Following a domestic morning of washing and cooking, I drove into Whitemark. Today was the annual running festival. The road into town was periodically stationed by small groups of volunteers who waved as I drove by. Runners in various states of enthusiasm pounded the oncoming lane, along with people of all ages on bikes. The tension continued to build as I drew nearer to the pub which marked the finish line. A crowd gathered out front and spilled over into the car park where the Lions club hosted a BBQ. The parking congestion was so bad that I had to park 100 meters up the road.
I brought a sponge and bucket with me to tidy the wall and record people’s comments. I was dying to see what people had written. As I filled my bucket, a group of older children who’d completed the run were scribbling madly and were deep in conversation about all the things they want to do before they die. They made me smile. We chatted for a bit as I did my housekeeping and they happily posed for a photo. I thought the picture made a lovely statement alongside Lady Mary’s photo about diversity in the community and the universal message about living life and achieving goals, regardless of your age. Everyone has one thing they want to do before they die, when you’re a kid it seems to far away that anything is possible.
I needed a USB so walked over the road to Bowman’s. Joe came bounding down the path to say hello like a long lost lover. With so many people around, he was in his element. He’d been lying in the sun and his black woolly coat was warm. I made a mental note to bring a biscuit next time.
I was walking through the crowd in front of the pub on my way back to the car when some of the early finishers crossed the line to huge applause. The sun was blazing and there was a bit of a party atmosphere.
“How’s the wall going?” shouted Helen from the Lions Club tent as I was about to cross, and stopped to chat for a while.
“Have you been in John’s shop?” she asked, pointing to a nearby house. He only opens it a few days a year. He has some interesting old things. Everything he makes is from recycled stuff. Go have a look.”
How could I not? The concept of a shop that’s only open a few days a year was too intriguing to pass up. John was out front, creating some rather stunning balls of wire. He explained that originally he started making one as a light shade for himself but people keep buying them, so he keeps making them. He makes them from abandoned power line wire left behind when the contractors leave. He strips them down and winds them into a ball, sometimes weaving through copper or even barbed wire, whatever is at hand. “The wire that’s been used is more interesting because of the black burnishing” he said. Inside the shop was like a movie set, filled with quirky handmade household pieces as well as collectable bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, books and artwork. My kind of shop, I’m so glad that I got to see it.
“What’s the bucket for?” he eventually asked after we’d been talking a while.
“For the wall” I said. No need to explain any further.
“Ah. So what do you want to do before you die?” he asked. I couldn’t answer. It occurred to me that I hadn’t actually thought about commenting on it myself. How funny. I definitely have to write a comment before I leave. Maybe last thing. But what exactly? And how revealing am I willing to be? This is harder than I thought.
My main purpose today was to visit the museum. I’d been looking forward to this for months. It’s near the beach at Emita, about half an hour from Whitemark. The scenery as you approach is breathtaking. I ate my sandwich on the beach and walked the length of it while I waited for the museum to open.
The lady who opened up was surprised that anyone was visiting today with the running festival in town. I said that I was doing some research and would probably be a while. I asked about the chances of finding a reproduction copy of the old CWA cookbook I’d found and she said “Leave it with me. Just pop into Bowman’s this week and there’ll be one there for you.” Just like that.
In the original schoolhouse (called ‘Dryazell’ because the original schoolmaster was an alcoholic and the school was so far from town that he was always ‘dry as hell’) there is a research room lined with dozens of archived files documenting the island’s short but eventful history, including old newspaper files, mutton birding records, whaling and sealing, council records, families and basically anything that ever happened. I was drawn to an intriguing set of very old diaries written by two sisters, covering decades of daily life on the land. Researchers are welcome to handle them all and use the table and chairs in the middle of the room to work. I pulled up a chair, got out my notebook and settled in for a glorious afternoon of discovery.
The documents are basically just inserted inside the sleeves in no particular order so it’s bit like opening a box of chocolates. You have to just read through the files page by page. I did find just what I was looking for however, along with some interesting and highly distracting other stuff. I found several short memoirs transcribed in the first person by family members of a few older folk who had grown up on the island as long ago as the 1800s. They talked about the things they did here as children and recounted memorable events, some of which I can’t use because nobody would believe them!
It all got my imagination firing and I could start to see all my characters now coming into focus. Turning the page in a folder about lighthouses, I looked straight into the eyes of my main character Aurora, a young girl about ten years old, posing uncomfortably with her family in a depression era sepia photograph. Boom!
Thank you Furneaux Museum!