closed the servo early
and bought takeaway.
I shake my head.
Mum and Dad
shouldn't be left alone for too long
or they'll shout the house down.
Manx scampers up the embankment.
His dad leans out the window and says,
âAlways plenty of food at our place, mate.'
The Holden blows smoke down the road
as it follows the curve of the lake
to their house near the swamp.
Coraki Lake is fed by Turon Creek
through the swamp near Manx's house.
The lake used to be linked to the ocean,
but three years ago
a storm dumped a levee of sand
damming the outlet.
A few locals still go to sea,
but drive all the way
to the ramp at Balarang Bay
ten kilometres north.
They launch fibreglass boats
with outboards and ice-loaded eskies
as if certain of their prize.
At night they return with sunburn,
and just enough fish
to encourage them again next week.
My neighbour, Mr Crewe,
and his mate, Mr Huth,
fish from the rocks
under the lighthouse
one eye on their lines,
the other on freak waves.
They glory in the taste of whiting
lightly crumbed and quick fried.
The rest of us circle the lake,
each with our own special place,
and the town joke is
who will give up first â
the hundreds of procreating fish
or the pensioners and teenagers
casting a line
The storm of three years ago
left us without an ocean view
from the flat ground.
It dammed the lake,
and damned the town.
Catch the wind
I remember years ago,
when Manx's dad used to dump his tinnie
straight into Coraki Lake
in front of their house
on the marshy side of Lake Road.
He'd power it straight through the outlet
with Manx and me,
holding tight at the front of the boat
as we pitched over the breakwater.
We'd get soaked by the spray,
and Mr Gunn would
toss me the life vest.
I'd look at Manx
and wonder how we'd share it
if the boat should sink.
âPut it on, Jonah,' Manx's dad would yell.
âMy boy can swim
better than a mullet.'
I'd pull the vest over my head
and sit low in the boat,
my hands gripping the sides.
Manx would lean forward,
his face to the sun,
laughing and raising his arms
to catch the wind.
Manx and I have lived here
since we were born.
His dad runs the petrol station
in the shadow of highway gums.
It has four bowsers, a pot-holed driveway,
a besser-block toilet covered in graffiti
and a neon sign flashing
The only customers are
truckies like my dad
and goggle-eyed tourists
who missed the all-night service centre
on the four-lane at Balarang Bay.
Manx's dad sleeps at the station
as often as in their fibro shack
beside Coraki Lake
where Manx has the front room,
and a fishing line dangling out the window
ready to go at a moment's notice.
In their backyard is a twisted clothesline,
a shed full of rusting tools
and a '67 Valiant up on blocks.
Manx and his dad are working on
dropping a reconditioned engine in,
ready for his seventeenth birthday.
Manx has a chipped front tooth
and one of his ears is missing a bit on top
where a dog nipped him when he was six.
Manx told me he'd never seen so much blood.
When he ran indoors to show his mum
she covered her eyes
before fainting theatrically on the lounge.
Manx's dad ignored her
and raced his son off to hospital
where the doctor stitched up Manx's ear
and told him not to play with animals.
That was years ago
before Manx's mum left
on a summer Saturday
when we were out on the boat.
The weekend after she left
Mr Gunn tossed everything he could find
that reminded him of his wife
into a bonfire
and he told Manx to
fill her spare trunk with soil
and plant seeds of lettuce and cabbage
so that something good would come
out of Manx's mum
The sun drops below Sattlers Hill
as I walk home along Lake Road.
My town wins the prize
for being the only place on the coast
that doesn't have a safe beach.
A treacherous rip replaced the breakwater
where the outlet used to be.
A thicket of blackberry bush
and a jumble of slippery rocks
stretch south from the lighthouse.
Tourists crowd the curve of sand
at Balarang Bay
and leave us to risk it off the rocks.
The brave â or foolish â
creep to the sandstone edge,
watch the incoming swell
and judge their time to dive.
Manx has mastered it.
The rest of us swim in the lake
jumping off the pier.
Or we ride our bikes
on the track through Morawa National Park,
our shortcut to Balarang Bay.
Once a week in summer
a car will pull up beside Manx and me
as we walk along Lake Road.
The passengers wind down their windows
and, with curled lips and a frown ask,
âIs this Balarang Bay?'
I tell them they took a wrong turn
and should head back to the highway.
Or sometimes, Manx says,
âYeah, this is it.
Enjoy your holiday.'
We walk away quickly
to hide the smiles on our faces.
Droopy, Loopy and the neighbourhood dogs
I turn into our dead-end street
away from the blackberry-infested coast.
Our house, the last before Sattlers Hill,
is built of timber that needs painting.
The roof is more rust than iron,
but it doesn't leak,
so Dad isn't changing anything.
Mr Crewe, the old fisherman who lives next door
mixes a batch of concrete
and trowels it onto the base of a garden gnome.
He plops the gnome on the brick front fence.
Sixteen gnomes stand to attention,
each painted red or green,
a jaunty line of dwarf sentries
guarding the property.
Mr Crewe sees me counting and smiles.
âQuite a line-up, Jonah,' he says.
âThe paper should do a story on it,' I reply.
âThey can print a picture of this old fool
sticking his head up
between Droopy and Loopy any day.'
He wipes his brow with the back of his hand
and slaps down the last piece of concrete mix.
âTwo reasons for this display,' he says,
steadying the gnome into place.
âOne, so people keep thinking
I'm a batty old man
with not much going on up here.'
He taps his wrinkled forehead.
âTwo, the stray dogs
have been using my rose garden as a toilet.'
He winks at me.
âLet them jump the fence now.
They'll have a garden gnome stuck up their arse.'
Raised voices burst through
the front window of my house.
Dad's yelling at Mum
and she's giving it back at double the decibels.
âIt's been going on for a while, son,' says Mr Crewe.
âSomething about the Magna breaking down again.
Not that I'm eavesdropping.'
âThe whole street can hear,' I say.
âI've got a pot of soup on the stove
if you want to camp here for a few hours.'
I shake my head.
When I walk into their arguments,
they go quiet for a while.
I pretend to do my homework
at the kitchen table
and they act like nothing's wrong.
No-one says a word
when I'm around.