I am by way of being an aging writer/community artist still trying to decide what to be when I grow up.
I live in Croajingolaong, in the land of Oz. Alas, the Emerald City has been sold to EXON for an extraction theme park, the Wizard turned out to be a member of the holy-rolling raincoat brigade and Dorothy got PTSD from being trolled on Face Book and Instagram for wearing the wrong color shoes. So it goes…




3. NOW


5. APE




I found this letter and other writings inside a bottle washed up on Bastion Point Beach.  Its authenticity would under normal circumstance be highly dubious.  However scientific analysis unequivocally puts the date of its writing from the year 2050 plus or minus 10 years.  How this could be, I leave to your own judgement. 

The intriguing question remains – is the future changeable?  Can we intervene and change our behaviour to give Bet and her friends a life better than she so poignantly recounts below?

Don Ashby, Mallacoota 2017


My name is Bet. I am your great grand-daughter. My friends are Marta and Phobe. Phobe has a girl. She found her in some ruins. She was almost dead. Her mother was starting to smell bad. My mum has gone to bones. Marta found me too. Marta is a bit mad. Her head is full of bad angels. She talks to them.  Her girl we call Kid.

It is always hot. We can only go out early or late. We hide in an old place. It is full of old stuff in glass boxes from a war. A bomb killed America. A long way from here.

When the heat is bad we just lie still. Marta tells us stories of your old time. Marta went to school once in a Good Place. There was machines to keep you cool. It was the last Good Place. They had medicine.  They ran out of diesel. They dead and gone to bones. We go there sometimes looking for stuff. It don’t smell bad anymore.  

Marta tells us of the stuff you did. Your big cars that could go anywhere. You all had one each! You flew anywhere and took pictures of your dinners. You sent the pictures to your friends. You had phones. We find them everywhere. They don’t work no more. You made the air bad.  You burnt all the diesel.

We mostly eat rats and some stuff we grow. Marta says there were birds. We find the bones. She says you caught them to eat by tangling them in plastic string with little hooks. We find that too everywhere.

The sea smells bad. It is slimy with stuff called plastics. Our special rockpool is clean. Marta says there is a spring. We come there alot.

What were fish?

Grandma I wish we could talk. I would ask you lots. What was golf? You did it all the time. We have some books with pictures. Marta says these stick things are trees. Why did you cut them all down? Marta says it was to make stuff to wipe your bums. WE use leaves. Is this true grandma?  What happened to all the animals?  There are pictures in the books.

Marta is writing this for me.

Phobe is watching. She can’t speak. Bad men happened to her.  Sometimes she cries for no reason.

Grandma you knew all about this bad stuff. Why did you leave everything like this? In our books there are pictures of wonderful things. We don’t understand lots.

Marta says we should be grateful. We have big fat rats to eat. There is water in the old place. The bad men have all gone. Marta and Phobe killed them to save me. I was too young.

Marta says we should be grateful for what we have.

Phobe just cries.

I am putting this in a bottle and will throw it off the big rock. Maybe you will get it.

Marta says to say thank you because of ironic.

I don’t know why.

Thank you, Grandmas.




Thin as wet string, hiss soft-scratch: fibre needle tracks.  Brass bugle horn concentrated on the fine point of the vibrating translation from groove to gyration.  An old wind-up gramophone plays Astor Piazolla.  The walnut box and the brass horn glow, flash or stutter with the light from the leaping fire.  Worn by repetitive fingers the pick-up head is brighter than the smoke tarnished arm.

Clutching, two bodies, in a formal rictus.  Sudden choreography.  Separated by ridged arms, holds a hollow space between flat breasts and starting ribs: an empty womb on fire.

Tango sweeps their bodies through the calligraphy of formal passion.

The dancers: one dressed as an espanic cowboy the other floating in a formal gown of undyed parachute silk.  He: crude Mexican silver fire red and orange flashes from string tie, boot points and spurs.  She: gold hoops swings from ears. A jewelled dragonfly sparkles, a clasp in a wig of dark hair caught at the chicken neck as the dance presents it to the fire.  Figured boots and bright black patent leather pumps puff dust from a ragged carpet figured in gold, black and burgundy.

The fire, caved in massive fieldstone, contained by twisted fire-dragons of wrought iron, red with the profligate flaring death of trees, is the only light.

Intently they tango, a concentrated commitment to the music palpable in the room.  Eyes fixed over each other shoulders, unfocused, glazed, fixed, unseeing on the electric space between breast and breast.

On side tables rots a feast.  The wine: syrupy scum flecked with fly ash. On silver salvers – cheese, a ham, bread: dry, curl and grey.  A rat basks in the heat and gnaws.

They dance.

