Purchase Edition

Edition 9

Contents
Fiction

The Einstein canaries

I FELT LIKE I should kiss her or hug her, but while I was still thinking she got in her car. I felt like I should thank her or crack a gag or say something profound, but while I was still thinking she said, "Cheer up. This is history in the making." Then the engine started and she was gone.

I like it here. I like the way the red earth pulls the blue sky taut over the horizon and pins it behind the curve. I like it how the clouds live high and the scrub lives low and how there is not much in between except breathing space.

I like the way they bring in the cattle. Erabiddy is flecked with windmills that pump water from a mineral lake at its underbelly. They gradually shut these mills down, starting at the boundaries and working in, and the beasts drift with the receding tide, right into the home paddocks.

I wait until the glow of Smiley's tail-lights set in the distance. Our containers are spaced 10 kilometres apart and arc along a shooters' track. Each morning she picks us up and each evening she drops us back. I kill the generator. The lights and air-conditioning fall and show the dark hot night underneath. With the doors open I can lie on my bunk and look up at the stars.

The first revolution then, was likely waged with hands, feet and teeth. When the Administrators oppressed with arrows, the Revolutionaries fought with arrows. When the Administrators oppressed with gunpowder, the Revolutionaries fought with gunpowder. Today, unlike hands, feet, teeth, arrows or gunpowder, the weapon of the Administrators is well beyond the reach of the Revolutionaries.

The Socialisation of Mutually Assured Destruction
A Mass Revolution, by Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 9

 

THE FAMILY WHO run Erabiddy prefer to spend their summers South. Smiley told them we were research students from the University of Western Australia studying goannas and they were happy to be paid rent rather than pay a caretaker. They stayed on a few days to show us how things worked: how to run the generators, how to navigate the tracks and use the GPS, how to shoot and dress kangaroo for the dogs. This was part of the lease agreement, and though I asked nicely for a go, Smiley was adamant only she should use the rifle.

The day they were leaving, one of the teenage boys offered to show me something. He had me change into a set of trail-bike leathers and a put on a helmet wired with a two-way radio. We talked as he doubled me past ticking tin outbuildings and over the soft irrigated house paddock. Its suburban grass ended at the red desert so absolutely it might never have existed and I had to look back.

He told me he enjoyed getting away from the heat each summer but he feared being alone in the big city. I told him I feared being alone in this big sandy desert. He told me that when they were in Perth last year, his little sister was playing in a backyard sandpit when she was bitten by a tiger snake.

He took me to a windmill where a calf had gotten its head stuck under a water trough and died of thirst. He marked a line in the sand with his heel and told me to stand on it. He had me lean forward with one leg in front of the other and my arms raised high beside me, "like a gymnast who has just finished a routine", he told me. Under no circumstances was I to move. He asked me three times if I was sure I was going to be able to do that.

He walked to the base of the windmill and stepped gently up onto the concrete trough. He looked over at me, then down at the soft carcass, then back at me – eyes smiling from inside his helmet as they calculated. He jumped into the air and landed hard on the body below. The calf's insides spilled onto the ground and rushed across the sand toward me. From a metre away they launched themselves into the air and up onto my chest. The leathers bunched forward and pulled down on my neck as the gizzards dug in and locked tight. Inside my helmet I heard the boy swallowing snot to keep from giggling. "Best way to catch a goanna is to act like a tree. Blackfella taught me that. They didn't use to wear leathers but. Go tell 'em that at your university."

That New York and Washington stand 60 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki fell demonstrates how difficult it is to procure uranium 235 or other easily fissionable materials. As the revolution will only begin when the people have access to the same weapons as the Administrators, yet conventional fissionable material is outside our means, we must rethink our concept of the atom bomb. To do this we must go back to Einstein's most famous equation.

