Monday, 7 January 2019

Eucalyptus

I haven't read that novel of Murray Bail's: should I? Is it good? Or perhaps that question should instead be, Will I like it, since I like plenty of things that are not good and I don't like even more things that are, and liking things is extremely important to me right now.

I did like Holden's Performance which is the only novel of Bail's that I have read. What I would really be interested in reading again is a short story of his which I don't know the name of but I came across in a number of the magazine called Australian Short Stories, when I was about twelve or thirteen, so mid-eighties. It was about a family freaking out, in diverse ways, on November 11, 1975, and I read it and reread it. I think, with hindsight, it might have been a sort of pastiche / send-up of the earnest aspects of the Don's Party genre of Australian storytelling. There was a lot in it that I didn't understand and still don't - a string of references to Sal Mineo - and some things that I understood with a sense of receiving also a flash of broader illumination: one man tells another a joke about Margaret Whitlam saying to Gough, Oh Gough, Do it to me like you're doing it to the country, only slower. I've often thought about that story and oh dear, having written all this down now I can see I shall have to look up the Austlit database tomorrow, work out what the story is, track it down and read it, and then somehow manage to stagger on with my life under the burden of the inevitable disappointment, sense of waste etc.

Also this is a really interesting portrait of Bail in the National Portrait Gallery. It's by Fred Williams. I didn't know he'd painted people.

What I really intended to say was that I bought a bottle of eucalyptus oil in the supermarket a month ago or thereabouts and when I finish washing the dishes after dinner I put a few drops into the water, and wash down the kitchen sink, cooktop and benches with hot, soapy, eucalyptusised water. Eucalyptus oil is toxic so I'm careful to only use a little, to dilute it a great deal and to keep it away from food and cooking and eating utensils. It smells so good and the smooth unpainted oak bench feels perfectly clean afterwards. What it somewhat surprisingly does not smell very much like is the in situ smell of a hot gum tree, or a hillside full of them. Since 2009 I associate the smell of very hot trees with overwhelming and extreme danger, and smoke and ash.

Yesterday I washed all of the washable woolen garments I own, in castile soap and eucalyptus oil, and they dried on the line all night and day, and now they're hanging in the wardrobe, soft and blank and clean.  The man to whom I lost my virginity talked at length about how my clothes smelled of sunlight from being dried on the washing line. There was a tall and skinny tree beside the Humanities building at La Trobe which produced the longest gum leaves I've ever seen. People used to use them as bookmarks. The tree's gone now, in the place where it used to grow, the university put instead a big building for taking money off international students.

3 comments:

Julie said...

I didn't like Eucalyptus (the novel, not the benchwash or bookmark or overwhelming scent of danger). It felt cheap, a pretentious set up for a shaggy dog story.

lucy tartan said...

Right. I won't waste my time then.

ernmalleyscat said...

I liked some of Eucalyptus as I like trees and knowing what species they are and the relationships within families and genera, though eucalypts aren't my favourite. I found the characters frustrating but the story was compelling as it is about completeness and made me want to finish.
I gave a copy to a friend who had planted lots of trees and she had similar reactions to mine. Months later, though I didn't realise at the time, we found ourselves sort of re-enacting some of the events and I'm not sure if it was all subconscious.