As the curtains swirl with the passage of the figure and the ash swirls from the hearth: time zero points on now, and now, and now.  Fire flashes on silver and gold.  Fire stalks the dance with shadows over massive oak furniture cobwebbed, black and split with heat. 

The record completes it’s spiral – click scratch, click scratch click scratch.

The dancers freeze, gravity ignored, in space they cease.

Out of the shadows an old man shuffles.  His features: carved wax, lips black, eyes open and dry as a sick dogs nose.  Formally Edwardian: dressed in the manner of an English butler he delicately lifts the pickup swinging it across to the records rim.  He cranks the handle and withdraws.


They strut.

Clasping, with purpose, each other – the tango. 

Sweat sparkles on brow and lip. 

Eyes never meet.  The fire supplies light.  The fire supplies heat.  The rat basks.  The rat gnaws.  The butler waits. 

They dance and dance and dance.


3. NOW

Now –

After that lost New Year – 

That came with so much smoke,

Clouds of burning leaves,

And drifts of extinguished birds

What is to be done?


On this turn of the world, 

On this boundary point of this orbit,

(Within the limits of loss and succour)

In my bright liminal space

Complexity has skulked out of shadow.

Spider fingers shape the circumstantial, 

Aiming the arrow of time.

Re-entering the contingent.

Galaxies glimpse

Through discontinuous ribs of stone,

Our upturned faces,

Splashed by their light,

Lost in the aisles of a crumbling cathedral,

Why when walking down Elizabeth Court

With my two dogs, before breakfast,

Does fear swoop and swerve

And call like a currawong,

Cutting the morning with razor wings?

Why when trying to find coffee space,

Trying to find a place where there is

Nothing to be done,

Trying to escape Zoom meetings

Between three wise monkeys

And the emperors’ tailors –

Are all my screens and windows mirrors?


There is looming, like a dog’s cocked leg over a dandelion –

What to write on the foundation stone

Of the covenant arc made

With our children, 

When we made them, as we

Fumbled in the dark for each other?

What do I say about

The sour air

The melting ice

The rising waters

And the deadly heat?

What do I say?

Offer them a ride on a jet ski?



Avocado on toast? 

Digital universes to conquer?

A rictus on Tik Tok?

Or a spasm of entitled rage?


Leaving the safety

Of the liminal,

I teeter on ledges on the edges,

Eaten away by floods

Of an endless fall of desperate, dishonest words.

Words that do not fit the imperatives

For the thriving of our village of children

Or uncountable other lives.


Leaving the safety

Of the liminal,

I teeter on ledges on the edges,

Eaten away by floods

Of an endless fall of desperate, dishonest words.

Words that do not fit the imperatives

For the thriving of our village of children

Or uncountable other lives.

Divert, mutate, sieve, refigure

A Telling

Into signs and stories.

Macro and micro,

The hand and the held,

Heart song and mouth song –

Catch-nets of futurity over Abys.

Can purpose and love be sought,

Or needs must,

Just found on the side of the road,

On the way to wherever it is feet take me

To try and fix a broken wheel on tomorrow?


So much

Need to become the doing

Of what needs to be done.

To do with the what that I have.



We are here.

Walking backwards,

Face averted.

Trading surety

For the causal maze

Of a million simultaneous


Looking ahead

In the mirror

Of the gone before

The reason to travel

Is to return…

There is no one

On the mountain to teach…

Never becomes always

In The Nothing –

Flapping like a burst sail.

Startled in a moment of recognition:

Suddenly see that the seried scarp

On which we are standing

(The sudden fall away from the gentle slope)

Is now.

Which takes no time and lasts forever.

The ringing precipitates the nodding carillon

Thee toils for the bell-tolls clamouring mouth.

What does the echo hear but the primary sound?

The puddle is the reason for the drip.

The riser is shorter than the going


Into shadow cast,

Obscuring the placing of the feet.

Silence hisses

Louder than our descending foot-sounds

Fainter than a distant ticking of an iron clock –

Face eroded,

Numbers long weathered away,

Hands hanging down,

Swinging free.

Too late for tea and too early for dinner.

We are here.

Walking backwards.


5. APE

Sunrise is sunset from another tree,

In another forest,

In the eyes of a different ape.

There is no enumeration

Now, slides.

Tripping on terror.

Stalling on satiation.

Now, slides

Having toes

But not knowing their number

Is freedom from duration.

Making sounds

But innocent of music

Is freedom from duration.

Clouds: neither prophetic

Of tomorrow’s weather,

Or of imminent angels

Climbing a problematic

Ladder to glory,

Just shadow the land.

To be without sin

Is freedom from duration.

An infinity of infinities,

Like flocking birds,

All shapes and sizes

Crowd the spaces between ordinals.

Now, slides.

Tripping on terror.

Stalling on satiation.

Now, slides

The repetitions of generation

The stupefying iterations of history

Mock any accumulations of wisdom.