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 21

 

THE DEPARTMENT OF Human Services appointed me Smiley after my suicide attempt. In a junk shop one day I found a bag of polished river stones from China. Inspired by unexpected beauty among shelves of stinking plastic and subnormal biscuits, I accidentally started to think. I thought about how a Chinese man shovelled the stones from a river and barrowed them to a polishing place. I thought about how those stones were polished and put in a bag and put in a box and put on a truck and transported to the docks and packed into a container and stacked on a ship. I thought about how those smooth shiny rocks sailed across the world in a rough dark hull. I thought about how they were unloaded from the ship and put on a truck and driven to a distribution point and unpacked from the container and lifted into a van and driven to the junk shop. I thought about how another Chinese man, the one who owned the junk shop, cut open the cardboard box with a razor blade and gently lifted small mesh bags of his homeland onto a shelf to be sold. I wondered how come I could walk in and walk out with all that for two dollars. A month later, I rowed my little punt out into the bay, tied myself to the middle seat and pulled out the bung.

During one of our sessions, I told Smiley that when I accidentally think about things – like how we all look each other in the eye and smile and nod like there is nothing wrong – I lose my breath. The department's help booklet suggested I take up a hobby and I told Smiley I was thinking of renovating an investment property. That way, if I accidentally thought about things – like pre-emptively bombed children or how slaves make most of our stuff – I could still look people in the eye and smile and nod like there was nothing wrong because I bought at 290, but I sold at 480.

Smiley told me that sometimes when she was about to do something fun, like have a fantastic meal or buy a new pair of shoes, she would accidentally think about things as well. She told she was also having trouble looking people in the eye and smiling and nodding like there was nothing wrong, even though she had renovated three properties. Even though she bought at 420 and even though she sold at 785.

That Energy equals Mass magnified by the speed of light (Celeritas) squared (E=mc2) is proven by every atomic explosion or watt generated by nuclear fission. The key for the revolutionary is found in M for mass. An atomic bomb may have at its heart five kilograms of uranium but it is not some magic of uranium that gives the bomb its power, it is the atomic splitting of its mass. Mass is mass and the same nuclear explosion can be achieved with five kilograms of ANYTHING if it is made unstable enough (critical mass).

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 30

I SEE WHY Smiley chose us. Matt told me it started for him when he was about seven. He asked his parents how come wars were allowed but they couldn't answer. Every time he asked how come – How come we cut down forests? How come you can buy cigarettes? How come politicians are called honourable? – he would be given words, or a chocolate, or a toy, or a chocolate with a toy in it, anything to distract him. He told me by 16 he learned to stop asking questions and started smoking dope, playing video games and accepting "whatever" like he figured he was supposed to.

Matt told me that one day he was sitting on the tiled floor of his shower, waiting for the hot water to run out, when he accidentally started thinking. He was thinking about the germs that were crawling off the floor and up his arse when he realised humankind was a virus. Matt told me we moved from planet to planet, killing each host before we moved on. He told me it was no coincidence that space travel developed alongside global warming – which he believed was an immune response by the Earth. He told me just before the planet dies we will blast off to a new host planet and start the process over again. Smiley told Matt everybody knew humankind was a virus but nobody wanted to talk about it. He told her that if that were true, people should stop giving him so much shit for trying to hang himself.

With free access to the top of the periodic table the truth of Einstein's mass has been forgotten. Sixty years since fission the Administrators' means of control remains at its simplest: a ball of nervous dirt strapped to the end of a cannon. The liberating truth of mass, the truth that makes every one of us part of the mass revolution is this: the page you hold contains enough energy in its mass to destroy your house. The book you hold contains enough energy in its mass to destroy your street. Your body contains enough energy in its mass to destroy a city.

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 39

 

IT TAKES TIME to learn to see here. Emus look like the small thatched trees they shade beside, goannas like their fallen branches. Kangaroos look like dirt. Snakes look like rocks. Once you can see them you can't not. You look at the patterns in the dirt and the crevices in a rock and the way a log lies across a quartz outcrop or three brown leaves touching each other and you sense there are others, less inclined, it would take 40,000 years to learn to see.

