the forest set out like the night
Book Sample


the forest set out like the night

The dream:

I am exploring the Merri Creek in its pristine
state. Several tortoise are sitting over a jumble of
riverstones. They form a mosaic. There is an interplay
between their various sizes and the countering foundation
of riverstones. The roots and lower trunk of a gum
engirdle the scene...

The dry bark, the spare white tufts of grass indicate the
season and the place. It is roundabout high noon and all
things seem drummed into their forms. It is the time of
clarity when creatures recognize one another.

The image is fixed. I wander off. Three lizards rest in file
on a rockface, in a simple progression of size and in a
clean upward curve.

The Merri is a stream both merry and grave

grey and bright

these are images from its grey grave aspect

its genii locii exposed

as though the blood of the reptiles had itself cooled with
the blood of the lava flow and now the lizards and tortoise
had taken on a cooler rocky glow, were clinging to that
first stone, for the first time were arranging themselves in
recognition of the sun, forms shot from the earth’s centre
back into the light’s circle...

The Merri Creek
A wise wince in the landscape
A complex cavalcade and gallery folded into the
Melbourne plain

As the moon is really further away from the earth than
the sun
So too parts of Studley Park, the Merri Creek are further
away from present day Melbourne than Bath or Edinburgh

The meeting of the Merri and Yarra is that of two
powerful wizards:
the active mentality of the Merri Creek
the lugubrious unconscious of the Yarra

The Merri gathered all that palava in the first place from
up North, Mt. Fraser, and chucked it against the sandstone
hills, Kew. Chucked it there. Chucked it right across the

So the Yarra collected itself, grew and grew into a great
lake and laid down the flats of Ivanhoe and Heidelberg.
Laid them down.
Laid down those flats.
Bayrayrung the Yarra thought and thought. Thought out
how to cut around the lava tongue, through the softer
sandstone, making the Yarra cliffs.

Making those cliffs
Making them nice

The Merri and Yarra
Together they made this place.

Walk down the Merri, by the stony terraces, ear attuned to
the water tinkling, to the confluence at the Falls:

the Merri and Yarra have cultivated their differences
and have plenty to talk about.

The mentality of the Merri
A most precise and pristine place
A world of clear shapes, its clear mind
The stillest park of Melbourne
A still, zero zone
the underlying secret of this region

the state is basalt, themestone of the
Western Volcanic Plains, of that
countryside’s mentality

grey and hard

perhaps the note was struck for an
intellectual, grey suited town

but that seriousness that Melbourne
took upon itself

that erected Melbourne Grammar, Pentridge,
and paved the streets in sheets of blue metal

replaced that native excitement with

tore the heart out of the stone

Melbourne became John Shaw Neilson’s

A sense of wholesale desecration in a Melbourne
A denser sense of stone in these compacted cliffs

In this land the stone seems architecturally complete
Still bearing its aboriginal reflection
Dense with centuries of that accumulated attention

Australia a country where the stories
go down to the stones

Where are the stones there follows
an aboriginal art

Merri means stone
This was the land of the Merri Merri people

Stoniness and merriness
twin properties of the Merri Creek

modest in size, companionable

a stoniness that makes for brightness, clarity

the stonework a vehicle for jumping water

a model for the work, the project
that affords rejoicing

this water

steps away from the happiness of a
babbling brook, with its froggy earthy
and grassy connotations

here in the Merri stream a rarified
merriness, unclinging, tippling over
the rocks

water and stone each other’s weedless

water that draws out, races on
stone that draws in, lingering

turned to planetary spheres in the stream

Below hewn cliffs. Faceted. In their station.
...the celestial rivulet effecting an
effortless flow.

This accessible and pretty stream

A gathering place long before the coming
of the whiteman...

For many of the same geographical reasons
that made the region attractive for
European settlement.

The tracks crossed here

Tribes gathered from Gippsland, the
Western District, The Goulburn Valley...

And the Merri rose to the occasion
with great works,
In its Northcote tract a succession
of arenas and ampitheatres.

Opposite McLachlan St. Northcote
Where Batman signed the treaty
Twin cupped cliffs
The breasts of two black swans
Why do I think of the White Cliffs
of Dover?

Essence of those cliffs rounded
in memory and trimmed by distance

The image of one cliff almost
immediately and perfectly repeated

Repeated in memory

This park of memories

A fated spot, where images
of other places and other times are
carried, cross and shimmer:

Those Bonsai cliffs sitting over a little
ocean where the sun sits deep

this same pool where breezes flush the
surface with skirmishes of waves,
and when the ripples clear white
clouds ride on an occult course

Beneath, the water is black and

A black crystal ball

In that complex crosshatch of overlaid

a profundity

Beside strongly sensed but unfathomable harmonies,
a recollection of Beethoven’s late quartets

Northeast: the medieval prospect of
Rucker’s Hill or Montmartre

All around some excitement, some enchantment
in the old brick houses, with their towers
and palms, standing like churches over the
sacred spots... The pine tree and the Japanese
footbridge waiting for Hokusai

In Winter, below the High Street bridge, the
Merri, a green stream with white horses,
Canadian, Icelandic, Pennine, a salmon stream

And prefigured in the rock, in the columns,
planes, stepping stones, in the conglomerate
states of matrix, bubble and lava rope

rock mandalas
Inca stonework

A Durer folio of crocodile tails, fronds of
Norfolk pine, Banksia cone

We are all escapees from Pentridge
is we watch these cliffs

We let ourselves go in the stones

Also by the pool, on the other side, a most
luxuriant bank of blackberries,
complementary to the cliffs, likewise extraordinarily
shapely and composed

Dream, Kyabram front garden:

Sobbing rends the air. The trees crying. The
sound penetrates the privet hedge, the
weatherboard, all the familiar trappings. An
ache rises in my own chest. I feel I am being

I cross the lawn, am drawn to the pretty spot
under an ash tree, by a wooden bridge, over
an irrigation ditch.

On a patch of bare earth lie arranged
four or five blackberries

I kneel to inspect them

A presence beside me, female I think, informs
me that these are the tears shed by black women
for their men who lie murdered

by the Merri, in the Gippsland forests
The blackberries are the tears of the country

Its buried black history

They have been here
an Australian length of time

The country is making
something different of all of us

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