Friday, August 08, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Going down grey to meet you

Wet street evening asplash and drip

Slick cobbles limed by gaslight.

Alleys stagger off, catsick smells

And the rattle of rats scatter rubbish.

The gate mist looms,

Caped, the keeper holds fingerless

Moth gloves over a dull drum

Of flaring seacoal

A spilling light doorway,

Shone through clacking curtain beads.

Taverned– warmed by wine-waft and old tunes

I met you.

You, in your white silk dress,

(the failure of a thousand

grubs to achieve mothhood), waited.

Your face was shadowed by a low hanging lamp

I met you once again to sing.

Orpheus had to gut a tortoise

To make his lyre,

paring out the plastron.

Leaving him red to the elbows

And with the means to make his music.

This time the only guts spilt where my own.

Did I look back damning us to winter?

There, after the chancy coupling,

at fantastic odds,

of how many forebears

I found myself caught

between duration and forever.

I sang and played.

Later in that upstairs room

You took off that white dress –

Look what we made –

Main flying, prick eared,

High proud neck arch

Curveting hooves of spun glass

Treading carefully, its unicorn brow

Parting the mist like a prow.

Will I look back.

Damning us to winter

Going down grey




Eighteenth century Englishmen,

With lice under their wigs,

Enclosed The Common Land.

They beggared the country folk

Who had been their care.

They took the money

And laid it down

For enslavement of Africa

For enslavement of their countrymen.


The Black Country’s

Indentured children:

Whose parents had been free,

Jammed into stews and slums,

Consumed by

Foundry and factory,

Mill and mine.

Hypocrisy nourished

Dark, sooty, dripping, mechanisms,

Belched wealth.

Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey

Squatted on the ruins of a thousand villages.

They built: Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool.

Discovered a means to make total war –

The most perfect of all consumer goods.

Trading tea for opium

They bought down a culture of 3,000 years.

Their profits bought us modernity.


Meanwhile in the Americas

Sugar and cotton –

Black broken backs,

Black broken skin,

Black broken families,

Black broken hearts –

Kidnapped, herded and transported.

Seduced and fortified

By the turbid creed

Of a cross-broken god,

Taught to pray

And learned to sing The Blues.

There owners lived refined lives.

Conspired together in the name

Of Freedom, Liberty and Revolution.

Kept their guns under their beds

On land ploughed by oppression,

Enriched with blood of indigenous genocide.

On land razed and poisoned by wealth,

They built an Empire.

The powerfully democratizing power

Of sophistry, egoism, greed, and bigotry

Built a land of opportunity.


Then they came here

To put out their trash,

Scrapped from mean streets

Of fetted cities.

Too contemptible to hang.

Brutalized and hungry.


Amongst the trees and ferns, 

That grew like hair

On an old, worn, possum-skin cloak,

They found The People.

Co-contingent with trees

With ferns,

With twisty waters.

Between the mountains

And the sea,

Traversing the ridges,

The People Were.

Ocre hand shadows on stones.

Fish traps laid down before Rome.

Fenceless fields of foods.

Slowly shaping and shaped,

The Dreamtime that was no time

And all time,

Dancing in the sky.

From the puff of dust 

Of the first drop of rain:

Wearing away of mountains;

The snake sand track;

River in the meandering valley.

So much time that was not Time. 




By plough, pick, rum, poison, bullet, small pox

And a bottomless theft built on

A greed made potent by alien laws

Bought wholesale from a foreign land.

Everywhere we go, with our

Weapons and gods raised high

We leave footprints of blood.

Churning the song lines

Breaking filial ties.

Taking the land.

Taking the children.

Tearing out the heart of even

Our own suffering God

As we tear the heart

Out of the suffering land

Out of it’s suffering people.

With a manifest destiny

Like the snarling indiscriminate roar

Of a brush cutter.

We have lacerated their Forever

into an intricately immediate random 

Present of pain.



Do they kill us in rage and revenge?

Wage war on us with guns and bombs,

For the suffering of their children

With infected eyes and petrol habits?

For fracking, coal pits,

Endless bulldozed bush?

Squalid huddling with

Rusting tin, flapping tarp

And limping cars with ragged tyres?

The contempt?

The prejudice?

The empty eyed apologies

And crocodile tears

From fat men in suits?

The empty children’s beds?


They kill themselves –

Slow self-extinguishment by booze,

Of drugs of despair,

Sudden self-extinguishing hand

That says ‘Enough!’


With ineffable, unacknowledged patience

They reach out to us.

Out of their pain they seek justice.

Out of their pain they still seek reconciliation.


This enormity goes beyond injustice.

This enormity goes beyond reparation.

This enormity goes beyond ‘Sorry’.

This enormity goes complacently.

On and on and on!


You want details?

Here are your details.