Across these gentle secrets feral goats meld like dogs balls. Some blokes make a living trapping them for live export to the Middle East. A pen with a one-way gate is built around the water troughs at the base of a windmill. Every few days a truck load is collected. Most are herded easy but there is always one that will fight. One will turn in the loading ramp and stand with its head down fierce. It will ignore the electric prods and steel-toed boots until it is dragged backwards by its hind legs onto the truck.

Paul protested through his art. At first he was happy to stencil profound sayings on inner-city walls. He liked: "If you're not part of the problem you are part of the solution." He told me it was more empowering than the original because while none of us knows what the solution is, we all recognise the problem when we see it.

Paul spent his days pacing his share house, drinking coffee, smoking rollies, making stencils and listening to Radio National. At night he went out and painted the town. After the WTO Summit protests he added a stencilled image of George Bush to the walls of his portfolio. He told me he lost count at George Bush #100. Paul rode a bus three days across the Nullarbor to protest the Administrators' parade of the Capital. After Paul arrived he went to a cafe-bar-bookshop-gallery to meet some other stencil-art protesters. While he was waiting he indulged one of his regular compulsions and jabbed his finger randomly at a page in the kind of dictionary he couldn't afford. The word he found was worship. Paul accidentally started to think.

He started to think about all the images of George Bush he had stencilled across the city. He thought of the thousands of people who saw his work every day. He thought of how good he was at finding prominent yet quirkily intelligent locations. He thought of his George Bush on the walls of the underpass to the Protestant Church – the one with "In god we trust" written below it. He thought of all the little girls in green and white gingham and shiny black shoes who used the same underpass to get to school.

Paul told me he forgot to breathe when he realised that in spreading the iconography of a man he considered a despot, he had done of his own peaceful volition what he would have fought violently had he lived in a dictatorship. When the others arrived at the cafe-bar-bookshop-gallery he told them they were making a mistake – that the best protest would be to leave the Capital for the day. Paul walked back to the depot in time to ride the same bus back across the Nullarbor. Nineteen days later, he drank ink.

The binary structure of the brain gives the first clue as to how fission of our own mass might be achieved. The human brain is split into hemispheres. It is not a single mind, but an internal dialogue between discrete hemispheres that gives you your sense of being. (If you wish to meet the entities that inhabit these hemispheres and form your persona, look in a mirror while alternately covering each side of your face.)

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 57

 

THE FIRST NIGHT in my container alone I was scared shitless. I figured if they were ever going to get me, now would be a good time. I left the fluorescent light burning and the steel doors bolted from the inside but I couldn't sleep. The next night was the same. The third night I sat on the step to take my boots off and fell asleep.

When I woke I was looking straight up at the stars. I had no idea where I was. I like it when that happens. Maybe because it only happens when I am somewhere different – somewhere new – somewhere else. I like to lie there in the dark and tease it out, drift through my list of places I might be and see if any fit. It doesn't happen very often, or for long, but when it does – when I am empty and nothing, I am free.

I am in a shipping container in the desert. I am here because one day during one of our sessions, Smiley lay on the floor next to me and told me the story of the coal miners and the canaries. She told me ice shelves are canaries. She told me frogs are canaries. She told me babies with asthma and anaphylaxis are canaries. She told me I could be one, too.

I am a canary under the Milky Way. Above this unaffected sky, it is more than different sized pricks of light on the one plane. I can see its depth. Some of the small stars are close. Some of the big stars are further out. I have never felt so safe.

... binary structure served us well as we dealt with a world that, while complex, was largely self-evident. In the scared new world of unknown unknowns, where meaning has been corrupted for expediency, the world has literally stopped making sense. George Orwell foreshadowed this in his novel 1984, when he wrote of Ingsoc and the double-thinking required to deal with a society where meaning has no meaning – a society like ours.

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 63

 

FROM OUR SESSIONS, Smiley knew the three of us intimately. We told her things. Things you whisper into the knot of a tree. Things you write on paper then burn. Things you pray you are not the only one to have done. Of Smiley, we knew little.

She had that way of answering questions fully and emptily – the way of politicians and customer service. The most we could figure was that she had once been somebody but had either become disillusioned, pissed somebody off or fucked something up. What we did know was that she was single-minded in her purpose.

She relentlessly monitored us. Our days were spent watching documentaries and news stories about how bad things were. She rarely left the battery of laptops we were hooked to. She logged our brainwaves, eye movement, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and a lot of things I have no idea about.

One day, she had us watch a documentary about how America had overthrown a democratic government and installed a dictatorship so it wouldn't have to pay more for bananas. Paul was outraged. He swore at the screen and yelled and went all forehead veins and bulgy. Smiley was watching her computers with the usual glad frown this invoked – when she quietly told Matt and I to go and get in the Land Rover. She raced us out into the desert and didn't bring us back for three hours. She never did tell us what was going on.

That evening, as she was driving us back to our containers, I stared at her from the back seat. She was on autopilot, deep in thought, somewhere far and private. I watched her for ages via the rear-view mirror before she glanced back and caught me. She held my gaze, only the two of us knowing that at any time we could hit the thick sand on the verge and flip. In that moment I knew her.

In the struggle to find meaning in the Administered paradoxes of our time, our brain has had to doublethink – has had to evolve more spheres. This doubling soon becomes exponential. If you were to name this process and drew from Greek, you might call it schizophrenia, from schizo – to split – and phren – mind. If you drew from Latin you might call it fission – from fissura meaning split.

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 72

 

YESTERDAY WAS BEAUTIFUL. Smiley told us it was her thankyou. She told us that according to her readings one of us was very close, but she wouldn't tell us who. We have agreed that if it goes as planned we won't see each other again. One of us particularly.

We left early and drove through the flat grazing desert and windmill-scapes to the breakaway country – the rough red ridge formed by the edge of the upper desert plateau. From its base, Smiley led us on foot. The ground was covered with small smooth stones that clinked echoes up from under us. The tall ridge funnelled and formed a narrow gorge and we were astonished to soon be walking in the shade of high ferned walls and tall dinosaur palms. Blue sky washed over the cliff tops high on each side above us. The small smooth stones became rocks and a flat stream of clear water sailed under our feet. In time, we were hopping large boulders to keep our boots dry, making our way in silent zigzag, lost in nothing.

Where a massive chunk of the cliff wall had fallen and blocked the way before us, Smiley kicked off her boots and clambered up it. From the top she looked down at me and smiled. In that moment, unguarded, I glimpsed her again. Then she was gone.

At the top, the gorge opened into a wide amphitheatre around a deep pool – turquoise and transparent. Wads of sun lit the sandy bottom and shone through the fins of long black fish. Strings of thermal water spat from the cliffs above and floated as helicopter drops onto the fringing plants. I could not breathe.

We jumped off cliffs into the deep plunge pools. We swam underwater with goggles and looked at fish and eels and turtles and the legs of ducks from underneath. We skipped rocks. We lay in the sun and got hot and dived in the pool and got cool. Smiley watched us and worked on her book.

I start accidentally thinking. For the first time I thought it was good to be alive.

... critical mass and the successful self fission of a man in the desert of North Western Australia. While he was highly unstable, he was not unusual. My research indicates that with the increasing number of schizophrenia sufferers, and the continued machinations of the Administrators, more of us will reach critical mass. Whether this occurs in a desert or in a population centre we cannot know. What we do know is that the revolution has started. The people, divided, can never be defeated.

Dr Helen Smiley, Pg 94


From Griffith Review Edition 9: Up North © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Griffith Review